INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are one win from clinching the fourth Central Division title in team history and, along with it, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The occasion has given coach David Blatt the opportunity to look back at the statement he made after the Cavs’ 106-92 loss to the Miami Heat on March 16, when he declared: “We got to finish in second place.”
Now, with five games left to play for the Cavs, they’re up four games on the Bulls and five games on the Raptors.
“I thought I challenged them and myself,” Blatt said after practice Tuesday. “And 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.”
Indeed, the Cavs have gone 7-1 since the loss to Miami and subsequent directive from Blatt.
When Blatt initially put it out there, LeBron James had his own take on it, saying that seeding wasn’t as much of a high priority for him.
James maintained that stance Tuesday with the Cavs on the verge of accomplishing the goal that Blatt set out to reach.
“For me, that’s what Coach wanted,” James said. “I’ve never played seeding basketball. That’s just now how I’ve been programmed through the course of my career. I’ve kind of just went out, played as hard as I can, tried to lead my guys, and if we’re fortunate to be Nos. 1, 2, 3 -- whatever the case may be -- then we put ourselves in the position, if we follow our process, to win in the postseason.”
James said the Cavs must maintain their rhythm to close out the regular season, the same rhythm that led to 31 wins in their last 38 games.
“Win, lose, or draw, you want to have some type of rhythm,” James said. “We’ll approach [the remaining games] the way we’ve done over the last couple weeks and last couple months, obviously, by just playing our type of game. We want to continue to push the games offensively, push the tempo, defend at a high level and see what happens."
And how will the Cavs maintain that rhythm if Blatt decides to hold some of his stars out in anticipation of the playoffs?
“You still play your game,” James said. “You kind of take into account who is in and who is out, but you play your type of basketball. One thing you can always control, no matter who is in the lineup, is how hard you play and how together you play, no matter who is out there.”
When the question of rest was first brought up to James, he quipped, “You get rest when you retire,” but later revealed that he will certainly not play all the remaining games on the Cavs’ schedule as he prepares his body for what’s ahead.
“I’ve always taken a couple of games off before 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 what will benefit me and benefit the team -- but I’ve always been the same way. I don’t change too much. How I get during this time is the same way over my 10 years being in the postseason. So, it won’t change.”
In the meantime, James wants to lock up that Central Division title, something he doesn’t overlook despite having accomplished more prestigious feats such as two NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals.
“I mean, banners matter,” James said, looking out at the three division title banners already hanging in the Cavs’ practice facility. “I think a lot of people take it for granted if you’re in it all the time, you take those things for granted. Those things will last forever in the record books.”