LeBron James says he's focused on Pistons, not Stan Van Gundy

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Tuesday, April 19, 2016

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio --LeBron James wants to keep the focus for the Cleveland Cavaliers' first-round series against Detroit on his team's challenge and away from any personal feud between himself and any of the Pistons -- especially head coach Stan Van Gundy.

"Stan has gotten the better of me in a playoff series before in his Orlando days," James said after practice Tuesday. "But it's not about me versus Stan. It's about his teams versus the teams that I've been on and I'm not having an individual matchup with Stan or an individual matchup with Stanley [Johnson] or any other Stan they can possess.

"It's about getting my guys ready. That's all that matters."

Van Gundy's Orlando Magic team beat James' Cavs in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals.

In James' first postseason meeting with Van Gundy since then, Cleveland won Game 1 against Detroit 106-101 on Sunday. During an in-game interview with ESPN's Lisa Salters, Van Gundy criticized the referees for the way they officiate James.

"A couple calls have upset our guys," Van Gundy told Salters. "They've got to understand, LeBron's LeBron. They're not going to call offensive fouls on him. He gets to do whatever he wants. They've got to understand that."

The comments cost Van Gundy, who was fined $25,000 by the league Monday.

Johnson, the strapping Detroit rookie bearing the same first name as his coach, would not apologize for his approach to the series opener when asked about it Monday.

"[It's] physical basketball," Johnson said. "So on the other end, when I get an opportunity to throw [James] on the ground, it is what it is. He would do the same to me."

James, who entered his self-imposed "Zero Dark Thirty-23" social media blackout over the weekend, said he hadn't heard Van Gundy's or Johnson's comments until reporters brought them up Tuesday.

"The game is won in between the four lines," James said. "So whatever [in that] game presents itself, it's not about me versus Stanley Johnson or me versus Stan, it's about the Cavs versus the Pistons.

"I'm trying to help this team advance and get another home win so we can protect home, so I don't get [caught up in that]. Listen, I'm 31-years old, man. I don't get caught up in no shenanigans."

James dismissed the idea that Van Gundy's public salvo -- a classic Phil Jackson-like, mid-series mind game -- would affect him.

"I would never change my game, no matter what a player or coach say," James said. "My main thing is however I can help my team get a win, how I can go out and put an imprint on the game and play as hard as I can. I'll live with the results of that.

"I think it's a non-issue. He's going to say what he has to say to get an advantage for his team, but at the end of the day the game is played in between the four lines and that's all that matters."

James was also asked about defenders trying to stop him by setting up to try to draw offensive fouls, the root of Van Gundy's complaint.

"I'm always conscious of it," he said. "They try to beat me to my spot to try to get a good one. Sometimes it works, they beat me to my spot and it results in a charge, and sometimes they're not there [in time]. But at the end of the day, it's not like [he was getting calls].

"I mean, I got four free throw attempts and I live in the paint. I think I'm top five in the league in points in the paint and shots at the rim. My first two free throws were, 'Get your ass thrown on the ground, here [you] go, two free throws.' So, let's not get this out of control. I don't live at the free throw line."

Indeed, all but five of James' 17 shot attempts in Game 1 came inside the painted area, yet he only attempted four free throws. Last postseason, James attempted five free throws or more in 15 of his 20 playoff games.