Cavs host LeBron James and Lakers
A familiar face will pay a visit to downtown Cleveland on Monday when the Cavaliers host the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lakers forward LeBron James played 11 seasons in Cleveland (2003-10, 2014-18) and will always be remembered for his role in leading the Cavs to their only NBA title in 2016.
When he left to sign with the Lakers as a free agent after the 2017-18 season, he was the Cavs’ all-time leader in games (849), points (23,119), rebounds (6,190), assists (6,228), steals (1,376), field goals (8,369), 3-pointers (1,251), free throws (5,130) and triple-doubles (64).
The Cavs are 3-1 in their five-game homestand that concludes with the Lakers. They entered Sunday a half game behind fifth-place Chicago in the Eastern Conference playoff race and 1 1/2 games ahead of seventh-place Toronto, which currently holds the first spot for the play-in tournament.
The Lakers are hopelessly out of contention in the Pacific Division but are hanging onto ninth place in the Western Conference and appear destined for the play-in tournament for the second consecutive season since James led them to the 2020 NBA title.
They have won just one of their past five games and are 6-17 since Jan. 9.
This is only the third time the Lakers have played in Cleveland since James left the Cavs. In November of 2018, he led the Lakers to a 109-105 victory by scoring 32 points — 11 in the fourth quarter. And last season he poured in 46 as the Lakers won 115-108.
In the last meeting with the Cavs, in Los Angeles on Oct. 29, 113-101, James scored 26 points as the Lakers shot 54.8 percent from the field.
Cleveland posted back-to-back, come-from-behind wins over Denver and Detroit on Friday and Saturday. After going to overtime to beat the Nuggets, the Cavs looked weary against the Pistons on Saturday before rallying and finishing the game on a 45-29 run for the 113-109 victory.
“It was about mental toughness and wanting to get the job done,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “They showed grit and toughness as a group.”
The Cavs’ bench outscored Detroit’s reserves, 43-20. Cedi Osman, who never got off the bench in the previous two games, was instrumental in the win with 16 points.
“He was a huge part of the win,” Bickerstaff said. “We know what he’s capable of.”
The coach said he spoke to Osman about his role on Saturday morning.
“I let him know how important he was to us,” Bickerstaff said.
The attention now focuses on the Lakers, and more specifically on the 6-9, 250-pound James.
He enters the game second in the NBA in scoring at 29.8 points per game. James trails Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (30.0) and is ahead of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.8).
He’s averaging 35.4 points in his last eight games, which includes two 50-point outbursts.
James made national headlines on Saturday in Washington, D.C., when he moved past former Utah Jazz great Karl Malone into second place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. James now has 36,947 points and is closing in on all-time scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387.
“I will not allow myself to think about it,” James said. “I’ve always just played the game the way I’ve been playing it over the years, and these things have just happened organically by just going out and just playing the game the right way.”
On the injury front, the Lakers are still missing forward/center Anthony Davis (right mid-foot strain) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise). Former Cavs shooting guard Wayne Ellington (illness) is close to returning.
For Cleveland, guard Rajon Rondo (sprained big toe) was doubtful for the Pistons game, and forward Dean Wade (knee) and center Jarrett Allen (broken finger) are probably out.