Mon­ster mash

LeBron James un­daunted by beastly War­riors

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY TOM WITHERS

There’s a four-headed, shot­mak­ing, scoreboard-break­ing mon­ster out West await­ing LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

The War­riors are stom­achchurn­ing scary.

James, though, can’t run or hide. With eight NBA Fi­nals ap­pear­ances un­der his belt, he is ready to face a team he’s called “a beast.” After all, he has slayed be­he­moths be­fore.

Push­ing off any talk about the War­riors un­til after Sun­day’s prac­tice, James was asked to as­sess the task at hand: beat­ing Golden State’s All-Star-stud­ded lineup of Kevin Du­rant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thomp­son and Dray­mond Green.

Is this the big­gest chal­lenge of his ca­reer?

“It’s prob­a­bly up there,” he said. “I mean, it’s up there.”

And then, al­most as if he was try­ing to re­mind him­self that he’s got three cham­pi­onship rings and is fright­ful in his own right, James re­called other fear­some post-sea­son op­po­nents – San An­to­nio and Bos­ton.

“I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well, too, with Manu (Gi­no­bili), Kawhi (Leonard), Tony (Parker) and Timmy D (Tim Dun­can) on the same team,” said James, oc­ca­sion­ally snif­fling as he con­tin­ues to fight a cold.

“And if you add Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) in there, that’s five Hall of Famers. So, it’s go­ing to be very chal­leng­ing. Those guys are go­ing to chal­lenge me, they’re go­ing to chal­lenge our ball club.

“This is a high-pow­ered team.” James also took on a Celtics team loaded with big­name tal­ents.

“I’ve played against Ray (Allen), KG (Kevin Gar­nett), Paul (Pierce), (Ra­jon) Rondo and Doc (Rivers). So, it’s go­ing to be very chal­leng­ing not only on me men­tally, but on our ball club and on our fran­chise.”

Cleveland-Golden State 3.0 is the matchup fans world­wide ex­pected and wanted, and James be­lieves they’re in for quite a show.

Both the Cavaliers and War­riors have up­graded their ros­ters from a year ago, when they went seven games in an epic se­ries that spawned the first come­back from a 3-1 deficit in Fi­nals his­tory and re­sulted in Cleveland win­ning its first pro sports cham­pi­onship since 1964.

That War­riors team James con­quered in 2016 won 73 games dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and was be­ing men­tioned as one of the best to ever take the floor.

Hard to be­lieve, but this ver­sion – with Du­rant – might be even bet­ter.

Golden State has been putting on a bas­ket­ball clinic dur­ing the past two months, win­ning 27 of 28 games since March 11 and be­com­ing the first squad to start the post-sea­son 12-0.

Du­rant, who pre­vi­ously faced James in the 2012 Fi­nals with Ok­la­homa City, has taken a great team and el­e­vated it to a nearly un­stop­pable level.

The War­riors are us­ing Du­rant in ev­ery imag­in­able way on of­fence, and James isn’t sur­prised to see his good friend and Olympic team­mate more mo­bile than he was with the Thun­der.

“You adapt to the cul­ture,” he said. “You adapt to the style and that’s the same thing that hap­pened to me when I went to Mi­ami. I started to slash more and move more with­out the ball, shoot more stand­still threes and fig­ure out ways I could be more pro­duc­tive than just hav­ing the ball in iso­la­tion. So, it’s the right thing to do. He’s one of the most dan­ger­ous guys we have in the world al­ready. So it makes it even more dan­ger­ous when you equip that tal­ent, that skill with those guys.”

On the brink of be­com­ing the first player since the early 1960s to play in seven straight Fi­nals, James finds him­self in a sim­i­lar – and some­what sur­pris­ing – sit­u­a­tion. The Cavaliers are be­ing given lit­tle chance to de­fend their ti­tle against the vaunted War­riors, who have been win­ning by an av­er­age of 16.3 points per game in the play­offs.

For the sixth time, James en­ters the Fi­nals as an un­der­dog, hardly a role he’s ac­cus­tomed to be­fore June. The only time he won a cham­pi­onship as a Fi­nals favourite was with Mi­ami in 2013, when the Heat up­ended the Spurs for their sec­ond straight ti­tle.

James isn’t wor­ried about point spreads or any odds.

“I only play black­jack in Ve­gas any­way, so it doesn’t mat­ter,” he said.

AP PHOTO

Cleveland Cavaliers for­ward LeBron James, right, soars to the bas­ket over Bos­ton Celtics for­ward Jae Crow­der, left, and cen­tre Kelly Olynyk dur­ing Game 5 of the NBA semi­fi­nals.

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