Russell Westbrook is true stats machine, but nobody ever did it like the Big O

 

 

First, allow me to establish my credentials as an old stick in the mud who does not automatically agree that the latest thing is always the greatest thing.

Second, let me state that there will never be another Oscar Robertson, and that will be true even if Russell Westbrook matches the Big O’s landmark achievement of averaging a triple-double for an entire season, the only player ever to do that.

Westbrook is a wonder, no doubt. He leads the NBA in scoring at 31.4 points per game, ranks third in assists at 10.4 and 10th in rebounding at 10.5. That comes out to a triple-double more nights than not, and on some nights the mere stats alone don’t really do justice to Russ’ dominance.

On Monday night, for instance, he rallied Oklahoma City to a victory over Dallas even though the Thunder trailed by 13 points with 3:30 to play. Twelve of OKC’s final 14 points were scored by Westbrook, including the game-winning jumper with seven seconds to play.

Can’t tell you if Robertson ever did anything like that. The stats weren’t as precise or as faithfully recorded during his NBA career, which stretched from 1961-74. On top of that, you couldn’t catch every Cincinnati Royals or Milwaukee Bucks game on television back then.

What I can tell you is that the Big O didn’t have the luxury of the three-point shot, which was not yet adopted by the league. He also played in a nine-team NBA during his banner season of 1961-62, when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists, which means there would have been fewer players signed just to fill roster spots and thus tighter talent all around.

Here, though, is the real stunner. If you total up all the numbers, Robertson’s first five seasons in the league produced an overall triple-double average – 30.3 points, 10.4 rebound and 10.6 assists.

For Westbrook, on the other hand, it is only this season, his ninth in the league, that he is averaging double-digits in rebounds. The last two seasons he has averaged doubles in assists, but not before.

What’s more, it’s difficult for me to believe that a powerful and intimidating point guard like Robertson, so much stronger than his peers, would be a turnover machine. Westbrook has led the league in turnovers twice and may do it again this year.

Again, I’m not saying that Westbrook is overrated or anything. The guy is great. It’s just a matter of emphasizing Robertson’s legendary ability to do it all, and to do it for so long. Just because we didn’t see it on television doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

[NFL got what it deserved when Tom Brady’s jersey went missing]

[Look to Spo’s history as a player for toughness that turned Heat around]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for Heat]

As an addendum, this season is the closest that LeBron James has ever come to averaging a double-double for an entire year. Through Monday’s games he was averaging 26.0 points, 8.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds.

The closest Michael Jordan ever came to a full season triple-double was 1988-89, when he averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists. He was 25.

No reason the Heat should be doing what they’re doing, and the ride’s not over yet

 

Can’t think of one reason why the Miami Heat should still be flirting with a playoff spot.

There’s only one active Miami player who even ranks in the top 10 of any significant individual category. That would be Hassan Whiteside, who leads the NBA in rebounding with an average of 14.1 per game, but nobody else on the team is even in the top 50.

Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside dunks against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 6, 2017, in Cleveland. The Heat won 106-98. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

As for scoring, which is kind of important in a basketball game, Goran Dragic is tied for 31st in the league at 20.2 points per game. The Heat, overall, ranks 24th.

You know the rest. Chris Bosh hasn’t played at all, and won’t. The team was 11-30 midway through the season, which is like being midway to the landfill in a garbage truck. Erik Spoelstra has been coaching his brains out with not enough good players, and not enough players of any kind who are consistently available.

Somehow, though, it’s happening, with Monday’s win over LeBron and the Cavaliers in Cleveland as the latest fireworks display shot from a supposedly empty cannon.

So they’re 30-34, and that’s not enough to get in, but it’s close enough to stare at the schedule pretty hard and see what’s coming up. Danger, that’s the short answer.

The long answer is try to get to that March 28 game at Detroit without falling into a hole and disappearing. The Pistons are one of the teams Miami is trying to catch for that final playoff spot in the East, and Detroit already has won two of three against the Heat.

It can still go either way, of course. Miami’s playing as well as anyone at the moment. On the other hand, the first Heat team after the Big Three era was 30-36 at pretty much this same point in 2015, and coming off an upset of the Cavs, too. What followed, however, was a 5-9 stretch that ended the suspense.

[NCAA berths weren’t so automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]

[Reliving Wilt’s 100-point game with two Palm Beach County eyewitnesses]

[Durant injury shows how fortunate Miami’s Big Three era was]

 

 

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.

Heat win streak and the mindset behind it suits me a lot better than limping to lottery

So the Miami Heat take an 11-game win streak to Milwaukee on Wednesday night. What’s the best thing that could happen now?

The obvious answer is make it a 12-game win streak. What, you allergic to winning?

The NBA, however, is a strange place at this time of year. Fans worry about their team wasting an opportunity at a lottery draft pick by stinking badly enough to miss the league’s wide postseason net but not going all the way to utterly rancid.

That’s where Miami is now at 22-30, a couple of games back of what would be the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference if the season ended today, which it almost never does.

050804 spt Indianapolis, IN...Conseco Fieldhouse Miami Heat vs Indiana Pacers..Second round of playoffs Game 2..Heat coach Stan Van Gundy talks with official Bill Spooner in the fourth quarter. Van Gundy drew a technical foul . Staff photo by Allen Eyestone
INDIANAPOLIS – Former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy in the process of drawing a technical foul from official Bill Spooner in the fourth quarter of a 2004 playoff loss to the Pacers. (Staff photo by Allen Eyestone)

You know they’re saying that the NBA draft pool is deeper and more talented than usual. They’re saying that qualifying for that final playoff spot doesn’t mean much once LeBron and the Cavs are finished messing you up in the opening round. They’re saying all kinds of things, but through it all I say win as many games as you can, period.

To do less is to fall short of the dedication level of the paying customers up in the stands, which no professional organization should ever do. And if being just a little bit good but not great is an unforgivable sin, then what’s the point of having half the teams that are in this league?

On this same week back in 2004 Miami was bumping along in a similar limbo. Stan Van Gundy has pushed the team to a 21-32 record but he was running out of ideas at the end of a five-game losing streak. There sat the Heat, outside the playoff picture and in the running for some top draftee names like Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor and Shaun Livingston.

So what happened? Some rookie named Dwyane Wade scored 27 points to help the Heat eke out a close win over a truly lousy Orlando team. Whatever. Then the Heat started putting together a few modest win streaks. Fine. Then, in March, they won seven in a row. Fun.

Before you know it, South Florida’s getting interested in getting tickets for a game again, because Miami is climbing past a bunch of dog teams to grab the conference’s No. 4 seed in the playoffs at 42-40.

The Heat beat New Orleans in a physically tough seven-game series to open the playoffs. That was really Wade’s coming-out party, and it continued with a second-round series that pushed Indiana to six games. This wasn’t the greatest thing ever to happen to the franchise, but it was entertaining, and it sure beat sinking to the bottom of the standings just to get a shot at some college kid who might not pan out anyway.

As it was, Miami took Dorell Wright, a solid player but not a star, with the 19th overall pick in the 2004 draft. Could have been a little better, but there were no guarantees, and Pat Riley has never much cared for the draft anyway.

He went out that summer and got Shaquille O’Neal instead, trading away a future first-round pick as part of a large package. The franchise’s first championship season wasn’t far away after that.

Dwight Howard, the raw, rebounding bull who went first overall in 2004 to that previously mentioned lousy Orlando team, is still looking for his first.

[Some warmed-over Super Bowl LI nuggets that still pack a punch]

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

[Palm Beach County’s spring training showcase is best in the state]

No telling what might happen when it comes to veterans moving around and teams manipulating contracts and league rules closing and opening loopholes. What we should know without much of a doubt is this.

Winning is good. It builds and maintains the proper mindset for an entire organization. It tells fans they are not fools. It recognizes that no one star coming out of the draft will bring a championship in one hearty swipe.

Anything else is just playing the lottery and, just as in real life, that’s not much of a plan.

Plucky Heat crew approaching some of the Big Three’s best streaks

 

A bit of perspective on the Miami Heat’s eight-game win streak, which might stretch longer but stretches the imagination either way.

The Heat only topped this streak five times during the Big Three era.

Miami Heat's Dion Waiters passes the ball in the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Heat’s Dion Waiters passes the ball in the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

One of those times they absolutely crushed it, ripping off 27 wins in a row in February and March of 2013, but the rest of their runs were more in line with what Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic and the fellas are doing now.

Twelve in a row a couple of times for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company, plus single streaks of 10 and nine games each.

I don’t have to tell you that those Heat teams were worlds better than this one. Four straight trips to the NBA Finals. Two championships. Yeah, worlds better than the 2016-17 crew, which against all odds has pushed the record all the way up to 19-30, still outside the wide playoff net.

That’s what blows your mind. Eight straight wins are exceedingly tough to get in any major sport. What’s needed is a highly talented group on a hot streak, not a roster running on fumes.

Here is a listing of the most recent streaks of eight wins or longer for South Florida’s other pro franchises.

Miami Dolphins – Eight wins in a row, 1985. That team was quarterbacked by Hall of Famer Dan Marino and played in the Super Bowl the previous season. The streak included seven in a row to end the regular season plus a playoff win over Cleveland.

Miami Marlins – Nine wins in a row, 2008. We’re going back to the old football-stadium days here and a Marlins payroll that was the lowest in the major leagues. Still, there was a talented group of players on the roster, like Hanley Ramirez and Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson and Dan Uggla, and the final record of 84-77 showed that.

Florida Panthers – Twelve wins in a row, 2015-16. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this streak was the longest ever for a team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs the previous season. The Panthers had plenty of talent, though, enough to win the Atlantic Division and reach the postseason for just the fifth time in franchise history.

Does Erik Spoelstra have a playoff team at the moment, or a team that should surpass .500 by season’s end, or a team led by a Hall of Famer? Certainly not, but the Heat have won eight in a row just the same.

South Florida fans have seen some astonishing win streaks, of course, like 34 in a row by the Miami Hurricanes from 2000-02 and 18 in a row by the dynastic Dolphins (17-0 in 1972 and a win to open the next season).

[Palm Beach County is state’s spring-training showcase now]

[A little candy to treat Dolphins fans sick of Patriots in Super Bowl]

[College football scoring average tops 30 points, and Gators aren’t close]

Can’t let this current Heat run get lost in the shuffle, though. It shouldn’t be happening. No matter the quality of the competition during the streak, from Golden State to lowly Brooklyn, it shouldn’t be happening. The franchise, left behind by LeBron and Dwyane, is making something uncommon happen with a fairly common cast of characters, a specialty of Pat Riley’s organization for some time.

Back-to-back nostalgia nights as Heat face LeBron and Dwyane

 

Through a cruel twist of the NBA schedule, the Miami Heat are going up against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade this week. On consecutive nights and on the road.

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 05:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Chicago Bulls puts up a shot over Meyers Leonard #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers on his way to a game-high 34 points at the United Center on December 5, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Trail Blazers defeated the Bulls 112-110.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO – Dwyane Wade of the Chicago Bulls scored 34 points on Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers, one point off his season high. The Trail Blazers defeated the Bulls 112-110. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Friday’s game at Cleveland is Miami’s first against LeBron without any hint of the old Big Three alliance in the Heat lineup.

Then, on Saturday, it’s on to the United Center for a second try against Wade and the Bulls. Chicago won the first meeting between the teams 98-95 on Nov. 10 at AmericanAirlines Arena, with Wade struggling to score 13 points and concluding “I’m glad it’s over with.”

Awkward reunions are going to keep coming up like this for LeBron and Dwyane. Teamed with Chris Bosh in Miami they were terrific, winning two NBA titles and reaching the Finals a few more times.

Since LeBron broke up the band and returned to Cleveland two years ago, it’s been fun to see how they do against each other. The results, at least to me, have been fairly satisfying, since Wade is far more the favorite.

In his final two seasons with Miami, Wade went 4-3 against LeBron and the Cavs. There were two games in there where one or the other did not play. In the five where they both did, Wade averaged 23.8 points and LeBron averaged 26.8.

Since Wade signed with the Bulls in the offseason as a free agent, there has been one meeting between the two.

The Bulls beat the Cavs 111-105 last week to give Wade a head-to-head record of 5-3 against LeBron since the end of the Big Three era. In that game Dwyane scored 24 points and LeBron turned in a terrific performance with 27 points and 13 assists but came up short.

[Lamar Jackson’s Heisman Trophy campaign follows Tebow’s pattern in 2007]

[FSU keeping Jimbo is program’s most vital move since hiring Jimbo]

[Here’s one recent Dolphins head coach who made a big impression on Gase]

Everybody knows that LeBron will continue to do just fine where he is, but the question now is whether Wade will thrive in Chicago more than he might have by staying in Miami another year.

So far, neither team is tearing it up but Miami is in a tougher spot as far as rallying for playoff contention.

Wade, meanwhile, is scoring about like he did last year with the Heat, in the neighborhood of 19 points per game. He’s playing just a little more, 31 minutes plus per game, and making a higher percentage from three-point range.

Altogether, not bad at all for a 34-year-old guard, turning 35 next month, who changed his game when LeBron joined Miami and continues to adjust now that both have moved on.

 

 

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.

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“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.