Cavs still kings, for now

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - SPORTS - FRANK ZICARELLI fzi­carelli@post­media.com

As long as LeBron James re­mains in Cleve­land, the Cav­a­liers are the team to beat for any team pin­ing to get out of the East.

De­spite all the noise, drama, fin­ger-point­ing, there was no way the Cavs weren’t go­ing to make the post-sea­son, un­less James sud­denly gets shut down with an in­jury.

And given his his­tory of al­ways per­se­ver­ing through what­ever dis­com­fort, it sim­ply wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen.

Now with the Cavs get­ting younger, more ath­letic and, on pa­per, more in­clined to play team-first bas­ket­ball, the James-led gang con­tin­ues to be the team the likes of Bos­ton, Toronto — and per­haps even Wash­ing­ton — must de­throne.

In a seven-game se­ries, it still seems daunt­ing for any­one to beat LeBron four times, but time will tell.

“In my opin­ion they still have one of the best play­ers in the world and whether they had the old team or this team, I feel it’s the same,’’ said Rap­tors pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri. “He’s the con­stant. That’s the way I feel about it.

“All the chaos that was be­ing made about them this and them that, I don’t see that. On the over­all, we have to look at our­selves and our fo­cus and what we are do­ing rather than what other peo­ple are do­ing be­cause if I re­mem­ber in the sum­mer, it was the same thing when that deal (Kyrie Irv­ing moved to Bos­ton) was done in the sum­mer, ev­ery­one went crazy (about) those two teams, now it’s between them and blah, blah, blah.

“This is the NBA and the re­al­ity of the NBA is we are built around chaos and drama, we deal with it ev­ery day and more drama is com­ing. There is plenty more drama com­ing and we have to deal with it.

For now, we’ll deal with the ones we have.” Ujiri is right on all counts. The daily rou­tine of life in the NBA al­ways fea­tures some player or agent, in some cases some fam­ily mem­ber, grip­ing about some­thing.

When min­utes are re­duced, the whin­ing in­creases, but the good teams, or at least those who know how to man­age any is­sue, keep it in-house.

In Cleve­land, it got ugly be­cause it went pub­lic, whether it was Isa­iah Thomas ba­si­cally crit­i­ciz­ing head coach Ty­ronne Lue, Der­rick Rose men­tally check­ing out, Jae Crow­der ban­ished to the bench, team­mates ques­tion­ing Kevin Love.

When the Cavs got blown out by Hous­ton, the as­tute Jalen Rose, a one-time Rap­tor, went on na­tional TV and felt the play­ers had quit on King James.

Love isn’t com­ing back any­time soon fol­low­ing his hand in­jury and with no Irv­ing there’s no player who can cre­ate late in the shot clock.

If any­thing, James will now be asked to do more, which he’s ca­pable of do­ing.

“I mean, I re­ally don’t care,’’ said De­Mar DeRozan of the trade-dead­line day frenzy that rocked Cleve­land and by ex­ten­sion the NBA. “Hon­estly. You know me, I just worry about my team, worry about us, what we gotta do to con­tinue to get bet­ter.

“We can’t re­ally fo­cus and worry about what ev­ery­body else do­ing.”

Per­haps a less in­ex­pe­ri­enced and less ma­ture DeRozan would have main­tained a dif­fer­ent pos­ture in a pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion, but he’s fully aware of what’s re­quired and how teams must take care of their own busi­ness and avoid the temp­ta­tion of wor­ry­ing about oth­ers.

The Rap­tors have a good thing go­ing hav­ing won all four games of a four-game home­s­tand, all four wins in de­ci­sive fash­ion.

When they blew out Cleve­land on Jan. 11, the Rap­tors nearly re­bounded from a huge deficit to push Golden State.

Some late-game ex­e­cu­tion is­sues cost Toronto wins against Philly, Min­nesota, Utah and Wash­ing­ton, but over­all the team has played well.

The Rap­tors don’t play un­til Sun­day af­ter­noon in Char­lotte be­fore re­turn­ing home to play the Mi­ami Heat on Tues­day.

The all-star break of­fi­cially kicks off late Wed­nes­day night af­ter the Rap­tors play on the road against Chicago.

At 38-16, it’s con­ceiv­able the Rap­tors might have 41 wins at the break with 25 games to be played once they re­turn.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

LeBron James and his Cav­a­liers are still the team to beat in the NBA East­ern Con­fer­ence, even both Toronto and Bos­ton are com­fort­ably ahead of Cleve­land in the stand­ings.

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