- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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CLEVELAND -- As LeBron James embarks on his 10th trip to the postseason Sunday in what he hopes will finish with his fifth straight appearance in the Finals (and sixth overall) there is a degree of trepidation mixed in with his excitement.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers' 34-9 record to close out the regular season was an ample sample size to prove his team's legitimacy, James is quite cognizant of the fact that half of the Cavs' principle eight-man rotation have zero playoff experience to their credit heading into Game 1 against the Boston Celtics.
"I think from top to bottom, we're just very balanced team and we have experience with youth and I think that's a great combination in the postseason," James said this week as part of a wide-ranging sit-down interview with ESPN. "One thing that scares me a little bit is just us coming together for the first time, our experience.
"We have guys that have played experienced basketball, but then we have guys that we have to rely on a lot that haven't played experienced basketball and that's Kevin Love, that's Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson that've never played a postseason game. So, that kind of scares me a little bit. But at the same time it scares me, [there is a feeling] of excitement as well, and not much of failure.
"I don't fear failure in my teammates, but I fear just them never been a part of it. You can talk about the postseason. You can watch games of the postseason. You can clip it. You can watch film. But until you actually get out there, that's the only way you can really understand what it's about it."
The playoffs will be a whole new ballgame for Cavs coach David Blatt as well. Despite his championship accomplishments in the Euroleague, Israeli League, Adriatic League and the Italian League overseas, he admitted recently he has never coached a team in a best-of-seven playoff format like the NBA uses. James spoke about the transformation his relationship with Blatt has undergone from late December when he said, "I don't pay no bills around here, I play," to late February when he told reporters in Washington, "I respect him as a coach and he respects me as the leader of this team. And we got some good chemistry right now."
What changed in the span of two months?
"What changed, I think you just look at the dates, it's just how the presence of time [affected the relationship]," James said. "I think Dec. 29, they were just trying to figure out someone to blame and I think Coach was doing the best job he could under the situation and then you go to February, I think he's still doing the best job he can.
The one thing about Coach, he's learned every single day and I'm always happy to see him every day and to see him grow every day. I mean, if you just see the first day of practice to now, it's night and day and you can respect a guy that continues to work and continues to learn and a guy that knows a lot, but still wants to learn even more."
James' relationship with Love has also been intriguing from the outside, from Love admitting that the two were "not best friends" and endorsing Russell Westbrook for MVP, to James admitting he directed a tweet about "fitting in" toward Love and then, just this week, sarcastically saying that he would vote for Love for MVP.
Despite the apparent disconnect, James spoke about how important it is for him to personally get Love involved in the postseason.
"It's my utmost responsibility," James said. "I think Kevin has not had the season that he's accustomed to having the past few years, but in order for us to win, Kevin Love has to play at a high level and it's my job to help him get to that point as well. And I'm looking forward to seeing what he can bring to our team in the postseason. I know he's very excited, what is it, Year 7 for him? He's going to make his first appearance [in the playoffs] this weekend. So, I'm looking forward to it. I'm happy to be part of his first encounter with the postseason."
Knowing no doubt what his back-to-back championships in Miami did to make over his own reputation, James added, "My responsibility to get the best out of [Love] is ultimately going to define who he is."
James was also asked about his statement in his Sports Illustrated essay co-authored with Lee Jenkins this summer when he wrote about his return to Cleveland, "It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010," and if the sentiment still applied considering the Cavs enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the East after boasting the best record in the league from Jan. 15 until the end of the season.
"I'm very excited with the position that we're in," James said. "I'm never pleased. I can never be pleased until the end result. And I'm never satisfied. I demand excellence out of myself. I demand excellence out of the people around me. And so, I think the process is still going to be a long process even though we're in the position that we're in today.
"So, the expectations are a little bit changed now because we've played better basketball, but we're still a first-year team coming together and I wouldn't put all the expectations on us on a first-year team that's still learning each other every day -- both on and off the floor. But, it's the postseason and we have a chance. And that's all you can ask."
As LeBron James embarks on his 10th trip to the postseason Sunday in what he hopes will finish with his fifth straight appearance in the Finals (and sixth overall) there is a degree of trepidatio