LeBron James set to face Celtics' Big 3 in second round Print
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Sunday, 04 May 2008 14:45
NBA Headline News

 INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) - It's LeBron vs. the Leprechaun.
For the first time in his pro career, LeBron James will go one on one in the postseason with basketball's most storied franchise - the Boston Celtics - who haven't won an NBA title since 1986, when he was a 2-year-old toddler dribbling only his food.
But Cleveland's 23-year-old megastar is well aware of the Celtics' championship cache and Boston's Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
``We all know the history of the Boston Celtics,'' James said before practice on Sunday. ``They've been unbelievable to the history of the NBA and this year it was good to see them back at the top or close to the top. I haven't played there in the postseason yet, so it's going to be fun.
``You look at them on TV and you see highlights of (Larry) Bird. You see highlights of (Kevin) McHale and all those guys who won championships over and over and over.''
The Cavaliers, who finally shut up the Washington Wizards and ended their season in a rugged, six-game series in the first round, will open the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Celtics on Tuesday night in Boston. Game 2 is Thursday night before the best-of-seven series switches to Cleveland.
The Celtics needed seven games to finally put away the eighth-seeded Atlanta in an opening-round series few thought would be competitive. Boston's 66-16 record during the regular season and the Celtics' 16 world championship banners seemed to mean little to the scrappy Hawks, who put up a valiant fight before being crushed 99-65 in Game 7 on Sunday.
As usual, the spotlight in the Boston-Cleveland series will be trained on James, who averaged 32.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists in three games this season against the Celtics. The teams split their four meetings - both going 2-0 at home - with James missing the Dec. 2 matchup in Boston with a sprained finger.
Although the Celtics were the league's best team in the regular season, Boston coach Doc Rivers has cast his team as underdogs against the defending conference champions.
``They (the Cavaliers) were in the finals last year,'' Rivers said after Game 7. ``One of the things I told our team all year that every time we played them, that we're trying to catch them, not them trying to catch us. The record means nothing. That team went to the finals last year, so in our mind, we're trying to catch them.''
Entering the playoffs, Cleveland looked nothing like a team capable of returning to the finals. However, the Cavaliers, who went through a radical identity change following a midseason trade, are playing their best ball in months. After blowing a chance to close out the Wizards at home, the Cavs went on the road and won handily in Washington.
The performance has raised James' expectations about what Cleveland can do in his third trip to the postseason.
``I'm very excited about the way we played in the first round,'' said James, who had 27 points with 13 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 6. ``The best thing I've seen is how we bounced back from Game 5 into Game 6. Never being in that position with this team before, you never know how a team will bounce back, and the best game we had was Game 6.
``If you're going to pick a good time to be the best team you've been all year, this is the time to do it - in May and June.''
Those two months once belonged almost exclusively to the Celtics.
But Boston isn't feared the way it once was, and the Hawks may have exposed some things in the first round that could help the Cavaliers. When asked about the Celtics' strengths, James quickly mentioned the Allen-Pierce-Garnett threesome before talking about the club's depth.
``They play great team basketball - offensively and defensively,'' he said. ``They have a lot of guys they can go to: Kevin and Ray and Paul, but you can't forget about (Rajon) Rondo and (Kendrick) Perkins and (James) Posey and Sam Cassell coming off the bench. They have a lot of guys who can hurt you.''
Suddenly, the Cavaliers do, too.
Wally Szczerbiak scored a playoff career-high 26 points in Game 6, making six 3-pointers in his best game since coming to Cleveland in February. Szczerbiak has struggled with his shot since he arrived, but that hasn't stopped him from shooting - or from James feeding him the ball.
Szczerbiak said his Game 6 performance has boosted his confidence, and he admitted he may have been trying too hard to make an impression when he first got to Cleveland.
``I'm getting more and more comfortable,'' he said. ``I think I am. I just need to go out there and play my game. Any time you come midseason, you want to show, show, show what you're capable of doing but sometimes it's not going to happen right away and you get a little frustrated. It's been a little bit of a roller-coaster ride, but right now I'm feeling confident and I hope the team can carry on.''
Szczerbiak has an appreciation for the Celtics' mystique. He played parts of two seasons with Boston, so he knows what it's like to follow in the footsteps of Cousy, Russell and Bird. And, he's seen visitors intimidated by the sight of those white-and-green title banners hanging from the ceiling.
The Cavaliers can't let the ghosts rattle them.
``When you go up against them as an opponent, you just can't think of that stuff,'' he said. ``You respect it. But every game is a new game and every series is a new series. Right now, we're on even ground. You throw out all the records in the past. You throw out all the banners in the past. You throw out all the championships in the past. We're playing a second-round playoff series.''
 

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