LeBron James has seen it all in his 14 years as a professional basketball player. In 2013, his Miami Heat looked like they were finished in the NBA Finals before Ray Allen’s corner 3 saved Game 6 -- they went on to win a championship. Last year, of course, his Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit on the game’s biggest stage to defeat the best regular-season team in history. He has been to the Finals seven times, including the last six, so he knows all about stakes and performing under pressure.
James has played 18 elimination games, with half of those coming in the NBA Finals. That’s why he’d kindly prefer that you do not ask him about the importance of, say, Wednesday’s contest against the Boston Celtics.
“Their crowd is going to be great, and it’s a very good team we’re going to be playing against tomorrow,” James said after the Cavaliers’ 122-102 win over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “We know that. Taking nothing from them, they’ve been playing some great ball, but I’m not one to get caught up in the regular season. I’m sorry. I’ve been to six straight Finals, man. I’m the last person to ask about a regular-season game, dude. Sorry.”
If you care about playoff seeding, then this regular-season game is about as big as it gets. Both teams enter the game with identical 50-27 records at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, and a Cavs win would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker should they finish the season with the same number of wins. Cleveland forward Kevin Love said it would be a “good test” and guard Kyrie Irving said he “can’t wait.”
James, though, is looking at this from a bigger-picture standpoint. Even when directly criticizing the Cavs, he has been consistent about the fact that he wants to see them improve and get ready for the playoffs. He’s more concerned with how they’re playing than whether or not they get the No. 1 seed. After all, finishing in first place wasn’t enough for the 2014 Indiana Pacers or 2015 Atlanta Hawks to get past James.
To be clear: James would surely love to make a statement against Boston, especially considering it has been weeks since Cleveland has had an impressive victory over a good team. If the Cavs lose, though, he’s not going to panic. He has overcome way too much adversity to get bent out of shape about one regular-season game on the road on the second night of a back-to-back.