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Distractions engulf James as Cavs prepare for Rockets

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Houston Rockets are rolling, molding themselves into a deep, explosive team capable of challenging the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers' best player, meanwhile, is merely trying to beat back rumors that he may join the Warriors this summer.
LeBron James dismissed as "nonsense" a report Thursday from ESPN that he would "take" a meeting with the Warriors in free agency if they cleared the cap space to give him a max contract.

James can become a free agent if he declines his $35.6 million contract option with the Cavaliers.

"I ain't never said that," James said. "I never said I would sit down with Golden State or sit down with anybody."

James said "the Golden State conversation is a non-story, all the other conversations is a non-story.

"My focus right now is on this team and trying to figure out how we can get back to a fourth NBA Finals and compete for a championship," he said.

The James-Warriors story was, of course, a huge story for its implications. On the one hand is James giving thought to joining the team he's battled in the last three Finals (according to cleveland.com, James has confided in people close to him that he would in fact never play for the Warriors).

On the other is the broader implication that James is preparing to leave Cleveland for a second time. Speculation grew on that front during a tumultuous January for the Cavs in which they went 6-8 and were beaten by 24 or more points three times.

Cleveland was six games in back of Boston in the East when play began Friday.

"I'm right here, I'm right now and this is my present and this is where I'm at," James said. "If you don't hear something coming from my voice, then it's not true. I don't give a damn how close they are, I don't care if it's my kids, or my wife or whatever. If it's not from me, it's not true."

The Rockets beat Cleveland 117-113 on Nov. 7. Chris Paul didn't play in that game for Houston and Kevin Love was out there for the Cavs.

For this one, Paul is healthy and will be out there playing alongside James Harden against a Cleveland team that struggles to guard the perimeter. Love, meanwhile, is out eight weeks with a broken bone in his left hand.

The Rockets, who trail the Warriors by 2.5 games in the West, won their third straight and seventh out of the last eight when they beat San Antonio 102-91 on Thursday.

"It's a great step," Harden said. "All night defensively we were locked in. We just got stops. We knew at some point they were going to make a run, especially in that second half. We held our composure."

Harden has scored 88 points in his last two games, including his 60-point outburst in a triple-double against Orlando. Harden posted 35 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in the last game against the Cavs.

"They're a very good team," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "I think they've gotten better defensively. I think the addition of CP has really helped them so now you can stagger him and Harden as far as playing minutes and you really don't lose a lot of productivity."
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