OAKLAND -- Last offseason, the Warriors signed Dorell Wrightwith the idea being hed be a very good perimeter defender. Maybe not an elitedefender or a lock-down one, but a pretty darn good one. After all, that washis strength in Miami, where hed spent the first six years of hiscareer.But Wright was a worse defender for the Warriors in his oneseason than he ever was playing in Miami. And if coach Mark Jackson and theWarriors hope to make good on their promise to actually defend, then Wright isgoing to have to be at the forefront on that.And he sure wasnt last season.You know, I definitely slacked a little bit as far as mytechniques, Wright said of his defensive slippage. I was allowed to gamble alittle more. Thats why my steals were up. I was able to get into the passinglane.Were going to be a lot more disciplined. That was the teamwe had with me and Monta (Ellis) on the wings. We were able to read plays. Butsometimes that gets you hurt.Jacksons intention is to make the Warriors morefundamentally sound on defense, but that will require players to improve significantlyon their individual defense. Certainly in the effort department.Predictably, the Warriors have spent the majority of theirsix or so hours of practice working on that end of the floor.Defense has been the bulk of our teaching so far, Jacksonsaid. Today we put in a couple of our sets. The guys understood it, we wentthrough it. Mostly defensively because I believe defensively is where weregoing to make the biggest improvement, the biggest jump. And were going to bedisciplined on both sides of the ball. But I would say 90 percent (of our time)has been defense.The real issue, of course, isnt the amount of time Jacksonand the Warriors spend on defense, its whether he can get the entire team tobuy in.This team certainly has a history, Jackson said. You win36 games I think youre well aware its time to change things.
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- There's a four-headed, shot-making, scoreboard-breaking monster out West awaiting LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
The Warriors are stomach-churning scary.
James, though, can't run or hide. With eight NBA Finals appearances under his belt, he is ready to face a team he's called "a beast." After all, he has slayed behemoths before.
Pushing off any talk about the Warriors until after Sunday's practice, James was asked to assess the task at hand: beating Golden State's All-Star-studded lineup of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Is this the biggest challenge of his career?
"It's probably up there," he said. "I mean, it's up there."
And then, almost as if he was trying to remind himself that he's got three championship rings and is frightful in his own right, James recalled other fearsome postseason opponents - San Antonio and Boston.
"I've played against four Hall of Famers as well, too, with Manu (Ginobili), Kawhi (Leonard), Tony (Parker) and Timmy D (Tim Duncan) on the same team," said James, occasionally sniffling as he continues to fight a cold. "And if you add Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) in there, that's five Hall of Famers. So, it's going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me, they're going to challenge our ballclub.
"This is a high-powered team."
James also took on a Celtics team loaded with big-name talents.
"I've played against Ray (Allen), KG (Kevin Garnett), Paul (Pierce), (Rajon) Rondo and Doc (Rivers). So, it's going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise."
Cleveland-Golden State 3.0 is the matchup fans worldwide expected and wanted, and James believes they're in for quite a show.
Both the Cavaliers and Warriors have upgraded their rosters from a year ago, when they went seven games in an epic series that spawned the first comeback from a 3-1 deficit in Finals history and resulted in Cleveland winning its first pro sports championship since 1964.
That Warriors team James conquered in 2016 won 73 games during the regular season and was being mentioned as one of the best to ever take the floor.
Hard to believe, but this version - with Durant - might be even better.
Golden State has been putting on a basketball clinic over the past two months, winning 27 of 28 games since March 11 and becoming the first squad to start the postseason 12-0.
Durant, who previously faced James in the 2012 Finals with Golden State, has taken a great team and elevated it to a nearly unstoppable level.
The Warriors are using Durant in every imaginable way on offense, and James isn't surprised to see his good friend and Olympic teammate more mobile than he was with the Thunder.
"You adapt to the culture," he said. "You adapt to the style and that's the same thing that happened to me when I went to Miami. I started to slash more and move more without the ball, shoot more standstill 3s and figure out ways I could be more productive than just having the ball in isolation. So, it's the right thing to do. He's one of the most dangerous guys we have in the world already. So it makes it even more dangerous when you equip that talent, that skill with those guys."
On the brink of becoming the first player since the early 1960s to play in seven straight Finals, James finds himself in a similar - and somewhat surprising - situation.
The Cavaliers are being given little chance to defend their title against the vaunted Warriors, who have been winning by an average of 16.3 points per game in the playoffs.
For the sixth time, James enters the Finals as an underdog, hardly a role he's accustomed to before June. The only time he won a championship as a Finals favorite was with Miami in 2013, when the Heat upended the Spurs for their second straight title.
James isn't worried about point spreads or any odds.
"I only play blackjack in Vegas anyway, so it doesn't matter," he said.
What does matter is that the 32-year-old is having one of his finest postseasons, and the Cavs are gelling the way they did at this time last year.
Maybe James has nothing to fear.
"I feel good about our chances," he said. "Very good."
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Vegas is betting against them and the bookies are hardly alone.
Let's be honest, not many are giving the Cleveland Cavaliers much of a chance in the NBA Finals. They may be defending champions and they may have LeBron James, but against Golden State, they are definite underdogs.
Just don't try to tell them that.
"The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title," Cavs forward Kevin Love said following Saturday's practice. "We're trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel. We will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It's tough for me to say that is the case. I don't feel like we're underdogs.
"We match up well with them and I think they'd say the same about us."
Maybe, but as the teams gear up for Thursday night's series opener in Oakland, comments made by Warriors forward Draymond Green in October are reverberating around Cleveland.
Still stinging after the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in last year's Finals against Cleveland, the vociferous Green, who was suspended from Game 5, said if given the chance again, he plans to "destroy and annihilate" the Cavs.
Love complimented Green's competitiveness and aimed a verbal volley at Northern California.
"He's a guy who said he wanted us," Love said, "and he has us - starting next Thursday."
Act III in this trilogy is overloaded with story lines, with the biggest being whether James and Co. have enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors, who added superstar Kevin Durant to a team that won 73 games a year ago before its Finals flameout.
Golden State has glowed in this postseason, becoming the first team to start 12-0 while winning by an average of 16.3 points per game - the highest margin league history. It's no wonder then that the wise guys have installed the Warriors as heavy favorites to beat the Cavs for the second time in three years and wrestle back the Larry O'Brien Trophy that slipped through their hands last June.
James referred to the Warriors as only "that juggernaut" and "a beast" following Thursday's Game 5 in at Boston, a night in which he passed Michael Jordan as the career postseason scoring leader.
James elected not to talk about the Warriors following the game, choosing instead to celebrate a third straight conference title in Cleveland and his seventh consecutive Finals trip. James didn't speak to reporters on Saturday either, leaving Love to serve as the team's unofficial spokesman as the sports world inched closer to a matchup that seemed destined from the moment last season's Finals ended.
Love was asked if the Cavs wanted the Warriors.
"Want the Warriors?" he said. "They've been right at the top, best team in the league for three years straight now. They've been super-impressive. It's kind of in our minds that that's who we were going to see. They played great basketball this year. Obviously adding an MVP to a team that already has a two-time MVP makes them even more impressive. It's tough to say that we didn't expect it; we knew they'd be right there."
After the team returned from Boston in the wee hours Friday morning, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue didn't go to bed and immediately began working on a game plan to stifle Golden State's powerful, multi-faceted offense.
Lue knows the Cavs are facing a difficult task, one made tougher with the addition of the versatile Durant, who can score down low, from the perimeter and free-throw line.
The Warriors are using Durant the way he envisioned, but Lue has noticed changes in the All-Star.
"He's moving around a lot more," he said. "Just watching him move without the basketball, getting easy baskets off of cuts and splits and when he passes the ball he's also relocating now. He's doing a lot more movement, which makes it even tougher to guard after being one of the tougher scorers I've ever seen."
Lue said didn't deliver any inspiring speech to his players before practice.
Words don't mean much now - not his, not Green's - and neither do underdog labels.
"We're not going to use that as motivation," Lue said. "We're in the NBA Finals. That's enough motivation alone. Not worry about what it says in Vegas or what people are saying about underdogs. We're not using that as an excuse. We've got to come out and play. Our goals were set at the beginning of the season, and that's to win a championship. So, that's what we're focused on."
And remember, the Cavs have overcome long odds before.