SAN ANTONIO – The air conditioning apparently works inside the AT&T Center, one of many reasons why tonight’s marquee matchup between LeBron James’ Cavaliers and the Spurs is a far cry from the Finals.
“Oh, it’s pretty cold this morning, it’s good,” James said following shootaround this morning when asked if he had indeed checked San Antonio’s cooling unit.
In case you’re unfamiliar, James suffered severe cramps in Game 1 of the Finals last year in San Antonio inside a sweltering, air conditioning-less AT&T Center; and with him on the bench the Spurs pulled away late and won 110-95.
The Spurs went on to defeat James’ Heat in five games, setting in motion a chain of events that ended with James returning to the Cavaliers as a free agent.
San Antonio is archenemy No. 1 for James in his 12-year career, having defeated him twice in the Finals (once when he led the Cavs in 2007). James bested the Spurs with the Heat in 2013.
Inside the AT&T Center, five NBA championship banners hang in the rafters, proof of the model of stability the Spurs have become under Gregg Popovich – the coach whom many of his colleagues strive to emulate in one form or another. It holds true for Cavs coach David Blatt, who visited Popovich in San Antonio on more than one occasion when Blatt was coaching in Europe.
But neither James – in his first game in San Antonio since the Finals – nor Blatt is making tonight’s game out to be a night for redemption, or as a measuring stick, or as a playoff simulation for the younger Cavs (read Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson).
It’s just another regular-season game, albeit against two teams who could maybe meet again in the Finals.
“Playing against teams in the Finals and playing against them in a regular-season game, it’s two different games,” James said. “It will give you a little piece of the atmosphere the playoffs have, but you can’t take anything from the Finals and tell them this is what it’s going to be like tonight.”
Blatt said he was “highly respectful of everything that San Antonio has accomplished, their team and their players, and certainly Pop.”
“I’ve come from a few places where there’s a lot of banners in the arena, just like those,” said Blatt, whose Maccabi Tel Aviv team won the Euroleague championship last season. “I know the value of them and I appreciate them, but I’m here to compete with my team and try to win a basketball game.”
Even within the realm of the regular season, it would seem James had a score to settle with the Spurs. On Nov. 19 at The Q, the Spurs edged the Cavs 92-90. The game ended when Tim Duncan stole the ball from James as he was trying to dribble into position for a shot, and James scored just four points in the second half.
“That was just one game of a grueling regular season,” James said, dismissing it. “Both teams have been trying to get back in rhythm since then, so I don’t look too far into it.”
The Cavs (41-25) are second in the East and feeling good after their 127-94 dumping of Dallas. The Spurs (40-23) are in sixth in the West, but are only 2.5 games out of third and appear to be, as usual, rounding into form for the playoffs after a season of resting key players at times to preserve them.
“Obviously you know they’re going to be there when the postseason starts,” James said. “It’s a team that, they’ve got that DNA, they know they can win at home or on the road. You don’t expect anything but great.”