The excitement of LeBron's return to Cleveland had ramped up to a fever that was too contagious to avoid in the days leading up to Thursday's home opener. LeBron with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love? Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao in the starting lineup? Tristan Thompson and Shawn Marion shoring up the bench? This team is going to be amazing.
But it became obvious in Thursday night's 95-90 loss to the Knicks that it's still going to take some time before James' new team starts clicking. While usually resembling a basketball-playing robot while on the floor, James actually looked human, trying too hard to make the highlight play that would cause the entirety of Cleveland to erupt in celebration. Minus a single fast-break layup, it just didn't happen and James finished the first half with four points on 1-9 shooting.
In the second half, James seemed to overadjust and some of his aggression turned into overly passive play. Even looking nothing like his normal self, James still finished with 17 points, but his 5-15 shooting and eight turnovers is something we probably won't see again the rest of this season.
The other two of the Cleveland "Big 3" performed better, especially Kevin Love, who recorded a strong double-double of 19 points, 14 rebounds and some highlight level outlet passes. Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 22 points but also committed four turnovers.
But really, the slow start isn't a surprise. In 2010, in the first year of James' first "Big 3," Miami started the season 9-8, culminating in a double-digit loss to the Mavericks where James shot 5-19. The game caused the team to call a player's only meeting, and the Heat responded by winning the next 12 games and finishing the season 49-16.
Like the Heat in 2010-11, the Cavaliers offense will take some time before James knows exactly where to throw the cross-court pass to Irving or when to find Love in the lane. New head coach David Blatt won't stand for the shoddy defense the Knicks capitalized on in stretches. James, Love, Irving and the rest of the team have only been playing together since September; the only cure for disjointed play is more time together.
Between the Nike hype ad, Cleveland's streets being flooded with fans and the pre-game chalk toss, of course expectations were going to be unrealistic. The Cavaliers will be better, but on Thursday, they also reminded us that they're mortal.
3 other things we learned
The Knicks nix the triumphant return: While James' struggles is the lead story, the New York Knicks certainly did their part in slowing the new Cavaliers team down and earning Derek Fisher his first career coaching win. Carmelo Anthony was fantastic, scoring 25 points on 9-17 shooting and a huge pull-up 3-pointer in the final minute to seal the game. With starting point guard Jose Calderon out a couple of weeks, Shane Larkin stepped in and played a balanced game: nine points, 4-6 shooting, five assists and five steals.
He's coming home ... JJ Barea makes his Dallas debut: The Mavericks traded for Tyson Chandler this offseason after controversially letting him walk in free agency after winning the championship in 2011, and on Wednesday, they brought back J.J. Barea. It clearly worked, as the Mavericks hit their first eight baskets on their way to a 120-point win with seven players scoring double figures.
Shorthanded Oklahoma City somehow hangs around but fall without Westbrook: Already missing Kevin Durant and a handful of role players, the Thunder became even more shorthanded when Russell Westbrook left with a hand injury that'll sideline him 4-6 weeks. With only eight active players in the second half, Perry Jones III dominated with 32 points in 42 minutes while Sebastian Telfair had 11 points and seven assists in 38 minutes, the most since December 2012. The Thunder couldn't get a go-ahead bucket to fall despite several opportunities in the final minute, though, and the Clippers picked up their first win of the season.
Thunder's injury list would be #4 seed in East: PG: Westbrook SG: Lamb SF: Morrow PF: Durant C: McGary 6th Man: Jackson 7th Man: Jerrett— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 31, 2014
Play of the Night
It's fitting that this was LeBron's first basket back in Cleveland. Never have outlet passes been more marketable. The Cavaliers really should consider getting a sponsor for these fast break connections because they're going to happen all season -- including in the second half of this game.
5 fun things
Halloween is tomorrow, so maybe these are all costumes? Yeah, that has got to be it! Russell Westbrook is a spaceman with sneakers, Carmelo Anthony is Pharrell, LeBron James is Pharrell if Pharrell was a jazz musician, Kevin Love owns a business tycoon and Amar'e Stoudemire is ... OK, no clue what he's going for.
Taylor Swift is having a little trouble picking a favorite team this season.
Look at this bald, middle-age Clippers fan going crazy ... oh, that's their owner?
Charles Barkely isn't happy there are so many Laker games on national TV this season.
This Cavs employee probably thought nobody would ever know he put Gatorade into a Powerade bottle.
New York Knicks 95, Cleveland Cavaliers 90 (Posting and Toasting recap | Fear the Sword recap)
Los Angeles Clippers 93, Oklahoma City Thunder 90 (Clips Nation recap | Welcome to Loud City recap)
Dallas Mavericks 120, Utah Jazz 102 (Mavs Moneyball recap | SLC Dunk recap)
Washington Wizards 105, Orlando Magic 98 (Bullets Forever recap | Orlando Pinstriped Post recap)
Minnesota Timberwolves 97, Detroit Pistons 91 (Canis Hoopus recap | Detroit Bad Boys recap)