Through three games of the NBA Finals, LeBron James is averaging 16.3 points a game on 38.9 percent shooting — the best player on the planet has looked average (well, for him).
And passive. In Game 3 Tuesday night with the Spurs packing the paint and having defenders playing a step off him in isolation, LeBron settled for the jumpshots the Spurs wanted him to take. Credit Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for being at the point of a good Spurs defense, but LeBron didn’t challenge that defense. The result was an ugly 7-of-21 shooting night with zero free throw attempts. And an embarrassing Heat loss that in part flowed out of that.
“Well, honestly I just have to play better,” an up front James said after the game. “I can’t have a performance like tonight and expect to win. I’ve got to shoot the ball better, make better decisions and I will get into the film and see ways that I can do that. I’m not putting blame on anybody, I’m owning everything that I did tonight.”
With Chris Bosh unable to hit midrange jumpers he nailed all season, and with Dwyane Wade slowed and the Heat playing off him (they are almost ignoring him on the perimeter to pack the paint), the Heat need LeBron to be the best player in the game today. They can’t win otherwise. While his instinct is to pass out of the double and take the open shot when he gets it, now it is time for him to put his head down and get to the rim.
When LeBron attacked Tuesday night he was fine — he hit 5-of-7 shots within 5 feet of the rim. But the Spurs made it hard to get those shots while daring him to shoot from the midrange and beyond. LeBron took the bait and hit 1-of-9 from the midrange and 1-of-5 from three. During the season he was a solid outside shooter (43 percent from the midrange and 40.6 percent from three) but that shot has deserted him in the finals. He’s not making up for that by attacking the rim.
“I have to do better,” LeBron reiterated. “If I’m better we’re better and I have to be better. I’m putting everything on my chest and on my shoulders and I have to be better. My teammates are doing a great job and I’m not doing my part.”
The Spurs are not going to change what they are doing or who they are doing it with. It’s up to LeBron to solve this himself. Do that and the Heat can even this series Thursday night, but one more game like this and Miami is going to be in a hole it will not be able to dig out of.
LeBron James didn’t get his wish – Dwyane Wade and the Heat – for the Eastern Conference finals.
In advance of tonight’s Warriors-Thunder Game 7, his coach isn’t specifying a preferred NBA Finals opponent.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:
“We just want the winner,” Lue said. “Just whoever wins. We’re preparing for both and after tonight we will get a chance to see who we finally play.”
This seems like the wrong approach. I’d rather face the loser. That team is likely more beatable. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. Lue is accepting the inevitable.
The Warriors would probably be the tougher matchup. They’ve been the better team all season and would put Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love into a ton of pick-and-rolls. It’s a great offensive matchup for Stephen Curry. But beating Golden State – the defending champions with a 73-9 record – would bring greater glory and personal redemption to LeBron, who clearly views the Warriors as an outlier.
The Thunder would be no pushovers, but Cleveland would have a better chance of winning. Even with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City just hasn’t played as well as Golden State over a long stretch.
This is obviously a discussion only for fun. The Cavs have no say in their Finals opponent. The Warriors and Thunder will decide that tonight.
DeMar DeRozan sounds like he wants to re-sign with the Raptors, and Toronto wants him back.
But what about those Lakers rumors?
Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report, via Noah Coslov of Bleacher Report Radio:
I’m breaking up with you.
No, I’m breaking up with you first.
The Warriors went an NBA-record 73-9.
And the Thunder massively outplayed them in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals.
No, Golden State wasn’t at full strength. But Oklahoma City reached a level the Warriors hadn’t all season. Even if Golden State had hit peak performance, I’m not sure that would’ve been enough. The Thunder were that good.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were their superstar selves. Steven Adams defended inside and out. Serge Ibaka hit timely shots and moved well defensively. Andre Roberson made open 3-pointers and cut. Dion Waiters read the floor to make the right shot or pass. And everyone rotated correctly throughout entire defensive possessions.
Oklahoma City was awesome, handing the Warriors 28- and 24-point losses.
But Golden State rallied to force a Game 7 tonight. If the Warriors win, they’ll become just the eighth team in NBA history to lose multiple games by more than 20 in a series and still win it. The seven to do it:
- Houston Rockets lost to Los Angeles Clippers by 25 and 33 in 2015 second round
- Atlanta Hawks lost to Miami Heat by 29 and 26 in 2009 first round
- Houston Rockets lost to Phoenix Suns by 22 and 24 in 1995 second round
- Philadelphia 76ers lost to Boston Celtics by 40 and 29 in 1982 Eastern Conference finals
- Denver Nuggets lost to Milwaukee Bucks by 31 and 28 in 1978 Western Conference semifinals
- Los Angeles Lakers lost to Milwaukee Bucks by 21 and 26 in 1972 Western Conference finals
- Minneapolis Lakers lost to St. Louis Hawks by 34 and 30 in 1959 Western Division finals
The Warriors never stopped believing in themselves, even when getting routed. That mentality has them one game from a comeback for the ages.
DeMar DeRozan sounds like he wants to re-sign with the Raptors.
But does Toronto want to give max money to someone who 39% from the field and 15% on 3-pointers in the playoffs?
Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:
This is probably the right course. I don’t know whom the Raptors could get if they lets DeRozan walk, but if he signs elsewhere, they would have just about $19 million in cap space – less than a max salary. I doubt they could land a better replacement.
I’m not sold on DeRozan as a playoff player, though he legitimately took the next step this regular season. But I’d rather keep him, hope he learns to handle the challenges of the postseason and possibly use him in a trade down the road. It’ll cost a max salary if DeRozan isn’t willing to take a discount, but that beats the alternative of losing him for nothing but cap space.