Fans filled the arena early to see LeBron James warm up just before noon and didn’t leave until they got enough of the man who would be King.
It helped that the Nets hung with the Cavaliers enough that James had to play until there was just over one minute remaining.
The Nets lost again, 94-86, but played hard and tough against the Eastern Conference’s top team and reigning MVP.
At this point, that’s the best the Nets, as an organization can hope for because a blowout loss wouldn’t help in their summer pursuit of James.
Everyone knows James is the person the Nets cleared all the salary for this summer. The popular opinion is James and no other marquee free agent would consider the Nets because of the awful season they’re having.
But it might count for something if the Nets continue to show fight and make James work for everything when they play head-to-head. If that’s one of the things he goes on, it could bode well for the Nets.
Now, no one is saying James will consider the Nets ahead of Cleveland or the Knicks or the Heat. Most people expect him to stay with the Cavaliers. But in two meetings thus far this season, the Nets have made an impression on James.
In Saturday’s game, it was how hard the Nets played. They led for most of the first half and stayed with Cleveland even after falling behind by 12 early in the fourth quarter. It was a four-point game with 4:39 to play.
Of course, James finished the Nets off, scoring seven of his game-high 28 points and registering two of his game-high seven assists in a 13-4 run that gave Cleveland its eighth straight win.
But James took note of what the Nets did, how Chris Douglas-Roberts went after him and how they kept coming after the Cavaliers.
James called the Nets “a good team” and “a talented team.” (Have those phrases been uttered about the Nets anywhere this year?) James also said the Nets are “going to play hard.”
He’s gotten that from the two games they played against each other in 19 days. The last one in Cleveland, the Nets were down 15 and got within two in the third period.
The Cavaliers had to gut out a 10-point victory that featured a Flagrant Foul II on Devin Harris for knocking down a streaking Jamario Moon with a shot to his face and neck. James ran and pinned Harris against the basket stanchion.
In this game, the Nets delivered a couple of hard fouls on James. Trenton Hassell cut his arm. Brook Lopez got him around the neck and Harris thought he did enough to stop James from going in for a fastbreak layup.
The bottom line is the Nets are getting better and are playing harder. At this point, at 3-30, the Nets can’t ask for anything more than that and that the person they plan to pursue this summer is noticing.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)