Is LeBron James' Reign Over the Eastern Conference Coming to an End?

LeBron James’ Eastern Conference dominance may be coming to an end after his Cleveland Cavaliers were humiliated at home by the Indiana Pacers Sunday afternoon.

Updated: April 15, 2018 • 7:50 PM ET

LeBron James could be wearing a different uniform next season.

CLEVELAND — Could King James soon be forced off his Eastern Conference throne? If Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers is any indication, the answer to that question would be a resounding yes.


LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers were run out of their own gym in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Sunday afternoon, as the Indiana Pacers thoroughly hammered the Cavs 98-80 in Quicken Loans Arena. The loss was James’ first in his career in Game 1 of the opening round of the postseason.


“At the end of the day, they came in and they dictated the tempo,” James said after the game. “They were more aggressive. They just played inspired basketball, and they just took advantage of everything that we wanted to try to do.”


The game got away from the Cavs early. When Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (game-high 32 points) knocked down two free throws with 4:06 to play in the first quarter, Indiana has already amassed a 20-6 lead. Meanwhile, James didn’t even register his first shot attempt until 1:24 remained in the quarter, which ended with Cleveland trailing 33-14.


It’s no secret that James will be a free agent at the end of this season, and he’ll once again be free to take his talents elsewhere. One reason he might flee is a possible lack of enough help. Superstar Kyrie Irving forced his way out of town before this season ever began, leaving Kevin Love as the only other All-Star-caliber player on the team. Needed now more than ever, Love didn’t produce a standout game on Sunday.


The Cavs power forward didn’t score his first points until he knocked down a three-pointer with 1:53 remaining in the first half. The shot brought Cleveland within a 50-37 deficit, but the Cavs weren’t able to close the gap any further before halftime. The Pacers led 55-38 at the half.


“Guys had great looks, they just didn’t go down,” James said. “Kev had back-to-back threes that didn’t go down. G-Hill (George Hill) got into the lane and missed a floater, (Rodney) Hood had a wide-open transition three that didn’t go down.


“For the most part, I was trying to get guys in the right places…Guys just couldn’t make shots to start the game.”


The Cavs made a run in the third quarter, starting with two J.R. Smith three-pointers that brought the Cleveland within a 69-56 margin with 3:07 to play in the period. When Love drained a trey roughly two minutes later, Cleveland had crawled back to trail 70-63, their first time being within single digits since a 12-4 deficit in the first quarter. But it all fell apart again for the Cavs in the fourth quarter.


Cleveland trailed 73-65 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Pacers opened the period with a 15-6 run, capped by a Bojan Bogdanovic triple that put Indiana up 88-71 with 7:28 to play. From that point forward, the Pacers left James and his crew in the rearview. They also left the feeling of getting swept in the first round by the Cavs last season behind them.


“Only a few of us was here last year when they swept us,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said. “You know that LeBron is going to make an effort to get aggressive and start to attack even more. That’s pretty much what we talked about at halftime, stay solid, keep the ball in front of you, rebound the basketball and execute on the offensive end of the floor.”


James became just the second player in postseason history to notch 20 career triple-doubles (Magic Johnson - 30) on Sunday, posting a team-high 24 points, a game-high 12 assists and 10 rebounds. He only made seven shots, the final of which allowed him to pass Michael Jordan (2,188 FGM) for the second-most field goals made in NBA postseason history.


Eighty points won’t win very many games in the NBA, and James needs more help from his teammates if the Cavs have any hopes of winning this series. Smith finished with 15 points, while Larry Nance Jr. contributed 10 points. No other Cavalier reached double-figures in scoring, including Love who totaled nine points and 14 rebounds.


While it was only the first game of the series, James’ possible departure from Cleveland after the season looms over the team. There have been rumors of him bolting to Houston, Los Angeles or Philadelphia after the season, but James hasn’t indicated what his intentions are. There’s also always the possibility that he never puts on another jersey that isn’t wine and gold again. But before speculation of what James will do at the end of the season becomes unbearable, he and his Cavs have to regroup for the next game.


“We’ll see going into Game 2 what we feel is the best to counter their defense, counter their attack,” James said.

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