By Brad Friedman
LeBron James was in seventh grade the last time the Cavs competed in the postseason. The year was 1998, and Danny Ferry was a forward, not the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When James became the club's franchise player five years later, he felt he was going to take a franchise that had endured dark days in recent years and "light it up like Vegas."
''I said that on Day One once I got drafted," he told the Associated Press. "It's been slow progress, but it takes a few years to put a building up in Vegas, too."
LeBron's about to be a rookie all over again.
Gregory Shamus/NBAE/Getty Images
Well, James is beginning to deliver on that promise. He led the Cavs to a 50-32 record and the No. 4 seed in the East. For James, playing in the postseason for the first time could mean feeling like a rookie all over again.
Ask any NBA player about the differences between the playoffs and regular season, and they'll tell you about the increased defensive intensity. Or the physicality that comes as clubs fight to keep their seasons alive.
James is no doubt a quick learner. His development was visible this season since he hit his first game-winning shot March 22 against the Bobcats. It was almost as if right there and then he was transformed from a guy with a world of talent to a seasoned pro.
In fact, you could even argue there was nobody who was more of a difference maker down the stretch than James this season. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he made 19-of-29 field-goal attempts this season in the last two minutes of one-possession game (66 percent) despite the fact that no other player with at least 25 attempts had made more than half of them through April 11.
Can he carry that over to the postseason, where the stage is grander and the pressures greater?
As for the added physical grind of playoff basketball, James should have no problem with that. The guy can absorb a hit like a fullback, as evidenced by his league-leading 79 old-fashioned three-point plays (foul and free throw) this year.
"The opposing teams don't know that I'm a football player first," James, a former prep All-American tight end, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I can take those hits. I'm going to lay down for a minute, but I'm going to regroup and get up. Those things don't hurt me."
Look for James to get up for the playoffs. After all, the spotlight shines brighter there, and that's exactly the illumination he seeks.