SAN FRANCISCO — Despite facing off in the past two NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors and reprising the competition with a riveting 109-108 win on Christmas Day, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James doesn’t classify the Western Conference foe as a rival.
“I don’t think we have a rival in our game today,” James said after Cavs practice Sunday, a day before Cleveland will meet Golden State again for the second of two regular-season meetings. “We’ve had two great Finals appearances the last two years, but I had the same with San Antonio when I was in Miami. We weren’t rivals. And I think I played those guys more, so I wouldn’t look at it as rivals.”
As a player, James has played San Antonio three times in the Finals — 2007 with the Cavs, and 2013 and ’14 with Miami — compared to his two Finals against the Warriors.
He was complimentary of the league-leading 34-6 Warriors, however. After the Cavs’ 120-108 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday, James said Golden State has “been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”
He continued that type of talk Sunday.
“They’re a great team, a hell of a team, probably one of the best teams ever assembled, and they’re going to continue to get better and better as the season goes along,” said James.
Monday will mark the first time the Cavs set foot in Oracle Arena since their Game 7 win over the Warriors in June.
“I think when you walk into the building, you’ll initially have some thoughts of it,” James said of the Cavs’ title-clinching win. “I think all of us will, no matter where you were at that time and place. If you’re at that arena, you’re just going to remember where you were back in June. But I’m in a different place right now than I was in June. It’s a different mindset. I’m in a different situation right now.”
Exemplifying that difference is Kyle Korver, the team’s shiny new addition. James was asked if he will prep Korver for the showdown.
“No,” James said. “For what? It’s just one game. If it comes to a point [he will talk to him about it], and hopefully we’re at that point late in the season that we can represent the East. That’s so far away. So it’s just one game and he’s played them. He’s played them over the years. He’s played them since they’ve been great, so there’s nothing to talk about.”
Korver, who was acquired from Atlanta in a trade earlier this month, did use the R-word to describe the matchup.
“It’s a rivalry, it feels like,” Korver said. “I don’t know how many of them there are in the NBA right now, but this feels like it’s at the top. Those are fun to be a part of. They’re heated, they’re competitive, there are great players on both sides, and these guys have played against each other so much the last couple of years.
“This is my first time walking into it, so I’m just going to try to add to what they’ve been doing.”
James suggested that this Warriors team is even better than the team that went 73-9 a season ago.
“They’re even more dangerous,” James said. “They’re even more dangerous than they were last year, and that’s pretty hard to say because they were a damn great team last year and they’re even better this year.”
The Kevin Durant version of the Warriors enter Monday 8-2 in their past 10 games. They’re winning by an average of 12 points per game, which leads the league and is more than double the Cavs’ average margin of victory of 5.9 points.
“To beat teams the way they’ve been beating them, the point differential’s been crazy,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.
There were only respectful words coming out of the Cavs’ practice aimed toward the Warriors, despite Klay Thompson telling USA Today that James’ Halloween party — which mocked Golden State’s blown 3-1 lead in the Finals in various ways — was “childish.”
“That’s far removed, man,” James said when asked about the party, which included a dummy dressed as Stephen Curry on the ground that guests had to walk over to enter the festivities, sources told ESPN. “There were a lot of people featured. I was also featured in there, too. But that’s water under the bridge.”