Dwyane Wade’s return has not significantly improved the Heat in the only stat that really counts

It was so much fun getting Dwyane Wade back last month, but now you have to wonder. Are the Miami Heat any closer to making some real noise in the playoffs with this 12-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP on their roster?

The numbers say no, and they suggest there’s an early playoff exit coming no matter what.

Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade (3) shoots over Washington Wizards’ Mike Scott (30) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Miami. The Heat won 129-102. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami was 29-26 when Wade, the most productive and popular player in franchise history, returned to the Heat in a Feb. 8 trade with Cleveland. Since he joined the team, Miami is 9-7 in all games and 7-6 in games that Wade has played. Nothing special either way.

At different times in a Heat uniform this season Wade has been everything from brilliant (27 points in a 102-101 win over Philadelphia), to mediocre (4-for-13 shooting in a close loss to the same team) to inactive (a hamstring strain has kept him in streetclothes the last three games).

Of course, there are other moving parts that must be considered when it comes to the team’s overall record. Hassan Whiteside plays like an All-Star some nights but doesn’t on others and lately he hasn’t been playing at all. Different players take the scoring lead in different games, a reflection of Erik Spoelstra’s lack of a true closer without Wade in top form. Injuries continue to change the chemistry and the rotation every week of the season, too.

Overall, it feels good to think that Wade is saving up some of his steam at the age of 36 and will begin to dominate parts of games once the postseason gets here. He’s still capable of getting some big shots to go and of stealing or blocking a ball in critical situations.

There just doesn’t seem to be anything truly transformational about it, though. Wade is working hard to contribute and making no complaint about coming off the bench. He probably has a few 20-point explosions in him, too, if he isn’t pushed too hard in a string of consecutive games, and there’s always the wealth of experience and leadership he brings to help the Heat through the tight spots to come.

Back, though, to the original question of how much difference Wade makes in potentially pushing Miami through the first playoff round against Toronto or Boston or Cleveland and into something more serious.

The answer, or at least my answer, is not enough of a difference.

The Heat are tough and versatile and capable of digging very, very deep, as demonstrated in Monday’s epic double-overtime win over Denver, a win that came without Wade or Whiteside.

I would have said all those things about Miami before Wade’s return, and it’s a mouthful. There is little more to be said, however, with Dwyane at Spo’s disposal, other than it is comforting to have him around, and that every little bit of emotional strength counts at this anxious stretch of the season.

And if there’s more to it than that, we’ll probably know it March 27, when LeBron and the Cavs come to town. That’s the kind of challenge that brings the best out in Wade, and if he’s healthy by then, it will be a good showing of what his best is these days in terms of production and emotion and turn-back-the-clock magic.

[March Madness star Eric Musselman got his break with West Palm CBA team] 

[Like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker, Amendola is a Texas Tech tough guy]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

The wildest man in March Madness may be Eric Musselman, who once coached a CBA team in West Palm Beach

There are too many crazy stories in the NCAA tournament to track right now but here’s one with a strong tie to West Palm Beach and a bit of a loose cannon at the center of it.

Nevada’s coach, the one who has the Wolf Pack in Atlanta for a Thursday night Sweet 16 matchup with Loyola-Chicago, is Eric Musselman. He’s 5-feet-7 and celebrates big wins like his team’s upsets of Texas and Cincinnati by screaming and shouting and jumping around like a grade-schooler on a trampoline,

NASHVILLE, TN – MARCH 18: Head coach Eric Musselman of the Nevada Wolf Pack directs his team against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the second half in the second round of the 2018 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

which makes for great television. Oh, and he frequently rips his shirt off, too, during locker room celebrations, which is a little more dangerous for television because that’s when the coach has been known to launch into wild-eyed speeches that are best bleeped out altogether.

If any of this rings a bell, perhaps you were here 20 years ago when Musselman coached the Florida Beachdogs of the old Continental Basketball Association.

The CBA was around for more than 60 years and served as a feeder system for the NBA until the big league came up with development teams of its own in 2002. Phil Jackson once coached in the CBA, and so did George Karl and Flip Saunders and Bill Musselman, Eric’s dad.

Bill Musselman coached everywhere, the NBA, the ABA, the NCAA, and for a time was filled in as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980’s when Chuck Daly got fired there.

At the age of 5 Eric famously brought the house down with a pregame display of dribbling and ballhandling at the University of Minnesota, where his dad was the head coach. By 24, Eric was the general manager of the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA, and he made half a dozen trades on his first day of work.

In 1996 the Thrillers moved from South Dakota to West Palm Beach, where Boca Raton businessman Rick Rochon set about spending millions of dollars trying to make the franchise a success. His coach was Eric Musselman, then in his early 30’s, and he prepared his Beachdogs for games against the Yakima Sun Kings and the Fort Wayne Fury and the Grand Rapids Hoops with the kind of intensity that other men bring to the NBA Finals.

It was never going to work here. South Florida has always been too much of a major-league market to go for minor-league sports other than baseball, which doesn’t draw well but has the industry’s full backing.

Besides, the West Palm Beach Auditorium, where the Beachdogs played their home games, was being prepared to be sold by the city. There were no plans to build a replacement, and in the years since the old auditorium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard has been spruced up and put to use as a Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly center.

All the same, Musselman put together an ever-changing roster of players from the various pro leagues around the world and got the Beachdogs to the best-of-seven CBA championship series in 1997. Home attendance averaged 2,898 that season, or at least that’s the number the team announced, and there were fewer than that on hand when the Oklahoma City Cavalry won the title in Game 6 by a score of 92-82.

There were no more Beachdogs games after that. Musselman was preparing to leave for Uruguay and an assistant coaching gig with one of USA Basketball’s youth teams when he got the news that Rochon was pulling the plug after reportedly losing $4 million as the team’s owner.

It seems, however, that Daly, the Hall of Fame coach, had caught a few Beachdogs games as an offseason Palm Beach County resident and he struck up a relationship with Musselman. He asked Eric to come along as a scout with the Orlando Magic, the team that Daly was coaching at the time, and from there other opportunities came.

In 2002, Musselman became the NBA’s youngest head coach at the time, taking over the Golden State Warriors at the age of 37. A few years later, after that fizzled, he was hired to coach the Sacramento Kings. Since 2015 he has been at Nevada, rebuilding a program for NCAA tournament readiness, but those days in the CBA, where he earned an overall record of 270-122, are not forgotten.

“It turned out West Palm Beach was the perfect place for me at that time,” Musselman said in a 2002 Palm Beach Post story that marked his first NBA head coaching job. “Without going to West Palm Beach, I don’t think I’d ever have met Chuck Daly, who had a house in Jupiter. If I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have ended up in Orlando, and I probably would still be coaching in the minor leagues.”

Several career rebuilds later, he is trying to get Nevada into the Elite Eight for the first time. Musselman still has the passion, just like his late father.

It was Bill Musselman who famously said “Defeat is worse than death. You have to live with defeat.”

[Amendola joins long list of Texas Tech tough guys to join Dolphins]

[Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives athletes freedom to open up]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

 

Kevin Love opens up on The Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project that is working well

 

You’ve read some stinging criticisms of Derek Jeter in this space from time to time, all of them dealing with his disconnect when it comes to Miami Marlins fans being fed up with the team’s constant teardowns.

I’ll give Jeter credit, however, for recognizing that athletes often have a deeper story to tell but don’t really trust anyone else in the telling of it.

FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love watches from the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis. Love disclosed in an essay for the Players’ Tribune on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, that he suffered a panic attack on Nov. 5 in a home game against the Atlanta Hawks. He was briefly hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic and the episode left him shaken. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

We’re talking about The Players’ Tribune, a website founded by Jeter in 2014 and expanded since then with videos and podcasts to augment the written content provided by sports celebrities.

The latest buzz created by this site is an essay written by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. He reveals that he had a panic attack during a game in November but at first wanted to keep that information from teammates for fear that they would consider him weak.

“Everyone is Going Through Something” is the title of the essay, and in it Love writes “No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside.”

Would a player feel comfortable talking about private reflections and personal issues with a member of the traditional sports media?

Some have, like Ricky Williams, and with full knowledge that they might be misconstrued or ridiculed or marginalized. Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan took all of those risks last month in an interview with the Toronto Star about his ongoing problems with depression.

For most, though, it figures that truly opening up to a reporter in the locker room is way outside the comfort zone.

If you only see that reporter ever now and again, how do you make a connection that is solid and believable? And if that reporter covers the team every day and strikes up something like a friendship with a player there, sooner or later he or she will wind up writing something that offends the athlete because it points out an error made to lose a ballgame or is perceived to be taking the wrong side in a contract negotiation with the team.

Honestly, if I had the blessing of athletic skills worthy of millions of dollars on the open market, it might just be easier to keep spouting clichés in interview settings. That’s pretty much what Jeter did in the high-profile position of New York Yankees captain. He made no enemies that way and he tried, other than what happened on the field, to make no news.

Are these Players’ Tribune essays ghost-written? Surely, in some cases, they are crafted and edited and packaged by people who are writers by profession. Since the athletes approve every presentation before it is published, however, this shouldn’t bother anybody all that much. If it’s a genuine expression of their feelings on a particular matter, they are saying what they want to say.

Not journalism in its strictest sense. More like journal writing, and then passing that journal around the room for anyone who is interested to read.

Jeter is a smart guy to figure all this out. We all need to know each other a little better, and any forum that makes that possible is a benefit.

[Jim Kelly astonished a Boca Raton crowd with his courageous story]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

[Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans]

Dwyane Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans

Group hug, everybody.

Short of winning another NBA title, Thursday’s wholly unexpected trade bringing Dwyane Wade back to Miami is the greatest emotional touchstone this franchise could strike for its fans.

Think of all you get here.

  • The most decorated player in Heat history, seemingly lost forever in the foul tide of free agency, is returning to AmericanAirlines Arena for what certainly will be the last stop of his NBA career.
  • Wade no longer is a teammate of LeBron James, a temporary arrangement that unsettled stomachs around here much worse than the side of D-Wade in a Chicago uniform.
  • The wall that existed between Wade and Heat godfather Pat Riley has been torn down and a beautiful garden of memories can grow again where it once stood.

That’s a whole lot of payoff for one deal involving a 36-year-old guard who started just three games for Cleveland this year, but Wade has never been about the numbers alone.

Heat president Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade. (Miami Herald file photo)

He’s a symbol of so many good things for Miami, and that predates The Big Three phenomenon.

What happens now for the Heat of 2018 is less glorious. With Wade they will find a way into the playoffs and find their way out pretty quickly. It would have been the same, to be honest, without him.

How much fun will it be, however, to break out those old No. 3 jerseys from the back of the closet, the ones with mustard stains from that concession-stand hot dog wolfed down before Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, the night that Wade scored 42 points to start Miami toward its first title, as well as tear stains from July of 2016, when he signed with the Bulls feeling unappreciated by Riley?

The only thing left to hope for is a first-round playoff pairing with Cleveland.

Dwyane and LeBron are still best buddies. In fact, they both reportedly were consulted on Thursday’s trade, a chance to get Wade the kind of playing time that was being denied him while a Cav. Maybe there’s even a chance to like LeBron a little bit again if that’s true, but only after the hoped-for opportunity to boo him and cheer Wade at equally ridiculous decibel levels in the crucible of the postseason.

As for Erik Spoelstra, the former assistant coach who worked directly with Wade on his jump shooting skills when both were kids, this is the end of wondering who will take the last shot in Miami’s close games. Wade does that. For good or for bad, and remember that this season Wade is nearly 90 points shy of his career-best .545 shooting percentage, closing is what he was born to do.

What is the best that could come of this?

Well, in Wade’s rookie season he led a 42-40 Heat team to the second round of the playoffs, and that team had one fewer All-Star than this one does in Goran Dragic.

I’m not counting on anything like that, nor is it logical to expect that anyone in Cleveland is feeling particularly wounded by Wade’s departure. The Cavs will go on without him, and they’ll be better equipped to win a title following Thursday trades that did not involve Wade at all.

For now, let’s just say that the best thing that could come out of this reunion has already happened, and in an instant. It’s the burst of enthusiasm it already has sent through Miami’s fan base, and the sheer joy that will come with seeing Wade back in the Heat lineup Friday night at the arena.

It’s the perfect salve for sore attitudes during a five-game losing streak, and the ultimate answer to why anyone should be investing additional energy in a team that is not constructed to do much damage this spring. For the alternative emotion, imagine if the addition of Luke Babbitt had been Thursday’s only Heat transaction.

Getting Tim Hardaway at the trade deadline in 1996 was a bigger deal for Riley, but this transaction is a better one for the overall psyche of the franchise.

Miami-Wade County has its mayor back, and now, finally, he is unanimously proclaimed as mayor-for-life.

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/06/dwyane-wades-top-five-miami-heat-highlights/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/15181/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/dwyane-wade-by-the-numbers/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/dwyane-wade-miami-heat-not-the-only-messy-breakup-in-south-florida-sports-history/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/16/pat-riley-says-dwyane-wade-exit-was-his-fault/

 

[Where was Derek Jeter 25 years ago when his Marlins franchise was born?]

[There was a time, gulp, when the Heat played in the Western Conference]

[Please, NFL, takes us back to the days when a catch was a catch]

 

There’s nothing left for LeBron James to do but coach himself

The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t going all that great at the moment.

Ten losses in the last 13 games, and a reportedly angry team meeting the other day that hardly washed out all the toxins. If LeBron James wasn’t a Cav and if Cleveland wasn’t bound for the NBA Finals in spite of it all, this could be some pretty serious stuff.

SAN ANTONIO,TX – JANUARY 23 : LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers acknowledges the crowd after hitting his 30,001st point during game against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on January 23, 2018. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

As it is, everybody just watches LeBron a little closer to see how he will react. Will he want different players added to his entourage? Is he fed up with head coach Ty Lue, who continues to juggle lineups at this late stage? Is he willing to take some of the blame for Cleveland being no better than No. 3 in the Eastern Conference’s overall standings and just barely ahead of Miami?

“Just get me to the playoffs,” is LeBron’s answer to those questions and just about every other when doubts arise during the regular season.

The man is still a monster at 33, and knows it. Who else would congratulate himself on social media for joining the elite 30,000-point club? Who else would say something scripted and sanctimonious like “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” instead of just announcing his free-agent choice of teams?

So if LeBron really is so brilliant in basketball strategy and mental preparedness and roster analysis and leadership skills, why not just cut to the chase?

Let King James try his hand at being the Cavs’ player-coach. There hasn’t been one of those in the NBA since Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics 39 seasons ago, but several Hall of Famers have done it.

Bill Russell won two NBA titles as player-coach of the Celtics. The Cincinnati Royals asked Bob Cousy to do it all and the result was a 36-46 season that was tiresome for everyone involved. Richie Guerin and Lenny Wilkens worked more than 300 games each as player-coaches. Bob Pettit tried it for about a week.

LeBron already runs the huddle when he doesn’t like how a play is set up in the final seconds of a big game. He has final say on all kinds of major decisions in Cleveland, whether it’s official or not.

It would be fun to see him stand before the cameras and do more than roll his eyes when asked about what is wrong with the team.

It would be fine to see him rally the troops and not just rise above them.

I think he probably would be pretty good at this. LeBron has been good about everything else in a game he was born to boss around.

He’s a trendsetter at heart, always looking to put more power in the hands of players, at contract time and at crunch time. What better way than to coach his own team, and to make a two-pronged success of it?

It’s the difference between being His Highness and His Oneness, and LeBron is exactly the type who would revel in that distinction.

[Player-coach is the only thing left for LeBron James to do]

[Eagles’ coach Pederson once saved Don Shula’s bacon as backup QB]

[Philly is only conference finalist that Dolphins don’t play in 2018]

 

 

Would LeBron ever consider coming off the bench like Dwyane Wade is now?

Two things came to mind with the news that Dwyane Wade has asked to come off the bench at Cleveland, thinking that may be a benefit to him and to the team.

First, would it have been possible for the most popular player in Miami Heat history to return to the franchise if he had come to that sort of career conclusion a little sooner? Yeah, probably, and that would have been fun for everybody.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dwyane Wade, left, and LeBron James have a discussion during a game against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Leah Klafczynski/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS)

Second, has LeBron James, the monstrous talent who drew Dwyane back to his side with the Cavs, ever forfeited his spot in the starting lineup to someone else?

I was surprised that the answer is yes, but just barely.

Going into Tuesday night’s game with Chicago, LeBron had suited up for 1,281 NBA games and started in 1,280 of them. That includes 217-for-217 in the postseason, from the age of 19.

The one exception, when LeBron stayed on the bench for the first 5:59 of a game in December, 2007, was sold as a favor for a Cleveland teammate.

Anderson Varejao was feuding with the Cavs over a new contract and sat out that season’s first 21 games as a restricted free agent. Eventually he signed an offer sheet with the Charlotte Bobcats, which the Cavs matched in order to keep him, but the idea that Varejao didn’t want to be in Cleveland raised the possibility of a negative reaction when he returned to the court at Quicken Loans Arena on Dec. 11.

That also happened to be LeBron’s first night back after missed five games with a sprained left index finger. Nobody knew quite what to make of him staying on the bench in his warmups as the game tipped off, but later, after a 118-105 victory over Indiana, LeBron explained.

“I thought it would raise the intensity of the fans, having me, Larry (Hughes) and Andy (Varejao) come in at the same time — and it worked,” James said. “I thought by coming in with Andy it might stop some of the boos Andy might get. Just protecting my teammates.”

LeBron told reporters that was the first time he had not started a game, going back to high school and earlier.

“That was one and done for me,” James said. “I will not be coming off the bench anymore.”

And he hasn’t, and he won’t. Unlike Wade, LeBron’s ego would not be able to process the concept, much less to propose it to a head coach.

He will always see himself as the best player in the building, or else he won’t enter the building at all.

[It once was the same thing in Chicago with fans favoring Cutler’s replacement]

[Hoping for a little churn at top of NBA and not another Cavs-Warriors Final]

[Even UM’s greatest teams learned how murderously tough it is to run the table]

 

 

Hoping for a little churn at the top of the NBA and not the seemingly inevitable Warriors-Cavs rematch

 

Surely in the minority here, but I’m glad Dwyane Wade is with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the simple reason that it makes the 2018 NBA Finals worth watching.

It’s going to be Golden State vs Cleveland again next June. You know that. Every other team in the league knows that, too, though they will try to convince themselves otherwise as the new season kicks off this week.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant defends Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Does this make the 82-game regular season that stretches before us a crashing bore? Of course not. There will be all kinds of drama. Sensational and courageous playmaking. Comebacks and upsets and teams, like the Miami Heat last year, playing absolutely out of their heads for significant stretches.

In the end, though, it we wind up with Warriors vs. Cavs again, for what would be the fourth year in a row, it will be abundantly clear why fans get so worked up about the free-agency signing period each summer. It’s the only time when competitive conditions across the league are subject to real change.

Come to think of it, even that has become a bit of a wash in recent years, with all kinds of great talent going all kinds of interesting places but the Warriors negating that collective energy by taking Kevin Durant for themselves.

Which new talent grouping interests you most? My choice is Oklahoma City, with Billy Donovan trying to find a formula that works for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Fascinating stuff, but again the Thunder aren’t expected to measure up to the Warriors in the Western Conference, so there they go again.

Trying not to be so cynical here, but a little churn at the top keeps the interest going stronger and longer for me.

Even with all the talk of Tom Brady and New England dominating the NFL, the last 10 Super Bowls have been won by eight teams. Two each by the Patriots and Giants, and the rest spread around among Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle and Denver. That grows hope in more fan bases. It makes the regular season count for more than just playoff seeding.

As for baseball, here’s one that surprised me. There hasn’t been a World Series rematch since the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1977 and again in 1978. And here we are looking at the Warriors and the Cavs for a possible fourth year in a row?

Thanks goodness it’s a league and an industry driven by stars because the teams alone seem to be fairly ordered.

As for the Boston Celtics winning eight NBA titles in a row from 1959-66 and a total of 11 in 13 years over the same stretch, we won’t go there, hopefully, ever again.

[What Miami will get from Syracuse, the team that lost to Middle Tennessee?]

[Flying high again with the ever-changing Central Florida Knights]

[Even greatest UM teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

 

 

LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals appearances, but he’s a long way from being a loser

Let the LeBron bashing begin. Oh, wait, it never stopped?

Pretty amazing that an athlete this comprehensively talented could be laughed at as a loser, but Cleveland’s loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals on Monday night has unleashed the usual wave of social-media silliness.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James speaks at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 12, 2017. The Warriors won 129-120 to win the NBA championship. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

LeBron brings it on himself, no doubt, appearing always to be the guy who gets whatever he wants in terms of building a team worthy of his participation, but there needs to be a little reality to go with the rants about his 3-5 record in the NBA Finals.

Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA Finals appearances despite at times having Hall of Fame teammates like Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. The Boston Celtics dynasty of Bill Russell and company wouldn’t let West and the Lakers close the deal and yet West wasn’t called a loser.

Instead, he got the nickname of “Mr. Clutch.” He was voted the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 in a losing effort. His silhouette was chosen as the logo for the NBA.

Wilt the Stilt was 2-4 in the NBA Finals and there never has been a more physically imposing athlete than Chamberlain was in his time.

Hey, they’re not all going to be Michael Jordan, 6-0 in the championship series. Doesn’t mean that everyone else stinks.

In South Florida LeBron will always be appreciated for bringing two NBA titles to Miami and loathed for bolting to Cleveland and grumbled about for the two NBA Finals when he and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t win.

Take a look at the numbers, though. Wade, beloved for bringing the first title to the Heat before the Big Three era had arrived, was the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals while averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in a six-game series win over Dallas. He shot 47 percent, too. Can’t do much more than that, right?

Well, LeBron just did in this five-game series loss to the Warriors.

James averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists while shooting 56 percent against the Warriors.

Those numbers in defeat were even greater than LeBron’s stats in his three NBA Finals MVP performances with the Heat and the Cavs.

“With him, the negativity that surrounds him (LeBron), honestly, to me, I think is so unjust and so unfair,” West told ESPN last summer. “Take him off of the team and see how these teams do. That’s all you have to do. Take him off. And it frustrates the heck out of me when I see some of these players who play this game at an enormously high level get criticized because their teams quote, ‘Can’t win the big one.’ The damn guy gets his teams there every year.”

[Panthers hire new coach but how long before he’s on the hot seat like most other NHL bosses?]

[Predicting a 4-1 start to the season for Miami Dolphins]

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is for Feleipe Franks to win job]

Not saying that I love LeBron because that’s not true, but it makes little sense to hate him the way that some people do.

If he were a free agent this summer and available to the Heat, would you hate the idea of Pat Riley getting a meeting?

Warriors in six games, and this time LeBron won’t be able to stop it

Nobody much cares to hear about it now, but I correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the 2016 NBA Finals.

Not precisely, mind you, since my guess was Cleveland in six games over Golden State and not seven, as it turned out to be. Still, with LeBron James climbing out of a 3-1 hole in the series, the whole thing is fairly amazing. The Cavs winning, of course, and me actually being right for a change.

 

Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant prepares to shoot during practice on Wednesday in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 1. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

So with Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals upon us, let’s take another stab at it.

The pick is not so exotic this time. In fact, my call of Golden State in six games falls right in line with many others in the business.

Kevin Durant is the reason. He’s good to go for 30 points or more any night, and the Warriors were pretty great before he joined them last summer.

Russell Westbrook will get the 2017 MVP award later this month but until that happens it is fair to say that Golden State has all the MVP winners since LeBron’s last trophy in 2013  – Durant in 2014 and Steph Curry the last two years. That’s just too much firepower to overcome, though LeBron will bust a gut trying.

Add in the Warriors’ home-court advantage and the feeling gets stronger.

Could LeBron win a Game 7 at Oracle Arena? He did last year. Doing it twice in two years is asking too much of anyone, however, even with a teammate like Kyrie Irving, whose three-pointer in the final minute won the deciding game last June.

As for looking at the regular-season series between the Cavs and Warriors, a 1-1 split, there’s no much to glean from there. Last year Golden State won both regular-season matchups but it didn’t mean a thing in the Finals, when Cleveland’s aggressive defense limited Curry to 22.6 points per game and a severe loss of confidence.

Durant is the answer to that problem in these Finals. He also is deadly from any range and will sting the Cavs often enough to get Curry more open shots.

[LeBron was predicted to be this great the day he left high school]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

If any of this turns out to be wrong, we’ll try it again next year with the same two teams. The Warriors and Cavs are going to be an NBA Finals thing for a while longer. The only way that changes is if LeBron begins to fade noticeably and if somebody else in the East grows up. Not all that likely in either case.

The best news of all is that all the major players are healthy for this series. If that holds true, there should be enough electricity here to make up for an ultimately meaningless postseason so far.

Every amazing thing we’re seeing from LeBron was predicted on the day he left high school

 

All right, so this LeBron James guy is pretty good.

Here he is again, cruising into the Eastern Conference finals with…oh, what does it matter which team he is on at a particular moment?

TORONTO – Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James slam-dunks past Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) during  Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Whoever has this guy is going places, as demonstrated by the fact that LeBron will be playing in his seventh consecutive NBA Finals if the Cavaliers get there this year, and surely they will.

I thought it might be fun to look back at coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper on the day LeBron was drafted to see what people in the industry were saying about him. Of course, every indicator was great. The guy came straight out of high school to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2003 NBA draft.

Could anyone have seen all this coming, however, with absolute certainty?

Consider that LeBron averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists in his senior season at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

His career numbers in the NBA postseason against the best of the best aren’t much different – 28.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

Here is what LeBron said about his expectations on the day he was drafted.

“As a 6-8 point guard, I can rebound and do what Jason Kidd does,” James said. “There’s a lot of mismatches for a 6-8 point guard, it’s like going back to the Magic Johnson days. At whatever position I’ll play, I’ll bring the willingness to win because I don’t accept losing very well.”

Cavs teammate Darius Miles clearly agreed. He took one look at the high-schooler and said “LeBron’s like one in a million. There was Magic Johnson, now it’s LeBron James.”

[60th anniversary of Herb Score’s brutal baseball injury]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

[Draft confirms Adam Gase has confidence in himself and his plan]

Then there was the world association game played by ESPN’s talking heads. Going around the table, each gave a quick one-word reaction to the simple prompt of “LeBron James.”

Jay Bilas’ answer was “Springfield.”

No pressure, huh?

Most amazing of all when compared to today’s numbers, LeBron’s rookie contract, regulated by an established pay scale, was $18 million for four years.

Last year, LeBron’s agent told GQ magazine that the star’s current Nike contract is worth more than $1 billion all by itself.