NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental | Might Kobe opt to play and delay surgery? | Horford, Hawks can’t stop, won’t stop … winning | Aldridge puts training camp in jeopardy by playing through pain
No. 1: Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:
Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.
The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.
Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.
And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.
“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.
Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.
“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.
First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.
With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.
Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.
Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.
Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.
Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).
The Cavaliers had played in that kind of cauldron of attention exactly twice this season. The first was James’ official return to Cleveland on opening night against the Knicks, which James said was “one of the biggest sporting events ever,” and on Christmas Day in his emotional return to Miami.
James and the Cavaliers failed. Twice.
“In those two games we did, yes, obviously, we did,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “I can’t deny that. Hopefully we learned from that.”