LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers open their title defense as underdogs against the Golden State Warriors as the NBA Finals get underway next week.
The 2016 champion Cavaliers and the 2015 champion Warriors will battle for the crown for a third straight year in the best-of-seven starting at Golden State on Thursday.
James scored 35 points and passed Michael Jordan to become the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring leader as the Cavaliers routed the Boston Celtics 135-102 on Thursday to claim their third straight Eastern Conference title.
Both teams dominated throughout the playoffs — the Warriors made history by going an unprecedented 12-0 through three rounds in the Western Conference, while the Cavs lost just one game to the Celtics to cap their dominant run.
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook installed Golden State as a minus-260 favorite, with Cleveland at plus-220, meaning a $100 bet on the Warriors would win $38.46 and the same bet on the Cavaliers would win $220, according to ESPN.
The Warriors are listed as seven-point favorites for Game One at home, according to CBS Sports.
“I’m going to be honest,” James told reporters in Boston on Thursday. “I’m not in the right mind to even talk about Golden State. It’s too stressful, and I’m not stressed right now.”
The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one point on Christmas Day and Golden State prevailed by 35 points on Jan. 16.
It will be James’ seventh straight trip to The Finals and eighth overall.
“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” James said. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”
Golden State led the league with a 67-15 record this season and is 27-1 in their last 28 games, including the playoffs.
“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said after the Warriors beat the San Antonio Spurs 129-115 in Game Four on Monday.
“Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it.”
While James is going for his fourth ring, Warriors forward Kevin Durant will be trying to win his first. Durant signed a two-year, $54.3 million contract with the Warriors last offseason.
Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City, but the Thunder lost to the Miami Heat in a series that made James a champion for the first time.
“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship.
“So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”
James called the Warriors, “the best team in our league the last three years. And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year.
“We have to be ready for the challenge.”