Lance Stephenson twice fought for the Indiana Pacers against LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals.
Stephenson is back with the Pacers and they wouldn’t mind getting another crack at James in the playoffs — although this time it would most likely be in the first round.
Stephenson signed a free-agent contract this week to return to the Pacers after playing for five teams in the past three seasons. The Pacers said he will make his debut with his new, old team Sunday against James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
The game has huge playoff implications for both teams.
The Pacers, losers of three straight and five of the last six, are part of a three-way tie for the final two spots in the East with Miami and Chicago. The Bulls beat Atlanta 106-104 on Saturday to force the logjam.
The Cavs, who snapped a three-game losing streak of their own Friday with a 122-105 win over Philadelphia, trail Boston by a half-game for first.
If things broke a certain way in the next 1 1/2 weeks, the Cavs would host the Pacers in Game 1 of a first-round series. When Stephenson was last with the Pacers, they were bounced by James and the Miami Heat from the conference finals in 2013 and 2014.
Stephenson was a second-round pick of the Pacers in 2010 and played four seasons with Indiana. He has played a total of 12 games this year, six with the New Orleans Pelicans and six with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I was hoping that I would come back … sometimes my hopes was up,” Stephenson told Pacers.com. “Now that I’m here and I’m so happy to be here and to be back home, and to play in front of (Indiana) fans, it’s like playing in front of family.”
Stephenson will play against the Cavs, but it’s unclear what his role or impact might be. Indiana lost to another playoff-bound team, the Toronto Raptors, 111-100 on Friday night.
“Everybody is pretty upset,” Pacers gaurd Jeff Teague said, according to The Indianapolis Star. “Everybody wants to win. We just don’t have a flow. We played well in the first half, but then we just forget what we said what we were going to do (at halftime).”
The Cavs went through a similar stretch to what the Pacers are experiencing now, but they had built up enough capital throughout the season to endure the pain. Before waxing the Sixers, Cleveland had dropped three straight and five of seven.
“I think the focus was just on the game and how well we can play and how hard we can play,” guard Kyrie Irving said after scoring 24 points against Philadelphia. “How much of a level we can execute. We needed this game, we needed to get this win.
“We all understood that and we’ve got to keep building from here and not look back. Our process was probably started about 5-6 days ago, a week ago, and now the seed’s been planted and now it’s just going to grow. So I’m excited about it.”
If LeBron James scores at least 10 points Sunday, he’ll tie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 786 consecutive games scoring in double digits. Only Michael Jordan (866 consecutive games) scored at least 10 points in more consecutive games in league history.
“We’ve got to focus on the present and that’s what we’re going to do,” James said.