A subplot to LeBron James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency and leading the charge to restore the franchise to its championship heights was his departure creating a window of opportunity in the Eastern Conference that largely hadn’t existed.
Whether with the Cleveland Cavaliers or Miami Heat, James made eight consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals. He tormented both or either the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors in most of those years en route to keeping the impressive streak alive.
Before the ink could dry on the four-year contract James signed with the Lakers, talk over which team would emerge from a wide-open Eastern Conference. The Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Raptors were among the oft-mentioned.
Although his team wasn’t mentioned among the prohibitive favorites, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan acknowledged there was an opening in the conference once it was decided James would make the move West.
“Absolutely. I think everybody felt that way,” McMillan said before the Pacers faced the Lakers. “He’s been the guy with his team that has been in the Finals, whether he was with Miami or Cleveland, that you had to go through. I think the whole East felt that it’s going to be somebody different in the Finals.”
While McMillan has found himself on the wrong end of playoff matchups against James-led teams, he didn’t view Thursday’s game different from any other or as carrying a revenge factor. “That’s done and over with,” McMillan said.
“It’s a different team, different year, different season. That’s behind us.”
James went on to put together another big performance against the Pacers, carrying the Lakers to a win after they blew what was once a 24-point lead.