There's been little doubt thus far in the NBA season that LeBron James has been the league's best player and the Boston Celtics have been the best team.
Individual excellence meets team dominance on Tuesday as James and the Cleveland Cavaliers host the NBA-best Celtics in a matchup of clubs riding three-game winning streaks.
James is averaging 31.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.1 assists, conjuring images of Michael Jordan - the last player to average at least 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists over a full season. He also has four triple-doubles in 14 games - missing two others by just one assist.
Cleveland has relied on James more than ever in his fifth NBA season. He is the first player since Jason Kidd last December to record triple-doubles in back-to-back games - in Saturday's home win over Toronto and Sunday's 111-106 victory at Indiana. On Monday, he was named the Eastern Conference's player of the week.
"We're playing some good basketball, and I'm the catalyst of that," said James, who had 30 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against the Pacers. "The best thing about it, we got three straight wins and that's good."
The Cavaliers (8-6) are on a tear from 3-point range, hitting 26 of 54 attempts from beyond the arc in their last two victories.
"I just think that were stepping into it with a lot of confidence," said Cleveland guard Daniel Gibson, whose 53.9 percentage from 3-point range ranks among the best in the NBA. "LeBron is doing a great job of finding us when we're open."
Aside from their lone loss - a 104-102 defeat at Orlando on Nov. 18 - Boston has been rolling along with supreme efficiency. The Celtics are outscoring the opposition by an average of 13 points. Their 11-1 start is the best since the 1984-85 Celtics began the season 15-1.
They've won eight games by at least 10 points and four by 20 or more, although their latest victory was considerably tougher.
Boston trailed Charlotte 95-93 on Saturday and the Bobcats had the ball with 4.7 seconds left. But Eddie House deflected an inbounds pass to Paul Pierce, who got the ball to Ray Allen. Allen, who had been just 3 of 14 from the field, hit a 3-pointer as time expired to give the Celtics a 96-95 win.
"The minute Eddie touched the ball, it was like everything went into slow motion,'' said Allen, whose 19.6 points per game rank third on the team.
The Celtics were paced yet again by Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the team's leading scorers on the season with 22.2 and 20.9 points per game respectively. They each had 23 against Charlotte.
Boston is the only team in the league with three players averaging at least 19 points.
Pierce scored a career-high 50 against Cleveland on Feb. 15, 2006, but he wasn't the only star to play well that day. James posted one of his 14 career triple-doubles, a 43-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist effort, in the Cavaliers' 113-109 win.
The Cavs lost their last meeting with Boston, but had won the previous seven. The Celtics' last win in Cleveland came in overtime on Dec. 18, 2004.
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