Behind the Box Score, where LeBron seems to have it together

Cleveland 102, Dallas 74 (OT)

Just kidding.

Go back and look at one of LeBron James' older box scores, should you get a chance, and just thank-away that James actually has an NBA-level backcourt to play with these days. And this is coming after a game that saw Mo Williams and Delonte West combine to shoot only 8-22 from the floor. That was a bad night (afternoon, whatever) off, and they'll rebound the next time around.

Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic? They never seemed able to get that one back.

That huge upgrade, from "worst in the NBA" to "pretty damn sound" is one of the biggest reasons that Cavs have been the best team in the NBA this year, and LeBron James is leading most MVP straw polls. James' huge year has something to do with it, too, but he had a huge year last year, the best individual season of any player, and it hardly seemed to matter.

Throw in a revamped offense and a little (lot, whatever) less Drew Gooden, and we have a winner. The Mavericks scored just 25 second half points on Sunday, and it didn't really seem that far out of line. Against Cleveland, it just sort of made sense. 24 points, 12 assists, two blocks, six rebounds, and a steal for James, who didn't turn the ball over in 31 minutes of action.

Toronto 134, Chicago 129 (OT)

Damn shame about that Chicago defense, this team has the makeup of a very good defensive outfit, but effort and coaching and execution are keeping the Bulls from ever turning the corner in that area.

They're not putrid, Chicago was 17th in defensive efficiency entering this game, but compared with this squad's potential, the team just isn't doing all that hot. Hotly. Something like that.

Chicago wasn't really ready to play in this first half, Toronto had the floor spread, they were making the extra pass, and Jose Calderon was running a fantastic game. He could have finished with seven assists fewer than he ended up with, and I would have pointed out his excellency in running the Raptor attack. And that would have left him with only 12 dimes. Do the math, dig his run. I did. Even if it means he looks like he's chewing tobacco while he plays.

Brad Miller (14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) chews tobacco, seriously, and he was on the court for all of Chicago's 42-point fourth quarter. Ben Gordon sent the game into OT, but the Raptors got it together, and the Bulls could string enough stops together in the extra frame. Andrea Bargnani (28 points) wasn't even his team's leading scorer (Chris Bosh had 31 and 15), but he continues to impress. If not rebound.

Atlanta 86, Los Angeles Lakers 76

Kobe Bryant had a bum ankle and a bum intestinal system, the Lakers were playing their fifth road game in eight days, all wins, and Atlanta played strong, strong defense. Los Angeles' defense seemed to let it down at times, but the Lakers held the Hawks to only 98 points per 100 possessions. This was all on the O.

35 percent shooting for Los Angeles, which had as many turnovers (14) as assists (um, 14), as the Hawks switched and disrupted and used the home court to its advantage. Mike Bibby had one of those national TV nights (even though the game was only on locally), hitting 5-6 three-pointers, and the Hawks just played better from beginning to end. I wish they could keep up this type of defense more often.

Also, Josh Smith missed a dunk on a one-man fast break.

Minnesota 108, New Jersey 99

Devin Harris (19 points) was back (yes, he was back on Friday, but he didn't have a good game until Sunday), and Vince Carter (36 points) went off, but Minnesota returned to its January-levels of production, keeping the floor spread and always keeping New Jersey at arm's length.

26 assists on 37 field goals for the Timberwolves, who won despite starting Jason Collins and Kevin Ollie. I think Mike Miller has convinced Kevin McHale to shave points.

Detroit 101, Philadelphia 97

Same old story. The only thing surprising about this game was that it took place on a Sunday.

Philadelphia needs, desperately, to cause turnovers. If they can't cause turnovers, they're a pretty awful defensive team. And though 11 miscues isn't the best number you can put up in a low possession (83) game, it's not enough to sustain Philadelphia's desperate need to cause turnovers. Therefore, the Pistons win.

53 percent shooting for Detroit, who will probably be better now with Rip Hamilton and Allen Iverson healthy. Just tossing it out there.

Boston 103, Oklahoma City 84

Seriously? Well, Oklahoma City is pretty awful on offense, they struggle to put up 20 points in a quarter even against crummy teams, and the Celtics are the defending champs. They're also the defending champs at defending, and even with Kevin Garnett out, still a pretty rockin' defensive outfit. Also, Paul Pierce needed only 18 shots to score 27 points.

Washington 124, Indiana 115

It was blacked out, and I loved every minute of it. Brandon Rush, out of nowhere, has scored 29 points in consecutive games (after acting as possibly the least-productive rookie so far this season), and Caron Butler had his second straight double-double with 31 points and 13 rebounds.

New Orleans 90, San Antonio 86

More and more fans are getting upset at what they see as Chris Paul's brand of ref-baiting machinations, but you've got to give the guy a break. He wants to win, and the team's he's been surrounded with is not really an outfit that would lend itself to doing much winning at this level. I mean, a big reason for New Orleans' win over San Antonio was the not-awful play of Antonio Daniels and Sean Marks off the bench. And those two are probably back to being ruddy awful as soon as Sunday's buzzer sounded.

(That fake three-point attempt to get three free throws? Not even the worst I've ever seen. Violet Palmer awarded three free throws to Gilbert Arenas once as he "attempted" a three-pointer from his own free throw line to end the first quarter.)

26 points, seven rebounds, nine assists, two turnovers, and two steals for Paul, who managed to put up a huge line in an 83 possession game. Very, very strong. San Antonio played a solid, if uninspired at times, game; and probably lost because it got very little from the off guard slot; where Ime Udoka and Roger Mason Jr. combined to shoot 1-10. Sure, Udoka was usually spelling Michael Finley, but let's just go with that imagined symmetry.

15 months from now, I hope we're looking at current Chris Paul box scores in much the same way we're looking at old LeBron James box scores. At this point, it's only a hope. Sadly.

Sacramento 126, Phoenix 118

Simple game. Sacramento was just a little bit better than Phoenix in every quarter, the points added up, and the team couldn't get the stops needed (or, really, put together a string of consecutive makes) down the stretch for the win. Steve Nash looked really, really bad defensively in this loss.

He looked pretty good offensively, Beno Udrih isn't stopping anyone either, and I'm not going to tell you that the Nash/Udrih matchup was a wash. It was closer than Phoenix needed, though, in order to pull out a win.

Spencer Hawes (20 and 10) and Jason Thompson (21 and eight, two turnovers between them) looked great.