NEW ORLEANS -- LeBron James sized up Anthony Davis and drove straight at him. He got Davis on his hip, and with two dribbles made it from beyond the 3-point line to the middle of the paint. But when you're 6-10 with the athleticism of a guard, you tend to make up ground pretty quickly.
With Davis back in front of him, James used the athleticism of the New Orleans Pelicans' young star against him. He came to a halt with a jump stop and got Davis to bite on a head fake, giving James just enough room to angle to the hoop for a left-handed layup to put the Cleveland Cavaliers up by three with 1:15 to go on Friday.
It was supposed to be James putting the finishing touches on a masterful performance. Cleveland trailed by 13 points with 6:52 remaining in the fourth. Five and a half ridiculous minutes out of James later and the Cavs were going to steal one on the road.
All told, James had 23 points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal in the final period, going toe-to-toe with the guy that 86.2 percent of NBA general managers said they would rather have over him to start their franchise.
It was poetic, almost. There was Davis on the court, the player the league seems so eager to anoint as its next best player. There was Ben Simmons in the stands, the college freshman whom some say has the potential to be even better than Davis. And there was James looking as defiant as ever with his play: You want the league to be yours? You're going to have to take it from me.
Again, it was almost poetic.
But the Cavs ended up losing in overtime 114-108, with Davis scoring six points in the extra period to James' zero.
It was the Cavs' second-straight loss to a sub-.500 opponent, with the 5-15 Pelicans accomplishing the same thing the 8-9 Washington Wizards did on Tuesday. And the loss dropped Cleveland behind Chicago for the top spot in the Eastern Conference for the first time in weeks. Which is why that for as epic as it might have felt to see James put up 37 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to Davis' 31 points, 12 rebounds and four steals, the bigger story is just how much the Cavs still need to do if they are going to come close to realizing their championship goal this season.
And it's why after the battle between the basketball gods was over, James evoked the son of God to make his point about why his team can't simply wait for Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert to come back to make everything better.
"I hope we don't think that way," James said. "It's never that way. When you get your guys back, you prepare just as you prepare before. It's only one guy in the world, ever, where everything will be all right when he comes back, and that's Jesus Christ. Other than that, you can't bank on nobody ... ."
If you think about it, Cleveland's 13-6 record would look even more pedestrian if James hadn't bailed the Cavs out of a handful of games already, like he tried to do in New Orleans. While the defending champion Golden State Warriors continue to rip through the competition at 20-0, the Cavs increasingly look like James and four dudes unable to reach his level.
"We needed to give him a little bit more help," said Cavs coach David Blatt.
Sure, Irving will provide that just by his gravitational pull on defenders based on his scoring acumen. Shumpert will provide it too, as Cleveland's best perimeter defender other than James.
But as James has emphasized all season, especially considering the way the shorthanded Cavs wilted in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the Finals, Cleveland has to start believing it has enough whenever it steps on the court. And it has to start playing that way too. Kevin Love was 6-for-16 on Friday and went 1-for-3 in overtime. J.R. Smith scored 15 points on eight shots in the first quarter, but during the remainder of the game, he had three points on six shots. Matthew Dellavedova, promoted into the starting lineup in place of Mo Williams because of his defense and ball-distribution abilities, had three turnovers against just four assists and let Jrue Holiday elude him for a game-tying 3 with eight seconds left in the fourth that erased the lead that James worked the entire quarter to build.
After it was over, James was asked why he felt the need to impose his will to get the Cavs back in it late.
"Who else was gonna do it?" James asked.
Until James has reason to answer that question differently, the Cavs will be in the same boat as Davis and Simmons: pretenders to the throne.