LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers had no trouble with dispatching his former teammates in a 128-99 home victory Monday, but he still appreciated his individual matchup with Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson.
"We had a lot of battles in practice before, too," James said, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. "So 'Double T' is a great defender being able to guard bigs, being able to guard smalls, things of that nature. So just got to try to be very decisive with your moves, don't play around with the ball too much and also be able to finish because he's a really good shot-blocker as well."
Thompson said: "I just accept the challenge. It's always fun playing against the best player of our generation, arguably one of the best players of all time, so I love it."
Both Thompson and Kevin Love recognized the Lakers are in the middle of a win-now championship window. It was Love's first time playing against James since they were teammates in Cleveland because they both missed matchups last season with injuries. Love said:
"It was different because it's been so long and we've been through so many battles with each other. I'm not going to say it felt normal, but I feel like we were both out there competing and playing hard, but seeing him play with that team is obviously different. Especially, even I didn't get to see him with AD [Anthony Davis] and it still feels like they could do something special."
The differences in the squads were on full display Monday.
While the Cavaliers have dealt with plenty of losing at 12-28, they have also been in the headlines because head coach John Beilein referred to his players as "thugs" in a film session. Love has also expressed his frustration with the direction the franchise is headed.
The Lakers, by contrast, have the best record in the Western Conference at 33-7 and are in the headlines for their play rather than the pursuit of Davis or the failure to live up to expectations. That was last season's reality.
James was brilliant again Monday on his way to 31 points and eight assists on 12-of-16 shooting. While he has been a willing facilitator, it was also a reminder he can take over a game as a scorer at a moment's notice.
Nobody knows that better than the franchise that drafted him and won a championship with him, but the Cavaliers have a long way to go to catch the Lakers.