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]

 

 

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.

Durant’s injury shows how fortunate Miami was to keep Big Three up and running for so long

 

Kevin Durant’s knee injury, in combination with the uncertain timetable on his return, has people wondering if Golden State’s supersquad has been stripped of its unstoppable power.

No telling. Durant could be back in time for the playoffs. He could be fine, which means the Warriors could be fabulous, once the real banner-raising season gets here.

Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Makes you realize, however, that championships are not won in the offseason, no matter who gets signed or traded or otherwise stockpiled on any one team at any one time.

We already understand that because the Miami Heat won two NBA titles with the Big Three and not the fistful that LeBron James cheerily promised at the outset.

Could it be, though, that the franchise would have been shut out altogether during that superstar era if even one of the Big Three had been injured or otherwise unavailable at just the wrong time?

Think, in particular, of Chris Bosh. If his deep vein thrombosis issue had become a serious problem earlier in his career, say one year into his stay with the Heat, what might have happened?

Maybe Miami outclasses Oklahoma City in the 2012 NBA Finals anyway, but the seven-game Eastern Conference championship round with Boston required every possible contribution from everybody on the roster.

LeBron kept it alive with 45 points and 15 rebounds to win Game 6 and avoid elimination by the Celtics, but he couldn’t be expected to produce back-to-back games on that epic scale. Bosh, who had already missed nine playoff games with an abdominal strain, came back to provide much-needed relief in Game 7, scoring 19 points with eight rebounds off the bench and making 3-of-4 from three-point range.

Miami moved on and, after stopping the Thunder in five games, the championship celebration was on.

Sure, it’s all speculation what happens if one player is in and another is out for a significant stretch. You can play the same games with LeBron and Dwyane Wade at any point in the Big Three run. Wade’s injury status and how he might overcome it was a continuing theme back then.

Let’s keep it specific to Bosh in this case, however. Real specific.

The second of Miami’s back-to-back titles was all but lost in 2013 when San Antonio took a three-point lead to the final seconds of a potential Game 6 clincher in the NBA Finals.

Ray Allen pushed the game into overtime with a glorious three-pointer from the corner, the greatest shot in Heat history, but you probably remember who grabbed an offensive rebound and quickly passed the ball to where it absolutely needed to be in order to save the season. Chris Bosh.

[Who are the must-have autographs for PB County’s 4 spring-training teams?]

[Lane Kiffin says FAU’s new QB is moving past his old troubles]

[Wondering if Dolphins’ No. 22 overall draft position is haunted]

Timing is essential when it comes to replaying and discussing these coulda, shoulda, woulda been scenarios. I’ll go back to my original premise, though.

Putting talent together in the offseason does not win championships. Keeping great players healthy and working together against what always will be difficult odds is the challenge, and it’s the same one that Golden State faces now.

Monday was sensational, but there’s an even crazier upset in Heat franchise history

Monday’s 105-102 upset of the Golden State Warriors was one of the most shocking victories in Miami Heat history and it provides the blueprint for Erik Spoelstra for defeating the league’s best as the season continues.

First, forget about getting Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson back in the lineup. Obviously, the Heat don’t need them.

Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat poses for photo media during Heat Media Day at American Airlines Arena, September 26, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post
Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat poses during Heat Media Day at American Airlines Arena, September 26, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

Second, get a subpar performance from Hassan Whiteside. His meager 10 points in 35-plus minutes on Monday were well below average but clearly vital in distracting the Warriors from their pregame keys.

Third, tell Goran Dragic to dial it down a bit, too. He made just 5-of-14 Monday from the field and was pretty lousy from the foul line, too, missing 5-of-13. Again, brilliant subterfuge.

Fourth, take a kid who has barely played in the NBA and give him significant minutes. Okaro White, who prior to Monday was 0-for-3 in a grand total of two career games, contributed five very necessary points to the win over the Warriors.

Fifth, get Dion Waiters and Luke Babbitt to combine for 9-for-12 from three-point range. Now there’s a game plan that should be easily repeatable, right?

All kidding aside, there’s only been one Heat game more ridiculous than this one was in terms of overperforming. That was Miami’s easy 113-104 win over Michael Jordan’s invincible Chicago Bulls on Feb. 23, 1996.

Chicago was on its way to a 72-10 regular season, a record that stood until Golden State went 73-9 last year. We’re talking about MJ, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the boys, plus Steve Kerr, the current Warriors coach, off the bench.

Defeating them that night was a Miami team coached by Pat Riley but stuck in a disastrous roster limbo. The 24-29 Heat had just made a trade for Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatlin and two other players but those fresh troops had not yet arrived. Consequently, there were only eight Miami players dressed and ready to play against the Bulls but it hardly mattered.

Rex Chapman, who averaged 14 points per game that year, went off for a season-high 39 against the Bulls, hitting 9-of-10 from three-point range in the process.

“He reminded me of Jerry West,” Riley said of Chapman.

Don’t know about that, but Rex did outscored Jordan that night by eight points.

Here’s an excerpt from the Palm Beach Post’s deadline story on the upset, written by Tom D’Angelo. Of course, Tom was there. He’s everywhere.

“Some nights are hard to explain. Friday was one of them.

Playing with eight players and against the team some are touting as the best of all time, the Miami Heat submitted their most impressive performance of the season.

The Heat – relying heavily on three-point shooting – shocked the Chicago Bulls 113-104 at Miami Arena. Miami showed emotion (and outside shooting) rarely seen this season less than 24 hours after the team was gutted by three trades involving 10 players.

“You see it all the time in sports,” said Heat guard Rex Chapman, who equaled his career high with 39 points. “A team that’s undermanned on paper, and has no chance at all…Nobody is more surprised than we are, I’ll admit that. But if we had come out and laid down, we could have been beaten by 100.”

That’s just a flavor from D’Angelo’s complete story, and here are a few last notes I’ll throw in, too.

In the two games prior to that monumental upset, Miami scored 70 points in a loss to Cleveland and 66 in a win over Philadelphia.

What’s more, they didn’t get a monster game from Alonzo Mourning in beating the Bulls. Zo turned in his usual strongman numbers of 19 points and 12 rebounds but made just 8-of-22 shots.

The funniest part to me, looking back, is how angry Zo was after the game. He couldn’t believe how many in the sellout crowd were cheering loudly for the visiting superstars from Chicago and actually looked forward to going on a road trip in a couple of days.

“I’m kind of happy we’re getting out of this city and away from these fans,” Zo said. “The fans here are so hypocritical, it’s ridiculous. It makes me sick.”

[Gators are a touchdown shy of college football’s per-game scoring average]

[Wondering if Dolphins’ No. 22 draft position is haunted]

[Steve Shepherd and ‘Dangerous Dave’ Lewter join Florida Boxing Hall of Fame]

For the record, the Bulls got their revenge, dismissing Miami 3-0 in the opening playoff round that year and going on to start a new string of three consecutive NBA championships.

Better remember these amazing nights when they come along, however. It’s why any game ticket could wind up being the one you keep forever.

 

Have a heart, Warriors, and leave Kevin Durant to somebody else

Remember how much fun it was to watch the Golden State Warriors motor through a 73-9 regular season, flashy and efficient all at once?

Steph Curry was a genuine spectacle with his ballhandling and uncanny long-range accuracy, and on some nights Klay Thompson actually had the hotter hand. Then there was Draymond Green with his WWE moves, plus all those perfectly-suited role players.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors speaks with Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder after their 96-88 win in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – Stephen Curry (left) of the Golden State Warriors speaks with Kevin Durant  of the Oklahoma City Thunder after their 96-88 win in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Yeah, that was one great team, all ready to stack a second NBA title onto what surely would become a regular pile of them.

Then LeBron and the Cavs bumped Golden State off the pedestal. Then the Warriors, all neon and magic, started flickering a bit, like there suddenly was a short circuit or something.

Just like that, Golden State is feeling needy again, and a little greedy, too. Would the story be as cute if they suddenly snapped up Kevin Durant in free agency? It’s a far more likely scenario than KD coming to Miami. Makes so much more sense for him. Puts him so much closer to his first NBA title, and after nine years in the league that matters more and more.

Cute? No, that would be cruel, with Durant’s addition making a monster of the Warriors. A bully band on the order of Miami’s Big Three era. You remember how well that played outside of South Florida, right? The Heat were hated, and the Warriors will get there, too, if they snap up all the best available talent.

Oh, Golden State had its eyes on Hassan Whiteside, too, until he announced early Friday morning he’s sticking with the Heat. They need somebody to make LeBron and Kyrie Irving think twice about plowing down the lane and all the way to the rim and Hassan couldn’t have gone wrong there, with or without Durant as a teammate. It’s that kind of operation, one that has gotten used to winning and will not go back without a fight.

Seems to me that the best and most realistic option for Miami fans is for Durant to re-sign with Oklahoma City for another season. Let Pat Riley’s free-agency plans percolate until 2017. Let the Heat bulk up the roster for an all-out negotiating blitz, either with Chris Bosh back on board or his contract moved out of the way.

[Buddy Ryan always loved a good fight, even with a legend like Shula]

[Dick Sanford provided the soundtrack for baseball in PB County and beyond]

[Rate the Adam Gase offseason buzz against other Dolphins debuts]

Billy Donovan would be an ally in that circumstance. He did fine as a rookie NBA head coach and seemed to gain the confidence of Durant and Russell Westbrook. It should be enough to keep them all together in Oklahoma City, unless Golden State simply gets its way.

The Warriors aren’t a bad bunch. In fact, they put on a super show. What we don’t need is to see them bolted together as some kind of superteam. Keep them a little needy, like everyone else.

Keep them from turning downright nasty.

 

 

 

If Warriors climbed out of 3-1 in last round, why can’t Cavs do it now?

 

Man, it still looks bad for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. When’s the last time a team came all the way back from a 3-1 hole in the playoffs?

Oh, yeah. It happened a couple of weeks ago when Golden State did it to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James smiles 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 13, 2016. The Cavaliers won 112-97. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
OAKLAND, Calif. – Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James smiles 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 13, 2016. The Cavaliers won 112-97. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

What it really comes down to now is did you ever really think the Cavs had a chance to beat the Warriors. Did LeBron James and company have enough to overcome a historic 73-9 team led by two-time league MVP Steph Curry? Was it even worth discussing?

I believed it was and said so, writing in a pre-series blog that Cleveland would win the championship in six games. That looked pretty moronic a couple of games into this thing and it still falls well short of reality now with the Cavs trailing 3-2.

Look at where the Warriors just were, however, in the previous round.

It was much worse than just being down 3-1 to the Thunder. Golden State had just lost consecutive games for the first time all season and was stunned by the sensation. What’s more, OKC was looking more like the defending league champion than the Warriors did. The Thunder scored 72 first-half points on consecutive nights, for crying out loud, something that hadn’t been done in the playoffs since Magic and Kareem’s 1987 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

“The idea now is to go home and get one win,” coach Steve Kerr said after the Warriors were crushed by 28 points in Game 3 and 24 points in Game 4. “Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we’ll see what happens.”

[My very strange day with Hector “Macho” Camacho]

[Rating the Adam Gase offseason buzz compared to other Dolphin debuts]

[All right, let’s get this NBA Finals prediction on the record]

Kerr also took questions that night on whether Curry was playing injured. Kerr said no, that all players have bad nights, but Curry was coming off a 6-of-20 shooting performance that included six turnovers. No, it didn’t look good for the Warriors at all, especially with the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook dominating Game 4 with his first triple-double of the postseason.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site crunched whatever numbers they crunch over there and determined that Oklahoma City had a 56 percent chance of winning the NBA title at that point. Cleveland was at 25 percent and the Warriors at 12 percent.

Looking at that same site today, the Cavs are given a 20 percent chance of coming all the way back to win the NBA Finals. That’s the new math, anyway, and it will keep changing until somebody gets their hands on the trophy.

The Warriors understand what the Cavs can still do because they have done it themselves. Monday’s Game 5 road win for Cleveland, with LeBron and Kyrie Irving scoring 41 points each, was made easier by Draymond Green’s suspension, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. The Cavs pushed through their first elimination scare and now they’re going home for Game 6.

I’m thinking there will be a Game 7, too. Probably the Warriors win, but not certainly.

Both teams have looked pretty lousy at times in this series. There can be no certainty when that’s the case. There can only be surprise, game after goofy game.

 

 

LeBron and Cavs actually less competitive in Finals than they were in 2007

 

Would LeBron James actually leave Cleveland again for a team with better NBA title chances? Only now am I beginning to wonder, and for a couple of reasons.

For openers, the Cavs are actually less competitive in the NBA Finals right now than they were when LeBron initally dragged them to the championship round at the age of 22.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving, from left, LeBron James, Dahntay Jones and J.R. Smith sit on the bench during the second half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
OAKLAND – Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving, from left, LeBron James, Dahntay Jones and J.R. Smith sit on the bench during the second half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Yes, I know, that’s really saying something since San Antonio swept Cleveland in 2007. What’s more, LeBron had only two teammates who scored in double figures on average in that series, and the best of them was Drew Gooden at 12.8.

Looking back, however, the Spurs really had to scrap to win the last two games, 75-72 and 83-82. Overall, San Antonio’s average winning margin was six points per game.

The 2016 NBA Finals are off to a much more lopsided start with Golden State winning by an average of 24 points per game. That’s a record for the first two games and it breaks a mark that stood for 55 years.

Of course, the Warriors are to blame for most of this. They play at such a high efficiency level that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson haven’t even needed to score much yet and the games are still blowouts.

LeBron has, however, everything he wanted in Cleveland, right down to the head coach of his choice, Tyronn Lue. Never mind that Lue finished the regular season 27-14 after taking over for David Blatt, fired at 30-11. LeBron is the boss and Cleveland fans trust him to make good on his pledge to throw them a championship parade. The best he has done so far is an 0-2 record in the NBA Finals and a big hole to climb out of in another.

Kyrie Irving is no Dwyane Wade. Kevin Love is no Hall of Famer, either, plus he’s uncertain for Wednesday’s essential Game 3 in Cleveland because of concussion protocols. The cavalry, in other words, isn’t coming. LeBron, nearly averaging a triple-double in the Finals at 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, is more isolated than ever.

If he hasn’t started thinking about other options by now, in other places, with other stars as teammates, it would be a surprise. Winning it all in Cleveland may just not be possible, no matter how much LeBron wants it, and playing out the rest of his career with that notion in mind would be torture for so competitive a man.

[No such thing as a simple summer for Dwyane Wade]

[A last look back at all those great Doral moments]

[A modest proposal for spicing up Dolphins OTA workouts]

Here’s the second bit of historical context when it comes to the potential for another LeBron free-agency blockbuster this summer.

The last time LeBron leaped from Miami to Cleveland, it was coming off a demoralizing NBA Finals loss. San Antonio beat the Heat in five games and the last three victories were routs, with the Spurs winning those by an average of 19 points.

Either because he thought the run in Miami was over, or because he was compelled to make things right in Cleveland, or more likely a combination of both, LeBron said goodbye, burning bridges with Pat Riley on his way out the door. That was after a playoff blitz that included just three Heat losses on the way to the Finals.

What we’re looking at now is a Cavs team that lost two playoff games on an easy ride to the Finals but seems all set up for another quick knockout by a tougher team from the Western Conference.

If that’s not bad enough, this could make two straight losses in the Finals. That never happened to LeBron in Miami.

Put it all together and Wednesday’s Game 3 may come down to a referendum on how much more of playing in Cleveland can LeBron stand, and how much longer will Cavs fans believe they have Superman on their side.

If he blows town once more, no heartfelt letter to Sports Illustrated will make a difference. It will be an admission that nobody is ever going to strike gold in that market, and that would hurt more than all previous disappointments combined.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I picked the Cavs to beat the Warriors in six games. So you’re saying there’s still a chance, right?

 

Alright, let’s get this NBA Finals prediction on the record

If LeBron James really is part of a new Big Three in Cleveland, it shouldn’t be impossible for them to add up to four.

That’s what Big Threes do. They win four games in the NBA Finals. They close the deal like LeBron and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did twice together in Miami.

FILE - In this June 16, 2015, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) hangs his head during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Cleveland. This Cleveland-Golden State series will mark the 14th time that there's been a rematch in the NBA Finals. Good news for the Cavs: Six of the last seven teams coming off a Finals loss won the rematch. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
CLEVELAND – Cavaliers forward LeBron James hangs his head during the second half of Game 6 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Now maybe you’re not convinced that LeBron and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love comprise a genuine “Big Three,” as in “unstoppable trio,” as in “prepare the trophy case for immediate arrivals.” I’ve got my doubts, too, based on Love’s inconsistency and his tendency to get hurt.

Have to pick LeBron’s bunch this time, however, in a Finals rematch with the amazing Golden State Warriors. It’s a guess based on the Cavaliers owning a 2-1 series lead last year before running out of gas, and that’s with Irving and Love playing just one game between them because of injuries. It’s a prediction soaked in compassion, too, because the Cleveland sports market has waited long enough for a championship.

Foolish to go against Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who made 62 three-pointers between them in the Western Conference final? Yeah, probably is. Golden State has only lost 14 games all year, and that includes the playoffs. They’re beyond stubborn and so much fun to watch.

The Oklahoma City Thunder really did have them on the ropes in the last round, however. Down 3-1. In need of a miracle, which is what Thompson’s 11 three-pointers represented in Game 6.

LeBron may be the only guy in the league capable of delivering a knockout punch the next time the Warriors start wobbling, and he’ll begin by trying to steal Game 1 tonight at Oakland.

Again, look at last year’s Finals, a series so competitive that two of the six games went into overtime.

LeBron alone made it competitive. He had two triple-doubles. He averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. He led both teams in all three categories, an NBA Finals first.

A little bit of help from Irving and Love and what have you got? We’ll find out this time, and with a healthy dose of 6-foot-11 Channing Frye’s scoring thrown in, too. Frye wasn’t with the Cavs last year. He’s making almost 58 percent of his three-point shots in the 2016 playoffs, and that’s splashier even than the Splash Brothers.

[After 54 golden years, Doral’s Blue Monster deserves better than this]

[There’s really no such thing as a simple summer for Dwyane Wade]

[First hard evidence of where Dolphins rookie Laremy Tunsil will play]

“They wanted to get back to this moment, Ky being out seven months and Kevin doing rehab for three-and-a-half months on his shoulder,” LeBron said earlier this week. “They just had so much built up, anxiety or rage or excitement or whatever the case may be, just to be back on the floor and to show why we were all put together.”

If it wasn’t to win a championship, what exactly is the point?

One other thing. Six of the last seven teams to lose an NBA Finals and earn an immediate rematch won the title the second time. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Cleveland in six. If they get stretched to seven, the Warriors are at home and that’s not going to work for any opponent, no matter how bullish its superstar.

And if all of this turns out to be wrong, we’ll just scrap this Big Three concept for a while, OK, at least until Pat Riley puts another one together some day.