CINCINNATI — The NBA came to town Wednesday with its biggest star leading the way. At least as much as anyone is leading in a preseason game.
The Cavaliers beat the Indiana Pacers 98-93 in front of full house of 10,250 at Xavier’s Cintas Center. It’s the court Indiana’s David West called home in college and he got the boisterous, warm welcome home the 2003 National Player of the Year deserved.
But everyone was looking for LeBron.
King James didn’t disappoint, unless you were waiting for a thunder dunk. That didn’t happen. It could’ve but Indiana guard George Hill ruined things by intercepting a long outlet pass intended for James in the first quarter that would’ve brought the crowd to its feet. So people had to settle for a mere 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 26 minutes, 40 seconds of playing time.
West gave the Cintas faithful 15 points and five rebounds in a little over 28 minutes on the court.
"It was cool. I enjoyed it," said West. "We put on a show and people enjoyed it. It was fun to be out there."
The NBA is an odd feeling in a place like Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio where college hoops dominates the winter months. Whether it’s Xavier or UC, Dayton or the Kentucky blue bloods across the Ohio River, this area is all about its college hoops when it comes to basketball season.
The college game is different from the pros in more ways than just what happens on the court. Players are with their college teams for four or five years tops, and nowadays at the top programs maybe just one or two years before they head for the pros. The programs are everything. The NBA is about star power.
No one is more luminous than James.
"It’s tough to say with LeBron because wherever we go it’s kind of that same excitement," said Cavaliers forward Lou Amundson. "People are always excited to see that level of basketball. But you felt it tonight. People want to see the best players in the world. With LeBron here, that’s a big draw."
Amundson has some experience with different atmospheres. He’s in his ninth season in the NBA and the Cavaliers are his 10th team. He was in Phoenix when Shaquille O’Neal was playing for the Suns.
"He was a huge draw so that was kind of similar (to LeBron) with every place we played would be a sold-out crowd," said Amundson. "A lot of people were wanting to come and wait outside the hotel. It’s similar but I’m expecting it to be even more crazy this year."
This was a home game for the Cavaliers and part of the team’s #AllForOhio preseason tour that will include a game in Columbus at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center next Monday, but with Indianapolis less than a two-hour drive from Cincinnati it was a good marketing opportunity for the Pacers as well. It never hurts to build the fan base.
"I love kids," said James. "I do so much with my foundation, tackling so many young kids who have so much inspiration and so many dreams and they need to find a way to make those dreams a reality. If I can be just a small piece of making their dreams come true I’m all for it."
Still, it doesn’t matter what the sport, preseason is preseason. Teams have one priority — get ready for the regular season. In the NBA that means working on rotations, developing chemistry with new teammates and getting into playing shape for the 82 games ahead of them that hopefully will lead to a long postseason run.
The Cavaliers and James are adjusting to new coach David Blatt’s system. It’s coming along.