OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) LeBron James believes there is nobody in the world that can stop him. He is too strong, too fast, too skilled.
A bully with a basketball and beast above the rim.
For the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title, they will need to get past James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals starting Thursday night. And not just once – but four times in seven games.
”Some have been successful. Many have failed,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green, the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year and among at least four players who will get their shot at James in the series.
Defending the four-time MVP is a challenge the Warriors think they are as well-equipped as anybody to face.
They had the top-rated defense during the regular season and held opponents to a league-low 42.8 percent shooting. They are loaded with length and versatility on the perimeter, and they lean on 7-footer Andrew Bogut to back them up around the basket.
Call it the Irresistible Force Paradox: an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Someone, or something, will surely have to give in this matchup.
”Our defense is the best in the league, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Bogut said.
James had little trouble slicing through Golden State’s smothering pressure in the lone game he played against the Warriors this season. He scored a season-high 42 points in the Cavs’ 110-99 win in Cleveland on Feb. 26, shot 15 of 25 from the floor and made 8 of 11 free throws.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr called it ”one of those games where he was making everything.” He said the key to avoiding a repeat performance is clogging the paint and avoiding turnovers that lead to transition baskets.
”Sometimes your best defense is your offense,” Kerr said. ”You can’t get crazy with the ball. A live-ball turnover with LeBron is just a dunk at the other end.”
James, who is in his fifth straight finals, has been brilliant in the playoffs. He averaged 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game while shooting 42.8 percent against Boston, Chicago and Atlanta and often looked flawless.
The Warriors have been tight-lipped about how they’ll go about defending James. But, like anybody, they believe there are ways to disrupt his rhythm.
”We’re all human, I would like to think,” said Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala, who spent more time defending James than any other player on the team in the previous matchup, according to the SportVU tracking system.
The Warriors are no strangers to stopping stars in these playoffs.
James will be the fourth straight All-NBA First-Team player they face after Houston’s James Harden, Memphis’ Marc Gasol and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis. The fifth member of that team is newly minted MVP Stephen Curry, whom James compared himself to last week when asked how to defend the Warriors point guard.
”The same way you slow me down,” he said, pausing for effect. ”You can’t.”
The Warriors will likely do what they did against each team’s best player the previous three rounds: mix and match defenders and defensive looks.
Green, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson will take turns guarding James. And because the Warriors switch on pick-and-rolls at just about every position, it’s not nearly as important who starts on him as it is who finishes.
Kerr and assistant coach Ron Adams, the de facto defensive coordinator, will likely shift schemes – such as going under screens and over screens, trapping or backing off – several times each game to give James different looks.
James, in his 12th year in the league, has seen just about everything. He said it’s always a luxury for a team to have a variety of defensive players, and the Warriors are no different in that regard.
”They have multiple bodies that they can kind of put on me,” James said, ”but it doesn’t affect what I need to do.”
The Warriors also want to limit the opportunities James creates for his teammates.
The number of assists he has might be just as important as how many points he scores. Collapsing around him and leaving another player open for a 3-pointer can be costly, which is why the Warriors are looking at the defensive plan as a ”team challenge.”
”It’s not one person’s job to stop LeBron,” Green said. ”If we’re going to send any one person on our team to stop LeBron, we’ll probably lose. It’ll be a complete team effort. And as long as we approach it that way, I think we can do it.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Independence, Ohio, contributed to this story.