CHICAGO - Throughout the course of his Hall-of-Fame career, LeBron James has made a habit of achieving the improbable. He's been named an All-Star 14 times, won the title thrice, and had marched to the NBA Finals eight times, including seven straight since 2011.
This season, his 15th since turning pro out of high school in 2003, the King was aiming for the unthinkable, which is play all 82 games of a season. On Tuesday night at the American Airlines Arena, the heavy workload - 37.1 minutes per this season and 44,015 overall - caught up with James.
Against the surging Miami Heat led by his BFF banana boat co-passenger Dwyane Wade, James had a 38-minute performance that was unspeakable by his lofty standards. His stat line did look good with 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists but he missed 11 of 18 field goals, clanked all four of his 3s and stumbled with six turnovers.
Miami's Kelly Olynyk, a career bench warrior, outplayed James, a four-time NBA MVP.
Olynyk, a seven-foot, 238-pound banger who likes physical play as a hobby, made 7-of-9 field goals and 3-of-4 triples. He finished with 19 points, five rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes of action.
Who would have thought?
With LeBron's offense muted, Cleveland scored a season-low 79 points while the Heat lit them up for 98. Before landing in Florida, the Cavaliers were on a four-game winning streak, scoring 124, 132, 120 and 121 points along the way.
But on a night when Kevin Love's teeth got nearly knocked out by a wayward elbow, the Cavs staggered offensively. Love manifested concussion symptoms but his teammates looked just as dizzy, hitting a laughable 31 of 85 field goals while missing 22 of 26 triple attempts. Cleveland also flubbed six free throws and had only 15 assists against 14 turnovers.
While the Cavaliers were getting creamed pretty good, Houston stampeded the Bulls at Chicago's United Center, 118-86. The Rockets, winners of 10 straight and running away with the NBA's best record, achieved their third double-digit win streak of this season without James Harden, who was not on the lineup, sitting pretty and resting his MVP knees.
Cleveland do not have such luxury of rest.
The 44-30 Cavs can't rest LeBron, not when they are trying to hold off the 43-30 Philadelphia 76ers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. A drop to a fourth seed would guarantee a second-round meeting with the powerhouse Toronto Raptors while a fall to fifth seed means no homecourt advantage all throughout the playoffs.
With four games left in their schedule, the Cavs have no chance of catching with the 55-20 Raptors and the 51-23 Celtics who occupy the top two spots in the East. But they have a pretty good chance at remaining perched at No.3, which is a really good place to mount another deep postseason run.
NOT SO GOLDEN. Following Tuesday's 92-81 loss to the Indiana Pacers at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, the Warriors have dropped two in a row and six of their last 10.
Injuries have ravaged the defending champions and there appears to be a revolving door from their practice facility to the hospital E.R.
Steph Curry is out at least three weeks with a Grade 2 MCL sprain while Kevin Durant has missed six straight assignments with an incomplete rib fracture. Klay Thompson sustained a thumb fracture that will sideline him for another week while Draymond Green is recuperating from flu-like symptoms.
Nobody's feeling sorry for the Warriors. Staying healthy is part of the deal.
With a 54-20 record the Warriors can't overtake the 61-14 Rockets, but they can't be caught by the 46-28 Portland Trail Blazers, either. Which means that Golden State will be a lock as the No.2 seed in the West.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Warriors will face the Utah Jazz in the first round, the Blazers or Spurs in the second round, and barring a major upset, the Rockets in the West Finals. Golden State won't have homecourt advantage against Houston but Curry and friends are 26-10 on the road this season.
NO TANKS. I don't blame teams for not trying too hard to win, a polite way of describing tanking. When a team's season is lost, it only makes sense to avoid the Ws and pile up the Ls in order to gather more ping-pong lottery balls in hopes of mining the draft for talent.
But no NBA fan should have to endure the 140-79 rout the Hornets administered over the 20-54 Memphies Grizzlies last March 22. It wasn't a competition, it was a flogging. Whatever happened to Memphis' team pride?
Several weeks ago, I picked Ben Simmons to win Rookie of the Year, but as the ex-wife used to say, I'm always wrong.
Donovon Mitchell Jr is on pace to be the ROY. The 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 20.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per through 71 games. Unlike Philly's Simmons, who is playing with another transcendent talent in Joel Embiid, Mitchell is doing a lot with a whole lot less in Utah.