Cavaliers face tough March ahead


CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James rarely gets caught off guard. But time flies when you’re having fun, and the year’s shortest month blew by for James and the Cavaliers.

“It’s over? February is over, huh?” James asked late Monday night. “Yeah, that sucks. It’s been a great month for our team.”

After a jarring January during which the Cavs went 7-8 and James criticized the team’s roster for being “top heavy” and challenged general manager David Griffin to find him some help, Cleveland returned to championship form in February.

The Cavs went 9-2, and with an offense that now includes sharpshooter Kyle Korver and will soon add three-time All-Star guard Deron Williams to strengthen the second unit, they averaged a franchise-record 117.4 points per game.

“We just played good basketball,” said James, who scored 24 in Monday’s win over Milwaukee after missing one game with strep throat. “We got back to Cavalier basketball and to our DNA.”

Their genetic makeup has changed since the start of the season, and the Cavs may not be done mutating.

On Monday, Griffin completed his latest coup by signing Williams, who was waived by Dallas and came to Cleveland to chase a championship at the urging of Korver, his close friend and former Utah teammate.

And now that Williams (the team’s second “D-Will” after forward Derrick Williams signed a second 10-day contract) is on board, he’s trying to recruit center Andrew Bogut. The two played together with the Mavericks, and Bogut is now on Cleveland’s roster radar after being waived by Philadelphia.

“We’ve been in contact,” Williams said with a smile.

Bogut and his representatives have contacted several teams, and the Australian, who spent the past four seasons with Golden State and has been slowed by a knee injury, is expected to make a decision by Wednesday.

Getting the 7-foot Bogut isn’t essential, but the Cavs could use another big man while Kevin Love recovers from knee surgery and in the playoffs, when the tempo usually slows and games are often decided in the half-court.

Deron Williams appears to be a superb fit for the Cavs, whose biggest flaw has been a reliable backup point guard. The established veteran, who received a huge ovation when introduced to the fans on Monday, solves that and coach Tyronn Lue is eager to plug him in.

“We know he’s a great pick-and-roll player, so I can’t wait to get him acclimated to what we’re doing,” Lue said. “I’m very excited. He’s excited. Any time you’re a very good player and you get a chance to get a new start on a great team, it’s something you look forward to.”

Over the past month, Cleveland’s offense has opened, becoming the Eastern equivalent to Golden State’s splash show out West.

While Cleveland couldn’t match what the Warriors did in signing superstar Kevin Durant with one move, Griffin has adeptly positioned the Cavs to defend their crown by trading for Korver, one of the league’s best career 3-point shooters, and signing the two Williamses without giving up much. The champs have a deeper bench than they did a year ago, and the changes have more than satisfied James, who is aiming for his seventh straight visit to the NBA Finals.

And perhaps a third straight matchup with Golden State.

But that’s still a ways off and the Cavs are about to prepare for the playoffs with a daunting schedule that begins Wednesday with a visit to Boston, which trails Cleveland by four games for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference. They’ll play at Atlanta and Miami in back-to-back games this week, and there are road games at Houston, against the Los Angeles Clippers and in San Antonio — three of the current top five teams in the Western Conference.

“It’s the NBA, man,” Irving said of Cleveland’s upcoming gauntlet. “You have to love every part. Twelve games, especially on the road, in hostile environments and you have to love it.”

Speaking of Love, he is expected to be back later in March and so is guard J.R. Smith, who has been sidelined since late December after thumb surgery.

The Cavs still aren’t whole, but they’re getting close. February helped fix them and James thinks March will be another strong test.

“It’s good,” he said. “The main thing that I’ve said from the beginning is our process and our health. If we can get healthy at the right time, get some games under our belt, it’s going to help us in the postseason. But right now we’re in a good rhythm and we just want to continue that.”