CAVS 93 Heat 86
Through the first two months of the season, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have established themselves as the front-runners for the Most Valuable Player Award. If the course holds, the
Cavaliers might want to submit the fourth quarter film from Sunday night as supporting evidence in James' case.
In a grueling duel with Wade and the Miami Heat, James and the Cavs were masterful in the stretch run to keep their home-court winning streak intact, 93-86, at The Q. It should set up a nice rematch Tuesday when the Heat, who saw their four-game win streak ended, play host to the Cavs.
There is no doubt the Cavs (26-4) are going through their roughest patch of play since the first week of the season. The Heat (16-13) exposed quite a few flaws that carried over from the escape act the Cavs pulled on Christmas night. And those do merit attention, but not more so than James' efforts against his Olympic teammate in this
Down by 10 points in the fourth, James took it to his highest gear on both offense and defense.
He scored 11 of his 33 points and also handed out four assists, having a direct hand in seven of the Cavs' nine baskets in a comeback.
After watching Wade put up 23 points in the first three quarters, James also took over covering the NBA's leading scorer and limited him to six points as the Cavs screamed past.
An 18-2 run, and a series of frenetic defensive plays by the rest of his teammates, and the Cavs somehow pulled out their 16th consecutive home victory and ran their latest winning streak to six games.
"You have to challenge yourself mentally to do it on both ends," said James, who had six rebounds and nine assists. "I have to do it on both ends for our team to be successful and I have no problem with that."
It was less than two years ago the Cavs were unable to stop Wade in such situations. In February 2007, running off pick-and-rolls, Wade scored 24 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter and erased a 12-point Cavs lead to get the win. It was just the most memorable of huge efforts Wade had against the Cavs.
He was still very strong in this one; he scored 14 points in the third quarter to help the Heat build their lead.
But he could not match James' influence, and largely because James was on him. When the Heat tried to go to that Wade high screen, the Cavs would double-team him to block his path. And when they didn't, James used his size to frustrate Wade, who had no assists in the fourth.
"Good defensive teams make you earn all your buckets," Wade said. "That's what it came down to."
James' intensity, though, was matched by his teammates. Delonte West and Mo Williams terrorized the Heat's guards with pressure. West had two steals in the fourth, including one where he knocked the ball away from Shawn Marion by diving on the court, and it led to a James dunk.
Williams scored seven of his 20 points before fouling out with two minutes to play. West scored eight of his 11 points and both players hit momentum-building 3-pointers off feeds from James in the big run.
Anderson Varejao had six of his 12 points and five of his 10 rebounds in the fourth, and Ben Wallace had five of his season-high-tying 14 rebounds and also finished with three blocks. Those two helped the Cavs outrebound the Heat, 15-6, and hold them to 35 percent shooting in the crucial period.
Yet the reason the Cavs had to work so hard was they played three quarters of sloppy, average Basketball. Their offense was off rhythm for a second consecutive game and they missed numerous easy baskets and committed unforced turnovers like hasn't been seen since preseason. Through three quarters the Cavs were shooting just 38 percent and had scored just 58 points.
Defensively they struggled dealing with Wade and the weakside on pick-and-roll coverage. Zydrunas Ilgauskas couldn't move fast enough to deal with the Heat's smaller big men and Udonis Haslem often ditched him on the way to 15 points.
"I thought we were lackadaisical at times," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "We have not done a good job of getting to our second option or our third option on offense. It's a matter of us getting back to work in practice."
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