In 2011, LeBron James’ season ended on June 11. 2012? It ran until the 21st of June, and 2013’s run finished on June 20. James earned a bit of a respite last season, falling on the 15th of June to the San Antonio Spurs in his season’s final game, before declining to join Team USA after five previous summertime stints spent representing his country in either the Olympics or in FIBA World Championship play.
The league’s best player, finally outfitted with great teammates, plays deep into most seasons. Unless something shocking happens, he’ll also play deep into the end of 2014-15, as his Cleveland Cavaliers look as championship-worthy as any team in the league.
On the heels of coach David Blatt’s insistence that his Cavaliers fight for the second seed, LeBron James told media on Monday night that he had little interest in how the Eastern Conference standings are currently playing out. Working at his best in early-to-mid June? That’s far, far more important to James than having home court advantage in the second round of the endless NBA playoffs.
"The coaching staff, if that's what they want, but for me, I never play for seeding. I just play," he said. "And wherever at the end of the season we land, I'm ready. Just get me in the playoffs. Get me in the playoffs, I feel like I can win on anybody's floor. I feel like I can win at home. I'm that confident in my ability and our team's ability. So I've never in my 12-year career played for seeding. That's just not how I work."
"Health," James said. "Health and chemistry. We got to continue to build our chemistry. We're a young group, as far as cohesiveness on the floor. So we got to continue to build that, and we got to be healthy during the playoffs."
It’s important to note here that James isn’t exactly asking for another fortnight off in order to rest his weary legs, damning the Cavaliers’ chances at a second seed along the way. The Cavaliers are getting that second seed, fulfilling their coach’s (“We’ve got to finish in second place.”) hopes and dreams along the way.
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Cleveland, even after Monday night’s loss to the Miami Heat, are currently working with the second seed in the East. The team is two games up on the Toronto Raptors, who gained a full game on Cleveland with its impressive win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday. It was nice to see the Raptors find their offensive touch again, but that team had lost 10 of 12 entering that contest, and it will truly be hard to bank on the Raps to overcome the streaking Cavaliers with just 15 games left in the season.
The injured Chicago Bulls (two and a half games back in both the East and Central Division) and inconsistent Washington Wizards (three games back) pose just as weak a threat to Cleveland’s status. And it’s not as if the Cavaliers, who took a full two and a half months to get their act together, are going to be able to make up the 11-game difference that separates them and the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks.
LeBron James turned 30 in December, but he’s already played more than 42,000 combined regular season and postseason minutes. That’s more than Larry Bird, who retired at age 36, played in his entire career. James has also worked five times with Team USA, a massive summer commitment even amongst all those 25-point wins. He cramps up during NBA Finals games not just because of the malfunctioning air conditioning, but because the NBA has never seen an athlete like this, and it has never asked that athlete to play so, so many minutes.
The Cavaliers have 13 games left in 2014-15, and LeBron James may have to miss some of them in anticipation of Game 7 of the 2015 NBA Finals, a contest that starts some 94 days following Cleveland’s loss to Miami. He may have to miss some of the eight remaining home games that the Cavs have left. He may need to miss one or both of the two nationally televised contest Cleveland has scheduled against Miami and Chicago. He may disappoint some fans on the road.
This is what the NBA has to get used to when it schedules three weeks’ worth of meaningless exhibition games, 82 regular season contests, endless All-Star weekend activities, and potentially 28 games’ worth (and two months’ full) of playoff games. All while asking, pretty please, if you’ll join Team USA for a chance to sell sneakers and promote the NBA brand go for the gold over the summer.
Seeds don’t matter, players do. And when you have a player as great as LeBron James, you can get away with favoring the health of the latter.
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