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OAKLAND — The NBA, as is usual and logical, slotted LeBron James for the main media stage, except LeBron wanted none of that on Saturday.
Hey, maybe he just was seeking a quieter spot on the eve of a rather important Game 2, after his Cavaliers got clobbered by the Warriors in Game 1.
Maybe LeBron zoomed right past a league executive, who was pointing in the opposite direction, and plopped down on a side podium (that was supposed to feature Kevin Love) because James wanted a little bit less of the spotlight on this day.
Of course, hordes of cameras had to follow him to the other spot during the Cavaliers’ time slot at the Warriors’ crowded practice facility, and it was messy and confusing.
But who was going to tell LeBron otherwise?
Nobody. It’s his right. He can ignore league public-relations people however much he wants.
This isn’t a complaint, it’s an observation: The entire Cavaliers universe revolves around LeBron’s mood and brilliance, and the Warriors hope this entire Finals series proves that they are built to match and surpass any such one-man enterprise.
Because the Warriors have multiple superstars, and also multiple players who have been effective defending LeBron recently, and Cleveland pretty much just has LeBron at that level.
Many times, against many teams, that’s enough. But maybe against this powerful, versatile Warriors roster, it isn’t.
Strong caveat: James, who wore a T-shirt that deservedly read “Greatness,” has already proven he can almost single-handedly lift the Cavaliers to just about anything.
That, of course, includes his epic performance in Games 5, 6 and 7 last Finals to rally Cleveland back from a 3-1 deficit and over the Warriors for the title.
But the Warriors have Kevin Durant instead of Harrison Barnes this time around, Durant beat LeBron straight up in their match-up in Game 1, and let’s just postulate that the Cavaliers are in some trouble if this keeps up.
Or, as LeBron put it when asked about the Warriors…
“I’ve seen a lot of great teams, and they rank right up there,” James said. “They work well together. They have some guys that can actually lead a franchise without anybody else by themselves.”
For the Warriors, this is about two-time MVP and one-time champion Stephen Curry, coupled with former MVP Durant, and with potential Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green and Klay Thompson and 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
I asked Green if Durant’s presence has taken a lot of the burden specifically off of Curry, who was banged up last Finals and seemed strained at times.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily taking a burden, I think it’s opened the floor up more,” Green said.
“I think it’s allowed Steph more space to work, knowing that you’ve got K.D. on the other side. I don’t think it’s necessarily reducing a burden.
“Hell, he’s still got to go out there and play great. Or we’re not winning. Burden’s still there. But it’s more space, all of a sudden you’re game planning for something else, along with Steph, which makes a big difference.”
James’ teammates include Kyrie Irving, who can score as easily as anybody in the league but struggles on defense, and Love, who has similar strengths and a very similar weakness to Irving.
Basically: LeBron has to guard Durant because nobody else on Cleveland can do it for long periods, and that is an energy-drain on LeBron that cannot be compared to him matching up with Barnes in the Finals last year.
And even if LeBron can shut down Durant, the Warriors still have Curry — leading the postseason with a +235 plus-minus — and everybody else.
The whole point of the Warriors chasing Durant as a free agent last summer was that they wanted to avoid a situation where one superstar had to carry the entire load for an extended time.
The Warriors knew they had the personalities that could adjust to the superstar overlap, and they knew if they went up against LeBron again it would be very difficult for the Cavaliers to handle.
“We know that one day it may be me,” said Durant, who scored 38 points in Game 1 and is averaging 26.4 in the postseason, “one day it may be Steph, Klay, Draymond, you know…
“We know next game is going to be a totally different, physical game, and we’re looking forward to it. And you never know who will come up and show up for us.”
Historically, teams that go on multiple title runs usually have one superstar and at least one or two other excellent sidekicks — and usually one of the great sidekicks is a defensive specialist.
Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen to defend the opponent’s best offensive player for all six Chicago titles and, at various times, had Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc.
Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy alongside during the “Showtime” dynasty, and he also had Michael Cooper to defend the most explosive opponent.
Even LeBron with Miami had Dwyane Wade in his prime, Chris Bosh to defend the post, and Shane Battier to take a crack at the opponent’s best perimeter player.
LeBron levitated himself and the Cavaliers to that championship over the Warriors last season, but this one feels a lot different.
He could and probably will single-handedly win a game for the Cavaliers in this series — maybe Game 2.
But in the big picture, the burden is all on LeBron’s shoulders, while the Warriors’ group of stars share the burden, the ball and the responsibility to wear down Cleveland’s singular superstar.