LeBron James spent Memorial Day with his kids enjoying some barbecue. Once the grill got turned off Adidas Derick Brassard Jersey , 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 Jaire Alexander Jersey Youth , 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.”
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (16-3)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, NovaCare Complex, Philadelphia
LAST YEAR: Won first Super Bowl title and franchise’s first NFL championship since 1960, defeating Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Patriots. Overcame losing several key players to injury, including QB Carson Wentz, LT Jason Peters, LB Jordan Hicks and others. Backup QB Nick Foles led way after Wentz tore ACL in Week 14, earning Super Bowl MVP honors. Coach Doug Pederson’s offense was balanced yet aggressive. Players bought into team-first attitudes. Defense thrived under coordinator Jim Schwartz. DT Fletcher Cox anchored deep line that included Super Bowl hero Brandon Graham. Special teams were solid despite losing PR Darren Sproles. Rookie K Jake Elliott showed strong leg.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE Michael Bennett, DT Haloti Ngata, WR Mike Wallace, LB Corey Nelson Derick Brassard Penguins Jersey , TE Richard Rodgers, rookie TE Dallas Goedert.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Offensive coordinator Frank Reich, QB coach John DeFilippo, TE Trey Burton, RB LeGarrette Blount, DE Vinny Curry, CB Patrick Robinson, LB Mychal Kendricks, WR Torrey Smith, DT Beau Allen, TE Brent Celek, P Donnie Jones.
CAMP NEEDS: Wentz will be closely monitored but there’s no urgency to rush him with Foles still on team. His rehab will be biggest story this summer. Other key players returning from injury include Peters, Hicks, Sproles, special teams ace Chris Maragos and DT Tim Jernigan. Defense needs LB to emerge as replacement for Kendricks and CB to replace Robinson at nickel spot. Both QBs need to build chemistry with new Nos. 2-3 TEs.
EXPECTATIONS: Trying to become first Super Bowl champs to repeat since 2003-04 Patriots, and anything less will be considered disappointment. Wentz, Peters and other star players who missed playoffs last year are determined to win it all and won’t let teammates get complacent. Overall, team improved on paper but it’ll be difficult to match unique bond last year’s group had.
DALLAS COWBOYS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Oxnard, California
LAST YEAR: Cowboys missed playoffs year after dynamic rookie tandem of QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott fueled Dallas to NFC-best 13 wins. Elliott’s six-game suspension during season over domestic violence allegations was big reason. Prescott’s performance dipped after winning NFL Offensive Rookie of Year in 2016. Offensive line was less consistent than usual. Defense was solid but not spectacular.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Leighton Vander Esch, WR Allen Hurns Joe Montana 49ers Jersey , G Connor Williams, WR Tavon Austin, WR Michael Gallup, TE Dalton Schultz, T Cameron Fleming, secondary coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Orlando Scandrick.
CAMP NEEDS: Cowboys need to sort out jumbled picture at receiver and tight end after dumping Bryant in cost-cutting move and somewhat surprising retirement of Witten, who went into broadcasting. WR Terrance Williams broke foot and was arrested during tumultuous offseason when Cowboys needed to know if he could take Bryant’s place atop receiving depth chart. Barring unexpected resurgence from six-year veteran, replacing Bryant will fall to Hurns and collection of rookies, other young players. Geoff Swaim likely to get first crack at replacing Witten, but Dallas likes Blake Jarwin. LB Jaylon Smith needs to show explosiveness in second season since recovery from major knee injury in college. Sean Lee needs to stay healthy. Without those developments, heavy responsibility could fall on Vander Esch as rookie.
EXPECTATIONS: Coach Jason Garrett has two playoff appearances and one postseason win in seven full seasons. Elliott saga and untimely injuries, particularly to offensive line, gave him pass last season. Hard to imagine owner Jerry Jones sticking with him if Cowboys miss playoffs again, particularly after offseason overhaul of coaching staff. Healthy and eligible Elliott figures to be factor in NFL rushing race after leading league as rookie two years ago. Elliott still led league in yards rushing per game during suspension-marred season. Prescott wasn’t as good at protecting ball year after rookie record for passer rating. Cowboys want him to feed off Elliott-powered running game. Dallas believes young talent in secondary can help defense make difference. Cowboys could use repeat from DeMarcus Lawrence, who finished second in NFL with 14 sacks last season and will play on franchise tag. Lawrence needs help, and prime candidate would be Taco Charlton, last year’s first-round pick.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Richmond Devin Hester Bears Jersey , Virginia
LAST YEAR: Injuries, ineffective running game and porous run defense derailed playoff hopes. Nine starters were on injured reserve by end of season, including left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed, and linebacker Mason Foster. Quarterback Kirk Cousins surpassed 4,000 yards for third straight year, threw for 27 touchdowns and ran for four, but had three interceptions in season finale that turned out to be final game with team. Blowing 31-16 lead at New Orleans in November ended realistic postseason hopes before Thanksgiving. Receiver Josh Doctson showed hope for future with 35 catches for 502 yards and team-high six TDs. First-round pick Jonathan Allen flashed elite ability on defensive line before foot injury halted season five games in. Defense allowed 348 yards and 24 points per game. Offense couldn’t keep up while down several key weapons.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, LB Pernell McPhee, CB Orlando Scandrick, rookie RB Derrius Guice, rookie DL Daron Payne.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Cousins, WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Ryan Grant, TE Niles Paul.