Updated: January 11, 2010, 11:30 AM ET
NBAE/Getty Jawad Williams scored 10 points, including a key 3-pointer, as the Cavaliers topped the Blazers.

1. Little-Used Lineup Lifts Cavs Past Blazers

By John Hollinger

PORTLAND -- Mike Brown has a reputation as a by-the-book coach, but in Sunday's 106-94 win over the Blazers he showed he's not afraid to color outside the lines once in a while.

Heading into a tense fourth quarter after the Blazers had cut a 17-point Cavaliers' lead to four, Brown turned to the unlikely frontcourt combination of Jawad Williams, LeBron James and Anderson Varejao for 7:37 of the final 12 minutes to preserve the victory.

It's a rarity to see the Cavs go to a small lineup such as that for more than a minute or two, and even more rare to see Williams figure so prominently in it. According to basketballvalue.com, the trio had played a grand total of five possessions together as a frontcourt unit -- three on offense, two on defense -- before Sunday.

Yet with the Cavs trying to hold off a Blazers' comeback before a raucous Rose Garden Arena crowd, that was the crunch-time unit Cleveland used to subdue the plucky home underdogs.

They succeeded thanks to two fourth-quarter 3s from Williams, a couple of huge defensive plays by Varejao, and the usual brilliance from James, whose 41-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist effort prompted immediate speculation that we'd see much more of his one-orange, one-blue sneaker pair.

However, Brown's alignment may provide a more lasting takeaway from this game than any footwear trends. It provides another example of an ongoing theme with the Cavaliers' season, the one striking difference between this season's squad and last season's: The ability to play different lineups and styles depending on the opponent.

"It's something we can go to," said Brown. "It's something I like about this team, is the versatility. We can play real big, real small, or play our normal game."

That wasn't the case last season, when the Cavs won 66 games but couldn't match up against big, athletic centers or tall wings, weaknesses Orlando thoroughly exposed in the conference finals. This season, Cleveland's offseason additions have given the Cavs a versatility they simply didn't have last season. On Sunday, it showed it once again as Brown went to a rarely used alignment for most of crunch time to hold off a Portland comeback.

"Versatility is something we've [added] this offseason," said James. "We have guys who can play different positions, guard different positions, and that definitely helps us when you're going against teams like Orlando and the Lakers."

This wasn't Orlando or the Lakers -- whom the Cavs went a combined 3-9 against last season, including the playoffs, thus explaining James' pointed reference -- but it was a tough opponent in a hostile environment.

The key this time was Williams, a little-used sub last season (and so far this season). He is getting his chance with Jamario Moon injured and making the most of it. He scored a career-high 10 points in 17 minutes off the bench while seeing extended duty on Blazers star Brandon Roy.

"Jawad goes against a guy like LeBron almost every day," said Brown. "He goes against our bigs when we slide him to the 4 in practice. He's tough and he's not afraid. He's earned his minutes."

Varejao, meanwhile, made arguably the play of the game when he switched out on Roy on a screen-and-roll, reached in to deflect the ball, and knocked it off Roy's foot out of bounds for a turnover. That was one of two steals he had in a 4:17 stretch when Cleveland held the Blazers scoreless, a game-sealing 11-0 run. He also guarded LaMarcus Aldridge throughout the fourth and held him to two points.

"He has a motor that's indescribable," said James.

James, meanwhile, was his usual brilliant self, especially early. He made all eight shots and had 20 points in the first quarter, and had 31 by halftime.

"LeBron was just unbelievable," said Blazers coach Nate McMillan. "You normally don't make adjustments in the first quarter. His 20 points came so fast. We wanted to double-team but we couldn't get close [enough] to do that."

James didn't cool off in the second half so much as he stopped shooting -- the Blazers began swarming him and forcing him to find secondary players, and as sometimes happens in that situation, Cleveland's offense grew stagnant and jumper-happy.

Cold shooting from Mo Williams and some missed chippies by Varejao didn't help, and as a result the Blazers got back into the game after trailing by 15 at the half. Portland briefly tied the game at 89 before the Cavs turned the screws with their small-ball lineup.

Oddly, it was the Blazers -- normally a team that goes small at the drop of a hat -- who stayed big this time. Portland kept two traditional big men on the floor the entire fourth quarter, pairing Juwan Howard and Jeff Pendergraph with LaMarcus Aldridge rather than inserting guards Jerryd Bayless or Steve Blake.

The Blazers held to that setup even in the final minute. Down eight points and coming out of a timeout, it was Howard -- not Blake or Bayless -- who shot a 3-pointer that missed everything and sent the locals scurrying for the exits.

"Bayless [1-for-6] didn't have his eye and [Steve] Blake is coming off of pneumonia, and so our bench wasn't as good as they've been," said McMillan.

The Blazers are getting healthier, at least. Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum should be back in the lineup soon; in the meantime, Portland has surprisingly kept itself in the Northwest Division race despite its many injuries. Even in defeat, the Blazers could take solace in Roy (34 points on 14-of-23 shooting), who nearly matched James shot for shot. Despite the late drought, the Blazers played a strong game offensively. Portland had just nine turnovers and was the first Cleveland opponent in 29 games to make half its shots (51.4 percent).

Nonetheless, the Cavs prevailed and raised their East-leading record to 29-10 in the process. They're on top of the Power Rankings and on top of the conference, just like they were last season. This time around, however, the difference is that they can beat you in so many different ways. On Sunday, they showed yet another one.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.

Dimes past: Dec. 21 | 22 | 23 | 25-26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Jan. 1-2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 8-9

2. Injuries, Injuries And More Injuries

By J.A. Adande

LOS ANGELES -- Apparently, the only thing more painful than watching the horrid shooting in the Lakers' victory over the Bucks on Sunday night was actually participating in it.

Michael Redd had the worst of it, having to be helped back to the locker room in the second quarter with what the Bucks called a sore left knee. Watching him limp to the tunnel with his arm around a teammate and an athletic trainer, it looked more than sore. And any injury to that knee has to raise concern after he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee last January, finishing his season.

Redd is scheduled to take an MRI exam on Monday.

"I felt a pop," he said in describing the injury. "The replay, they said my leg buckled. It doesn't feel as it did last year, as far as the ACL. So I'm grateful for that. We'll just see [Monday]."

For Redd, it's just another in a series of frustrations. This season, he has yet to regain the form that made him an All-Star and Olympian, and his average of 12.6 points per game is on track to be his first time under 21 points since 2002-03.

"I don't understand it," Redd said. "You go from one high of being in the Olympics, being at the pinnacle. And then a few months later you have the ACL. And then you work so hard all summer long to get back, and then this happens again. It's all mental right now for me."

It was mental for Ron Artest, as well; the Lakers forward became unsettled after falling toward the floor in his fourth game back since missing a week with a concussion.

"He got banged in his head and I think it affected his game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He asked out of the ballgame."

Artest had two points and four rebounds in 19 minutes.

The Lakers expect much more point production from Kobe Bryant, but he gave them only 12 on 4-for-21 shooting. In the past three games, he has removed the protective splint in the elaborate tape job for the broken bone in his finger and has made 28 of 88 shots (32 percent).

"I have more range, I have more movement in the finger without the splint -- I just don't have enough strength to be able to shoot the ball," Bryant said. "That's why a lot of my shots were short."

The splint will be back when the Lakers play in San Antonio on Tuesday.

3. Daily Dime Live Recap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Sunday night's slate of games -- all in Daily Dime Live.


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