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LeBron James' top 10 toughest opponents in his career:

Posted by : JaimeReborn Date added : 2020-05-20 09:46:07

LeBron James' top 10 toughest opponents in his career:

- by Jaime Reborn

01.) Tim Duncan
02.) Steph Curry
03.) Kevin Durant
04.) Paul Pierce
05.) Paul George
06.) Draymond Green
07.) Kawhi Leonard
08.) Dirk Nowitzki
09.) Dwight Howard
10.) Derrick Rose

HM #1 - Carmelo Anthony
HM #2 - Gilbert Arenas
HM #3 - Lance Stephenson

HM#3 – Lance Stephenson – Stephenson has probably been more of a nuisance to LeBron than a legitimate challenger. In the playoffs of the early 2010’s, Stephenson was a part of some very competitive Pacer teams that gave LeBron’s teams all they could handle. Though LeBron’s teams won each of those matchups, Stephenson harassed LeBron in just about every way he could, including blowing in LeBron’s ear. So impressed was Charlotte Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan, that the Hornets signed Stephenson, specifically, to try and slow down LeBron. It didn’t work. After a few years of being a journeyman, Stephenson returned to the Pacers in the late 2010’s and in the playoffs he and LeBron picked up right where they left off, with LeBron continuing to find seemingly endless ways to beat Stephenson and the Pacers.

HM#2 – Gilbert Arenas – Arenas was on his way to becoming a superstar in the NBA in the mid 2000’s with the Washington Wizards. He was an extremely explosive shooting guard with limitless potential. Arenas’ Wizards squared off with LeBron’s Cavs’ when both teams were playoff interlopers. LeBron’s Cavs won both of his teeth-cutting playoff series in 2006 and 2007, but LeBron’s rivalry with Arenas was short-lived. Arenas was at his peak in his Wizards’ team’s clash with LeBron’s Cavs’ team in 2007, but early in the next season Arenas was injured and only played a handful of games over the next few seasons as the Wizards went into decline without him as the focal point of their offense..

HM#01 – Carmelo Anthony – The rivalry between Anthony and James goes all the way back to their prep days when Anthony’s Oak Hill defeated LeBron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary. Their rivalry followed the two phenoms into the NBA as James was taken #1 overall in the NBA Draft with Carmelo going off the board at #3. Although Carmelo and LeBron have only played against each other once in the playoffs, there was a time early in their careers where some wondered whether or not if Carmelo should have been the #1 overall pick as Carmelo won three of his first four games against LeBron. In their primes, both James and Carmelo were equally prolific scorers, but LeBron was a top level defender and that usually was the difference between them when it counted most.

10.) Derrick Rose – The LeBron vs. DRose rivalry was another one that was too short-lived. Before Rose got hurt and succumbed to an injury-plagued career, he was the best point guard in the league and an equally effective field general. Rose didn’t have the best perimeter shot but he was cat-quick and could get to the basket almost at will. During Rose’s 2010-11 campaign, he led Chicago to the best record in the league and bested James for the MVP as well his Bulls having beaten LeBron's Heat team in all of their contests during the regular season. This trend looked to continue as the Bulls outclassed the Bulls in Game 1 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. However, LeBron began playing lockdown defense on Rose and the Heat won their next four games and earned a berth in the NBA Finals. In the following season, after Rose led his team to a shared best record in the league (with the San Antonio Spurs), he injured himself in the first game of the playoffs. Rose was in and out of lineups over the next few years. He had his moments, but he was never the same. This injury not only changed the trajectory of Rose’s rivalry with LeBron, but it also changed the trajectory of the Bulls as well as the fate of the NBA itself as the Bulls looked poised to contend for many years before Rose was hurt.

09.) Dwight Howard – Howard embodied two of the primary problems LeBron has faced all through his career, rim protectors and stalwart defensive players. During the late 2000’s, some NBA pundits thought that Howard was the best player in the NBA, even over LeBron. When the two met in the playoffs, while LeBron had an epic series, the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals belonged to Howard. Even moving around to various teams, Howard has been one of LeBron’s toughest competitors. However, after Howard left the Eastern Conference, the significance of his rivalry with LeBron waned as Howard was rarely on a contender after that and rarely played LeBron again when the stakes were significant. In the late 2000’s, both were seen as equally having the potential to dominate the Eastern Conference for years to come, but Lebron emerged as a perennial Eastern Conference champion over the next decade and Dwight’s dominance and that of his rivalry with LeBron slowly faded from the NBA consciousness.

08.) Dirk Nowitzki – As with most of his opponents, LeBron has usually gotten the better of them. Nowitzki is no different save for him leading his Maverick’s to a shocking 4-2 upset of LeBron’s Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. This was a seminal moment in LeBron’s history and is nearly universally recognized as LeBron’s lowest moment in his, otherwise, illustrious career. The dichotomy of the 2011 NBA Finals is that while it is Nowitzki’s greatest triumph it is also LeBron’s most criticized on-court failure. Nowitzki and the Mavericks had reeled off eleven straight seasons of 50+ win but were never really considered actual legitimate threats to win the Championship. Nowitzki emphatically laid claim to being one of the game’s all-time greats, at the expense of LeBron. Dirk had an absolutely lethal fadeaway and it worked on all comers, including LeBron. Before and after the 2011 NBA Finals, however, LeBron’s teams never had much trouble with the Nowitzki’s Mavericks, but the 2011 NBA Finals will always be famous for Nowitzki and infamous for LeBron.

07.) Kawhi Leonard – Leonard gave LeBron fits in their 2013 NBA Finals battle with Leonard’s Spurs coming out on the losing end to LeBron’s Heat in a tough seven game series. LeBron, with the help of his teammates, solved the Spurs and came back from a 3-2 deficit to win the series. The next season, however, Kawhi and the Spurs took down a very game LeBron in five contests, in record fashion. LeBron had great numbers, but it was Kawhi’s defense on LeBron that left only scraps for LeBron’s Heat teammates. Kawhi was one of James’ toughest opponents, on both sides of the ball throughout their rivalry. Kawhi won the DPOY in 2015 and 2016. Kawhi has made LeBron worked to score like few others in LeBron’s career. While many have considered LeBron the best and most dominant player of his era, many still considered Leonard the best two-way player during that time as well.

06.) Draymond Green – Green was a nuanced throwback of sorts. He had old school enforcer qualities with outstanding defense and capable scoring ability when necessary. Draymond could play defense on LeBron straight up, and was not above hard fouls and attempts at intimidation when needed. Green’s defense of LeBron has played a very influential role in what became one of the NBA’s most talked about team rivalries in recent years, between the Golden St. Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The two have butted heads, sometimes literally, more than once, most notably in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals, causing Green to be suspended and the Cavs becoming the first team to come back from a 1-3 deficit in the NBA Finals. The Warriors and Cavs faced one another four straight seasons in the NBA Finals from 2015-2018 with the Warriors taking three of the four contests (2015, 2017, 2018), and with Green being a big part of that, even though LeBron has put up otherworldly statistics in each series. Ironically, it was Green’s teammate, Andre Iguodala who received MVP honors in the 2015 NBA Finals for being primarily responsible for “holding” the LeBron to 35.8 points per game, 13.3 rebounds per game, and 8.8 assists per game (albeit on 39.8 % shooting).

05.) Paul George – Unfortunately, for George, LeBron has gotten the better of almost all of their match-ups when they counted. However, George is an extremely capable small forward in his own right and made LeBron expend a great deal of energy on the defensive end trying to guard George. George wasn’t as physically imposing as LeBron, but George could hold his own, especially on the offensive end, with anyone in the league. George was one of the few people that could score regularly against LeBron. It sometimes seemed that the leverage that LeBron had over George was a mental one. LeBron’s Heat defeated George’s Pacers in the playoffs from 2012 to 2014 in three very hard fought series, but LeBron was always able to lead his team to victory. Meeting again in 2017 playoffs, LeBron’s Cavs swept George’s Pacers and George decided to take his chances in free agency and left the Pacers. George seemed poised for superstardom most of his prime years but circumstance and LeBron James always seemed to interfere. Had he not played in the same position in the same era as LeBron, he might have been remembered a lot differently in NBA history.

04.) Paul Pierce – Pierce was arguably LeBron’s biggest nemesis in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. Pierce and LeBron seemed to be equally matched in in terms of leadership abilities and in getting the most out of their teammates. In a famous 2008 playoff semi-final game 7, Pierce and LeBron waged an epic duel for the ages with Pierce scoring 41 and LeBron scoring 45 as Pierce’s Celtics defeated LeBron’s Cavaliers on their way to their seventeenth NBA Championship. In fairness to the LeBron, Pierce had three likely future HOF teammates in power forward Kevin Garnett, shooting guard Ray Allen, and rookie point guard Rajon Rondo (KG was DPOY that season as well). Two seasons later, it would be another defeat of the LeBron-led Cavs by the Pierce-led Celtics that would change the course of history for LeBron and the NBA as LeBron opted out of his contract and left to form a “super-team” of his own with the Miami Heat. The change of scenery didn’t stop their rivalry. However, now the tide had turned as LeBron got revenge on Pierce when his Heat team defeated Pierce’s Celtics in 2011, and again in 2012 en route to LeBron’s first NBA Championship. The pair would also meet yet again with playoff stakes on the line when LeBron’s Heat defeated Pierce’s second try at a “super team”, the Brooklyn Nets, in the Eastern Conference semi-finals of 2014.

03.) Kevin Durant – Durant might be considered the best basketball player of his era had not so much of his career overlapped with that of LeBron’s career. Individually, Durant was the closest post-LeBron drafted player to compare with LeBron in terms of talent and dominance until Steph Curry came along. They met in the NBA Finals in 2012, 2017, and 2018 with LeBron leading his Heat team over Durant’s Thunder team, 4-1 in their first meeting and with Durant returning the favor in leading his Warriors team past LeBron’s Cavs team by the same record in 2017, and the loaded Warriors sweeping the LeBron's Cavs in 2018.  However, in the interim years between those NBA Finals appearances, LeBron had dominated the league appearing in each NBA Finals from 2011 to 2017. Few players presented LeBron with matchup problems the way Durant did. Durant wasn’t a very physical player but he was as dominate a combo wing player as the league has ever seen. He could shoot “lights out” and was equally effective off of the dribble. He was criticized for his lack of defense and lack of physicality early in his career and that was usually the parts of his game that allowed LeBron to get the better of their individual matchups.

02.) Steph Curry – While some might have short memories now, in the midst of Curry’s dominant 2015-16 record-setting unanimous MVP season, many people in the basketball world were publicly professing that Curry was the best player in the league. Indeed, his stats were hard to argue. However, in the NBA Finals of that year, LeBron’s Cavs were the first NBA team in league history to comeback from a 1-3 deficit, doing so against Curry’s Warriors. In doing so, LeBron left no doubt about who the best player in the world was. So emphatic was LeBron’s performance in the 2016 NBA Finals, that the Warriors signed Kevin Durant in the offseason. As much as LeBron is a walking triple-double threat, Curry is a walking 50-40-90 threat (field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentage, respectively). Curry, for the most part, from a team perspective, has usually gotten the better of LeBron when it has mattered most. Curry’s perimeter shooting could have the most potent perimter shooting touch of any player in NBA history. Curry is, arguably, the most clear and present danger to challenge LeBron’s legacy as Curry’s talent could propel him into the argument of greatest of all time before his career is over as Curry's teams are 3-1 in the NBA Finals against LeBron's teams. 

01.) Tim Duncan – After Jordan’s career, while many NBA fans were positing who would be the “next Jordan”, it appears that many were thinking only in terms of stylistically, like Kobe Bryant and perhaps LeBron James, as opposed to effective results. Duncan’s game didn’t resemble Jordan's, Kobe's, or LeBron's, but, make no mistake about it, Duncan was the most dominant NBA player of his era, the “post-Jordan” era. Duncan represented LeBron’s most indomitable competitor over the course LeBron’s career. The two met head to head three times in the NBA Finals, in 2007, 2013, and 2014, with LeBron needing a herculean effort and a miracle 3-point shot from Heat teammate Ray Allen to win in seven games in 2013, while Duncan’s Spurs squad swept the Cavs in 2007, and avenged their 2013 NBA Finals loss with a 4-1, record margin “gentlemen’s sweep” in 2014. Prior to Curry’s Warriors, no team presented as much of a challenge to LeBron than the Duncan-led Spurs. Duncan was an effective scorer, but unlike Durant and Curry, he was also an equally renowned and effective defensive player with particularly formidable rim-protecting skills. Although the two didn’t have many one-on-one matchups in the games they played against one another, they were the clear leaders of their teams whenever their teams did face each other and every time the two men crossed paths, it was a “must see” for NBA fans.

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