Cavaliers dance past Bulls 101-87
CLEVELAND - LeBron James started the night by declaring himself an avid member of the Derrick Rose fan club.
By the fourth quarter, James was engaged in a jawing match with Joakim Noah while James shot a free throw and Noah sat on the Bulls bench. James walked toward Noah's seat and was given a technical foul, but that was the extent of the incident.
So how will these two episodes affect the Bulls' chances of landing James in the free-agent bonanza of 2010? Probably not at all, but they provided some entertainment value in an otherwise lackluster loss.
The Bulls were ahead 54-52 with eight minutes left in the third quarter, then fell apart quickly as the Cavaliers rolled to an easy 101-87 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.
After the game, both Noah and James claimed they weren't going to get into what happened, but eventually did. In a nutshell, Noah was annoyed by James dancing on the sideline a few minutes earlier. The Cavs were often criticized for their sideline antics while building the NBA's best record last season.
"It's frustrating to lose the way we've been losing lately. That's really it," Noah said in the locker room. "When you're losing the way that you're losing and guys are just rubbing it in your face and dancing and all that - I have a lot of respect for LeBron. It's just a frustrating situation."
James defended his sideline dance by essentially paraphrasing the Isley Brothers: It's the Cavs' thing and they're going to do what they want to do.
"That's what we do. We have fun. If it's a problem, we'll handle it out on the court," James said. "It's nothing against Joakim or the Bulls. This is nothing new. We have fun playing basketball. It's nothing about showboating. It happened all last year."
The trouble began with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers (14-5) held a comfortable lead and Taj Gibson was the only Bulls' starter still in the game. Television replays showed Noah initiating a conversation with James from the bench.
After sinking his first free throw, James approached the Bulls bench while teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas played the role of hockey goon - without the punches - and jumped in front of his team's superstar. Order was quickly restored.
"He was more frustrated about how he played as an individual and not helping his team win," James added. "I was just going to the free-throw line. Words are said throughout the course of the game. There's a fine line between saying some words and being disrespectful. We're all men out there at the end of the day."
The Bulls (7-10) lost for the sixth time in seven games and couldn't finish off their first two-game sweep in Cleveland since the 1995-96 season. They'll return to the United Center to face Toronto on Saturday, kicking off a stretch where they play 14 of 19 games at home.
After opening their 2-point lead in the third quarter, the Bulls missed 12 of their next 13 shots, despite getting plenty of open looks, and Cleveland finished the quarter on a 24-7 run.
Gibson led the Bulls with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Rose had 13 points and 7 assists while sitting out the entire fourth quarter. James led the Cavs with 23 points.
• Before the contest, James was asked if he'd ever thought about playing on the same team as Rose.
"Yeah, especially on an Olympic team," James answered. "He did a great job this past summer holding it down for some of the older guys, giving them some rest."
Rose was part of the U.S. Select Team of younger players who scrimmaged against the USA varsity during a short training camp in Las Vegas.
"He's a great point guard. He's a great player," James continued. "I love watching Derrick play, man, he's unbelievable. All he's going to do is continue to get better - with every game, with every practice. Hopefully in the 2012 Olympics, he can be a part of that team and have some fun."
• Jannero Pargo rejoined the team after seeing a doctor in Philadelphia on Thursday about persistent tightness in his back and hip. He sat out the first half, but scored 9 points in the fourth quarter and said he felt much better the past few days. Kirk Hinrich, out with a sprained left thumb, expressed doubt that he'll be able to play Saturday.