Don't Overlook LeBron James' 1st-Round Dominance in NBA Playoffs

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 20, 2016

LeBron James, de los Cavaliers de Cleveland, festeja luego de realizar una clavada frente a los Clippers de Los Ángeles, en el encuentro del domingo 13 de marzo de 2016 (AP Foto/Alex Gallardo)
Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

Facing LeBron James in the first round is essentially a death sentence for opposing teams. 

After failing to reach the playoffs during his first two seasons, James-led teams have qualified for the past 11 postseasons. The four-time MVP has never lost in the first round, sporting a perfect 10-0 record and counting.

This is one of many streaks for James when it comes to his playoff success.

With a 106-101 win Sunday over the Detroit Pistons to kick off the 2016 playoffs, he's now won 14 straight games in the opening round.

"As far as the streak, I don't get caught up into it," James said after his most recent victory.

"I've been fortunate to play with two great organizations obviously here and in Miami. We've prepared the best way we can going into a playoff series no matter the opponent. I've been fortunate to get to the second round [or further] every time I've been in the postseason."

The Cleveland Cavaliers, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, remain heavy favorites over the No. 8 Detroit Pistons. As James looks to advance for the 11th straight year, we take a look at his dominance by the numbers and ask just how he's been able to command the first round for so long.

Historical Implications

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James has not only never lost a first-round series, he's never let one reach seven games. The last time an opponent even managed a second victory came eight years ago, when his Cavaliers did battle with the Washington Wizards for the third straight season.

In fact, the average series length over these past 10 years is just 4.7 games. LBJ's Cavs and Miami Heat have swept opponents five total times, including each of the past three years.

CLEVELAND, OH  - APRIL 17: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket against Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons during Round One of the 2015 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USE
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

James has scored a total of 1,399 points during the first round in his playoff career, the most of any player since 2005-06 (the first year he reached the playoffs). He's currently averaging 29.1 points per game in the first round, the highest of any player over the last 10 seasons (minimum five games played, per B/R Insights).

But it's only the first round, where stars like James are expected to shine!

This just isn't the case. At least, not all the time.

Michael Jordan didn't advance past the opening stage until his fourth trip to the postseason. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant, owners of 13 combined championships, bowed out in the first round six total times. Here's how the five legends stack up in the postseason's early going.

By winning 41 of his first 48 games, James edges Johnson for the highest winning percentage and is second only to Bryant in total wins.

This success is largely based on his ability to affect the game in myriad ways. Beyond his scoring, passing and rebounding, he's been known to guard anyone from point guards to power forwards whenever the Cavs or Heat needed it.

Over the last 30 seasons, no player has more games in the first round with at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists. LeBron has accomplished this feat 29 times. The next closest is Jordan with 23, per B/R Insights.

Home Sweet Home

No matter if he's in Northeast Ohio or South Beach, James' teams have always taken care of home court.

In fact, LeBron hasn't lost a home game in the first round since April 30, 2008, against the Wizards during his first tenure with the Cavs. This was an 88-87 loss that saw Washington's Caron Butler get 32 points, while James scored 34 to go along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

CLEVELAND - APRIL 30:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes up for a shot against Brendan Haywood #33, Caron Butler #3 and Darius Songaila #9 of the Washington Wizards in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Pl
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Now eight years after his last home loss, James may only need one more victory at Quicken Loans Arena in a potential sweep of Detroit to advance to the next round. For his career, he's posted a 24-2 record at home in the opening round, good for a winning percentage of 92.3 percent.

Mental Approach

As he progressed from an 18-year-old rookie to the 31-year-old still flying above the rim (albeit not as often) today, James has most improved the cerebral aspect of his game.

A self-proclaimed "beautiful mind," LeBron sent his followers on a wild goose chase with various tweets but a few weeks ago. These 140-character expressions could be viewed as prophetic, astute, insightful or simply the wasted time of a man who was just growing bored with the regular season.

I'm leaning toward the latter.

Whatever the case, James knows when to play and when to be serious. He recently went into "Zero Dark 23 Mode" to begin the playoffs, logging off all social media in order to mentally lock in.

This kind of preparation isn't always easy, but it has yielded amazing results. Even teammates have been impressed with James' ability to think about the game.

"As far as basketball IQ goes, I don't think there's anybody better," Kevin Love told Bleacher Report earlier this season. "No one has a higher basketball IQ than him."

CLEVELAND, OH  - APRIL 17: LeBron James #23 and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during Round One of the 2015 NBA Playoffs against the Detroit Pistons on April 17, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

It's this focus, which flips on like a light when the postseason begins, that helped aid James' early success. He's the only player over the last 10 seasons to be in the top 10 of total points, assists and rebounds during the first round. Beyond that, LeBron shoots his highest field-goal percentage (50.5) and free-throw percentage (76.6) in the first round as well.

While his numbers sparkle, James was also quick to credit Love and Kyrie Irving for their strong play both last season against the Boston Celtics in the opener and now against the Pistons, where the Big Three combined for 81 points in Game 1.

"The only thing that we are expected to do is be there for our teammates every night," James said. "It's not about the statistical category. It starts with us with our mindset, how we approach the game from a mental side, physical side, spiritual side. As far as the stats, those things will take care of themselves."

Locking in mentally while protecting home court and continuing to impact the game in multiple areas have all helped contribute to James' first-round dominance, a trend that shows no sign of slowing. With 24-year-old Irving and 27-year-old Love helping to carry the load, James can slowly begin to spread responsibility and allow his star teammates to shine as well.

Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CavsGregBR.

All quotes obtained firsthand. Stats via Basketball-Reference.com and B/R Insights unless otherwise sourced.

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