LeBron aim­ing for glory

James in top form as Cleve­land book their place in the fi­nals

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LeBron James isn’t just go­ing back to the NBA Fi­nals. He’s re­turn­ing with a team that’s healthy and whole, which makes this trip un­like last year. Maybe it will lead to a dif­fer­ent re­sult. James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 re­bounds, and the Cleve­land Cava­liers beat the Toronto Rap­tors 113-87 in game six of the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals, win­ning the se­ries 4-2.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and JR Smith added 15 for the Cava­liers, who will face the win­ner of the Golden State War­riors-Ok­la­homa City Thun­der se­ries be­gin­ning on Thurs­day.

Cleve­land would open at home against the Thun­der but would be on the road against the War­riors, who trail 3-2 against Ok­la­homa City head­ing into this morn­ing’s game six.

Last year, a de­pleted Cavs team lost in six games to the War­riors, left to won­der whether things would have worked out dif­fer­ently if Love (left shoul­der) and Irving (left knee) had been at full strength. That’s not a con­cern this time around.

“There’s def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent feel­ing,” said James. “I didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate last year, my­self per­son­ally, get­ting to the fi­nals. So much was go­ing on in my mind, know­ing that Kev was out for the rest of the sea­son and know­ing that Ky was deal­ing with in­juries all the way from the first round.

“Hav­ing th­ese guys right here at full strength, hav­ing our team at full strength and the way I feel per­son­ally, I ap­pre­ci­ate this mo­ment, to be able to be a part of it and be there once again.”

Irving, who had bat­tled knee in­juries dur­ing his first post-sea­son be­fore break­ing his kneecap late in game one of last year’s fi­nals, said he’s thank­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to be a con­trib­u­tor this time around.

“It just didn’t feel the same hob­bling into the locker room, know­ing that we were go­ing to the fi­nals but I wasn’t at full strength and Kev was out,” said Irving, re­call­ing the Cavs’ East­clinch­ing vic­tory last year.

“Think­ing about the steps it took to get back to where we are now, I re­ally have a true ap­pre­ci­a­tion for th­ese guys, my team­mates and just a true ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the jour­ney.”

Love and Irving strug­gled as the Cavs stum­bled in games three and four against Toronto, their only losses in 14 games this post-sea­son. Both were back in form for wins in games five and six.

“We wouldn’t be at this point to­day, go­ing to the fi­nals, with­out those two,” said James.

“Through­out the first three rounds, they’ve been the rea­son we’ve played at such a high level. They’ve ac­cepted the chal­lenge. They wanted to get back to this mo­ment.”

James will be play­ing in his sixth con­sec­u­tive fi­nals, four of them with Mi­ami. This time, how­ever, he’s got per­haps his best shot to end Cleve­land’s 52-year cham­pi­onship drought, the long­est by any city with at least three pro­fes­sional teams.

No Cleve­land team has won it all since the Browns de­feated Bal­ti­more 27-0 to win the NFL cham­pi­onship in 1964.

“This city has been crav­ing a cham­pi­onship,” said coach Ty­ronn Lue. “We have the right team and we have the right tal­ent.”

James, who grew up in nearby Akron, is well aware of what a cham­pi­onship would mean to Cleve­land.

“I know our city de­serves it, our fans de­serve it,” said James. “But that gives us no sense of en­ti­tle­ment. We’ve still got to go out and get it. We’ve still got to go out and prove our­selves.”

James will be the eighth player in NBA his­tory to ap­pear in six con­sec­u­tive fi­nals and the first who didn’t play for the Bos­ton Celtics.

It’s the third fi­nals ap­pear­ance in team his­tory for the Cava­liers. Cleve­land lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San An­to­nio in 2007.

Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll, who played with At­lanta last sea­son, said this Cleve­land team is bet­ter than the one that swept aside his Hawks in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals.

“They’ve got a lot more weapons,” said Carroll. “They’ve got a lot bet­ter vet­er­ans from Chan­ning Frye to [Richard] Jef­fer­son. They’ve got a com­plete team.”

“This city has been crav­ing a cham­pi­onship. We have the right tal­ent.” – CLEVE­LAND COACH TY­RONN LUE

FI­NAL-BOUND: Cleve­land for­ward LeBron James in action against the Toronto Rap­tors in game six

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