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lin hong Oct 11
LeBron James has mastered the first-round knockout.

Better protect those chins [url=http://www.bengalscheapshop.com/...c-tyler-kroft-jersey]Tyler Kroft Jersey[/url] , Pacers.

One of the most dominant postseason players in NBA history, James is undefeated in Game 1 of any opening series, a perfect 12-0 since making his playoff debut with the Cavaliers back in 2006.

James is a ridiculous 48-7 overall in the first round with seven sweeps, and his teams in Miami and Cleveland have ripped off 21 consecutive opening-round victories, a winning streak that stretches to 2012 in his second season with the Heat. Since rejoining the Cavs in 2015, he’s 12-0 in Round 1.

Facing him means an early exit.

But while all those overbearing facts would seem to give Cleveland a huge advantage against Indiana in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference series that starts Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena, James isn’t taking the Pacers lightly. They beat the Cavs three times during the regular season and guard Victor Oladipo and Co. have enough talent to maybe upset the No. 4 seed.

”It’s going to be a very good matchup,” James said Saturday. ”It’s 4-5 for a reason. Both teams played good ball at times throughout the regular season. Obviously their season, from the outside looking in, was more productive than ours because of what they went through in the offseason. But we went through a lot in the offseason as well. It’s a good matchup and we look forward to the challenge.”

Following a regular season that went up, down and sideways for the Cavs, the postseason has finally arrived. It’s when James shines most.

The 33-year-old is aiming to make his eighth straight Finals, a feat only accomplished by a handful of Boston Celtics in the 1960s. The three-time champ is coming off perhaps his finest regular season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be at his best in April, May and probably June.

”LeBron is a freak of his own,” said Oladipo, who has blossomed in his first year with Indiana. ”He’s the best player in the world. You could give it (the MVP award) to him every year, but it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else.”

James wasn’t fair to the Pacers in last year’s playoffs. He averaged 32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocks as Cleveland swept Indiana en route to a third straight conference crown.

It’s hard to imagine it being that easy this year as the Pacers are a more well-balanced squad. In Oladipo they have a player capable of taking over a game, but James knows the ropes better than anyone this time of year.

”He definitely understands that, going to The Finals, that the quicker you can get a series over and get some rest is the best way to do it [url=http://www.officialhurricanes.com/...stin-williams-jersey]Justin Williams Jersey[/url] ,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. ”So our guys have to understand that we’re going to see the best (team) at their best.”

His teammates and opponents may change from year to year in the postseason. James stays the same.

”My responsibility has been the same for quite a while now,” he said. ”Go out and try to dominate.”

SECOND OPTION

For the first time in four years, James won’t have Kyrie Irving by his side in the playoffs. With Irving gone, Kevin Love has become Cleveland’s second-most important player.

Although the Cavs aren’t the slam-dunk favorite as they’ve been in the past to win the East, Love is as confident as ever.

”I always feel like when we take the floor we’re going to win every game,” he said. ”I feel like we’re a really tough out. We’re going to be a tough team to beat in four games and we have the best player in the world and a lot of guys that are hungry to go out and prove what they can do.”

MYLES TO GO

Pacers big man Myles Turner struggled so badly down the stretch he asked McMillan to play him in the regular-season finale. It didn’t help.

Turner’s struggles continued as he went 1 of 8 from the field and finished with two points in 20 minutes. Turner is now 5 of 26 overall, 0 for 9 on 3-pointers. He had 11 rebounds in Indiana’s last four games. He’s grateful for a fresh start.

”They need me to come out and be the aggressive Myles, like I’ve done during a couple stretches this season,” he said. ”I need to score points, rebound and block shots.”

REUNITED RIVALS

Lance Stephenson developed a reputation for getting under James’ skin during the Pacers-Heat rivalry. He’s still doing it.

Stephenson, perhaps best known for blowing in James’ ear during the 2014 conference finals, baited James into a technical foul earlier this year. This time, though, Stephenson claims he has no plans to rankle King James.

”He’s a tough player, he’s always challenging me,” Stephenson said. ”I think your mindset has to be to stop him and to want to win against him. Everybody in the league wants to beat him.”

AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

OKLAHOMA CITY — After losing Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics in the offseason, it looked like it would be a long shot for the Utah Jazz to make the playoffs.

But after a rough start, the Jazz won 29 of 34 games before losing their regular-season finale to drop to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.

They’ll open the playoffs Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that looked like a lock to not only make the playoffs but compete atop the conference. But the Thunder didn’t solidify their place in the playoffs until a win in the next-to-last game of the season.

The series is one of the more intriguing first-round matchups, with Utah’s 7-foot-1 center Rudy Gobert providing a rim-protecting presence to combat Thunder superstar point guard Russell Westbrook.

Gobert has also taken over as a leader after the departure of Hayward.

That included a strong statement after the Jazz dropped a game in Atlanta in late January to fall nine games below .500. At the time, Gobert tweeted, “We will be fine.”

“It’s only brighter from that point,” Gobert told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I looked at our team, our organization [url=http://www.officialwild.com/...kael-granlund-jersey]Mikael Granlund Jersey[/url] , and I thought, ‘Why not turn things around?’ We were 19-28, but we had everything in our hands. We knew we were going to turn.”

That turnaround hinged in large part on Utah’s defense, which figures to play a big part in the series as Oklahoma City’s pick-and-roll combo of Westbrook and center Steven Adams will be tested and Paul George plays in his first postseason with the Thunder.

“As the playoffs go, the game slows down some, teams are really conscientious of getting back in transition,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “You’re always trying to find ways to carve out a way to get some easy baskets, whether it’s offensive rebounds, free throws, backdoor cuts.

“But sometimes up against the clock, you need guys that can generate offense for your team, or who can make a play, make a shot or make a play for somebody else.”

Oklahoma City won the regular-season series 3-1, but the Thunder had defensive stopper Andre Roberson available for all four of those games. Roberson suffered a season-ending injury in late January, eventually opening the door for Oklahoma City to sign Corey Brewer.

George figures to draw perhaps the most important defensive assignment, taking over for Roberson in guarding Jazz rookie guard Donovan Mitchell.

“I’m used to these matchups,” George said. “I’m used to playing against the best offensive guy in these moments. That’ll be my role. Not to say Corey won’t guard (Mitchell), but that’ll definitely be my role, especially late in games.”

George guarded Mitchell on only 27 possessions during the four regular-season meetings, going 4 of 7 from the floor. Roberson guarded Mitchell for 78 possessions.

“He’s a really good attacking guard in the open floor and in transition,” Donovan said of Mitchell. “Obviously with the way he can shoot it, I think his strength and physicality. He does a lot of different things for them in transition and in half court while also creating for himself.”[img]http:///...s/nike_bills_440.jpg[/img]