Kevin Love and LeBron James had not played against each other since before they got together on the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 for a memorable four-year partnership.
After their first meeting since James moved to Los Angeles ended in a blowout win for the Lakers, they got together on court with Tristan Thompson to renew a friendship that is bigger than the game.
“That’s a brotherhood,” Love said. “That’s a bond that can never be broken. You saw Tristan and myself out there with him. That’s something we’ll always remember and kind of take to our graves. He’s my brother for life, and it is weird playing against him.”
The three champions’ connection is rock-solid, even after a game that demonstrated why only James is contending for another ring this year.
James on Monday scored 23 of his 31 points in a dominant second half, while Dwight Howard added season highs of 21 points and 15 rebounds in the Lakers’ ninth consecutive victory, a 128-99 win over the Cavaliers.
The Lakers posted their highest-scoring half in 33 years with 81 in the second behind James, who added eight assists while passing Isiah Thomas for sole possession of eighth place on the NBA’s career list.
James led Los Angeles to their third straight win without Anthony Davis, who is out with a bruised backside.
“Defensively, we got stops and we had great pace,” James said. “Even when they scored, we got the ball out and continued to play with pace. We played with a lot of balance.”
James has not been gone from Cleveland long enough to forget about his connection with Love or his spirited practice competitions with Thompson.
The Cavaliers who stayed behind recognized their old teammate’s steady brilliance, but they also saw the improved aspects to James’ ever-evolving game.
Thompson guarded James for long stretches, just like he would in scrimmages back in Cleveland. James still went 12 of 16, and he quarterbacked the Lakers’ up-tempo offense to perfection in the second half.
“He made some threes to get himself going, but he did a good job of getting his teammates involved,” Thompson said. “I accept the challenge. It’s fun playing against the best player of our generation, and probably one of the best of all time. I love it.”
Love had 21 points and 11 rebounds for Cleveland in the third stop of a six-game road stretch.
Two days after the Cavs posted a surprising win at Denver, they could not keep up with a franchise icon who has not slowed down.
Returning from a one-game absence with an apparent case of the flu, James improved to 2-0 against the Cavaliers since he departed for the second time in 2018.
James finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds in his return to Cleveland in November 2018, but he was injured in January last year when the Cavs beat the Lakers at the Staples Center.
Thompson had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Cleveland, while Collin Sexton and Darius Garland added 16 points apiece.
Cleveland jumped to a 14-point lead in the first half while most of the Lakers played listlessly, but Los Angeles ran away from the middle of the second quarter.
“When the pendulum began to swing, we couldn’t stop it,” Cleveland coach John Beilein said. “LeBron took charge, just like he always has for a long time.”
Elsewhere, the Pacers held on for a 101-95 win over the 76ers, the Thunder trounced the Timberwolves 117-104, the Celtics crushed the Bulls 113-101, the Trail Blazers beat the Hornets 115-112, the Magic dethroned the Kings 114-112 and the Pelicans outlasted the Pistons 117-110 in overtime.
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