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Sport LeBron James vs Lance Stephenson: A history of their running feud

07:05  17 april  2018
07:05  17 april  2018 Source:   usatoday.com

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As NBA beefs go, it doesn’t get any better than LeBron James v. Lance Stephenson.

On one side, you have the game’s greatest player, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound force who was deemed “The Chosen One” during his celebrated high school days and is now in search of his fourth championship and his eighth consecutive Finals appearance. On the other, you have the game’s most infamous irritant, a 6-6, 230-pounder who was taken in the second round back in 2010 and has played for six teams since en route to this reunion matchup between his Indiana Pacers and James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. Those fans who don’t like James seem to revel in those moments when Stephenson gets under his skin, while his supporters love nothing more than seeing him push back.

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Their longstanding rivalry is a wondrous contrast in stories and styles – James intensely focused on domination; Stephenson always finding a way to cause frustration, flop or earn a flagrant – and it just might be the most entertaining part of Facts only, LeBron vs Lance is the greatest rivalry of our time.

As we saw on Sunday, when the Pacers’ Game 1 win (98-80) included the latest series of Stephenson slaps, stare-downs, and silliness that included Stephenson head-butting the basket stanchion after a dunk, this series should serve as the latest chapter in this back and forth.

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Their longstanding rivalry is a wondrous contrast in stories and styles – James intensely focused on domination; Stephenson always finding a way to cause frustration, flop or earn a flagrant – and it just might be the most entertaining part of these playoffs. Cue the eye roll from James, who surely wishes this subplot would stay out of spotlight.

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When it comes to the tale of the tape, James has the upper hand in every regard, including a series sweep last season over the Pacers. He never lost to a Stephenson team in the playoffs, though the 2013 conference finals went seven games. He has a 13-7 record in their 20 postseason faceoffs according to Basketball-Reference.com, having averaged 27.4 points (52.8% shooting), 7.8 assists and 6.5 rebounds in those games (Stephenson has averaged 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists). Then again, this has never been about the box score.

So how did they get to this bizarre place?

By most accounts, the first James-Stephenson incident took place during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Indiana and Miami in 2012. Stephenson wasn’t even a rotation player at the time, logging seven minutes in all over the course of the Heat’s six-game series win. But when James missed a free throw late in the third quarter of a Pacers blowout win, Stephenson was caught on camera giving him the universal sign for choking. As then-Pacers star Danny Granger revealed in a SiriusXM radio interview, Heat veterans Juwan Howard, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Andersen would try to return the favor later when they tried unsuccessfully to enter the Indiana locker room with Stephenson in their sights. The list of dust-ups from grown from there.

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No series had more memorable moments between these two than the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, which included Stephenson blowing in James’ ear and sneaking into the Heat’s huddle in Game 5. In Game 6, he opted for another under-the-skin tactic when he touched James’ mouth during a break in play.

The tension and Stephenson’s antics had been there for years, though, as the Heat eliminated the Pacers in three consecutive postseasons (once in the second round and twice in the conference finals). They picked up where they left off this season, with Stephenson being accused of punching James below the belt during a Nov. 1 game in Cleveland (he was given a flagrant). And while Stephenson had 12 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes during Game 1, his impact was likely a sign that there’s more to come.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Sam Amick on Twitter.

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