Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James is introduced before a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 7, 2018 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo
During commercials for LeBron James' return to Cleveland, ESPN is using the song "The Way We Were" while mixing in highlights of James' second stint with the Cavaliers.
How the Cavaliers were with James and how they are without the superstar are two starkly different things.
While James dons the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers are struggling to recover from losing him in free agency for the second time.
James will get a first-hand look at his former team Wednesday night when the Lakers visit the league-worst Cavaliers in Cleveland.
James will be facing the Cavaliers for the 14th time of his career, and seventh time in Cleveland. The first 13 games and six visits were with the Miami Heat, to whom James took "his talents to" in a televised special in July 2010.
This time, James simply departed in a more low-key manner after leading the Cavaliers to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals and led them back from a 3-1 deficit in 2016 to win the city's first championship of any kind since 1964.
On Dec. 2, 2010, James was met with vitriol when he first returned to Cleveland with Miami and scored 38 points in a 118-90 rout. This time, James will be celebrated with a video tribute and likely hear loud cheers even if he is downplaying what the reaction might be.
"I don't know," James told reporters Sunday while discussing his return to Cleveland. "I don't try to put too much into it. I will go out there and see if we can keep this thing going. I think we are playing some really good ball right now.
"I will see some familiar faces like I did when I arrived here. I will think about some of the good, I will think about some of the bad, I will think about some of the great that I had with the franchise obviously and then once the tip ball gets going, it is time to go to work. It will be good to see some of my family that will come to the game, see some of my friends as well and get the thing going."
James' new team heads to Cleveland on its best roll of the season. The Lakers are 4-1 in their last five games after James scored 51 points in Sunday's victory over the Heat.
Including Game 1 of last season's NBA Finals, it was James' 13th career 50-point game, and during the last five games, he is averaging 33.6 points on 56.1 percent shooting.
"He's the best player in the world and I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for him, being on the inside and watching his habits on a daily basis," Cleveland guard Kyle Korver told reporters.
Cleveland went 97-215 in the four seasons James spent with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami, and the Cavs are off to a league-worst 2-13 start this season, going 0-6 before firing Tyronn Lue and 2-7 since Larry Drew replaced Lue.
Eight of Cleveland's losses are by double digits, including Monday's 113-102 setback at Detroit when the Cavaliers trailed by as many as 30. In their 13 losses, the Cavs have trailed by 20 eight times, mostly because they are getting outscored by 58 points in the first quarter in their defeats.
"I think if you look at the stat sheet, we can clearly see where, from a physical standpoint, we don't have a true presence at the start of the game. [Detroit] scored, I believe, 38 points in the first quarter," Drew told reporters. "Our game prior to this, the Wizards, I think, they had a big first quarter as well. So right now, we have no defensive presence, we lack physicality and it's getting us off to a very rough start."
For the past four years, Kevin Love was James' sidekick, but he is still recovering from a left foot surgery. J.R. Smith also will not play as the Cavaliers announced Tuesday they parted ways with the veteran guard, who has been in and out of the rotation.
Other than Love only three players remain from the 2016 championship team (Tristan Thompson, Korver and Channing Frye) and James will likely see plenty of rookie guard Collin Sexton.
Sexton was acquired with the first-round pick Boston sent Cleveland for Kyrie Irving in a move that reportedly irked James. Sexton scored 18 points Monday and is averaging 18.6 points in five starts and 13.2 points overall.