When the Christmas matchup between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers was announced this summer, it struck most observers as a game in which LeBron James would return to South Beach to remind everyone what they were missing. The reality was a little more complicated.
Playing without the injured Chris Bosh for the seventh game in a row, the Heat thrived early to get out to a 13-point halftime lead before weathering a second-half Cavs comeback to end up with a 101-91 win. Dwyane Wade was the star, putting up 31 points, five assists, five rebounds, two steals, and this very impressive follow dunk over Kevin Love:
Wade looked very comfortable in his old role as the Heat’s first option, playing with a spring in his step that was often missing during his last few seasons next to LeBron. The Heat also got an excellent game from Luol Deng, James’s de facto replacement, with 25 points (11-of-16 FG), eight rebounds, and eight assists.
LeBron did not seem rattled by any emotions associated with his return to Miami, perhaps because he received a mostly positive welcome from his former home crowd. Yet strong individual stats (30 points, albeit on 10-of-18 FT, with eight assists) did not help Cleveland transcend the issues that have plagued the team for most of this season. In their first game since Anderson Varejao was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, the Cavs struggled to defend the rim (a problem with Varejao, as well) and got little help from players other than LeBron and Kyrie Irving (25 points on 10-of-19 FG).
That’s not to say that James should leave Miami believing that he made a mistake this summer — the Cavs are still four games ahead of the Heat in the standings — but it’s safe to say that his new team has a lot of room to improve. This loss was a useful reminder of all they have left to do, if not the final word on their season.
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