Rookie sensation LeBron James missed out on making it to his first All-Star game. He doesn’t plan to miss the playoffs.
The Cavaliers won four of their last five games in February to improve to 24-35. Despite being 11 games under .500, Cleveland is only a half-game behind Miami (25-35) one game behind Toronto (25-34) for one of the final two postseason berths in the mediocre East.
“Everybody’s talking about us making the playoffs now,” James said after leading the Cavaliers to a 112-107 overtime win over the Orlando Magic on Friday.
Cleveland is 14-12 since Jan. 1, and is looking to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
“There was no talk of that a month and a half ago,” James said. “People were saying there was no way we could get to the playoffs, but we stuck together.”
James averages 20.6 points and 5.7 assists to lead the Cavaliers. He has often been spectacular during his first season, but he’s also received a lot of help from second-year forward Carlos Boozer and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Boozer and Ilgauskas give Cleveland two solid low-post threats to go with James’ playmaking abilities. The Cavaliers could give teams matchup problems if they make the postseason.
“Absolutely, we’re thinking about playoffs,” said Boozer, who had 17 points and 16 rebounds Saturday. “We’re playing real good defense, very unselfish offense and we’re making plays to win close games. We’re just playing real good basketball.”
Boozer has been a force for Cleveland in the paint, averaging 14.9 points and a team-high 11.3 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 forward has 25 double-doubles and ranks fifth in the NBA in shooting at 51.6 percent.
Ilgauskas has been steady in the pivot. The 7-footer averages 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and a team-high 2.3 blocks.
The Cavs will look to keep rolling against an underachieving Bulls squad.
Chicago is the midst of another disappointing season and is headed back to the NBA lottery. The Bulls have lost four of five games and 11 of 15.
Rookie Kirk Hinrich’s play has been one of the few bright spots for Chicago.
Hinrich had 11 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Bulls past Golden State 87-81 in overtime Saturday.
Despite being the first rookie in the NBA this season to have a triple-double, Hinrich knows James will be the center of attention Monday in Chicago.
“The spotlight will be on him. I’m sure it’s going to be sold out,” Hinrich said. “He is having a great year, he is a great player, but hopefully whether he get his numbers or doesn’t we will win the game.”
Hinrich averages 11.5 points and is second among rookies with 6.2 assists per game.