DEERFIELD, Ill. – Forget the highlight reel dunks and ridiculous jumpers. Never mind that the Cleveland Cavaliers are up 2-0. LeBron James is far from satisfied.
The top-seeded Cavaliers are eyeing a championship and have a chance to close out the Bulls in Chicago as their first-round series shifts to the United Center for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Sunday. Yet, the way the King sees it, that crowning achievement won't come unless some improvement is made.
"We know we can play better," James said. "We gave them too many transition points and too many paint points. Those are things we can control. If we can crack that down halfway, we may bust the game wide open."
The Cavaliers are outshooting the Bulls 51 percent to 43.3 percent, are outrebounding them by a 43-38 average and have 21 blocks to Chicago's seven. Yet the numbers that stand out to James are these: The Bulls' 56-38 scoring advantage in the paint in Game 2 and 18-15 edge on the break on Monday.
Even so, the Cavaliers are in a good spot after taking Game 2, 112-102.
James has simply been at his best in this series, torching Chicago the way another No. 23 often terrorized Cleveland in the postseason.
He's averaging a Jordan-esque 32.0 points while shooting 59.5 percent after scoring 40 in Game 2, and he's burying shots — and the Bulls — from all angles. Now, the Cavaliers have a chance to close out this series in Michael Jordan's old home, and if they do, James' affection for Chicago only figures to grow.
James made it clear Wednesday that the Second City ranks high on his list and insisted there was no connection between his praise and the recent rips by Chicago's Joakim Noah on Cleveland. He called it "an awesome city" while complimenting the shops and restaurants.
Between the poster-worthy dunks, like that ferocious right-hander on James Johnson in the first quarter of Game 2, and those fadeaway jumpers, the Bulls simply have no answer for him.
Then again, who does?
"I don't know if you can guard him much better than we did," Chicago's Kirk Hinrich said.
The Bulls have been double-teaming him, have tried to keep him out of the paint, but nothing's working.
"When LeBron's hitting fadeaways and floaters — and holding the ball and we're coming at him with the double and he's fading away on you, that makes it hard," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We've just got to mix it in on him, try to keep him off balance, keep him guessing with the doubles, force him a certain way. But like I said, they've seen it all."
With Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams lurking, the Bulls can't take their eyes off the rest of the Cavaliers. So they're looking at a grim picture.
All-Star Derrick Rose is averaging 25.5 points and is expected to play after missing practice Wednesday to tend to a family emergency. Noah is coming off a 25-point, 13-rebound showing.
But the Bulls played poorly while losing the opener by 13. And they watched as James poured in 15 during a spectacular fourth quarter to lift the Cavaliers in Game 2, dancing and winking at the Chicago bench after he buried a 3 over the 6-foot-11 Noah.
"The game's emotional, guys are into it," Del Negro said. "The atmosphere and everything is great. Tomorrow night, we're home and we're going to come out with a lot of energy. Just because we're at home, doesn't mean all of a sudden we're going to play that much better. But we're going to have to play smarter, be more efficient and in the fourth quarter, we're going to have to get stops and put the ball in the basket."
AP freelance writer Jason Lloyd in Independence, Ohio, contributed to this report.