The crowd arrived early, and despite the surprising number of empty seats dotting the arena, there were no boos every time LeBron James touched the ball. No heckles. No jeers. No reminders of how far the man has fallen in the eyes of a public that once adored him.
Just a 96-70 drubbing and, for Miami, a full display of just why this team is loathed, hated and feared: Because focused and together – with Dwyane Wade scoring 26, LeBron going for 15 points and seven assists in only 30 minutes and Chris Bosh with a double-double – they are capable of manhandling a team as good as the Orlando Magic.
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“They flat out kicked out our asses,” said Magic guard Jameer Nelson.
Home-court advantage takes on a whole new meaning when every away game is a case study in life as the villain. Friday night’s home opener showed just how focused James and the Heat can be when his team is together and his anger isn’t mitigated by life on the road – and when there’s love in the air.
“When they come out and support us we want to give them our best effort,” Wade said. “I think that’s what we did.”
The good vibes started early, as red lights throbbed in a bustling concourse as giddy fans filed in, wearing shirts that said: “I. Was. There.” At the game’s introduction, when LeBron’s name was called, cheers rattled American Airlines Arena.
This was a place so safe, they played Lebron’s Nike commercial on the scoreboard at halftime.
Then they showed a clip of “The Decision.” Only in Miami can a crowd cheer at the words, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.”
There was basketball too, scary good basketball. The Heat have held each of their first three opponents to under 90 points. They scored 96 of their own against the Magic on 41 percent field-goal shooting. James sat for long stretches. Mike Miller isn’t even playing yet. Udonis Haslem had a hardly noticed double-double.
This game more than any other helps the NBA peer into the future. Boston was a focused must-win for a proud team, and Miami was still learning to tune out the circus following its every move.
Philadelphia was a win regardless of how well they played.
Friday night was different.
Friday night showed all that talk about history – as in, 73 wins – could be more than talk. Can they actually win that many games? Maybe. Certainly it’s worth talking about again.
“This is what we envisioned,” LeBron said.
He added: “When our fans come out like that we just try to do our best to give it back to them.”
Yes, there was a lot of love in the building. And where there’s love, just across that fine line, you often find hate, too.
As in: Hell yes that felt good beating a team that talked so much smack leading up to the game.
“I think it (does),” LeBron said. “For us, it’s a division rival, it’s an in-state rival, and we heard everything that Orlando had to say about us in the offseason. I’m not relieved, because it’s a long season. But they know we’re here for the long haul.”