CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James embraces the grind of playing on the road, particularly in the NBA Playoffs.
From Boston to Indiana and San Antonio to Dallas and all points in-between, James has played in hostile environments during his 12 straight trips to the postseason over his 14-year NBA career, and he knows well what to expect when the Cavaliers take the court against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals tonight.
“I just love the adversity of the road,” James said. “Home cooking is great. I’ve loved the home fans for 14 years, but I love playing on the road more than I love playing at home. It’s just a weird thing. I love the adversity.
“I love the ‘Tonight is not the night, LeBron’ slogans. I love that you’re overrated and all those things. I love all of that. I don’t know, man. It’s just the bunker mentality of knowing that it’s 15 guys plus the coaching staff and whoever travels with us against the whole state or the whole city.”
After winning the first two games of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals by a combined total of 50 points, the Cavaliers got blown out, 99-84, in Game 3 and struggled their way to a 105-99 loss in Game 4 before closing out the series with wins in Games 5 and 6.
But that Game 6 win came on the road at the Air Canada Centre. And since their loss in Game 4, when the Cavaliers have had much of their starting lineup on the court, they are undefeated against the Raptors.
Both teams held out their key players in the regular-season finale, which Toronto won in Cleveland last month.
“Sometimes, I’m able to see them,” James said of signs from fans. “Some of them are actually pretty good. Some of them, I’ve seen before. I’ve seen it since high school actually, but some of them are pretty good. They take a lot of time out of their day to try to figure out how to get my attention away from the game, but I’m able to look at all the signs in the crowd and maintain my focus on the court too, so it doesn’t do much.”
James knows well what it means to have success on the road, as he led the Cavaliers to wins in Games 5 and 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against a Golden State Warriors team that had lost only three times at Oracle Arena in Oakland throughout the regular season and first three rounds of the playoffs.
“There’s no built-in advantage,” James said of liking the road games. “It doesn’t mean that I’m going to be able to win a road game in this series. You just play the game. For me, I just go out and try to win every game and do whatever it takes to help our team be successful.
“We’re going into a hostile environment in Game 3 and Game 4. We know that. Those fans are unbelievable. I stated that last year after we closed that series out, but listen, it doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to win this year. We’ve got to go out and make it happen.”