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LeBron James praises improved Eastern Conference competition amid slump

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The Cavs will have to actually earn the one seed, it seems.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Cavaliers are in the middle of a slump, having lost five of their last seven games. There’s plenty of excuses, with a tougher schedule, a road trip, re-integrating talent into the team as everybody finally gets healthy.

With that said, they don’t have a ton of time to figure it out amid a tough schedule in January, as the East is, stunningly, pretty competitive this year.

LeBron has noticed, and complimented the improved quality of teams around the top of the conference, via ESPN:

“I’m always concerned about other teams getting better and better,” James said after Wednesday’s loss. “But I’m more concerned about us getting better and better. That’s the bigger thing. Washington and obviously this team right here, Miami is trying to get better and better, Toronto is playing exceptional basketball right now. The East is pretty damn good this year, and right now we’re not so good. [We were] great, [now] not so good. See what happens next. But you’ve always got to be concerned with the competition, for sure.”

To some extent, this is probably lip service from James - he knows the Cavs are overwhelmingly likely to return to the Finals for the fourth straight year and his eighth. That doesn’t mean there’s no cause for concern.

The Celtics now have a 4.5 game lead on Cleveland in the East, and the Cavs, as noted, could slip further as they go through a tough January. The Cavs have played the easiest schedule in the league so far - that’s about to change.

The Celtics aren’t the only team Cleveland is chasing. The Raptors are 2.5 games up on the Cavs, and while home-court advantage has never been Cleveland’s top priority, having it in only one series out of four in the playoffs seems like a little more friction than the Cavs would like to deal with.

This coming stretch will, in a lot of ways, define the direction the season goes - the trade deadline is coming, and the team may be prepared to make a move based on what they see in January.