In his 17 seasons in the NBA, LeBron James has developed a system to prepare for the playoffs.
There is a ramp-up at some point in the last third of the NBA season, a handful of games in which he pushes himself to play more minutes than most observers would probably like him to. But he does it so that he’ll know that gear is there later, when he needs it.
Then there is a brief cooldown, when he gets his legs back under him before the playoffs begin. Then there is a shutdown, when he closes himself off to the outside world until the mission — or the season — is complete.
No social media. No extra interviews. Just total focus.
This year has not been typical.
There was no ramp-up or cooldown. There was a shutdown — of the NBA season, but not of James’ social media or interviews.
In fact, on Monday, the day before the Los Angeles Lakers‘ playoff opener, James taped an interview with Cari Champion and Jemele Hill for their new show on Vice TV, noting, “I don’t let many people see me inside my room right now.” But he wanted to support them in their new endeavor and discuss his More Than a Vote initiative.
In the bubble, it has taken James and the Lakers a while to get back to the dominant form they showed before the season was suspended. These are unlike any other playoffs in league history.
James had a 23-17-16 triple-double in Game 1, but it came in a loss that saw him miss his only two fourth-quarter free throws and make only one basket in the last seven minutes. Despite a blowout win in Game 2, James had only 10 points, with more turnovers (six) than field goals (4-of-11).
Finally, in the third game of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Portland Trail Blazers, James seemed to find the dominant flow he has shown in 14 other trips to the postseason.
“I just think my offensive pace tonight,” James said, setting up an elaborate car metaphor that actually worked very well to describe his play, “at times I was fast, slow, medium-paced. It was like a stick shift. Sometimes I was in gear 1, sometimes I was in gear 6. Being able to read and react, depending on whether I had the cruise on or was in a residential area or the highway or I was on the straightaway. Being able to have a car that can go in different speeds and zones, depending on what the traffic is, is very key.”
James finished with 38 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists to lead Los Angeles to a 116-108 win over Portland to take a 2-1 series lead. He did it by attacking everything in his path.
“LeBron finally got hot,” Lakers shooting guard Danny Green said. “It’s the first time. … We haven’t had a game where