Can LeBron James, Lakers make history facing 2-0 deficit in NBA playoffs?

For the second straight year, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are staring down a 2-0 series deficit against the Denver Nuggets, who are once again favored to win Game 3 on Thursday.

And history says even The King will be hard-pressed to dethrone the defending champions.

Entering the first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs, teams trailing 2-0 in a postseason series had won just 33 times in 449 tries. That’s a 7.3% win percentage for teams that lose the first two games of a series, which drops to 6.6% for those down 2-0 in the first round.

Incredibly, James helped lead three of those 33 comeback efforts, though his Lakers went down in four games in last year’s Western Conference Finals – just the third time he’d been swept in his postseason career.

A year later, the NBA’s all-time scoring leader needs another miracle after falling down 2-0 to the Nuggets on Monday, when Los Angeles blew a 20-point lead in Game 2 and ceded a shot at the buzzer in a crushing 101-99 loss.

It’s the first time James has ever faced a 2-0 series deficit in the first round and just the 10th time overall in 54 career postseason series.

Here’s a look at how he’s fared in those previous nine series:

What is LeBron James’ all-time record down 2-0 in NBA playoffs?

Entering the 2024 NBA playoffs, James has won three of nine postseason series (3-6) when his team loses the first two games.

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The first such series came in his first playoff run in 2006, when the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied from a 2-0 series deficit before losing Game 7 to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

A year later, those two met in the second round once again, and the Cavaliers dropped the first two games by three points apiece to the top-seeded Pistons.

That’s when James announced himself as an eventual all-time great. The 22-year-old averaged 31.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists over the next four games – including a 48-point masterpiece in Game 5, when he scored Cleveland’s final 25 points – to survive the second round and eventually reach his first NBA Finals.

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The Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals, and they couldn’t erase a 2-0 deficit against the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals.

James wouldn’t face another 0-2 hole until eight years later, when he engineered the greatest postseason comeback in NBA history.

Cleveland lost the first two games of the 2016 NBA Finals and was staring down a 3-1 series deficit against the Golden State Warriors, who had won an NBA-record 73 games in the regular season.

No matter for James and Co., who promptly won the next two games before outlasting the Warriors in a Game 7 for the ages.

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The Cavaliers lost to the Warriors in a similar spot in the 2017 NBA Finals, though they erased a 2-0 deficit against the Celtics a year later before getting swept by Golden State in the 2018 NBA Finals.

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He didn’t face another such deficit until last year, when he was swept for the first time prior to the NBA Finals in that conference finals loss to Denver.

While James owns a losing record when his team drops the first two games of a series, that isn’t so bad when compared to the 30-407 series record for every other team in that spot across NBA history.

For comparison? Michael Jordan was 0-5 in his postseason career when his team lost the first two games of the series, including an 0-2 record in best-of-seven matchups.

Has LeBron James ever been swept in the NBA playoffs?

James has been swept three times in his postseason career, most recently against the Nuggets in the 2023 Western Conference Finals.

That was the only time that James has ever lost the first three games of a series – let alone four – outside of the NBA Finals.

James was swept by the Spurs in his first championship appearance in 2007, and his Cavaliers lost in four games to the Warriors in 2018 – the fourth consecutive NBA Finals matchup between those two teams.

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LeBron James playoff history facing 2-0 series deficit

Year Matchup Round Game 3 result Series result
2023 Lakers vs. Nuggets Western Conference Finals L, 119-108 Lost in 4 games
2018 Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals L, 110-102 Lost in 4 games
2018 Cavaliers vs. Celtics Eastern Conference Finals W, 116-86 Won in 7 games
2017 Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals L, 118-113 Lost in 5 games
2016 Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals W, 120-90 Won in 7 games
2008 Cavaliers vs. Celtics Second round W, 108-84 Lost in 7 games
2007 Cavaliers vs. Spurs NBA Finals L, 75-72 Lost in 4 games
2007 Cavaliers vs. Pistons Second round W, 88-82 Won in 6 games
2006 Cavaliers vs. Pistons Second round W, 86-77 Lost in 7 games
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