This you don't see very often: LeBron James was clearly outplayed Friday night in Charlotte's 94-87 home upset win over Cleveland.
This you do: LeBron, one of the more gracious pro athletes working today, praised the Bobcats Friday (here's my column about the game) and offered a guarded assessment of their playoff chances.
LeBron and Charlotte's Gerald Wallace were matched head-to-head for much of the game. Wallace was sensational; LeBron was merely very good. Wallace went for 31 points and 14 rebounds and even hit three three-pointers (matching the total number of threes he had in Charlotte's first 14 games). Bobcats coach Larry Brown said it would be hard for anyone to play better than Wallace has the past few games.
LeBron had 25 points, six rebounds and four assists, but he also committed six turnovers and flirted with foul trouble for much of the game. He is obviously struggling to co-exist with Shaquille O'Neal, who slows the Cavaliers' offense down immensely.
"When he was out, things just flowed," LeBron said of Shaq's six-game absence due to shoulder problems prior to this one (Cleveland is 5-1 without Shaq and 6-4 with him). That's honest, all right, and it'll probably hurt Shaq's feelings a little bit, too.
LeBron had interesting postgame comments about 3 aspects of the Bobcats:
1) His matchup with Wallace. "It's fun when you've got a competitor and you want to go against some of the best. Gerald is one of the best '3 guys' (small forwards) we have in the Eastern Conference. It's fun when i take the challenge and he takes the challenge."
2) On Stephen Jackson, the shooting guard who has greatly improved the Bobcats' offense since he arrived via trade. "Stephen Jackson is a matchup problem for any team," LeBron said. "He's big, he's strong, he's unselfish... Whatever team Jackson is on is going to be a better team."
3) On the 6-9 Bobcats' playoff chances: "It’s really easy to get up against the Cavs, the Lakers, the Celtics, those types of teams. If they get up the same way when they play some of the lower-tier teams, they can be a playoff team."