NEW YORK -- LeBron James' teams had won 50 or more games 10 other times in his 15-year career before the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the Central Division title with a 123-109 win over the Knicks on Monday, giving the Cavs a 50-31 record with one game left to play.
However, there's a case to be made that none of those seasons was quite as trying on James as what Cleveland went through in 2017-18, which led the Cavs superstar to savor the 50-win mark, if only for a moment, after putting up 26 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds against New York.
"I mean, listen, throughout a long season, if you're able to accomplish feats no matter what's going on, you should always try to appreciate it, try to take time," James said. "I've been one, I've kind of like been a hypocrite [with] that because I'm always moving and trying to figure how we can be better the next day or whatever the case [might] be. So, it's always hard for me to be like, 'OK, another division crown,' even after all that's gone on with our team and our ballclub this year. But it's a pretty cool thing."
The Cavs' struggles this season are well chronicled, starting with trading away franchise stalwart Kyrie Irving in the offseason for an injured Isaiah Thomas; to Thomas, as well as Jae Crowder, struggling to fit in; to persistent injuries suffered by just about everybody on the roster not named James, including major injuries to Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson; to dealing away six players at the trade deadline and incorporating four new ones; to JR Smith being suspended for throwing a bowl of soup at an assistant coach; to Kyle Korver mourning the loss of his younger brother; to head coach Tyronn Lue needing to take a leave of absence to address serious chest pains and other ailments.
Other teams could have folded. Or certainly not rallied to win enough games to take the division title and host a first-round playoff series.
"It's very special," Lue said. "I think any time you can win your division and have home court in the first round, I think it's a good accomplishment, especially with everything we've been through this year. The guys just stuck with it, and now we're in position where we can tie our win total from last year."
Indeed, the Cavs went 51-31 last season with Irving in the fold. Last season, James sat eight games, and Cleveland went 0-8 when he rested. This season, for the first time in his career, James will play all 82 games when he suits up against the Knicks on Wednesday in the season finale.
"I'm healthy," James said, "so I'm playing."
Lue credited James -- who came into Monday averaging a triple-double in his previous 28 games by putting up 30.3 points on 54.5 percent shooting, 10.1 rebounds and 10.2 assists -- for keeping the Cavs on track.
"LeBron has led this charge and playing 81 out of 81 games," Lue said. "It's very easy for a guy to sit down when you're going through the stuff we went through all season. I think he did a great job just leading by example, playing every game even though we were going through a tough stretch and tough stretches. I think he did a really good job of setting the tone for everyone. That's what we need from him. To win 50 games after we -- I guess, for 35-40 games we had probably four or five different starting point guards and guys being out, six of our rotational guys being out. Him stepping up and playing the way he's played has been tremendous."
James was asked whether he ever doubted the Cavs, who have now won 11 of their past 13 games, would get their stuff together before it was too late.
"I'm not much of a doubt guy," James said. "But I just, you guys, listen, you've been with us all year. Just the ins and outs, the revolving door of guys in and guys out, either from switching teams or from injuries. Coaches being out. Players been injured. We had six guys leave before the trade deadline, which is something you don't want to be a part of if you don't have to, because you want to kind of build stuff. So, it's just been a challenge. And we're trying to figure out the best way we can."
Smith would like to figure out how to end things in June by hoisting another Larry O'Brien Trophy.
"I've won the championship already, and I feel I know how that feels. It's no knock to the division championship, but we don't play for those," he said. "We play for that gold, boss. To the younger guys, congratulations, but we still got work to do."