The start of the 2014-15 NBA season remains at least a week away and already LeBron James is feverishly jockeying for playoff position.
In the hours leading up to what he and his Cleveland Cavaliers deemed their “most important preseason game” against Eastern Conference rival Chicago Monday night, James strategically whined “the Bulls are a team that’s much better than us right now just off chemistry.”
Their 107-98, even closer-than-the score indicates, preseason win aside, there’s certainly a measure of validity and merit to James’ concerns. In fact, many in NBA circles wouldn’t be too surprised if when all is said and done it’s not the Bulls and Derrick Rose who will be repping for the East come June and NBA Finals time.
Even with backcourt mate Jimmy Butler sidelined with a thumb injury, Rose more than displayed what taking down James and his overly-hyped crew means in the Bulls locker room during Monday’s tilt, going for a preseason and game-high 30 points on sizzling 12-of-18 shooting in just 24 minutes.
Otherwise meaningless game stats notwithstanding, the point here is all The King’s bowing at the throne of the Bulls is all gamesmanship on his part, an act gamely directed at elevating the resolve and focus of all the Cavaliers.
Even if James truly thought the Bulls somehow held the upper-hand over his Cavs, he’d absolutely be the last to admit it. And that’s as it should be. No competitor of his pedigree would have it any other way.
But LeBron James knows for his Cleveland Cavaliers to have any chance of reaching what many have preordained for them, namely the right to triumphantly party in the streets of Ohio come next June like its 2013 in Miami, he has to convince his young and impressionable mates that they are indeed the underdogs and the underappreciated.
The Cavs recently spent a week together in Brazil, ideally bonding in the ways James is convinced they will ultimately need to. But, sage 11-year veteran, two-time champion and three times Finals loser that he now is, The Chosen One knows even that alone won’t be enough to make for an ultra-winning formula.
“You’ve got to go through something to create a bond; that means for the worse,” he said. “We’ve got to lose ballgames that we think we should’ve won, we’ve got to get into an argument every now and then just to test each other out. It has to happen. A lot of guys don’t see it, but I see it. You don’t define yourself during the good times, you define yourself through the bad times.”
With the showdown against the Bulls marking the first time the star trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have officially faced NBA competition together, James is more than justified in being concerned about a veteran Bulls’ roster that features Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler, and Taj Gibson. And experience has taught him getting over the hump will be as much of a mental challenge as anything he and his mates will ever prove physically capable of conquering together.
“They’ve been together for a while, we’ve got a long way to go,” he added in directly comparing the two teams.
The truth is the Bulls and the Cavs appear on a collision course where each of them will come to battle armed with essentially equal parts firepower. LeBron James is savvy enough to know the time to make the difference lies in what he says and does in these moments.