The Cavaliers went into Thursday night's game at Miami fresh off their best win of the season and looking to run their winning streak to three and finish off their three-game road trip with a spotless record. They did both, topping the Heat, 111-104, in an entertaining game marked not only by the requisite spectacular performances from LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, but by major contributions from some rather unexpected sources. The Cavaliers are now 6-3, have just defused two of the hotter teams in the Eastern Conference- and that awkward start is receding further and further into the rearview mirror.
Let's roll the tape.
That's What They Paid For: Any time the Cavaliers and Heat meet on the court the two teams' respective superstars are the cynosure of all eyes, and neither took long to give the sellout crowd at American Airlines Arena their money's worth. After Cleveland sprinted out to an early lead the Heat came back strong. Miami took its first lead at 21-19 late in the opening period when Dwayne Wade went the length of the floor and absolutely destroyed Anderson Varejao, hammering it in his face and getting some harm to go with the hoop. The Death Star didn't destroy Alderaan as thoroughly as D-Wade destroyed Andy on that dunk.
At the end of the first period the superstars took over in earnest. First LeBron, who had converted a three-point play moments earlier, shook free on a high pick and hammered home a thunder-dunk to give Cleveland a 33-30 lead. Wade responded with a three-point bomb right in LeBron's eye to tie the score. LeBron then took the inbound pass, raced down court and buried a running twenty-footer to make it 35-33 Cavaliers at the end of one. The mutual scoring binge has long been a staple of LeBron-Wade encounters, and so it was again on Thursday night.
Getting Better All the Time: Varejao seemed to go into a shell after being humiliated by D-Wade on national television- he was a relative non-factor the rest of the way- but J.J. Hickson more than picked up the slack with his best night as a pro. The youngster from N.C. State, who is just barely old enough to head down to the Quickie Mart and pick up a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, went off for 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting with four rebounds and a block in 31 minutes of play. For the second night in a row he led all players with a +12. He all but took over the game in the third period, dropping in ten points on 5-of-6 shooting in the third quarter. He also seemed to be clutching his lower back at times, which was somewhat worrisome given his problems in that part of his body over the spring and summer.
M-O-O-N, That Spells Baller: Jamario Moon saw an up-tick in his minutes over the course of the road trip, and he has responded with smart, physical play on defense and the backboards. He played an excellent game on Thursday night, logging 31 minutes and springing for eight points and six rebounds in a hard-working effort on both ends. If Delonte West ever returns to this team, we're going to have some nice backcourt depth between him, Anthony Parker and Jamario.
Mo Stays Hot: Maybe it's the balmy weather down there, but the two-night sojourn in the state of Florida seems to have revived Mo Williams's shooting stroke. He was on fire again Thursday night, popping for 25 points on 10-of-15 from the field (5-of-7 from downtown) with four rebounds, three assists and a steal. He helped break open a tight game midway through the third quarter with a baseline jumper and a three-pointer, neither of which, for whatever reason, was contested at all by Miami's defense. Might want to guard this man, fellows.
Cold as Ice: To say Zydrunas Ilgauskas is going through a shooting slump is akin to saying Detroit is going through an economic slump; it's an understatement of gross magnitude. After a frosty 0-for-3 effort in Miami, the big man is now 4-for-31 from the field in the last five games, three of which have resulted in o-fers. Not only is Big Z missing, he's missing badly.
Superstar Plays, Superstar Calls: The two headliners scored a lot of points and got a lot of whistles, both of which was to be expected. LeBron went for 34 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block; D-Wade racked up a game-high 36 points with five assists, four rebounds and two blocked shots. Between them they shot 39 free throws. The teams combined for a whopping 77 free throws on the night in a game that was constantly interrupted by the shrill tweet of whistles.
Shot of the Night: Not surprisingly, the dagger was wielded by LeBron James, who personally shut down Miami's last D-Wade-led foray late in the fourth quarter. After Wade cut Cleveland's lead to 103-99 with a driving lay-up, LeBron calmly dribbled out the shot clock then buried a three-pointer to bump the margin back to seven with 2:41 to play. The Heat never really threatened again after that.
Next: Our heroes return home to take on the Utah Jazz Saturday night at 7:30. Coming back to the Q might not be such a good thing; the Cavaliers are only 2-2 at home this season, as opposed to 4-1 on the road.