Pincus: Where Exactly Is LeBron?
The Dallas Mavericks took Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night in yet another hard fought battle by both teams. Even at two, the Miami HEAT and Mavs have been battling impressively and certainly entertainingly.
Ultimately the game would come down to four free throw attempts. Dwyane Wade, while killing it all night, made one of two when he could have tied the score at 82 with 30.1 seconds left. Jason Terry, with 6.7 on the clock and after chucking up a healthy amount of bricks, nailed the two Dallas needed to hold on 86-83.
“I can’t shoot the free throw any better than I did. It went in and came out,” said Wade. “The basketball gods didn’t want it to go in.”
If there’s anyone to look at for blame on the Miami side, it’s not 2006 NBA Finals MVP Wade who carried the HEAT offensively with 32 points on 13-20 shooting and has been having a tremendous series.
It’s not long-criticized Chris Bosh who has an NBA Finals game-winner under his belt and scored 24 points on 9-19 shooting.
Instead it was another passive offensive night from arguably the best player in basketball LeBron James.
“He struggled. Point blank, period. He struggled out there. We’ve all done that at times in our careers, and it happens. But he’s a resilient guy,” said Bosh. “He just has to bounce back and be himself, play his game, and the great player that he is. You know, we know he’ll bounce back. And, you know, we need him. So everything else will be fine after that. He just has to go and play.”
James scored just eight points despite playing a team-high 46 minutes.
After opening the series with a strong 24-point performance, James has since averaged 15 points a game while shooting 42.5% from the field.
This is a player who over his eight-year career has averaged 27.7 a game on 47.9% shooting.
“[I've] got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively, not staying out of rhythm offensively the whole game,” said James. “But I think one thing I try to concentrate is, if I get two guys on me, try to make my teammates better, hit those guys for open looks. They made some great looks, but at the same time I have to keep myself in rhythm while I’m doing that as well.”
Shouldn’t the NBA Finals be the time to see the very best that James has to offer?
In the “idealized” version, James comes into the Finals and just blows away the Mavericks to win his first title.
The more “actualized” account has LeBron struggling to become a champion after falling short year after year in Cleveland.
This is nothing new and isn’t unique to James himself.
Shaquille O’Neal before him was swept out of the playoffs (including his first Finals appearance) over a major portion of his career until he teamed up with the combination of Coach Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant.
Even then, the Lakers barely squeaked by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2000. Despite five strong performances to start the Western Conference Finals, O’Neal put up just 17.5 points over the final two while shooting 46.2%.
Shaq will go down as an all-time great but in 2000, three-quarters into Game 7 he was just another superstar who couldn’t get it done.
Until he and the Lakers dragged themselves past the finish line and got it done . . .
Wade is the lone proven champion (save teammates Eddie House and Udonis Haslem) while this is new territory for James. The closer they get, the greater the pressure.
Dwyane looked like the best player on the Miami roster on Tuesday with his 32 points on 13-20 shooting.
“Obviously we didn’t win the game. We had an opportunity. But I felt that we played very hard,” said Wade. “We did some of the things that we wanted to do. Too many turnovers in the fourth quarter as a team. Myself, I had two. But we gave ourself a chance. That’s the only thing we came here to do.”
The Mavericks have used their better defenders (Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson) on James and while LeBron has not put up the numbers – the HEAT have nearly won every single game of this series.
As he noted after the Game 3 victory, don’t just look at what LeBron is doing on the offensive side of the floor (and certainly not just scoring).
James has become a tremendous defender, hounding Dallas sparkplug Terry into frantic misses. LeBron is willing passer and while that leads to criticism, given Wade’s ability to score on the Mavericks’ defense, James should be feeding him the ball.
“I got the ball in the post a few times, and I seen double teams. I tried to kick it out to guys and they’ve made shots for us,” said James. “At the same time I can’t let that stop my aggression when they bring two on the ball. I still got to make plays for my team, but also make plays for myself to keep me in the rhythm of the game.”
It’s when the Miami offense has sputtered – that’s when James needs to find a way to make this series his own.
If not, he may still earn a ring but it will be perceived that he won it on Wade’s coattails.
The truth is it doesn’t matter how he wins that first title. Once that barrier is breached, LeBron (as did O’Neal) may truly find his inner champion in following seasons.
James, even struggling as he has, is still a major reason why the HEAT succeed . . . just being on the floor.
If that becomes his initial legacy, then so be it as a champion . . . but the HEAT must survive the Mavericks first.
Mavericks with an Opportunity
Now the Mavericks have the opportunity to win just one game at home before heading back to Miami for a pair. Dallas can’t lose Game 5 and expect to sweep on the road.
Equally the HEAT haven’t lost two game straight all postseason, so that’s no easy task for Dallas.
The Mavericks won despite shooting 39.7% from the field while their star forward Dirk Nowitzki had to battle through a fever (contributing to his 6-19 shooting performance).
“It wasn’t 103, but it was like 101 this morning,” said Nowitzki. “I didn’t really have a good night’s rest, so it was just under the weather a little bit.”
Still Nowitzki was able to spin past Haslem for a layup, like he did to win Game 2 past Bosh, for what really set up Dallas for the win.
“I was going to play the clock down, but I saw I had a little opening there. So I just went for it. I just went for it,” said Nowitzki. “[I] was able to rip through and go to the right. They really played my left, which obviously the whole league does. So I was able to rip through and get to my right and finally finish a layup.”
A bad night for Dirk still included 21 points and 11 boards.
“Game 5 is Game 7 for us. There’s no other way,” said Terry. “This is the last game in front of our fans at home this season, and we want to go out with a bang.” >
The hugely pivotal Game 5 is on Thursday night.
Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers combined to score five points on 1-6 shooting.
How many games would Miami have won if Haslem was healthy all year? They notched 58 without him pretty much the entire season.
Jason Kidd played 39 minutes and didn’t score, turning the ball over four times against three assists. He also led the Mavericks in +/- with +12.
Tyson Chandler was a force with 13 points and 16 boards. Shawn Marion continued his solid play with 16 points on 12 shots.
J.J. Barea started for Stevenson and while Barea’s impact wasn’t overwhelming, DeShawn seemed to have a more productive role off the bench.
Brian Cardinal got the minutes formerly slotted for Peja Stojakovic. Cardinal didn’t do much to help the team but he didn’t hurt much either in his brief 7 1/2 minute stint.
Brendan Haywood played through a sore hip pointer but Dallas was lucky Chandler wasn’t in foul trouble because Haywood didn’t look especially limber.
Mark Jackson a Fit in Golden State
For years Mark Jackson has tried to migrate from the broadcast chair to a head coaching gig. He’s gone through the interview process more than once but finally got a team to invest in him.
The Golden State Warriors are taking a chance given Jackson’s inexperience as a coach but this is the same guy who played 17 years in the league. Beyond the catchphrases, he knows a lot about basketball.
More importantly, he has an engaging, positive personality. He’ll provide the Warriors with the kind of leadership they need after years of floundering (save the one impressive playoff run in 2007).
“When you look at that talent level, this is certainly a team that’s more than capable of making the playoffs and making a run,” said Jackson on Tuesday. “No problem on the offensive end. Can score the basketball. Certainly got to get better with the ability to score on the low block where teams get quality points and easy points. But that’s going to come.
But the main thing is the culture has to change. Continue to play solid basketball. You have to be a successful team at home, take care of your business and then compete on the road. Inexcusable not to compete on the road. There are things that will no longer be tolerated. I’m excited about changing the culture in the Bay‑land.”
Stealing assistant Mike Malone from the Los Angeles Lakers (coming from the New Orleans Hornets but undoubtedly LA-bound to join Mike Brown’s staff) was a coup.
“I would be the first to tell you I don’t know everything. I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know everything. I’m smart enough to be secure enough to put people around me that can put me in position to be effective and to get the job done,” said Jackson. “I’m an outstanding listener. My assistant coaches will have a great voice. I’m not a guy that’s going to put a muzzle on them. I expect them to lead. I expect them to coach, and I expect them to be an extension of me. It’s going to be a good time. And there’s not going to be any excuses from the coach on down.”
Malone will provide structure defensively, an area the Warriors have been notably deficient in the past few years (decades?).
“I’ve come to the mindset that the only way to win in this league and win big is defensively,” said Jackson.
Of course the roster needs tweaking to allow Jackson a chance to win but the addition of Jerry West to the front office (as advisor and part-owner) has already raised the Warriors’ cachet.
In addition to a bigger paycheck, Malone is probably with the Warriors because of West.
So can the team jump from 36 wins to 46 (which was good enough for a seventh or eighth seed this past season) with the same roster that features an undersized backcourt without much of any low post game offensively from the team’s bigs?
To make the playoffs, the Warriors will need to hold off the improving Los Angeles Clippers while jumping over three lottery teams along with at least one of the top eight.
It may take some roster moves first but Jackson remains undeterred.
“I fully expect ‑‑ put it in bold letters, the Golden State Warriors to be a playoff team next year,” said Jackson. “If I did not expect that, I would not have taken the job. And I won’t minimize it with just being a playoff team. We are looking to turn the Bay Area upside down.”
There you go Mark, some bold letters . . .