By Steve Kallas
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Did you hear the question to and answer by LeBron James after Game 3 of the NBA Finals? As reported by Frank Isola in the New York Daily News, James was asked about his failure to dominate offensively in the fourth quarter:
Question: “That’s the moment superstars become superstars. Seems like you are almost shrinking from it. What’s going on?”
Answer: “I think you’re concentrating on one side of the floor. All you’re looking at is the stat sheet. Honestly, I’m a two-way player. Since Wade had it going offensively, so we allow him to handle the ball, bring it on offensively. You should watch the film again and see what I did defensively. You’ll ask me a better question tomorrow.”
There are so many better questions to ask after James played the Incredible Shrinking Man in Game 4. We will just point out some facts here; you (or that reporter) can fill in the questions: 3-11 from the field. Eight points, his lowest ever in a playoff game. Jason Terry goes off, helping a sick Dirk Nowitzki, by getting 17 points along with three steals after mouthing off himself (“Let’s see if LeBron can guard me like that for seven games”). LeBron had 0 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4, 9 points total in the fourth quarter of four NBA Finals games (a sickly Dirk had 10 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4 alone).
And on and on and on.
WHAT’S LEBRON THINKING?
The better question might be, “Is LeBron thinking?”
As usual, LeBron, the greatest player today when he is making his outside shot (not the greatest player when he’s not), needs some help before he opens his mouth. His decision last year to have the dopey TV show (remember “The Decision,” as dumb as it gets) showed you he doesn’t think things through and has a weak cadre of advisors (apparently nobody LeBron would listen to was able to say, “LeBron, if you do this stupid TV show to announce that you are leaving Cleveland, you will just about have the whole country rooting against you”).
Now, in a press conference, he feels obligated to give a stupid answer, belittling a reporter. LeBron simply doesn’t understand that people who really understand basketball understand his greatness. Nor does he understand that there is only one star on Miami who actually has a ring.
And his name is not LeBron James.
WHAT WOULD DWYANE WADE HAVE DONE?
Wade seems to have a much better filter than LeBron. The notion that he would belittle a reporter and tell a roomful of reporters about his “two-way” game is absurd. Wade knows the deal. That’s one of the reasons that he has a ring.
Frankly, Wade could have taken LeBron’s statement to the reporter as a slight against Wade (defensively). But if he did, we don’t know it.
And therein lies the difference.
Who was flying through the air for a huge block on a Jason Terry jumper in Game 3, recovering the ball and going the length of the court for a dunk? Who was challenging seven-footer Tyson Chandler and blocking his dunk attempt in the fourth quarter of Game 4?
DOES LEBRON JAMES HAVE TO BE THE MVP TO “VALIDATE” HIS MOVE TO MIAMI?
No, that’s ridiculous and, frankly, limited to real James-haters. The reality is that LeBron James can (and did) do what he wanted to – go to Miami. This writer, and many others (including all Cleveland Cavaliers fans), thought it would be great (and classy) to stay in Cleveland. But LeBron James decided not to and that’s his right.
But, clearly, he doesn’t know how to handle it, how to deal with the media, how to hit a big shot late in the fourth quarter (and that last one is not just a LeBron issue; Miami is now 1-4 taking game-tying or taking-the-lead shots in the last 24 seconds of the game in the playoffs (3-20 on the same shots in the regular season)).
It hasn’t dawned on LeBron that this is Dwyane Wade’s team; that, when the game is on the line, Miami is better off with the ball in Wade’s hands (even though he fumbled the in-bounds pass on yesterday’s final possession); that, no matter how many rings the Miami Heat win, Wade will have one more.
But it will dawn on him eventually.
DOES THE COACH GET ANY GRIEF HERE?
You bet he does. Erik Spoelstra is a good, young coach, but this is an awful big moment. Miami still might win this title (indeed, they are favored to do so). But even the coach has come up small, refusing to take the ball out of the hands of the only superstar Dallas has (Dirk). Nowitzki is now two of three (which means he’s better than the whole Miami team in the biggest spots) on the final possession in the Finals and his one miss was contested by Udonis Haslem (but still a makeable shot). The next time Dirk is doubled in the NBA Finals with the game on the line will be the first time (but at least Miami has had the intelligence to switch to Haslem – from Chris Bosh – on defense in the final seconds).
The Miami coach, keeping a calm voice at all times, seems to always say, essentially, that we’ve been in this situation before and we can win. James, for his part, actually says things to his teammates before a game like “Even though we are up two to one, I still feel like our back is against the wall.”
Yikes, you always thought there was some magical thing that was said or some key change that was made in these speeches/huddles. But these aren’t even high-school-huddle speeches. Meanwhile, Rick Carlisle, the Coach of The Year in these Finals (Dallas has yet to play well, never mind great, and they somehow have the series tied at 2), has made interesting adjustments, like setting pick-and-rolls with Tyson Chandler instead of Dirk and starting JJ Barea to spark him and the team. Both were keys (although Barea hasn’t played anywhere near his capabilities – he can’t make a shot, even though he’s shown some improvement in Games 3 and 4).
SO, WHAT, IF ANYTHING, CAN LEBRON DO?
Well, the advice (and maybe someone with a brain who has LeBron’s ear can give it to him) is simple and you hear it often: just shut up and play.
But make no mistake: Wade has been the leader of the Heat and the best player on the floor in the NBA Finals. And it would have to take a LeBron miracle to even have him in the MVP conversation (if Miami wins the title).
The Miami “experiment” is already a success – the fact that they made it to the NBA Finals in their first season together is an amazing accomplishment and bodes poorly for the rest of the NBA for years to come. And, again, they still have an excellent chance to win (even though this writer is sticking with his Dallas pick from before the start of the series – if Dallas plays well, they can actually blow out Miami in Game 5).
LeBron James has a lot to do – both on and off the court – to help Miami win a title and to shut up his critics.
Let’s see if he can do either or both.
Is LeBron wilting in Miami? Sound off in the comments below…