Words. Max Sheridan
The score was 118-90 on Thursday night as LeBron James returned to Cleveland, but don’t be fooled: There were no winners. The night was filled with angry fans, awkward interactions between LeBron and his former teammates, and, for the most part, uninteresting basketball. The game confirmed what we’ve learned over the first month of the NBA season, but taught us nothing else about Miami or Cleveland.
The Heat took the opportunity to beat up on a lesser team, as their Big 3 showed an impressive (and rare) display of chemistry. From the opening tip, the Heat took advantage of the disparity in talent and athleticism, as they forced the Cavs into a turnover that led to a Dwyane Wade dunk to open the scoring.
Against lesser opponents like the Cavaliers, the Heat can do nothing to answer their critics, and they will continue to be doubted and ridiculed until they string together some quality wins over the likes of Boston, Orlando or L.A. LeBron maintained his composure and put on a scintillating performance to dominate the action at Quicken Loans Arena, as he has done hundreds of times before. However, he still managed to embarrass himself by trying to kid and play with his former teammates, and was met with cold stares of contempt.
On the other hand, the Cavs are a JV team playing a varsity schedule this year. Full of mostly young players and career castoffs, Cleveland simply does not have the talent (or depth) to compete with the elite teams of the League. Both Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are former All-Stars who will be caught between sinking their teeth into leading the rebuilding process and booking their plane tickets out of Cleveland as trade rumors begin to surface. Now, the Cavs are sinking fast as they’ve compounded their recent struggles with consecutive losses to Minnesota and Detroit. Losses like that mean that competing for the 8th seed is but a pipe dream for this season, and Clevelanders may as well start counting down the days to the Lottery.
The game received more attention for the, ahem, expressive, Cavs fans in the stands than the action on the hardwood. And rightfully so. For Clevelanders, December 2, 2010 was the evil twin of July 8, 2010, the day LeBron’s departure was ingrained in sports infamy. Cavs fans unleashed months of anger in a display that appeared from afar to be immature, yet possibly therapeutic. Hopefully this was what Cavs fans needed to get over the ‘anger’ stage of their LeBron-induced grieving. As it’s been harped on over and over, passionate fans are appreciated, but bitter and unruly fans are not. Though some of the fans’ chants were impressive (Scott-ie Pipp-en, clap clap clap-clap-clap), the entire scene slipped into the realm of pathetic by game’s end.
Cavs fans either need to start supporting coach Byron Scott’s squad, or start following the NHL. There are some quality pieces to build around in Cleveland. Bigs J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao form a young, energetic, and talented frontcourt that should lead the team for years to come. Daniel Gibson is a combo guard ideal for the sixth man role he currently holds, and he is playing arguably the best basketball of the year for the Cavs. Leon Powe and Jamario Moon have each played significant roles on winning teams in the past and should help anchor the reserve unit. And there’s always the aforementioned Williams and Jamison, who are both unquestionably talented but not without flaws.
Jamison is 34 with over 900 games played and is stuck behind Hickson in the rotation due to the franchise’s focus on Hickson’s development. Williams is an outstanding shooter and scorer at the lead guard slot but has struggled mightily on the defensive end with his lack of lateral quickness and inability to keep opposing guards out of the paint. With lightning quick point guards taking over the NBA – think Rose, Rondo, Jennings, and Wall in the East alone) – Williams is becoming more and more of a liability. Additionally, Scott’s offensive scheme is built around up-tempo play and a dynamic playmaking point guard. Scott led Jason Kidd and the Nets and Chris Paul and the Hornets to outstanding seasons and deep playoff runs, but Williams is simply not the type of facilitator that those two perennial All-Stars have proven to be. Williams and Jamison can serve as solid trade bait come February, however, as veteran scorers are always a hot commodity as teams tweak their rosters heading into the playoffs. And, the Cavs’ massive $14.5 million trade exception could also be used to quickly upgrade their roster.
Though cliché, it is undeniable that the Cavalier fans and franchise have to stop dwelling on the departure of James. Cavs fans have to find a way to channel their energy toward cheers in order get their young players going as they continue to improve for the future.
Last Thursday night was truly a spectacle, but there were no winners. Both teams’ play was consistent with their first month of the season, and the aura surrounding the game felt dirty. If there has to be a winner from LeBron’s homecoming, it can only be TNT, who made a jaw-dropping promotional video that was frankly twice as compelling as the game it was created to hype.
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