More than result and more than ability, the most interesting thing about the preseason game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat held in Brazil was LeBron James, playing on his new-old team with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving (sorta) by his side, facing off against his former teammates and championship partners, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
The Cavaliers won 122-119 in front of 15,411 fans in the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro which will host the gymnastics competitions in the 2016 Olympic games. Kevin Love, on a night in which he found it almost impossible to miss in, led the Cavaliers with 25 points, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. Tristan Thompson had a very good day off the bench with 18 points as the Cavaliers gave Anderson Varejao the chance to start and make the Brazilian fans happy to see one of their own in the lineup, although the plan is to use Varejao off the bench during the regular season. He finished with 14 points.
Kyrie Irving didn’t actually play, with his right ankle bothering him for the last few days. Matthew Dellavedova started instead of him in the lineup but didn’t make an impression. Dion Waiters was the better half of the backcourt with 16 points, although most of the time it was LeBron James holding the ball and playing as the actual point man. It showed up on the assist column, with James dishing out eight of those to his teammates.
His scoring wasn’t quite so fabulous. James scored just 7 points on 2-of-8 from the field. Maybe it was the nerves of facing off against his former team, although it never bothered him upon his returns to play against the Cavs from 2010 to 2014. James even got a bit confused while on defense, looking like he’s setting a pick for a Miami Heat player, preventing his own teammate from reaching a player with the ball. It can happen in such a confusing situation.
The Miami Heat and especially Bosh and Wade have been dripping bits of poison through the media to make it seem like they’re over LeBron and maybe even happier now that he’s gone. Bosh scored 19 points to go with 8 rebounds and Dwyane Wade added 12 points. Luol Deng, replacing James in the lineup, scored 8 points, while Miami’s best player happened to be Shabazz Napier with 16 points and 7 assists in what is probably his best performance since leaving UConn.
So is LeBron James better off right now? It looks that way, and not just because of preseason results. Kevin Love and a healthy Kyrie Irving seem to be a better duo right now than 30-year old or more Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The Cavaliers made some interesting moves to add depth to the team, and not find themselves in a situation like Miami, where it seemed like too much was hinging on staying healthy and for James to make everything work while the rest just stand aside and watch him do his thing.
The next time these two teams meet will be on December 25. The NBA just had to squeeze out the most from this rivalry, although no one knows how long it’ll actually be lasting. The Heat have had the upper hand in this one for quite some time, but obviously, things have changed drastically over the course of only a few months. When that happens, Irving won’t let some pain in his ankle get in the way of playing, and you can be sure James won’t be having such a poor offensive performance.