MIAMI — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade wrapped each other in a pregame embrace, chatted and laughed at halftime, then hugged again after the final buzzer.
Just like old times.
Only this time, just one got to enjoy a victory.
James’ return to Miami as an opponent was a success - for the Heat, that is. Wade scored 24 of his 31 points in the first half, Luol Deng had 25 points and dogged James defensively all night, and the Heat beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-91 in a hyped Christmas matchup Thursday.
“We didn’t have a bad breakup,” Wade said. “We played against each other for seven years, man. The weirdness just wasn’t there. It wasn’t like we played against each other our whole career and the breakup happened. We played against each other for seven years, then with each other for a period of time, then he went back to the same situation and I’m in the same place.”
Here’s an example of how their relationship has endured: When James, who returned to Cleveland in the offseason after four seasons and two titles with the Heat, and the Cavaliers landed in South Florida on Wednesday, the four-time NBA MVP went to Wade’s house for a night of Christmas Eve revelry.
James turns 30 on Tuesday. He had questions for the 32-year-old Wade about what changes at that age. That’s what they talked about, no smack about how the Cavaliers are perceived to be a championship contender and how the Heat aren’t even at the .500 mark.
“We only play this game for so long,” said James, who got a warm ovation when a video of his Heat highlights played in the first quarter. “You’ve still got life afterwards. For us we’re going to compete, we’re going to go about our business and do what we need to do in our profession. You’ll never let friendship come in between that.”
It was fitting that they talked about life after 30 - because for the seventh time in their head-to-head meetings, both scored at least 30 points.
James had 30 points and eight assists for the Cavaliers, who got 25 from Kyrie Irving and 14 from Kevin Love.
“Couple of the best in this generation,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about the James vs. Wade nights. “Spectacular. I wish I could sit back and enjoy it like a fan, because it’s just fantastic basketball. … However long these two guys play, you’ll get your money’s worth.”
Deng had eight points and eight assists for Miami. Chris Andersen scored 12 for the Heat, who led by as many as 17, trailed for a moment in the fourth quarter before gathering themselves and pulling away again.
Miami was again without Chris Bosh, still sidelined by a calf injury.
Wade was just 2 for 12 after halftime. Backcourt mate Mario Chalmers was 2 for 12 for the game.
It didn’t matter.
Miami found a way, even after a 17-point lead slipped away - just like a 23-pointer did against Philadelphia two nights earlier.
James had a go-ahead dunk in transition with 11:20 left. After that slam put Cleveland up 78-77, he got a technical foul for hanging on the rim a bit too long - so that lead lasted exactly zero seconds.
Wade made a free throw after the technical, tying the game. And up 90-87 late, the Heat finished on an 11-4 spurt.
“We’re not that good right now,” James said. “We’ve won some really good games, we’ve lost some games, but we’re not that good right now.”
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