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Luol Deng scored 21 points on Friday to lead the Bulls past the Cavaliers.
Chicago 100, Cleveland 95 (F)
He delivered plenty, but he couldn't deliver a victory.
While James made it look easy early on, tying his team record by scoring 24 of his 34 points in the first quarter, the Chicago Bulls eventually found a clear path to the rim and beat Cleveland 100-95 on Friday night.
The Cavaliers are trying to lock down the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but they stumbled against a team that can only hope for a little lottery luck. With a two-game lead over Washington in the Eastern Conference and a three-game advantage over Philadelphia when the night began, Cleveland saw an eight-point lead after the first quarter turn into a 53-47 halftime deficit.
"We have to get better," James said. "We can't worry about what Washington does, what Philly does. We have to play well. I know how important the postseason is. I've won playoff series. I've won playoff games. I know how important each possession is."
Watching the Bulls score 28 points in the second quarter and 29 in the third made him wince. They drove for layups, they dunked, and they built a big enough lead to withstand a push by Cleveland in the fourth.
Luol Deng led the Bulls with 21 points. Tyrus Thomas added 20 points and 14 rebounds, Joakim Noah chipped in 17 and 11 for Chicago, and both delivered ferocious dunks that left James and coach Mike Brown saying they were embarrassed.
"Something has to change in order for us to go into the playoffs the right way," Brown said.
Chicago led 68-62 before Deng buried a 3-pointer midway through the third, sending the Bulls on a run that extended their lead to 82-65 heading into the fourth. Along the way, Noah delivered two thunderous dunks over Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Thomas added one that drew a primal roar from him and the crowd.
"I think we played well tonight," Noah said. "At the same time, I feel that we both have a long way to go. Potential doesn't win games and that's what matters."
The Cavaliers clearly have a way to go on defense. They ended Wednesday's 104-83 win over New Jersey on a 51-16 run, but that didn't carry over.
"The layups and dunks disappointed me the most tonight," James said. "I'm never disappointed in my teammates. They had four or five dunks in the fourth quarter. It was embarrassing, very embarrassing. It's not good to see that. ... It's just embarrassing."
Early on, James was the one drawing the oohs and aahs.
James, averaging a league-leading 30.2 points before this game, showed no sign of the recent back trouble that caused him to miss practice on Monday and Tuesday. He scored 33 points in a 104-83 win over New Jersey on Wednesday and kept it going against the Bulls, with the sort of theatrics another No. 23 used to perform here on a regular basis.
He made all 10 of his shots in the first quarter as the Cavaliers grabbed a 33-25 lead, dazzling the crowd with dunks and jumpers. By the end of the quarter, he had tied the club record he set in the fourth against Toronto on Jan. 6, when he finished with 39.
"I made shots in our offense," he said. "I didn't make many plays in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, our ball movement was great. That's why I was getting so many shots."
James, who finished 13-for-21 from the field, wowed the crowd midway through the first quarter when he drove up court and past Thomas for a hard dunk, and the acrobatics continued. He drove along the right side for another hard dunk with about two minutes left and went through the lane for a scoop layup with 1:34 remaining. He missed the ensuing free throw, but the Cavaliers got the rebound and James buried a 3-pointer.
The 24 were one shy of Jalen Rose's United Center scoring record for any quarter and tied Michael Redd's mark for points against Chicago in a period. The 10 field goals tied Jamal Crawford's arena record.
He finally missed a 3-pointer 59 seconds into the second quarter and wasn't much of a factor the rest of the way.
Notes: James scored a season-high 51 points at Memphis on Jan. 15, and his career-high is 56 at Toronto on March 20, 2005. ... Bulls F Drew Gooden will miss the remainder of the season because of a lower abdominal strain, interim coach Jim Boylan said. Gooden missed his seventh straight game when the Bulls hosted Cleveland on Friday and will not be available for the final three.