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The Associated Press reminds us that three years into his thus far impeccable pro career, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James will take center stage for the first time where legacies either grow or get swatted away like a weak layup. In the NBA playoffs, nothing comes easy.
The fouls are a little nastier. The whistle blows a little less frequently. The intensity is ratcheted to an extreme level. The stakes, well, theyâ€™ve never been higher for Clevelandâ€™s 21-year-old superstar. Everything is bigger â€” just how James likes it.
â€œItâ€™s a different ballgame,â€ he said. â€œThe crowd is into it for 48 minutes strong. The lights in the arena look brighter. Itâ€™s a different feeling. Now to be a part of it, itâ€™s going to be great.â€
James makes his playoff debut today as the Cavaliers host the Washington Wizards in Game 1 of their best-of-7 Eastern Conference series. Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. For championship-deprived Cleveland, the wait is over. A city fueled by sports is at last embarking on another chance at winning a world title. The Cavaliers are the first of Clevelandâ€™s three pro teams to reach the postseason since 2002, and the first to host a playoff game since 2001. No Cleveland team has finished on top since the Browns won an NFL title in 1964. James intends to change that.
â€œItâ€™s my goal,â€ he said. â€œGuys are talking about making the playoffs. I want to win a championship.â€ That might not happen this year, but thereâ€™s no reason to think an NBA title â€” or several championship rings â€” arenâ€™t in Jamesâ€™ future. In his first three seasons, he has impacted the league like no other player.
None before have scored, passed and rebounded like him at such a tender age. With MVP-type numbers, he has carried the Cavaliers, taking them to just their fourth 50-victory season and back to the postseason for the first time since 1998.
Now, itâ€™s time to see if James, who joined Oscar Robertson (1963-1964, 1965-1966 ), Jerry West (1965-1966 ) and Michael Jordan (1988-1989 ) as the only players to average at least 31 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in a season, can do it in the playoffs. First-year Cavs Coach Mike Brown expects James to soar higher than ever.
â€œNot comparing him to Michael Jordan, but LeBron has the necessary talent to take his game to another level,â€ Brown said. â€œAnd on a stage like this, it would be a great time to do it. Itâ€™s interesting to note that when you bring up Jordan and the great ones, I donâ€™t know if any of them got it done right away. â€œ It will be interesting to see if LeBron can.â€ As great as he was, Jordan, who scored 23 points in his playoff debut, didnâ€™t advance in the postseason until his fourth trip, when he hung in the air and made the famed â€œShotâ€ over Clevelandâ€™s Craig Ehlo to oust the favored Cavaliers from the 1988-1989 playoffs. That moment, as much as any other, defined Jordan in the clutch. Of course, he would go on to have other magical performances in the postseason, but it all started with one game-winning shot.
In order for James to one day be placed in Jordanâ€™s class or alongside Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, heâ€™ll have to win championships. And not just one. The Wizards, who won 3 of 4 against Cleveland during the regular season, will have their hands full with the 6-8 James, who can be as devastating shooting three-pointers as he is turning the corner and finishing at the rim.
A possible plus for Washington could be that James will try to do too much, forcing the action and making mistakes. But Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas doesnâ€™t expect nerves to be a problem for James. â€œYou know, the way he plays the game, he didnâ€™t have no jitterbugs the first game he played in the NBA,â€ Arenas said, referring to Jamesâ€™ arrival with a 25-point, 9-rebound, 6-assist rookie debut in Sacramento. â€œSo I donâ€™t think heâ€™ll have any.â€
James sloughs off any talk of pressure with the same ease he uses to shake free from double teams. â€œI donâ€™t believe in pressure,â€ he says defiantly. â€œIâ€™m going to go out there like itâ€™s a regular season game. Iâ€™m not going to change my routine or try to tell my teammates to change their routines. Weâ€™re going to go out there like itâ€™s the regular season and just try to win a ballgame.â€ But itâ€™s on his shoulders to advance the Cavaliers deeper into the NBAâ€™s spring, a place where they have seldom ventured. Heâ€™s ready for the challenge.
â€œThey say you get your name during the season, you get your fame in the playoffs,â€ Cavs forward Drew Gooden said. â€œLeBron James is one of the faces of the NBA and he has done so much in his short career, I donâ€™t think the playoffs will be any kind of added pressure for him.
â€œ Heâ€™s going to pick up his play â€” if thatâ€™s even possible.â€