INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — On the verge of another title, just not the one he came home to claim, LeBron James looked upward.
His eyes glanced toward the ceiling of Cleveland’s practice facility, where the banners honoring the team’s Central Division titles hang. There are three, and No. 4 can be embroidered with one more win.
And although James has bigger goals in mind this season, he’s not downplaying the accomplishment.
“Banners matter,” James said Tuesday after practice. “A lot of people take it for granted if you’re in it all the time. You don’t take those things for granted, those things will last forever. Anytime you’re able to put yourself in the record books, they last forever.”
With a win in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, the Cavs can lock up another division crown and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which for James can’t seem to get here soon enough. It’s another step for a team that seemed to be buckling under enormous expectations before going 31-7 since Jan. 15.
There was a time when nothing seemed certain for the Cavs, and on Tuesday first-year coach David Blatt reflected on a statement he made last month.
Following a March 16 loss in Miami, Blatt declared, “We’ve got to finish in second place.” The comment, like virtually everything Blatt has said this season was overanalyzed and dissected, but it was an attempt to motivate his players to pull away from the pack behind conference-leading Atlanta.
Since then, the Cavs have gone 7-1, opened space between themselves and Chicago and Toronto. Cleveland is playing with a chemistry and cohesiveness that was missing earlier this season. Six of those have come against teams that have either secured a playoff spot or are fighting for one.
“I thought I challenged them and myself,” Blatt said. “I thought we responded very well. That’s a good thing. I don’t know whether they responded to that, but I know that we have done everything we could to become the best team that we could be right now and in expectation of the playoffs, be the best team that we could be when the playoffs start.”
Last month, James didn’t necessarily agree with Blatt that the team had to finish second. And the four-time MVP still insists he isn’t as worried about Cleveland’s positioning as much as how he and his teammates are playing.
“For me, that’s what coach wanted,” he said. “I’ve never played seeding basketball. That’s not how I’ve been programmed over the course of my career. I’ve just went out and played as hard as I can, and tried to lead my guys and if we’re fortunate to be (number) one, two or three, then we put ourselves in position, if we follow our process, to win in the postseason.”
James said it’s important for the Cavs to find and stay in a rhythm as the playoffs near. When the No. 2 seed is secured, there’s a good chance James will sit out a game or at least have his minutes curtailed significantly.
When he was asked about getting some down time, James initially joked he wasn’t ready to sit.
“You get rest when you retire,” he deadpanned.
Later, he said he’ll follow the plan that has worked for him in the past. After Wednesday’s game with the Bucks, the Cavs will have four games left in the regular season.
“I’ve always taken a couple of games off going into the postseason over my career,” James said. “I don’t think that will change. I don’t know when I will do that. It’s something me and the coaching staff and the training staff will sit down and go over. We’ll see what benefit me and the team.
“I don’t change too much. How I get during this time is the same over my 10 years being in the postseason. So, it won’t change.”
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