LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were teammates for three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, with each campaign ending in the NBA Finals. In the 11 times they have opposed each other, whatever team James was leading holds the edge over Irving's team.
The 12th meeting between the former teammatesoccurs Thursday night when James and the Los Angeles Lakers attempt to improve on the Western Conference's best record when they visit Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, who are experiencing some massive struggles of late.
James returned to Cleveland in 2014 following four seasons with the Miami Heat. During his time in Miami, the Cavaliers drafted Irving with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, and when James returned to Cleveland, the duo reached the NBA Finals each time as teammates, highlighted by the 2016 championship, when James had a clutch block on Andre Iguodala and Irving hit the game-winning shot in Game 7 in Golden State.
A year later, their partnership was over when Irving wanted a trade and was dealt to the Boston Celtics. James spent one more season in Cleveland and reached the NBA Finals again in 2018 before heading to the Lakers in free agency. Irving spent two seasons in Boston before signing with Brooklyn along with Kevin Durant in July.
James is 9-2 all-time against Irving and is averaging 25.5 points in those games. Irving's two wins occurred as a Celtic on Jan. 3, 2018, and March 9, 2019.
Heading into this meeting, the Lakers have won 35 of their first 44 games. They rebounded nicely from allowing 139 points on Monday in a blowout loss at Boston by recording a 100-92 road victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
James scored 21 points Wednesday, and he enters his visit to Brooklyn with 33,599 points, 44 behind Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list, making it likely he will surpass Bryant on Saturday in Philadelphia. Anthony Davis scored 28 points in his second game back from missing five games due to a bruised gluteus maximus.
"I was more of a facilitator in the second half," James said. "I wanted to get AD going. He looked a little out of rhythm in the first half, so it was a point of emphasis for me in the third quarter and the fourth quarter to get him going. And that was the difference."
Irving is averaging 26.5 points, but injuries have limited him to 15 games. He missed 26 games due to right shoulder impingement, and the Nets went 13-13.
Irving also missed Brooklyn's 117-111 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday due to right hamstring tightness. He is listed as probable for Thursday.
With or without Irving, the Nets are hoping to end a four-game skid and a 2-11 slide while facing one of the NBA's best defenses.
"They're an elite defense," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said of the Lakers. "(JaVale) McGee and (Dwight) Howard are absolutely playing, really protecting the rim. They obviously have elite perimeter defenders with LeBron and Danny Green and all those guys.
"Listen, Anthony Davis, we all know, he's turned into really a two-way player in this league, and I'm really impressed by his evolution over the years where he's become really hard to score on on the other end. Great challenge for us."
Brooklyn is 0-4 in a stretch of five straight games against upper-echelon teams, and the Monday loss to Philadelphia was the closest final margin. The Nets were unable to stop Ben Simmons from getting a 34-point triple-double, and they committed 10 of their 22 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
--Field Level Media