CLEVELAND (AP) — So much for getting to know each other.
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The LeBron and Shaq Show is off and running.
NBA icons, All-Stars and A-plus-list celebrities LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal made their debut as Cleveland teammates on Tuesday night and had immediate chemistry in the Cavaliers’ 92-87 preseason-opening victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.
James and O’Neal worked several pick-and-rolls, showing off a two-man game that with a little polish could be unstoppable.
“Me and Shaq played pretty well together,” James said. “It shouldn’t be hard for either one of us. We know how to play basketball and we want to win.”
The two are hoping to end this city’s pro sports championship drought stretching to 1964, and while they are as much as nine months away from accomplishing that goal, it’s already clear the pair — and the Cavaliers — will be fun to watch.
“They’re going to be great,” Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. “They’re really well coached. They set good screens. They make good cuts. They hit the open man. I love the way they play and built this team.”
James, wearing a pink pair of his signature Nikes for breast cancer awareness month, scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 14 minutes. O’Neal, who said his goal is to “win a ring for the King” in Cleveland, scored six points and added three rebounds and a block in 15 minutes. Neither played in the second half.
James threw one alley-oop to O’Neal that the big man nearly dunked but missed when he got fouled. James threw another lob to O’Neal for an easy layup.
O’Neal said the duo is clicking already.
“He’s a great player and I have a lot of experience playing with great, younger players such as him,” he said. “It’s just my job here to fill the five spot. I’m not looking to take 20 or 30 shots a game. I’m just looking to fit in.”
D.J. Augustin, whose third-year option was exercised before the game, scored 12 for the Bobcats. Charlotte was without injured starters Tyson Chandler (ankle surgery) and Boris Diaw (ankle sprain). Brown was called for a technical foul by official Ben Taylor, one of three replacement referees being used while the regular refs are locked out.
Brown spent most of the night chirping at the refs, but held off on criticizing them afterward.
“They’re learning,” Brown said. “It’s not an easy game to officiate and I understand that. I’m on them because all you do as a coach is want consistency. They don’t need to be hearing it from me, but I want my young kids to have a chance to win. We’ve got a lot of good people who are going to try and train these guys. They’re doing the best they can. Hopefully it gets settled and everybody benefits.”
Everything James and O’Neal do together will get added attention this season, and it won’t be limited to their on-court moves. The Cavaliers’ pregame introductions, which already ranked among the league’s splashiest before Shaq’s arrival, could rival Broadway productions.
The Cavs didn’t provide any sneak preview, as James and O’Neal simply slapped hands and saluted each other when they were introduced.
Cavaliers guard Delonte West, battling mental sickness and legal troubles, had been expected to play 15 to 20 minutes but didn’t leave Cleveland’s locker room. He warmed up 90 minutes before tip-off and sat in his cubicle before the game, but never joined his teammates on the bench.
West, who has bipolar disorder, was arrested last month on weapons charges in Maryland after police found him carrying three loaded guns while riding a three-wheel motorcycle. He faces a likely league suspension pending the resolution of his criminal case. West didn’t show up for team’s first four practices of training camp last week, absences the team termed unexcused.
West is expected to leave the team for a few days to get things in order.
“Delonte is going through a process right now and while he is going through that process, we’re trying to use all of our resources to help him,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “It will take a little time, but we have the patience to deal with it. We have a nice support system around him and I’m confident he’s going to utilize it.”
O’Neal has missed more than 5,000 free throws during his career, a flaw that led to the birth of Hack-A-Shaq, a late-game strategy teams have used against the big man for years. He scored the game’s first point from the line, drawing a huge ovation from Cavs fans hoping its an omen of made free throws to come.
After James finished his postgame interview, he walked past O’Neal’s locker, where reporters were gathering around Cleveland’s new center.