Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Cavs slow LeBron but can't stop Heat
By Michael Wallace
MIAMI -- The Cleveland Cavaliers took pride in their strategy to slow LeBron James to one of his least productive performances of the season. Evidently, they weren't up to speed on Chris Bosh.
With James struggling from the field and guard Dwyane Wade missing his fifth straight game with a sprained ankle, Bosh matched his Heat career high with 35 points, made all 14 of his free throw attempts and added seven rebounds to help the Heat escape with a 92-85 victory over the Cavaliers on Tuesday.
Typically this season, the formula has been simple for opponents: Slow James, the league's second-leading scorer, and you have a chance to beat the Heat (12-5). But that wasn't the case for the Cavaliers, who held James to 8-of-21 shooting from the field and forced him into five turnovers with their constantly trapping defense.
James grew so frustrated at one point in the second half with Cleveland's aggressive defense and physical play that he yelled at teammates for failing to get him the ball in enough time before a second wave of defenders arrived to bottle him up.
It resulted in the second-worst single-game shooting percentage of the season for James. It was also the fourth time this season he had at least five turnovers. James missed four of five shots in the fourth quarter, but finished with 18 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals in a relatively uneven outing as Miami closed out a five-game homestand with a 4-1 record.
"I don't think we played him straight up," said Cavaliers swingman Anthony Parker, who spent most of the second half as James' primary defender. "We brought help when we needed to. He's a great player and he's going to get points, but we didn't want to give him the breakaways and easy layups at the basket, stuff like that."
James entered Tuesday shooting 54.6 percent from the field, including 45 percent from 3-point range. But the past two games have been a struggle, and it appears that carrying the additional offensive burden with Wade unavailable is starting to wear a bit. James has missed 23 of his past 39 shots from the field and four of five from beyond the arc, which includes Sunday's loss to Milwaukee.
"Nah, I didn't have a rhythm offensively," James said Tuesday. "I think they did a good job defensively. Every time I dribbled the ball, they doubled me. That's when you rely on your teammates. I'm glad I've got some really good ones."
The schedule now seems to be as relentless as any defense James has seen this season. The Heat will play their sixth game in nine days when they face the Detroit Pistons on the road Wednesday. Wade was scheduled to travel with the team Tuesday night, but his status remains uncertain as he recovers from the ankle injury.
James refused to offer any excuses for the recent sluggish play, but he did address some of the challenges many teams face trying to push through injuries and a compacted schedule this season.
"You have no choice -- the schedule is what it is," James said. "It's tough, but you have to just mentally prepare yourself. [There are] going to be times when your legs are just dead. But you've got to try to just go out there and do it. We're not the only team that's playing back-to-backs. We're not the only team that's playing four in five nights. Every team has to do it. We have to do it right now."
James admitted emotions still play a role in his matchups with Cleveland, the franchise he left as a free agent in 2010 after eight years to sign with the Heat. There were times in Tuesday's game when James was jawing with Cleveland players after physical exchanges in the lane. He also shot a few menacing glares at the Cavaliers' bench after he made difficult shots.
But Cleveland's game plan was predicated on not allowing James to get to the basket for uncontested shots or run-out dunks in transition. Parker and Alonzo Gee shared the assignment.
"That's a matchup nightmare for a lot of guys," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said of James, who was held under 20 points for only the second time this season. "Our guys came out aggressive from the get-go. I thought both of those guys competed, played him extremely well. We still had a couple of breakdowns, but that is going to happen in a 48-minute game."
James said he would have been far more frustrated with his play had the Heat lost. But he could more easily dismiss a rare off night because the end result was a victory.
"When I don't play well and we lose, I feel like I didn't do enough," James said. "But my teammates picked me up. We did what we had to do and we got the win."