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Bangs, bruises all part of playoff basketball for James

Cavs' superstar willing to push his body to the limit time after time

POSTED: May 26, 2015 11:02 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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— One of the most famous celebrity profiles in magazine history was entitled, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," a piece by Gay Talese for Esquire in 1966 that used Ol' Blue Eyes' bout with that most common of ailments as a side door into Sinatra's personality, moods and world.

A parallel going on now in the Eastern Conference finals could be dubbed, "LeBron James Has Aches and Pains."

James, the star and leader of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is trying to beat the Atlanta Hawks one more time in their best-of-seven series that continues Tuesday with Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena. But he's also trying to win some physical and mental battles with his own body and his reactions to them, hobbled at a most inopportune time by the burdens of the 95 games his team has already played this season and all that came before them in his dozen NBA seasons.

Now 30, James isn't as indestructible as he so often seemed earlier in his career. The turning point in the Cavaliers' season, in fact, came in January after the four-time MVP shut himself down for two weeks of rehab and recovery, heeding the barking of his body and the strain on his outlook.

The playoffs should take a toll on your body where you feel exhausted at the end of it.

– Cavaliers' LeBron James

What James is dealing with now isn't as severe as what he went through then, he said Monday after Cleveland's light workout at its practice facility. Still, the aches and pains, wear and tear and all-around discomfort has been apparent as this postseason has gone on.

In Game 3 Sunday, James nearly tapped out twice due to cramping in the fourth quarter and overtime, then thought better of it based on the Cavaliers' difficulty fending off Atlanta in search of a 3-0 series lead. He had gotten over a sickly 0-for-10 start as a shooter and, sure enough, he managed to post remarkable crooked numbers -- 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists -- to push the Hawks to the brink.

He took some grief from the critics of social media afterward for what some considered overdramatizing his fatigue and soreness. Then again, most of those folks didn't see him during the 90 minutes of treatment he sought after the game to get himself and his extremities back in tune. Or the additional hour he got after Monday's workout.

What James is dealing with now isn't a matter of just rest or chilling out in the back seat of his Kia. It's the accumulation of four straight trips to the Finals and now, in search of a fifth, an even greater challenge in leading/dragging the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Cavaliers.

I don't want any sympathy. There's no rest for the weary.

– Cavaliers' LeBron James

So yeah, he's a little creaky at the moment, though not noticeably cranky.

"I've been banged up going into the postseason, going into round after round after round," he said. "I would say [this is worse] because I just feel my body right today. But I think, when you want to win, you've got to sacrifice your body feeling good. I've been fortunate enough to play until May a lot lately the last few years, and my body has sacrificed feeling good. That's just what it's about."

While forward Kevin Love has been done for the postseason since the first-round finale against Boston, and point guard Kyrie Irving has missed two consecutive games and remains questionable for a third (limited for two rounds by first a foot sprain and then a gimpy knee), James hasn't had the wiggle room or the inclination to sit. Some of that comes from the harsh side of being him -- relentless scrutiny and referendums on his toughness, endless comparisons to how other NBA legends coped, and so on.

Mostly for James, though, it's sheer pragmatism. Besides, maybe by gutting out whatever aches he has, Irving or another young Cleveland player might opt for the rub-dirt-on-it-and-go approach too.

"I'm not the only guy that's limping," James said. "I'm not the only guy that's cramping. I'm not the only guy that's hurting. There are a lot of guys out there playing as well, and I'm one of them as well.

"I don't want any sympathy. There's no rest for the weary. If I'm putting on a uniform and I'm on the floor, I have to make things happen for our team. It's that simple."

Said Cleveland coach David Blatt: "When you're playing that many minutes at that level of intensity, you're going to experience things of that nature. It's not uncommon. He fought through it courageously [Sunday] night and brilliantly, I might add. He'll be ready."

None of the Hawks has presented himself as an ongoing, white-hot offensive threat so far, demanding James throw full energy into his role as a defender. But he still takes pride in that -- "I don't let no one take my man," he said Monday -- and he's had to run the offense more in Irving's absence, carrying some of the offensive duties due to backup Mathew Dellavedova's newness.

"That takes the wear on your legs throughout the course of the game," James said. "You have to handle not only a full court situation but half court situation. So that's taken a little bit of a toll.

"At the same time, it's the playoffs. The playoffs should take a toll on your body where you feel exhausted at the end of it. That's just how I play. That's how I've learned and am accustomed to playing in the postseason. You shouldn't feel great leaving a playoff game ever."

Unless it's the fourth victory in a best-of-seven series, which James will be chasing -- cramps, limp or not -- Tuesday night.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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