CLEVELAND — LeBron James danced all over the Chicago Bulls.
Joakim Noah didn’t like being his partner.
James scored 23 points, added 11 assists and busted out several smooth hip-hop dance moves in the second half that annoyed and angered Noah as the Cleveland Cavaliers won for the 11th time in 13 games, beating the Bulls 101-87 on Friday night.
Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson added 15 points apiece for the Cavaliers, who avenged a one-point loss to the Bulls on Nov. 5. Cleveland dropped to 3-3 after that 86-85 defeat, but is now 14-5 and beginning to shape into the NBA title contender everyone expected.
“I like the way we’re playing right now,” James said.
Rookie Taj Gibson had 14 points and 13 rebounds and Derrick Rose scored 13 points for Chicago, which has dropped six of seven. The Bulls have lost seven straight road games since their win over Cleveland last month.
Cleveland did not commit a turnover in the second half after having 11 at halftime.
James enjoyed every minute of the win. After Jamario Moon’s alley-oop dunk put the Cavs ahead 84-65 in the fourth, James, who was on the bench resting at the time, bounced out of his chair and hopped onto the floor. He continued to rock out during the timeout, mugging for the crowd and dancing along with teammate Danny Green to House of Pain’s anthemic rap hit “Jump Around.”
When he was back in the game a few minutes later, James did another shoulder shake after being fouled and when he went to the line, Bulls center Joakim Noah yelled something toward him from Chicago’s bench. James walked in Noah’s direction and was slapped with a technical foul.
Noah felt James took his dancing too far.
“When you’re losing the way you’re losing and guys are rubbing it in your face, dancing and all that,” Noah said. “I have a lot of respect for LeBron. It’s just a frustrating situation.”
James insisted he wasn’t trying to show up the Bulls. He was just having fun.
“It’s nothing against the Bulls and it’s nothing against Joakim or none of those guys,” he said. “It’s nothing about showboating on a team. I’ve seen it happen all last year. I think he (Noah) was more frustrated about the way he played as an individual. He didn’t help his team win.”
Noah was reluctant to criticize James and was more upset with his performance and the Bulls’ latest loss.
“It stinks to lose, man,” Noah said. “That’s the toughest thing, we can’t compete for 48 minutes. We’ve got to find a way to win games because this losing thing is not a good look, man, it’s just not. It’s not what anybody in this locker room expected. This losing thing is really frustrating.”
Cleveland was just 4 of 14 from the free-throw line and the Cavs were careless as costly turnovers allowed the Bulls to stay close and eventually take a 54-52 lead on Rose’s turnaround jumper in the third.
That’s when James decided it was time take over, fueling a 21-4 burst by doing a little bit of everything.
He scored eight points, handed out three assists and went diving on the floor for a loose ball, sliding and banging into a cameraman who was kneeling by the scorer’s table. James’ hustle inspired the Cavs, who finally flexed their muscles on defense, stopped throwing the ball away and outscored the Bulls 24-7 over the final 8:03 to take a 15-point lead into the fourth.
“His energy was great,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “When he came to the sideline for a timeout, I told the coaches to step aside and said, ‘Bron, you take over the huddle.'”
After making eight turnovers in the second quarter, the Cavs had a flawless final 24 minutes.
The Bulls were without guard Kirk Hinrich, who missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left thumb. Coach Vinny Del Negro said the injury is still bothering Hinrich and he’s not likely to play Saturday night when Chicago hosts the Toronto Raptors.
Del Negro sat four of his starters for the entire fourth quarter. By then, the game was Cleveland’s.
“Good teams usually come out and try to take control of the game in the third quarter,” Del Negro said. “They did that. We weren’t able to bounce back and the lead got out of hand a little bit.”
Notes Cleveland has won six in a row at home. … James would love to play with Rose some day. “Especially on an Olympics team,” he said. “He’s a great point guard and a great player. I love watching Derrick play. All he’s going to do is get better and hopefully in the 2012 Olympics he can be part of the team and we’ll have some fun.” … The Cavs are 5-0 against Western Conference teams, the only Eastern team with a perfect mark vs. the West. Cleveland has won 13 straight against Western teams. … A huge soccer fan (literally), Cavs C Zydrunas Ilgauskas watched Friday’s World Cup draw and was intrigued by the opening match between England and the U.S. “I’m not sure who I’ll root for,” he said. “England is my team.”