OAKLAND (California) • LeBron James says he is playing at an "all-time level" entering the National Basketball Association (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, in his 15th year in the league, said. "I've just never really bought into that."
He 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 also continue it in this Finals".
He spoke 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.
In the 2016 Finals, the Cavaliers became the first NBA team to overcome a 3-1 deficit and win. And they face long odds to defeat the Warriors for their second title in franchise history.
Exactly what level James can produce in the Finals is uncertain as he enters a personal-record 101st game in the regular season and playoffs combined since late October.
BY THE NUMBERS
The number of times the Warriors and the Cavaliers have met consecutively in the NBA Finals, the first time this has happened in American sports history.
Points per game LeBron James is averaging in 18 play-off games.
Stephen Curry has made a three-pointer in all 86 of his career play-off games.
Consecutive play-off games in which Warriors forward Kevin Durant has scored at least 20 points.
But team-mate Kyle Korver has been most impressed by how quickly and well James can recover mentally and physically after a superlative outing.
James has sparked the Cavaliers in the play-offs with 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocked shots per game.
"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," Korver said.
"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 who do that. Superstars in the NBA, there's not many that do that. His body of work is amazing."
Kevin Love's health could play a big role in determining whether James can capture a fourth championship and add to his legend.
Cleveland's second-best player remains in the NBA's concussion protocol, and his status for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series in Oakland this morning (Singapore time) is uncertain. He collided heads with the Celtics' Jayson Tatum early in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and he missed the rest of that game and all of Game 7.
Golden State will be missing a key role player in Andre Iguodala, but still possess plenty of weapons.
The Warriors have been paced by Kevin Durant in the post-season. He is averaging 29 points and 7.1 rebounds in the play-offs. Klay Thompson (20.5 points per game) and Stephen Curry (24.8 points per game) are also capable of carrying the offence and over-taxing James and the Cavs on the defensive end.
"With our team, we're not a one-man show," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "We've got a lot of guys who can take over games, but it has to fit. The pieces have to fit. What I like about our team is our guys are very unselfish. They all fit together and they play for each other."
The Warriors won both head-to-heads in the regular season, prevailing 99-92 at home on Christmas Day, then 118-108 at Cleveland three weeks later.
"Golden State is one of the best teams I've ever played," James said.
"It's one of the best teams that's ever been assembled. Then they added Kevin Durant. It makes them even more dangerous and even more powerful and great."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
GOLDEN STATE V CLEVELAND
Game 1: Singtel TV Ch110, 9am