And here…we…go. Tonight marks the first return of Cleveland’s most hated son to the site of his regular season successes and postseason failures. Yes, tonight is the night that Lebron James makes his long awaited return to Cleveland to take on his former Cavalier teammates and fans turned enemies. Make no mistake about it, this will not be a regular game for anyone involved. Despite being played on December 2nd, the atmosphere at this game will be like that of a Finals game in June. So what is there to watch for at the game tonight? And what happens once it’s over? Will Lebron throw the powder? Will Mo Williams cry? Surely you didn’t think this game would pass without an article from the BSO’s Resident NBA expert did you?
First the obvious, we can expect booing. And chants, very specific chants, and apparently some laughing too. This will be the game where Cleveland fans release months of pent up, pure, merciless hatred on the man they used to call “King”. It’s probably not a game you take your kids too if you don’t want them to hear some pretty obscene language. And that’s the right of Cavs fans who are paying to go to this game. They can boo, curse out, taunt or even cheer for whoever they want.
What they can’t (and I’m confident won’t) do is anything that puts fans or players in danger. While I understand the anger behind this game, at the end of the day it’s sports, and the people of Cleveland know this. Sure the NBA will have extra security at the game, but I think the fans in Cleveland will show the rest of the country that they can turn their anger into 48 minutes of hell for Lebron James. And after the way he killed Cleveland sports on national television in “The Debacle”, he deserves to feel their wrath.
Speaking of Lebron, what does this game mean to him exactly? Since the night he announced he was taking his talents to South Beach, this is a game people have been looking forward to. We’ve seen the endless loops of video showing “James 23” jerseys being burned by the people in Cleveland. We’ve all seen a million replays of Lebron announcing he was leaving, and it was hard to not catch the look of pain on his face for a split second before regaining his composure after he said he was joining the Heat.
Whether he wants to admit it or not, this is not just another game for Lebron James. He knew when he made his decision, that this night was eventually going to come and that he would hear it from Cleveland fans. What I don’t think James expected was the wrath he’s felt from everyone else, from die-hard basketball fans to sports writers who used to show him nothing but love to casual fans who just watch basketball for the hell of it. Lebron instantly became the most hated player in the NBA, the Heat instantly became the most hated team, and thus far this season they haven’t been handling it all that well. So what can we expect from Lebron and the Heat in a game where they will get more hate than every other road arena combined?
Well if history is any indicator, we can expect Lebron to shrink under the pressure. We can expect him to start settling for jumpers, forcing passes and having one of his worst games. And then after that we can expect him to go into his press conference and let us know that it was just a bad game, and the fans, the pressure, (the regret?) had nothing to do with it.
There is a flipside to that history though, just ask Cleveland fans. If their history is any indicator, Lebron will come back and have one of his best regular season games ever, sticking it to Cavs fans one final time and reminding everyone in Cleveland they won’t be winning any titles any time soon now that he’s gone. (And yes, I’m going to ignore the fact that it’s debatable they would have won any titles even if he had stayed.)
But again, this is just a regular-season game being played in the beginning of December, so how much weight does it really carry? Besides being a game for the fans to let out all their frustrations, does this game really carry any significance for the teams? That all depends on which team you are talking about of course.
For the Heat, all you’re going to hear is that it’s just another road game on their schedule. Sure they’ll get booed, but they get booed in every city the play in not named Miami. But do they really believe that? Because for all the scrutiny they’ve faced this season, a loss to Cleveland will bring a reaction that makes those criticisms look like compliments. To lose to a team like the Cavs, with their former superstar now wearing your uniform, and in one of your first real pressure situations, would speak volumes on the mental toughness (or lack thereof) that the Heat have. If you can’t get up to win a game like this for one of your leaders who will be playing under huge pressure against a lottery team, then what will the Heat fate be come playoff time? Sure it’s only an early-season game, but there is a lot of weight in the outcome. If you’re a Heat fan (or hater), you will be able to take away some key signs about this team tonight.
And what about the Cavs? Tonight will be their NBA Finals Game 7. A win against Lebron would forever propel this Cavs team to Cleveland immortality. Forget how they finish this season, if they can beat the Exiled One in his first game back in Cleveland, they could lose every game the rest of the season and Cavs fans wouldn’t mind. This is the type of game where players can gain the support of a city for the rest of their careers. Want Cleveland to love you JJ Hickson? Knock Lebron on his back the first time he drives to the basket. You say you want everyone to forget your post-Lebron meltdown Mo Williams? Hit a big shot and taunt the entire Miami bench like Rudy Gay did. This could turn out to be the biggest regular season win for everyone on the Cavs roster.
To better understand what a Cavs win would mean, let me put it in terms every one can understand. You’re ex broke up with you for a wealthier, better looking dude. Not only that, but she did it at a party with all of your friends, their friends, your family and your friends families watching. You were embarrassed in front of everyone, and you were so angry that you started trashing anything that reminded you of her. Then a couple months later you’re at another party and she’s there with the new guy. Nobody expects you to show, and if you do they expect you to make an appearance then sulk off back into depression. Instead, you show up with the most gorgeous date anyone has ever seen, you walk in confident and act like you haven’t missed a beat since the break-up.
That’s exactly what the Cavs hope to do tonight. Win or lose, they are in a pressure-free situation. They’re expected to lose, so if they do, not a big deal. A win? Then they become heroes in Cleveland.
I don’t know what is going to happen tonight, and honestly, nothing would surprise me. A Lebron triple-double with 50-10-10 and a 30-point Heat win wouldn’t surprise me. Neither would a Lebron meltdown and the Cavs stealing one in their biggest game of the year. All I know is that this is not a game you want to miss, as the “King” makes the return to the Kingdom he so disrespectfully deserted.
Week 5 Power Rankings:
30. Sacramento Kings (4-12)
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-14)
28. Washington Wizards (5-12)
27. Detroit Pistons (6-13)
26. Philadelphia 76ers (5-13)
25. New Jersey Nets (6-13)
24. Los Angeles Clippers (4-15)
23. Charlotte Bobcats (6-12)
22. Toronto Raptors (7-11)
21. Golden State Warriors (8-10)
20. Milwaukee Bucks (6-12)
19. Houston Rockets (6-12)
18. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-10)
17. Memphis Grizzlies (8-11)
16. Portland Trailblazers (8-10)
15. Phoenix Suns (8-9)
14. New York Knicks (10-9)
13. Indiana Pacers (9-8)
12. Atlanta Hawks (12-7)
11. Denver Nuggets (11-6)
10. Chicago Bulls (9-7)
9. Miami Heat (11-8)
8. New Orleans Hornets (13-5)
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-6)
6. Los Angeles Lakers (13-6)
5. Utah Jazz (15-5)
4. Boston Celtics (14-4)
3. San Antonio Spurs (15-3)
2. Orlando Magic (14-4)
1. Dallas Mavericks (14-4)