Basketball

James and the Cavaliers are huge underdogs

NBA FINALS, GAME 1

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS v CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

(Tomorrow, 9am, Singtel TV Ch 110)

LeBron James will attempt the most amazing achievement of his historic career by leading the twice-rebuilt Cleveland Cavaliers against heavily fancied defending champions Golden State in the 72nd NBA Finals.

The 33-year-old superstar reached his eighth consecutive finals seemingly by sheer force of will, lifting the Cavs on his shoulders throughout the NBA play-offs to book their fourth finals meeting in a row against the Warriors, with the best-of-seven championship series opening tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in Golden State.

This marks the first time in North American pro sports history that two clubs will meet in the final for a fourth consecutive season.

A title would cap the superlatives of an epic career because never has a James-led finals club been so huge underdogs as the Cavs are now. Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Warriors as the biggest NBA Finals favourites since 2002.

"We have an opportunity to play for a championship. That's all that matters," James said. "We've been counted out for a long time this season. It's a heck of an accomplishment for our ball club."

Rebuilding after the off-season trade of star guard Kyrie Irving, the Cavs struggled and were retooled again at the trade deadline, leaving James and forward Kevin Love alongside role players such as outside shooters J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver and inside man Tristan Thompson.

"I switched my mindset at the trade deadline to 'Let's get the most out of this season I can'," James said. "I'm trying to squeeze the most out of this orange to where there's no more juice left."

Sceptics wonder how much juice James has left. He has seen 164 play-off games - the equal of two full extra seasons - from his first finals run with Miami to now.

And this year, in his 15th NBA campaign, James played all 82 regular season games, a career first, as he adjusted to ever-changing rosters.

James is 3-5 in career NBA Finals after losing his first with Cleveland in 2007, winning two of four with Miami from 2010-2014 and taking the 2016 title in seven games over Golden State between 2015 and 2017 losses to the Warriors.

Only three players in NBA history have reached more consecutive finals than James, with Sam Jones and Tom Heinsohn managing nine and Bill Russell a record 10 in a row. All three played on a 1960s Boston Celtics dynasty.

The Warriors seek their third crown in four seasons and sixth overall, which would match the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls for third on the all-time list behind Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers. - AFP

Basketball