Justice Is Served

April 7, 2010 12:36 AM

LeBron & Co. keep their eyes on the prize


CLEVELAND -- His voice sounded as carefree Tuesday night as if he were strolling a Key West beach. But LeBron James, half-dressed, stood far from South Florida and its sunny, blue skies. He was in front of his locker stall inside The Q, his world intermingling for now with sports media -- men and women who wanted to dig deep into his thoughts about his team's latest win: 113-101 over the Raptors.

In the long view of an 82-game season, the win was meaningless, like an extra pound on a sumo wrestler. The win carried no significance for the season, not for LeBron and these Cavaliers. They had done all they needed to do to position themselves for the postseason.

The Cavs can boast the best record in the league, which has assured them of home-field advantage from round one of the playoffs through the NBA Finals, if they can make it there.

And the final games of their 2009-'10 season will be about getting there - getting there and winning it all.

"These last four games -- win, lose or draw -- we want to continue to get better," LeBron said.

His easy demeanor didn't mask LeBron's objective; no way it could either. For he has said from the start of the season that his goal -- and the team's -- is singular: an NBA championship or bust.

The Cavs had been hoping all the edges would be in their favor, and they have gotten their wish, too. Yet no one can be altogether certain what will unfold once the playoffs begin. Even for LeBron and the league-best Cavaliers, a franchise without a championship banner waving from the arena's rafters, questions seem to nag at them.

Despite their steady overall play, they win defense. Although pleased with the victory over the Rafters, coach Mike Brown didn't like the defense his team played. Brown also went into the game with concerns about the health of importance players.

Asked time and again earlier about Shaq O'Neal's injury, Brown did little more than shrug. He could offer no concrete answer on when Shaq will return, and since Brown had Delonte West's achy back on his mind Tuesday, he might not have seen the Shaq question as a topic worth spending time on.

What was worth Brown's time were his plans for LeBron & Co. over the final four games of the season.

"I look at these games as high-level practices," Brown said.

He saw no reason to push his players hard anymore. While he doesn't want their skills to atrophy, he isn't planning to extend them in finish-out-the season games that won't improve their playoff prospects.

So LeBron might get fewer minutes down the stretch; it is possible he might not get any minutes at all in some of those final games. Brown said he hasn't decided.

"I don't think there's any wrong answer because he's played a lot of minutes," he said of LeBron.

For Brown, LeBron isn't a worry. For Brown, the regular season isn't a worry - not anymore. For Brown, it's about getting his veteran team, as LeBron put it, to play better and better.

Ensuring his players have fresh legs for the postseason might be the best way of improving the team's play.

Talk of rest seemed to sit well with LeBron James, the team's best player and its leader. His eyes, like Brown's, are on what lies ahead of them, which is the daunting challenge of winning a title. LeBron and his teammates have played better than any other team in the NBA, a point their record proves.

They want to continue to play that way, and if Brown thinks rest will help, they're all-in with that idea, particularly LeBron James.

"We don't wanna take a step back," he said. "We wanna use these games to get better."

 So that's the plan, and LeBron James is comfortable with it.



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