That was back in 2014, when James had left the Heat after four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
“It’s funny,” Love recalled of his Cleveland Cavaliers days after the Heat completed a practice at Kaseya Center. “I remember one of our first practices, first week of practice back in 2014, in training camp, I can remember James Jones and Mike Miller saying, ‘Oh man, he looks like he’s lost half a step.’ I said, ‘That’s a step? Who else’s steps?’ ”
That was then, before four more consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and one championship with the Cavaliers, before winning the 2020 NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Monday, James returns to the scene of his first two NBA championship seasons, when the Lakers make their lone South Florida visit of the season.
Based on what James, at 38, has done lately, Love no longer thinks in terms of loss steps, particularly after seeing his former Cleveland teammate go for 35 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in 42 minutes in an overtime victory last week over the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Just to see what he’s doing, in overtime, taking over that game, the lob he got from (Austin) Reaves,” Love said. “Even when he had the shoe off, put it on, ran the length of the floor, got the dunk, there’s just some things that defy physics, defy logic, and he’s one of those guys.”
Amid the desire by James to potentially one day play with his son Bronny, the career likely will endure, meaning this likely will not be the last visit to an arena that one day will hang James’ Heat No. 6 from the rafters.
“I think with the advances of diet and science and sports science, we could see something like him in the future,” Love said, “but we’ve never seen anything like him up to this point. He’s just an anomaly.”
Like Love, Heat center Thomas Bryant also has an inside perspective, having played as a James teammate last season with the Lakers.
“It was amazing to see,” Bryant said after Sunday’s practice. “As people say, you’re witnessing greatness, you actually are witnessing a thing of greatness out there. The thing is, he has his own routine and he sticks with it, like crossing his Ts and dotting his Is, and it’s amazing to see it.
“His preparation is second to none. It’s a joy to see someone of his caliber still sticking with it.”
While the Lakers enter 3-3, James has maintained his standard, averaging 24.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists, with at least 19 points in every game and three with 24 or more.
Having helped guide James to a pair of championships, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said James stands as a study of enduring greatness.
“I’ve said this before, he’s redefining what is possible with human performance at that age,” Spoelstra said Sunday. “And it’s a credit to his work ethic. I don’t think that gets talked about enough, how much he commits his life to his game. He doesn’t take it for granted. He doesn’t take his talent for granted.
“He matches the talent with a work ethic, and you don’t see that very often, particularly when you’re the most-talented guy in the league. It would be very easy to put in half the time, and I would say the average fan would not even notice the difference. But if you want to play at that type of exceptional level, you would have to be putting in a great deal of commitment behind the scenes.”
Love on benching
Love spoke after Sunday’s practice of being replaced in Friday night’s starting lineup by Haywood Highsmith and then not being used in that victory over the Washington Wizards.
“I think the word is ‘fluid,’ ” Love said of his situation amid the 82-game seasons. “There’s going to be opportunity, places for me throughout the season where it makes sense, big. It’s just that so many teams are playing four smalls and one bigs, so I think you’re seeing that a lot.
“I think we were searching. Obviously 1-4 is never the way you want to start, but it’s on all of us to be pros, and our number’s called, be ready to go.”
Love had similar moments last season of being in and out of the lineup after joining the team in February on the buyout market.
“It could be a game-by-game basis, for somebody like myself,” he said, “The biggest thing for me is just communication. If it’s communicated and there’s transparency, then I’m going to be more than OK. I’ll know how much to expend myself, stay in shape.”
Forward Caleb Martin (knee) and guard R.J. Hampton (illness) were the lone Heat players not to practice Sunday, with Martin out for Monday night and Hampton questionable. Jimmy Butler (knee) is listed as probable. All other Heat players are listed as available . . . The Lakers enter with an extensive injury report, including former Heat guard Gabe Vincent (knee). Also out for the Lakers are Jarred Vanderbilt (heel), Rui Hachimura (concussion protocol), Jalen Hood-Schifino (knee) and Taurean Prince knee).