It's January and that means the LeBron James-led Cavaliers have finished the season. OK, so there's still plenty of basketball left to play, but that hasn't stopped Cleveland in the past from doing just enough to get by during portions of the season they don't consider important.
For James, the Cavaliers can't get away with doing that this season. The Eastern Conference looks extremely competitive and an argument can even be made that it's starting to catch up to the West. James has noticed this improvement and says the Cavs need to get better. Via ESPN:
"I'm always concerned about other teams getting better and better," James said after Wednesday's loss. "But I'm more concerned about us getting better and better. That's the bigger thing. Washington and obviously this team right here, Miami is trying to get better and better, Toronto is playing exceptional basketball right now. The East is pretty damn good this year, and right now we're not so good. [We were] great, [now] not so good. See what happens next. But you've always got to be concerned with the competition, for sure."
James' comments came after their loss to the Celtics which was their fifth in seven games. This isn't the first time since his return to Cleveland that the Cavs have done this, but this is arguably the best the conference has ever been since he's returned to Cleveland. James would argue that last year's Celtics team was a legitimate threat to his Cavs, and were impacted by Isaiah Thomas' hip injury. However, last season felt like a guaranteed rematch between the Cavs and Warriors from opening night.
This season feels different. Maybe it's because of an offseason that featured an absurd number of players changing teams via trades or free agency, and everybody swinging for the fences. But teams like the Raptors are legitimate. The Celtics overhauled their roster and look more competitive than ever. The Pacers, when Victor Oladipo is healthy, look fantastic. The Pistons are a surprise. The East is better this year. LeBron is fully aware and he wants to be sure the Cavs don't get caught up in old habits and fall behind some of these surprises.