Programming note: "Warriors NBA Finals Central" airs Thursday night at 5 p.m., and immediately after Game 1 on CSN Bay Area. Both shows will be streaming live right here.
OAKLAND – LeBron James bounced around the court Wednesday and was clearly enjoying himself like a person who had never been here before.
But the one guy who has been here before was loudly reminding himself and everyone at the start of practice of that very fact.
“Finals! Finals! Back in the Finals!” James announced to no one and everyone inside Oracle Arena.
Indeed, this is why James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four seasons and four appearances in the NBA Finals with the Miami Heat. Only the best team in basketball, the Warriors, stands in the way of James accomplishing his goal.
“It’s part of my motivation,” James said before the Cavaliers practice on the eve of Game 1. “I understand the drought our city has been in as far as a major championship. It’s huge motivation inside of me. It’s helped me to get to this point, but we’re not done. We got a lot left in me this season. I’ll command a lot out of my guys and I’ll command a lot out of myself and hopefully we’re able to come through.”
James is making no guarantee – other than promising the Cavaliers will play hard. But one guarantee is that the Cavaliers will go as far as James takes them.
The Cavaliers leaned heavily on James during the postseason, especially with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving limited due to foot and knee injuries. In 14 playoff games leading into the Finals, James averaged 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists.
James earned two rings in his four seasons in Miami. He appeared in one NBA Finals in his previous tour with the Cavaliers but was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 Finals.
Experience is on his side, but he said he does not place a whole lot of stock into the Warriors' lack of experience this deep into the postseason.
“Those guys have been playing championship basketball all year, so why would they change?” James said. “We’ve been playing championship basketball the last two-and-a-half months, so we’re not going to change, either.”
With home-court advantage, the series opens with two games in Oakland. James knows Thursday’s opener promises to be one of the louder road environments in which he has played.
“These fans here are amazing,” James said. “They’ve been amazing to their team all year and the past few years. For me, I don’t put any added pressure on it. I’ve been in so many loud arenas. This is going to be one of them.
“Sometimes you have to have some hand signals, depending on how loud they get. But for the most part, you just trust what you’ve been able to do.”
James was sidelined earlier this season when the Cavaliers played in Oracle. His last appearance in Oakland was in February 2014 when his 3-pointer at the buzzer was the difference in the Heat’s 111-110 victory. James has struggled with his outside shot, connecting on just 17.6 percent of his 3-point shots, but his confidence is not shaken.
“If we’re fortunate enough and it’s a close game and we have the ball, I definitely would like the ball in my hands,” James said. “I’m not saying I’m going to shoot it. I’ll make the right play to help our team win. But if I get a good look at it, I believe it’ll go down.”