CLEVELAND — For the Cavaliers and their fans, it was the closest thing they will get to an NBA playoff game.
Actually, the Super Bowl would be more like it.
That is why the Cavs’ 102-90 stunner over LeBron James and his hated Miami Heat on Tuesday had to feel better than any other victory this season.
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It happened in front of the home crowd, it happened with Anthony Parker looking almost as much like Dwyane Wade as Wade himself, and it happened with the Heat needing every win possible to stay in contention for the East’s No. 1 seed.
It also happened with Cavs forward J.J. Hickson utterly out-playing Heat counterpart Chris Bosh, and with the Cavs never trailing against a team that prides itself on taking leads whenever it so desires.
The Cavs went on runs of 7-0 and 6-0 in the first quarter. They did the same in the second.
They went on a whopping 18-0 burst in the third — and when the Heat when on a run of their own to tie it at 83-all in the fourth, the Cavs responded with 12 unanswered points to put away the game.
The Cavs were energetic, aggressive, physical and clutch.
In other words, this night couldn’t have been more different from Dec. 2, when James made his first return in another uniform and embarrassed his former colleagues on national television.
This time, there was no huge pregame buildup, no major media outlets chronicling James’ every word and dribble, no reporters flying in from all over the world.
Just a ball, a bunch of underdogs and one last chance to give Cleveland fans a reason to cheer.
And the Cavs came through. Not just for themselves, but for the people who have supported them through thick and, as far as this season is concerned, mostly thin.
“They have been so great for us all year,” Parker said. “That was the great feeling — getting it back for them.”
Parker was at least as good as at any other time this season, hitting nearly every basket on his way to 20 points. That included 4 for 4 shooting on 3-pointers.
“I don’t know what I was shooting before this game, but it wasn’t good,” he said.
Then, Parker showed how much this one truly meant to the Cavs.
“If I had to do it all over again and save it for this one game,” he added, “I probably would.”
Meanwhile, Hickson (21 points, 12 rebounds) and center Ryan Hollins (13 points, 3 for 4 shooting) led the way in the front court, displaying the ferocity and toughness that was lacking in early December.
It was clear the Cavs’ philosophy was they might get beat, but they sure weren’t going to get beat up.
“Our attitude before the game was we had nothing to lose,” Hickson said. “One of the main things that coach (Byron Scott) said was, “We are playing for ourselves. We are not playing for anyone outside this locker room. We are not playing for any accolades. We are just playing for ourselves and our pride.'”
The Cavs (15-58) also played with Baron Davis starting at point guard for the first time since he was acquired from the Clippers — and it’s pretty evident that when healthy, Davis is still among the league’s elite point guards.
He ran the offense to near-perfection, continuously directing his teammates and finding the open man for easy baskets. In the end, Davis finished with 10 points and a team-high seven assists, all of which took place in just 24 minutes.
Meanwhile, James finished with the kind of triple-double that used to be a frequent occurrence in this building, compiling 27 points, 12 assists and 10 boards. But he scored 13 of those points in the first quarter, and made just one of his five 3-pointers for the game.
“It’s all about wins so a triple-double for me means nothing,” James said. “We have to regroup.”
The Heat (51-23) now trail Chicago by 2 1/2 games for best record in the Eastern Conference, and are a half-game behind Boston for second place.