No team in NBA history — not Michael Jordan’s Bulls, not Bill Russell’s Celtics, not Jerry West’s Lakers — has won more regular-season games over a three-year span than the 207 games the Golden State Warriors have won since the start of the 2014-15 regular season.
The Warriors have a star-studded roster led by two former league MVPs in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and a team that enters Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday having lost only one game since March 11.
LeBron James was asked Sunday to compare the threat the Warriors present to all the other challenges he has faced in his career.
“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, 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. And if you add Pop [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 ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. 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 ballclub and on our franchise.”
Curry and Durant are surefire Hall of Famers. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson could be on their way to Springfield, Massachusetts, too, depending on how the rest of their careers play out.
Yet, the fact that James is preparing for such a formidable foe in the Finals has become old hat for him. Six of the eight times James’ teams have reached the Finals, they’ve been the underdog, including this year. The only time a James team was the favorite in the Finals and lost was 2011, his first year with the Miami Heat, to the Dallas Mavericks.
“I only play blackjack in Vegas anyway, so it doesn’t matter,” James said of the Las Vegas sportsbooks doubting the Cavs’ chances.
For the record, James feels quite confident about evening his career Finals record to 4-4 with a win over Golden State.
“I feel good about our chances,” James said. “Very good.”
Does the thought of seeing another season extend all the way until June only to end in a loss deter him?
“I think it’s just the joy of being able to compete for a championship,” James said. “If you add more pressure to it, I don’t believe in it.”
James does believe that these Finals, his seventh straight trip to the championship round, will have people appreciating his career no matter what the outcome.
“I think it’s going to be great for my legacy, once I’m done playing the game and can look back on the game and say, ‘Oh, this guy went to three straight Finals, four straight Finals, five, six whatever,'” James said. “I think it’s great to be talked about, see what I was able to accomplish as an individual.
“When you talk about longevity and being able to just play at a high level for a long period of time, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that and be a part of two franchises that … being able to take two franchises to four Finals apiece … no one has ever done that, either, so I’m always happy and proud … I’ve always been proud to be part of the biggest stage in our league, and it’s the Finals.”
And this Finals, the first time in league history that the same two teams are clashing three years in a row with a title on the line, might be the most anticipated of James’ career.
“First of all, I don’t get involved in the hype,” James said. “But I do know that both teams are better than last year’s teams. We’re a better Cavaliers team and they’re a better Warriors team. What does that mean? We don’t know yet. But we’re both better. We both added pieces that have helped our offensive package and defensive package be even more scary, and obviously you can see that. We’re both playing at a high level and we’re both … when you look back on it at the end of the day, you’ll look back and say that was two great teams who competed for championships and we did whatever it took to get to that point.
“So I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we’re going to write about it and talk about it during the series and see what happens. But I’m honored and I’m happy and I’m extremely excited to be part of the Finals again.”