Playing less defense than is found in an NBA All-Star Game, the salary cap-clearing Knicks trailed by 26 points at halftime, by 42 after three periods and by 49 in the fourth before losing 124-93 to the Cavaliers on Monday at Quicken Loans Arena.
James, whose impending free agency has Knicks fans dreaming of him playing in The Big Apple next season, finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 31 minutes, but he could have scored 50 if he had wanted.
“I’m a winner,” James said. “I just want to win. I’ve yet to play for a team that didn’t like defense.”
The Knicks (20-39) not only don’t like it, they abhor it.
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That’s why the Cavaliers, who improved their NBA-best record to 47-14 on the same day they learned they would have to play the rest of the regular season without injured center Shaquille O’Neal (thumb), compiled one highlight play after another.
The best one of the night didn’t even count, thanks to the quick whistle of referee Bob Delaney.
Cleveland’s Delonte West threw an over-the-shoulder lob to a streaking and leaping James, who caught the ball with his back to the basket, brought it down to his knees, then whipped it back over his head for a two-handed slam that was extraordinary even by his lofty standards.
Only problem was, a split-second earlier Delaney had called New York’s Bill Walker for a clear-path foul for hacking West on the pass, nullifying James’ dunk.
“It was definitely up there,” James said when asked if the slam still qualified for his personal top-10 list. “It counts. It was good. It was one of the best ones I’ve had.”
There was another good one right after.
West split two free throws resulting from the clear-path foul, then provided the next SportsCenter moment four seconds later by vaulting off 6-foot-9 Tracy McGrady for a humongous slam.
Upon landing, West punctuated the dunk by flexing his muscles as New York called timeout.
“We just couldn’t guard them,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They’re just too big, too fast and LeBron is the best.”
Doing whatever they pleased whenever they pleased, the Cavaliers led 38-26 after one and 74-48 at intermission. The 74 points tied their season high for a half, also set against New York.
That third-quarter swoon Cleveland sometimes suffers? Not against New York. The Cavaliers led by 42 points heading into the final period, 101-59, allowing fans the luxury of picking up their Taco Bell chalupa coupons early if they wanted to leave then.
“We’re moving the ball,” James said. “We’re getting up and down the floor. We’re just playing together.”
Things were so easy for the Cavaliers that they got breakaway dunks even after the Knicks managed to score. It was like a pregame layup line, with Cleveland players once so eager to get out and run that they actually forgot the basketball.
That’s what happened late in the second period when James and Mo Williams took off with the ball still bouncing on its own in the New York key, where a Knicks player, going full speed in the opposite direction, swooped in and grabbed it.
It was like two trains going opposite directions, but it was one of the few times anything went in the Knicks’ favor, as the Cavaliers proved they can play uptempo when the situation calls for it.
“We’ve got guys who are athletic,” James said. “We’ve got guys who can get out and finish at the rim.”
Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao already had 12 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, despite playing just 13 minutes over the first two quarters.
West was just as good, putting up 13 points in 14 first-half minutes, while Williams had eight assists as Cleveland outscored New York 42-18 in the paint in the first half.
The Cavaliers finished with a 66-32 edge in the paint, with J.J. Hickson, who started at center and will likely continue in that role, putting up 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting and nine rebounds in 23 minutes.
Antawn Jamison had 17 points and 12 boards in 30 minutes, West had 15 points in 22 minutes, Varejao had 14 points and 10 rebounds in 16 minutes and Williams tied a season high with 10 assists in 25 minutes.
As a team, the Cavaliers shot .567 from the field (51-of-90) while holding the revamped Knicks, who got a career-high 21 points from Walker, to .409 (36-of-88).
“They outclassed us, outmatched us and outplayed us,” D’Antoni said.
- Who: Cleveland at New Jersey
- When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: Izod Center, East Rutherford, N.J.
- TV/radio: FS Ohio; WTAM 1100-AM
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.