MIAMI: Defending his first NBA title is motivation enough for superstar LeBron James when the Miami Heat face the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
“I’ve lost enough,” James said on Wednesday. “I don’t need any more fuel from losing in the finals. I’ve lost two finals.”
The Heat and Spurs begin their best-of-seven championship series Thursday (Friday in Manila) at Miami with the hosts trying to add to their title haul from 2006 and 2012 and San Antonio trying to add a fifth crown to those in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
“I’m ready to play now,” James said.
“King” James, who won his fourth NBA Most Valuable Player award this season, lost to Dallas in the 2011 finals in his first season at Miami and was swept by San Antonio in 2007 in his first NBA Finals when he played for Cleveland.
“We ran into a team that was just better,” James said. “They took advantage of every miscue we made on the floor. It was obvious. They were a better team, more experienced.”
So is this a chance for payback six years later?
“It’s a great opportunity,” James said. “I look forward to the challenge once again.”
James averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists a game against the Spurs in a losing cause in those finals, but says he is a better player now.
“Just smarter, a lot smarter, a lot more experienced on and off the floor,” James said. “I’ve matured on and off the floor.”
James has averaged 26.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists in this year’s playoffs and his leadership and versatility have been bigger parts of Miami’s attack than two years ago, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“He has held so much more responsibility for us now than he ever did before,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve all grown. Looking at our game from two years ago, it’s like looking at a different basketball team.
“The most important thing for us will be ‘Can we impose our identity?’ We will have a different challenge against the Spurs. You grow. You get tested. You get better as you go through the rounds in the playoffs.”
Since James arrived, the Heat have been expected to deliver titles and they have not failed to reach the finals, but the 2011 loss to Dallas still stings.
“We’ve been through a great deal,” Spoelstra said. “When you go through a collective massive failure like we did two years ago it can rip your team about or bring your team together.
“The pressure, the expectations with us, they never change. We embrace that. We like the world we live in.”
A key for Miami will be top-level play from Dwyane wade and Chris Bosh, who struggled at times against Indiana in the Eastern Conference final.
“Hopefully we can get them activated to their normal comfort level,” said Spoelstra. “As long as they are aggressive and attacking within what we do, I think that’s the key.”
But, he adds, James figures to play every position on the court at some stage against the Spurs during the series.
“He will be on every single one of those players at some point,”Spoelstra said. “Then we will see where we need to put him to make it work.”