MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 31: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat posts up Christian Eyenga #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during a game at American Airlines Arena on January 31, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** LeBron James;Christian Eyenga
First to 40 wins one year.
First to 40 losses the next.
Dwyane Wade scored 26 of his 34 points in the first half, James finished with 24 points and eight assists and the Miami Heat beat the Cavaliers for the third time since the two-time MVP changed cities, winning 117-90 Monday night to hand Cleveland its 21st straight loss -- as many as it dropped in the entire 2009-10 regular season.
Cleveland (8-40) is now two losses shy of tying the single-season NBA futility streak record shared by the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies and 1997-98 Denver Nuggets. Overall, the Cavaliers have lost 31 of 32 games, along with 24 straight on the road.
"I have nothing bad to say about the players that I left and the team," James said. "I wish the organization the best. And I wish the fans, more than anything, the best because we had a lot of great years together."
They might be hard-pressed to remember those now.
This game had a few moments of hope for the Cavaliers. They were down by 19 in the first half, when Wade was almost unguardable for stretches -- one of his dunks, off a pass from James, was so spectacular that rap moguls Sean "Diddy" Combs and Rick Ross leaped from their courtside seats.
Quietly, Cleveland started putting together good stretch after good stretch, getting within 70-67 in the third quarter.
Was this going to be the night?
Not a chance.
James had nine points in a 19-5 run to close the third quarter, Miami's lead was 89-72 entering the fourth, and it turned into a romp from there.
"We played pretty good in the third quarter," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. "I thought they just took it to another gear. They've got the type of team that can do that."
The Heat (34-14) moved within 21/2 games of Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 12 points and a season-high 14 rebounds against his former team, Eddie House also scored 12 and Chris Bosh added 10 points for Miami.
For Cleveland, Antawn Jamison finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Manny Harris scored 20 points and J.J. Hickson added 14. The Cavaliers were outrebounded 49-39.
"They are a good team and they've got some players who can make plays," Cleveland's Anthony Parker said, "even if you do everything right."
James insisted he bears no ill will against his first NBA team, and as if to underscore that, he pulled Harris aside for some postgame words of encouragement.
"I think he's a very talented young player," James said. "And I just told him no matter what's going on with the team, he has to continue to play well. He has to continue to stay aggressive, have his confidence."
Said Harris: "Coming from a player like him and his caliber it means a lot. Everything he said was right."
Wade hit 10 of his first 12 shots, the third straight game for him with a sizzling start. James had 15 in the first half, including a highlight-caliber dunk over Christian Eyenga and Hickson that gave Miami a 61-44 lead.
And although it was a one-possession game midway through the third quarter, the outcome never truly seemed in doubt.
"We had great respect for Cleveland tonight," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Sometimes it can happen very quickly like that. That's why we talk about the habits. A game can change in three minutes. In a playoff series, that can be all it takes."
Cleveland's franchise -- which reached great heights with James for seven years, and has fallen to the bottom of the NBA less than seven months after he left -- already owns the all-time NBA losing-streak record, a 24-game slide that spanned from March to November 1982.
At this rate, that mark could be erased in a week.
"We just keep fighting. That's all you can do," Scott said before the game.
Last Feb. 4, the Cavaliers beat Miami 102-86, moving to an NBA-best 40-11 at the time. The Cavs finished 61-21, two games better than anyone in the league.
This year? They're better than no one. The next chance to snap the skein is Wednesday against Indiana. Cleveland is at Memphis on Friday, back home to face Portland on Saturday, then goes to Dallas next Monday.
Lose them all, and that'll be 25 in a row -- the blight of blights in NBA history.
James sees no reason to enjoy Cleveland's epic struggles. And it doesn't give him a sense of vindication, either.
The way he sees it, Cleveland's descent does nothing to prove that he made the right choice in joining up with Wade and Bosh in South Florida.
"It didn't matter for me if the Cavs were going to have a successful season or not," James said. "I felt like I was making the right choice for me as an individual and for my career."
Monday's game was the third time Miami and Cleveland have met since James switched uniforms. Unlike the first two, it almost seemed like a regular game instead of having a circus atmosphere.
"The first two were kind of crazy, but now both teams went their separate ways," Scott said. "I think it is just a game right now and I think that's how both teams look at it."
It wasn't just James who played the role of superstar who dealt a team a significant blow by moving elsewhere last summer, of course. Without Bosh, the Toronto Raptors have now lost 12 straight, its longest slide since the season before James, Bosh and Wade were all part of the same draft class.
In Miami, that threesome just keeps on clicking.
"I'm happy that at this point in the season, we're playing some good ball, whether it's against the Cavs or whatever," James said.