LeBron, Heat host Hawks in Miami

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, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET

With his much ballyhooed return to Cleveland now in the rear-view mirror, LeBron James can get back to work as he and the Miami Heat welcome Southeast Division rival Atlanta to South Beach tonight.

In his first game back in The Forest City as a member of the Heat James scored a season-high 38 points with eight assists and five rebounds, and led Miami in a 118-90 rout of his former team.

James, an Akron native, spent his first seven NBA seasons with Cleveland before becoming a free agent this past summer. Instead of choosing to re-sign with the Cavaliers, James opted to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Heat.

But the boos didn't rain down on James on Thursday because he chose another team, at least not totally. They also rained down because James chose another team through a much-hyped ESPN special -- "The Decision" -- in July.

The nature of James' departure from the Cavaliers prompted the team to increase security in preparation for James' return, and there were guards by the Heat bench throughout the game. But if anything, it was the Cavaliers who needed protection.

And if Cleveland fans hoped James and his new team fell flat, it didn't happen. James shot 15-of-25 and scored 24 points in the third quarter, while Wade almost posted a triple-double, going for 22 points, nine assists and nine rebounds. Bosh added 15 points as the Heat shot 56.6 percent in a third consecutive win.

"I can't say that I sensed this coming," admitted Head head coach Erik Spoelstra. "We've had an adverse week. The world was ready to come down on Heat Nation and now we have been able to put together three nice wins."

The theory that James generated such ire because it was how he left -- not necessarily that he left -- gained credence during introductions. While fans booed James, they cheered for center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had played for the Cavaliers since they drafted him in 1996, then signed with Miami in July.

Fans had booed James during warm ups and when he tossed chalk in the air, as he so often used to do in Cleveland before tip-off. They continued to boo when James touched the ball, but James responded by making his first shot and never looked back.

"I thought he played great. Simple as that," Cavs head coach Byron Scott said of James.

"So many things went through my mind," James said of his approach to the game. "I have nothing bad to say about these (Cleveland) fans. It was seven great years. We grew from 17 wins in the year before I got here to the last two seasons I was here being the best team in the regular season. I understand their frustration and I was frustrated also because we didn't accomplish what we wanted to do at the end of the day. I wish this organization and these fans, which are great, the best."

The Hawks, meanwhile, earned their fifth straight win last night when Al Horford's go-ahead three-point play with 31.1 seconds left gave Atlanta its first lead of the game, as the club rallied from an 18-point deficit and edged the Philadelphia 76ers, 93-88, at Philips Arena.

Horford scored 15 and added 14 rebounds, and Marvin Williams ended with a game-high 22 points for Atlanta, which finished the game on a 15-1 spurt.

The Hawks, who have won five straight, held Philadelphia without a field goal over the final 5:26 of the game. The Sixers missed their final 11 shots from the field in the fourth.

Josh Smith added nine points and 10 boards and Jamal Crawford scored 15 in a reserve role for the Hawks, who continue to play without All-Star guard Joe Johnson, who had elbow surgery on Thursday and miss the next 4-to-6 weeks of action.

"It was a tough win," said Crawford. "I think that was a gut check and we showed a lot of character and heart. Guys made plays and we hung together and weathered the storm."

Miami, which took three of four from Atlanta last season, is a gaudy 8-2 against teams below .500 this year but just 4-6 against teams .500 or better.


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