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James' Cavs underdogs for NBA finals

dpa logodpa 30/05/2017 CHRIS BERNUCCA

For an unprecedented third straight year, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will meet with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

LeBron James is back in the NBA Finals for the seventh straight year.

But he and his Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves the underdogs as they clash for an unprecedented third straight season with Golden State.

James called the Warriors "the best team in our league for the last three years" even before adding 2014 league MVP Kevin Durant during the off-season.

The teams have been on a collision course since training camp in October, but James this week rejected questions about pressure, insisting he was focused on "just the joy of being able to compete for a championship."

"You add more pressure to it? I don't believe in it. At the end of the day, win, lose or draw, if you left everything on the floor, then you can be satisfied with that," he said.

"Are you going to be happy with the outcome if you lose? Of course not. Are you going to be excited about it, have an unbelievable feeling if you win? Of course so. But if you leave everything on the floor, everything else will take care of itself."

"King" James said both teams had improved from 2016, but he felt "very good" about the Cavaliers' chances.

"We're a better Cavaliers team, and they're a better Warriors team," he said. "What does that mean? We don't know yet. But we're both better. We've both added pieces."

The Warriors have home court advantage and are heavy favourites - James called them a "juggernaut" - when the best-of-seven finals begin Thursday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Golden State have rattled off a record 12 straight post-season wins, keeping their perfect playoff run through three rounds.

"There are more moments to come where we'll be tested, especially on the West Coast playing against a great team like the Warriors," Cavaliers All-Star guard Kyrie Irving said.

In 2015, the Warriors won their first championship in 40 years, needing six games to knock off the Cavaliers, who were without the injured Irving and fellow all-star Kevin Love.

Last year, Golden State won a record 73 games during the regular season and were poised to claim a second straight title, leading the Cavaliers three games to one.

But the Warriors were slowed by their own injuries, allowing James to engineer the biggest comeback in finals history and bring his home-town Cleveland its first NBA title.

Both teams arrive healthy this year.

The Cavaliers have lost just once in three playoff rounds, falling on a last-second shot by three points to top-seeded Boston in game three of the Eastern Conference finals, while winning the other four games by an average of nearly 26 points.

Cleveland have three all-stars in James, Irving and Love, while Golden State have four in Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

James (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013), Durant (2014) and Curry (2015, 2016) have collected seven of the last eight Most Valuable Player awards.

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