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Hurting or not, James the difference-maker

Who knew he was one of us?

A human being, that is.

After all, LeBron James fooled, apparently, most of Western Civilization.

A child could see how much James' right elbow hurt in the first two games of the Cavs' playoff series against the Celtics, when he played left-handed much of the time, although he recovered to score 35 points in their victory in the opener before disappearing in their Game 2 loss.

I mean a child like the one in the fable who noticed the emperor had no new clothes.

Everyone else acted as if his relatively mundane play was routine, saying things like:

"Time for LeBron to act like the MVP" — Yahoo headline after Game 2.

"Obviously the pain is there, but he's not letting it affect him as a person, as a player" — Cavs coach Mike Brown.

"He doesn't want to talk about an injury. He doesn't want to hear about it. He doesn't make excuses" — teammate Mo Williams.

"The Cavaliers say they're amused by how much everyone does want to talk about it" — ESPN's Rachel Nichols.

"They didn't have the best record just because of LeBron. It is a team game" — ESPN's Jalen Rose.

This just in: The Cavaliers had the best record just because of LeBron James.

Shaquille O'Neal missed the playoffs last season with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill.

Does someone consider Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Delonte West and Anderson Varejao an upgrade?

Adding to the Cavaliers' merriment, they said, was the Twitter page, supposedly posted by James' elbow — that had 8,000 followers by the weekend.

Actually, with posts like, "Covered in Bengay. The best doctors in the world and we're using the same stuff Vinny from rec softball uses to treat his pulled groin" and "Having just LeBron's elbow is better than all of Eddy Curry," it was no less informative than the media and a lot more refreshing.

Happily for the Cavaliers, they got three days off before Game 3, giving them more time to act amused, however terror-stricken they really were, as James acknowledged how often he felt the elbow "twinge" or "lock up."

Lock up?

Nevertheless, the medical staff and James — not necessarily in that order — decided to do … nothing.

The way it works among the Cavaliers, if James said he wanted to bathe in milk like Cleopatra, they would ask whole, 2 percent, skim, soy or coconut?

James' problem — a nerve impingement — seemed so obvious, ESPN's Dr. Michael Kaplan diagnosed it from 600 miles away, without examining the patient.

"He'll try to quiet it down with some medicines and therapy," Kaplan said.

In fact, James was doing it the same way he does anything, or, as he told ESPN Magazine's Tom Friend in 2002 when he was in high school:

"LeBron stays humble just by being LeBron."

James ruled out a visit to renowned surgeon James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., and dismissed suggestions he take an anti-inflammatory injection, saying, "I don't like needles."

Actually, as Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski noted, James' tattoo-bedecked body suggests he has had quite a few injections. Apparently, James feels better about it when it's only ink.

Of course, he was still LeBron James, or claimed he was, so what could go wrong?

Nothing yet.

Sure enough, he was his old self in Game 3 … almost … scoring 28 of his 35 points by halftime in a 124-95 massacre/signal the end is near in Boston.

He still wasn't the old Runaway Train LeBron, although the Celtics, picking a bad time to flatline, got out of the way often enough for the occasional foray to the basket.

Mostly he blazed away from the perimeter, making 10 of 14 jump shots, which he's capable of doing now.

Nevertheless, short of James having to play left-handed, the next best thing is making him beat you over the top.

If the Celtics' goose looks cooked, the Cavs are expected to encounter a real threat in the East finals, in which the Magic prevailed last spring when James was 100 percent.

With the emotional multiplier of the last thing that happens, the Cavaliers, who took on an $84 million payroll that will trigger $20 million in luxury tax, know how bad it could be to finish on a bummer before James decides his future as a free agent.

With their future, not to mention the NBA balance of power, riding on that elbow, they'd better pray that aside from everything else he does, James heals.

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