His latest homecoming over and the hatred subsided, LeBron James had more to do.
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He greeted a fans standing behind the bench and personally delivered his headband to a young admirer before heading to the locker room. He left the floor he once owned, skipping down a carpeted runway and slapping outstretched hands with every step.
It was time to leave for his new home.
It was time to go back to Miami and run down an NBA title.
James scored 28 points in his third game back in Cleveland as a visitor, Dwyane Wade added 22 and the Heat concluded a six-game road trip with their fifth straight win, 111-87 over the Cavaliers, who seemed intimidated by Miami’s mere presence.
Booed loudly every time he touched the ball by fans who haven’t forgiven him for leaving two years ago, James scored 16 in the third quarter when the Heat opened a 34-point lead. He added four dunks, three 3-pointers, five rebounds, five assists and rested the entire fourth quarter.
Miami has won eight of nine, and went 5-1 on its trip, winning by an average of 18.8 points.
”The way we won these last five games was very impressive,” James said. ”We went on the road and won by double digits in each of those games and in some hostile environments. It was definitely a big road trip for us, six games in 10 days. We took care of business.”
The Heat showed no mercy on the Cavs, who got 17 points from rookie Kyrie Irving and 15 from Ramon Sessions.
Cleveland coach Byron Scott was disturbed by a loss in which his team fell behind by 23 in the first quarter and never recovered.
”We looked like we were frightened,” Scott said. ”I said at halftime, `It boggles my mind that you are scared of another man.”’
That would be James, who toyed with the Cavs and silenced a sell-out crowd that came to vent again at a player who thrilled them for seven seasons.
Other than pregame introductions, James was the one who made more noise.
”He’s been playing at an MVP level all season,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. ”He’s arguably playing the best ball of his career. He’s playing as well as anyone in the league.”
The Heat ended their trip with a devastating performance at both ends over the Cavs, who had played them tough in two previous losses this season.
Miami led 11-0, 21-2, 29-8 and 35-14 in the first quarter.
The Cavaliers never had a chance.
On the trip, the Heat also won three games in three nights, becoming the first team since the 1979-80 Phoenix Suns to accomplish that three-peat. And with Tuesday’s 15-point win at Indiana, the Heat also became the first team since Milwaukee in 1970 to win three consecutive road games by 10 points or more.
The Bucks won the NBA title that year. The Heat could be on their way to one of their own.
James had spent the past two days staying at his mansion in nearby Bath, Ohio, a perk he enjoyed and a stay that made him a little nostalgic.
On Thursday, James expressed the possibility of returning to the Cavs before his career is over. That’s years down the road. His immediate plans are to win championships with the Heat.
With Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert sitting courtside, James and the Heat wasted no time in opening their huge lead.
Miami scored the game’s first 11 points and pushed its lead to 25-5 when James grabbed a lob and delivered a vicious one-handed slam, an early punctuation mark. James and Mario Chalmers hit consecutive 3-pointers later in the quarter as the Heat opened a 21-point lead after one.
This wasn’t what Scott had in mind. One of his assistants had written on the dry-erase board in Cleveland’s locker room the message: ”Hit First.”
The Heat landed the initial shot and kept `em coming.
They pushed their lead to 27 on a 3-pointer by Wade and Miami went 8 of 12 from long range in opening a 63-38 lead.
In the third, James went on a personal 7-0 run he started with a pair of free throws. He followed that with a thunderous dunk and capped it with a 3-pointer. After the ball swished through the net, James headed down court nodding to fans as if to say, ”Remember me?”
”We took the crowd right out of it,” James said. ”That was big. It was a good way to start the game.”
This was James’ third visit to Cleveland with the Heat, and as usual, it turned in to more than just a game.
James touched some nerves in Northeast Ohio and South Florida on Thursday when he said he could envision a return to the Cavs at some point.
”I think it would be great,” he said. ”It would be fun to play in front of these fans again. … And if I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me.”
Those remarks didn’t sit well with some Miami fans, but James didn’t back off his comments Friday. However, he did clarify that he is committed to the Heat.
”I love the fans of Miami. I’m here,” said James, who can opt out of his contract after the 2014 season. ”The question was asked of me, could I see myself playing back here. I said yeah, in the sense of I don’t know what my future holds and I don’t want to take that out.
”I’ve got everything thing invested with this team. I’m looking forward to the years to come.”
But according to a report from Yahoo! Sports, James has been using messengers to relay to Gilbert that he wants to return to Cleveland in three years.
James was asked to comment on the report.
”Not true, not true at all,” he said.
That’s all conjecture.
This is fact: He and Heat look unstoppable.
Notes: James improve to 6-1 against the Cavs, averaging 25.7 points. … Cavs G Daniel Gibson sat out with a sprained left ankle but could be back Sunday against Sacramento. … Spoelstra had high praise for Cleveland’s young squad. ”The future looks very bright for their organization and the future could be now,” said Spoelstra. ”They have a lot of young talent.” … Cavs C Semih Erden left with a bruised left wrist in the third quarter and didn’t return.