Cavs cruise past Mavs for 60th win
James scored 24 points with 12 assists while orchestrating Cleveland's show on and off the floor as the Cavs made more history with a 102-74 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, hitting the 60-win mark and extending their winning streak to a franchise record 12 straight.
The Cavs, who earlier this week surpassed the club mark for wins in a season, trailed 35-20 in the first quarter and 49-47 at halftime.
But Cleveland, flexing its defensive muscle, then outscored Dallas 30-11 in the third quarter, 55-25 in the second half and by an astounding 82-39 margin from the 10:13 mark of the second quarter on to improve to a league-best 35-1 at home.
"We just take care of business," James said.
On the way to Cleveland's largest margin of victory in 56 games over Dallas, James plowed over official Derek Richardson. He popped right up, but the collision knocked the wind out of the 6-foot-8, 260-pound superstar.
"Flagrant-2," James said with a laugh. "They should have kicked him out."
Cleveland is the 61st team to win 60 games in the regular season.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 20 for the Mavericks, who came in with a three-game lead over Phoenix for the No. 8 playoff spot in the West. Dallas was held to a season-low in points.
"Every game's tough," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. "This (Cleveland) is a championship-caliber team. You can't have any letdowns at all. Our letdown in the third quarter really cost us. We don't have a lot of time to mope. We have a lot of important games coming up this week. We're going to have to regroup."
Mo Williams added 22 points, Zydrunas Ilgauskas 14 and Joe Smith had his best game since returning to the Cavs, adding 12 points with 13 rebounds and was Cleveland's only consistent player in the first half. Smith also made his first 3-pointer since re-signing with the Cavs.
"Joe has given us a lift since he's put on a Cavaliers uniform," James said.
Jason Kidd, who missed Dallas' previous game with a sore back, had nine points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Kidd also volunteered to guard James, his U.S. Olympic teammate, in the first half and later wondered if it was a bad idea.
"He almost had a triple-double in the first half, so I don't know how much that worked," Kidd said.
The Cavaliers, who trailed by 15 in the second quarter, didn't need long to turn things around and run their record to 25-4 against Western Conference teams.
James fed Ilgauskas for three straight jumpers as Cleveland outscored Dallas 10-1 in the opening minutes of the third quarter. The Mavericks couldn't get anything going against Cleveland's suffocating defense, and when James pulled up and knocked down a 3-pointer, the Cavs were ahead 71-56 and on their way to win No. 12 in a row.
On Cleveland's next trip, Williams pulled up for a 3-pointer that missed. But before the shot bounced off the rim, a retreating James didn't see Richardson and fell over him near midcourt. James crashed hard to the floor and laid there for several moments as Cleveland fans quieted and his teammates gathered around.
"I just lost my breath," he said. "It don't matter how big you are, if somebody catches you and you're running full speed like that ... I just stayed down and tried to catch my breath."
He soon popped to his feet, and it wasn't long before James was dancing on Cleveland's sideline during a timeout and mugging for the camera as the Cavs' reserves finished off the Mavericks.
Following player introductions, James and his teammates held a mock baseball game with Williams hitting an imaginary home run. With James as their ringleader, the Cavs, now 20-2 since the All-Star break, recently began staging elaborate pregame productions.
It's all in good fun, and no team is having more fun than the Cavs right now.
James was asked if this was the best time he's ever had on the floor.
"Not yet," he said. "I had way too much fun playing with the guys in high school. We won state championship after state championship. It's starting to get there."
Kidd is impressed with everything about Cleveland.
"Their record speaks for itself," he said. "They are the best team in the NBA right now."
Notes: Cleveland had just five turnovers. ... On Saturday, James was in Columbus cheering on his alma mater, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, which won its fifth state basketball title. James sat behind the bench but spent much of the game nervously pacing and chewing his nails. "That's what I live for," he said. "St. V is where I played. Once you go there, you're always part of that tradition. I think everyone wearing green and gold was proud of what happened." ... Mavericks F Josh Howard missed his 11th straight game with a sore left ankle. Dallas' third-leading scorer hasn't played since March 5. ... The Cavs are 15-1 in March, setting a franchise record for wins in any month.