CLEVELAND (AP) -In a quiet moment after another leisurely win in a so-far-perfect season at home, LeBron James was still in a defensive stance.
Peeling ice wraps off his knees, the extraordinary James was struggling to comprehend how he could be the only Cleveland player chosen to represent his team at the All-Star game in Phoenix. He was voted in by fans, but Cavaliers point guard Mo Williams, who has become James' long-sought sidekick, was snubbed first by coaches - and later by commissioner David Stern.
For James, who has added devastating blocked shots to his wondrous all-around game this season, Williams' rejection was unacceptable - but not unexpected.
``That's how they always treat us,'' he said. ``They wouldn't take me (as an All-Star) if they didn't have to.''
In an NBA universe where the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers rule the galaxy, the Cavaliers, who have been to the finals just once since 1970, are seen by most as a passing comet.
pable force and clear MVP front-runner, a 23-0 record inside Quicken Loans Arena and a double-digit lead over Detroit in the Central Division, Cleveland's NBA team gets little run or respect.
``For some reason, it seems like you hear about other teams and we always come up short,'' said center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a Cavalier since 1996 who has witnessed the team's ascent since James arrived. ``Part of it is because we are in a small market with LeBron, and you always hear about the big-city teams. But it's OK for us. We'll keep piling up wins.
``Sooner or later they're going to have to deal with us.''
Obeying coach Mike Brown's defense-wins-titles dogma, the Cavaliers are in the midst of their greatest season and making even the most forlorn Cleveland sports fans believe that 2009 might be THE year the championship drought, now 45 years old, finally ends.
Convincing those living beyond Cleveland that this can become a title town has been a tougher sell.
Boston and Los Angeles. The Celtics and the Lakers. Kobe and K.G. One season removed from renewing their storied rivalry in the finals, the league's signature teams have been on target toward another collision in June. A reprise, and wouldn't that make television executives smile, has seemed inevitable.
ions' stranglehold on a No. 1 playoff seed. And Orlando, another rising power, could lose point guard Jameer Nelson for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
The Cavs, meanwhile, have been cruising behind James and the best supporting cast he's had in six pro seasons. Cleveland has remained dominant despite losing Ilgauskas for 13 games with a broken ankle. Starting guard Delonte West has been out since early January with a wrist he busted in Chicago while trying to make a block on the kind of hustling play that defines these Cavaliers.
Cleveland hasn't lost two games in a row all season.
Still, there are doubters who point to the East's lack of quality depth (Cleveland is 23-7 in the conference) and a 1-3 record against the Celtics, Magic and Lakers (Los Angeles visits on Sunday) as reasons to disregard the Cavaliers as a championship-caliber squad.
``You've got to be crazy to think they're not (contenders),'' Toronto forward Chris Bosh said after the Cavs racked up win No. 23 in a row at home this week by beating the Raptors. ``They're having a fantastic year. Nobody's beaten them here and that's the one thing they can really be confident about going into the playoffs.''
Cleveland's players don't talk about the perceived lack of respect and unless prompted. But when it's brought up, they offer theories for the second-class treatment.
metimes people might feel like we're only winning games because of LeBron, because he's doing everything,'' said reserve guard Daniel ``Boobie'' Gibson. ``But he has faith in us, and no one man can do it. We've been doing it by committee and we're going to continue to do it that way and show everybody that we are better than what you think.''
As great as James has been, it may be Williams who has transformed the Cavs.
The 6-foot-1 playmaker, acquired in a trade last summer from Milwaukee, has been a godsend.
``Everything we hoped for, and then some,'' general manager Danny Ferry said.
Williams has become Scottie Pippen to James' Michael Jordan, the complementary co-star who can not only create for James but take over when he's off the floor.
He did just that last Sunday. With James on the bench to start the fourth quarter, Williams led a 15-2 spurt that put away the Pistons, whose four-year run of division titles is weeks from concluding.
Williams, though, was denied a spot on the 12-man All-Star roster as coaches selected Nelson and New Jersey's Devin Harris to back up starter Allen Iverson. Williams was then overlooked a second time when Stern opted for Boston's Ray Allen to replace Nelson, who is contemplating season-ending surgery.
James took the initial snub of Williams as a flagrant foul against him and his teammates.
,'' he said. ``You look at all the teams with some of the better records in this league. Look at the Lakers, they have two All-Stars. Orlando, two (initially three) All-Stars. Boston, two (now three) All-Stars. San Antonio, two All-Stars. All the good teams in the league that have really good records and you look at us with just one All-Star.
``It's a total smack in the face.''
The Cavaliers swing back with each win. A close-knit group with a nice blend of experience and youth, they have stars who shine and substitutes who not only understand their roles, but relish them. This is a team on a mission with a player in James who knows he must win multiple NBA championships in order to be judged among the game's all-time greats.
Earlier this week, Brown, who will coach James and the East All-Stars, was sick and unable to make practice. But the Cavaliers didn't miss a beat while preparing for their next game.
``One of the great things about this team is that we have veteran players,'' Ilgauskas said. ``Yes, we need a head coach but we can also police ourselves. We won't let anybody get out of line and we know what is expected of us. Even if all the coaches were sick, we do some drills and get in our work. We have bigger goals.''
And, it seems, a sizable chip on their shoulders.

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