LeBron James has been down this path before…sort of. The four-time NBA MVP has made nine NBA Finals trips in his illustrious 17-year career. Yet, with COVID-19 dramatically altering the world as we know it, even The Chosen One understands the 2020 NBA playoffs bring new challenges. As the LA Lakers star prepares for the postseason, he revealed an interesting choice for the toughest champion run of his legendary career.
But in order to achieve his 10th NBA Finals appearance, LeBron will have to defeat a formidable first-round opponent.
LeBron James is no stranger to the NBA Finals
By the time he finally retires, LeBron James may just have the NBA Finals renamed in his honor. Much like Tom Brady, the NBA’s biggest star has made it an annual tradition of sorts to make it to the final round of the playoffs.
James made his first finals appearance 13 years ago. However, an undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers squad stood no chance at toppling Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
Even after joining the Miami Heat, James failed to capture an NBA title. The Dallas Mavericks kept James in check and upset a star-studded Heat squad in six games.
Despite the loss, James would exact his revenge. That first appearance with Miami kicked off an unprecedented streak of eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances. A year later, James earned his first championship ring after taking down the Oklahoma City Thunder in just five games. The Heat then successfully defended their title in an exhilarating seven-game series against the Spurs.
Of course, LeBron James returned to Cleveland and delivered a title to his hometown. Though he has yet to taste championship glory since that 2015-15 season, James and the Lakers enter the 2020 NBA playoffs as the clear-cut favorite to win the Western Conference.
James reveals his most challenging NBA title run
The NBA has done a fantastic job of keeping COVID-19 at bay in the bubble in Orlando. However, players have had to deal with various challenges of resuming the season on a quarantined campus site. For LeBron James, not performing in front of a live crowd and dealing with being away from his family has proven particularly difficult.
Even though Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka sent a scary message about his best player’s mentality, James did not hold back in his blunt assessment of the journey ahead. (H/T USA Today)
“It’s the toughest championship run for me,” James said. “From the circumstances of just being in here.”
James’ surprising message should open people’s eyes considering some of the lackluster teams he dragged to the finals in Cleveland. He has significantly more talent around him in LA, yet the circumstances of playing in the Orlando bubble present a unique set of challenges not even King James has dealt with before.
The three-time NBA champion also explained his approach to the Lakers’ upcoming series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Unsurprisingly, James won’t make drastic changes given his ample postseason experience.
“I’ve been locked in for the last couple days once I knew Portland was our opponent,” James said. “That’s really the only thing I’ve pretty much been thinking about. Then, I prepare the same way.”
Lakers face a formidable first-round opponent
That preparation process will have to pay off quickly as LeBron James and the Lakers take on Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night. While LA enters the matchup as the No. 1 seed, the team struggled mightily down the stretch.
The Lakers went just 3-5 since resuming the season in the Orlando bubble. Even James himself looked a little rusty. He shot just 34% from 3-point territory. In fact, he committed more turnovers (22) than 3-point shots made (15).
LA needs James and Anthony Davis to play at an elite level to stop the red-hot Lillard. Portland’s franchise player essentially put the team on his back and carried the Trail Blazers into the 2020 NBA playoffs. The Orlando bubble became Lillard’s playground, as he dropped 51, 61, and 42 points in his last three games to help Portland secure the No. 8 seed.
The Trail Blazers have several other scoring threats that could thwart the Lakers’ NBA title dreams. CJ McCollum averaged 22.2 points during the regular season and scored a number of clutch shots in Portland’s narrow win over the Brooklyn Nets. Jusuf Nurkic posts double-doubles on a nightly basis and Carmelo Anthony proved he can still put the ball in the hoop in Orlando.
LeBron James and the Lakers may hold the top seed, but their road to the NBA Finals starts with an opponent more than capable of scoring a first-round upset. Let’s see if The Chosen one finally ends Lillard’s magical run.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.