In LeBron’s career, shorter playoff series not necessarily better


VIDEO: Cavs ready for Game 3 in Detroit

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – No team has done it and none likely will break through this postseason, as far as cruising through the NBA playoffs without a loss. Five teams currently are unbeaten but 2-0 is a long way from 16-0 and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers know it.

Even for the old school, perfection was elusive. Hall of Famer and man of few words Moses Malone missed by just one on his famous 1983 prediction of “Fo’, fo’, ‘fo” and that was back in the days of three rounds rather than four.

The appeal is obvious, beyond bragging rights. Fewer games at this point on the NBA calendar is better than more, given wear and tear on the players’ bodies and their minds. Keeping series short cuts down on the adjustments an opponent can make and, even bigger, on exposures to injury. There also are psychological benefits to advancing quickly and earning extra days off while upcoming opponents still are fighting to survive.

LeBron James qualifies as the league’s active expert on long playoff runs, given his five straight Finals appearances and six overall. So, in advance of Game 3 against Detroit in the Eastern Conference first round (7 ET, ESPN), James talked Friday morning at The Palace of Auburn Hills about his experiences not just winning the four games that matter most in these best-of-seven series but avoiding seven games. Or six or ideally even five.

“It’s been a balance of both,” James said before the Cavaliers’ shootaround. “I’ve had points of my career where we’ve swept a lot and it’s hurt us the next series, ’cause we got out of rhythm. I’ve had times where we were banged up as a team and we needed to rest, and it benefited us.”

James and his teams are on a roll, with 15 consecutive victories in the first round, including sweeps of Boston (2015), Charlotte (2014) and Milwaukee (2013). As far as his personal playoff history, his scattergram shows eight four-game series (a 7-1 record), nine five-game series (8-1), 11 six-game series (7-4) and five seven-gamers (3-2).

In the years James’ Cleveland and Miami teams have reached The Finals, they’ve played in a total of six sweeps, winning five. But the two runs that ended with championships, in 2012 and 2013, curiously had none. They logged 23 games both teams en route to the Larry O’Brien trophy, the most James ever has played in a postseason.

So shorter hasn’t necessarily been better.

“It all depends on that particular season,” James said. “You can’t really base it on another season. It depends on how you’re feeling and how that other team is playing in that particular season.”

James was asked for the third or fourth time this week about Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson‘s brash claims that he has “gotten in” the Cleveland star’s head. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy talked with the 19-year-old Johnson about verbally poking at a dangerous opponent. But James saved his most pointed responses for Game 2 and, presumably, for Game 3, because he didn’t get drawn into a war of words Friday morning.

“I don’t think it’s about that,” James said. “There’s always going to be conversation outside of the four lines, and how much you indulge in it can take away from what the main thing is.

“Guys have been always kind of trash-talking me since I was a kid. My coaches always told me, it’s not about that. It’s about trying to score and whatever you can do to help your team stay focused.”

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