LOS ANGELES (dpa) – In a holiday season of giving, LeBron James received the love in his highly anticipated Christmas Day return to Miami but Dwyane Wade spoiled the reunion.
Wade scored 31 points to 30 for James Thursday and the Heat recovered for a 101-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Coach (Erik Spoelstra) gave me the freedom to shoot and I was going to be aggressive,” Wade said. “I wasn’t going to leave anything in the chamber. I was going to use all my clips.”
“It brought back old times and the battles we had once we put up 30 against each other,” said James of the spirited rivalry with Wade. “It’s always fun to compete against such a great friend.”
James led the Heat to four NBA Finals appearances and a pair of titles during his four-years with Miami before returning to Cleveland in the off-season.
“He left an unbelievable legacy here,” Wade said. “In four years he did what players haven’t done in their whole career.”
After hugging his former teammates, the fans at sold-out American Airlines Arena welcomed “King” James back mostly with cheers, when quickly introduced first in the starting lineup.
Minutes later, James received a standing ovation when a video tribute was beamed on the overhead scoreboard during a timeout. He acknowledged the applause by waving to the crowd.
“It was very emotional,” said James, who admitted having butterflies before the game. “It’s tough to play under these circumstances. I spent four years here; we put in lot of hard work and dedication to do the best we could.”
Wade fired in 24 points in the opening half, helping the Heat build a 17-point cushion en route to a 62-49 lead at the break.
But the 10-time All-Star guard went cold and the Cavs made a game of it, even without James over the last 4 minutes 21 seconds of the third quarter.
James jumped over row of courtside seats while trying to run down a long pass and came up limping. He headed to the locker room and was treated for a mild left hamstring strain.
James returned and his breakaway dunk gave the Cavs a short-lived 78-77 with 11:20 left in the fourth quarter. But he drew a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long and Wade made the free throw to knot the game.
Squared at 80-apiece, the Heat went on a 10-1 run to regain control 90-81.
The Cavs weren’t done yet. James converted a three-point play and Mike Miller buried a 3-pointer cutting the lead to 90-87.
But Miami’s Danny Granger answered with a triple. Wade found Chris Andersen for a layup before Granger scored inside for a 97-87 cushion, and the Heat rebounded after blowing Tuesday’s 23-point third-quarter lead to lowly Philadelphia.
“This,” Wade said, “was a good win, after having a bad loss the other night.”
Luol Deng finished with 25 points for Miami (14-16), playing without All-Star forward Chris Bosh (left calf strain) for a seventh straight game.
Kyrie Irving had 25 points for Cleveland (17-11), playing its first contest since losing starting centre Anderson Varejao Tuesday to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon.
LA Clippers 100, Golden State Warriors 86: Jamal Crawford scored half of his 24 points in the final quarter, Chris Paul added 22, and the Clippers (20-10) overcame a sluggish start to beat the suddenly slumping league-best Warriors.
Klay Thompson netted 15 points, while Stephen Curry had 14 with nine boards and seven assists for visiting Golden State (23-5) losers of two in a row for just the second time this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder 114, San Antonio Spurs 106: Russell Westbrook had 34 points with 11 assists, and the visiting Thunder (14-16) sent the strggling Spurs to their fifth loss in the last six games.
The Thunder played without league MVP Kevin Durant (left ankle sprain) for the fourth straight game. The Spurs (18-12) meanwhile were missing Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (hand injury).
Chicago Bulls 113, LA Lakers 93: Spanish star Pau Gasol had 23 points with 13 rebounds against his former team, and the Bulls (20-9) rolled to their season-high fifth consecutive victory, after beating the visiting Lakers (9-20) who rested aching star Kobe Bryant for the second straight game.
Washington Wizards 102, New York Knicks 91: John Wall had 24 points, 11 assists and one skirmish, as the Wizards (20-8) sent the plummeting Knicks to their sixth straight loss and 16 in the last 17.
With 5.5 minutes left in the game, Wall drove for a spinning layup but got knocked down by a Quincy Acy forearm shove.
Wall got up and pushed Acy, who appeared to hit the feisty Wizards guard with a punch behind the neck before the two were separated. Acy was ejected and Wall hit with a technical foul.
Carmelo Anthony tossed 34 points for New York (5-26) off to their worst start in franchise history.