Return of the King: A Look at LeBron James' First Game Back in Cleveland
That's how long it's been since LeBron James has played basketball at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio as a member of the home team. That's how long it's been since he's played there without being booed.
Tonight, that all changes. The fans of Cleveland get their King back and can act like they were screaming LeBOOOOOron all along. The revamped Cavs welcome Carmelo Anthony, Derek Fisher, Phil Jackson and the rest of the New York Knicks to town in the first Thursday night primetime game of the season in just a few short hours.
As far as the matchup itself goes, it might not really be all that "fit for a King". Individually, the bells and whistles are all there, though, as the 'Bron versus 'Melo battle has always been an entertaining one. In fact, look at how things went the last time these two met at the Q (when James was still a Cav and Anthony was part of the Denver Nuggets back on February 18th, 2010):
As a team, however, these Knicks might not have all that much fight in them. Last night, they got destroyed by the Chicago Bulls, losing 104-80. Yes, the Bulls have Derrick Rose back now and added some interesting offensive weapons like Pau Gasol during the offseason, but the Knicks still let a team that finished last season ranked 28th with a 102.5 offensive rating post a 118.9 in their first game of the year (not to mention a 91.5 defensive rating).
It's hard to imagine that the Knicks will have a much easier time playing the Cavaliers in the second game of a back-to-back to open the season. Sure, Cleveland doesn't project to be a very good defensive team, but their offense has the potential to be record-breaking-ly amazing. LeBron, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving combined for 27.5 offensive win shares just between the three of them in 2013-14 and there should be no shortage of buckets tonight against the Knicks' porous defense.
Even if this game ends up being a blowout, there will be a lot of things to watch. The Knicks continued quest to implement the triangle will be worth keeping an eye on, although the majority of the attention will be paid to the new-look Cavaliers.
After a summer of questions, we will now get a chance to start seeing some answers. How will new Cavs coach David Blatt decide to deploy his lineups and stagger his stars? Can the "Big Three" share the ball effectively? Can this team defend anyone? What are the best lineups and combinations this team has at its disposal? What roles will guys like Dion Waiters, Shawn Marion, et al play as complementary pieces? Will Love and Kyrie see dips in their usual statistical production now that they're no longer "the man" on their team?
Preseason numbers rarely translate to how things will work in the regular season or playoffs, but the trends there were interesting, nonetheless. All three of LeBron, Love, and Kyrie played in the mid-20's in minutes, but here are their preseason numbers prorated to per-36-minute averages:
LeBron has spoken a lot this summer about this being Kyrie's team and so far it looks like deferring to him is a big part of the plan. "Uncle Drew" led the trio in per-36 shots and points, while LeBron was the assist leader.
If you're a fantasy basketball owner of either of the three, you have to love how they all look to be 20-point scorers with extra goodies (Kyrie's steals, Love's rebounds, LeBron's everything) and solid percentages from the floor and long range. They're all excellent passers for their respective positions as well, so they should be a blast to watch play together all year long.
Speaking of which, hurry up and toss that chalk, LeBron, so we can finally see what this team looks like for real instead of just imagining it.
PS: if none of this gets you hyped up for tonight, this video should do the trick.