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NBA: LeBron James revisits Miami as Lakers take on Heat

/ 09:03 PM January 23, 2022
LeBron James Lakers

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a play during the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz at Crypto.com Arena on January 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images/AFP

LeBron James is back in Miami.

That’s the main headline ahead of Sunday night’s game in which James’ Los Angeles Lakers visit his former franchise, the Miami Heat.

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James, 37, had the greatest run of his career in Miami, winning four MVP trophies (two regular season, two Finals) and two NBA titles in just four years.

On Friday, James showed he can still expand his game, playing center in the second half of the Lakers’ 116-105 win over the host Orlando Magic. James finished with a game-high 29 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists.

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James’ 28.9 scoring average this season is his highest since 2009-2010, which was the year prior to him signing with Miami. His effective field-goal percentage of 58.5 is his best in four years.

“He’s the most unique player in the history of the game,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We won a championship with him playing point guard two years ago. He’s been a ball-handling wing throughout his career, and he has been playing center for us (lately). It’s remarkable, especially at this stage of his career.”

With Lakers center Anthony Davis out due to a sprained left knee, James — listed at 6-9 and 250 pounds — could be back at center on Sunday against Miami’s Bam Adebayo, 24.

Adebayo, listed at 6-9 and 255 pounds, is averaging 18.7 points and a team-high 10.0 rebounds. In three games since returning from right-thumb surgery that kept him out for six weeks, Adebayo is averaging 18.3 points and 8.7 rebounds.

“He’s playing at a high level, and it’s a testament to the hard work he’s put in,” teammate Duncan Robinson said of Adebayo. “There are not a lot of players who can do what he does, flying around and making an impact on both ends.”

Adebayo had a game-high 28 points to go with 10 rebounds the last time these two teams met, which was a 120-117 overtime victory for the host Lakers on Nov. 10.

James missed that game due to an abdominal injury. Miami star Jimmy Butler left the game in the first half due to a sprained ankle.

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Fast forward two-plus months and both teams are still dealing with key absences. For Miami, point guard Kyle Lowry has missed three straight games due to personal reasons, and Tyler Herro has been absent two games since entering COVID-19 protocol. Lowry is fifth in the league in assists (8.3), and Herro is second on the Heat in scoring (20.7).

For the Lakers, Davis — who is averaging 23.3 points and a team-high 9.9 rebounds — hasn’t played since Dec. 17.

Davis’ injury helps explain why the Lakers have been consistently mediocre this season. They haven’t fallen further than two games under .500. But they have also haven’t been higher than three games over.500, and they enter Sunday right having split their 46 games (23-23).

Miami has had a much better first half of the season, primarily thanks to a 15-5 home record that is the best in the Eastern Conference. That home dominance has kept the Heat among the top three teams in the East.

For Heat fans, the beauty of the team has been the way coach Erik Spoelstra has been able to plug players in and continue to win.

For example, five players in the Heat rotation — Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Omer Yurtseven and Dewayne Dedmon — combine to make less than $7.7 million, an incredible statistic in today’s high-priced NBA.

Then again, since the 1995-96 season, only two teams — the Lakers and Spurs — have won more playoff games than the Heat.

James, of course, has a lot to do with that success, which is why his arrival — although only for one night — figures to be the big story on Sunday.

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TAGS: Lebron James, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, NBA
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