Get to the NBA Finals as many times as LeBron James has and you’ve seen pretty much everything.
He has won a Finals series after going up 2-1, and he’s lost one. He’s won a Finals series after going down 2-1, and he’s lost one too. He’s been swept twice. He’s come back from a 3-1 deficit — which almost never happens.
So, being up 2-0 in this year’s series? He isn’t taking anything for granted. And neither is his team.
“It’s nothing to be excited about,” Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said after Friday night’s 124-114 victory over Miami. “We’re up 2-0. Teams come back every game. We’ve got to finish the job. We take it game by game. There’s nobody that’s excited in our locker room. I can tell you that right now.”
You might not believe it, but the Lakers insist. They aren’t comfortable now, they can’t let up. The Heat could come back. Teams have recovered from 2-0 deficits before.
One more win and their routine will become a little bit less convincing.
On Sunday, the Lakers have a chance to go up 3-0 over the Heat. They are seeking their first championship since 2010 and the 17th in franchise history. The Heat are likely to be without Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic again, both listed as doubtful with injuries.
No team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, and the chances would be extremely low at 3-1.
Even at 2-0, the odds are heavily against Miami. Only four teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit in the Finals.
“We can’t get too high, especially with this team,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said. “They didn’t even have two of their top scorers, two of their best players. They always have that next-man-up mentality. They come every night, they play hard, they play physical, they play aggressive.”
Athletes and teams work to find motivation where they can. James uses his own experiences.
“I saw the way they approached every game, how they approached every possession,” James said. “They didn’t make mistakes. They weren’t just happy with being there; they wanted to be great, as a unit and as individuals as well.
“I sensed that as a 22-year-old, and I saw that as a 22-year-old. That helped shape me year after year after year after year, just holding on to that feeling of not being able to reach the ultimate goal. But at the same time, like I said, just having that adversity and having those moments has put me in a position where I’ve been throughout my career.”
The Lakers’ goal all season has been to win a championship. In moments when they need to tighten their focus, they have veterans who already accomplished that goal to help them get there. Not just James, but also Rajon Rondo, Danny Green and even JaVale McGee.
“When you get this late in the season in the Finals, it’s not much you have to do to command the guys in the huddle,” Rondo said. “Personally, I was continuing to remind guys to stay focused, keep their poise, take care of the ball and give LeBron or AD the ball.”
They haven’t had to look very hard to find reasons to warn themselves of the potential pitfalls of complacency. In Game 1 there were lulls for the Lakers, both early and late. In Game 2, the Heat stayed within striking distance despite the fact that they were missing two starters.
Beyond that, they’re all aware of what this moment means.
“Until we win four games, we haven’t accomplished our goal,” guard Alex Caruso said Friday night on a videoconference. “It’s been over a year together and we’ve talked about the same goal from Day 1. We’re still here chasing that same goal. Until we get four wins, we’re staying hungry.”