LeBron James has played 158 career playoff games. The entire Boston Celtics roster has played 139.
Still, the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar isn’t willing to look past the young and relatively inexperienced Celtics.
“There will be no overlooking Boston,” James told reporters Friday morning. “No matter what the records are, everyone’s records are 0-0 once you get to this point. Our whole game plan right now is how we can give ourselves the best possible chance to win Game 1.”
All-Star forward Kevin Love agreed.
“We have to treat every game like it’s a Game 7,” Love said. “Anything can happen, any team can be beat. So I think our mindset is we have to respect everyone and go out there and play our best basketball…Boston is our first good test.”
All the focus seems to be on the Celtics’ lack of experience, while Cleveland is being treated as the King of the Hill, probably because it features The King himself. But outside of LeBron James, there isn’t a ton of playoff experience among the Cavs’ regular rotation players.
As a team, the Cavaliers have racked up 784 games of playoff experience, but among James’ teammates averaging 20 or more minutes per game, that number is significantly lower.
Kyrie Irving, Love, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova are the other seven Cavs who average at least 20 minutes per game. As a group, they’ve only combined to play an uneventful 71 playoff games.
Smith accounts for 51 of those, though his teams have lost in the first round in five of his previous seven trips to the postseason.
Irving, Love, Thompson, and Dellavedova never have made the playoffs.
With such a lack of experience surrounding him, does James feel like any of the burden falls heavier on his shoulders?
“My leadership doesn’t change, no matter the magnitude of the game,” James asserted. “I continue to lead my guys and get them as prepared as they need to be to go out there on Sunday. They follow my lead and I put them in the best possible chance to win.”
Some additional notes from Friday’s practice:
— The end of the Cavaliers bench is peppered with playoff and championship experience, though its inhabitants don’t often leave to enter the game.
Kendrick Perkins has played the second-most playoff games (135) of anyone on the roster, including four Conference Finals and three NBA Finals appearances, but is averaging just 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in under 10 minutes per game in Cleveland.
Shawn Marion and his 103 career playoff games fell just short of the list above, but “The Matrix” has averaged just 4.8 points in his 57 games played this season.
James Jones (108 playoff games) never has averaged 10 points per game in the playoffs and hasn’t averaged 10 minutes per game since 2011; Mike Miller (85 playoff games) is averaging just 2.4 points per game; Anderson Varejao (71) is injured and out for the season, and Brendan Haywood (53) has only played 22 games in 2014-15.
But according to Love, their intangible contributions far outweigh the importance of what they could provide on the court.
“Yeah, it’s not only LeBron. Naturally LeBron is our leader and the guy that we look to to kind of set the tone for us, but then you have guys like Perk — who’s always in my ear — Matrix, who’s done it. Brendan Haywood (is a) champ. Mike Miller (too),” Love said. “It’s just different players who are always in your ear, talking about it — the physicality, how you have to play different matchups, different positions, and just the mentality going into this whole thing. I think at this point we’re pretty prepared for what’s to come.”
— If James’ body language was any indication, he may not entirely agree with Love’s assessment.
When asked if the team is ready for the challenge the playoffs present, he paused before stoically answering, “Well, we have another day of preparation tomorrow,” as if to imply his team needed it.
And how will his “Big Three” teammates Irving and Love respond to their first taste of the postseason?
“I think they’re excited, I think they’re looking forward to it — it’s their first time being a part of it,” James said. “But none of us will know until the game is played on Sunday.”
Thumbnail image via Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports Images
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