According to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, James made sure to stress to his teammates the importance of keeping their focus on beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday and the Clippers on Sunday rather than enjoying off-court activities in Southern California.
"His main message was that this is a business trip," J.R. Smith told Haynes. "Are we going to have fun? Absolutely, but first things first. We're going to take care of business, and that's playing the way we know how to play. Fortunately, we took heed of his message and played the way we were supposed to."
James talked about his team's mentality, per Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal: “This was a business trip and we did get an opportunity to be in a great city, but at the end of the day we knew what the main thing was, and that was to continue the momentum that we’ve been on, so we came out and took care of business.”
Cleveland is 3-0 on its current West Coast road trip thanks to those two wins and a 120-111 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. It finishes the swing Monday with a contest at the Utah Jazz, but the game against the Clippers looked like a scheduled trap game headed into it.
After all, Lloyd noted the Cavaliers had some time to kill near the Los Angeles nightlife between the Thursday showdown with the Lakers and Sunday’s game. He suggested “it was fair to wonder what type of condition” they would be in for an early tipoff (12:30 p.m. PT).
When asked if an early game would be a concern for Cleveland, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t think it would be a problem, per Lloyd, “unless L.A. did its job [Saturday] night. Let’s go L.A.”
Lloyd pointed to Smith in particular as someone who used to struggle with early Sunday games when he was on the New York Knicks because he enjoyed the weekend nightlife. However, Smith drilled five of his eight three-point attempts against the Clippers on his way to 17 points and seemed to get the message, as the quote Haynes shared indicated.
Elsewhere, big man Tristan Thompson posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds against the Clippers and was an important part of a Cleveland frontcourt that had to deal with DeAndre Jordan. Jordan finished with 11 boards as well, but that was less than his Western Conference-leading average of 14 a game.
Thompson said, per Haynes, “He (LeBron) just said having a couple of days off in L.A., we had to be professionals and getting our rest. Obviously you want to enjoy the weather and the atmosphere of being on the West Coast, but at the same time, we’re here for business and being professionals.”
The Cavaliers are now 6-1 in their last seven games and 47-18 overall on the season. The defending Eastern Conference champions' recent success is making past signs of trouble seem less worrisome.
James openly pined for Joe Johnson before the latter signed with the Miami Heat and indicated he was willing to play more power forward with the sharpshooter in the lineup, per Haynes. What’s more, Chris Mannix of The Vertical reported there were chemistry issues between James and fellow star Kyrie Irving, and the King even stirred up some controversy with his cryptic tweeting.
The Cavaliers are always going to be in the headlines because of James' star power and his pursuit of a title for the home-state team that drafted him. Still, winning could be a cure-all for any lingering off-court issues.
They are playing catch-up to the 59-6 Golden State Warriors (just like everyone else in the league) after finishing the season 0-2 against the team that also beat them in last season’s NBA Finals, but the Cavaliers appear to be hitting their form with the playoffs around the corner.
James’ message appeared to work, and his team may just get another chance at the Warriors come June if it continues to play this well.