By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
MIAMI – With some people, a playoff series can’t be just about basketball. Lance Stephenson appears to be one of those people.
After Pacers’ practice on Sunday, Stephenson was asked about going back-and-forth with LeBron James in these Eastern Conference finals. The pair appeared to exchange pleasantries in the first quarter of Game 3 as Indiana was building a 15-point lead.
Stephenson talking to James is nothing new. James talking back is. And Stephenson believes it means that he’s doing something right.
“To me, I think it’s a sign of weakness,” Stephenson said of James’ response. “Because he never used to say nothing to me. I always used to be the one that said, ‘I’m going to get under you. I’m going to do something to get you mad.’ Now, he’s doing it to me. So I feel like it’s a weakness. I feel like I’m doing something right and I’m getting under his skin.”
James spoke to the media before Stephenson did, so he hasn’t yet had a chance to respond the the “sign of weakness” remark. You can be sure he’ll be asked about it before Game 4 on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“I’m not much of a talker,” James said earlier Sunday afternoon. “I don’t ever start it but I can get involved in it and still keep my head. Winning the game is more important. I understand what the main goal is.”
Stephenson acknowledged that he can’t get caught up in it either.
“I love it when someone challenges me,” Stephenson said. “It’s really not about me and him, though. It’s about the team. We got to have our player’s step up and have each other’s back. It’s not me against him, if he scores, I’m going to try to score. It’s more of a team.”
Stephenson added that it’s nothing personal.
“This is basketball,” he said. “I don’t really have no beef with him. It’s just basketball. When you’re on the court, there’s no friends. Just basketball. I don’t want to get into the off-the-court stuff. It’s just on the court, basketball toughness, and never bowing down.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel knows that Lance is going to be Lance and doesn’t believe that poking the bear is going to make the bear any more dangerous than he already is.
“I don’t think it matters one way or the other,” Vogel said of Stephenson’s trash talking. “If he’s silent or if he’s talking, both guys are playing as hard as they can.”
James would prefer to avoid the storyline altogether, referencing a previous narrative with DeShawn Stevenson, whom he faced in the postseason, both with Cleveland (against Washington) and Miami (against Dallas).
“One thing I’m not going to do is give a storyline of LeBron versus Stephenson,” James said. “I’ve already been involved in a LeBron versus Stephenson in my playoff career so I’m not going to do it.”
Some storylines just can’t be avoided, however.