Sports

LeBron leads Cavs against Celtics

(SportsNetwork.com) - LeBron James didn't make any bold proclamations of success when he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers this past offseason.

But, the four-time MVP and two-time NBA Championship winner, vaulted the Cavs to a Central Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

They will host the Boston Celtics in their playoff opener Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena.

James, who opted out of the final two years of his contract with the Heat and left $42 million on the table, helped the Cavs end a four-year playoff drought and teamed up with All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Love, of course, landed in Cleveland after being dealt by Minnesota and the start of his new job didn't go so smoothly.

It took a while for everything to click, and after some criticism by James, the Cavs started to roll and later grabbed their fourth Central title in franchise history. The Cavaliers, who won 12 in a row from Jan. 15 to Feb. 5, started the season 19-20, then went on a 34-9 run over the final 43 games.

The Cavs took time to flourish under new coach David Blatt and even won 18 in a row at one point at Quicken Loans Arena.

"We've been playing the right way -- win, lose or draw -- we've played the right way," James said. "We've stuck to our system and I think it's built some great habits for us going into the postseason."

James, who was third in scoring with 25.3 ppg, is in line for another MVP honor and is the best in basketball. He has been to the last four NBA Finals as the Eastern Conference representative.

The Cavs made two major midseason trades. J.R. Smith has been sensational in the starting two-guard role and Timofey Mozgov replaced Anderson Varejao in the center spot. Iman Shumpert has been the best Cleveland wing from the bench.

Smith and Shumpert came from the New York Knicks, while Mozgov was acquired from Denver.

Meanwhile, the Celtics benefited from a weak East to reach the playoffs for a seventh time in the past eight years. They recorded 25 wins a year ago and are seven years removed from winning an NBA title.

Boston didn't make an impact on the postseason race until early February, when it opened a stretch of 14 wins over 20 games. It got a bit rough after that when the Celtics dropped five of seven games before ending the regular season on a high note and punching a ticket to the playoffs.

"To have a chance to compete against the very best in the league is a great opportunity," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of facing Cleveland.

The Celtics traded their top point guard in Rajon Rondo back in December, leaving backcourt duties to Avery Bradley and rookie Marcus Smart.

If there's any advantage the Celtics may have in this series, it's their bench. Isaiah Thomas was a major acquisition this season and will be relied upon heavily to put the ball into the basket. Thomas is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Boston led the NBA in bench points with 41.4 ppg, while Cleveland was last in second-unit scoring at 24.2 ppg.

The Celtics and Cavaliers split four meetings in the regular season. Boston eliminated Cleveland in six games in the 2010 semifinals and is 18-12 all-time against the Cavs in postseason play.