Cavs Ready for Thursday Matchup of East's Elite

Cavs Ready for Thursday Matchup of East's Elite

Published February 11, 2010

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) -- LeBron James hopes Thursday's matchup with the Orlando Magic is as successful as his Super Bowl commercial with Dwight Howard.

Cleveland, on a 12-game winning streak which is also the NBA's longest this season, can tie the franchise record with a victory in a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference finals.

It won't be easy. The Magic entered Wednesday's game at Chicago having won nine of their past 11.

"They're coming into our building, and right now we're the best team in the NBA," James said. "It's going to be a fun one."

Orlando eliminated Cleveland in six games last spring, but the Cavaliers won the first meeting this season 102-93 in November.

Thursday's game is the Magic's first trip to Cleveland this season.

James and Howard are cordial, but not close, away from the court. The pair won Olympic gold medals two years ago and their commitment to Team USA has kept them together for quite a few summers recently. But James walked off the court following Orlando's series-clinching win last season without congratulating Howard or any of his teammates.

James said it wasn't hard getting along with Howard during the filming of the fast-food commercial, even though the two are rivals on the best two teams in the East.

"Business is a big part of what I do," he said. "I don't bring my on-court battles off the court."

In the spot that aired just prior to Sunday's kickoff between Indianapolis and New Orleans, James and Howard recreated the classic commercial between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. In the original, Jordan and Bird traded crazy trick shots from inside - and outside - the gym. In the remake, James and Howard traded dunks, with Howard ultimately ripping down the backboard as glass shattered around them.

"That was so much fun to make," Howard wrote on his blog. "I would love to do something like that during a game."

He nearly did during last season's Eastern Conference finals, when Game 1 in Cleveland was delayed for nearly 10 minutes after Howard knocked down the 24-second shot clock with a ferocious dunk.

"I've broken a few rims when I was in high school," Howard wrote, "but nothing like blowing up the backboard."

The Cavaliers (42-11) have been handling opponents throughout the first half. Cleveland will carry the NBA's best record into the All-Star break.

"We've been playing well," Shaquille O'Neal said. "LeBron and I have pretty much the same formula: Stay dominant at home, beat teams you're supposed to beat and play above .500 on the road. Most of the time if you do that, things will go your way."

O'Neal, who has thrown a few verbal jabs at Howard in the past, could only remember winning at least 12 straight games two other times in his career. Both of those seasons ended with championships.

"Hopefully this is deja vu of what's to come," he said.

The Cavaliers acquired O'Neal over the summer for precisely these types of matchups. Howard averaged 25.8 points and 13 rebounds in the East finals against Cleveland, which didn't have a center physically strong enough to contain him.

So Cleveland went out and got one.

O'Neal, who has tweaked Howard for using Shaq's "Superman" nickname, limited Howard to 11 points and seven rebounds in the first meeting this season. The veteran O'Neal is done taking shots at Howard, even calling him one of the league's few great centers.

"It's going to be a good matchup," O'Neal said. "Hopefully they play me one on one and hopefully they let us play.

"But it ain't about me vs. him. I've played against some of the greatest guys ever and I've stood up (to them). If I can stand against them, I can stand against anyone."

Written by <P>The Associated Press</P>


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