|LeBron dominates in return to Cleveland as Heat rout Cavs|
|Updated 12/3/2010 10:26 PM ET|
Fans let James know how they felt about taking his "talents to South Beach" with chants of "Akron hates you," the occasional profanity and lots of booing — early.
But in his first game back against his former team, James reminded Cavaliers fans what they no longer have, scoring a game- and season-high 38 points in a 118-90 romp.
That was the main course on a day Clevelanders thought they would never see, a native son adding to the city's long, dark history of heartbreaking sporting loss.
James made his first shot — a jumper on the right baseline with 10:41 left in the first quarter — and was so loose he occasionally walked over to the home bench and talked to the Cavaliers players.
"It was our most complete game of the year," said James, who shot 15-for-25 with eight assists and five rebounds for the Heat (12-8).TELL US: Who did better on Thursday, LeBron or Vick? GAME REPORT: Heat 118, Cavaliers 90 VIDEO: Cavs fans react on day of LeBron's return COVER STORY: Cleveland faithful ready to vent PHOTOS: Miami Heat season
His coach agreed, after seeing Dwyane Wade hit for 22 points, James Jones for 18 and Chris Bosh for 15. "It was a great collective effort," Erik Spoelstra said. "This is the first time I have seen this connection all year long."
James had 14 points by halftime and scored 24 in the third quarter for a 95-65 lead. By then, the fans' lung power was all but gone, and so were the Cavs (7-11).
"It was nothing personal for myself against the fans. It won't be, ever," James said. "I understand their frustration."
James overcame entering an arena where fans once loved him and Thursday loathed him. Extra security was inside and outside.
He warmed up listening to music, occasionally singing, with one headphone on, one off. He spotted Cavaliers forward J.J. Hickson and advised, "Move in if you want to make that jumper. That shot is broke as hell."
Hickson smiled and said, "Wait until 8 o'clock."
And that's when James went to work.
Thriving in a hostile environment
Who would have figured the only thing the Heat needed to kick-start their season was a visit to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers?
Instead of fearing this game, facing and conquering his former team is what James needed to perhaps get Miami's season turned around.
James made his first shot and didn't stop making shots until late in the third quarter. By then, he had a season-high 38 points, with eight assists and five rebounds, and the Heat were on their way to a commanding victory.
"I'm very exhausted," James said of his emotional return. "I didn't get much sleep last night. I didn't get much sleep today. I'm glad we played well as a team."
James didn't even need to play in the fourth quarter.
Nearly a week after a players-only meeting following a loss to the Dallas Mavericks, and a confab between James and Spoelstra, the Heat have won three in a row.
Spoelstra spoke to the team of what was important: coming together. "We are a family, and we'll take care of our two brothers," Spoelstra said of James and former Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. "And you do that collectively by making ourselves feel normal and doing this together.
"The second thing is this is an extreme environment here tonight. There's no way around that. We want to stay in the moment as much as possible."
They were in the moment. Wade had nine rebounds and nine assists to go along with his 22 points, and Jones had five three-pointers off the bench.
But James was the centerpiece, leading up to and during one of the most hyped games of the season. The game started with boos for James and cheers for Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. But the night ended belonging to James. He said he didn't take anything the fans said personally.
"I have to maintain my focus no matter what's said or done during that game," he said.
James dominated, especially in the third quarter, scoring 24 on 10-for-12 shooting. At one point the Heat had an 88-50 lead, their largest of the season, and the final ended up as Cleveland's biggest loss.
Also on James' final stat sheet: zero turnovers. He entered leading the league in turnovers; it was his first game without one.
It was also a night for Ilgauskas who spent the first 12 seasons of his NBA career with the Cavaliers and is that team's all-time leader in games played. He followed James to Miami in the offseason. His reception was much warmer than that for James, who was booed and jeered.
The Heat visit the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 16 and hope to do the same for Bosh, who left Toronto for Miami.
"We know we haven't played up to par against plus-.500 teams," James said. "We're going to try to keep this momentum going."
|Posted 12/2/2010 11:14 PM ET|
|Updated 12/3/2010 10:26 PM ET|