Sunday, October 12, 2014

Battle Royale | LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers Reunion With Miami Heats

LeBron James, Luol Deng
LeBron James drives past the Miami Heat's Luol Deng during the Cleveland Cavaliers' preseason game in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP photo)

Joe Vardon, Northeast Ohio Media Group 

Long before each game, prior to the two teams coming out for layup drills, LeBron James likes to get onto the floor for some early shooting. Most NBA players do.

It didn't happen for James Saturday night, keeping intact the theme of James' week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Not much happened for James here.

"For me I don't think I have personally found my rhythm, but that's kind of secondary for me right now," James said.

James' Cleveland Cavaliers outlasted the Miami Heat 122-119 in overtime of a preseason game at Rio's HSBC Arena. The fizzling for James came in two parts -- his on-floor performance against his old team, and the drama that was supposed to unfold surrounding his reunion with his old team.

First, the basketball.

James was wrapping his back and knees in ice with one minute left in the third quarter, done for the night with seven points and eight assists.

 With no early shooting to get a feel for the Brazilian arena, James finished 2-of-8 from the field and 3-of-7 from the foul line in about 20 minutes.

These games are 48 minutes long – this one was even longer – but his point total is notable because he has scored in double figures in 572 consecutive games (that count, not preseason games). He holds the fourth-longest streak in league history.

And yet it would be hard to say James had a bad night. Many of his assists were crisp passes to Kevin Love, who had a standout game with 25 points. James didn't make his usual impact with baskets, but the Cavaliers cruised when he was on the floor anyway despite the absence of injured Kyrie Irving.

The Cavaliers outscored the Heat by 12 when James was in -- the game tightened after benches emptied in the fourth quarter.

"For me I know in the next couple weeks I'll start to hone in as my body continues to form into regular-season-schedule shape," James said. "The thing for me is to make sure everyone else is in a groove, make sure our offense is running fluidly."

Now, for the soap opera stuff. This was James' first game against the Heat since deciding to leave South Beach in July for a return to Cleveland.

Cavaliers fans know what this is like -- seeing James in a different jersey for the first time. James knows what this is like, too. But it was a first for the Heat with James, and the awkwardness that was surrounding the reunion didn't exactly go away when the ball went up in the air.

"Well if you have to do something like this I really think it benefits both teams to get the awkwardness out of the way in the preseason," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "There was sort of a level of strangeness to it."

James said he "didn't get that awkward feeling" upon taking the floor. Some of that might have been because he wasn't out there that long.

Onlookers were waiting for the pregame chat between James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh -- promised by the Heat's former Big Three after a week of no face-to-face interaction between them in Rio.

It didn't happen.

While Wade, Bosh, and virtually every other player on both teams were out on the floor for pregame shooting – where such a powwow would've happened -- James was in the concourse getting stretched and treated by team trainers.

The reason, I'm told, was the Cavaliers' lengthy bus ride from the team hotel on Copacabana Beach to the arena threw off the schedule James like to keep before games.

So after a week of rhetoric – not heated but certainly awkward – from James, Wade, and Bosh, the only contact was the briefest of hugs and slaps (which is customary) just before tip-off.

(Note: the hugs and handshakes between James and several former Heat teammates, notably Wade, were much more sincere).

None of these things are bad, really. Sure, it was a little awkward in Rio, but the awkwardness is gone until James and the Cavaliers play the Heat for real in Miami on Dec. 25.

Otherwise, it was a quiet week for James. He wasn't seen much around Rio outside of a brief excursion or two to the beach across from the team hotel.

But through two preseason games, James is shooting 6-of-19. There is no reason to panic about this, but it was clear when the final horn sounded Saturday that it was time for James and the Cavaliers to get back to Cleveland.

That's where James can find his rhythm -- and get away from the Heat melodrama -- in time for the season's opener against the New York Knicks on Oct. 30.

"LeBron, we're not worried about him, that's for sure," Cavaliers coach David Blatt said

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