OAKLAND, Calif. — LeBron James spent Memorial Day with his kids enjoying some barbecue. Once the grill got turned off, the television went on and he tuned in to study Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
Golden State at Houston.
James had no doubt who would win.
“Going against the Warriors in the last three years in the finals, I kind of figured or thought that they could get it done,” James said. “Just because of the 18 of a possible 21 finals games that I’ve played against them in the last three years, I figured that they could make it happen. Just their championship DNA.”
He was right. And Warriors-Cavs IV now awaits.
The NBA Finals are now as much a part of James’ calendar each year as birthdays and holidays. He’s always there, now eight consecutive years and counting, the last four of those with the Warriors standing in the way of James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. Game 1 is Thursday night, and even with James playing at absurd levels the Cavs find themselves as significant underdogs.
James is averaging 34 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists in these playoffs. Anything less than that, and he’d have a lot more time for those barbecues with his kids. And in this series, even more might be required if he’s to win his fourth ring in the past seven years.
“He doesn’t walk around acting like he’s carrying a team, like he’s carrying an organization,” Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver said. “He doesn’t walk around like that. I mean, he knows he’s LeBron James, and he knows who he is. But he’s really for all of his teammates. He’s always talking to guys, trying to help them get better. He’s a really great leader.”
That’s one of the countless areas where James has gotten better — one of the countless reasons why the finals are now an annual rite for him.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr remembers watching the last Miami-San Antonio title matchup in 2014 when the Spurs basically dared James to shoot the ball from the perimeter by sliding under every screen the Heat would set for him.
The Spurs won that series in five games. They made it look easy at times, too.
“Contrast that to now where he’s shooting fadeaway 3s from 30 feet to close games out,” Kerr said. “I think his confidence level in his shot is the biggest thing. But I think it is pretty remarkable when you’ve got a guy who is already considered one of the top few players ever to play the game can make that much improvement late in his career. It’s a testament to his work ethic and to his work on his skillset.”
The Warriors have more talent, by a very wide margin. They have four All-Stars — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. They have former MVPs in Curry and Durant. They have a former Finals MVP coming off their bench, or rather they will when Andre Iguodala returns from the bone bruise that has kept him sidelined of late.
The Cavaliers have James.
That represents hope. He makes the Cavs better. He even makes the Warriors better.
“LeBron’s one of those guys that in order for you to be great like that, you’ve got to do it, day after day after day,” Durant said. “A lot of people don’t have that mental capacity to even think about being that great every day, you know what I’m saying? So that’s inspiration right there. That’s just motivation to be the best that you can be as well.”
Once that TV went on Monday night, James locked in on this series.
Around-the-clock treatment on his body Tuesday, including 4 1/2 hours of it on the team’s flight to San Francisco. Treatment and workouts on Wednesday. Treatments and pregame shooting on Thursday. Then game time.
Unlike that Rockets-Warriors game, he doesn’t know what will happen in Game 1.
But he’s ready. He’s always ready.
“The level that I can play at is to be seen, but the level that I put into the game and put into my craft is who I am,” James said. “So numbers and things like that kind of take care of itself. But for me, I understand and I know how much I put into the game. So everything else is OK.”