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LeBron James has mastered the first-round knockout.

Better protect those chins Authentic Dougie Hamilton Jersey , Pacers.

One of the most dominant postseason players in NBA history, James is undefeated in Game 1 of any opening series, a perfect 12-0 since making his playoff debut with the Cavaliers back in 2006.

James is a ridiculous 48-7 overall in the first round with seven sweeps, and his teams in Miami and Cleveland have ripped off 21 consecutive opening-round victories, a winning streak that stretches to 2012 in his second season with the Heat. Since rejoining the Cavs in 2015, he’s 12-0 in Round 1.

Facing him means an early exit.

But while all those overbearing facts would seem to give Cleveland a huge advantage against Indiana in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference series that starts Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena, James isn’t taking the Pacers lightly. They beat the Cavs three times during the regular season and guard Victor Oladipo and Co. have enough talent to maybe upset the No. 4 seed.

”It’s going to be a very good matchup,” James said Saturday. ”It’s 4-5 for a reason. Both teams played good ball at times throughout the regular season. Obviously their season, from the outside looking in, was more productive than ours because of what they went through in the offseason. But we went through a lot in the offseason as well. It’s a good matchup and we look forward to the challenge.”

Following a regular season that went up, down and sideways for the Cavs, the postseason has finally arrived. It’s when James shines most.

The 33-year-old is aiming to make his eighth straight Finals, a feat only accomplished by a handful of Boston Celtics in the 1960s. The three-time champ is coming off perhaps his finest regular season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be at his best in April Womens Tom Pyatt Jersey , May and probably June.

”LeBron is a freak of his own,” said Oladipo, who has blossomed in his first year with Indiana. ”He’s the best player in the world. You could give it (the MVP award) to him every year, but it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else.”

James wasn’t fair to the Pacers in last year’s playoffs. He averaged 32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocks as Cleveland swept Indiana en route to a third straight conference crown.

It’s hard to imagine it being that easy this year as the Pacers are a more well-balanced squad. In Oladipo they have a player capable of taking over a game, but James knows the ropes better than anyone this time of year.

”He definitely understands that, going to The Finals, that the quicker you can get a series over and get some rest is the best way to do it,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. ”So our guys have to understand that we’re going to see the best (team) at their best.”

His teammates and opponents may change from year to year in the postseason. James stays the same.

”My responsibility has been the same for quite a while now,” he said. ”Go out and try to dominate.”

SECOND OPTION

For the first time in four years, James won’t have Kyrie Irving by his side in the playoffs. With Irving gone, Kevin Love has become Cleveland’s second-most important player.

Although the Cavs aren’t the slam-dunk favorite as they’ve been in the past to win the East Womens Mattias Ekholm Jersey , Love is as confident as ever.

”I always feel like when we take the floor we’re going to win every game,” he said. ”I feel like we’re a really tough out. We’re going to be a tough team to beat in four games and we have the best player in the world and a lot of guys that are hungry to go out and prove what they can do.”

MYLES TO GO

Pacers big man Myles Turner struggled so badly down the stretch he asked McMillan to play him in the regular-season finale. It didn’t help.

Turner’s struggles continued as he went 1 of 8 from the field and finished with two points in 20 minutes. Turner is now 5 of 26 overall, 0 for 9 on 3-pointers. He had 11 rebounds in Indiana’s last four games. He’s grateful for a fresh start.

”They need me to come out and be the aggressive Myles, like I’ve done during a couple stretches this season,” he said. ”I need to score points, rebound and block shots.”

REUNITED RIVALS

Lance Stephenson developed a reputation for getting under James’ skin during the Pacers-Heat rivalry. He’s still doing it.

Stephenson, perhaps best known for blowing in James’ ear during the 2014 conference finals, baited James into a technical foul earlier this year. This time, though, Stephenson claims he has no plans to rankle King James.

”He’s a tough player, he’s always challenging me,” Stephenson said. ”I think your mindset has to be to stop him and to want to win against him. Everybody in the league wants to beat him.”



AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.



The Minnesota Vikings made a splash on the free agent market last month, with their fully guaranteed contract for quarterback Kirk Cousins and the signing of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson for another instant upgrade for the starting lineup.

There's another addition coming, too.

Running back Dalvin Cook Andre Burakovsky Jersey , his promising rookie season cut painfully short at four games because of a torn ACL in his left knee , has passed the six-month mark in his rehabilitation and remains on track for full action when training camp begins.

He'll be a limited participant in practices this spring and minicamp, head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman said, and has impressed the team at each stage of his recovery. There's no reason why he won't be ready to play in the season opener on Sept. 9.

"Dalvin's knocked the rehab out of the park," Sugarman said. "He's done a great job. He's been here every day since the injury occurred, post-surgery."

The Vikings started their offseason workout program last week at their sparkling new training facility, with state-of-the-art equipment that certainly hasn't hurt Cook's quest to come back as the same dual-threat player who was briefly on display last season after being drafted in the second round out of Florida State .

Cook took part in strength and conditioning activities on the indoor turf with the rest of his teammates on Tuesday, when the Vikings opened a portion of the workout to reporters.

"You've got to trust yourself and know that you did everything in your power to get your knee back to where it's at," Cook said.

"I attacked this thing every day, and I did what I needed to do to get to this point, so I had no doubt when I first touched the field that it was where I wanted to be at."

Cook had reconstructive surgery on Oct. 9. The first two weeks were the toughest part, with Sugarman pushing hard on his knee in the early struggle to regain that critical range of motion in the joint.

"You're ready to hit him across the head," Cook said. "It's a lot. It really is, man. It's the injury that can make you or break you. I chose the route that it wasn't going to break me Drew Stafford Jersey , so I'm going to move forward."

There will be several more hurdles to clear, particularly those that involve a live defense across the line and ready to take Cook down to the turf. For now, three months before the toil and sweat of training camp arrives, there's plenty to celebrate.

"This is kind of the fun part again for him to get back on the field to feel like a football player again," Sugarman said.

As for Cousins, the past week has been about beginning the process of learning the offense and more importantly his new teammates.

He recently hosted wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs for a couple of days in the Atlanta area, where Cousins spends most of his offseason.

Becoming the leader can't be forced, even though this will unquestionably be his team come fall.

"Everybody's been very down to earth. There's a humility there. There's a formula there for success, and I sit in the team meetings and I see the organization," Cousins said.

"I see the attention to detail and I see the professionalism, and it's just no surprise why there was success last year."

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