CLEVELAND – The arena, so rowdy and rambunctious in seasons past, was half-filled and as quiet as it had been in years. There were no gravity-defying dunks or flames shooting from the scoreboard, and the only pregame powder toss took place 1,200 miles away.
In Miami, LeBron James started anew.
In Cleveland, the Cavaliers started over.
Daniel Gibson scored 18 points and J.J. Hickson added 17 as the Cavs, under new coach Byron Scott, moved a little further away from James' imposing shadow by opening the preseason with an 87-72 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night.
For seven seasons, the Cavs' world revolved around James. He was everything to them, and his absence was impossible to ignore.
"It wasn't strange at all, it's home," said Jamario Moon, who added 10 rebounds and three blocks. "We were anxious to get out there and show that basketball is still alive in Cleveland."
D.J. Augustin scored 14 points and Tyrus Thomas had 11 points and nine rebounds for Charlotte, which scored just 25 points in the second half.
Ramon Sessions added 11 points and five assists for the Cavs.
It was Cleveland's first home game since Game 5 of last season's playoffs, when a disinterested James, on the eve of his free agency exit, missed 11-of-14 shots and was visibly out of sorts in a 120-88 loss to the Boston Celtics — the Cavs' most lopsided ever in the postseason.
James left for the Heat two months later, crushing the hopes of Cleveland fans who figured he would stay around long enough to win a title.
Now, they'll chase a championship without the two-time league MVP and leading scorer in team history.
It's going to be tough.
As James was making his preseason debut in Florida, the Cavs moved into an era of uncertainty with a revamped roster that only includes a handful of holdovers from a team that had the NBA's best regular-season record the past two years.
There were few reminders of James' seven seasons in Cleveland — the best run the Cavs ever enjoyed. Moon moved into No. 23's old corner cubicle in Cleveland's locker room, and there are still murals of James on the corridor walls inside Quicken Loans Arena.
On the floor, it was another story.
James accounted for nearly 30 points, eight or nine rebounds, seven or so assists and a handful of highlights per game. It's going to take several Cavs to fill those voids.
Scott is still learning about his players — and vice versa — and he intends to use a variety of starting lineups throughout the exhibition season.
He's currently missing two definite starters as Mo Williams remains sidelined with a groin injury and forward Anderson Varejao has not yet returned from Brazil following his grandfather's death. Scott experimented throughout the game, mixing and matching to see what would work.
One lineup featured the 6-foot-9 Hickson at center.
"I love the flexibility we have," Scott said. "Our bigs are not big big."
Bobcats coach Larry Brown knows his team isn't ready for the regular season.
"We're not in great shape, not as good a shape as they are," Brown said. "We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of work, but that's what exhibition games are for."
Brown was without regulars Gerald Henderson (strained hamstring), Shaun Livingston (sore knee), DeSagana Diop (personal) and Kwame Brown (ankle sprain).
Notes: As the Cavs showered and dressed afterward, the final minutes of Miami's game vs. Detroit played on the locker room TVs. ... Browns QB Seneca Wallace attended the game. ... The Cavs host Washington and rookie John Wall on Thursday. ... The Hornets play Oklahoma City on Wednesday in Fayetteville, N.C.