WASHINGTON: Superstar playmaker LeBron James sparks the NBA’s highest-paid lineup in his quest of a long-sought title for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers when the league opens its 70th season on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
But the $115 million squad will be challenged to lift the trophy next June by a handful of top foes, most notably the team that scuttled their championship dreams four months ago, the Golden State Warriors.
Opening night features Cleveland at Chicago and Golden State unfurling a championship banner against visiting New Orleans.
The Cavaliers remain nagged by injuries as they were in the final, only this time it’s 30-year-old James with a sore back who is questionable.
“We feel like we’re progressing really well and if we can continue to do that, then I’m optimistic I’ll be able to go,” James said. “I’m trying to listen to the training staff and not be hard headed, and I’m going with them.”
Plenty is expected from James this season as Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Cavaliers 5-2 favorites to claim the title and 53.6 percent of NBA general managers think the Cavaliers will win the crown.
“All the predictions and prognostications, it doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “Certainly we can be a contender, but beyond that? I don’t think we’ve got the right to talk too much about more than that.
“We’re not even talking about that right now. We’re talking about how we can get everybody on the same page, get all our players back, work hard and try to make day-to-day progress. What we’re really concerned with is just becoming a good team right now.”
James made his fifth NBA Finals appearance in a row last June, the first four with the Miami Heat before jumping back to the club he spurned in 2010 for the South Florida sun. The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and two-time champion was undone by injuries to teammates, unable to carry the team to glory, and injuries still weigh upon Cleveland four months later.
“Internally, the motivation for us is to not repeat what happened last year, which is to get so close, but not be able to seal the deal,” said Cleveland’s James Jones. “So we’re excited for the opportunity.”
Kyrie Irving didn’t practice after surgery to repair the left kneecap he fractured in game one of the final. His return date is unknown. Iman Shumpert underwent right wrist surgery and is out until late December. Timofey Mozgov has a sore right knee after an off-season operation. Anderson Varejao is working on fitness after Achilles tendon surgery last December. Kevin Love must regain form after off-season surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder.