Updated: March 2, 2007, 9:54 AM ET

King's dramatic rise and fall

DALLAS -- He threw down one of the sickest dunks of the season for starters, although you could debate whether it was his best dunk this week.

He proceeded to keep his short-handed team in the game all the way to the finish, no matter how often it seemed he was playing 1-on-5.

LeBron James even wound up guarding the league's leading MVP candidate for half of the fourth quarter, as if he wasn't doing enough by then.

You could not overlook the fact that James somehow found time to stuff two missed free throws and two off-target, potentially overtime-forcing triples into the final 13.7 seconds of a 95-92 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

Yet you could not deny that, playing like this, James almost single-handedly derailed a juggernaut that freaks out its fans if it doesn't win in a walk. A club that has won 14 consecutive games, after earlier streaks of 12 and 13 straight, as well as 21 in a row at home.

"When he attacks like that," said Cavs coach Mike Brown, "I don't know who can stop him.

"His level of intensity and focus were off the charts."

They really were. In a season marked by accusations that he and his team have at times been coasting -- or worse -- James began the stretch run by frequently toasting the league's best team on national television.

It was always going to be tough not to be drawn to the one-man show, since I regularly see more of the steamrolling Mavs than the Cavs, but it's no exaggeration to say that Thursday was one of those nights that only LeBron could stop LeBron. Until his inability to cash in on some very friendly looks in that calamitous crunch time, James was shooting 17-for-25 from the floor.

You can't fawn over what he did without acknowledging that Dallas' focus and sharpness are bound to waver on occasion after all its recent dominance. You can't ignore, furthermore, that the Mavs could only deploy their top two perimeter defenders for 14 combined minutes, with Devean George sidelined and Greg Buckner ailing.

But don't forget that James lost a queasy, flu-ridden Larry Hughes in pregame warm-ups and still wouldn't let his overmatched gang fade away, not even in the face of a 14-point deficit with 6:21 to play.

After a 10-point flurry from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry's 3-pointer when Nowitzki was double-teamed made it 89-75, LeBron switched onto Dirk and helped hold him scoreless for the final 6:21. The Cavs kept scrambling, too, until they found themselves in a one-possession game, only succumbing after young No. 23 tumbled into the baseline seats on a late drive and then finally started missing.

First came the two errant free throws, adding to LeBron's longstanding woes at the line, only for Shannon Brown's offensive rebound to present James with another shot to crack the 40-point plateau for the first time this season. He actually wound up getting two cracks at a game-tying 3, thanks to another offensive volleyball tip by Anderson Varejao, but failed to connect on both to leave James stuck on 39 points.

Coach Brown was nonetheless moved to put the performance in James' top two for the season and I see no need to hedge that much. Clever as those commercials are -- I can't deny liking when Business takes over the pool -- this is the LeBron we all want to see.

This was LeBron shaking Josh Howard along the baseline, levitating long enough to beat DeSagana Diop's futile jump at the rim and finishing as hard as he ever has to get the ball back through the rim with a Dominique Wilkins-style finish, all from a range that would have forced almost anyone else to consider their layup options.

This was better, to me, than James posterizing the Hornets' Hilton Armstrong on Tuesday night. This might have been better than LeBron dribbling in from the 3-point line and rising up to throw one down on Tim Duncan's head in San Antonio. This was the best dunk I've ever seen in this building in person … apart from Tracy McGrady flushing so viciously on Shawn Bradley in the 2005 playoffs that he landed on Bradley's back.

"This is the best I've felt [all season]," James said afterward. "After the All-Star break, you know it's time to pick up your game."

An answer like that made me think LeBron is A) acutely aware of the flak he's been getting for not playing with this kind of fire every night and B) that he sees nothing wrong with saving as much of himself as he can for those increasingly wide-open Eastern Conference playoffs.

Not that you should expect any apologies either way.

"For what?" James said. "I've never listened to my critics in my life and I never will."

• Talk back to … Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang

• Dimes Past: February 22 | 23 | 24-25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | March 1

Showdown Of Greats
Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James looks to make a move on Dirk Nowitzki.

Detroit's Confidence Game

I'm also told that Chris Webber's presence has invigorated Rasheed Wallace, and that Rasheed is willing to spend more time on the block because of it.

And neither Dallas nor Phoenix strikes any fear in the Pistons. Detroit is 2-1 against Dallas the past two seasons, and it doesn't believe Dirk Nowitzki can handle Rasheed on the block. They feel that Rasheed makes Dirk work so hard defensively that it slows him down a bit on the other end.

As for the Suns, the Pistons believe that with several days to prepare -- as well as plenty of time to make adjustments in a seven-game series -- they will prevail.

Complete Chris Broussard blog

Free But Not Easy

LeBron James is now 27-for-46 (58.7 percent) this season on late-game pressure free throws (defined by the Elias Bureau as attempts in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or in OT with neither team leading by more than four points). He is making 68.4 percent of his free throws in all other situations this season.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias

Records At A Glance

Dallas Now 40 Games Over .500

That's 14 in a row for Dallas

To The Hoop
LeBron James
Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James was often one step ahead of the Mavs, but ultimately the hosts held on, improving to 49-9.

Extreme Behavior

Thursday's Best
Cavs forward LeBron James: Misses two FTs, misses potential game-tying threes. Maybe Dirk's foul had him reeling. Maybe not. Still, the previous 47 minutes were tremendous: 39 points on 17-of-27 shooting.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Thursday's Worst:
Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas Big Z's had a tough go of it lately. On the court, he was shut out in 19 minutes of action against the Mavs. Here's to better days.

Quote of the Day
"We gave him some different looks -- he still exploited some of our coverages. Sometimes we had three people on him and he was still able to split [them] like he was 160 pounds, then he was powerful like he was 260."
-- Mavs coach Avery Johnson, on LeBron James' performance.

See how all 59 who played stacked up
Playoff matchups if season ended now

-- Andrew Ayres

How Nuggets Mix

Nuggets VP of Basketball Operations Mark Warkentien tells Chad Ford how Allen Iverson is blending in with the team and Carmelo Anthony:

Daily Dish: Denver's progress

Adjusting That Cap
Darko Milicic

Harry (NY): Can you explain the cap hold? Why is it $13 million for Darko Milicic? So if they do nothing with him and he signs for the qualifying offer then the cap hold still takes effect?

Chad Ford: No ... the minute he signs with the Magic you use the actual number he signed for. Or, if he signs with another team and the Magic don't match or if the team just waives him (very unlikely) then his cap hold comes off the book. So for example, if Darko signs with a starting salary of $6 million, his cap hold goes away and it's replaced by the $6 million. In that scenario, the Magic would have $11 million left to spend in free agency.

Complete Chad Ford chat

100 Memories On This Date

March 2, 1962
Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors scored 100 points, the most ever by an NBA player in a single game, during his team's 169-147 win over the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pa. Chamberlain shot 36-of-63 from the field and 28-of-32 from the free throw line, to go with 25 rebounds. His 50.4 ppg scoring average in 80 games during the 1961-62 season remains an NBA record.

March 2, 1951
In the first NBA All-Star Game, held at Boston Garden, "Easy" Ed Macauley of the Celtics scored 20 points to lead the East to a 111-94 victory. Macauley was named the game's MVP.

March 4, 1998
Arbitrator John Feerick upheld the NBA's suspension of Latrell Sprewell for the 1997-98 season, resulting in a monetary penalty of $6.4 million, finding that the NBA's investigation was "done in good faith and was fair and adequate." Feerick also found "that the NBA complied with the standards of industrial due process." He reduced the NBA's suspension to the extent it had included approximately one month of the 1998-99 season. However, the arbitrator reinstated Sprewell's contract with Golden State for the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons, finding that the combination of a one-season suspension and a contract termination would not be appropriate under all of the circumstances.

March 5, 1996
Dallas sets an NBA record for three-point field goal attempts (49) in a game during a 127-117 win over visiting New Jersey. George McCloud makes seven threes in an NBA record-tying 20 attempts. Michael Adams of Denver also attempted 20 three-point field goals against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 12, 1991.

-- Peter D. Newmann



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