James builds a rep

Tribune staff reporter

With 35 years of NBA experience, Cavaliers coach Paul Silas has had front-row seats for many of the game's all-time greats, from Oscar Robertson to Larry Bird to Michael Jordan.

Silas sees LeBron James every game. His words carry weight.

"He could average a triple-double," Silas said.

James fell shy of that Saturday night at Gund Arena—perhaps because he didn't play the fourth quarter.

James' 26 points, seven assists and seven rebounds were enough to lead Cleveland to its ninth victory in 10 games, a 96-74 victory over the Bulls.

The biggest loss of the young season capped the Bulls' season-high, seven-game trip with a 1-6 mark.

That means they'll take a 1-38 record over the last six seasons into next fall's annual "circus trip," so named because the circus invades the United Center.

"We didn't play from start to finish," guard Kirk Hinrich said of a game the Bulls never led.

Coach Scott Skiles used the same starting lineup with three rookies that began the Utah victory Wednesday night.

Unlike that game, the Bulls didn't get much production from anybody. The backcourt of Hinrich and Chris Duhon had almost as many turnovers, five, as assists, eight.

"We looked greedy out there," Skiles said.

Eddy Curry led the Bulls with 20 points off the bench, but most came in garbage time. Tyson Chandler had six points and nine rebounds.

"I'll never get used to not starting," Chandler said. "And I don't want to. They had to make a move for whatever reason, but I think we'll both be starting again soon."

Jeff McInnis' 16 points and eight assists and Robert Traylor's 12 points and 11 rebounds also aided Cleveland.

James, who turns 20 next month, set the tone for Cleveland's victory with a dominant first quarter that included 10 points and one missed shot. This even though the Cavs were playing for the third time in four nights.

James is shooting 67.3 percent in his last three games.

"I feel more comfortable with myself," he said. "I know my role. I know I'm a better player than last year. I worked hard in the off-season. It's paying off."

There are some who still think of James as a dunker first and a highlight-reel supplier second, and his halftime buzzer-beating three-pointer didn't disappoint for the latter category.

But Friday night in Boston, one game after scoring a career-high 43 points, James took only 13 shots because of constant double-teaming. He then fed Zydrunas Ilgauskas for the winning basket and blocked Paul Pierce's attempt to tie at the buzzer.

"The real fans of the game and experts know I bring to the game more than dunks," James said. "I consider myself an all-around player."

Did we mention James hasn't turned 20?

"It's amazing, really," Skiles said. "He plays at his pace. When he wants to play fast, he does. When he wants to go slower, he does. He has a lot of poise. All the great players are like that. They played how they wanted to play."

All of James' averages are higher than his Rookie of the Year season. His scoring average of 26.6 is up 5.7 from last season. His rebound average of 7.8 is up 2.3 from last season. And his assists average of 6.2 has increased by .3.

That James is shooting 51.8 percent makes his season even more impressive.

"I wouldn't go overboard yet," Skiles said. "He hasn't played in a playoff game. Clearly, they appear to be a playoff team now if they stay healthy. That's the next logical step for him."

James also scored his 2,000th career point Saturday, supplanting Kobe Bryant as the youngest player to do so. He had already become the youngest to post 500 rebounds and 500 assists.

"It came so quick," James said. "I didn't even notice it, though. I just notice us getting better."

The points announcement brought a standing ovation from the crowd of 19,763, which became so bored in the fourth quarter that it chanted for seldom-used rookie Luke Jackson and went retro by doing the wave.

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