LeBron James

The Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t played a game since Friday, May 27. When they take the court against the Golden State Warriors, in game 1 of the 2016 NBA finals, it’ll be almost a week of preparing. LeBron James, Tyronn Lue, and Kyrie Irving, despite the unflattering expectations from everyone else, think this time it’s going to be different.

Why? Because they’re a better team than last year (and not a word about David Blatt, who was on the sidelines of this team when they made the finals in 2015, and next season will be coaching Darüşşafaka in Turkey), and it seems the health factor, with Kevin Love not having any shoulder problems and Irving forgetting about his knee falling apart in the opening game a year ago, is helping them remain confident. James says it clearly: They’re better than in 2015.

We’re better built to start the Finals than we were last year. Doesn’t matter who it’s against. I mean, that’s not a headline. It’s obvious. We’re fully intact, that’s the biggest difference for our team. We have another year under our belt and more chemistry, but health-wise, you know we’re healthy and we’re excited about the opportunity. We’re fortunate to be here and we look forward to the challenge. It’s an unbelievable team that we’re going against. Hats off.

Better or not, admitting it or not, the Cavaliers were probably hoping for the Oklahoma City Thunder to make it to the NBA finals. Despite their struggles in the series, the Warriors didn’t win 73 games this season because of luck. They’re the defending champions, the best team and with a player (or maybe two of them) that if they get hot, it’s not just impossible to slow down, but also impossible to keep up with.

Tyronn Lue, who was the assistant coach for the Cavaliers last season and during their two regular season losses this season to the Warriors, doesn’t think this is about revenge. The Cavaliers are driven by completely different motivations, that have less to do with their rivals and a lot more about themselves and their goals.

I wouldn’t say revenge. I just think both teams are happy and excited to make it to the Finals. It’s a big thing, and I just think that we have a different team than we had last year. Organization-wise, it’s the same two teams, but playing-wise and players-wise, we’re a different team. Kevin and Kyrie are both healthy, the addition of Channing Frye, we’re a completely different team than we were last year.

So far in the postseason, beating the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, and the Toronto Raptors while dropping just two games, the Cavaliers haven’t found it necessary to lean on James too much. James leads their postseason scoring with 24.6 points per game, 0.3 more than Irving. He hasn’t scored less than 20 points in any of the games but has finished with more than 30 just once, as they closed out the series in Toronto. This isn’t him getting older and slowing down, this is simply what’s better for the Cavaliers. Going on a one-man show like last year’s finals might be great for his numbers, but bad for the Cavs.

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