Lance Stephenson
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Stephenson
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the irony in perhaps the NBA’s biggest trash talker now staging a rant where he actually castigates the entire art form as a sign of “weakness?”

Seems about as crazy as giving four-time league MVP and Miami Heat star LeBron James bulletin-board material to use as motivation in the conference finals, right?

Nonetheless, there was Lance Stephenson, esteemed New York City playground legend and certifiable trash talker, insisting to anyone who would listen on Sunday that is the very crack in The King’s armor he’s now detected and plans to use to his and the Pacers’ advantage.

“To me, I think it’s a sign of weakness,” Stephenson told of all James’ recent jawing. “He never used to say anything to me. I always used to be the one who said, `I’m going to do something to get you mad.’ Now he’s trying to do it to me. So I feel like it’s a weakness. I feel like I’m doing something right because I’m getting under his skin, but I’ve definitely got to keep stepping up to the plate and be more aggressive when he does that.”

Convoluted as all that may sound, what’s clear is the Pacers are desperately looking for any edge they can find as they head into Monday’s pivotal Game 4 against the two-time defending NBA champs trailing the series 2-1.

As for Stephenson and James, their still-rising-in-volatility history dates all the way back to the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals when the two bitter rivals again clashed and Stephenson flashed the choke sign from the sidelines as James clanked a critical, late game free throw. Later in the series, then Heat forward Dexter Pittman flattened Stephenson with a flying elbow that got him an immediate Game 2 ejection and an eventual three-game suspension.

“I’m not much of a talker,” insists James. “I don’t ever start it but I can get involved in it and still keep my head. Winning the game is more important. I understand what the main goal is.”

In emerging as the Pacers’ clear-cut, second best option and arguably their most versatile performer this season, the man known as “Born Ready” seems to also have incorporated that win-at-all costs element to his still-budding game as well. It just seems he feels a need to tell you about his evolution, over and over and over again.

Before the start of the series, the 23-year-old Stephenson again stole the spotlight for what some might say are all the wrong reasons by telling reporters he planned to run Dwyane Wade until his chronically bad knees “flare up.”

Indeed,  all Stephenson’s talk served to light a spark under the 32-year-old, 11-year veteran, as he is now averaging 24 points, four assists, and three rebounds for the series while shooting better than 60 percent from the floor.

“It’s just basketball,” Stephenson added in defense of all his trash talking. “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.”

Yo, Lance, the goal should also be to not do or say anything that might get the other guy any more fired up. A hint to the wise should be sufficient.