The Cleveland Cavaliers could only watch enviously as LeBron James made a run at another NBA title in Miami.
The Atlanta Hawks were trying to move on after a tough loss in the opening round of the playoffs.
My, how things have changed from a year ago in the Eastern Conference.
James returned to Cleveland last summer and turned the Cavaliers into instant title contenders. The Hawks pulled off a remarkable turnaround in Mike Budenholzer’s second season as coach, winning 60 games to claim the top seed in the East.
On Wednesday night, the teams will meet in Game 1 of the conference final.
For James, it’s championship or bust.
“I just try to lead these guys,” he said. “I just want them to be great. “
James, who won two titles with the Heat and lost in the NBA Finals his other two years, came back to Cleveland — where he started — looking to lead Cavaliers to their first championship.
He is halfway there, with the top-seeded Hawks standing in his way.
“He’s got his eyes on the prize,” Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore said after practice Tuesday. “We’ve got to go through him to get where we want to go.”
During his first seven seasons, James transformed the Cavaliers into one of the league’s top teams. But they made it to the Finals only one time, getting swept by San Antonio in 2007.
Now, he wants to bring a celebration to his de facto hometown.