OAKLAND, Calif. – LeBron James looked relaxed and spry as he worked on his jumper during the Cleveland Cavaliers' practice on Saturday.
That was a departure from two days earlier when James was spent after playing his third game in five days during the Cavaliers' loss in Game 4 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night. The Finals are now tied 2-2 with Game 5 here on Sunday evening. James expects to have more energy after getting two days off.
"Any little rest you can get throughout the postseason run, it's like a lifeline," James said from the Warriors' practice facility. "For us to be able to get this extra day to mentally and physically prepare for [Sunday] night is definitely helpful."
The momentum in the Finals switched after the Warriors regained home-court advantage with the Game 4 victory. Golden State had struggled offensively in Games 2 and 3, but helped its offense by going to a small lineup with swingman Andrew Iguodala starting in place of center Andrew Bogut. Though the Warriors are expected to stick with the new lineup Sunday, coach Steve Kerr declined to confirm his plans.
James thinks the two days between games will also help the Cavaliers counter the Warriors' lineup change.
[Timofey Mozgov is] starting off on Iggy; it's a different matchup than Bogut, obviously," James said. "You've got a guy that's primarily on the perimeter in Game 4 versus guarding a guy that's always in the paint, for the most part, unless he's initiating offense.
"So it's definitely a different change for us. But I think we'll be much more prepared for it [Sunday] night if they go with the same lineup."
The Warriors' frontrunner for a possible NBA Finals MVP award entering the series was expected to be either Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. Iguodala, however, has taken over that spot through four Finals games in large part because of his challenging defense on James.
James averaged 41 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists during the first three games. Iguodala played a big role in limiting James to 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting from the field in nearly 41 minutes in Game 4. Iguodala said the keys to guarding James are being "mentally prepared; understanding it's going to be a long game;" and not overreacting when James succeeds.
"If I was guarding another guy and he made a couple baskets, you might overreact like you might need to switch something up," Iguodala said. "But we have a scheme in place, and in order for the scheme to work, the overall picture is 48 minutes. So one or two minutes may not work, but in the grand scheme of things, you're trying to break them down, you're trying to force your will up on them, and it's going to take the whole game.
"So, mentally, you have to be with it the whole night. That can be really stressful if you don't go about it the right way."
The injury-plagued Cavaliers played only two players off the bench in Game 4 in guards J.R. Smith and James Jones. Cleveland coach David Blatt declined to say if he would use more of his bench in Game 5. With James now well rested, that may not be necessary.
"We've got a lot of experienced players on our roster, and a lot of guys have been through these battles before," Blatt said. "Some of the guys have not played a whole lot. Our results have been pretty good as we've been playing, but, again, I believe in those guys and their ability to step in, if necessary, and do what needs to be done."