LeBron James on Joakim Noah: A guy you hate to compete against

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Sunday, May 3, 2015

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Forget Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather; the Eastern Conference semifinals series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls figures to become Joakim Noah-LeBron James IV.

Despite James downing Noah's Bulls the three previous times their teams met in the playoffs, the outspoken Chicago big man clamored for a rematch, saying it was "something that I really hope happens" after Cleveland beat the Bulls 99-94 in early April.

He'll get his wish starting with Monday's Game 1. James said he does not have any relationship with Noah away from the court, but likened the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year to Cavs reserve Kendrick Perkins, another opponent who used to get under James' skin and is now an appreciated ally.

"It's probably like Perk," James said after practice Saturday. "A guy that you hate to compete against but if he' you're teammate, you probably, you love him. I'm guessing that's what it is. But for us, we'll be ready for the challenge.

"For us, it's not just Joakim, but he's one of their glue guys. He plays well, they play well, his energy, his effort, you love to watch him. As a competitor, you hate him, but it's all for the love of the game."

Noah hasn't tried to hide his distaste for both James and the city of Cleveland over the years. He yelled at James for dancing during a game in the 2009-10 season, and this past summer he declared his goal to beat James in the playoffs after he had returned to the Cavs.

Noah's frustration with James is understandable when you consider James' 12-3 career postseason record against Chicago, beating the Bulls in the first round in 2010, the Eastern Conference finals in 2011 and the second round in 2013.

The eight-year veteran also alluded to his previous comments about Cleveland this week, quipping, "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm very excited to go to Cleveland."

Cavs coach David Blatt said he has used comments from the opposition from time to time during this coaching career as bulletin-board material to try to motivate his team, but didn't feel like Noah's recent statements qualified.

"He's saying what he should say, because that's what it is," Blatt said. "Why would you say anything different? I wouldn't expect him to say anything different. What they should and shouldn't do, I guess that's up to the individual, but I certainly don't have any problem with that whatsoever."

James said two potential problem areas for the Cavs against the Bulls are turnovers and rebounding. Cleveland beat Chicago 3-1 in the season series but was beat on the boards twice and also coughed up more turnovers twice, with James personally totaling 20 turnovers in the four meetings.

"Turnovers and rebounding," James said. "Can't turn the ball over against a team like that, get D-Rose (Derrick Rose) into the open floor, and you have to rebound. They're very good in the interior with Joakim, andTaj (Gibson), Pau (Gasol),those guys do a great job of rebounding, so we have to help clean the glass bothoffensively and defensively."

Cleveland will be missing Kevin Love, and his 9.7 rebounds per game season average, against Chicago after the star forward underwent season-ending shoulder surgery Wednesday. The Cavs also will have to make do without J.R. Smith for the first two games of the series as he serves a suspension for striking Boston's Jae Crowder in the face in Cleveland's close-out win over Boston.

James was asked if the Cavs were "vulnerable" entering their matchup with Chicago being two men down.

"Nah, not vulnerable at all," James said. "Just basketball. You go out and play, try to win, and give it your best shot."

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