A turbulent few days for Irving ended on Thursday with him declaring the Cavs are the team to beat following their 107-87 win over the Brooklyn Nets on a night LeBron James moved into 12th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
The Cavs matched their 53 wins from last season with seven games left, but Irving is looking at a much, much bigger prize.
“Everything surrounding our team is just crazy to think that we’re still in first place and we’re still the team to beat, honestly,” Irving said.
“I feel like we’re the team to beat. It’s open season until we get into the playoffs. I have a lot more confidence than I think anyone realises in our team and what’s going on in our locker room.”
James scored 24 points and passed for 11 assists to pass Dominique Wilkins on the scoring list. James now has 26 689 points, leaving him 21 points behind Oscar Robertson and 11th place.
“I’ve been very durable throughout my career and I’ve played with some great teammates and two great organisations all my career that allowed me to put the ball in the basket,” James said.
Kevin Love had 19 points and 10 rebounds and Channing Frye scored 13 points off the bench for the Cavaliers, who lost to the Nets last weekend on the road.
Cleveland moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the idle Toronto Raptors for home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“When our regular season ends, we’ve had more good than bad,” James said. “We’ve played some really good basketball and we sit on top of the conference in a conference that’s really good right now. I’m never a guy that’s satisfied.
“I’m never satisfied with anything until you’re able to hoist the trophy, if you’re fortunate to do that, but I’m happy with the process. We still have some more time. We still got a few games where we can continue to get better.”
Irving scored 10 points and J.R. Smith had eight after both missed the morning shoot-around with an illness. Both were considered questionable, although coach Tyronn Lue said Irving’s situation had nothing to do with the personal issues he dealt with this week.
Irving took to social media late on Wednesday night to address his personal life after pictures of his ex-girlfriend, R&B singer Kehlani, were taken by her ex-boyfriend.
The photo went viral with speculation Kehlani had been unfaithful to Irving, but Irving clarified on his Twitter account the two were separated when the picture was taken. Irving said on Thursday the situation didn’t affect his focus on the court.
“I’ve been through a lot of adversity in my life,” he said. “There’s nothing anyone can say that I can’t get through. I’ve been through enough already in my short 24 years that most people can say for their whole entire lives.”
The Cavaliers outscored the Nets 25-6 when James re-entered the game in the second quarter to extend their lead to 63-39 at the break. They led by as many as 32 in the second half, allowing James and the rest of the starters to sit for the fourth quarter.
Thaddeus Young had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Nets, while Bojan Bogdanovic had 14 points and five rebounds. Shane Larkin had 13 points and eight assists while they rested starters Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
“We’re out of it (the playoff race) and they played great,” Nets interim coach Tony Brown said.
“That’s why they’re the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Credit to them, they made it hard on us defensively.”
The Nets shot 37 percent and have lost their last eight road games.
“We’re not getting it done on either end of the court,” Nets guard Donald Sloan said. “Guys are out there trying and fighting, but we have to have that from everybody in every situation. The first step toward changing it is getting everybody to have that same mindset.”