OAKLAND — Cleveland superstar LeBron James, as versatile and dangerous as any NBA player, is a focus of the Golden State Warriors as they prepare for Thursday’s start of the NBA Finals.
The Cavaliers are defending champions after James sparked the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, rallying Cleveland from 3-1 down to win last year’s best-of-seven series in a dramatic winner-take-all showdown at Oakland, California.
James became the first player to lead an NBA Finals in every major statistical category with 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocked shots a game last year.
This season, at age 32, James averaged 26.4 points plus career highs of 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists as well as a league-high 37.8 minutes on the court a game.
As dangerous a scorer as he is from outside or driving to the hoop, James also threatens by being able to find teammates such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with passes when defenders focus too much on him.
“You can’t stop LeBron,” said Mike Brown, the Golden State assistant coach guiding the team while head coach Steve Kerr recovers from complications after back surgery.
“He’s going to score. He’s going to get other players involved in the scoring by passing the ball off. So you’ve got to make him work as hard as he can. He can’t have an easy game.”
Brown, who once coached James with the Cavaliers, has emphasized perseverance when dealing with James, especially since Kevin Durant will be dealing with him much of the time.
“LeBron is going to get his points and so is Kyrie. You’ve just got to try and make it tough on them,” Durant said. “You can’t get discouraged.
“They are a strong team and they are playing well. They have chemistry. It has only gotten better all year. We’ve got to work hard at practice and when the game comes on, get out there and go play.”
The Cavaliers flew into San Francisco on Tuesday, taking a team photo once they arrived that Cleveland forward Kevin Love posted on Instagram.
Oddsmakers have the Warriors favored to dethrone Cleveland as the Cavaliers did to them a year ago, but the snub gives the Cavs something else to prove.
“We’ll use it as fuel, use it as motivation,” Love said. “We’re defending our title. We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do.
“I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them. I think they would say the same thing about us.”
Golden State, which boasted the NBA’s top scoring squad this season, is off to a record 12-0 playoff start with an average win margin of 16.3 points. Cleveland is 12-1 in the playoffs, winning by an average of 13.6 points.
© Agence France-Presse
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