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

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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.

Report: Heat not rushing to waive Chris Bosh to keep open trade possibilities

AP Photo/LM Otero
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The Heat were always going to waive Chris Bosh after March 1, assuming a doctor jointly selected by the league and union rules his blood clots are “of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.” And Miami, for good reason, seems pretty confident the doctor would make that determination.

Waiting until after March 1 ensured Bosh isn’t eligible for the 2016 playoffs, meaning his salary would be excluded from the Heat’s cap this summer. It would return to Miami’s cap if he plays 25 games (regular season plus postseason) elsewhere, so this guaranteed he wouldn’t have enough time this season.

But we’re well into March, and Bosh hasn’t been waived yet.

What gives?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Chris Bosh was scheduled to speak with a high-ranking Heat official this week, as the sides try to move past the rancor created by the Heat’s justified unwillingness to allow him to play after a third blood clotting episode and failed physical last September.

The Heat has no intention of using him in a game but has delayed his inevitable release and removing him from its salary cap (a process that was allowed to begin Feb. 9) for two reasons, according to multiple sources:

• Miami doesn’t need the roster spot just yet, and none of the recent available free agents held great appeal to the Heat.

• More importantly, Miami want to keep alive the not-very-likely possibility of being able to trade Bosh (after the season) to a team that might want to trade something Miami wants or a team that believes he could play or (as was the case before last month’s trade deadline) a team that needed to get to the cap floor. There were preliminary trade inquiries earlier this season.

A team that trades for Bosh couldn’t exclude his salary from its cap, because Bosh’s illness was first known while he played for Miami. He has three years and $75,868,170 remaining on his contract. It’s nearly impossible to see any team dealing for him.

A better guess at the delay: The Heat are exploring using the panels created by the next Collective Bargaining Agreement to handle issues like these. It’s unclear whether he’d be eligible for one, considering he signed and had his medical issue discovered under the current CBA, but the panel could remove his salary from Miami’s cap forever — even if Bosh defies the diagnosis and plays 25 games in a future season.

There are numerous hurdles to going that route, starting with the Heat not being able to begin that process until the next CBA takes effect July 1. That’s also the day free agency begins, so Miami probably doesn’t want have Bosh still occupying cap space as free agents agree to terms.

But the Heat have already come this far with him on the books. It’s worth examining why they’re waiting, and nobody has done that better than Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend his article on the topic.

Jae Crowder calls out Devin Booker’s teammates for celebrating his 70 points after Suns loss

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Suns guard Devin Booker scored 70 points in a game — both a historic achievement and an inflated accomplishment by a player on a bad team in a loss.

Plenty of NBA players celebrated the former.

Jae Crowder, whose Celtics beat Phoenix in Booker’s 70-point game Friday, emphasized the latter in the comment section of the NBA’s Instagram. And Booker shot back.

Via CSN New England:

The Suns have given up on winning this season. Let them enjoy this fun moment.

It fascinates me how Crowder can be so tough on the court and so sensitive on social media.

Buddy Hield goes 3, steal, 3 in Kings’ incredible comeback against Clippers (video)

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When they were down 18 in the final five minutes against the Clippers yesterday, the Kings faced, by one measure, 10,000-1 odds:

How did Sacramento overcome such daunting odds? Willie Cauley-Stein hit the game-winning putback, but no sequence was bigger than Buddy Hield making a 3-pointer, stealing the inbound pass then immediately making another 3-pointer.

Anthony Davis rattles rim with dunk on Juan Hernangomez (video)

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A sweet-shooting stretch four, Juan Hernangomez has a bright future in the NBA.

It’s not because of his rim protection.