CHICAGO: LeBron James knows the difficulties of trying to defend an NBA title.
That’s his mission for the third time in his career and he’s pulled it off once, with the Miami Heat in 2012-13.
Before Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls at United Center, James said the Cavaliers must shake off their complacency and get serious if they want to capture another championship.
Asked at shootaround if his teammates understood where the Cavs are, James said, “I like where we are if we understand where we are. It’s that simple.”
That might require some reading between the lines. But speaking after practice on Wednesday, Kyrie Irving said “everyone has kind of gone their own way,” and talked about demanding more from each other. He called three blowout losses in the past four games a “wake-up call.”
James seemed to indicate Thursday that the chemistry and internal issues of which Irving spoke aren’t fixed, but will be soon.
“We’re fine,” James said. “We’re a group that, we’ll figure it out. I believe in our coaching staff, believe in [coach Tyronn Lue], I believe in our players. We’ll be fine.”
It may be human nature to feel complacent after winning a title, but James said, “I can’t speak for everybody else. Not for me.”
“The process is different every year. I’ve been in this position where you’re trying to repeat and I know what it takes, how taxing it can be from a standpoint of the competition gets motivated to play you every single night and also you can’t shortcut it. You have that feeling of what it felt like to win a championship, but you don’t understand you have to get back to the point where you’re thinking about, ‘OK, how hard it was for us to get to there?’
“It’s human nature sometimes to take a step backwards. But for us, if we want to be in a position where we want to be legendary, then you throw that to the side and understand you have to take this process very seriously.”
James couldn’t compare defending this title with the two he won with the Heat because the Cavs have been wracked by injuries all season. But he is waiting for the right time to speak up.
He said after Monday’s loss in San Antonio that other veterans have been doing the talking of late.
Asked Thursday if his time had come, James said, “It’s just a feeling, when the feeling hits me. When it’s the right time for me, I’ll speak up.
“Leadership is not just on the court, it’s off the court as well. It’s a combination of seeing everything. Once I calibrate enough necessary data that I need, I’ll translate it to the team.”
James Jones, who has been to six consecutive NBA Finals with James, is one of those veterans emphasizing to his teammates that they need to be better and make fewer mistakes.
“It’s a learning experience,” Jones said. “People try to make it seem like we’ve been here before, but we haven’t. This is a new year. I always tell people, ‘It’s twice as hard to repeat than to win the first one.’ We’re still trying to strike the right balance between all-out exertion and having something left in the tank.”
While Irving implied there are issues in the locker room that need to be fixed, Jones said that’s not unusual.
“There’s always issues in the locker room to be fixed,” he said. “Unless you’re doing everything you want to, there’s room for improvement. We’re still the top team in the East, but we’re not where we want to be. Anytime you’re not hitting on all cylinders, there’s going to be issues and concerns. It’s not grave, but it’s a serious concern. At this point in the year we have very little margin for error.”
Eye still an issue
James is still being bothered by a scratched cornea in his right eye suffered March 24 in Charlotte. James put in eyedrops before Thursday morning’s shootaround and did his entire interview with his head down.
“Apologize for my head being down today, guys, my eye is a little messed up from last week in Charlotte,” James said as it ended. “That’s why my head is down, that light is bothering me.”
The Bulls’ Rajon Rondo was at the United Center before 9 a.m. getting shots up. Wearing Celtics’ green shoes that sparkled with a sequin embellishment, Rondo went 2 for his first 17 from 3-point range, including an airball from the top of the key, but hit 15 of his last 21. He found his rhythm when he moved to the left wing.
A career 30.1 shooter from beyond the arc, Rondo, 31, has hit 51.4 percent of his 3s this month.
Eventually the Cavs’ Deron Williams and Irving arrived before the team bus to work out on the other end of the court.
Wade not done?
The Bulls’ Dwyane Wade, in his first season back in his hometown of Chicago, suffered a small fracture in his right elbow on March 16 that will sideline him for the rest of the regular season.
But Wade still hopes to return for the playoffs. Going into Thursday’s play, the Bulls stood ninth in the Eastern Conference, 1˝ games behind the Indiana Pacers for the eighth and final spot.
Asked if he’d counseled former Miami Heat teammate Wade through the injury, James said, “He has to counsel me, he’s the oldest. He’s the oldest of the crew between me, him, CP and Melo. Ain’t nobody counsel him, he knows what he’s doing.”
James said he and his close friends, which also includes the Clippers’ Chris Paul and the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, talk three to four times a week.
The Spanish voice of the Cavs, Rafa Hernandez Brito, will call the NCAA Men’s Final Four in Glendale, Ariz., for ESPN Deportes.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.