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|When LeBron returned to Cleveland on Dec. 2, not all of his former teammates were in a joking mood.|
It's time for a little 5-on-5, our new roundtable featuring five voices on five hot questions.
Today we hit the King's second return to Cleveland, the prospects for either the Heat or Lakers running the table, and Kobe Bryant's MVP candidacy.
Check it out and come back to ESPN.com on Wednesday for more 5-on-5.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Just boo. Boo loudly, boo with passion, boo with pride, but just boo.
The organized chants when LeBron made his first return were interesting enough. But it crossed the line when the chants were about LeBron's mother, and late in the game it looked like Cavs fans were more interested in heckling LeBron than cheering for their team.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Well, hopefully the Cavs won't embarrass themselves like they did in their first meeting (the fans were great). It's bad enough that LeBron will be bringing a winning team to a franchise in ruins. For the dignity of all involved, I hope the Cavs give their fans something to be excited about.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold: If there's bad blood, they should express it. Boo him when he touches the ball and forget the pregame pleasantries that normally precede an NBA game.
The Cavs players owe their home fans a great effort versus the man that they deem (right or wrong) a traitor to their franchise and city. There's no room for niceties tonight.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: The fans should cheer him. Seriously, every Cleveland boo reveals the shallow nature of their love for him and validates his decision.
As for the Cavs players, I wouldn't tell former co-workers how to interact with each other. It's up to them.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: There will be boos, of course, but the indications are the hate will be watered down. Of the 12 players on the Cavs' active roster right now, only three even played with LeBron.
The Baron Davis trade was the first major rebuilding move and it allowed some fans to have a psychological cutting of ties from the LeBron era. The fans have also been beaten down by the Cavs' struggles.
While LeBron will likely be uncomfortable, this won't probably be as memorable as Dec. 2. As of Monday, the game wasn't even a sellout.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Just don't do anything stupid. Because the Cavs have been so bad this season, the "LeBron wronged Cleveland" anger has died down.
But that can all change with one wrong gesture, one arrogant move, or one bad tweet. If LeBron gloats or tries to play the victim, the national backlash will be instant.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: James should treat them to a show, just like any other arena-packing, boo-hurling fans. It's his job to go in there and spank the Cavs in style, and I'm guessing he'll have no reservations about doing just that.
But it'd be nice if he'd also let himself get dunked on by Christian Eyenga in a show of mercy.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold: In any interviews before, during or after the game, LeBron should be professional and take the high road. But on the court he should go for the jugular. Even though those guys are former teammates, he should be about winning, and that requires a bit of ruthlessness. He should turn the booing into motivation to perform at a high level.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: He should be respectful, as usual. Lost in all the ridiculous LeBron hatred is how the guy never lashes out at anybody -- save for the infamous, innocuous karma tweet -- despite so many lashing out at him.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: If he's smart, he'll be distant and professional. He likes to get into a back-and-forth with fans on the road at times, but he might be wise to let that go in Cleveland. It won't come off as anything but showboating, as it did last time he was in town.
That also means no fraternizing with the bench other than perhaps a courtesy wave at the start or finish. But we all know LeBron doesn't always do the correct thing from a public relations standpoint.
Miami's remaining schedule: @Cleveland, @Washington, @Minnesota, @New Jersey, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Boston, @Atlanta, @Toronto
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: No, I don't think so. They'll be the favorite in each of their remaining games, but I don't think the team is deep or consistent enough to end the season on a 14-game winning streak.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Their three stars are finally aligned, which portends a torrid finish and perhaps even the East's top seed.
Still, I wonder how much home-court advantage would really mean to the Heat if it turns out that they failed to decipher the Celtics' D in four tries.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold: Simply put, no. Even though the Heat are playing well and their remaining schedule is littered with bad teams, they'll lose at least one game.
Most likely the loss comes to Boston in a game that could determine playoff seeding. I expect the Heat to continue to struggle to crack the code of the Celtics' defense, just as they have all season.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: They have an easy closing schedule, but I'd expect at least one loss. It's likely Miami will jump ahead of Boston in the standings, though.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: That would amount to a 14-game winning streak, their longest of the season, so I doubt it.
But they start probably the easiest four-game road trip they could imagine in Cleveland (followed by stops in Washington, Minnesota and Jersey) and have only two games left against teams with winning records, so it seems possible.
Erik Spoelstra says he doesn't plan to rest players, and passing the Celtics and grabbing home-court advantage for the second round are doable, so they'll have motivation.
Lakers' remaining schedule: Dallas, @Utah, Denver, Utah, @Golden State, @Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, @Sacramento
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Again, I'll bet against a 15-game winning streak to end the season, especially since the Lakers have to face the Nuggets, Mavericks, Spurs and Thunder before the season ends, and face the Blazers in Portland.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Nope. Although they have a favorable schedule with their toughest games at home and no scary back-to-backs, a 24-1 record after the break would be the best post-All-Star record ever. Probability -- and Phil's penchant for resting his stars -- predicts a letdown.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold: No, the Lakers won't run the table. The Kobe/Pau Lakers have never won more than 11 consecutive games, and winning out would mean a streak of 16 straight wins. History tells me this team will drop a game at some point.
Just don't expect it to be one that they're mentally up for (like the Mavericks game on Thursday).
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Don't think so, as the Lakers have a tougher schedule than the Heat do. That loss could come against Dallas, Portland, Denver, San Antonio or Golden State (just kidding).
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: I could go on and on about how well they're playing and how motivated they look. But I would never pick them to actually win in Portland in the regular season, and they have a game in Portland left, so I can't say yes.
But if Dallas stays on their heels for the No. 2 spot, they might keep kicking.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: In some ways, yes. Kobe has been one of the very best players in the league this season, and the Lakers are rolling. He deserves a look.
Unfortunately for him, with the way the voting goes, something has to "stand out" about an MVP season. Kobe's numbers aren't dominant, the Lakers don't have the best record in the league, and he's a victim of his own prior success.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Kobe is doing work, but I think if there's an overlooked MVP candidate this year it's the league's best shooting guard, Dwyane Wade. Wade is having a better year than Bryant and outplayed him in both their meetings.
Of course, Wade may not be MVP of his own team, which pretty much removes him from contention.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold: Yes. His per 36-minute statistics rival Derrick Rose's and he's had a substantial impact on one of the top-performing teams.
That said, I'd have trouble voting for Kobe, as his defense has taken a step back from prior seasons, and there are too many other great candidates to choose from. Personally, I'd vote for Dwight Howard.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Bizarrely, yes. There's a statistically suspect narrative about Bryant's decline that shockingly comes from the same people who overrated him over the years. I don't see any drop-off in Kobe's play, and he's been better than Derrick Rose.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: When aren't we? I still say Kobe's best individual season was two years before he won his only MVP award, when he carried a mediocre team back to the playoffs by averaging 35 points. But I think a lot of the credit for the Lakers' surge belongs with a healthy Andrew Bynum as much as Kobe.
Overall, his minutes and numbers are down, he's readying for the playoffs, and I doubt he even cares about any regular-season award.
Brian Windhorst is a writer and reporter for ESPN.com and the Heat Index.
John Krolik, Beckley Mason, Darius Soriano and Ethan Sherwood Strauss are writers for the TrueHoop Network.