LeBron James was willing to do anything necessary to beat close friend Dwyane Wade.
Even if it meant filling in at point guard.
Forced to start in the backcourt, James scored 36 points – 17 on free throws – and Daniel Gibson added 12 in the second half after rushing back from the hospital as the Cleveland Cavaliers ran their winning streak to 10 with a 102-84 win over Wade and the Miami Heat on Thursday night.
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James ran Cleveland’s offense in place of Gibson, who had been starting while Mo Williams and Delonte West recover from injuries. In attack mode from the start, James added eight assists, seven rebounds and went 17 of 21 from the line. The anticipated one-on-one showdown between him and Wade never materialized as the Cavs controlled the game and attempted 36 free throws to 14 for Miami.
"This team is just better than us," said Wade, flattened twice by run-ins with Shaquille O’Neal. "You have to be realistic. I understand this team has NBA championship aspirations. We don’t have that. We’re focusing on trying to get to the playoffs and this team is trying to get to the championship. It’s totally different."
Wade finished with 24 points on 11 of 26 shooting and Michael Beasley had 21 as the Heat dropped its four straight and sixth in seven games.
Gibson was scratched from the starting lineup and didn’t enter the game until the second half after joining his pregnant fiancee, singer Keyshia Cole, who was hospitalized for precautionary reasons. He made two 3-pointers in the fourth when the Cavs outscored the Heat 21-13.
Gibson watched part of the game on TV at home before heading to the arena.
"We had a long day," Gibson said, adding that Cole has not had the baby.
The last time James and Wade hooked up on Jan. 12, they scored a combined 70 points in an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better matchup. Both provided their usual jaw-dropping plays again, but James was able to improve to 13-9 against Wade, including 9-1 in Cleveland.
"Nothing personal," said James, averaging 34 points, 6.3 assists and 6.7 rebounds in three wins over Miami this season. "Strictly business."
Miami was within eight after three quarters, but the Cavs outscored them 10-3 to open the fourth, taking a 91-76 lead on a 3 by Gibson. Wade tried to keep Miami close but didn’t have nearly as much help as James, who has adapted his game lately to fill the backcourt void.
"I knew I was going to have the ball in my hands a lot because I was the starting point guard or point forward, whatever you want to call it," James said. "Like Magic (Johnson). I can go coast to coast and do a lot of things with the ball that point guards in this league can’t do.
"I was aggressive, they fouled me and I continued to be aggressive."
While James was able to draw fouls – he shot 21 free throws to 2 for Wade – his Miami counterpart wasn’t able to get as many calls despite being knocked down on a few occasions. Twice, Wade ran into O’Neal, his former Heat teammate, and found himself looking at the ceiling without hearing a whistle.
"I went into him a couple times and nothing got called," Wade said. "I do what I normally do and that’s be aggressive. He stepped up and delivered a couple body blows, but he knows I’m not going to break. So it’s fine. He got a little blood, but it wasn’t nothing."
O’Neal added 13 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes, yet another strong, efficient performance from the big man who has stepped his game up of late. When Wade came at him, O’Neal held his ground.
"I’m not going to move and I ain’t going to flop," he said. "So I’m just going to stand there. They’re either going to call a foul or let us play."
O’Neal posted up and scored on a pair of short jumpers as the Cavs pushed their lead to 12 late in the third.
Gibson rejoined his teammates in the second quarter, and moments after he came back, James scored on an alley-oop dunk, fed J.J. Hickson for a slam and set up Zydrunas Ilgauskas for a 3 that put the Cavaliers ahead by five.
Gibson said Cole, who was sent home, didn’t want him to miss the game.
"She was pushing me to get here just as much as I was trying to get here," he said.
Hickson posterized Wade with a monster dunk in the first. Hickson hustled to pick up a loose ball near midcourt and then raced down the floor before throwing down a two-hander on Wade, who probably would have been better off if he had let the 6-foot-9 Hickson pass freely.
Wade tried to return the facial in the third, but was rejected at the rim by Hickson.
NOTES: James is listed at No. 5 on Forbes Magazine’s Fab 40 list of the most powerful figures in sports. … The Cavs are 22-5 against teams at .500 or better. … James is the first player to win conference player of the month three straight times since Kevin Garnett in 2003-04. James has won the award five times in a row. "Sounds like MVP to me, right?" Cavs coach Mike Brown said. … Heat F Udonis Haslem played in his 487th career game – second on Miami’s career list behind Alonzo Mourning’s 593 games.