NBA Finals: Mavs win Game 4, but all eyes are on LeBron


The Miami Heat lost Game 4, 83-86, in part because of LeBron James. That’s okay. Players are allowed to have off nights. They’re allowed to struggle. They’re allowed to be passive once in awhile, and frankly, it’s human nature to ease off the gas from time to time. But in doing so, they strengthen the possibility of their team losing, and open themselves up to a very specific criticism. Having a bad game isn’t some great evil to be met with moralistic damnation, but it is worthy of an accurate appraisal, and the reasonable exploratory questions that will inevitably follow.

So, I’ll bite. I’ll ask the question we’ve all asked ourselves, with an acknowledgment upfront that neither I nor any other basketball scribe hold all the answers: What the hell happened to LeBron James?

It makes little sense to discuss LeBron’s struggles without making note of the incredible defense played by the Dallas Mavericks. They didn’t pit Shawn Marion or Jason Kidd or DeShawn Stevenson against James and leave that poor, solo defender to their own devices; every Maverick on the floor was tuned to James’ frequency. They had his pick-and-rolls swarmed. They had his jump passes covered. They had five defenders functioning in harmony in an attempt to limit the best player in the NBA, and they succeeded. The pressure is still on James to find his way out from under the constant zone coverage geared to thwart him (and he’ll have to do better than the brand of idle facilitation he tried to fly with in Game 4) but Dallas did a hell of a job in executing their game plan.

That said, most dimensions of James’ struggles were of his own doing. It’s difficult to mount a defense of a star player who refuses to go to his strengths, even as he faces a talented defense geared to stop him. After all, accessing those strengths regardless of circumstance is James’ job. He’s paid and revered for his ability to do what no one else can, and when that ability fails him, his very identity as a player comes under fire by whisper. Playing poorly for a single game doesn’t make LeBron James anything less than he was a day ago, but it introduces the idea — however fleeting and faint —  that the greatest basketball player on the planet can be contained. It’s a hushed message that will neither be confirmed nor denied on this night or even in these NBA Finals, but one that observers of the game everywhere must grapple with.

There’s no problem with James initiating the offense or playing the roll of a creator for others, but his Game 4 struggles didn’t stem from merely assuming point guard duties in the face of an aggressive defense. James didn’t pass; he passed poorly. He turned the ball over four times to hedge the impact of his seven assists, and committed a handful of near-turnovers that didn’t quite blemish his stat line but nonetheless halted the Heat offense.

James may be the closest thing this game has to perfection, but even he has his limits, his moments of hesitancy, his in-game vices. In a way, Game 4 didn’t tell us anything about James that we didn’t already know; James is a man of immortal talent guided by mortal sensibilities. That isn’t an indictment so much as a reality, and it’s no more true of James than it was of Jordan, Bird, Magic, or Wilt. The game’s greats are safe in their critique-proof pantheon, but those players had poor games, too. Accounts of those games don’t often show up in mythologized magazine sidebars or rosy retrospectives, but they’re there — the nights of maddening turnovers, a quick trigger, disinterested defense, or just horrible matchups — buried beneath lore upon lore.

James struggled to even get into the flow of the game, much less produce within it. But he’ll be back. He’ll be back, and we’ll all feel rather silly for wondering where he’d gone off to, as if a failure to engage in fully actualized basketball had somehow shifted James into another dimension. LeBron didn’t disappear. He didn’t cower. He didn’t back down from a challenge, or engage in any other sin of purely rhetorical relevance. He had a bad game at a horrible time, and we’re right to wonder why. We’re right to try to understand, just as I’m sure LeBron himself will try his damnedest to wrap his head around the events of the last few hours. It’s all very confusing, and jarring, and odd. But it’s nothing new. Individual failure is inherent to the game, and as much as we’d like to pretend that LeBron’s Game 4 shortcomings were further evidence of some inescapable character flaw unique to him and other miscreants alone, the product of James’ sin wasn’t so different from that which occasionally tarnished all of those who came before him and all who will come after him.

Basketball — even on the NBA’s biggest stage and for its biggest star — can be a struggle.

DeRozan has 29, Raptors win 11th straight, beat Mavs 122-115

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan made the game-winning basket in overtime and the Toronto Raptors rallied to match the longest winning streak in franchise history, extending their season-best run to 11 by beating the Dallas Mavericks 122-115 on Friday night.

DeRozan scored 29 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 21 points and 12 rebounds as the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors won for the 18th time in 19 games. Kyle Lowry got the night off to rest as the Raptors played the second game of the back-to-back.

Delon Wright had 15 points and Fred VanVleet scored 14, helping Toronto improved to an NBA-best 29-5 at home.

Dallas had won three of four. Harrison Barnes scored 27 points for the Mavericks, Dennis Smith Jr. had 19 and J.J. Barea 18.

Up 84-78 to begin the fourth, Dallas stretched its lead to 101-93 on a jump shot by Barnes with 5:43 remaining, but four points from DeRozan cut it to 101-97 with 4:32 left.

Toronto kept coming, pulling within two on a pair of free throws by DeRozan and, after a Dallas turnover, tying it at 106 on DeRozan’s jumper with 1:15 to go in regulation.

Each team turned the ball over before Barnes missed a jumper with 24 seconds left and VanVleet grabbed the rebound. After a timeout, DeRozan let the clock wind down before driving and kicking to Serge Ibaka, who missed a potential game-winning shot. DeRozan also missed before the buzzer, sending it to overtime.

VanVleet and Dallas’ Dwight Powell each made a 3 in overtime before DeRozan drove for the tiebreaking basket with 53 seconds left.

Valanciunas sealed it by making five of six at the free-throw line in the final 10 seconds.

Toronto also extended its franchise-record streak of games with 100 or more points to 22.


Kevin Durant has fractured ribs, out a couple of weeks

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The injury bug is hitting the Warriors hard — not with anything that seems like it will last into the playoffs, but it’s still a concern.

Stephen Curry (ankle) and Klay Thompson (fractured thumb), Draymond Green is just returning to the rotation (along with David West and Jordan Bell), and now this — Kevin Durant is going to be out a couple of weeks.

What incomplete means is it is nondisplaced, or to use the slang it is a cracked rib. The bone was not moved out of place and does not need to be reset.

The good news for Warriors fans about all these injuries are they should heal up in a couple of weeks and the Warriors should be fully loaded for bear come the playoffs. And no doubt this team knows what it needs to do to win, it can get back into its groove quickly.

So long as we’re not talking about all these injuries in the second week of April, Warriors fans do not need to worry.

Baseline jumper gives Dirk Nowitzki 11,000 made baskets in NBA

Associated Press

We need to savor these final years — potentially final games — of Dirk Nowitzki‘s career. The future Hall of Famers is one of the great pure shooters, and probably the greatest shooting big man, in NBA history.

The Maverick’s star hit another milestone Friday night, 11,000 made NBA baskets. Only eight others have reached that mark, and Nowitzki did it with a high arc baseline jumper.

The man is a marvel.

Dallas was up 60-54 on Toronto at the half.

Report: Jazz to sign David Stockton, son of Utah legend John Stockton, to 10-day contract

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The Utah Jazz have been on a roll — they have gone 20-2 of late — but the point guard ranks are getting thin. Ricky Rubio has a knee contusion that may keep him out for a game or two, and his backup Raul Neto is out with a fractured wrist. This is where the Jazz are making a smart move, bringing in a 10-day contract guy for depth and getting a look at him.

That guy? David Stockton. Son of Hall-of-Famer and Jazz legend John Stockton. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

G League guard David Stockton, son of Utah Jazz legend John Stockton, is signing a 10-day contract with the team, league sources told ESPN. Stockton, 25, is expected to join the Jazz today, sources said.

Stockton, who played his college ball at Gonzaga like his father, has spent most of this season with the Reno Big Horns and averaged 16.3 points and 5.2 assists a night. Watching him in Summer League, Stockton is a smart, floor general kind of point guard who knows how to run a team. He is not as athletic as most of the guys he has gone up against, but he knows how to compensate.

However long this lasts, it’s good to see a Stockton in a Jazz uniform again.