NBA scores 2014: The Cavaliers fall in LeBron James’ return to Miami
Also on Christmas, Russell Westbrook wins one for Durant and John Wall dominates the Knicks.
“It will be a long process,” said LeBron James in his fateful ‘I’m Coming Home’ letter last summer. “We’re not ready right now.”
Those are good words to remember in James’ return to Miami on Thursday — the primetime slot of the NBA’s Christmas coverage. He played well, scoring 30 points and dishing eight assists, but was out-shined by his old running mate Dwyane Wade (31 points) and replacement Luol Deng (25) in a 101-91 Heat win. Miami was 4-9 coming into the game and had just lost at home to the 76ers on Tuesday, but that didn’t matter — they still took care of the Cavaliers rather handily, all things considered.
Don’t mistake the Cavaliers for a disaster, no matter what anyone might say — the loss drops them to 17-11, but they had won three straight coming in. Even with Kevin Love’s struggles, they have the No. 4 offense in the league per NBA.com’s stats.
Still, losses like this one highlights the frustrations this team has caused. They fell behind early thanks to poor defense, something that is even more of an issue now that Anderson Varejao is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Miami took advantage of that to the tune of 62 points in the first half, putting the Cavaliers in a 13-point hole heading into halftime.
Cleveland battled back in the third quarter to make it a game and briefly tied it at 80 in the fourth, but inevitably, the comeback finally skidded off its tracks and the Cavaliers just looked exhausted and out of it down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Danny Granger, of all people, finally put the game out of reach with a dagger corner three-pointer for Miami.
We’re used to watching James-led teams complete comebacks like this, but the Cavaliers haven’t figured out how to tap the source of their powers. Unless they get an external addition to help their defense, it may be impossible. Shawn Marion doesn’t cut it anymore as a team’s go-to wing defender and Cleveland really could use a defensive anchor at center.
By the high standards James has set throughout his career, it’s easy to see the Cavaliers as disappointing. But James himself warned us before the season started that this year might be tough, and in doing so clearly showed he understands the team better than any of us.
3 other things
Russell Westbrook can single-handedly carry the Durant-less Thunder. After a dismal 1-8 shooting start from the field, Westbrook found his rhythm and took over. With a final line of 34 points on 14-28 shooting, 11 assists, five rebounds and five assists, he could not be slowed by the Spurs in the second half in a 114-106 victory in San Antonio.
Durant’s only played nine games this season, but the Thunder can survive a bit longer without him when Westbrook is taking over games like this. He’s scored 30 or more points in six of his last eight games and dished at least six assists in every game since his return. The Thunder are still two games out of the no. 8 seed in the West but can make up ground in a home game against the Suns at the end of the month.
John Wall has a game worthy of his time capsule. Early returns on the 2015 All Star voting were released by the NBA Thursday and only LeBron James has more votes than Wall in the Eastern Conference. If anyone isn’t sure about that ranking, just watch his Christmas game.
Wall scored 24 points on 10-17 shooting, dishing 11 assists and grabbing six rebounds for good measure. He plays the game at a speed few others can match, yet somehow is always in control. Westbrook can improvise everything as he goes, which is great and works for him, but Wall is calm and calculated even while breaking land speed records. It’s just so hard to stop someone who can make plays like this.
There are SO many great NBA point guards right now. The Christmas nightcap featured two of the very best in Stephen Curry and Chris Paul. Both had disappointing games by their lofty standards, and yet Curry still approached a triple-double and had ridiculous highlights while Paul’s 22 led Los Angeles to a 100-86 win against the Warriors. On the other coast, Kyrie Irving had an electric 25 points in 42 minutes played. What all these point guards do on a nightly basis is the real Christmas present to all of us.
Play of the night
Some fun things
Miami still likes LeBron: See, he and Dwyane Wade hugged before the game! And after the game, James posted an adorable Instagram post with a fantastic hashtag. Oh, and check out the tribute video the Heat had for LeBron.
The power went out after Miami had a Flo Rida halftime concert. Now that you think about it this seems pretty obvious.
Christmas fashion update: some of the first name jerseys were good and others were boring (like mine). Spencer Hawes left the wrapping paper on the new suit he got for Christmas. Chris Bosh dances, but check out the sweet double-breasted jacket! Pau Gasol wears a Santa hat. Speaking of accessories, wearing headphones at sporting events is a good one — just ask DJ Khaled. Walt Frazier wears … something? Definitely something. The Heat give away sweaters but they’re actually T-shirts, which is disappointing, but I guess makes sense if you live in Miami.