CLEVELAND - Richard Jefferson scored a season-high 36 points, Vince Carter added 19 and the New Jersey Nets took advantage of LeBron James' absence, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 100-79, last night.

Jefferson and Carter led the Nets on a 9-0 run to start the third quarter, opening a lead that the Cavaliers were incapable of challenging.

Jason Kidd didn't even play the fourth quarter, finishing his night early with seven points, six assists and 10 rebounds.

Cleveland looked lost on both ends of the court without James, who missed his third straight game because of a sprained left index finger.

The Cavaliers have lost four straight and are 0-3 without their star forward, falling to 9-10.

He was hurt Wednesday in a loss to Detroit, when Nazr Mohammed slapped at the ball as James began to shoot.

Suns 121, Pacers 117

INDIANAPOLIS - Amare Stoudemire scored 42 points to lead Phoenix to a victory over Indiana.

Stoudemire shot 15 for 24 from the field and 12 for 13 from the free-throw line. He also had 13 rebounds.

Steve Nash had 18 points and 17 assists, and Shawn Marion added 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Suns, who have won three straight.

Pistons 106, Hawks 95

ATLANTA - Detroit scored 22 of the first 31 points in the third quarter to break open a close game, beating Atlanta for their fourth straight victory.

Chauncey Billups made two free throws with 1.4 seconds left in the third period, giving the balanced Pistons' attack seven players in double figures and an 87-61 lead with a full period left.

The Philips Arena scoreboard, perhaps unable to keep up, was blank for the start of the final quarter.

At one point the posted score was Hawks 75, Pistons 0. That fiction was as close as the Hawks came to holding a lead.

Lakers 116, T'wolves 95

MINNEAPOLIS - Even with a bout of the stomach flu, Kobe Bryant was too much for the NBA's worst team. Bryant scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half to help Los Angeles jump out to a big lead, and they cruised the rest of the way to a victory over Minnesota.

Big man for Bobcats?

In need of a big man, the Charlotte Bobcats reached agreement yesterday on a three-year offer sheet with Cleveland restricted free agent Anderson Varejao, giving the Cavaliers a week to match the deal or lose him.

Death in the family.

Isiah Thomas refused to say who would start at point guard for the Knicks tonight at New Jersey if controversial guard Stephon Marbury hasn't returned to the team following his father's death.

Don Marbury Sr. died Sunday night during the Knicks' home loss to Phoenix. The funeral is scheduled for tomorrow in Brooklyn.

Under the knife. Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman is preparing for back surgery and missed last night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Wittman is scheduled to have surgery today, and the team said it's unclear when he will resume his duties. Assistant coach Jerry Sichting is coaching the Wolves in Wittman's absence.