INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) - He's met them three times in June when everything has been on the line. Still, LeBron James doesn't view the San Antonio Spurs as his personal nemesis or a hated rival.
In fact, quite the opposite. James believes the defending champions have shaped him.
''I wouldn't say it's a rivalry,'' James said after practice on Tuesday. ''But I would say it's mutual respect, it's great competition and they definitely helped me grow along the way and hopefully, I pushed them too.''
James, who has gone 1-2 against the Spurs in the NBA Finals, will face them again Wednesday night for the first time since returning to Cleveland, and for the first time since San Antonio dismantled his Miami Heat squad in last season's Finals.
With exquisite ball movement and flawless execution, the Spurs easily captured their fifth title, taking the series in five games with each win by an average of 18 points. It wasn't close as the Spurs simply overwhelmed the Heat, who were seeking a third straight championship.
''That's what happens in a series sometimes,'' James said. ''They were just playing at a much higher pace than we were at the time and they had everything clicking. They had the ball movement. They had guys that were making shots. They had the pace and the space and they had it going. And it resulted in them winning a championship.''
San Antonio's win may have hastened James' departure from South Florida. It would have been difficult for him to leave a three-time champion, so Cleveland fans may want to thank Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and his ''Big 3'' of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
James first encountered the postseason Spurs in the 2007 Finals, when San Antonio swept a Cleveland team making its first - and only appearance - on basketball's biggest stage. James got revenge in 2013 but came up short last summer before deciding to return to Ohio to try to bring Cleveland its first pro sports championship since 1964.
During his 11 years in the league, James has developed a deep appreciation for the Spurs' consistency and character. He says they've been the blueprint for team success.
''They work a championship mindset every single day on and off the floor,'' he said. ''Do they win the championship every single year? No, obviously. But I think good karma comes with how you approach the game and how you approach off the court as well.''
At 5-4, the Cavs are still developing chemistry and seem to be playing up or down to the level of their competition. That was the case Monday, when the struggling Denver Nuggets came into Quicken Loans Arena and outplayed the Cavs, beating them 106-97 and ending their four-game winning streak.
Afterward, James warned if the Cavs aren't ready for the Spurs (6-4), trouble awaits.
''If we're not mentally focused, they're going to embarrass us right off the jump, it's just that simple,'' he said. ''It's the Patriots of the NBA. They come into your building and they want to embarrass you. They're going to execute at a high level and they're not going to beat themselves.''
While some have hyped the game as a potential finals preview, James knows better. A game in mid-November won't dictate Cleveland's status.
''Win or lose it's not a measuring stick,'' he said. ''It's too early, that team has been together - I think Tim Duncan, he's won more games than all of our guys together.''
James and his newly-assembled team have a long way to go, but San Antonio's success is indisputable. Popovich and Duncan have combined for 904 regular-season wins and Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have combined for 503 wins, the second most for three players, trailing only Boston's Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, who won 540.
After the Cavs play the Spurs, they'll head to Washington, another team with whom the four-time MVP shares a history. During his first stint in Cleveland, James played the Wizards in the postseason from 2006-08 and each series was tainted with trash talk and tough play.
''Now that's a rivalry,'' he said.
James would like to see his playing time trimmed. He's averaging 39.1 minutes, third-most in the league, and teammates Kyrie Irving (38.4) and Kevin Love (37) are fourth and fifth.
''That has to come down,'' he said. ''For me, I don't want to do that all year. Obviously right now it's difficult because we're trying to find a groove and we're trying to find a rhythm and we're trying to find something that you can't really, you don't want to shortcut it but at the same time you gotta be smart about it.''
Cavs forward Shawn Marion missed practice after bruising his left foot in Monday's game. He's listed as probable against the Spurs.