Published January 13, 2015
LeBron James gets cheers in almost every city that holds an NBA team. If there's one exception to the admiration of James it would be the city of Cleveland.
The one known as King James will return to where his illustrious career began when the white-hot Miami Heat put their 23-game winning streak to the test Wednesday against the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
James changed the economic status in Cleveland during his days there and sent the Forest City into an uproar when he opted to take his "talents to South Beach." James' No. 23 Cavaliers jerseys were sent ablaze and murals that featured his familiar face were removed.
All James did in his first season as a member of the Heat was make Cleveland fans more angry by leading the Heat to the NBA Finals, only to lose to the Dallas Mavericks. Much to the chagrin of the Cavs, James finally got his ring last season and the momentum has carried over into the 2012-13 campaign.
James has been the focal point to Miami's 23-game winning streak, the second- longest in NBA lore behind a 33-game stretch by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. The Heat passed Houston's 22-game mark established in 2007-08 with Monday's thrilling 105-103 triumph at Boston. The Heat overcame Jeff Green's game-high 43 points and did not have to worry about injured power forward Kevin Garnett. James led Miami with 37 points on 16-of-29 shooting and tied the game at 103-103 on his own putback.
With the game on the line, the reigning NBA MVP beat Green off the dribble and nailed a long jumper to give the Heat a 105-103 lead. The Celtics had a chance to win or tie on their own end, but Paul Pierce hit the front of the iron in the waning seconds and the Heat held on for their 11th straight road win. The Heat trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half.
"We just have to continue to stick together. We're a veteran ball club and we all want to win. We got a little emotional, a little fired up on the bench," said James. "But we're all out there trying to do the thing that's right for the team, and it was everybody together in the fourth quarter."
Miami, which is already headed to the playoffs, captured its third straight Southeast Division title and is 4-0 on a five-game road trip which concludes Wednesday night in the Forest City. Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade scored 21 and 16 points, respectively, in the win for the Heat, who are the East's top seed and haven't lost since Feb. 1 at Indiana.
After visiting the Cavs, Miami will head back to south Florida for two straight games against Detroit and Charlotte. The Bobcats came close to beating the Heat early on during the streak in a 99-94 decision Feb. 4. Seven of the 23 wins on this streak have been by six points or less.
The Cavaliers would enjoy nothing more than to halt Miami's winning streak, but haven't been playing well lately with three straight losses and seven in the previous nine contests.
"Our guys are motivated. I think the biggest thing is we know that we have to come out and play a great basketball game against a great team," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "We know we have to play probably our best game of the season because this team (Heat) right now is playing at a different level than everybody else. We know how good they are right now."
Scott said his team has to be committed to what it does on both ends of the floor to have a chance to shock the world.
Cleveland is coming off Monday's 111-90 loss to the Indiana Pacers and received a game-high 21 points from C.J. Miles. Tristan Thompson followed with 20 points and 11 boards for the Cavs, who played their fourth straight game without All-Star guard Kyrie Irving because of a shoulder injury. Cleveland fell to 5-13 on the season in games played without Irving.
"We just didn't come out with enough fight. That's not acceptable, especially at home," Thompson said.
The Cavs lost the first three quarters and a 28-24 advantage in the final stanza wasn't enough. In more injury news for the Cavaliers, rookie guard Dion Waiters (knee) is expected to miss at least a week. Waiters logged just 12 minutes versus Indiana and had four points.
Cleveland has played Miami tough so far in two matchups this season, losing a 110-108 decision Nov. 24 and a 109-105 setback Feb. 24. The two teams will meet again April 15 in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers have dropped five straight and eight of the last nine games in this series, but Miami has lost 11 of 15 and 12 of its last 17 at Cleveland.
Scott said anything can happen in the latest installment of this series.
"I'm kind of anxious to see how we bounce back," Scott said. "Anything can happen. Just like boxers; James "Buster" Douglas against Mike Tyson. Nobody in the world thought it would happen. We have played them tough both games that we have played them; we've been right there."
Scott alluded to defensive breakdowns at the end and mistakes in both of those showdowns in south Florida.
"Our mistakes they took advantage of."