CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers struggled to the finish of the 2016-2017 regular season, going 4-6 over their final 10 games and slipping to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the first round of the NBA Playoffs after holding the top spot since November until last week.
But despite struggles over the month of March and first two weeks of April, the Cavaliers’ on-court leader, LeBron James, remains confident in his team’s ability to defend the NBA Championship they won last summer.
“We have a good chance to win it all, but it starts with the baby steps first,” James said. “We understand that. It starts with our opponent, so we have to be very determined, but we also have to be very smart with the game plan and how we execute that game plan, and execute that as close to 48 minutes as possible starting in Game 1.”
Injuries besieged much of the Cavaliers’ starting lineup for the 2016-2017 season, starting in December with shooting guard J.R. Smith breaking a thumb and needing surgery, as well as 12 weeks of rest and rehabilitation to heal the ailment.
Then, there was shooting guard Iman Shumpert suffering through lower body injuries in mid-January and power forward Kevin Love, after dealing with back spasms early in the year, needing surgery on Valentine’s Day to clean up a loose body in his knee.
However, all of those players, along with ailing guard Kyle Korver, made their returns to the lineup ahead of the final two weeks of the season and will be available for postseason play.
“We had some bad losses and some great wins, but at the end of the day, we’re one of 16 teams in the postseason, and we’d much rather be in this position than one of the 14 teams that’s not in this position,” James said. “We could be grateful for that.”
This season, James averaged 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 37.8 minutes of play over 74 games.
James had 13 double-doubles of points and rebounds and another 16 of points and assists for a Cavaliers team that won the Central Division for the third straight season. Also, James tallied 13 triple-doubles this season, including seven since March 1.
“At the end of the day, I can’t have my mind focused on the past right now,” James said. “The present is the only thing that matters, me preparing this group, me getting this group locked in and understanding what our opportunity is. It is what it is, so let’s get ready to go. We’ve got to have our minds sharp. We’ve got to have our bodies as fresh as possible going into Game 1 on Saturday.”
James has made six straight trips to the NBA Finals, four with the Miami Heat and two with the Cavaliers, and has the internal motivation to push his teammates to do what is necessary to make it through the Eastern Conference once more.
“I’ve been in a position the last seven or eight years where I felt like I had a good chance of winning it all,” James said. “Does it always result in that? No, but I felt very confident in the ball club. I felt very confident if I was a one or two seed or whatever the seed was. I don’t even remember the seeds I’ve been, but I just felt confident that I could go into any building and win.”
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