1. LeBron, Cavaliers Pull Away From Celtics
CLEVELAND -- It was not the best game for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon, but they still were able to defeat the Boston Celtics by 11. The Cavaliers are the only team with 50 wins so far this season (52-15) and have won nine of their past 10 games.
Team defense has been the key for the Cavs -- they are second-best in the league in opponents' field goal percentage (.438) -- and they held the Celtics to 40 percent shooting.
Even when Boston was able to close the deficit, you never got the sense that the game was in doubt. LeBron James had his typical performance and was especially dominant in the second half when he scored 24 of his 30 points. He also had eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.
Cleveland also received great performances from forwards Anderson Varejao and Leon Powe, who came off the bench to make six free throws. Guard Mo Williams continues to harass opponents with his 3-pointers and pull-ups.
Forward Antawn Jamison scored 15 points but needed 17 shots to do so. It appears he is feeling the pressure of coming to a contending team where so much is expected of him. He clearly is not playing at his best level right now. He's shooting terribly from the free throw line (2-of-8 vs. Boston). I think by the time the playoffs roll around, he'll be much better and more into the flow of what the Cavs want to do.
Cleveland's Mike Brown has a unique method of coaching. He allows his assistant coaches to have a voice on both ends of the floor. The players like him and enjoy playing for him.
Cleveland hasn't skipped a beat without the injured Shaquille O'Neal, because they don't need him every game, especially at this time of the season. They are counting on Shaq for the playoffs, when they expect to face Orlando's Dwight Howard or the Lakers' big front line.
A lot of people think that bringing big man Zydrunas Ilgauskas back is a good thing, but if it were me, I wouldn't do it. I love Ilgauskas; he has had a great career and is a terrific teammate. The problem is his presence muddies the rotation. Shaq will return before the season is over and Brown will be working on getting a consistent rotation for when the playoffs begin. Since the Cavs have Jamison now, the return of Ilgauskas would complicate things.
With that being said, the Cavaliers are still the best team in the league. They have already shut down the Lakers twice this season.
As for the Celtics, they are counting on a resurgence of the Big Three. The Celtics are old, but they are hoping that the addition of veteran Michael Finley can help them make another title run. I don't think that is going to happen.
Dr. Jack Ramsay is a regular Daily Dime contributor.
2. A Different Kind Of Rebuilding
The process is set in stone. Tank year after year, and draft top talent. Trade your best players and expiring contracts for cap room and maximize your flexibility. Build from the ground up.
But what do you do if you don't draft well?
That's the quandary the Bobcats faced when Larry Brown took over. They'd drafted Emeka Okafor, who had a tremendous amount of ability but was not a top center. They had drafted Adam Morrison, who had a tremendous mustache, and that's pretty much it.
So in two years, the Bobcats have been completely remade. Among the players who have remained is Raymond Felton, who seems to be the cockroach to Brown's heel. No matter how much Brown tries to squash him, Felton squirms his way to the starting PG role.
Brown added Boris Diaw, who no one would have thought of as a Brown guy. He added Stephen Jackson. How can an aging high-usage gunner with character issues (even if he was lauded as a teammate everywhere he went) and a hugely overpaid contract possibly help this franchise? And they were dogged. But it looks like the Cats are headed to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, entirely by trade.
Now, it's still clear that the Cats' future is in question. The new CBA will make an already cap-strapped team in a small market face that much more of a climb. But this is the route the Bobcats have decided to take, eschewing youth and flexibility in an attempt to do the most they can with what they have and maybe build a winning tradition.
To read the Hardwood Paroxysm blog, click here
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Sunday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
4. Taking Care Of The Rock
The Trail Blazers committed only eight turnovers in their 109-98 win over the Raptors. Portland committed fewer than 10 turnovers only once in its first 30 games this season. But the Blazers have done so in 14 of 39 games since then, dating back to Dec. 23. That's the most games with fewer than 10 giveaways by any team during that time.
• Jerry Stackhouse led the Bucks with 20 points in their 98-94 win over the Pacers on Sunday. It was the first time the 35-year-old Stackhouse led his team in scoring in a victory since Jan. 25, 2006, when he led the Mavericks with 23 points in a 102-93 win at Golden State.
• Dwight Howard scored 27 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, but his 3-for-10 foul shooting might have cost the Magic a victory in their 96-89 loss to the Bobcats on Sunday. It was the sixth time this season that Howard's missed free throws accounted for the margin of defeat for Orlando. That ties breaks a tie with Brook Lopez for the league lead in this category-without-a-name.
• Kevin Durant scored 35 points and Russell Westbrook added 30 in the Thunder's 119-111 win over the Jazz. It was the first time that two players scored 30 or more points in a regulation, 48-minute game against Utah since the Carmelo Anthony/Allen Iverson honeymoon, when Melo and A.I. did it twice in a span of four weeks (January-February 2007).
5. Extreme Behavior
Tyreke Evans, Kings: The rookie narrowly missed recording his second triple-double, scoring 29 points, grabbing nine rebounds and handing out 11 assists to power Sacramento to a 14-point win against the Wolves.
Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson, Magic: The two Orlando starters combined to go 3-for-17 from the floor, finishing with seven points in the Magic's 96-89 loss to the Bobcats.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"There's no science to it. It's not rocket science or brain surgery. You just have to win. If you make it complicated, it will be complicated. We just have to win games. That's all."
-- Toronto forward Chris Bosh on the Raptors' playoff chances
6. Burning Down The Nets
7. NBA Video Channel
8. The Pistons' Answer At Center?
You've probably heard about some of the Detroit Pistons' issues: too many overpriced shooting guards, poor defense, no cap room in sight.
But the most serious problem might have been their future at center. Ben Wallace has been exceptional this year, but at 35, he's not a long-term solution. His backups for much of the season, Chris Wilcox and Kwame Brown, aren't inspiring, either.
Enter Jason Maxiell.
Midway through the season, Maxiell evolved from Detroit's backup power forward into its backup center. Maxiell thrives with a defined role, and now he has one.
Former coach Michael Curry played him inconsistently last year, and so did John Kuester for half of this season. What seemed like a bargain at the time, Maxiell's four-year, $20 million contract extension looked exorbitant.
But tell him to play 20 minutes every night behind Wallace and, all of a sudden, you have a very productive player.
He still rebounds and dunks like he did at power forward, but playing center keeps him in the paint. Maxiell has a decent midrange jumper that he can use when the opponent takes away his low-post game, but he can be prone to drifting outside too often. That doesn't happen as much when he plays center.
Now, with Wallace sidelined by injury, Maxiell has stepped up even more. Starting the last six games at center, Maxiell is averaging 11.0 points and 10.8 rebounds and had a double-double the last three.
Until that run, there was a perception that Maxiell was better suited to be a backup rather than a starter. Not only did the numbers support the sentiment, but it made sense. At 6-foot-7, he's undersized even as a power forward -- but that's minimized against reserves, who are typically smaller than starters.
It's still extremely doubtful Maxiell is Detroit's center of the future. But there's a chance. And for the Pistons right now, that's as much as they can ask for.
To read the PistonPowered blog, click here
9. Varejao The Difference For Cavs
CLEVELAND -- The Boston Celtics entered Sunday's showdown against the Cleveland Cavaliers with an 18-18 record over their last 36 games.
How appropriate. Fifty-fifty. That ended up being the story of the game.
With a chance to jump-start a stagnant season, the Celtics watched the Cavaliers outwork them, particularly on the glass, where the hosts turned 17 offensive rebounds into a staggering 27 second-chance points.
To read the entire Forsberg column, click here