Cavaliers restate title expectations to start the new year

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James has no personal use for New Year's resolutions.

"No, for what? I don't need a fresh start," James said Friday following the Cleveland Cavaliers' first practice of 2016. "If you got things in order and you got your priorities straight, I don't need a reset. I'm all good."

Considering how good 2015 was to James -- from inking a lifetime deal with Nike estimated to be worth well more than $600 million to making a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals to seeing his third child, a daughter, grow from a baby into a healthy toddler -- there's no reason for him to seek drastic changes.

His team, on the other hand, could use a bit of a jump-start. The Cavaliers finished the '15 portion of their 2015-16 campaign with a respectable 21-9 record, sure, but they also were just a couple of games removed from their worst effort of the season in a 105-76 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on the last road trip.

And so, after dominating the Orlando Magic with a 104-79 wire-to-wire win on Saturday, Cavs veteran James Jones admitted that the team is taking a different approach to resolutions than that of its star.

"We're here to make a title run, so we have to start the year off right," Jones said during an on-court interview with the arena emcee.

For a Cavs team that was just two wins away from a championship last season, maybe New Year's tinkering is the more appropriate term.

"I know that if J.J. mentions it, I'm usually on his side with things because he's smart," said Kevin Love. "So yes, I definitely agree with him, and I don't know if it's 2016 or what it was, but we just came back from four games in five nights on the West Coast and had a couple days off. So I think we got a chance, whether it's a new year or not, to kind of refocus and start setting our standards a little bit higher."

That elevation began with James improving his already impeccable overall game by honing in on his jump shot -- going 11-for-18 from the field overall and 4-of-7 from 3 -- while simultaneously limiting himself to zero turnovers for the first time all season.

"I've definitely been putting in extra work as of late, just trying to get my shot back, get my legs back under me," James said. "Get my balance and my base, and it's resulted in me shooting the ball well from the perimeter the last couple games."

Then there was Kyrie Irving crossing a major mental threshold by throwing caution to the wind and diving onto the floor in the second half -- and the Cavs already up by 20 points -- without being encumbered by his surgically repaired left kneecap.

"That was one of those moments we all talk about as athletes when you come back from surgery and you're like, ‘That was the moment for me,'" Irving said. "That was the one. I was OK, I'm good. Now it's time to steamroll ahead. I actually bumped my knee on the floor; it felt better when I got back up. It was one of those moments that I'm glad I went through and I got out the way. Now it's full head of steam."

And of course, there was Love too. Albeit far from the "focal point" of the offense, as James dubbed him in Irving's absence, he fit in and was more than effective with 10 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and a steal in 29 minutes, even though he only took five shots.

"They know what they can be when they're all healthy and playing together," Cavs coach David Blatt said of the chemistry among James, Irving and Love. "I think it gives them the kind of confidence and the kind of energy to be out there playing that way together. It's a good sign."

As James explained, "We know it starts with us, it finishes with us, but everyone has to be involved."

To James' point, if there was anything to be concerned about with Saturday's outing, it was seeing Mo Williams report to the locker room just 63 minutes before tipoff and then being late to join his teammates, if he joined them at all, as they got up off the bench and onto their feet to cheer several plays as Cleveland built its big lead.

Everyone means everyone, and as understandable as it might seem for Williams to buck against having his minutes cut drastically since Irving returned, anything but an all-in attitude is counterproductive to the rest of the Cavs using the recent calendar turn as a chance for a fresh beginning.

"Guys got to understand, and I've told them this, only so many guys can play," Blatt said before the game. "That's just the reality of the limitations of the game."

This is why there has to be a limitation on praising just how much progress the Cavs made to start out 2016. It was a great first step, but when a team is still figuring out its rotation in January, it's a reminder there are still so many more steps to go before it can be running toward anything, let alone the title Jones mentioned.