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Published: Monday, 4/18/2005

Frustration mounting for Cavs' James

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Thirty-seven points, 11 rebounds, six assists and 45 minutes later, I'm firmly convinced.

LeBron James is the real deal, the big cheese, the cat's meow, the, ahem, Chosen One - the best 20-year-old in NBA history.

So why are the Cleveland Cavaliers struggling to make the playoffs when they should already be resting James, their plowhorse, for the postseason?

Why are the Cavaliers at the .500 mark (40-40) for the first time since Nov. 13, when they were 3-3?

Why are the Cavs losers of six of eight and only 6-10 under interim coach Brendan Malone following yesterday's excruciating 90-87 loss to the Detroit Pistons at the Palace?

Why did new Cavs owner Dan Gilbert fire coach Paul Silas last month when he was best equipped to extract the maximum from this one-man team lacking in toughness, maturity and complementary talent to James?

Why did Gilbert fire Silas without also firing general manager Jim Paxson, who built this team with his bare hands?

Why did Paxson trade Ricky Davis to Boston last season and then relinquish a first-round draft pick at this year's trading deadline to the Celtics for long-range specialist Jiri Welsch, who was beaten out by Davis, a strong candidate for sixth man of the year?

Why was Welsch, who has played sparingly since the trade, on the bench at the end of yesterday's game with the Cavs trailing by three points and needing every able-bodied shooter on the court?

Why was James, who did everything but drive the team bus to the arena and sing the national anthem, forced to try to win another game by himself?

With the clock winding toward triple zeroes and Detroit's Tayshaun Prince windmilling his arms in his face, James rustled deep into his bag of tricks.

He feinted. Prince didn't budge. Next, James attempted to pump-fake Prince off his feet. Prince remained earth-bound, his long arms extended like twin redwoods.

James' shot with a 9.99 degree of difficulty from the Goodyear plant in Akron hit nothing but air as time expired, Cleveland's last gasp gone.

James twirled and headed for the visitor's locker room, tugging off his shirt in frustration. He's been frustrated a lot lately.

"We've been able to get in close games, but we can't finish them," James lamented.

Once a near-playoff lock, Cleveland's bright postseason hopes are fading with two games to play.

Cleveland-Detroit would be a great first-round playoff series featuring James, the young superstar, taking on the defending-champion Pistons - vintage early Michael Jordan against the Bad Boys.

"Anytime we play Detroit, I know it's going to be a game," said James, who averaged 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists in four games against the Pistons this season. "We are one of the few teams that play them well."

However, James, already wise beyond his years, isn't taking anything for granted.

"I'd just like to make the playoffs first," he said.

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