CLEVELAND: With t-shirts asking him to return scattered throughout the crowd, LeBron James’ return to Cleveland ended like so many others before it. James had 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and the Miami Heat left town with an easy 95-84 victory over the weary Cavaliers, who have lost four straight and seven of their last eight.
Dion Waiters’ turbulent day concluded with a season-high 24 points and six rebounds, but the Cavs struggled offensively after a fast start and rarely pulled within double figures in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs led after the first quarter, but shot just 20 percent in the second (5 of 25) and trailed the two-time defending champions the rest of the night. The Cavs have now dropped 11 of 12 to the Heat since James’ departure.
Waiters, who reportedly inferred to the Cavs he’d like to be traded, was the only consistent scorer on an offense still searching for answers. Kyrie Irving shot 6 of 19, Andrew Bynum was 2 of 10 and Tristan Thompson was 1 of 6 for the Cavs.
The Cavs’ starting lineup was outscored by James, accounting for just 26 total points.
James blew kisses into the crowd before the game, then pointed at the Cavs’ bench toward coach Mike Brown, who nodded in return.
"He's playing at an extremely high level,” Brown said. “If he's not the best player in the game right now, he's one of the top two or three. With what he's accomplished in his career, especially these past few years, everybody should think he's the best player.”
James’ first return game this season elicited the same boos he’s grown accustomed to, but the groundswell of fans hoping he returns seems to be growing.
The grass roots “Come Home LeBron” campaign was stationed outside a sports bar one block from Quicken Loans Arena handing out bright green t-shirts to fans who want to see James return next season when he can again become a free agent.
James has steadfastly refused to address his free agency and did so again on Wednesday, acknowledging only that the campaign to bring him back to Cleveland was “flattering.”
“It’s not for me to really comment on or really get too caught up in,” James said before the game. “It’s humbling, it’s flattering to know you have fans everywhere and I’m grateful for that.”
James flew to Ohio ahead of his teammates and arrived in time to watch St. Vincent-St. Mary practice on Tuesday. He stayed at his home again on Wednesday and woke up there this morning.
This is his fourth season with the Heat, but conceded returning to Quicken Loans Arena is still strange for him.
“To drive up to the arena and walking into the first locker room, it’s still weird,” he said. “I spent seven years here. But I understand what my job is and what my task is.”