For the first time, LeBron James will be facing his former team as an NBA champion.
The acrimonious departure two seasons ago of Cleveland’s top overall pick in 2003 will always be notable in the career of James, who finally added his name to the list of great NBA champions last season with his play during the Heat’s run to the title.
Wearing the mantle of champion is a new burden for James. He and Miami (9-3) showed signs of difficulty in handling that challenge Wednesday in blowing an 18-point lead before hanging on for a 113-106 overtime home victory over Milwaukee.
“Guys get up to play us and we understand that,” James said. “Guys are in this league for a reason.”
Cleveland (3-9) could be up for this game as it tries for its first win in five tries in Miami. James has only been needed to average 21.8 points in four previous home meetings against his former club, with the Heat prevailing each time thanks to the depth of talent surrounding him.
The Cavaliers, however, travel to South Beach without the services of Kyrie Irving who has replaced James as the face of the franchise after being drafted first overall in 2011. Irving is out with a broken finger.
Jeremy Pargo picked up the slack in Cleveland’s first game without Irving with a season-high 28 points in Wednesday’s 92-83 victory over Philadelphia. Pargo was held to 15 two nights later as the Cavs dropped their sixth straight on the road, 108-104 to Orlando.
Cleveland allowed Orlando to shoot 50.0 percent. Opponents are shooting an Eastern Conference-high 49.0 percent against the Cavs.
“Again, we allowed another team to shoot a high percentage tonight, and those guys shot the ball pretty well,” coach Byron Scott said.
Led by James, Miami leads the NBA at 49.2 percent from the floor.
One positive Friday for the Cavs was the 25 points from Dion Waiters who is second among all rookies with a 14.8 scoring average. Waiters has totaled 11 assists in the two contests without Irving for his best two-game stretch.
Haslem became Miami’s all-time franchise leader in rebounding Wednesday. He surpassed Alonzo Mourning with 4,814 boards.
“Words can’t really describe what I feel right now, just coming from where I came from, going through the situation that I had to go through, being undrafted, going to Europe, I had to fight to make the team,” Haslem said.
The Heat continue to get excellent production from Chris Bosh who had 24 points and 18 boards Wednesday. He’s averaging 20.0 points - his highest in three seasons with Miami.
Miami’s 5-0 start at home is its best in team history.