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When it comes to the playoffs, LeBron James is the game’s apex predator, the great white shark, if you will.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar has been to the NBA Finals seven consecutive seasons.
So when a reporter asked him after he led Cleveland to a 113-108 win at Denver with 39 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists on Wednesday night if he’s worried about playoff seeding, James didn’t hesitate in answering.
“Listen, it doesn’t matter to me if I’m a six seed, a three seed, a two seed or an eight seed,” James said after scoring the Cavaliers’ last nine points and posting his fifth game of 30 or more points in the last six games. “If I come into your building for a Game 1, it will be very challenging.”
As the saying goes, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”
And James certainly does exactly that. In his seven straight trips to The Finals, James’ teams have been the top seed only twice — In 2012-13 with Miami and in 2015-16 with Cleveland.
Both of those teams won NBA titles, but so did James’ 2011-12 Heat squad, which was the second seed.
Reporter: This could be a critical trip, [Cavs] could slip to 6th [seed] if things don't go right
LeBron: It doesn't matter to me if I'm a 6th seed, 3 seed, 2 seed, 8 seed…If I come into your building for a Game 1, it will be very challenging
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 8, 2018
Even though James and his Cavalier teammates stand 38-26, third in the Eastern Conference behind first-place Toronto and second-place Boston headed into tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, the Cavaliers remain the odds-on favorite to win the East for a fourth consecutive season
Cleveland is separated from fourth-place Washington and fifth-place Indiana by only two games, and by only 4.5 games from eighth-place Milwaukee. So until a team shows it’s capable of dethroning LeBron & Co., the path to The Finals still runs through Cleveland.
Here’s a look at how James’ teams were seeded in their respective runs to The Finals the last seven seasons, who they played and how they fared:
- 2010-11: Miami (2nd seed) — NBA Finals (lost to Mavericks)
- 2011-12: Miami (2nd seed) — NBA Finals (defeated Thunder)
- 2012-13: Miami (first seed) — NBA Finals (defeated Spurs)
- 2013-14: Miami (2nd seed) — NBA Finals (lost to Spurs)
- 2014-15: Cleveland (2nd seed) — NBA Finals (lost to Warriors)
- 2015-16: Cleveland (first seed) — NBA Finals (defeated Warriors)
- 2016-17: Cleveland (2nd seed) — NBA Finals (lost to Warriors)
Cleveland is 6-4 since acquiring The New 4 — George Hill, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson on deadline day (Feb. 8). Since The New 4 were added to the mix, the Cavaliers are seventh in net rating (6.0), per NBA.com. Up until the deadline, the Cavs were 19th in net rating (minus-0.6).
Before the massive roster makeover, Cleveland’s defensive rating was 109.9, 29th of 30 NBA teams. Since the transformation, the Cavaliers are 12th-best in the NBA over the same span. Not great, by any stretch, but huge improvement from being 29th.
All of which is happening while five-time All-Star forward Kevin Love remains sidelined as his broken left hand heals.
No wonder LeBron scoffs at the idea seeding will matter come playoff time.
Since he’s come back to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, the Cavaliers have finished second, first and second, respectively, in the East.
The top-seeded team in 2016, the Cavaliers won their first and still only NBA championship
In the two seasons in which it finished as runner-up in the East, Cleveland took down the conference’s top-seeded squads — the Atlanta Hawks in 2015 and the Boston Celtics last season.