LAS VEGAS — LeBron James has an impressive streak on the line that is presumably coming to an end late in the season. And it will likely come to pass because of a decision made three months ago, relocating to the same conference as the Golden State Warriors.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar has advanced to the NBA Finals for eight consecutive seasons, which is the best mark for a non-Celtic in league history. For nearly a decade in the Eastern Conference, his athletic prowess and immense skill have been on display in June.
Wednesday after a preseason clash with the very team that has eliminated him three out of the last four NBA Finals, James told Yahoo Sports that he was never opposed to joining the highly competitive Western Conference in an era dominated by those Warriors.
In fact, the 14-time All-Star said the Warriors didn’t factor into his free-agency decision-making process and neither did his Finals streak.
“Nah, that was never a thought,” James told Yahoo Sports after posting 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 18 minutes in a 123-113 victory over the back-to-back champs at T-Mobile Arena. “I don’t really buy into [defeat]. I feel like with me on the floor, I can compete versus anybody individually. But at the end of the day, in order to win, your teams have to be great. Individuals are very great, but in order to win a championship, you have to have great teams.”
During locker-room pregame availability, James gave off an air of midseason focus as he sat silent at his locker stall, zoned out with his headphones on.
His back was to the media contingent hovered around. A few videographers and photographers attempted to snag a clean shot near the right side of his stall, but James kindly asked them to give him his space and they dispersed.
“The focus and communications skills with everyone starts with LeBron,” fellow new Laker Lance Stephenson told Yahoo Sports. “His communications skills are incredible, and it’s contagious and it helps the whole team.”
On the court, James was spry as ever, moving without the ball and racing up the court in the team’s accelerated pace offense. It was an intense, competitive contest in the sold-out arena.
“It was a preseason game,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson, “but it didn’t feel like it.”
On a squad filled with youngsters and promise mixed with savvy veterans, James understands that in the immediate future they are no match for the Warriors and probably no match for the other top teams in the conference.
But still, no matter the challenge, James is still looking to plow through the competition.
“I would never get into [an East-West] conversation like that,” James told Yahoo Sports. “‘Oh, he’s competitive in the East, but [the West is different].’ I’m well respected by my peers and that’s all that matters. I’m going to be as patient as I can be. I know I got a young squad, but these guys are willing to learn and I’m willing to learn with them.”
The champs already have respect for the Lakers’ style of play.
“They’re going to get out and run fast, and they have athletes and playmakers,” Durant said. “They got shooters. They make you think. You got to make the correct plays on the offensive side of the ball in order for you to kind of slow them down.”
The 2018-19 Lakers feature a number of players on one-year contracts, and the franchise is expected to have two max salary slots available next summer. The organization’s plan is to use this season to evaluate which players can fit long term with James.
James will win games this season with his skill set and through sheer will, but most within NBA circles don’t expect much from the Lakers.
“My attitude is win every game,” Stephenson, who is on a one-year deal, told Yahoo Sports. “I approach a game like it’s a playoff game. When I’m out there, it may look like I’m joking around, but I’m very serious and having fun and trying to communicate with my team as much as possible.”
Next year is supposed to be the year the purple and gold return to NBA supremacy, but James isn’t willing to allow his mind to go there.
That streak of eight straight Finals appearances isn’t halted yet.
“[The Finals streak] means a lot,” James told Yahoo Sports. “To have a streak of anything is significant. Games played, threes made, Finals appearances. These are things that you can always talk about when you get older and are done with the game, but at the end of the day, they all come to an end.”
More from Yahoo Sports:
• NFL’s TV ratings dip wasn’t about Trump, study finds
• Ex-Olympian Gold eyes return after battling mental illness
• Yankees’ Sabathia rips ‘terrible’ ump after ALDS loss
• Dan Wetzel: Will new revelation get Louisville the death penalty?