LeBron James insisted there would be no extra meaning should he win an NBA championship at the expense of former team the Miami Heat, while the Los Angeles Lakers superstar described reaching the Finals in the Orlando bubble as the "most challenging thing I've ever done".

James will make his 10th Finals appearance searching for his fourth title when the top-seeded Lakers and Heat meet in Game 1 at Walt Disney World Resort on Wednesday.

The four-time MVP's first two championships came during his time in Miami, where he reigned supreme with the Heat alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2012 and 2013, while he added another title via the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

"Absolutely not," James – preparing for his first Finals since joining the Lakers in 2018-19 – said when asked if winning the championship against Miami would carry any extra significance.

"It's no extra meaning to winning a championship, no matter who you're playing against. It's already hard enough to even reach the Finals, to be in this position. If you're able to become victorious out of the Finals, it doesn't matter who it's against.

"I'm just happy that I'm here with the opportunity to represent not only myself but represent our fans, our fan base, our organisation, my team-mates, our coaching staff, our training staff and so many others that represent this organisation to the utmost respect."

The Lakers, who returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, overcame the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets en route to the Finals in Orlando, Florida.

It has been a difficult situation behind closed doors inside the Orlando bubble due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2019-20 season was suspended in March before resuming in July without fans and with teams based at Walt Disney World Resort.

"It's probably been the most challenging thing I've ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through," said James, as the Lakers eye their first title since 2010. "But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for.

"I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it's been extremely tough.

"But I'm here for one reason and one reason only, and that's to compete for a championship. That was my mindset once I entered the bubble, once I entered the quarantine process the first two days. Then right from my first practice, my mindset was - if I'm going to be here, make the most of it and see what you can do and lock in on what the main thing is. The main thing was for us to finish the season and compete for a championship.

"So that's just been my mindset throughout these -- I don't even know how many days it is. However many days it is, it feels like five years. So it really doesn't matter. I've been as locked in as I've ever been in my career."

Jimmy Butler is not concerned by the Miami Heat being portrayed as underdogs for the NBA Finals, insisting they will continue to play in the same way and "see where we end up".

While it is hardly a surprise to see the Los Angeles Lakers come out of the Western Conference, few expected the Heat to be the last team standing in the East.

Butler helped Miami, the fifth seeds in their conference, see off the Boston Celtics in six games, sending the franchise into the finals for the first time since 2014.

The last time the Heat made it so far, LeBron James was on their roster, but this time they must overcome the 16-time NBA All-Star - as well as the rest of the Lakers - if they are to pull off another upset and be crowned champions.

"I'm not going to say that we're any better than anybody else, but I just don't think that we're underdogs. I don't," Butler told the media.

"So what that nobody picked us to be here. That's okay. Pretty sure nobody is picking us to win, either. That's okay. We understand that. We embrace that, because at the end of the day we truly don't care.

"We're just going to go out here and compete, play together like we always have, and I'm going to see where we end up.

"But, at the end of the day, we're going to do this our way, the Miami Heat way, and that way has worked for us all year long."

James twice led Miami to the NBA title during his time with the team before returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he won a further championship in 2016.

While now 35, the first overall pick in the 2003 draft remains at the peak of his powers, according to Butler.

"He's still at the top of his game at 35, at 26, at 21. He's still dominating," Butler said of LeBron. "I mean, you've had to go through him at 26, 35, probably at 49.

"But he's shown why he is the player that he is, why he's had the career and the legacy that he's continually building, and it's not going to be an easy task these next couple of games.

"If anybody is up for that task, the Miami Heat are."

James was Finals MVP when the Heat triumphed in both 2012 and 2013.

He will now make NBA history by becoming the first man to enter a playoffs battle against a team having previously achieved Finals MVP status for that team.

LeBron James is back in the NBA Finals and a significant achievement is in the offing for the Los Angeles Lakers superstar.

The three-time champion will make his 10th appearance in the showpiece series when the Lakers battle his former team the Miami Heat for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

James has produced some memorable displays in the Finals, but also some he would probably rather forget.

Ahead of Game 1 on Wednesday, we use Stats Perform data to look back at some of his stand-out performances in the championship series and see what milestones await.

 

2007: Things got off to a shaky start for James, who had 5.8 turnovers per game as the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. That is the most by any player in a Finals in the past 30 years.

2011: As the Heat's dream team were defeated 4-2 by the Dallas Mavericks, James averaged 17.8 points per game. It is the only time he has been held to under 20 in a playoff series.

2012: LeBron's wait for a first ring finally ended and he was pivotal to the Heat's 4-1 success against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished Game 5 with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, making him the first player since James Worthy in 1988 to have a 25-point triple-double in a title-clinching win.

2013: The Heat went back-to-back by defeating the Spurs 4-3 and in the process James became the first player to have two triple-doubles in a single Finals since Magic Johnson in 1991 – the second of those came in Miami's incredible Game 6 overtime win, having been five points down with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

2014: LeBron became the first player to average at least 25 points per game on a minimum of 50 per cent three-point shooting in a Finals since Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in 2002. However, it was not enough to stop the Heat slumping to a 4-1 defeat against the Spurs.

2015: Although the Cavs lost 4-2, James produced a string of stellar displays against the Golden State Warriors to become the first player to average at least 35 points per game in a Finals since Shaquille O'Neal in 2002.

2016: In a rematch against the Warriors a year later, LeBron spearheaded a Cavs side that became the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and win the NBA championship. His phenomenal block on Andre Iguolada with less than two minutes remaining laid the foundation for Kyrie Irving to seal the win.

2017: The Warriors gained vengeance with a 4-1 success the following season, despite James averaging a 30-point triple-double in the Finals – a feat no other player has achieved since the NBA-ABA merger.

2018: Things could have been very different had it not been for J.R. Smith's brain fade at the end of the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the third straight matchup with the Warriors. James became the first player with a 50-point game in the Finals since Michael Jordan in 1993, but Golden State won in overtime and went on to sweep the Cavs for the championship.

What now?

After missing the playoffs in his first year with the Lakers, LeBron has a chance to join John Salley and Robert Horry as the only NBA players to win a title with three different teams.

Even more impressively, though, he can become the first player of any of the major leagues in the United States – NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL – to win the championship MVP award with three different teams.

LeBron James is basketball's ultimate test and the Miami Heat will have to be "near perfect" to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, admits Jimmy Butler.

The Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 125-113 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday to clinch a 4-2 series triumph.

It marks the first time Miami will contest the NBA Finals since making the last of four in a row in 2014, which marked the James' final season as a Heat player.

Butler is under no illusions as to the size of the task the team faces but insists the Heat still have another level to reach.

"The main key, and it's been like this for a very long time, if you want to win, you're going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team," said Butler, who had 22 points and eight assists. 

"At the end of the day, that's what it normally comes down to. That's what we got to focus in on. 

"Obviously you can't focus in on him because he has so many really good players around him, but you're going to get the same test over and over again until you pass, and that test is LeBron James.

"I said it time and time again. I believe in our group. I know that we can still win four more. We're not satisfied. We're not complacent. 

"We know we've got a really good team to go up against. We can enjoy it for the night. We said this from the beginning of the year."

Asked how Miami have fought their way past teams who were seeded higher in the East, Butler replied: "Together. That's how we were able to do it. I don't look at five-seed or one-seed. 

"It's all about who is playing the best basketball at the right time.

"I feel like we're still yet to play our absolute best basketball, but along the way, we realise what we have to do moving forward.

"So we have to be near perfect to beat the Lakers. We're capable of it. But we're not worried about no five-seed or one-seed. We're worried about us and being the best Miami Heat team that we can be."

Bam Adebayo was a talisman for the Heat, putting up 32 points, 14 rebounds and five assists to dominate the Celtics just a couple of days on from taking the blame for Miami's loss in Game 5.

"I let my team-mates down again in Game 5. You know, I just had to realign myself and who I really want to become," he said. "I showed that tonight. You said you wanted to see me be a scorer in the fourth, well, there you go.

"It's just one of those things, you know, coaches they want me to be better and they want me to do great things. That's the first time I got plays, back-to-back, back-to-back. 

"Being in that moment and embracing it and taking over is a great thing for me. But at the end of the day, we got four more. Our business isn't done yet."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens conceded his team did not get a good enough grip on Adebayo.

"I thought today after we had the lead, Adebayo, and credit all of them, but Adebayo deciding he's just going to drive the ball put us in a real bind with the shooters around him," he said. 

"And their physicality is something that I'm not sure that we probably talked about enough. 

"They're strong, they're physical, they're tough and, him in particular, dominated that fourth quarter. Even the plays where he didn't score, his presence was so impactful and it put us in a real bind with the ability to guard him."

The Miami Heat's fairytale season continues after setting up an NBA Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers at the expense of the Boston Celtics.

Bam Adebayo led the way as the Heat topped the Celtics 125-113 to seal a 4-2 series victory in the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday.

The Heat had not reached the Finals since losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 showpiece, while LeBron James was still in Miami.

Miami were not expected to challenge for the championship after missing the playoffs last season, having finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, but Jimmy Butler's arrival has helped transform the Heat.

Butler put up 22 points, but it was Adebayo who ignited the Heat with a season-high 32 points and 14 rebounds in Game 6 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Tyler Herro added 19 points off the bench, while veteran Andre Iguodala dazzled – going five for five from the field and four for four from three-point range for 15 points as the Heat advanced to the Finals for the sixth time.

The Celtics bowed out, despite Jaylen Brown's 26 points and Jayson Tatum's double-double of 24 points and career-high 11 assists.

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart also had 20 points apiece for Boston.

 

Heat face Lakers

The NBA Finals will get underway on Wednesday. The top-seeded Lakers will be looking to claim their first championship since 2010.

Bam Adebayo took the blame for the Miami Heat's Game 5 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Friday, though Jimmy Butler did not agree with his assessment.

The Heat failed to close out the Eastern Conference finals as they blew a 12-point lead to lose 121-108, meaning their series advantage was cut to 3-2 ahead of Game 6 on Sunday.

Adebayo, who played with a sleeve on his left arm after supposedly suffering an injury late in Game 4, contributed 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting, eight rebounds and eight assists but felt he lacked intensity on the defensive end.

"I played like s***. Bottom line. I put that game on me. It's not my team-mates' fault, it's not my coaches' fault, it's me. I missed too many shots I should have made. Put that one on me," said Adebayo.

"I wasn't being the defensive anchor that I should have been. I don't think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today.

"I got to be better. That's the bottom line. That's it. There's no excuses to this ... this game is on me. I played terrible and that can't happen."

Butler insisted the defeat was "on everybody" and said he would attempt to lift Adebayo's spirits ahead of Game 6. 

"It's not [on Adebayo]. It's on everybody. He does so much for us that it could feel like that at times, but it's definitely not on him. It's on us as a whole," said Butler. 

"We all understand that because nobody was playing the way we're supposed to play, the way we have to play in order for us to win. Nobody. And for him to say that, I respect it, I love him for it. But he can't do it by himself – we've got to be there with him. 

"I will [speak to him] but I think he knows you can't get stuck on this game now. We learn from it, it's something of the past. But we're going to need him to be who he is on Sunday. 

"We need everybody to be that way. We're gonna watch film, we're gonna learn from it, not saying we already don't know what went wrong, but we'll be ready to go. We will fix it." 

Brad Stevens felt improved defense helped the Boston Celtics turn Game 5 against the Miami Heat to stay alive in the NBA playoffs.

The Celtics rallied for a 121-108 victory over Miami on Friday to cut the Heat's Eastern Conference finals lead to 3-2.

But Boston struggled early, trailing by 12 points, before a 41-25 third quarter helped them turn the game.

Celtics head coach Stevens said improvement defensively was key for Boston.

"I just thought we played with great tenacity defensively, and our offense followed suit," he told a news conference.

"But they're very hard. It's easy for me to sit up and say to be at our very best and get stops on every possession.

"This is a heck of an offensive team, a heck of a well-coached team and hard to guard."

Celtics star Jayson Tatum scored 17 of his 31 points in the third quarter, with Boston going on a 20-3 run.

Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra lamented his side's inability to slow the Celtics down.

"We missed some open shots to start the quarter and then those turned into run-outs that got them going, those easy ones. This is a team that has great offensive firepower," he said.

"When they see the ball go in the basket they started to get more aggressive and putting a ton of pressure on us in the paint, much like they did in Game 3 and we weren't able to shut that off, and they just carried that through."

Game 6 is on Sunday.

The Boston Celtics stayed alive in the NBA playoffs with a 121-108 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Jayson Tatum (31 points and 10 rebounds) lifted the Celtics at the Walt Disney World Resort on Friday as they reduced Miami's series lead to 3-2.

The win came after Miami made a better start, at one stage leading by as many as 12 points.

Tatum scored 17 third-quarter points as the Celtics rallied on their way to a victory that kept them alive in the playoffs.

Jaylen Brown (28 points) also starred, while Kemba Walker (15 points) and Daniel Theis (15 points and 13 rebounds) were also key contributors.

Duncan Robinson (20 points) had put Miami in position in the first half before the Celtics' fightback.

Jimmy Butler finished with 17 points, while Goran Dragic had 23 before fouling out.

Coming off his Game 4 heroics, rookie Tyler Herro managed just 14 points.

Game 6 of the series is on Sunday.

 

Nuggets face Lakers

Leading the Western Conference finals 3-1, the Los Angeles Lakers are a win away from a first NBA Finals appearance since 2010 ahead of facing the Denver Nuggets again on Saturday.

Brad Stevens has challenged the Boston Celtics to "get after it" as they bid to get back into their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Miami Heat.

Already up against a 3-1 deficit, it could be curtains for the Celtics' season on Friday when Game 5 comes around.

A regular-season record of 48-24, to Miami's 44-29, had indicated the Celtics should be competitive, while Boston also came out on top in two of their three previous clashes with the Heat in 2019-20.

Yet a 112-109 loss in Game 4 dealt a blow to hopes of reaching the championship series, with 20-year-old rookie Tyler Herro draining a career-high 37 points for Miami who are just a win away now from the NBA Finals.

"It's hard to win a playoff game, right?" head coach Stevens said.

"We're just looking at how can we play better on Friday night. That's the most important game of the season. We need to play our best game yet. That's it."

Coming from 3-1 down to win a best-of-seven series is a daunting challenge, but Stevens is not looking at the prospect of having to win three straight games.

The clear message from the coach is: one game at a time.

"I don't know what the historical odds are," he said. "It doesn't really matter. The situation we're in, we've got to play well Friday. We don't have to win three games on Friday; we have to win one.

"That's going to be our focus. That's going to be our attention. We'll get after it."

Tyler Herro saluted "big brother" Jimmy Butler after taking the Miami Heat to the brink of the NBA Finals, and took a swipe at his own doubters.

The 20-year-old Herro led scoring for the Heat with a career-high 37 points in a 112-109 win over the Boston Celtics, securing a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Now the former Kentucky Wildcats prodigy, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, could cap a first season in the professional ranks with an appearance in the championship series.

He had 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting, alongside six rebounds and three assists, but the modest Herro pointed to the influence of Butler as a telling factor in his rapid rise.

"Jimmy, ever since I got here, he's been like a big brother to me and he's shined light on me. He's taught me a lot of things," Herro said.

"He's just continuing to get on me, whether it's something I want to hear or not, he's going to tell me what I need to hear. I appreciate him for that. Without Jimmy, I probably wouldn't be doing this as a rookie.

"We have a great group of guys in the locker room and everybody wants to win. I know my role. It's not to score 30, whatever I had tonight. It's not to do that every night.

"Some nights it may require me to step up like tonight and make some shots. But I know in the fourth quarter, we're going to get the ball to Jimmy; we're going to get the ball to Goran [Dragic].

"Those are our guys. We are going to run to them and they are going it make the most plays for us and they are going to win us games most of the time."

Although Herro remains deferential to such senior figures, he gives himself plenty of credit too for making it at the highest level, having been told repeatedly he lacked what it would take.

"I'm just going to bet on myself. I've been doing that my whole life," he said. "I went from a small town in Milwaukee to Kentucky, and nobody thought I would survive there and nobody thought I would survive here. At the end of the day, it's just betting on myself."

Reflecting on his time in Kentucky, he explained: "I think someone said my wingspan was too short. They say everything, but whatever they say, it's whatever."

Herro contested the suggestion he was the leading player in Wednesday night's game, pointing to the likes of Butler, Dragic and Bam Adebayo, and predicted "a dogfight" in Game 5 on Friday night.

Butler, who had 24 points and nine rebounds, continues to be impressed by his young team-mate.

"Not too many people get an opportunity to make it this far in the playoffs and to be in a game like this. But for him, it's another day at the office," Butler said.

"I think it makes all of us smile. We're all so happy for him because he knows what he's capable of, and he just plays with so much confidence.

"He's been doing it all year long. So to him, there's no pressure or anything. He's just going to keep playing basketball the right way."

Tyler Herro led the Miami Heat to a 112-109 win over the Boston Celtics and a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Herro, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, stole the show in Game 4 of the playoff contest at Walt Disney World Resort on Wednesday.

The 20-year-old had 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting, to go with six rebounds and three assists, in an impressive performance.

Herro's career-high 37 points put Miami within a win of a first NBA Finals appearance since 2014.

As Herro led the way, Jimmy Butler (24 points and nine rebounds), Bam Adebayo (20 points and 12 rebounds) and Goran Dragic (22 points) all chipped in for Miami.

Herro's 37 points were the most by a rookie in the Conference finals or later since Magic Johnson's 42 in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, as per STATS.

In a worry for Miami, All-Star Adebayo appeared to suffer a wrist injury late in the game.

The Heat held a half-time lead for the first time in the series, although they were pulled back by Boston.

Scoreless in the first half, Celtics star Jayson Tatum erupted for 16 third-quarter points, finishing with 28 for the game.

Kemba Walker had 20 points and Jaylen Brown contributed 21, but the Celtics are staring at an Eastern Conference finals defeat.

 

Lakers face Nuggets

After the Denver Nuggets cut the Los Angeles Lakers' Western Conference finals lead to 2-1, the teams meet again on Thursday.

Marcus Smart described the Boston Celtics' argument after their Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat as "electrifying".

Smart reportedly exploded at his team-mates after the Celtics suffered a 106-101 loss to the Heat to fall 2-0 behind in the Eastern Conference finals last week.

Boston responded on Saturday, recording a 117-106 victory to cut Miami's series lead in half.

Smart said what happened in the Celtics' locker room was normal for a "family".

"Electrifying, what happened in the locker room," he told reporters on Monday.

"We're a family. Family fights all the time. I fight with my brothers all the time. But at the end of the day, we can fight with each other, nobody else can. You know, it happens between families, especially a family like ours who's been together for so long. It's going to happen.

"We've got a lot of guys who we've played with their feelings on their sleeves, play with their heart on their sleeves, play with their heart night in, night out, and we weren't supposed to be happy down 2-0, especially those two games that we gave up. We're playing a great Miami team and we can't have lapses like that.

"Of course emotions are going to fly, but like I said, we're a family and that happens."

The Celtics are aiming to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, and face Miami in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Smart said the incident in the locker room showed to him the love within the Celtics.

"I knew what type of guys we were. I knew what type of team we had. I knew we were emotional. I knew we were passionate, and I knew we all loved each other," he said.

"But I also learned a lot of – not just myself but a lot of my team-mates, we also grew up even more through that adversity.

"I've always been saying that before you see the rainbow it has to storm. For us that was a storm that we had to go through. We found our happy place. Like I said, families fight, but for us to be able to respond like we did and to be able to have that growth, it shows a lot."

Jimmy Butler lamented another slow start from the Miami Heat as the Boston Celtics held on for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Miami's lead in the series was cut to 2-1 as Boston raced out to an early lead and saw it out, with four Celtics players scoring at least 20 points.

The Heat had overturned a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to win Game 1, while they rallied from a 15-point hole in the third quarter to take Game 2, yet this time around Miami, who trailed by 20 points at one point in Game 3, were unable to muster another comeback.

"I think it gets old, playing from behind consistently," Heat swingman Butler told reporters.

"Especially against a great team like Boston and what they bring to the table."

Boston led 31-22 after the first quarter and though Miami scored 32 fourth-quarter points it was a case of too little, too late.

"We've got to start the game how we start the fourth," Miami's All-Star Bam Adebayo added.

"I feel like we're not the type of team where we can go through the motions and try and figure out everything in the first half, and then in the third or fourth, we just try to turn it on. It's not like that. We are not that type of team."

It was just Miami's second loss of this postseason and Adebayo is keen for the Heat to start hotter in Game 4 on Wednesday.

"We've got to play with detail," he said.

"I feel like we've got to work on our offense a little bit. They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping it up and having fun. I feel like that was the big difference in the game.

"They jumped out on us, and I guess they got tired of us being down 13 and coming back and winning. We've just got to do a better job of not letting ourselves get in a big deficit."

Jayson Tatum insists things are "normal" in the Boston Celtics locker room after the team recorded a pivotal Game 3 win over the Miami Heat.

Having lost second-half leads of 14 and 15 points respectively in the opening two games of the Eastern Conference finals, reports about heated disagreements between players were rife.

Coach Brad Stevens reportedly held a late-night meeting with leading Celtics players to discuss any grievances and Game 3 saw his team get back into the playoff series with a 117-106 triumph in Orlando.

With the series close again at 2-1, Tatum – who thrived with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists on Saturday – felt debate over their locker room had been overblown.

"It's been normal," he said, per ESPN. "Anybody that's played sports, played in a team game, we're not supposed to be happy being down 0-2. If you are, then you don't care. We care about this.

"Basketball is a game of emotions. So we want guys to be frustrated, be upset, to care. 

"It's nothing personal. We just have to figure some things out. It's nothing more than that.

"You're supposed to talk it out, figure it out and come together for the next game. Leave what happened in the past in the past because you can't change it."

Gordon Hayward returned after a month out with an ankle injury, registering six points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block in 31 minutes.

Discussing his return, Tatum added: "It meant everything.

"Obviously, we played a while without him. And I've said it before: crazy that anyone would think we're better without him. 

"We're so much better when he's out there and so much more dynamic, so much more versatile when he's out there.

"It felt great to have the full team back. He played great in his first game, and he's going to continue to get better, get his feel back. So to have him back is everything."

Four Celtics players topped 20 points, with Jaylen Brown, who echoed Tatum's comments on team cohesion, leading the way with 26, plus seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

"There's some great guys in that locker room," said Brown. 

"A lot of emotion, a lot of passion, but we're a family and we're here for each other at the end of the day. We exemplified that when we came out together. We stayed together during some tough moments.

"But we didn't hang our head. We kept our will high and persevered to win this game."

Kemba Walker (21 points) and Marcus Smart (20 points) also had productive outings and the teams will now rest during a brief break in this series until Game 4 on Wednesday.

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