ORLANDO • LeBron James is not accustomed to Game 1s like these.
His teams had lost the series opener in eight of his previous nine trips to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, but Wednesday’s start to the showpiece series against the Miami Heat went as well as he and the Los Angeles Lakers could have hoped.
The Lakers won 116-98.
But James, seeking a fourth NBA title, has no trouble keeping the dominant victory in perspective.
The Lakers shook off a slow start to lead the Heat by as many as 32 points on the way to their win in Orlando, Florida, but James, who had 25 points, insisted it was no time to celebrate.
“The best teacher in life is experience,” he said. “I’ve experienced moments in my career where you have all the momentum in the world and you felt like you had the game under control, and one play here or there could change the course of a series or change the course of a game.”
The forward is still rankled by the memory of Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals, when he played alongside Dwyane Wade for the Heat against the Dallas Mavericks.
“D-Wade hits a three right by their bench,” James recalled. “I believe it put us up either 13 or 17.
“From that moment on, Dallas went on a hell of a run and finished it off with a Dirk Nowitzki left-hand lay-up to steal that game. That burns me to this day.”
He added that was why he was already looking forward to seeing where the Lakers can improve before Game 2 against the Heat today.
“I’m extremely amped up about watching the film with our ball club,” he said. “I’m going to watch some tonight, obviously by myself, but I’m looking forward to getting together as a group tomorrow.”
While the championship series stage is nothing new to James – or the 16-time champions Lakers – it was a first for fellow All-Star teammate Anthony Davis.
Davis scored a game-high 34 points in an impressive Finals debut, but he too said the Lakers should have started and finished the game better.
Anthony Davis’ 34 points are the third most scored by a Laker on his NBA Finals debut behind Shaquille O’Neal (43) and George Mikan (42).
The underdogs Heat jumped to a 13-point lead midway through the first quarter. And even after injuries to Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo, they were able to narrow the final margin with a solid fourth-quarter performance in which they outscored the Lakers 31-23.
“We have to be able to come out a little bit more aggressive and come out with a little more sense of urgency,” Davis said.
“It feels good to get the first game. But we’re not satisfied. We don’t like how we ended the game. That wasn’t a championship mentality.”
Jimmy Butler has called on his battered Heat teammates to toughen up after their mauling. The Miami talisman, who led his team with 23 points, was one of several players who picked up knocks alongside key players Dragic and Adebayo.
But he played down the significance of his twisted ankle, and said the team would have to recover with or without Dragic in Game 2.
“We just got to be tougher,” Butler said.
“We got to put up more of a fight. I don’t think we did that. And then it doesn’t help whenever we don’t make shots.”
ESPN reported Dragic had suffered a torn plantar fascia, a foot injury which would almost certainly rule him out of the remainder of the best-of-seven series, while Adebayo departed in the third quarter with a left shoulder problem.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he did not yet know the prognosis for the duo.
“Regardless,” he said, “The Lakers set the tenor, the tone, the force, the physicality for the majority of the game. They just took control and we weren’t able to get it back.”
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS