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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.

Harrison Barnes reveals his engagement on Twitter (PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Harrison Barnes #8 of the United States drives against Argentina during a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Despite the Warriors’ loss in the Finals, it’s been a good summer for Harrison Barnes. He signed a four-year, $94 million deal in Dallas and won a gold medal with Team USA at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And maybe best of all, he got engaged on Saturday night, as he revealed on Twitter:

Congrats to Barnes and his new fiancée.

Report: Mo Williams considering retirement, could be waived by Cavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22:  Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Shortly after winning a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers, veteran guard Mo Williams picked up his $2.2 million option for next season, choosing to take the guaranteed money on the table for him rather than test free agency at age 33. But he might not be with the Cavs this season — the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Joe Vardon reports that Williams is considering retiring from playing due to lingering knee problems, and the Cavaliers could waive him under the stretch provision in the coming days.

Williams, 33, a 13-year veteran and former All-Star who played a supporting role in the Cavs’ 2016 NBA championship, is strongly considering retirement, multiple sources told cleveland.com.

From Williams’ side of this, he battled a left-knee issue for most of last season while playing in just 41 regular-season games, as his playing time dwindled once Irving returned from knee surgery and the coaching staff chose to stick with Matthew Dellavedova as Irving’s backup.

Sources said his balky knee, desire to coach — especially younger players and children — and the obvious chance to go out as a champion are weighing heavily upon him.

Vardon reports that the Cavs are considering stretching him before the August 31 deadline, but are holding off for now because they want to leave open the possibility of a trade with another team to take on his salary. Either way, it looks as though Williams is done after 13 seasons in the NBA.

Donald Trump tweets death of Dwyane Wade’s cousin why “African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”

DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 27: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the 2nd annual Joni Ernst Roast and Ride event on August 27, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Trump joined a number of Iowa Republicans who also spoke. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
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I’d say the obvious — it’s sickening to turn a murder of a mom of four, a genuine tragedy, into a political opportunity — but that has become the way of politics. What line of decorum?

None the less, it’s sickening. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tweeted about the tragic death of Dwyane Wade‘s cousin Nykea Aldridge, who was pushing her stroller down a Chicago street this week when two men got into a gunfight (reportedly gang-related) and a bullet killed Aldridge.

Trump tweeted what you see below (actually, what is below is a tweet edited by his staff, the original one misspelled Wade’s first name, putting “Dwayne” instead):

Later, this Tweet came up, again from his staff.

(So you know, you can tell which tweets come from Trump and which from his aids based on the device used to post it.)

Trump’s Tweet is part of his recent apparent attempted outreach to minority voters, which is not about them and more about trying appease concerns of white, middle-class suburban voters (for example, outside Philadelphia, in a swing state). Polls show Trump struggling with those suburban voters, in part because they see him as bigoted.

As you might expect, Twitter unloaded on Trump for his tone deaf and incendiary Tweet. Not that he cares, people are talking about him and that seems his primary goal. Actor Don Cheadle was one of the most prominent.

It’s sad this has become a focus and not Nykea Aldridge — and what can be done to prevent the next Nykea Aldridge.

Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler reunite at a baseball game (PHOTO)

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 27:  Derrick Rose #1 and Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls wait for a member of the Milwaukee Bucks to shoot a free throw during the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 27, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bucks defeated the Bulls 94-88. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agress that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The relationship between Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler was the subject of much scrutiny last season in Chicago. Reports of tension between the two stars never fully went away, and they proved to be an awkward fit together on the court. But any hard feelings between the two of them appear to be in the past as Butler posted a photo on Instagram of the two former teammates (and Rose’s son, P.J.) hanging out together at a Dodgers game in Los Angeles, where they both work out in the summer.