By Shandel Richardson | Sun Sentinel
MIAMI -- LeBron James wanted to no part in another media feud with a player named Stephenson.
Apparently, he will have no choice.
After James earlier in the day took the high road by saying he preferred to avoid any verbal sparring with Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, the younger player fired back during his media session Sunday afternoon. Stephenson called it a "sign of weakness" that James responded to his taunts in Saturday's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"To me, I think it's a sign of weakness because he never used to say nothing to me," Stephenson said. "I always used to be the one who used to be the one that say, 'I'm going to get under you. I'm going to do something to get you mad' Now he's trying to do it to me. I feel like it's a weakness."
Stephenson and James exchanged words early in the first quarter. At the time, the Pacers were holding a nine-point lead in a game they eventually lost. With 11 minutes 4 seconds remaining, Stephenson drew a charge on James.
That was when James appeared to show frustration. After teammates helped Stephenson up, James closely followed him down the court. The players jawed the entire way.
"I'm doing something right and I'm getting under his skin," Stephenson said. "I definitely have to keep stepping up to the plate and be aggressive when he does that."
James wound up the victor. He outscored Stephenson 26-10. The Heat lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, with a chance to take control in Monday's Game 4 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
With everything in his favor, James refused to get caught up in the matter.
"No. I don't need to get off with Stephenson," James said. "One thing I'm not going to do is give y'all a storyline with LeBron and Stephenson. I'm not going to do that. It's the Pacers versus the Heat."
James has good reason to take a pass.
He dealt with a similar situation with veteran DeShawn Stevenson. The two had a long-standing rivalry dating to when James was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Stevenson, playing for the Washington Wizards at the time, called James "overrated" when the teams met during the 2008 playoffs.
Three years later, the rift was revisited. Stevenson, then with the Dallas Mavericks, faced James in the 2011 NBA Finals.
"I'm not going to get involved in that," James said. "I've already been involved in a LeBron vs. Stevenson in my playoff career."
Stephenson called it "definitely a sign of respect" that James paid attention to him. He said it will make their matchup even more interesting. The comments came just days after Stephenson claimed he would be less flamboyant on and off the court during the series.
"I mean, this is basketball," Stephenson said. "I don't really have no beef with him. It's just basketball. When you're on the court, it's no friends. Just basketball. I don't want to get into the off-the-court stuff. It's just on-the-court, basketball toughness and never bowing down."
Indiana coach Frank Vogel had no problem with Stephenson's brash talk. He said it will have no impact on how the series plays out.
Pacers forward Paul George felt the same.
"I'm not a trash-talker," George said. "I can be when it escalates to that. But that's his deal. That's him and LeBron's deal. I like to see him going at it. I like the competitiveness. As a fan of the game, watching two guys competing is fun."
The Heat downplayed the situation. They would much rather let their play do the talking.
"Hopefully he got a good joke in or something," Heat center Chris Bosh said. "Don't wake up a sleeping dog. That's a lesson I learned a long time ago. (LeBron) just has to concentrate on playing the game.