It’s better this way, with LeBron coming up just short in NBA Finals

Was it really that long ago that the Cavaliers led the NBA Finals 2-1 and LeBron James was the unquestioned series MVP and people were acting like it would have been lucky just for Michael Jordan to get his cell number?

The new reality of Golden State as champion makes more sense. It’s built on a collection of young stars and soon-to-be stars that could win several more titles, growing up together just like the San Antonio Spurs did.

That won’t sound good to LeBron but it will sound cruelly familiar.

The first time he went to the Finals with Cleveland in 2007, the Spurs won it in a sweep. LeBron was the Cavs’ only major offensive weapon that time because Cleveland simply

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 04:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers makes contact with Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter during Game One of the 2015 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 4, 2015 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 Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***
OAKLAND, CA – LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers makes contact with Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors during Game One of the 2015 NBA Finals. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

needed more players. This time LeBron lost in six games, his own spectacular efforts notwithstanding, because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the stars that made his homecoming logical, were injured.

It’s better this way, and not just because I originally predicted Warriors in five.

Basketball was not built to be a one-man game dominated by a giant talent. If it were, Wilt Chamberlain would have won more than two rings, matching LeBron’s total.

Besides, the TV ratings kill when LeBron is in beast mode, and he’s only in beast mode when he has to be. His preference is to involve all his teammates and to be able to trust them when times get tough. That’s better for him but the numbers LeBron put up in this series, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game, were so epic that it made everybody watch, sports fans or not.

LeBron never would call himself the best player in the world, either, if he were part of an overall great lineup. He’d feel silly and self-concious saying something like that while sitting at the same interview table with a future Hall of Famer like, say, Dwyane Wade.

It was great theater to hear him saying it, though. Some loved it. Some hated it. All agreed with it. Most of all, no one had the option of ignoring it.

Wade, by the way, averaged 34.7 points and 7.8 rebounds while Miami was winning the 2006 NBA Finals MVP award. He’s not as big as LeBron at 6-feet-4 and 212 pounds but in the process of reversing a 2-1 deficit to Dallas Wade was just as impactful.

Could you have made LeBron the Finals MVP here? If the Cavs had pushed it to seven games, sure. He was that much better than everyone else on the court and Cleveland, outside of LeBron, was so much worse than a Finals team should be.

Again, though, it’s better this way. LeBron can add this slight to his “secret motivation” list and we can look forward to seeing him doing it all over again next year, only a little angrier.

That’s LeBron at his scariest, and most entertaining, too.

 

If Stephen Curry makes anything at all, Warriors can still make quick work of this

Stephen Curry, league MVP, missed 13 three-point attempts in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, which is almost as many as the Cavaliers made (9).

Add in the airball that Curry launched with a few seconds left in overtime and it’s fair to say that the Golden State Warriors lost by a fingernail while getting as little as they ever will from their shooting star.

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 07:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Two of the 2015 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 7, 2015 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 Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – JUNE 07: Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors reacts in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Two of the 2015 NBA Finals. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

LeBron James, on the other hand, was T-Rex ferocious during his triple-double effort, getting angrier as the game went on. Part of it was because the refs weren’t blowing the whistle on his full-contact sprints to the basket. Part of it was because a few of his shots were actually blocked, and his try to win at the end of regulation didn’t go.

This was competition so tight that it made it tough to sit down watching the game on television, much less in person at the arena. Somehow, though, it feels to me like the Warriors will get over their Finals funk, play a little looser and make it a short series after all.

[Astros looking a lot prettier as West Palm’s 2017 spring training dance partner]

[Stanley Cup Final awakens memories of Panthers and rats]

[Hiring Jennings closest thing to Loria managing Marlins himself]

Golden State has more depth and more talent. That’s got to kick in sooner or later, and tonight’s Game 3 is as logical a place as any.

On Sunday the Warriors’ Marreese Speights missed a runaway dunk, for crying out loud, while Andrew Bogut has been reduced to grabbing people by the hands and arms and torsos just to keep the Cavs’ big men from getting every rebound. Bogut is no A-lister but if he could just stop playing like a D-Leaguer, that would mean a lot.

Most of all, Curry can’t be this cold for long. He’s shooting every time there’s an inch of separation and sometimes when there’s not. It’s a picture of a special talent trying to make every possession extra special rather than letting the Warriors’ slick offense work. It really is a thing of beauty when  it’s clicking and Curry, unlike the King of the Cavs, isn’t actually required to do everything himself.

Overall, LeBron deserves all the praise he’s getting for lifting the Cavs much higher than anyone else could in the absence of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but I’m sticking with my prediction of Golden State in five. Crazy, I know, but we are talking about generations of deeply-ingrained Cleveland sports trauma here.

To go against that is almost crazier.

 

LeBron James needs more help than these crumpled Cavs can give him

LeBron James is back in the NBA Finals beginning tonight but I figure he won’t be there for long. Make it Golden State in five.

To me, this series shapes up a lot like LeBron’s first Finals trip with Cleveland way back when he was 22. San Antonio won it in a four-game sweep with LeBron desperately in need of support from a Cavs lineup short on supplemental stars.

Cleveland averaged just 80.1 points in the 2007 Finals and the Spurs even won Game 3 despite scoring only 75.

[Dwyane Wade was better than you thought last year]

[A greater appreciation for the Heat’s four-year cavalry charge]

[Bulls went to Iowa State for coach once before with poor results]

This time around it’s a high-octane Warriors team with MVP Stephen Curry in LeBron’s way. If the Cavs had all their players it might be a long series, but Kyrie Irving is hurting and Kevin Love can’t play at all. That means LeBron will need to do more than score 28 points a night. He’ll also need to rebound and defend at monster levels.

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 26:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after defeating the Atlanta Hawks during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 26, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Hawks 118-88.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – MAY 26: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after defeating the Atlanta Hawks during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Oh, plus he does most of the coaching, too. It’s a little too much to ask once you get out of the Eastern Conference and into the NBA’s fast lane.

Looking back on the 2007 Finals, there really wasn’t much more LeBron could have done. He didn’t have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He had Sasha Pavlovic and Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. When LeBron had a 4-for-16 shooting night in Game 1, there was no one else to help.

LeBron pressed the whole way. The best game was the clincher for the Spurs, with LeBron scoring 24 points on 10-of-30 shooting and only two other Cavs in double figures. San Antonio won 83-82.

No matter what, two things will be different for LeBron this year.

First, he’s a much more versatile scorer at 30 and will shoot a higher percentage, with lots of assists to keep the Warriors defense scrambling.

Second, there will be a lot more interest in this series. The 2007 Finals were a bust for ABC, with the lowest television ratings to that point for a championship series.

Viewership numbers dropped 27 percent from the previous year’s Finals, and you’ll probably like this next part.

The 2006 Finals were a Miami showcase, with the Heat taking their first title in six games against Dallas. Dwyane Wade was the Finals MVP with a 34.7-point average. Pat Riley was the Heat’s coach.

Dwyane Wade with 2006 NBA Finals MVP trophy (Damon Higgins/Palm Beach Post photo)
Dwyane Wade with 2006 NBA Finals MVP trophy (Damon Higgins/Palm Beach Post photo)Heat’s coach.

For now, though, it’s time to see if LeBron can do more with this Cleveland team, which won 53 games during the regular season, than he did with the 2007 Cavs, who won 50.

If he manages somehow to win another championship in his first year back in Cleveland, it will be a greater achievement than the two he won in Miami. That’s how much of the load is on his shoulders alone.

Oh, by the way, the FiveThirtyEight website, where numbers are king, figures that LeBron’s current Cavs roster is better than the 2007 crew, but only by a hair.

And if you can make sense of anything in that deep bucket of data, thank your calculus teacher.

If you can’t, feel free to enjoy this crazy NBA Finals preview from Taiwainese animators:

Dwyane Wade’s 21.5-point average last season is a lot better than you thought

 

Did a little more digging to supplement a column I wrote on Dwayne Wade’s continued worth to the Miami Heat in the context of ongoing contract negotiations. Turns out his average of 21.5 points per game last season is even better than it looks.

Dwyane Wade (Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post photo)
Dwyane Wade
(Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post photo)

In the history of the franchise, only four other players have averaged 21.5 or more during a season.

LeBron James, of course, is one of them. He never averaged fewer than 26.7 points in his four years with Miami.

The others are Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Glen Rice.

So for anyone who thinks it would be easy to draft or acquire or develop a player capable of scoring the way Wade still does at the age of 33, here is the complete list of Miami players who have matched or exceeded 21.5 points per game in a season.

 

Player                                         Season                         Avg.

Glen Rice                                    1991-92                       22.3

Glen Rice                                    1994-95                       22.3

Alonzo Mourning                     1995-96                       23.2

Alonzo Mourning                     1999-00                       21.7

Shaquille O’Neal                      2004-05                       22.9

Dwyane Wade                          2004-05                       24.1

Dwyane Wade                          2005-06                       27.2

Dwyane Wade                          2006-07                       27.4

Dwayne Wade                          2007-08                      24.6

Dwyane Wade                          2008-09                      30.2

Dwyane Wade                          2009-10                       26.6

LeBron James                          2010-11                        26.7

Dwyane Wade                          2010-11                        25.5

LeBron James                          2011-12                        27.1

LeBron James                         2012-13                         26.8

LeBron James                         2013-14                         27.1

Dwyane Wade                         2014-15                         21.5