Just one step more will help LeBron wipe away pain

Just one step more will help LeBron wipe away pain

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Well, on the eve of Game 7, let’s just say LeBron James was so at ease, he could go hours without deodorant and not stink wholesale jerseys.

“I’m going to give everything I’ve got to my teammates and my coaching staff, as I’ve always done,” he explained. “And I live with the results. One thing I can’t live with is if I don’t go out and be true to the game; that would stop me from sleeping. So I’m ready to go.”

This should come as scary news to the Warriors, and the most refreshing news for Cleveland since 1964, the last time the city celebrated a professional sports title of any kind. LeBron is chilly like Harrison Barnes’ shooting percentage because inside, his confidence is burning. The jump shot is falling, the path to the rim seems six lanes wide and suddenly he’s doing whatever he damn well pleases in this series. He knows that he’s on, perhaps, the finest stretch of his career, all things considered. Yes, he did have that gargantuan series against the Pistons in 2007 (48 points, nine rebounds, seven assists in Game 5). Yes, he did chop down the Celtics in 2012. But neither was the NBA Finals.

Nor did they put the Cavs on the doorstep of history.

The agent for a Cavs’ player who shall not be named made a point of grinning and insisting the Warriors are feeling the entire burden, and that’s not entirely true. The Warriors do need to justify their 73 wins this season, and true, they coughed up a 3-1 series lead. But they have a ring. Worst case scenario, they lose Sunday (8 PM EST, ABC) and bleed a little, then start next season with a strong and relatively young core good enough to reach the Finals again and be the favorites.

LeBron returned to Cleveland two summers ago to create a new image for a sobbing city with a sports inferiority complex, and that can only be secured with a championship. That’s heavy. That’s a burden. How many more times will he get this close ?

And he’s one win away.

“I don’t think people imagined it this way, the route we’ve taken,” he said.

He was the teenaged basketball messiah from Akron drafted No. 1 by the sad-sack Cavs and therefore planted a seed of hope. That initial tour of duty in Cleveland resulted in one championship appearance, where the Cavs were rudely swept by the Spurs, to be followed shortly afterward by a nasty defection to Miami. After living out his mid-life crisis with the Heat, winning two rings, LeBron returned two summers ago to a hero’s welcome only because Cleveland was just as miserable as when he left, maybe more .

The Cavs last season were simply unlucky, harpooned by injuries and therefore ran out of gas last summer against the Warriors. LeBron was the most important player on the floor, then and now, especially the last two games, both 41-point masterpieces, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7.

His averages in this series: 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals, 2.5 blocks in 41.2 minutes of heavy labor. He’s away from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, his All-Star teammates in Miami who relieved him of all the leadership responsibilities and pressure, and blessed only with Kyrie Irving, which magnifies what he has already accomplished. Win or lose in Game 7, LeBron should be a strong favorite if not a lock for MVP — Jerry West is the only MVP winner on a losing Finals team — and he managed a wisecrack about that.

“The last time I answered a question about MVP, it didn’t go so well for me,” he said, “so I’m not going to do it.”

Why should he? His play speaks loudly and boastfully. If you combine this series with last summer’s, nobody has more points, rebounds, assists or blocks than LeBron. He shot only 40 percent last summer, mostly because he wore down from the load without Irving and Kevin Love, but is far more efficient now. Besides, his defense and especially shot-blocking has been brilliant if barely noticed from the outside; when the subject came up Sunday, he took the opportunity to mention his pet peeve: “I’ve been highly upset that I haven’t won Defensive Player of the Year.”

So yes, he cares about individual honors, another reason why he’s taking delight in outplaying Steph Curry, the only player to win MVP other than Kevin Durant and LeBron in the last six years.

LeBron is gunning for three trophies, then: Finals MVP, championship hardware, and a statue that will surely be built in Cleveland should he do the unimaginable. And yet, regarding that last piece of metal, he’s being cool about it, because he doesn’t want his teammates to deal with that gorilla. Deep down, maybe he doesn’t want the Win For Cleveland campaign to consume or suffocate him, either.

But it’s impossible to ignore what’s at stake.

“I came back for a reason, and that’s to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland,” he said. “That’s been one of my goals. But I don’t add too much pressure on it. You go out there and see what happens. I mean, if we win and we take care of business, that’s something that our city hasn’t had in a very long time.

“The word everyone likes to use in sports is ‘pressure.’ I don’t get involved with it. But I guess in layman’s terms, ‘pressure’ is an opportunity to do something special, and I’m fortunate that I can be in position where I can do something special.”

If you ask him, he’ll spend the hours leading up to tipoff in his very own chill chamber, barely noticing the fuss around him, unable to see Cleveland mobilizing itself 2,000 miles away, just in case. LeBron mentioned that he’s been inspired by watching “The Godfather” almost non-stop, and judging by the level of his performances of late, it wasn’t “Godfather III.”

One championship in Cleveland is worth, what: Five in Miami? A place on the basketball Mount Rushmore? Dinner for life in any Ohio restaurant? At the very least, every man and woman in Cleveland will suddenly develop amnesia regarding The Decision, if they haven’t already.

A group of fans burned his Cavs jersey when he announced he was headed to Miami, and the emotion that LeBron will generate, should he win Sunday, would be the complete opposite.

Lake Erie, the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, and LeBron. Those would be the everlasting Cleveland landmarks, and not necessary in that order.

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