LeBron James and the Cavaliers met the Bulls for the first time this season. These two teams play each other four times between Sunday and April 11. LeBron won just four of his first eight games vs. Chicago in his first two seasons, but has led Cleveland to seven wins in their last nine meeting with Chicago.
Career vs. Bulls
First 8 games
Last 9 games
It happened again Sunday, when James scored 37 points, including six in a key stretch late in the game, to lead the Cavaliers over the Chicago Bulls, 95-86.
The only problem for Gooden, part of a three-team, 11-player trade on Feb. 21, is he's now playing for the Bulls instead of the Cavaliers.
"I know how other teams feel, being on the other end of that stick," he said. "It's always about trying to stop LeBron in the end."
Gooden learned what many other opponents already know. Trying to stop James when it counts isn't easy.
"I just live for the fourth quarter," James said. "When the games are close, that's when I like to do work. We were just able to take the life out of them."
James, who went out for a rest late in the third quarter, returned with 9:55 to play in the game and the Cavaliers trailing 76-68. Cleveland outscored the Bulls 27-10 the rest of the way.
The Cavs rallied on a 3-pointer by Wally Szczerbiak, six straight points by Smith and a jumper by James to tie it at 79.
With the game tied at 83, James drove past two defenders and scored on a left-handed flip shot in the lane to give Cleveland the lead for good with 3:04 to go.
On the Cavaliers' next possession, James drove down the right side of the lane, flew to the basket and scored on a dunk with his right hand that that brought the sellout crowd at Quicken Loans Arena to its feet.
The league's leading scorer wasn't finished. James created a turnover on Chicago's next possession and passed the ball to a teammate while lying on the floor. With the Cavaliers setting up on the offensive end and the crowd chanting "MVP!" James buried a 22-footer to give Cleveland a six-point lead with 2:01 left.
"The difficult shots might look difficult, but they're not to me," James said. "Taking step-back jumpers, I've always done that, or getting to the lane and making flip shots with my left hand."
And here's some more bad news for the rest of the NBA.
"It's just a comfort level I'm in right now that's at an all-time high," James said.
While Gooden was James' teammate for 3 1/2 seasons, Smith has been with the Cavaliers for less than two weeks. He's learning playing on James' side is a pretty good deal.
"I felt that kind of crushed them a little bit," he said of James' spurt. "That dunk was tremendous. You can see that deflated them a little. And when he hit that jumper, the wind kind of blew out of them."
"We got a heavy dose of LeBron, especially down the stretch," Bulls coach Jim Boylan said.
Szczerbiak, who scored 17 points, hit a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 92-83.
Hughes, booed by the crowd as he was during much of his 2½-season stay with the Cavaliers, led the Bulls with 23 points, making eight of 20 shots from the field. Gooden had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Smith scored all of his eight points in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland built a 65-58 lead late in the third quarter, but the Bulls ended the period on a run, taking the lead on Tyrus Thomas' dunk off an alley-oop pass from Hughes. Ben Gordon followed with a jumper to end the quarter.
Hughes scored on a layup to start the fourth quarter and hit a jumper to extend the run to 18-3, giving the Bulls a 76-68 lead. The Cavaliers' only points in that stretch came on a 3-pointer by Damon Jones.
Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed the game because of a strained back. Following the game, the Cavaliers announced the 7-foot-3 center he will be out for a week.
Szczerbiak, who missed Friday night's game, returned Sunday. His wife, Shannon, gave birth to the couple's third child Saturday ... Besides Hughes and Gooden, the Bulls placed four other players in double figures. Thomas scored 12 points, Gordon and Joakim Noah had 11 and Luol Deng added 10. ... This was the first of four meetings between the teams. They play again Thursday night in Chicago.