NBA

LeBron James is feeling the pressure of great expectations

A loss to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday dropped the Cleveland Cavaliers to fifth in the Eastern Conference

LeBron James hopped on a private jet after another Cleveland Cavaliers loss Thursday and headed to a friendly, fun weekend.

It could still end up that way between now and Sunday's NBA All-Star game at Madison Square Garden, but you could feel the strain in his voice Friday at media day.

"Unbelievable pressure, man," he said.

Several months ago, oddsmakers handed the Cavaliers the 2015 NBA championship before it was ever played.

Kevin Love! Kyrie Irving! James coming home! Oops.

They played much better recently after a 19-20 start but slipped off the treadmill Thursday in Chicago, a 113-98 loss dropping the Cavaliers to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has a huge lead, followed by surprisingly resilient Toronto, the plenty-talented Bulls and the still-hanging-around Washington Wizards.

Um, LeBron?

"I carry a lot of responsibility. I understand that," he said. "I'm going to do the best job that I can."

James added to an already full plate when he was elected as a vice president of the NBA Players Assn. on Friday.

He invited plenty of criticism by jumping ship to Miami in 2010 and has remained a heavily probed, if sometimes confusing, figure despite leaving the Heat last summer to return to Cleveland.

His cryptic note to his 18-million-plus Twitter followers became a bizarre case in itself last weekend: "Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts"

In front of TV cameras and a slew of reporters seeking clarification Sunday, James initially denied it was meant for Love, who has definitely not fit in well in his first season with Cleveland.

Then James told a small group of lingering reporters that the tweet was "not a coincidence, man," according to ESPN.com. It was meant for Love.

But he quickly went back to denial mode on Twitter, chastising reporters by saying, "I like u guys a lot [Media] but don't try and make a story cause it looks good. If I have a problem with a teammate or anyone I'll say [it] to their face and not over social media. That's corny and wack! So good try again my friends [Media], I still love you guys."

There were some lighter moments Friday for James, who was asked by a male TV producer, apparently a Cleveland native, for a hug.

"Um, yeah. Off camera," James said to the producer, who was with the "Late Show with David Letterman."

He was also asked what he would get his sweetheart for Valentine's Day (he demurred) and, from a glass-getting-fuller reporter, whether the Cavaliers (33-22) had turned the tide before falling to Chicago without Love, who had an eye injury.

"The problem sometimes in sports is everyone wants instant success," James said. "And I understand, being a part of the process before, that it takes time … especially a new team to jell. That's exactly what we were going through. We didn't know each other on the floor and off the floor. Over the last month or so, it's flipped. It has to do a lot of just us gaining each other's trust, learning each other."

Former players-turned-analysts weren't so impressed with Cleveland winning 14 of its last 16 games going into the break. After Thursday's game, Charles Barkley picked Chicago to win the East and fellow TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal picked Atlanta.

"Cleveland came out and messed around during this game," O'Neal said. "Their attitude was probably that Chicago will only be up one game [in the standings] and that they can get it back after the All-Star break. May work, may not work."

James, 30, has the ability to move NBA mountains, and it was his request that basically doubled the length of the All-Star break after getting a sympathetic ear from Commissioner Adam Silver.

James wants more rest, James gets more rest.

But downtime in late May or early June wouldn't appease any of the Cavaliers' long-suffering fans.

In the foreground on James' Twitter page is the pledge that "I promise to never forget where I came from."

Cavaliers fans won't forget either if this doesn't turn out well for the Akron, Ohio, native. Imagine the fallout if Miami ended up taking the best years of James' basketball life.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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