For a team with championship aspirations, the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking a little vulnerable.
Derrick Rose scored 24 points, Kirk Hinrich had 23 and the Chicago Bulls gave their playoff hopes a big boost by surviving some shaky free-throw shooting down the stretch to beat the Cavaliers 109-108 with James on the sideline Thursday night.
"It's a big win," Hinrich said. "We definitely needed it. We let a lot of opportunities slip by and it just feels good to take advantage of it."
The Bulls moved into an eighth-place tie with Toronto in the Eastern Conference with one more meeting between the teams. Although the Raptors already own the tiebreaker, Chris Bosh is injured.
Whoever comes out ahead figures to meet Cleveland in the first round, no easy task no matter how banged up the Cavaliers are. While James sat for precautionary reasons, Antawn Jamison suffered a bruised right foot while scoring 23 points, and both are questionable for Friday's game against Indiana. Throw in Shaquille O'Neal's thumb injury, and the league's top team isn't exactly a picture of health.
"Even without LeBron, we gave the crowd a show," said Mo Williams, who scored a season-high 35 points. "They paid those high-priced tickets. I think it was worth it."
Chicago let a 12-point third-quarter lead disappear and couldn't put Cleveland away after going back up by seven in the fourth. They made enough stops down the stretch, though.
"That was big," Deng said. "Missing the free throws, you never feel good about that. We did a good job of stopping them."
The Cavaliers were leading 108-107 after Williams' 3-pointer with 1:29 remaining. Noah answered with a tip-in to put Chicago back on top, and the Bulls hung on.
Taj Gibson blocked Williams' layup with 26 seconds left, and Williams missed a turnaround jumper with Hinrich draped on him. Deng then missed two free throws after getting fouled on the rebound with 14.4 seconds left, but the Cavaliers couldn't take advantage after he missed both shots. Anderson Varejao put up an airball on a jumper after a few head fakes and Moon had a layup blocked by Noah with 1.9 seconds left.
Rose missed two free throws, but Noah got the rebound, preserving the victory.
"The play was designed for Mo," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "We know they were blitzing his pick-and-rolls. We ran a pick-and-roll play and changed the angle. Noah did a terrific job of catching up to the play and trying to double-team the ball. Andy was wide open from 15 feet. He's got to shoot that. He's got to feel the clock. He's got to shoot that shot when he's that wide open."
With the league's best record locked up and the playoffs approaching, Brown is taking a cautious approach with James. The last thing he needs is to see his superstar go down like Bosh, who suffered a facial injury against the Cavaliers, or Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut.
So James watched from the sideline dressed in a suit.
"It was much needed," Williams said. "He takes a pounding, being knocked down on the court."
Williams scored 12 on four 3-pointers in the fourth, and Jamario Moon added nine of his 14 in the quarter. ... G Delonte West missed his second straight game with lower back spasms. ... Sebastian Telfair had eight points in his first appearance since the Cavaliers acquired him from the Los Angeles Clippers in a three-team deal. Telfair had been sidelined since Jan. 20, when he injured his groin during a Clippers game against Chicago. ... The Bulls' remaining games are at New Jersey on Friday and at Toronto on Sunday. They host Boston on April 13 and visit Charlotte the following day.
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