WASHINGTON: Nearly a month into his homecoming season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA superstar LeBron James and his new teammates still struggle to discover roles and mesh into a title contender.
The Cavaliers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 106-74 victory over Orlando, but at 6-7 on the season remain very much a work in progress.
“I knew it was going to be the biggest challenge of my career,” James said. “It’s something I was ready for. I accept the challenge.”
James left the Cavaliers in 2010 for Miami and won two NBA titles and lost twice more in the NBA Finals before making his return to his home region last July, joining Australian guard Kyrie Irving and adding star big man Kevin Love to create a new “Big Three” that figured to make Cleveland the team to beat in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
“We’re working on it,” Love said. “It will take time but things will open up. We’ve seen a lot of tough times. We know how to come back and play well.”
Love has found himself shooting twice as many 3-point shots as normal as Brazilian center Anderson Varejao dominates inside and James and Irving often share the scoring load.
“I’m just trying to find myself in here,” Love said. “There are a lot of times I spot it up on the perimeter but that’s what’s being asked of me. I’ll be happy with it. They seem to go in for me and that’s going to help all of us.
“We need to keep the defense honest. When we do that we’re usually able to score more points.”
Dave Blatt, an American who coached Russia to 2012 Olympic bronze and Maccabi Tel Aviv to this year’s Euroleague crown, is the Cavaliers’ first year coach, stepping into the job before James decided to return.
He has handled slow-starting teams before and recalled James’ first Miami squad only started 9-8 before winning 21 of its next 22 starts.
“My teams have been slow starters. I don’t know if that translates to this situation,” he said. “It’s very much a work in progress. We’re in the first month. There are still a few bumps and glitches ahead.
“On a new team you are always going to have things — rotations, roles more clearly defined. You figure out a little better when the team is more mature. This is the NBA. You always need to win. For us it’s a day-to-day battle and we want to compete.”
James is averaging 25.0 points a game while Irving is netting 21.1. Each is playing about 38 minutes a game with Love at just under 36 minutes a game, all three among the NBA top 10 in playing time as the Cavaliers try to settle on a lineup.
“The most important thing is to keep our heads up and keep working, move on to the next game,” Irving said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We’ve got to play better at both ends of the floor.
“I’m confident in this team and the people in this locker room. We play with our hearts. Right now we don’t have the luxury of taking plays off or possessions off or letting teams back into games. We have to come out with better fight.”
James’ scoring and shooting percentage are his worst since his 2003 rookie season and it’s the also the worst start for one of his teams since then.
“We’re a very fragile team,” James said. “Any little adversity hits us, we just shell up. That’s something that will come with experience.”
James has noticed downcast body language among his teammates when challenges arise in games.
“I see it. It’s not good. It’s something we have to work on, push forward. It’s something I have to work on too,” James said. “Losing doesn’t help. It zaps the energy from us.
“Being the leader of this team, if I start hanging my head low, it’s going to go to everyone else. They look to me to make a difference and I’ve got to stay positive.”