CLEVELAND | For LeBron James, traveling isn’t a violation, but rather a delight.
After showing his passport at the Canadian border, James will settle in and take inventory of his new surroundings in Toronto on Friday.
The Cleveland Cavaliers star will look into the crowd at Air Canada Centre, read a few of those hand-painted signs calling him a crybaby or worse and laugh. He’ll hear the taunts and find some amusement in the echoing chants of “Over-Rated!” that will surely rain down upon him.
James will feel the disgust directed at him by fans, and he’ll embrace it.
“I just like the adversity of the road,” he said. “Home cooking is great, love the home fans for 14 years. But I love playing out on the road more than I love playing at home. It’s just a weird thing.”
His ability to channel the animosity has resulted in him winning at least one game in 27 consecutive playoff series, a record and another check mark in his favor in the debate of James’ place in the pantheon of NBA greats.
It’s also why the Raptors are in big trouble.
Down 2-0 after being bulldozed by James in Cleveland, Toronto needs to make some adjustments heading into Game 3 or summer vacation will arrive early again. James has toyed with the Raptors to this point, scoring 39 points on just 14 shots in Game 2, a performance that left frustrated Toronto star DeMar DeRozan to ask for some assistance.
“If you can find somebody to stop LeBron in these moments, I’ll give you $100,” DeRozan said.
NBA owners might be willing to fork over much more than that to stymie the relentless James, who has had some of his biggest playoff moments on the road:
— In 2007 at the appropriately named Palace, King James scored 48, including 25 straight and 29 of Cleveland’s last 30 in Game 5 to beat Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals.
— With Miami in 2012, he saved the Heat from elimination — and silenced some of his most boisterous critics — by scoring 45 points with 15 rebounds in a Game 6 win at Boston, where his first stint with the Cavs ended with him yanking off his jersey following a season-ending loss.
— And then in last year’s epic Game 7 of the Finals, when James recorded a triple-double against Golden State, he had perhaps the signature moment of his career, a late block that delivered Cleveland its first pro sports championship in 52 years.
James doesn’t have a good explanation of why he thrives on the road.
“I don’t know, man,” said James, who is 19-0 when leading a series 2-0. “It’s the bunker mentality of knowing it’s 15 guys plus the coaching staff and whoever is there that’s traveled with us against the whole state and the whole city.”
The whole sports world is taking notice of James in these playoffs. In leading the Cavaliers to six straight wins, he’s averaging 34.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.8 blocks. He’s shooting 57 percent from the floor and playing 42.2 minutes per game.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he understated.
A year ago, the Raptors rebounded in the Eastern Conference finals after being buried by a combined 50 points in Games 1 and 2 and won twice at home to tie the series.
The Cavs aren’t looking too far ahead.
“We understand it’s going to be tough, but we all understand that we are a different team as well,” Kyrie Irving said. “Last year I don’t think we had the right mindset going into Toronto for Game 3 and 4 and they really handed it to us, got the crowd involved and it was just really loud in there. For us, we just have to maintain our focus, maintain our wits about us and we will be fine.”
James will make sure of it.
And if he needs any extra motivation, the man seeking his seventh straight Finals appearance and fourth championship plans to gaze at those disparaging signs.
“Some of them are actually pretty good and some of them are like I’ve seen them before, seen it since high school,” he said. “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 still maintain my focus on the court too, so it doesn’t do much.”
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