NBA mag­netism: No hate re­quired

Dis­dain for James re­cedes as the pull of two cities thirsty for a ti­tle el­e­vates Fi­nals.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike Bres­na­han

OAK­LAND — There’s some­thing no­tably miss­ing from this year’s NBA Fi­nals — a vil­lain.

LeBron James made nice with the peo­ple of Cleve­land, ca­su­ally f lick­ing away four years of ill will from his home­town team and scads of NBA fol­low­ers who de­tested the way he ar­rived in Mi­ami.

Dwight Howard haters had to lay down their re­sent­ment af­ter Golden State elim­i­nated Hous­ton.

Matt Barnes, en­emy of the state? Hardly. The Clip­pers couldn’t even make it past the sec­ond round (yet again).

No one can boo and hiss at Kobe Bryant, who handed the vil­lain torch to James a few years back and, let’s be di­rect, hasn’t ap­peared in an NBA Fi­nals since 2010.

Celtics cyn­ics? Sorry, noth­ing for ya. Lak­ers doubters? Check back again in a cou­ple of years.

When Cleve­land opens the NBA Fi­nals at Golden State on Thurs­day, there

will be fas­ci­na­tion de­rived from angst more than anger, two fran­chises largely de­void of proud mo­ments fi­nally get­ting the chance at one.

The Cava­liers haven’t been here since an in­ex­pe­ri­enced James got over­whelmed by San An­to­nio in a 2007 sweep. The War­riors haven’t been this far in a longer pe­riod of time, 40 years, though at least they won the cham­pi­onship when they had their shot. What to do? Who to hate? One of the nicest coaches of all time, a guy who couldn’t say a cruel word about any­body, pretty much summed it up.

“Two re­fresh­ing sto­ries and there’s no sort of neg­a­tiv­ity. They’re both the good guys,” said former Lak­ers and Hous­ton Coach Rudy Tom­janovich, cur­rently tout­ing an NBA TV documentary about the Rock­ets called “Clutch City.”

Re­ally? The Fi­nals drama will be only within the games them­selves? As in, who makes the last-sec­ond shot, who has the bet­ter night be­tween James and Stephen Curry, and which fran­chise’s thirst is fi­nally re­warded? How un­usual. The War­riors are a delight to watch, hoist­ing three-point at­tempts as if they’re play­ing Pop-A-Shot at the lo­cal tav­ern. They’ve al­ready made 173 three­p­oint­ers in 15 games and will surely ham­mer the play­off record of 203 set by last year’s Spurs. They’ve been scary ac­cu­rate too, 38% from afar.

Curry can do no wrong as a per­son (charm­ing and in­tro­spec­tive) and player (win­ning his first MVP). And his podium-em­brac­ing daugh­ter, Ri­ley, can prob­a­bly get her own re­al­ity show at this point.

War­riors for­ward Dray­mond Green is a quote ma­chine, War­riors Coach Steve Kerr is as solid on the bench as he was on the air ,and Klay Thomp­son might be the most over­looked guard in the game sim­ply be­cause he shares the back­court with Curry.

“With their speed, their change of pace, their ball­han­dling, and then their abil­ity to shoot the ball . . . they can ab­so­lutely just shoot the rock,” James said in mild won­der­ment Wed­nes­day, and it could be his words that carry the great­est weight the next two weeks.

He is the only ro­ta­tion player on ei­ther team with cham­pi­onship ex­pe­ri­ence (Ken­drick Perkins won with Bos­ton in 2008 but sees time only as an en­forcer for Cleve­land these days). James will be in his fifth con­sec­u­tive Fi­nals, the first mar­quee play- er to do it since Bill Rus­sell with Bos­ton in the 1960s.

There are still James haters out there — Green might be­come one af­ter be­ing forced to guard him this se­ries — but there are plenty of peo­ple who just want to see Cleve­land win a cham­pi­onship. In any sport. Please.

“I un­der­stand the drought our city has been in as far as a ma­jor cham­pi­onship, so it’s a huge mo­ti­va­tion in­side of me,” James said. “And it’s helped me get to this point, but I’m not done. I’ve still got a lot left in me in this sea­son, and I’m go­ing to com­mand a lot out of my guys.”

James, 30, couldn’t have done much more the last six weeks, mesh­ing a sore knee and aching back with play­off av­er­ages of 27.6 points, 10.4 re­bounds and 8.3 as­sists.

Kyrie Irv­ing missed two games in the East fi­nals be­cause of knee ten­dini­tis and Kevin Love was de­clared out for the sea­son in April be­cause of shoul­der surgery, so James has had to help el­e­vate role play­ers Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.

Only 22 years old when the Cava­liers were last in the Fi­nals, James fell f lat with largely unim­pres­sive fel­low starters Drew Gooden, Zy­drunas Il­gauskas, Daniel Gib­son and Sasha Pavlovic.

The four-time MVP win­ner will be com­pared through­out the se­ries to Curry, who hated James so much that he prac­ti­cally thanked him for past guid­ance Wed­nes­day.

Curry was a rookie when the War­riors lost a reg­u­larsea­son game in Cleve­land. James took him aside af­ter­ward and, in Curry’s words, told him how to be a leader.

“I was try­ing to find my way as a player, and he ba­si­cally just said the one thing you con­trol is your prepa­ra­tion ev­ery sin­gle game. . . . No mat­ter what’s go­ing on around you, you can con­trol your ef­fort ev­ery game, your pro­fes­sion­al­ism and just what you do day in and day out to get your­self ready,” Curry said. “There is go­ing to be a time when it’s all go­ing to work out be­cause you’ll be ready for that mo­ment.”

No an­i­mos­ity in the Fi­nals? No off-court drama? Fun, high-cal­iber games pre­dicted by all? How re­fresh­ing.

Ben Margot As­so­ci­ated Press

STEPHEN CURRY, right, is an NBA star with an up­side in per­sonal charm, too, as he keeps prac­tice light­hearted with Golden State team­mate Dray­mond Green.

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