FORT WORTH, Texas — Perhaps it's only coincidental, but since the Cavaliers visited New York on Nov. 25 and LeBron James treated Madison Square Garden as if it was his own Project Runway, Cleveland has won nine consecutive games.
James was nothing less than a gigantic flirt in New York and it appears that his teammates were quite jealous because they have been the ideal supporting cast.
Before their 101-93 victory in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Cavaliers were, not surprisingly, ranked third in points in the NBA with an average of 104 per game.
When your team has LeBron, you expect to score.
But the most impressive stats involved defense. The Cavs had given up only 90.4 points per game, which is first in the league. Their point differential of 13.6 per game was also first. And their defensive field-goal percentage of .417 was second behind Boston's .415.
The Cavaliers have great offense and a nightly highlight show with James, but — and perhaps we should all say this together — defense wins championships and Cleveland is playing it as well as any team in the league.
Even worse for opponents is that James is talking about defense almost like he talked about winning a gold medal.
James has been so motivated on defense that Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed out that James is featured on ESPN's top plays for blocking shots and defense almost as much as for his sky-diving dunks.
"In order to be successful, you have to shut down some of the best opposing players," James said. "I've been taking the challenge. My teammates are helping me out, it's not just me. We've been doing it as a team."
It's easy to forget that two years ago the Cavs made it to the Finals where they were swept by the Spurs. It's easy to forget because the Cavs were forgettable. General consensus among longtime NBA observers is that while LeBron was great, Cleveland might have been the worst team in NBA history to play in the Finals.
To get to the Finals, remember that the Cavaliers had to defeat a veteran Pistons team. To do that, they needed to win Game 5 in Detroit, which they did because James pulverized the Pistons with 48 points, including the final 25 points that the Cavs scored.
He was, in fact, a one-man team.
But no more. The Cavaliers have made some key trades, signed free-agent point guard Mo Williams during the summer and their young players have gained experience.
How good has Cleveland been? In six of the seven games before Wednesday, the 19-3 Cavaliers were leading so comfortably that James was able to sit out the fourth quarter.
James always has been deferential to Kobe Bryant, calling Bryant the best player in the league. But is that still the case? We're talking about a comparison at an incredibly high level, but has James at least caught Bryant in terms of all-around skills?
James came into Wednesday night's game as the second-leading scorer in the league at 26.7 per game and was playing only 34.8 minutes per game.
But again, the most intimidating trend for opponents is that James is talking more about defense than offense.
"People need to consider looking at 'Bron for that all-defensive team," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "The things that he does are a carryover from the Olympic team. ... Not only has he done a nice job guarding the guys, but there are a lot of things that the fans can't see. His communication is just off the charts for us. He's like the quarterback of our defense. He sits back there and tells guys what to do and what's going on."
When James was flirting with Knicks fans on the trip to New York, he made it clear that when he is a free agent in 2010, he will sign with the team that has the best chance of winning multiple championships.
Right now if he looks in the mirror and sees the big picture, he's got to figure the Cavaliers are looking pretty good.