INDEPENDENCE — There are a number of reasons why the Cavaliers might not win a lot of games early this season, including the holdouts of Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic and a six-game West Coast road trip.
But there’s a 6-foot-8,
250-pound reason why they still might be successful when the regular season opens Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena against the Dallas Mavericks.
“I’m a great leader,” LeBron James said Monday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I believe our team is going to win games because of who I am. I’m not going to allow our team to not play well.”
More vocal than in previous years, the 22-year-old small forward seems to be going out of his way to challenge his teammates and not let them use the absence of Varejao and Pavlovic — or the early road trip — as an excuse.
“It’s going to be tough this year,” James said. “We’re undermanned, but we’re ready for the challenge. I won’t let these guys not work hard in practice. I won’t let these guys not work hard in games. I want to win. That’s why I’m here.”
James, who started voicing his opinion more while playing for USA Basketball over the summer, is also speaking volumes with his actions. Throughout the preseason, he’s been one of the last players to leave the team’s practice facility here.
“I could easily take time off and do nothing (in the offseason),” he said. “I want to be the best at this game. It takes dedication and work ethic to do that.”
Make no mistake, James’ teammates are noticing.
“If your leader is in the gym trying to work hard, it’s only right that you follow,” second-year guard Daniel Gibson said.
Fresh off a season in which he averaged 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists, then led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, James is hoping if he sets a torrid pace, his teammates will follow. Put them together and it is the fifth-year pro’s opinion that the Cavaliers will be successful.
“Every team has to fight through the regular season to make the playoffs,” James said. “We’re not going off what we did last year.”
James shows no signs of the physical malaise that seemed to plague him early last season. He actually seems extremely upbeat and looks to have a bounce in his step, saying he’s never felt better going into a season.
So, the rest of the Cavaliers are equally optimistic at the moment, though they realize James can’t do it alone.
“That’s the big thing: Having him gives you a chance to win every night — at home and on the road,” center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “But he knows he can’t do it by himself. He’s already averaging 27 (points), seven (rebounds) and seven (assists). His averages are out of this world. I don’t think we need to put any more pressure on him.”
The way James sees it, however, it’s impossible for the Cavaliers — or anyone else — to put too much pressure on him. And there’s a very simple reason for that.
“I don’t feel pressure,” he said. “What’s pressure?”
The Cavaliers made a player move, adding rookie swingman Demetrius Nichols and waiving forward Noel Felix to keep their roster at the NBA maximum of 15.
The 6-8, 216-pound Harris was a second-round pick of Portland (53rd overall), but was traded to the New York Knicks, who cut him last week due to their abundance of guards. The Syracuse product led the Big East in scoring last season (18.9 ppg) and is considered an excellent shooter, but is on the thin side.
While with the Knicks in the preseason, the 23-year-old averaged 4.8 points on .571 shooting (8-of-14), including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, in 7.8 minutes a game.
Felix, who played 17 minutes in the preseason, was never really in the Cavaliers’ plans, but was being kept around due to the holdouts of Varejao and Pavlovic. There has also been talk the Cavaliers may pursue veteran big man Juwan Howard, who was bought out of his contract by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I hope so,” James said when asked about adding the 34-year-old. “He can help us.”
Even Cleveland coach Mike Brown, who almost never comments about possible player acquisitions, seemed enthused about the 13-year veteran.
“Any time you can bring in a veteran like Juwan, not just his playing ability, but his work ethic and everything else, you have to explore that,” Brown said.
The Mavs will be without starting small forward Josh Howard for the first two games of the regular season. Howard was suspended due to a preseason fight.
• The Cavaliers finished 1-6 in the preseason. They were 2-6 a year ago. Dallas, which is likely to start Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Eddie Jones and Devan Harris in the opener, was 5-3 in the exhibition season. Jason Terry is the top player off the bench.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org