OAKLAND – LeBron James says he's playing at an “all-time level” entering the NBA Finals even as the 33-year-old superstar defies Father Time to stretch the prime years of his career.
“They always kind of talked about the NBA prime is like 27 and like 31, 32. That's if you're lucky, you'll get to that point,” James said. “I've just never really bought into that.”
James recalled saying this season that “this is the best I've felt in my career.... And I continue to just play at an all-time-level standard for the rest of this season. Hopefully I can continue it in this Finals also.”
James spoke Wednesday on the eve of his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, and ninth overall, as he prepares to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers into a fourth straight championship series against the Golden State Warriors, who seek their third title in four seasons.
Exactly what level James can produce in the final is uncertain after playing 100 games in the season and playoffs combined since late October.
“The level that I can play at is to be seen, but the level I put into the game and put into my craft is who I am,” James said.
“So numbers and things like that kind of take care of itself. But for me, I understand and I know how much I put into the game. So everything else is OK.
“I don't really have a ceiling. I want to just try to maximize as much as I can and be as good as I can.”
This season might have done it. He has sparked the Cavaliers in the playoffs with 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocked shots per game.
“It's amazing to watch,” said Cavs forward Jeff Green. “That guy has done everything for us. He's playing outstanding, amazing, phenomenal basketball in year 15. I've seen him play some great games, but collectively his playoffs have been truly remarkable.”
James, whose 102 million combined social media followers leads all NBA players, has stressed being fit to play this season, the first in which he did not miss a regular-season contest.
“I've been blessed to be available. That's what I take pride in more than anything, is being available to my teammates every single day,” James said.
“I've been a leader to my teammates all year and I've put in the work. It's allowed me to be able to tomorrow suit up for the 101st consecutive time. We'll see what happens.”
Body of work is amazing
Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver is amazed at how quickly and well James can recover after a superlative outing.
“The thing that I'm most impressed with him is his ability to just keep on going, recover mentally, physically,” Korver said. Every night he deals with double teams, with scrutiny, with so much stuff, but the next day he's the first person at the gym.
“For him to have done this eight years in a row, to still be the first guy in the gym every day, to do shooting contests after practice with guys on two-way contracts, there aren't people that do that. Superstars in the NBA, there's not many that do that.
“His body of work is amazing.”
That's in part because James keeps his body in amazing shape with daily treatments and workouts sustaining world-class conditioning so he can play all 48 minutes if necessary.
“It's a big luxury,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “When he's playing those amount of minutes throughout the course of the regular season that gets him ready for the playoffs.
“That's why he's probably one of the top conditioned athletes in the world.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)