LeBron Returns to Playoffs

Nervous is not a feeling LeBron James has very often. But before stepping onto basketball's biggest stage last spring, he was a little shaky not knowing what to expect in his first trip to the NBA playoffs.

Turns out, he had nothing to worry about.

Oddsmakers have made Cleveland -12 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 191 total points (View NBA Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on Cleveland -12 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

All James did was record a triple-double in his debut, score 41 points in his first road playoff game and average 35.7 points in six games while helping Cleveland win its first postseason series in 13 years.

So what does he have in store this year?

``You'll see,'' James said with a smile.

Consider yourselves warned. You too, Wizards.

With a year of playoff experience under their belts, James and the Cavaliers will open what they hope is a lengthy postseason run Sunday by hosting injury-riddled Washington in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference series. Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday.

It's a rematch from last year's opening round, when the Cavaliers outlasted the Wizards in six games. Three of those were decided by one point and Games 5 and 6 went into overtime - with Cleveland winning both.

This series doesn't figure to be nearly as tight. The second-seeded Cavaliers are expected to easily breeze past the ailing Wizards, who are missing All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

The absence of Arenas means he and James can't reprise their classic scorer's duel from last April, when they matched jumper for jumper. In Game 5, James outscored Arenas 45-44.

Although he'll be wearing street clothes, Arenas, who severely sprained his knee last month, is trying to have an influence on the series. Over the past few days he has called several of the Cavaliers, and as Cleveland guard Larry Hughes put it, told them ``it's not going to be easy'' against the Wizards.

James said he listened to Arenas' trash talk. Silence was his only response.

``I don't talk trash, only when somebody talks trash a little bit to me. But he (Arenas) isn't playing,'' James said, grinning. ``I can't talk trash to him. It doesn't make sense.''

James' playoff debut in 2006 was similarly dumbfounding.

In the opener against the Wizards, he dropped 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists to become just the third player to get a triple-double in his first playoff game. Even for a player who has continually met or exceeded expectations, it was special.

When the moment arrived, James rose to it.

``Honestly, I was a little nervous before Game 1,'' he said. ``I think 'Z' (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) was also because our franchise hadn't been in the postseason in eight years, so it was new for us. It was definitely new for me and as a leader I didn't know how to take it at first.

``But I got used to it.''

Guess so. James went on to post the third-highest scoring average in a playoff debut series, bettered only by Wilt Chamberlain (38.7 in 1960) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (36.2 in 1970). But more significant than his gaudy statistics was the way he involved his teammates, giving them the ball - and confidence.

``What made him so good,'' Ilgauskas said, ``was that he had a great timing of when to take it and when to pass it and that made us dangerous - not only dangerous himself, but us as a team. He had the triple-double and that set the tone.''

For the Wizards to have any chance, they have to stop James.

``He's a beast,'' said Washington's Jarvis Hayes, who has missed the playoffs the past two seasons because of injuries. ``Their whole team is fueled by what LeBron does. We have to slow him down a little bit.

``He is going to make plays to some degree, because he touches the ball so much and takes so many attempts. We cannot make it easy for him to get his teammates easy shots or for him to get easy shots for himself.''

James has been playing with renewed energy of late. He wasn't himself for long stretches of the regular season, a result of being tired from playing nearly two straight years without much significant time off as well as tendinitis in his knee.

James said he hasn't felt this well in months.

``I feel good,'' he said. ``I'm ready for the postseason.''

Cavs coach Mike Brown is ready to see what James has in store. He's heard the superstar is talking about shifting his game to another gear.

``I never doubt or question the great ones, I just sit back and watch,'' Brown said. ``I've seen guys of his stature or nature rise to the occasion come playoff time.''

James said last year's playoff experience taught him the value of every possession, how one play can alter a series and that nothing can be taken for granted. This time around, there is a calmness about him.

So will he be nervous again?

``I'll be very excited,'' he said. ``It's going to be excitement more than being scared. I don't want to get too excited. It's too early.''

And it's probably already too late for the Wizards.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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