Whatever happens to Heat now, it can’t be worse than their opening 1996 draw against MJ’s merciless Bulls

 

There is one super player in the Eastern Conference but no super teams, which makes me feel kind of hopeful about the Miami Heat’s chances for getting past Philadelphia and reaching the second round of the playoffs.

If that doesn’t sound like much of a goal, or even if you’re feeling a little sorry for this team devoid of dominating stars, think back to Pat Riley’s first season in Miami.

In his role as head coach and master of everything, the Godfather worked deals that

Dennis Rodman fouls Alonzo Mourning. Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post.

brought Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway to the Heat. Together they went 42-40 in the regular season, not much different than the results we’re seeing now, but then came a first-round matchup with the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in the 1996 playoffs.

Here is a column I wrote at the end of that horrible mismatch, a three-game sweep by the Bulls in which the closest game was 17 points. Dennis Rodman’s spicy autobiography “Bad As I Wanna Be” was released right then, too, which made the whole series feel like a promotional tour for the Worm and a fruitless exercise for the Heat.

“We played hard,” said Miami’s Rex Chapman, but they are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”

Things are so much better now. Even if the Heat had drawn LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the first round this weekend, it couldn’t have been as dismal. They’re plenty they can do against any team in the East these days. So let the 2018 playoffs begin, but not before this reminder of what life was like for Miami and everybody else under the inviolate Jordan Rules.

 

(From the May 2, 1996 edition of the Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George

Post Columnist

        A PRIMER ON HOW TO BE GREAT

The Miami Heat took their medicine sitting down Wednesday night, their celebrity coach never leaving his chair in the fourth quarter of a 112-91 loss and their sellout home crowd reduced to gawking at the greatness of the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat weren’t just swept in this best-of-five opening playoff series. They were vacuumed up, bagged and left by the curb of Miami Arena. Total domination, Pat Riley called it, and so it was. Michael Jordan headed for the locker room early, and Scottie Pippen called for his ice bags on the bench. Had this blowout lasted another few minutes, he would have called for his pipe and slippers, too.
“I know one thing I’m going to aspire to next year,” Riley said, and a roomful of reporters leaned forward for a philosophical pearl. “I’m going to make sure the playoff seed has to be six through three. It cannot be seventh through eighth.”
It cannot, in other words, bring the Heat anywhere close to Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference is for sparring partners, not contenders. Miami can move up based on the progress made after the great February trade-off. Wednesday, however, was too wobbly to use as a foundation for anything but a fire drill.
“We ran into a good team,” said Rex Chapman, who scored 39 points in a February upset of the Bulls here but only six Wednesday. “We played hard. They are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”
Jimmy Buffet did his best to make this Game 3 worth playing. He sang the national anthem and 15,200 fans, armed with giveaway clacker noisemakers, provided the passionate percussion. This will be remembered, however, as the night the music died. Miami trailed by 31 points at one point and pretty much went through the motions while Chicago’s benchwarmers piled it on.
Chicago will at least get a fight from the New York Knicks. All Miami provided was a vacation.
So overwhelming is Chicago’s power over the masses that all it takes is one Bulls player to make a low-profile team like the Heat an irrelevance in their own building. Wednesday’s pre-game sideshow centered on Dennis Rodman and his bawdy book, advance copies of which are beginning to make the rounds.
On the cover is a photo of the Worm in the nude, holding a basketball where the sun don’t shine and the fig leaves don’t grow. There is a chapter devoted to the intimate details of Rodman’s brief fling with Madonna, which is surprising only in that Madonna didn’t strike first with this subject matter. NBA Commissioner David Stern, at Miami Arena Wednesday to monitor the storm around Chicago’s playoff run, said Rodman “is a phenomenon, maybe the best media creation of his own image that I’ve ever seen.”
Rodman, meanwhile, sat at his locker before the game saying whatever he believed would shock reporters most. “Pat Riley’s time has passed,” he said, and “the Knicks have a yellow streak down their back.” Of Alonzo Mourning, Rodman asked “$15 million for what? He hasn’t accomplished anything to me.”
Rodman wears controversy like a crown, always willing to take the lunacy to another level. Miami counters with a seriousness that is deadly. Zo screams. Riley preens. And all the while the Bulls are laughing.
Blaming Mourning’s lack of production, a popular rationale in the first two blowouts at Chicago, didn’t even fly this time. Zo had 20 points by half time, more even than Jordan, and finished with a game-high 30.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were their usual brutish selves, piling on at every opportunity. Did Rodman really slam home a reverse dunk in the second quarter or was that a preview for his upcoming music video? At some point it ceases to matter.
We have come to that point, of course, and surpassed it. The glorious debut season of Pat Riley has ended in the manner of Kevin Loughery before him.
Sitting down and looking up at the merciless Chicago Bulls.

[Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep Palm Beach County ties]

[Golden Bear’s grandson thrills Masters crowd with an ace of his own]

[Amendola is another Texas Tech tough guy, like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker]

 

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]

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]

 

 

Think you can predict the Heat’s offseason moves? Remember 2003 before answering

You think you know what will  happen with the Miami Heat in Thursday’s NBA draft and the free-agency period beyond?

Nobody knows. Nobody could.

There are too many moving parts in this process, especially with Pat Riley in charge of it.

Dwyane Wade and his son with Pat Riley after the Heat selected Wade with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 draft.
(File photo)

Look back to 2003, the year that Miami made its most successful first-round pick ever – Dwyane Wade. The followed happened that offseason, one seismic step after another, and the most astonishing news of all broke just days before the start of the regular season. Remember?

Well, here it all is, with the blockbuster headline buried near the bottom of the list, startling enough to make Wade wonder if he was even starting his career with a stable franchise.

  • Junior Dwyane Wade leads Marquette to the Final Four but the Golden Eagles get blown out by Kansas 94-61 by Kansas. Wade, who was married with a 1-year-old son at the time, said “I’m known for having a great season but I didn’t go out a winner, so it will be a tough decision.” Luckily for the Heat, he decides to leave college one year early and enter the draft.
  • Wade works out in June for at least nine teams, including Miami, which is coming off a 25-57 season and has the No. 5 overall pick.
  • Certain stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh come off the draft board before the Heat can act but Riley takes Wade and says “we feel like we have, contrary to what people might think and other than LeBron, one of the best players, if not the best player in the draft.”
  • The agent for Heat point guard Anthony Carter blows it by failing to inform the team that his player wants to exercise his option for the coming season. When the deadline passes without notification, Riley no longer is obligated to pay Carter his salary and the option on keeping him becomes the team’s instead. The Heat let Carter go and gain an additional $4 million to spend on free agents.
  • Riley speaks generally with reporters about the possibility of saving his money for the next offseason, when Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett might be available as free agents.
  • Riley makes a one-year offer to Alonzo Mourning, who missed the previous season with a kidney ailment, but is satisfied to let the greatest player in Heat history go. The New Jersey Nets sign Zo to a four-year deal and he says he is going because he is trying to get a ring and can’t wait for the Heat to get better.
  • Riley signs Elton Brand to a six-year offer sheet but the Los Angeles Clippers match the offer and keep the free agent.
  • Riley goes after the Clippers again, signing Lamar Odom to an offer sheet for six years and $65 million. This time the Clippers can’t match and Odom joins Miami.
  • Wade plays his first exhibition game in Puerto Rico against the Philadelphia 76ers and shows immediate promise with 18 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots.
  • Wade signs his rookie contract for three years at $8.5 million with a team option for a fourth year.
  • Riley quits as Heat coach four days before the regular-season opener and names assistant Stan Van Gundy to replace him. Riley says he will remain as team president for the final two years of his 10-year Heat contract, adding “I feel the time is right because this team is headed in another direction. It’s turned around. It’s fresh. It needs another voice.” Riley is 58.
  • Miami goes 42-40 and makes the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. After beating the Hornets in the first round, the season ends in the conference semifinals against Indiana.
  • Riley tears it all up and rebuilds the following summer, trading Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal.

 

It couldn’t possibly be as dramatic as all that this offseason, right?

Well, I’m not predicting anything. Riley won’t let me or anybody else do that, and he likes it that way.

[Koepka and Berger make it two wins in a row for PB County high school products]

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

[Thermodynamics of NHL life: Players on ice and coaches on hot seats]

 

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.