Cavaliers Home Opener Tonight!


CLEVELAND (AP) - For the last time in the preseason, LeBron James huddled the Cleveland Cavaliers inside the center circle of their practice court on Tuesday and his singular voice filled the gym.

"One, two, three," James said.

"Championship," the Cavs responded.

The chase is on.

After getting within one victory of the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Cavaliers believe this could be their time to finish on top of the NBA. They'll open their season on Wednesday against the Washington Wizards, a team they defeated in a tense opening-round series in May.

Five months later, a national TV audience and more than 20,000 frenzied fans will pack Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where downtown office buildings will stay lit up late for the world to see.

This isn't any ordinary opening night for the Cavaliers.

"We're looking at it as step one to winning the championship," forward Donyell Marshall said. "We feel something special. We're not going to guarantee we're going to win anything. One of the first steps to winning a championship is having that confidence that we can do it. We have that confidence."

James begins his fourth year more of a marked man than ever. The 21-year-old has delivered on all his promises since joining the Cavaliers, elevating them from 17 wins in the season before his arrival to legit title contenders.

That's a lofty position for a franchise that has never made the NBA finals, and James understands what comes with being among the elite.

"You get everybody wanting to come after you," he said. "We can't sneak up on nobody and get wins. We've got the bull's-eye on our backs. I went through this whole scenario when I was in high school."

James played as if he was still enrolled at Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary during the playoff series against Washington. After recording a triple-double in his postseason debut, he averaged 35.7 points, 7.5 points and 5.7 assists in the series and made game-winning shots in Games 3 and 5.

The Washington-Cleveland series was as tight as could be. Three of the six games were decided by 1 point - all wins by the Cavaliers - and the last two went into overtime, a fact that didn't help James break his fingernail-chewing habit.

Game after game, James dueled shot for shot with Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards' All-Star guard, who stood at the free-throw line with a chance to put Washington up by two points with 15 seconds left in Game 6.

After Gilbert missed his first try, James sidled up to his friend and delivered a warning.

"You miss both of these, the game is over," James said.

Arenas misfired on his second shot, and after a timeout, James swung the ball into the corner for Damon Jones, who had just stepped onto the floor and nailed a 20-footer that advanced the Cavaliers.

Asked about his, er, Jamesmanship on Tuesday, Cleveland's superstar only wanted to look ahead.

"It's over and done with," James said. "It's a new season."

However, that won't stop the Wizards from seeking some vengeance in the opener.

"They have a lot to prove," said Cavs guard Larry Hughes, who used to play for the Wizards. "They felt they should have won the series. We felt like the outcome was the way it was supposed to be."

Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said the key for his team is to treat the opener like any normal game.

"Hopefully we can stay focused and not look at it as this is the team that beat us, not look at it as a revenge game," he said.

Hughes, who had two surgeries on his right middle finger and missed 46 games last season, likely will be assigned to guarding Arenas. The two once battled on a daily basis in practice and Hughes expects his buddy, who averaged 29.4 points per game last season, to be extra motivated.

"He's going to come out like a mad man," Hughes said. "Especially in the first game playing on TV against the team he lost to in the playoffs."

The Cavaliers have put in place a new motion offense, one designed to take some pressure off James, who led or tied for the team scoring lead in 72 games last season. Second-year coach Mike Brown said the team's halfcourt sets will have more options, but it's still a work in progress."

Since their Game 7 loss to Detroit last spring, Cleveland's players have all been on the same page when it comes to this season's goal: winning a championship.

Guard David Wesley, a 14-year veteran who signed as a free agent in September, has been down the title road with teams before. He understands the challenges ahead, how one injury can change a season's course and that discussing a championship has nothing to do with winning one.

"We can talk about it all we want," he said. "But unless we work hard and things go our way, it will be just lip service."