Friday, December 3, 2010

LeBron may be a prick, but he's also pretty good

I know everyone is probably sick of ESPN's oversaturation of LeBron James' return to Cleveland last night but all that coverage actually made me watch the game. And I don't make it a point to watch an NBA game that doesn't involve the Knicks. Ever. I'd take a random college game any day - like Duke and Michigan State the other night where the next stud to come out of Duke, Kyrie Irving, absolutely went off. But that's neither here nor there.

The first question on people's minds was whether LeBron was going to do his chalk toss. And I think it's obvious he was; if he didn't, that would mean he was going out of his way to change his routine based on the circumstances and that he was scared. James proved he wasn't scared by doing the toss and by what he did on the court.

Obviously the man got booed when he was introduced, but I love the fact that Cleveland fans gave former Cav Zydrunas Ilgauskas a huge cheer. LeBron was also booed every time he touched the ball in the early part of the game, but once the Heat opened up a huge lead the fans seemed to get lazy. Not that it was realistic to expect them to boo every time he touched the ball for the entire game anyway.

On a non-basketball note, I enjoyed some of the signs and shirts seen in the crowd. The Lyin' King with a quote saying LeBron wouldn't stop until he brought Cleveland a championship? Amazing. I'm just disappointed no one had a shirt or sign (that I saw) playing off his "What should I do" commercial. Even South Park touched on that, come on Cleveland.

LeBron's first half was nice; 14 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists. Many predicted before the game (and I was one) that he would play great; scoring 30+ points or putting up a triple-double. I was thinking triple-double and his first-half performance didn't change that. But James grabbed just one rebound the rest of the way.

Instead, James scored 24 points in the third quarter. He came out of halftime scorching hot and every time he put up a shot in the quarter, I thought it was going in. Even when he sprinted towards the baseline, staring at a cameraman, came to a jump-stop and turned in midair, finally looking at the hoop. The resulting shot hit nothing but twine and if it wasn't already painstakingly clear that James was thriving off of the crowd's hatred and hostility, that shot was the dagger.

By the way, Miami won by 28 and was ahead by 30 after three quarters. James sat the whole fourth quarter and if he hadn't, I think he would've put up 50 on his old squad. But he had nothing left to prove at that point and I'm glad Erik Spoelstra kept him on the bench; it prevented him from completely showing up the fans he once loved to play for and kept James and other players safe. Who knows what drunk Clevelanders were willing to throw on the court at that point.

So what did we learn? We learned that LeBron James is really, really good at basketball and that he can thrive off the scorn of others. As much as I still hate LeBron, he proved himself right. He left the Cavs because he didn't think his supporting cast was good enough and they sure looked overmatched last night.

I will still bash "The Decision" and how LeBron exited Cleveland. But it's obvious that he left to play with better players and no matter how much the 12-8 Heat have "struggled" this season, they're a lock for the playoffs. And last night was probably the most complete game they have played all season.

Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of his Heat teammates knew what this game meant to LeBron and they came out and performed. Wade almost had a triple-double himself (22 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists). I'm not saying this game is going to turn the Heat into a top three team in the East right now, but it proves that by the end of the season they will be a tough out in the playoffs.

It's not what many expected; predictions of 72-plus wins and a challenge to the 1995-96 Bulls record were asinine. And this game really doesn't prove much since Miami has been killing bad teams all season; it's hard to play a team that has the three best players on the court. But when the Heat play teams (like Boston) that have players at the top to match the Big 3, they have struggled. And that will continue.

It's not time to overreact to one good game against a poor opponent and say the Heat are about to go on a roll. But this game shows the potential of this team if they can come together and if Wade and LeBron can coexist. But what we did learn last night is that LeBron James is still a great basketball player. And yes, he's still a scumbag.

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