At some point, the Miami Heat knew they would have to face one obstacle if they wanted to win an NBA championship.
For most of the decade, winning a title in this league has had one requirement: defeat LeBron James.
The Heat will attempt to accomplish the feat when they open the NBA Finals against James and the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday in Orlando.
"The main key, and it's been like this for a very long time, if you want to win, you're going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team," Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. "At the end of the day, that's what it normally comes down to."
James is playing in his 10th Finals. His string of eight straight appearances was interrupted last year after an injury sidelined him, leading to the Lakers missing the playoffs. After a brief hiatus, James is back on the stage he has so often shined.
James is just 3-6 in the Finals but led the Heat to back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. He also won another title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. James has the Lakers back in the Finals for the first time since 2010 when the late Kobe Bryant led them past the Boston Celtics.
"It's going to be brutalizing for the staff," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I'm going to have a few beers, a glass of wine, call my wife, definitely Facetime with her and talk to the Godfather [Pat Riley] at some point. We've been at this for a long time. We know how difficult it is to get to this point. Our staff will prepare. We know we didn't come this far just to celebrate this."
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