CLEVELAND – As scary old Halloween movies fill our flat-screens with images of mad scientists and dungeon laboratories this time of year, we’re never far from reminders about chemistry’s importance.
NBA teams, either.
Those that have it – like the San Antonio Spurs and others – know it and trust it. Those that don’t – most lottery teams and assorted underachievers – wish they did. And then there are newbies, like the Cleveland Cavaliers. With their shiny new ingredients and lofty expectations, the Cavs at the moment are like a start-up pharmaceutical firm, seeking FDA approval as they hit the market on the fly.
Forward Kevin Love, hours before tipoff of the Cavaliers’ opener against New York Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena (8 p.m. ET, TNT), was asked about his team’s chemistry after the morning shootaround session.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” Love said. “We all have been able to get along. Doesn’t matter if we’re rookies like Joe Harris or 15, 16 years in like Matrix (Shawn Marion) or Mike Miller. So we have good continuity off the floor. The problem is we just have to get on the floor together. No matter what, our first month of training camp, it is only a month.
“Seven, eight preseason games isn’t going to do it. So it’s going to take us a little longer than that. Hopefully our talent and our execution and our discipline will help us get over the top our first several games.”
Basketball at its best is five men on a string, offensively and defensively. The string? That’s Xs & Os, sure, but it’s also familiarity, trust and chemistry.
Love said he’s curious to see how the Cavs pieces fit, same as many fans.
“And I’ll keep saying this, it’s going to take a little bit of time. Like anybody in their first 10, 20 games,” he said. “But once we figure out our niche and what works for us, we’re gonna go to that.”
LeBron James has gone through this before. He developed into a leader in his first Cleveland stint, learned how to defer while leading with Miami and now shoulders the primary responsibility for knitting together this new group.
“It just comes natural,” James said. “For me as a leader and just as a person that’s very outgoing, it just comes natural. There’s no book to how to build chemistry. Just you either have it or you don’t.”
That might seem a wee blithe, but then, James did sound and say he was awfully relaxed heading into this latest, much-anticipated chapter of team building and championship chasing.
“I’m very relaxed right now. I’m actually sleepy,” James said at about 11 a.m. ET. “I’m ready to go home and lay down. It’s my [nap] bedtime, what I do on a game day. Once the hours kind of count down and the minutes count down to game time, it gets a little more warmer in here, the excitement will begin.”
There weren’t any jitters on the eve of this Cleveland reset for the NBA’s best player. He stayed home and flipped around, watching as many of the league’s 12 games as he could.
“I love the game of basketball so it was great to see so many teams playing and I knew it was our time after last night,” James said. “For me, none of us should take this moment for granted. This is probably one of the biggest sporting events [in Cleveland] ever.”
New Cavaliers coach David Blatt talked of team chemistry almost clinically, as if he’ll be working in a lab coat on the sideline Thursday. Blatt will be making his NBA debut at age 55, after 33 years playing and coaching basketball internationally.
“Simplify. Designate,” Blatt said, specifying the surest ways to fast-track some chemistry into a “Hi, My Name Is…” group of players new to each other.
“Lock in on a minimal number of things and try to grow from that point. Stick to principles, stay fundamental and willing to stay the course, and ultimately to grow. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Blatt said he would happily let James address the team in their pregame meeting. And James said that, after his nap, he would tabulate the results of his informal Twitter poll of fans whether he should go back to the chalk-toss ritual of his first stay in Cleveland.