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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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James, Cavs join the crowd in pursuit of San Antonio

LeBron James may have a new team stocked with talent, but Kawhi Leonard’s Spurs are reigning NBA champions and the team to beat. (Associated Press)
Brian Mahoney Associated Press

LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Kevin Love joined him and suddenly the Cavaliers have the makings of the latest super team.

The San Antonio Spurs are already one.

No big changes were necessary for the Spurs, who simply kept the gang together. They brought back nearly every piece from the team that annihilated James and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals for their fifth championship.

James set off shortly after for a new start in his old home, where he will renew the quest for a title that’s eluded Cleveland’s pro teams for half a century. Today, the Spurs begin chasing about the only thing that’s escaped them in the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era: back-to-back titles.

“We know that every team is going to come out and give us everything they’ve got,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “We’ve got a bigger target on our chest now and that’s what we want. … We’ve got to take on the challenge and be the ultimate competitors that we are.”

Teams will be coming just as hard at the Cavaliers, who didn’t win much more than draft lotteries after James bolted for Miami in 2010. But they were elevated to instant Eastern Conference favorites when James joined Kyrie Irving, the MVP of the All-Star game and the Basketball World Cup, and Love, the longtime Minnesota Timberwolves star.

Irving and Love haven’t even played in a postseason game, but inexperience – or anything else – won’t work as an excuse now that James is back.

“It’s going to be a different challenge for them,” James said. “They were so accustomed to being the prey sneaking up on the predator. Now it kinda changes.”

James and the Spurs could meet a third straight June, a familiar NBA Finals plot with a new stage and co-stars. But both face significant challenges to get there.

Derrick Rose’s return could lead a running of the Bulls to the finals. Maybe Oklahoma City, once MVP Kevin Durant recovers from a broken foot, or the Los Angeles Clippers, looking to pay back record-spending new owner Steve Ballmer with a title, could stand in the Spurs’ way.

“I don’t see it as a big question mark in the East. LeBron and Love and Irving will be in the Eastern Conference finals. I think Chicago will find their way there if their 2 and 3 hold up and if Rose is Rose again,” ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. “But out West, to me there are like five teams you could say, ‘I could see them advancing to the finals.’ ”

“I think we’re all right next to each other – other than the Spurs,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “They are better than all of us.”