Reigning NBA champions Miami Heat dispatched the Los Angeles Clippers 94-80 on Thursday thanks to 20 points from superstar LeBron James in a pre-season exhibition before a raucous Beijing crowd.
The sell-out audience of 18,000 was on its feet as soon as the Heat took the court with James and teammate Dwyane Wade waving to fans in the Wukesong arena where the pair won the 2008 Olympic gold medal for Team USA.
“The fans were great tonight, they were amazing,” James, last season’s NBA most-valuable-player, told reporters.
“We spent quite a lot of energy out there... it is always fun when you are in front of a lot of passionate and exciting fans.”
The Heat went to work from the start, with James scoring his team’s first six points and delighting the crowd with a series of dunks and jumpers to put the champs up 29-18 at the end of the first quarter.
Miami kept up the intensity in the second frame despite the game being only an exhibition with centre Chris Bosh anchoring a stingy defence that held the Clippers to just 35 first-half points to the Heat’s 53.
The Clippers closed to 60-47 following six straight points by explosive power forward Blake Griffin midway through the third quarter, but two three-pointers by Miami’s newly acquired Ray Allen doused the Clippers hopes of a comeback.
Allen finished the night with 15 points on four three pointers, while Griffin led the Clippers with 19 points and eight rebounds, while Jamal Crawford had 16 points for Los Angeles.
“This was not a normal exhibition game tonight,” Miami coach Eric Spolestra said.
“The players wanted to do well in front of all the fans, they raised the intensity, that is why we like to come here.”
Wade, who signed a lucrative shoe contract with China’s Li Ning brand on Wednesday, scored five points in 23 minutes, despite earlier announcing he would not play due to injury.
Basketball is arguably the most popular sport in China where an estimated 300 million people play the game, while the National Basktball Association has done a masterful job of showcasing the sport in the world’s most populous nation.
The two teams will play in Shanghai on Sunday, the sixth time that the NBA has organised a pair of pre-season games in China.
The sport’s popularity in China has not been diminished by the absence of Chinese players in the NBA since the last year retirement of ex-Houston Rocket centre Yao Ming and the return to China this year of ex-Dallas Maverick Yi Jianlian.
The popularity of basketball is also attributed to a growing number of former NBA stars playing in China, led by one time New York Knick Stephon Marbury, who won a Chinese Basketball Association championship with the Beijing Ducks last season.
On Wednesday, seven-time NBA all-star Tracy McGrady, who once teamed with Yao in Houston, announced he will play for the CBA’s Qingdao Eagles during the coming season.