LeBron James says NBA playoffs are ‘a sprint now’ ahead of Round 1

There’s a 64-win team in Boston that ran away with the league’s best record. The defending champions in Denver, a group that won 57 games. A fearless young bunch in Oklahoma City, whose No. 1 seed was no fluke. A trio of Villanova alums in New York, who turned the Knicks into a real contender.

And, once again, there’s LeBron James, too.

LeBron James says NBA playoffs are 'a sprint now' ahead of Round 1 | FOX  Sports

The NBA playoffs are about to begin with the Celtics and Nuggets the heavy favorites — at least according to BetMGM Sportsbook — to collide in the Finals, and no shortage of teams have realistic belief that they can win the whole thing as well. After a seven-month ramp-up through training camp, a preseason, the regular season, the inaugural NBA Cup and then a play-in tournament, the league finally wakes up on Saturday with 16 teams left in the chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“Come Saturday, there are 15 other teams that want what we have,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have the world championship trophy and everybody’s trying to take it from us.”

Let the games begin. The Nuggets — with most of last season’s core back this year, including probable NBA MVP Nikola Jokic — are trying to become the eighth franchise to win back-to-back titles. They’ll open that quest against the Lakers and James, who is seeking a fifth title and has never hidden that this is, by far, the time of year that matters most to him.

“There ain’t no more pace,” said the 39-year-old James, the league’s oldest active player and all-time scoring leader who is seeking a fifth NBA title. “Pace yourself for what? Now it’s the sprint. It’s a sprint now. We already went through the marathon.”

Round 1 begins Saturday with four games: Orlando at ClevelandPhoenix at MinnesotaPhiladelphia at New York and the Los Angeles Lakers at Denver. On Sunday, four more Game 1s await: Chicago or Miami at Boston, Dallas at the L.A. ClippersIndiana at Milwaukee and Sacramento or New Orleans at Oklahoma City.

The Thunder won 22 games three seasons ago, then 24 games the year after that. Those days are long gone already: 40 wins last season showed the potential, and 57 wins this season — with no full-time starter over age 25 — suggest that OKC’s time may be now.

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“It means a little more, how we got here, for sure,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder guard who is a legit MVP candidate after averaging 30.1 points this season. “But at the end of the day, it’s home-court advantage, I guess, until the Finals. And that’s always a plus when your home court is like ours.”

They are young, they might be brash, and they certainly are fun. Thunder guard Jalen Williams was asked why he wasn’t wearing his division title T-shirt when the Thunder clinched the No. 1 seed: “This leather jacket cost a lot,” he said, drawing laughs.

The Thunder weren’t expected to be in this position; they were given 100-1 odds to win the NBA title when the season started. Boston is a very different story; much was expected from the Celtics, and they delivered.

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