Kevin Love and LeBron James hadn't 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 the West Coast ended in a blowout win for the Lakers, they got together on court with Tristan Thompson to renew a friendship that's 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."
These three champions' connection is rock-solid, even after a game that demonstrated why only James is contending for another ring this year.
LeBron James (R) of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles past the defense of Tristan Thompson (L) of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half of a game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, January 13, 2020.
James scored 23 of his 31 points in a dominant second half, and Dwight Howard added season highs of 21 points and 15 rebounds in Los Angeles' ninth consecutive victory, 128-99 over the Cavs on Monday night.
The powerhouse Lakers posted their highest-scoring half in 33 years while scoring 81 in the second half 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 its 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 hasn't 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 recognize their old teammate's steady brilliance, but they also see the improved aspects to James' ever-evolving game.
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, January 13, 2020.
Thompson guarded James for long stretches, just like he would in scrimmages back in Cleveland. James still went 12 for 16, and he quarterbacked the Lakers' up-tempo offense to perfection in the second half.
"He made some 3s 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 powerhouse Denver, they couldn't keep up with a franchise icon who hasn't 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 had 32 points and 14 rebounds in his return to Cleveland in November 2018, and he was injured last January when the Cavs beat the Lakers at Staples Center.
Collin Sexton (C) of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives past Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (L) and Alex Caruso (R) of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of a game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, January 13, 2020.
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 onward.
"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."
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