LeBron James knows what this time of year means. He lives for this time of year. It’s called the "playoff push," and it involves positioning yourself for a higher seed and home-court advantage in the postseason.
James knows all this. He’s lived it. He’s coming off four straight appearances in the Finals with the Miami Heat.
But some of James’ key teammates with today’s Cavaliers? Well, not so much. Unlike James, point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love have never experienced a run for the playoffs. They’ve never experienced the playoffs, period.
Get ready, James said Wednesday, when the Cavs returned to practice following the All-Star break.
"They have never been in this situation, where every game is meaningful," James said of his younger teammates. "It is now. It’s going to set them up for the postseason."
The Cavs (33-22) have 29 games remaining and hold the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. They start the post-break Friday at the Washington Wizards, owners of the No. 4 seed. And, oh, this will not be an easy task. Five of the next six games are on the road — and the lone one at home comes Feb. 26 against the Western Conference-leading Golden State Warriors.
"Obviously, I’ve never been a part of a playoff push before," said Irving, now in his fourth year. "You just have to learn from the guys that are ahead of me, guys that have experience and just take it from there. I haven’t experienced it yet. It’s my first time. Just do whatever they say and make it happen."
Along with James, Cavaliers reserves such as James Jones, Shawn Marion and Mike Miller own championship rings.
"They know how the intensity is going to rise," Irving said. "I just have to wait to experience it and go from there. I’m really excited. We have the same amount of wins at the break that we had all of last year. That was an accomplishment for me and my team, but now we have to gear up for something far bigger, and that’s a playoff run, a championship run."
This is also all new to another key member of the Cavs, and that would be none other than head coach David Blatt. Like Irving, Love, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, Blatt has never experienced the playoffs. That’s because this is his first season in the league in any capacity.
But his team has won 14 of 16, and he seems to have a firm grasp of what’s working.
"We have to try to stay focused on all the good things we were doing before the break and to be really, really passionate and professional in our approach to the last part of this season," Blatt said. "The guys are in a good state of mind. We are ready to go."
As for the break, James and Irving agreed it didn’t exactly feel like a lot of time off, considering both played in Sunday’s All-Star game in New York.