Await­ing a New, Im­proved James

Cavs’ Star Vows He’ll Step It Up Against Wiz­ards

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sunday Morning On The Air - By Michael Lee

CLEVE­LAND, April 21 — LeBron James ad­mit­ted that he was un­sure be­fore he made his post­sea­son de­but last sea­son against the Wash­ing­ton Wiz­ards. His first shot, in fact, was an air ball.

But James quickly set­tled into his first game, record­ing a triple-dou­ble, and he was so con­fi­dent by the end of the se­ries that he had no prob­lem walk­ing up to Gil­bert Are­nas in the clos­ing sec­onds of de­ci­sive Game 6 to tap him on the chest and tell him, “Miss th­ese free throws, and you’re go­ing home.”

James av­er­aged 35.7 points — the third-high­est scor­ing av­er­age for a player in their de­but se­ries be­hind Wilt Cham­ber­lain and Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jab­bar — and had two-game win­ning bas­kets in lead­ing the Cav­a­liers to their first post­sea­son se­ries vic­tory in 13 years, be­fore nearly di­rect­ing an up­set of the Detroit Pis­tons in the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals.

“Hon­estly, I was a lit­tle ner­vous be­fore Game 1,” James said Fri­day as the Cav­a­liers pre­pared for a firstround play­off Sun­day against the Wiz­ards at Quicken Loans Arena. “Our fran­chise hadn’t been part of the post­sea­son in eight years. It was new for us, def­i­nitely new for me. Me be­ing a leader, I didn’t know how to take it at first. I got used to it.”

The same 40-foot bill­board with the four-word catch­phrase that de­fined James’s first post­sea­son run last sea­son, “We Are All Wit­nesses,” still hangs in down­town Cleve­land, but the would-be King prom­ises that a dif­fer­ent James will emerge this time. He vowed that he has more in store for his sec­ond play­off tour. “You’ll see,” James said, smil­ing. “I’m not go­ing to go into too much in­sight, but you’ll find out.”

The re­match of last sea­son’s play­off se­ries — in which three games were de­cided by one point — doesn’t shape up to be a tightly con­tested af­fair, given that James won’t be able to reprise his scor­ing duel with Are­nas, who will be in street clothes af­ter hav­ing knee surgery ear­lier this month. The Wiz­ards will also be with­out Caron But­ler, who walked around prac­tice yes­ter­day with a de­vice at­tached to his bro­ken right hand that uses ul­tra­sound to heal bones.

On the first day of train­ing camp, James pro­claimed the Cav­a­liers ready to con­tend for the NBA cham­pi­onship, and they ap­pear to have a fa­vor­able path to make a long post­sea­son run. With a year of post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether, they also have the ad­van­tage of not hav­ing to face the de­fend­ing cham­pion Mi­ami Heat, top-seeded Detroit Pis­tons or Chicago Bulls un­til the con­fer­ence fi­nals — if they are for­tu­nate enough to get that far.

James said he learned to value ev­ery pos­ses­sion last year, and that one play can al­ter a se­ries. “I know what it takes in the post­sea­son. I know what it takes to lose, also,” James said. He also learned from watch­ing his friend Dwyane Wade lead the Heat to the NBA ti­tle last sea­son that a dom­i­nant run from one perime­ter player can be the dif­fer­ence this time of year.

But to get that far, James will likely have to si­lence the crit­i­cism that he lacks a killer in­stinct and ag­gres­sion with the game on the line. “Hey, keep say­ing bad stuff about him,” Cav­a­liers Coach Mike Brown said with a laugh.

“I don’t have to prove any­thing to no one,” James said.

James has been play­ing with a re­newed sense of pur­pose and en­ergy of late, and the Cav­a­liers en­ter the play­offs on a four-game win­ning streak. Al­though James put up re­spectable num­bers in the first half of the sea­son, his sta­tis­tics seemed hollow as the Cav­a­liers un­der­whelmed and James rarely looked like the player many thought would run away with the league’s most valu­able award this sea­son.

He heard that his par­tic­i­pa­tion with Team USA last sum­mer and other nag­ging in­juries had slowed him down; that he was more fo­cused on be­ing “a global icon” and rest­ing on his lau­rels. Even Wade chimed in, say­ing in Fe­bru­ary that James didn’t “have that same pep in his step.”

“Peo­ple said he was tired and I’m sure he was a lit­tle bit, but he was able to re-en­er­gize him­self,” Cav­a­liers re­serve for­ward Donyell Mar­shall said. “He’s the type of per­son that doesn’t like to be talked about. He likes to go out there and prove peo­ple wrong. As soon as you do that, he’s go­ing to pick it up and step his game up. Last year, they were ques­tion­ing him tak­ing the last shot. Af­ter that, I think three or four games in a row, he started hit­ting them. If you want to bring out the beast in him, talk about him.”

Brown has heard that James is shift­ing his game to an­other gear. “I never doubt, nor ques­tion the great ones. I just sit back and watch,” Brown said. “I’ve seen guys of his stature, of his na­ture, rise to the oc­ca­sion come play­off time.”

The Cav­a­liers take their cue from James — good or bad — and James said he wouldn’t be ner­vous this time. “I’ll be very ex­cited. It’s go­ing to be more a ner­vous ex­cite­ment, as op­posed to be­ing scared or any­thing. I’m def­i­nitely wait­ing for it. I don’t want to get too ex­cited. It’s too early.”

BY JOE GIZA — REUTERS

The Cav’ LeBron James, here be­ing guarded by Jarvis Hayes, says he has more in store for his sec­ond play­off tour.

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