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Lakers vs. Cavs Preview: The King returns to his kingdom

Every LeBron James return to Cleveland feels noteworthy but a return given everything he said All-Star weekend feels even more so.

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron James loves a big stage. Friday’s performance in Toronto with Drake sitting in the front row was the latest example of James embracing a moment and delivering a show.

Outside of some of the grandest stages like Madison Square Garden, James returning to Cleveland will always serve as a stage for the dramatics. Last season, a rogue front office member for Cleveland ignited James for a memorable fourth quarter that powered the Lakers to a win.

A true storybook return would have seen James pass Karl Malone back in Cleveland, but we’ll have to settle for what will certainly be a worthy celebration of his feat. But as has been the case throughout the years, James’ passing of Malone came in a Lakers loss, and one that was as predictable as it was frustrating.

Coming off a great effort and win against Toronto, the Lakers couldn’t sustain it with a win against Washington one night later and lost the momentum gained from the victory. It’s been a series of stops and starts throughout the year with more of the former than the latter.

Monday’s match-up comes against a Cavaliers side that has seen its form dip a bit in the second half of the season as a stretch of six wins in seven games led to Cleveland falling out of contention for the top spots in the Eastern Conference standings.

Still, Cleveland is fourth in the league in defensive rating and ninth in net rating, spots where the Lakers have found themselves in past seasons as title contenders. That comes despite a slew of big injuries for the Cavaliers as they’ve continued trudging along.

With Darius Garland and Evan Mobley still healthy, though, the Cavs will present lots of issues. The Lakers’ win over Cleveland very early in the season has aged extremely well. A win on Monday would be even bigger, but because of what the Cavaliers have matured into and because of the Lakers current situation.

Alternating wins and losses over the weekend means the Lakers are just a half-game up on the Pelicans for the 10th spot in the standings (Update: the two teams are now tied on record after New Orleans’ win on Sunday evening with the Pelicans moving up to the ninth seed on the head-to-head tiebreaker). While their lead over the Spurs in 11th remains three games, it’s looking increasingly likely that a trip to New Orleans will be in store for the purple and gold.

Can the Lakers reverse that course on Monday with another big win? Does LeBron James have another big performance on a big stage in him after Friday? So many questions still remain about a Lakers entering the latter days of March, a testament to how frustrating this season has been.

Notes and updates:

  • Our friends at DraftKings have the Cavaliers favored by some margin in the contest with the Lakers +6 underdogs. The Cleveland moneyline is set at -240 while the Lakers are at +195 with an over/under of 223.
  • LeBron James was a game-time decision with knee soreness on Saturday. Given his regular timeline of recovering on an off day and being ready the following day, it seems likelier than not he’ll be available, though he’ll enter the game as questionable.
  • Carmelo Anthony returned from a non-COVID illness on Saturday while Wayne Ellington did not on Saturday and is questionable for the game. Wenyen Gabriel and Talen Horton-Tucker, both dealing with left ankle sprains, are probable.
  • For Cleveland, Jarrett Allen (fractured finger), Rajon Rondo (right ankle sprain), Dean Wade (right knee soreness) and Collin Sexton (left MCL tear) are all out.
  • Elsewhere in the NBA, the Timberwolves win over the Bucks on Saturday moves them just a half-game away from getting out of the play-in game. Denver, though, is likely to welcome back Jamal Murray this year, which could either help them get back out of the play-in game or make them an even more formidable foe in the play-in games themselves.

Tip-off for the contest is set for 4 p.m. PT on Monday and will be broadcast on Spectrum SportsNet.

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation. And for more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.