NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 6: The LeBron referendum

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James_solo.jpgUsually when a sportswriter makes the statement “Game X is the most important game of Player X’s career” it belies a rather pathetic lack of imagination and a pandering to traditional cliched writing. Every playoff game is the most important one, because every one could end up defining his career. What do people remember more, Hakeem Olajuwon’s performances in the Finals, or his domination of David Robinson? That’s what can happen. You have to approach every game like that, because these things aren’t scripted.

So please understand the gravity of the situation when I say that Game 6 in Boston of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals is the most important game of LeBron James’ career.

The once-and-future-King may never reach his throne if he were to fail tonight to carry his top-seeded Cavaliers to a win. James, as you may have heard in about a billion ways and we told you the other night, had a performance that puts a blemish on his ridiculously brilliant career, one which threatens to submarine his entire legacy if Boston closes out at home as any Finals contender would do.

James’ performance has been shredded from coast to coast. We’re not talking “oh, hey, bad time to have a bad game” territory. We’re talking “maybe this guy just doesn’t have the will of a champion, because he had zero effort” land. It has brought about what may be the most staggering repudiation of a player’s status as the pre-eminent Greatest Player of Our Time. James faces a mark against his permanent record that would be akin in the job marketplace to “once set fire to his boss’ office while engaging in inappropriate behavior with the cleaning lady on the boss’ desk.” That’s what “doesn’t have the will to be great” means in the NBA for a player of his status.

One thing that’s been occurring to me over the past two days, along with how ridiculous it is that people are questioning whether he is the best player in the NBA* , is that James has never needed the drive to succeed. He just has. Since he was probably 13, he’s been a phenom. A legend. He was the best player on the court, until he arrived in the NBA, and then he was probably second or third at worst, and then only for a few seasons. He made the Finals at age 22. He was the MVP at 24. He’s averaged 49.9 wins per season since entering the league. He has had the full weight of Nike behind him since the beginning. He has been the crown jewel of the league arguably for the last four seasons. He’s never been faced with a situation where he was legitimately challenged to the degree he is now, never faced with so much pressure to be the difference between a win and a loss.

This isn’t to say that this should be all on him. Every great player has had great players step up to provide support when the shots aren’t falling. And the Cavs have never, not with all their trades, not with all their time to do do, have never brought in a true number two option for James. They thought it would be Antawn Jamison, but Jamison has ran into a matchup nightmare in the Celtics. It’s just not every game you have to check Kevin Garnett who suddenly feels 30 again. Shaquille O’Neal brought 21 points on 11 shots in Game 5, but it was largely irrelevant. And Mo Williams? Do we really even need to bring him up?

So tonight James is on his own. 1 on 5. And if he wants to live up to the expectations that have been built for him, or that he has built for himself (depending on who you talk to), he’s going to have to put it all on his shoulders.

Or elbow, as it were.

And by playing, by not sitting out, by not opting for surgery, if indeed he needs it as the rumors continue to suggest, he has opened himself for this. The elbow will not be accepted as an excuse. It will not be considered brave that he tried to play through a severe injury. It will be only that he shrunk in the biggest moments. His Game 5 in 2007 will be a footnote. His Finals appearance will be overshadowed by the valley of nothingness his past two years. And with the very real possibility of him relocating to another franchise in the next two months, this may be his last shot at a championship for a few seasons.

This is how quickly things can change. This is how fast you can go from the best player, on the best team, headed to a championship, to a weak-willed self-entitled player that lacks the killer drive.

The truth, of course, lies in the middle. But that doesn’t lower the expectations on him for his career, for his season, for tonight.

If anyone can rise up in this situation, well, it’s probably Kobe Bryant. But it’s also Dwyane Wade. And Paul Pierce. And Steve Nash. And LeBron James. He can do this.The Celtics are gameplanning for him, but it does not mean they can stop him. When he chose to in Game 5, he drove, he collected fouls. Were he to execute as he is capable of, he could simply foul out the entire Celtics’ frontcourt. But he has to accept the hit, and he has to commit to the drive.

Maybe the jumpshot will return. Maybe the two days of rest will be enough for the elbow. Maybe the constant hammering by the media will motivate him to be what he needs to be. Or maybe the shots will just drop.  But this is not a situation where James can rely on the favorable fortune that has been bestowed on him throughout the last 15 years of his life. Tonight, he cannot be a passive recipient of fate.

Tonight, he has to be the whirlwind instrument of it.

*Does anyone remember how brilliant he was in the regular season? I recognize the importance of the playoffs, but those games did count, and without them, you don’t make the postseason.

LeBron James makes good on bet with Wade, dons Cubs’ uniform for game in Chicago

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Richard Jefferson and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers react in the eighth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It was a brilliant World Series bet between Chicago native Dwyane Wade and Akron/Cleveland guy LeBron James: Loser had to show up to a game in the other team’s city wearing the uniform of the World Series champs.

As if we need to remind you, Chicago showed Cleveland what it’s like to be on the other end of a blown 3-1 championship series lead, coming back to with the World Series.

Friday night as the Cavaliers went to take on the Bulls, LeBron made good on his bet.

LeBron is wearing Ryne Sandberg’s 23 — classy.

This is one of my favorite sports bets ever.

Derrick Rose: “I want to play the rest of my life” in New York

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks dribbles up court against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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When a player says he doesn’t want to stay in a city — *cough* Rudy Gay *cough* — it’s news. Aside from that, a player saying he want to spend the rest of his career with the team he is currently on is right out of the Crash Davis/Bull Durham book of clichés.

Derrick Rose has read that book. He’s said those words before. However, it sounds like he was sincere in telling Peter Walsh at SLAM he likes what he sees with the Knicks and wants to stay in the city that doesn’t sleep.

“We’re building the culture,” Rose said. “We’re building the foundation now. I’m under a one-year contract so of course I want to play the rest of my life here. But it takes time, it takes patience to figure out how every one is going to fit, if it is going to fit and going from there.”

Here’s the question Phil Jackson (or whoever is in charge next summer should he opt out) needs to ask with every player/personnel move made going forward:

How does this person fit with Kristaps Porzingis?

That man is the future in Madison Square Garden. Frankly, he’s the present, too — he’s better than Carmelo Anthony right now. The Knicks need to make moves going forward that highlight Porzingis’ strengths (like playing him at the five).

Rose should fit fairly well with that right now as a pick-and-roll point guard to pair with Porzingis’ ability to pop out to the arc or roll to the rim. That said, when Rose and Porzingis have been paired on the court this season, the Knicks have been outscored by 3.9 per 100 possessions, mostly because the team defense has been a disaster. That doesn’t mean it can’t work, so long as you’re not going to run a lot of triangle, Rose understands he needs to feed Porzingis a lot, and there are other shooters on the floor. Rose can be a solid point guard for the Knicks going forward. At least as long as he can stay healthy.

Whether he comes back to New York will really come down to money — the Knicks should make a fair offer for a solid starting point guard in the NBA, then if another team comes in over the top live with it.

But for Rose, he’s in a New York state of mind.

Report: Grizzlies likely to sign Toney Douglas

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 06:  Toney Douglas #16 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Amir Johnson #90 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter at TD Garden on April 6, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Grizzlies have searched high and low for a point guard after Mike Conley‘s injury.

It seems they’ve found one:

Toney Douglas.

Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com:

Memphis will be eligible to add a 16th player as long as it has four players who’ve missed three straight games and will continue to miss time. Brandan Wright, Chandler Parsons and James Ennis already qualify. Conley and Vince Carter would qualify by not playing tomorrow.

Andrew Harrison has played well since Conley went down, but over a larger sample, the team has struggled with him or Wade Baldwin running the point. Douglas – who has played for the Knicks, Rockets, Kings, Warriors, Heat and Pelicans – is fine. At this point, the Grizzlies will probably take fine and drop Baldwin from the regular rotation.

Other Memphis players could get healthy before Conley returns and put the team in a roster crunch once it no longer qualifies for hardship. Drop a better player or run short on point guards? But that’s a future problem. Adding Douglas will immediately strengthen the Grizzlies – once they can officially sign him.

Report: NBA season likely to start 7-10 days earlier under new CBA

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 16:  Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors and Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Golden State Warriors contest the opening tipoff during the first half of an NBA game at Air Canada Centre on November 16, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The 2016-17 NBA season began Oct. 25 – which was the earliest start date in 36 years. Only 1985-86 even matched it.

But with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement bringing a shortened preseason, the league will begin regular-season play even sooner in coming years.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

League sources say there’s a strong likelihood that the start of the 2017-18 season will be moved up a week to 10 days

We’re hearing that opening night next season is likely to fall in the Oct. 15-20 range

With the exception of a lockout producing a Christmas opening day in 2011, the season has started on a Tuesday for the last 18 years. Assuming that continues, the 2017-18 season would begin Oct. 16.

This seems like a good change. A full season has generally been 82 games in 170 days. Fitting those 82 games into a longer span allows for fewer back-to-backs. The preseason is too long, anyway. Teams often sit their top players for those exhibitions.  As long as training camp begins the same time, this won’t shorten the offseason. Everyone will just have a less grueling regular season.

Maybe teams will even rest players during games less often.