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CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 02: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat smiles while takeing a free throw in front of Mo Williams #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 2, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Like a deposed monarch returning to claim his throne, LeBron James proved that he was still the king in his first trip back to the city he called home for seven years, as his Miami Heat marched over the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-90.
James, who insisted that he didn't take personally the lusty boos and abuse from the crowd that rained down on him throughout the night, poured in 38 points - including 24 in the third quarter - en route to handing the Cavs their worst loss of the season.
For his part, LeBron displayed a sense of humility about his performance.
"I have the utmost respect for this franchise, the utmost respect for these fans," James said during the post-game press conference.
As tip-off loomed, the atmosphere in the Quicken Loans Arena was pitched. Die-hard Cavs fans hoisted "Quitness" signs - a reference to the banner of James that used to hang from the building that said "Witness" - while others spelled out "LeBum" on t-shirts. Famous Clevelanders such like Drew Carey, former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, and Indians slugger Travis Hafner received wild ovations from the crowd as they made their way to their seats.
"It felt like a playoff game for us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
If it felt like a playoff game, the Heat certainly played like it was, ripping off a 16-0 run in the first quarter that effectively put the game away. The Heat went into the half up 19 points before James went on his third quarter tear.
Dwyane Wade contributed 22 points and Chris Bosh chipped in 15, as the star-heavy Heat turned in their finest performance of the season.
"This is the first time I have seen this connection all year long," Spoelstra said of his team, who have been slow to gel.
During the game, James seemed loose and he bantered with old teammates and fans at court side. He said he was overwhelmed with lots of different thoughts when it was over.
"So many things went through my mind," James said. "I have nothing bad to say about these fans at all. We grew from the year before I got here, a 17-win season to the last two years I was here, we had the best team in the league in the regular season. I understand their frustration. I was frustrated also because we didn't accomplish what we wanted to. I wish this organization and these fans, who are great, the best."