LeBron James says he's better, on track to return

CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James stood in the locker room wearing shower sandals instead of sneakers as the Cavaliers got ready to play another game without him.

The only pain he's feeling these days is from not being on the court.

One week into getting treatment on a strained back and knee, the four-time NBA MVP said his body is responding well to the rest and rehab and he expects to return soon.

James said the injuries have bothered him throughout his first season back in Cleveland and he finally relented and decided to get rest.

''I haven't felt great all year,'' he said. ''I've had spurts where one or two games I felt good and after that I was just pushing through it. I've been a competitive guy and want to be out there for my teammates. I feel better right now than I've felt for the majority of the season.''

James said it was difficult to step away and not play, but he had no choice.

''I finally just listened to my body ultimately,'' he said. ''It was affecting my game. Once I started seeing my game being affected by my stubbornness, then I looked myself in the mirror and understand I have to do what's best for me. It was one of the hardest but smartest decisions I've made.''

James intends to travel with the Cavaliers on their upcoming five-game West Coast trip. The Cavs initially targeted Jan. 15 as James' return date, and he appears to be on track.

''It helps that we're going to some warmer cities so my body could use that as well,'' he said, smiling.

James feels his knee and back injuries are related.

''It's all a correlation,'' he said. ''I think it all works together for some odd reason. I just think my back and my knee was all working together and my back is feeling a little better, my knee is feeling a little better. I think we're on pace to get back as close to 100 percent as possible. So, I'm excited about what this next week brings.''

While James has been out, the Cavs pulled off two major trades. The team acquired guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks on Monday as a part of a three-team deal that sent guard Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City. On Wednesday, the Cavs dealt two first-round picks to Denver for center Timofey Mozgov, giving Cleveland the rim-protecting big man it has needed all season and filling a void that became greater when Anderson Varejao went down with an Achilles injury.

James was sorry to see Waiters go, but understands the business of the NBA can be brutal.

''The additions that we had the last couple days I think are going to benefit us a lot,'' he said. ''I think J.R. is a guy who spaces the floor for us, who can create his own shot and a very athletic guy who I think he has 51 playoff games, so that definitely helps us in experience.

''Shump is a young guy who I believe can conform himself into what (Chicago's) Jimmy Butler was a few years ago, just a guy who can go out there and you put him on the best offensive player and he's going to try to contain him the best way he can.''

The Cavs have not lived up to expectations, but James said the re-shaped roster doesn't mean the team is re-setting its season.

''No, we don't start from square one,'' he said. ''The guys coming now will just have to learn on the fly. The good thing is we're bringing in some guys who have played some basketball. I know Mozgov played for coach Blatt on the (Russian) national team. That helps with his relationship with Coach. J.R. has probably seen every system even though coach Blatt has brought a different system from overseas, he'll get adjusted pretty fast and I'm sure Shumpert will as well.

''We won't start from scratch. We don't have time to start from scratch, but it is still a process.''

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