A sense of normalcy will return to the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight as Byron Scott's club arrives in the snowy Twin Cities hoping to halt a two-game skid against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves.
In his first game back in Cleveland as a member of the Heat on Thursday, LeBron James scored a season-high 38 points with eight assists and five rebounds, and led Miami in a 118-90 rout of his former team.
James, an Akron native, spent his first seven NBA seasons with Cleveland before becoming a free agent this past summer. Instead of choosing to re-sign with the Cavaliers, James opted to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Heat.
But the boos didn't rain down on James on Thursday because he chose another team, at least not totally. They also rained down because James chose another team through a much-hyped ESPN special -- "The Decision" -- in July.
The nature of James' departure from the Cavaliers prompted the team to increase security in preparation for James' return, and there were guards by the Heat bench throughout the game. But if anything, it was the Cavaliers who needed protection.
And if Cleveland fans hoped James and his new team fell flat, it didn't happen. James shot 15-of-25 and scored 24 points in the third quarter, while Wade almost posted a triple-double, going for 22 points, nine assists and nine rebounds. Bosh added 15 points as the Heat shot 56.6 percent in a third consecutive win.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were focused on winning a basketball game, but lost for the third time in four games. The other losses in that stretch were to East heavyweights Boston and Orlando.
Daniel Gibson sank 4-of-6 three-pointers and scored a team-high 21 points off Cleveland's bench.
The theory that James generated such ire because it was how he left -- not necessarily that he left -- gained credence during introductions. While fans booed James, they cheered for center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had played for the Cavaliers since they drafted him in 1996, then signed with Miami in July.
Fans had booed James during warmups and when he tossed powder in the air, as he so often used to do in Cleveland before tip-off. They continued to boo when James touched the ball, but James responded by making his first shot and never looked back.
"I thought he played great. Simple as that," Scott said of James.
Ramon Sessions finished with 11 points and seven assists for Cleveland, which shot 35.5 percent. Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams also finished with 11 points each.
"So many things went through my mind," James said of his approach to the game. "I have nothing bad to say about these (Cleveland) fans. It was seven great years. We grew from 17 wins in the year before I got here to the last two seasons I was here being the best team in the regular season. I understand their frustration and I was frustrated also because we didn't accomplish what we wanted to do at the end of the day. I wish this organization and these fans, which are great, the best."
The Wolves, meanwhile, lost their sixth straight game in San Antonio on Friday when Tim Duncan scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Spurs to a 107-101 victory over Minnesota at AT&T Center.
Michael Beasley scored a game-high 28 points and Kevin Love added 25 and 18 rebounds for Minnesota, which had a 15-point lead at one point against the 16-3 Spurs but the Wolves made just 4-of-19 shots in the fourth quarter as San Antonio rallied.
"That's what good teams do," Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said. "Good teams have the confidence that they're going to come back and win. They've been in those kinds of situations before; they know how to dig themselves out of holes. Every good team knows how to do that."
Luke Ridnour and Corey Brewer both finished with 14 points in defeat.
Cleveland has won nine straight against the Timberwolves, but James had a big hand in all those victories, averaging 30.1 points per game in the span.