LOS ANGELES, United States, Apr 14 – LeBron James believes the Cleveland Cavaliers are ready to defend their NBA crown as the postseason gets under way this weekend with the Golden State Warriors desperate to reclaim their throne.
The Cavaliers stumbled into the playoffs after an erratic finale to the regular season which saw them pipped for the number one ranking in the Eastern Conference by the Boston Celtics.
But despite a four-game losing streak which culminated with Wednesday’s 98-83 defeat to Toronto, James is confident the Cavaliers will raise their game as they prepare for game one of their best-of-seven series against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
“We have good chance to win it all, but it starts with our opponent in two days,” James said.
“So we have to be very determined but we have to be very smart about our game plan and how we execute. Through everything that went on with our team, we’re in a position where we can do something special still.”
The Cavaliers will head into Saturday’s opener buoyed by the knowledge they have already dominated the Pacers this season, winning their mini-series 3-1 over the course of the campaign.
James however insists that his mind is solely focused on the challenge of the here and now as he leads the Cavaliers into battle once more.
“I’m not going to harp on about what happened in the regular season through injuries, through good wins, through bad losses,” James told reporters on Thursday.
“We have a good club going to the postseason and that’s all I can ask for right now. At the end of the day I can’t have my mind focused on the past right now. The present is the only thing that matters.”
In last year’s epic NBA Finals series against the Warriors, James inspired the Cavaliers in an unprecedented recovery from 3-1 down to a 4-3 series victory.
– ‘Locked in’ –
James is once again relishing his leadership role as the playoffs come into view.
“Preparing this group, getting us locked in, and understanding what our opportunity is,” James explained. “Let’s get ready to go. Nothing changes for me. I’ve got to be the leader of this team every time I step on the floor.
“I’ve gotta command these guys and put them in the right positions to be successful. And I’ve gotta do it at both ends. And if I do that we’ve got a good chance.”
The biggest obstacle to James and the Cavaliers chances of a repeat NBA title comes in the formidable shape of the Warriors.
The Western Conference top seeds have by far the best record in the NBA this season, finishing in first place with 67 wins against 15 losses.
Ominously for their rivals, there are signs that the Warriors are building irresistible momentum at the right time.
Kevin Durant has returned to form and fitness following his extended injury lay-off, draining 29 points in 27 minutes during a routine 109-94 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
Stephen Curry meanwhile, who added 20 points in the win, revealed that the Warriors were brimming with confidence as they geared up for Sunday’s opening playoff game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Curry explained that the team’s mindset had changed from a year ago, when they were defending their title following a record-breaking regular season.
“We’re chasing something — we’re not protecting anything this year,” Curry said.
“Feel good. Feel confident. I just like the way we ended the season this year.”
Elsewhere in the Western Conference this weekend, a battle of triple-double kings Russell Westbrook and James Harden looms large as the Oklahoma City Thunder open their series against the Houston Rockets.
Game one takes place in Houston on Sunday. The second-seeded San Antonio Spurs meanwhile open against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday while the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz travel to the Los Angeles Clippers.