The game's most important play ended with LeBron James jogging back on defense, king of the 76ers' court.

The play began with the Sixers leading, looking as if they might swipe one from the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers.

But James came through with a big steal, then buried a three-pointer, and the Cavaliers proceeded to put away a 108-101 victory last night.

The Sixers slipped to 6-19, losers of 13 of their last 14 games. Cleveland improved to 19-7.

Through 25 games, the Sixers still have not beaten a team with a winning record.

Last night at the Wachovia Center, 19,517 people - about 8,000 more than usual - watched one of the game's most recognizable players do what he does: score 36 points, 13 of them in the fourth quarter.

The game-changing play began with 4 minutes, 44 seconds remaining, and the Sixers leading by 96-93.

The play ended with 4:37 left, with James burying a transition three-pointer - a gutsy shot - from the right corner, inches in front of the Sixers' bench.

In between, Sixers point guard Allen Iverson came off a pick near the right wing, carrying with him two defenders. He tried to pass back to the top of the key, where teammate Andre Iguodala waited.

Iverson said he saw James. Maybe he thought Iguodala was preparing to make a cut, or maybe he misjudged James' burst toward the ball.

Either way, the pass was in James' hands, his momentum already like a skier down a slope.

"It was a case of me making a bad turnover," said Iverson, who will have an MRI exam on his sore left knee today. "I can't make a turnover in a situation like that. . . . That one was on me because we were in control of that game."

Heading to the rim, James mishandled the ball, chasing it down to the right corner. Then he launched the three.

On his way back upcourt, James appeared to tap Sixers coach Eddie Jordan as he passed.

"LeBron makes a three in the corner off a loose ball," Jordan said afterward. "That's just incredible."

"LeBron James hit that corner three-pointer and they capitalized," said Sixers power forward Elton Brand, who scored 11 points. "They were playing fearless, like they had nothing to lose. They were hoisting threes; they feel like they can win. We, I think, turn the ball over late. We might have gotten a little tight out there."

But the Sixers were more than decent in this one; they were good.

Until the game's final 5:51. From that moment until a meaningless three-pointer by Andre Iguodala with 25.9 seconds left, the Sixers missed all five of their shots.

Iguodala's 26 points led five Sixers in double figures. Center Marreese Speights returned from a knee injury to play 22 minutes and score 14 points. Rookie point guard Jrue Holiday (nine points and nine assists) was a couple of plays from a double-double.

The fans got their money's worth out of James last night, but they also witnessed improvement by the home team.

Not enough for a victory, but enough to get folks thinking that one of these days, the Sixers will actually defeat a winning basketball team.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844

or kfagan@phillynews.com.