Free Agent Update: LeBron James

As of today, LeBron has been eerily quiet regarding his free agency, especially for someone who went on national television to announce it 2010. He won’t be attending any meetings, which gives the edge to Miami but who knows. LeBron is the best player in the world and he wants the best player in the world type money and he will get it. It just depends on where.

1. LeBron James: 2013-14 Salary ($19,067,500) — 2014-15 Value: $20,700,000

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Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets

clippers_150 The Los Angeles Clippers are the best team out of this group if you don’t consider the Miami Heat. Unfortunately for them, LeBron wearing a Clippers jersey next season is nothing more than a pipe dream. The Clippers are looking at $71,382,529 in salary next year if you consider C.J Wilcox’s salary and Jamal Crawford’s contract being guaranteed. For them to clear 20.7 million dollars of space, they’d have to trade a combination of DeAndre Jordan, J.J Reddick and Jamal Crawford or Jared Dudley for nothing in return just to clear space for LeBron. I’m not even sure a package of those three players is worth LeBron. Then they’d have to put off all possibilities of re-signing Darren Collison, Danny Granger and Glen Davis. If they did all of this, which is highly unlikely, the Clippers would sport a team of LeBron, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes and either Jamal Crawford or Dudley depending on which left in a trade. They’d have absolutely no bench though, but then again, with that starting lineup they probably wouldn’t need one. But, unfortunately, as nice an idea it is to see a fast-break of Chris Paul in the middle and Blake Griffin and LeBron James sprinting down the wings, it’s a fantasy that will likely never come to fruition.

lakers_150 The Lakers are in an interesting position because as of right now, they only have Robert Sacre, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and the newly drafted Julius Randle (inevitably) under contract. Between those 4, they have (with Randle earning 120% of his rookie scale price) $37,113,603 on the books. Kent Bazemore is an unrestricted free agent, and Ryan Kelly is restricted, while Kendall Marshall is unguaranteed going into next season. Nick Young is also unrestricted but is looking to sign with the Lakers. If LeBron were to sign for the max of 20.7 million dollars, he’d be leaving the Lakers with around 6 million and change to spend on the rest of the roster. We’re not even sure Steve Nash is going to be healthy next season and how Kobe Bryant will fare after playing only 6 games dating back to April 12th, 2013. The team would be pretty bad to say the least. There is too much uncertainty. Health concerns not only to Nash and Bryant but Randle and his foot. We’re not sure how Randle will even play in his rookie season. There is too many “what if’s” if I’m LeBron. With the fact that he’s willing to sign a 1-2 year deal for max money signing with the Lakers becomes a little more likely because then his free agency would align with Kobe Bryant’s retirement, which would be the perfect scenario for LeBron – 2 years of championship contention with Kobe and if it doesn’t work out, he’s a free agent again and can go to the next contender who can win him a championship. However, I still don’t see LeBron going to Los Angeles. A team of Kobe, LeBron, Julius Randle and…. isn’t enough to win a championship. 6 million in cap space doesn’t give them much. He’d be leaving a bad supporting cast in Miami to go to a worse one.

heat_150Dwyane Wade has signed a 4 year deal starting with 12 million next year while Chris Bosh has signed a 5 year deal starting at 11 million. Meaning the Heat have devoted 23 million to 2 members of the Big 3 next year. With LeBron taking nothing less than 20.7 million, the Heat would hypothetically have devoted 44.7 million to the Big 3. Norris Cole is due just under 2.1 million next year so the Heat have 46.8 million devoted to 4 players. Shabazz Napier can make 825,760 to 1,238,640 next year depending on what percent of the rookie scale for the 24th pick he takes. So, at the least the Heat have 48 million devoted to 5 players. Then if Udonis Haslem re-signs, which is the only reason he opted out in the first place, the Heat will have around 12 million to sign free agents, which actually gives them the opportunity to sign someone like Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng or Pau Gasol if those players were willing to. The Heat are actually in a great position if the reports are true. They have a lot of financial flexibility. The only problem is that LeBron wants a short term deal, something like 1-2 years according to John Canzano so signing other free agents becomes a harder task if they know LeBron might not be there in the longterm.

bulls_150 The Bulls have been primarily linked to Carmelo Anthony, but unlike Carmelo, LeBron wants the max deal meaning not only would they have to amnesty Boozer and his 16.8 million dollars next year, but they would have to trade either Gibson or a package of Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler just to clear enough space for LeBron. It’s highly unlikely.

suns_150 Phoenix is a recent addition to the frenzy surrounding LeBron James. According to them, they have what no other team can offer: a playoff-team core and financial flexibility in the future. Phoenix has 33.5 million in cap space at the moment, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski and could easily cut 10 million more to allow LeBron to team up with a superstar of his choice. The Suns could trade a package of Gerald Green, Alex Len, and Markieff Morris for no salary in return and the Suns could have enough space to bring LeBron in this year and have room to potentially sign Carmelo Anthony this summer as well, or if LeBron would prefer to play with Kevin Love next year, the Suns would be able to facilitate that desire. What the Suns would be offering is a starting lineup next year of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, LeBron James, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee, if they trade away the necessary pieces. If they were to sign Carmelo to a max contract as well, they’d be looking at a star studded lineup of Dragic, Bledsoe, Carmelo, LeBron and Plumlee – an instant championship favorite in the NBA. If not Carmelo, LeBron could ask for Kevin Love next year. One of the most important parts of all of this is that due to both Bledsoe and Tucker being restricted free agents, the Suns can go over the cap to resign them. The Suns also have 3 first round picks next season including the Lakers top 5 protected pick and the Timberwolves’ top 12 protected pick. LeBron would have the freedom to basically play GM and tell the team who to pick or who to trade for with those picks. Those picks – due to their value, could be very enticing for a team like the Timberwolves if the Suns were to engage in trade talks for Love. It’s an interesting situation and one of the best out there, there are no what if’s, the core wouldn’t have to be broken down and the flexibility for the future means there is always room to add more talent. Oh it’s also nice weather there.

rockets_150 Houston seems more focused on Carmelo Anthony, but in actuality LeBron is clearly the better fit. The Rockets do not need another high volume, high usage scorer like Carmelo. They already have two offensive superstars in Harden and Howard who need the ball to be effective. Adding Melo only increases what the Rockets are good at and makes them worse at what they’re already bad at: defense. He doesn’t bring anything new to the table – he doesn’t provide any new facet to their game plan. Adding LeBron changes everything. The Rockets need more lock down defenders and LeBron is one of the best in the entire league. They need athleticism and size on the wings and you won’t find that more so than in LeBron. LeBron is also a playmaker rather than a high volume scorer and can slash and affect the game in different ways rather than isolations and spot up threes. The Rockets have $50,466,325 on the books heading into next season and that’s including Clint Capela’s contract. Chandler Parsons is a restricted free agent so the Rockets can exceed the cap in order to sign him if they have to. So as of now the Rockets do not have enough space for LeBron, especially if he wants the max. With the cap at 63.2, the Rockets are looking at 12.7 million in cap space. However, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, the Rockets have a deal lined up for Jeremy Lin but will only execute said trade if they get verbal commitment from one of the stars they’re going after. If LeBron liked Houston and committed the Rockets could clear Lin’s $8,374,646, which would leave them with $42,091,679, about 21.1 million below the salary cap – enough to sign LeBron. If I’m LeBron this is the best situation to go to. If he joined, the Rockets would sport a lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, LeBron James, Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard with Chandler Parsons off the bench. The Rockets would still have their mid-level exception and their bi-annual exception to use as well to bring in role players to help bolster the supporting cast.

So where do we think LeBron is going? Well, I think it’s Miami. Despite only wanting to sign a 1-2 year deal according to ESPN, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem have all opted out of their contracts, just like they said they could a few weeks ago in order to clear cap space. They wouldn’t be opting out and re-signing for cheap if they knew LeBron wasn’t going to come back. The Heat could bring back the Big 3, Norris Cole, Shabazz Napier, Udonis Haslem and a free agent worth 12 million or two free agents worth 6 million like Channing Frye and Spencer Hawes. Whatever the additions are, the point is the Heat have space to add more talent. That plus the past success LeBron has experienced in a Miami Heat uniform – 2 MVP’s, 2 championships in 4 years – makes leaving Miami too hard to pass up. Everywhere else is enticing, but there is always the chance something goes wrong and his new team ends up being the 2013 Lakers. LeBron can re-sign with added talent around him and because he is a deceivingly smart business man, signing for 1-2 years means he’ll get the best out of Dwyane Wade and then jump to the next team once he sees Wade can’t play Robin anymore.

As of now, I’m thinking LeBron will be keeping his talents in South Beach next year, with Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and one other star. The question now becomes: Can they win another championship together? Have to wait and see.

An Exploration of LeBron’s Options This Offseason

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Four years ago, when the Big 3 were stunting on stages in Miami and proclaiming they’d be the winners of the next 7 to 8 NBA championships, the thought that their reign of dominance over the NBA could be stripped away after only 4 years together seemed impossible. When the Big 3 came together they were on top of the world. As the most exciting and hated thing to happen to the world of sports ever, the Miami Heat’s time together has been an honor to witness. However, as we all know, good things must come to an end, and this summer might just be it for Miami’s Big 3. Or not… Let’s explore what could happen this offseason with the world’s most talked about sports team ever.

Option 1: LeBron leaves Miami

Not that LeBron would really give two shits, but if he were to sit down with me and discuss what I think he should do this summer, I’d say leave. The NBA is slowly but surely being conquered by young stars, and young teams. I’m talking the Damian Lillards of the world, the John Walls and Bradley Beals, the Kevin Durants and Russell Westbrooks, the James Hardens and Dwight Howards… While this year was surely a year for the veterans, highlighted by the Spurs 5th title since 1999 last night, the future of the league is in the hands of the young. LeBron picked a team in 2010 that was just that. Chris Bosh was younger, Dwyane Wade still had about a foot in the door of his prime and the future stars of the league now either weren’t around or weren’t established yet. Besides the Spurs who are the ultimate exception if you’re talking about teams who can succeed with aging stars, but then again they are the Spurs, the greatest dynasty in sports history and the team who runs the smoothest and beautiful offense ever known to man. Anyway, what’s clear is that in this league where the young stars are on the come up, you don’t want to be on a team like the Heat.

The Finals for LeBron were very reminiscent of a lot of his time with the Cavaliers. He played like he usually does: a bull made out of bricks, but the rest of his team failed to show up.

LeBron's supporting cast didn't show up when it meant most, leading to an embarrassing defeat in this years finals.

LeBron’s supporting cast didn’t show up when it meant most, leading to an embarrassing defeat in this years finals.

Dwyane Wade looked old and tired. Chris Bosh wasn’t making threes, which takes him out of the game completely considering he’s taken a vow not to take shots in the paint anymore. The rest of the role players just didn’t step up when it counted most. Ray Allen shot 17-41 in the Heat’s final 5 embarrassing games. Rashard Lewis, the unsung and unlikely hero in the series against the Pacers was a plus minus king in the Eastern Conference Finals but posted a -31 overall through the Finals. Mario Chalmers forgot how to put a basketball in a hoop. Shane Battier’s minutes evaporated. Norris Cole shot 31% from the field and was a -27 throughout the finals. And all of a sudden the supporting cast that looked so capable and reliable throughout the season and the rest of the playoffs looked amateur and unprepared.

The Heat don’t have the space for real role players because their roster is so clogged up by the salaries of the Big 3. The Heat can beat a team like the Thunder who rely on stars to win games, but when it comes to beating real, dynamic, well-rounded basketball teams like the Spurs of this year or the Mavericks of 2011, the Heat can’t survive because they don’t have the pieces to do it. Having stars is great, but if the players surrounding those stars aren’t showing up, or partly in Miami’s case, very old, then Miami won’t win anymore rings. They cruised through the regular season, largely because the Eastern Conference is so bad, they send teams below .500 to the playoffs. They had an easy trip to the finals but once they got there it was clear as the skies in Miami that LeBron needs help and he won’t get it, and isn’t in a position to get it in the future.

Why would LeBron stay with a team who’s other star is slowly becoming a shell of what he once was. Dwyane Wade is no longer a viable 2nd option for LeBron if he wants to win more championships. He’s getting old, he’s less athletic, his lift is disappearing and without a jump shot, he won’t be able to extend his career the way guys like Vince Carter or Jason Kidd did. Shane Battier has retired, Ray Allen is mulling it over, and while Udonis Haslem might be back, players like Chris Andersen will likely be offered more money than the veteran’s minimum this summer during free agency.

Point guard play was a huge problem for the Heat this series, as was defense. This year the Heat dropped out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency for the first time since the Big 3 came together in 2010 and a large part of that is lack of athleticism and energy on the defensive end. Dwyane Wade used to be an all-nba defender but looking at him now, he doesn’t have the physical abilities to contain quicker players on the perimeter. The Heat lack any interior defensive presence so rotations and help defense is pivotal to their defensive performance. Unfortunately, when you have a team full of aging veterans, rotations will be slow and help defense may not be there. The slower, older players won’t be able to keep up with ball movement or penetration of a team like the… I don’t know… Spurs. LeBron can’t do it all. He played 400 more minutes than any one of his teammates this year and about 1300 more than Dwyane Wade, the guy who was supposed to be the Robin to his Batman. Playing the minutes LeBron did the entire season, and carrying that sort of load means only bad things for him come the playoffs when that load and that grind is inevitably increased. He needs some young talent. He needs to join the current of a team on the rise, instead of fight the current and try to carry a team on the decline. His trip to the finals was easy as it could be this year, but next year will not be as easy. His teammates are only getting older, and the other teams in the East are only getting better. Who’s to say Washington can’t give the Heat a run for their money next postseason? What about a Bulls team with a healthy Derrick Rose? The Pacers never seem to give up either. Staying in Miami with the team he has doesn’t help him while every other team in his way is only getting better.

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LeBron’s Decision Could Decide the Rest of His Career

What are his options? Well, we always hear things about Chicago, Houston and Dallas and their willingness to do just about everything they can to get Carmelo on their team. Well, if LeBron was a free agent, those teams would forget about Carmelo entirely and focus their attention on LeBron. While a Rose, James, Noah superteam in Chicago seems unlikely considering the rivalry between the two teams, a sign and trade with Houston isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, especially when people think Carmelo joining the Heat is a plausible off-season event. Then there are other teams who are less popular options for LeBron but are certainly there. There’s Cleveland who with Kyrie Irving and a No.1 pick coming up in 7 days would welcome LeBron not only with open arms but with a team full of young talent and role players to help out. There’s always Philadelphia and even the Hornets; the Michael Jordan owned franchise who have enough room this off-season for another max contract to join LeBron with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson down in Charlotte. There’s also been rumors of a move to the Clippers. LeBron and his wife, Savannah love Los Angeles and although it would involve trading DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford, the Clippers would love to get LeBron to team up with Griffin and Paul. All of this is speculation, and hypothetical but what is concrete is that LeBron cannot do it on his own. Through a combination of lack of youth and lack of talent off the bench, the Heat aren’t a viable option to win more championships in the future and LeBron has to see that now while he’s still in his prime.

Option 2: BIG 3 Take Pay cuts and Welcome Some Help 

Right now the Big 3 is due about 20 million each this year and even more the next year. They want some help, but ironically their contracts are the things preventing them from receiving that help. While they already took pay cuts to come to Miami in the first place, taking even less might be the thing they need to surround themselves with a supporting cast that can compete with the likes of the Spurs. Dwyane Wade certainly doesn’t deserve to be earning 20 million a year anymore, and for these stars, and especially for LeBron who is still trying to build his legacy by way of rings, cutting salary to create a better team could be pivotal for his future success. LeBron could also look down south in Charlotte and see that there is still money after the career. Jordan just became a billionaire through a combination of larger stakes in the Hornets (previously bobcats) and endorsement deals, of which LeBron has an ocean full, meaning while he may get paid less now, post-career life for LeBron will be anything but lucrative. While its easy to sit here and tell people to take less money, if the real goal is to win championships, which is really the only thing differentiating LeBron and Michael at this point, then why not take 13 million a year instead of 20? Is the lifestyle they’re living really going to change that much? Sure LeBron and the Big 3 won’t be making what they’re worth, but it’s the kind of selfless thing that the Spurs Big 3 did and look where its got them.

Once on top of the world, taking another salary cut may be the thing to get them back there.

Once on top of the world, taking another salary cut may be the thing to get them back there.

 

This 4th player doesn’t have to be of a Carmelo Anthony caliber. Frankly, adding another superstar isn’t what they need. Carmelo wouldn’t help them defensively or athletically, two problems they faced against the Spurs. There are rumors of a Kyle Lowry addition going around, which would surely help the Heat’s lack of point guard play they so severely suffered with during the final stretch of the playoffs. He would likely have to take about 10 million a year and the Heat can afford him if the Big 3 were to cut their salaries immensely. Another addition could be power forward Pau Gasol who has been openly unhappy in Los Angeles for the past few seasons. His price range is probably in the same realm as Lowry’s. Pau could help the Heat with rebounding and a presence inside both offensively and defensively. Pau can still attract a lot of attention in the post and has the ability like Bosh to play a stretch 4 or 5 if he needs to. Bosh has developed into a stretch 4 so there won’t be any issues about a clogging in the paint. Gasol is also a very talented passer and could not only help the Heat move the ball but an inside passing tandem of Bosh and Pau could be very effective.

If they choose not to go with players of that caliber, there is always the smart, yet rarely talked about option of using the large cap space to add several effective role players rather than one expensive star. While the star will bring firepower and more responsibility for opposing defenses, it still doesn’t help the bench problem. Using the space to sign a number of guys like an Andray Blatche, Rodney Stuckey and Evan Turner could be a direction in which the Heat acquire more value and address the problem of depth rather than making headlines with an addition of another star. The Spurs proved it this season that its not about the stars but about the role players and how everyone co-exists and plays together on the floor. Once again, these are all of the most hypothetical order but very possible if the Big 3 would do the usually improbable with famous star athletes: take less money.

Option 3: LeBron Stays in Miami and Waits for Free Agency Next Year

James and Love, both teammates on USA, could both be free agents in 2015

James and Love, both teammates on USA, could both be free agents in 2015

If LeBron were to opt into his contract and play out next season he actually may have the best of both worlds. Here’s why: Although the Heat were embarrassed by the Spurs, you really can’t discredit what the Heat have accomplished in their time together. Like LeBron said, “he’ll take 50%.” If the Heat stayed together they’d likely be the 1 or 2 seed once again and a definite lock at #3. It won’t be as easy as this year as players are only getting older and younger teams are only getting better but a LeBron Heat team is still one of the best in the league. The Heat also have the opportunity to sign some smaller free agent additions that could help reinvigorate them. Rashard Lewis is a free agent, as is Mario Chalmers, both of whom they could let go without feeling uneasy about it. In their place, there are some interesting options for role players on the market. Given the wide selection as well as Pat Riley’s uncanny ability to convince players to take less than what they’re worth puts the Heat in a good position to pull in some surrounding pieces.

There is a plethora of role players on the market this off-season who have the potential to give the Heat a boost in a number of ways, especially in their guard play. These are affordable guys like a Rodney Stuckey, Jordan Farmar, Evan Turner, Mo Williams, Dejuan Blair, and Jodie Meeks… The list goes on and on. Not only are these players cheap as it stands, but also role players do have a history of taking less money to join the Heat. With a few of those type of players joining the already proven, championship caliber Miami Heat team, the Heat can trampoline themselves back to finals success next season. So LeBron could stay, and see what magic Pat Riley is able to pull off and if its not to his liking, and the Heat don’t win a championship next season, he still has the 2015 offseason where he’ll be 30 years old and in a free agent class with superstars like Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, possibly Carmelo Anthony, or LaMarcus Aldridge. Then in 2015 he has the ability to form another superteam with that class of stars, or wait for teams like the Knicks or Bulls who will have much more cap space when contracts like Bargnani, Chandler and Boozer all expire, respectively. So opt-in, play it out, see what Riley can muster up and if he doesn’t win, look at 2015 as a completely fresh beginning with a new crop of stars to team with and a new batch of teams begging at his knees – sounds nice doesn’t it?

Option 4: LeBron Opts Out and Signs An Extension

This to me is the most unlikely of the bunch, but it is possible. Say LeBron opts out and resigns with the Heat. In 2015, Dwyane Wade may face the idea of retirement as he’ll be in the second half of 33 years of age. Chris Bosh will be an unrestricted free agent. And LeBron will have the Heat to himself and leverage to say to Pat Riley, “I don’t want Wade and Bosh back. Bring me new stars.” Or, at that point in Wade’s career, he’ll sign a much smaller contract and play a Manu Ginobili type of role, enabling the Heat to treat his contract as that of a 6th man, and sign other big free agents on top of Wade and James. LeBron will be able to dictate who the Heat sign, and with the expected cap space in 2015 – barring any extended contracts with new players – he’ll be on a team in a position to recruit other free agents to join him. If teams like the Knicks think they’re an appealing place to play, what do you think a free agent is going to be thinking when he has a meeting with LeBron James and Pat Riley and they ask said free agent to join LeBron. Which player in his right mind, looking for championships, is going to say no to not only playing in a place like Miami, but on a championship caliber team with the greatest player in the world and 4 finals appearances in the last 5 years?

It’s appealing, one of the more appealing pitches that teams will be able to offer free agents in 2015. This extension also doesn’t have to be that long. LeBron can sign a shorter extension, something along the lines of 3 years, it doesn’t have to be a 4 or 5 year deal. He’ll also probably opt for an early termination option to give him the freedom to get out of Miami if the new look team isn’t panning out how he planned.

With so many options, hypotheticals and different outcomes at every turn, this offseason will be a complicated one for LeBron. He might be on vacation with family, and might insist to the media that he hasn’t thought about free agency, the only thing on his mind is where he’ll be playing in 2014-15 and where he can win a championship. All we can do now is wait and see.

8 Things Learned in Game 1 of NBA Playoffs

Game 1 has come and gone everywhere, and here’s 8 things we took away.

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The Toronto Raptors had a hype rally before the game Saturday and were as pumped up as ever, even Masai Ujiri was in on it… Unfortunately, they couldn’t close out the Nets at home and are now facing a 1-0 deficit against a more experienced team. What lost them the game? How bout 19 turnovers and a combined 17 points from DeRozan and Terrance Ross. Taking care of the ball is the most important thing, next comes their need for DeRozan and Ross to become scoring threats as the series continues. They out rebounded Brooklyn, so all they need is to value each possession and get DeRozan going. Series Prediction: Nets in 7. 

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Blake Griffin played 19 minutes and had 5 fouls for the Clippers while Chris Paul shot 50% from the free throw line for the first time in god knows how long. Despite those two disappointing Game 1 stats, the Clippers only lost by 4 points. That doesn’t look good for the Warriors, especially because Chris Paul scored 28 points and if Blake can stay on the floor for 30 minutes or more, that combination means good things for Los Angeles. Jamal Crawford also shot 2-11, something we can’t expect from him going forward. Unfortunately, for the Clippers fans, Stephen Curry and Andre Igoudala combined for 22 points and 10 assists, including a foul out for Iggy. Who knows what happens if Curry scores his normal 24 points next game and Igoudala can stay on the floor for more than 20 minutes. More unfortunate news is the Warriors winning despite their 23 turnovers. The Clippers shot surprisingly well from deep, which kept them in the game but I don’t think 10 threes a game is something they can maintain, while 11 threes for the Warriors is hardly surprising nor hard to keep up. The Warriors did a good job of limiting the Clippers in transition and will need to keep it that way for the rest of the series. All in all, I think there are many ways to interpret Game 1 and weigh the pros and cons for each team, but for me the Clippers are taking this. The Warriors only won Game 1 because Blake Griffin played 19 minutes. They played terribly and their 23 turnovers are not going to be acceptable if Blake is on the court and running in transition. I think Stephen Curry can continue to be subdued by Chris Paul/Darren Collison who gave up the 2nd least amount of points to starting point guards all season with 17 a game. They only lost by 4 points with Blake Griffin fouling out, Jamal Crawford scoring 2 points and Matt Barnes scoring 2 points. The Warriors fall very in love with the three ball, and if it’s not falling for them and they turn the ball over at the same rate they did in Game 1, the Clippers will win the series. The Clippers on the other hand have a good balance of half-court and transition offense. In the half-court they have many options to go to, while the Warriors depend very heavily on Thompson, Curry and Lee. Blake Griffin will pick it up, and the Clippers will take it.  Series Prediction: Clippers in 6. 

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Tim Duncan playing against Dirk Nowitzki in a playoff series is a sight for nostalgic eyes. The Mavericks almost stole Game 1 in San Antonio, but if you ask me it’s all part of the way the Spurs get in your head… Letting you think you have it when really they’re pacing themselves for the end. Call it crazy, conspiracy or whatever you want, but they’re masterminds down in San Antonio. The Spurs’ big 3 combined for 65 points and as a team they out rebounded Dallas by 8. Dirk Nowitzki was limited to 11 points but we can expect the German wonder kid to make up for that with big scoring outputs the rest of the series. It might be frightening for Spurs fans however, knowing they won by only 5 points with only 11 from the opposing teams best player. Their bench also needs to step it up for the rest of this series, the Mavericks are very well rounded and had 5 guys hit double digits in Game 1, with three of those 5 coming off the bench. The Spurs, neglecting the 17 points from Ginobili, only produced 6 points off the bench. However, like Dirk’s quiet night, the Spurs’ depth can be counted on later in the series to help the starting lineup out. Series Prediction: Spurs in 7. 

4. Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers continued their late-season struggles with an 8 point loss to the Hawks and all of a sudden, this matchup is looking perfect for the Hawks who just made the playoffs over the Knicks. They’ve taken away Indiana’s home-court and have furthered the mental funk the Pacers have been stuck in for the past two months. Jeff Teague had an unbelievable game penetrating the lane and should be able to continue to do that in this series until Indiana puts another defender on him. Indiana played another disappointing and shocking game, and it’s beginning to seem like the Pacers will never get out of their slump. The Pacers can’t score the ball easily and so their 93 points isn’t shocking, but they can’t afford to give up 101 points to the Hawks. They also can’t afford to turn the ball over 17 times. The Pacers need to shake up their approach to the Hawks because Pero Antic is someone who is comfortable playing on the perimeter knocking down open threes. That pulls Roy Hibbert out of the paint, which not only puts him at a disadvantage having to move around the perimeter, and at some points even fighting through screens, but it takes a rim protector out of the paint and opens it up for Jeff Teague. If Roy Hibbert helps, that leaves a wide open three point shooter in Antic, and if they help on Antic the Hawks have either Millsap (36% 3 point shooting) or Kyle Korver (47% 3 point shooting) open to hit a three. David West is not a rim protector so leaving him as the only big man in the paint isn’t going to work against the Hawks. They’ll have to play more of a Mahimi/West or a Scola/West or even a Copeland/West combination to counter the small-ball of Atlanta as well as switching either Paul George or Lance Stephenson onto Teague to limit his penetration. If the Pacers decide to keep Hibbert on the floor, they have to make it a priority to pound the ball in the paint and get Hibbert touches, thus forcing the Hawks to match him instead of the other way around. The Hawks are underdogs, with an early advantage and nothing to lose up against an offensively handicapped team in a defensive funk with match-up issues… I think I’ll go with the upset on this one. Series Prediction: Hawks in 6. 

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Nobody on earth can stop Kevin Durant anymore and the Grizzlies certainly can’t bother him one on one. Tayshaun Prince could’ve in 2004, and Tony Allen could if he were a couple inches taller but unfortunately for them they are who they are and they can’t stop KD. The Grizzlies need to control the pace for the rest of the series if they want to contain the Thunder. The Thunder scored 32 fast break points on the Grizzlies and the more they get easy baskets the more comfortable they feel, the more excited their fans get, and the harder it is for the Grizzlies to gain momentum once again. The Grizzlies like playing in the half-court and they need to keep the game in the half-court in order to be successful. For the Thunder I don’t think guarding Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will be a problem, they have the defensive assets to do it (Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins) mainly Ibaka who is far more athletic then both of those guys and will cause problems with his energy and activity defensively. Both Memphis big men had solid games in Game 1, but for one, solid games won’t cut it and two, the rest of the team is very offensively challenged, similar to the Pacers. I think their scoring problems will come back to bite them as the series progresses and if the perimeter guys can’t step up offensively consistently, the series won’t go on for long. I also think down the stretch, the Grizzlies are going to find it hard to score in crunch time and to keep up with the superstar talent the Thunder have between Westbrook and Durant. Series Prediction: Thunder in 6. 

6.NBA: Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls

The Bulls scoring issues are going to hurt them going down the stretch, and with only 18 points in the 4th quarter, their lack of a go to scoring option was evident. The Bulls’ half court offense is usually efficient and although they don’t score a lot, they make the most of every possession but when they need a basket in a critical time of the game, it’s becoming a struggle. Losing at home isn’t a good start to Chicago’s postseason hopes but their energy and defense enables them to win anywhere. Looking forward I think Joakim Noah will watch the game tape and see what Nene was doing to him and fix that in their next matchup. If the Bulls can keep the Wizards to 95 points or lower in the rest of their games they can win this series. Something is very interesting about the Wizards however. They’re combination of youth and athleticism fused with their defensive identity and veterans makes them kind of unpredictable. Everybody is playing well, Nene is fresh off an injury and I think the Wizards might be able to squeeze this one out. However, knowing the Bulls I don’t think they’d lose a Game 7 at home and I think they played a good offensive game by their standards, they had 7 guys in double figures, all they need is an extra spark from somebody. They have to consider playing Jimmy Butler on John Wall to limit his activity and overall their defensive performance was hardly characteristic of the Bulls. If they play their stingy 91 points allowed type of defense, they can take this series. However, the Bulls struggled with the Wizards during the regular season going 1-2 against them. That plus their Game 1 disadvantage puts them in poor position to take this series. If the Wizards are up 3-2 going into Game 6 in Washington they will win, if they have a Game 7 I’ll give it to Chicago. Series Prediction: Wizards in 6. 

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Things don’t look good for the Rockets right now. They lost Game 1 at home, and with Patrick Beverley as the only guy on the team who could guard Damian Lillard, getting injured with a sprained right knee – the same knee in which he tore his meniscus on March 27th. Beverley couldn’t even hold Lillard in Game 1 as he put up 31 points, so with him not at 100% for Game 2 and the rest of the series, guarding Lillard is going to become a huge problem. I also think Lamarcus Aldridge has the best matchup in the entire league right now. The Rockets gave up a horrid 22 points and 13 rebounds to opposing starting power forwards throughout the regular season. Aldridge averaged 27 and 16 against Houston during the regular season. If last nights 46 point, 18 rebound performance is any indication, this series should be a breeze for Aldridge. The Rockets played a good game, they limited their turnovers, they out rebounded Portland, and all their starters were feeling it offensively. The problem will clearly be on the defensive end where they’ll have to contain the duo of Aldrige and Lillard. They’ll also have to watch out for the Blazers’ game plan of attacking harden in the post with Wesley Matthews. They couldn’t quite get Harden in foul trouble but Matthews did have 18 points, and I think that’s a viable strategy going forward for the Blazers. Harden is defensively careless and attacking him and his side of the floor in help defense is the right way to go offensively. Series Prediction: Blazers in 7. 

8.Move it

The defending champions vs the former worst team in the history of basketball. It’s a matchup that doesn’t have many people favoring the Bobcats. Now with Al Jefferson dealing with a foot injury, they’re chances are looking slim to none. They’re not as talented and not nearly where the Heat are as a team both with their goals to get a three peat and as a team in terms of personnel. They had a great, feel good type of season and defensively became one of the best teams in the NBA. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have what it takes to beat Miami in this series, especially with Dwyane Wade playing as well as he did in Game 1. He’s been managed superbly by Erik Spoelstra and the training staff and is looking very healthy and like Flash from the old days. Not only is Dwyane Wade’s level of play dangerous for Charlotte but for the rest of the league. This will be a quick one for Lebron and the Heat. It’s a sweep now considering Al Jefferson isn’t 100%, he is their leader and go to guy offensively and without him down low they won’t stand a chance. Series Prediction: Heat in 4. 

Award Season

Awards. Mom’s love them. Athletes like to keep track of them. Trophy cabinets would die without them. It’s that time of year. The regular season has dawned, and the playoffs are on the rise. So before the official winners come out, here’s my take on the deserving winners and their not as happy runner ups in each category.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich.

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Runner Up: Tom Thibodeau.

Pop deserves the prize for this one. He’ll likely say…”Thanks,” and nothing else in his acceptance speech, or some other one liner representative of his dry humorous personality, but Gregg Popovich has out coached everyone this year. For a team to lose in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and come back with a better record the next year is pretty exceptional. Especially when a lot of critics were ready to say the Spurs dynasty of Parker, Duncan and Ginobli were done for good. It’s especially easy for a team to come back the next year less intense, justifying their play with something like, “We made it last year, it’s too hard to do it again.” However, Popovich got his team to better themselves and raise the bar even higher for a team that is usually flawless in their execution. Even more than that, an old team like the Spurs whose best players are in the last few years of their careers could’ve let that Game 7 defeat be the end of them. They could’ve taken their past championships and hit the road. However, they’ve all raised their level of play. Popovich has even brought in new guys and has been able to play 10 or 11 men deep every game and win without his stars, who I’ll mention again are not in the prime of their careers like those on other contenders (Miami Heat, OKC Thunder). The Spurs went on a 17 game winning streak, clinched the best record in the league, and have secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Thibs garners my runner up selection simply because the Bulls remain one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and manage to upset the big dogs in the league without Derrick Rose for a second season, but this year without Luol Deng, their leading scorer and arguably their best player.

Most Improved Player: Goran Dragic

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Runner Up: Anthony Davis

The Suns have made the biggest turnaround in the NBA from last season. After an embarrassing 25-57 season last year, the roster was transformed and Jeff Hornacek was put in office. The result? A faster, more energetic young team that outcompeted its opponents on a nightly basis. Everything went right for this team except the playoffs, which may not even be a bad thing given their plan for the future and the fact they’ll now receive a higher draft pick. Their backcourt tandem of Bledsoe and Dragic worked perfectly when both were healthy. Their young players developed like they should’ve, and even exceeded some expectations. However, the leader of this team from the beginning till the end was Goran Dragic. He played 76 games, and raised his PPG average, FG% and 3Point% all from last year (20.3 ppg, 50 FG%, 41 3Pt%). I think there are two distinctions that can be made about Goran Dragic that justify his earning of this award. The first is that he was the best player on his team and the leader. He had the team on his back the entire year, even more so when Eric Bledsoe got injured. With added responsibility, he stepped up. Additionally, and probably the most important thing is that Goran Dragic did not “improve” because of added opportunity, or a drastically different system. He is playing 1.5 minutes more a game, on the same team with someone people thought would take opportunities away from him. He’s actually improved. People point to someone like a Gerald Green and say easily most improved player, just look at his stats. Yes, it’s true he’s had a career year, but has he improved, or was he given 10 more minutes a game and an additional 40 starts from last season on an extremely faster paced team than the Indiana Pacers? Think about that.

Anthony Davis garners runner up recognition because many players run into a sophomore wall and after a stellar rookie campaign, can’t break through any more barriers in their careers. Anthony Davis is still improving and becoming one of the most dangerous players in the NBA. He’s still a 2nd year man, and that’s why he doesn’t get my vote, because his improvement is supposed to happen – especially with a guy loaded with as much potential as Anthony Davis. His minutes didn’t increase that much (only a 6 minute difference from last season) but his production in every statistical category improved.

6th Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford

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Runner Up: Taj Gibson

Jamal Crawford wins the honors once again after missing out last season to J.R Smith. Jamal Crawford is one of the most lethal and instant offenses in the entire league, averaging 18.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 2.3 rebounds a game, shooting 41% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. Simply put, Jamal Crawford knows how to put the ball in the hoop and every team needs that off their bench, not only to keep the defense honest but to give the bench a spark when the starters aren’t doing their job. By having a scoring machine playing against 2nd units, it gives the team a huge advantage. Jamal Crawford, for his respective role, probably does it better than everyone in the league. His scoring average (18.6) is the third highest for a 6th man in the last 20 years. He also dabbled as a starter this season when Chris Paul and or J.J Reddick were injured and averaged 20.6 points those 23 games. He’s had six 30+ point games and has hit or eclipsed the 25 point mark 13 times. It’s no question that Jamal Crawford is someone Doc Rivers can rely on, and Crawford has been called to the plate numerous times in the 4th quarter where he averages a 3rd best in the NBA 6.7 points a game, on 9.5 minutes. Beyond the statistics, Jamal Crawford is a spark plug – someone that can bring the fans to their feet quickly, and can start a run with an ankle breaking crossover or a deep three pointer. He has the edge against the other 6th men candidates, because yes, his statistics are better, and he plays in the Western Conference on a better team and is relied on heavier than most of the other candidates in this category.

Taj Gibson garners runner up recognition because he has surpassed Carlos Boozer as the go to Power Forward in the 4th quarter. He plays 10 minutes a game in the final quarter, and defensively and energetically Taj Gibson brings another multi-fasceted weapon to the Bulls game. He is active in help defense and in protecting the rim, and has developed a nifty offensive game around the rim and as far out as the free throw line for jumpers. Along with Joakim Noah he has become the 2nd emotional leader of the team, a humongous part of why they are in 4th in the Eastern Conference even without Derrick Rose and the mid-season trade of Luol Deng. The only thing that held him back from winning in my eyes, is the competition. The Eastern Conference was historically bad this season, home to 8 losing records, and the 4 worst teams in the entire league. Taj Gibson did what was asked from him and more but its the teams he played against which may have prevented him from winning this award.

Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah

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Runner Up: Roy Hibbert

Joakim Noah is the epitome of energy when on the court – playing with more passion and fire than some teams altogether (Knicks, Pistons, etc..) Defensively, it’s his presence on the court, his protection of the paint and his versatility to be able to guard every player has brought Chicago to the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference even without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. The Chicago Bulls were 1st in opponents points allowed per game, only allowing 91.8 points throughout the season. They were 2nd in opponents FG% with 42% and in the top 10 in opponents 3 Point%, holding teams to only 35% from beyond the arc. They say anybody has the ability to play great defense, all you need is energy and the desire and Joakim Noah lacks neither. His passion is contagious and has many times won Chicago games or secured them the ball on big possessions down the stretch. Joakim is a fierce rim protector, but what garners my vote over Roy Hibbert is his ability to guard every position on the floor. Unlike most defensive centers, Joakim Noah has no problem switching pick n rolls, or going out to the perimeter and guarding quicker guys. Joakim is agile, quick and disciplined on defense and has been seen many times stuck on someone like Lebron James on the perimeter and given him trouble. That kind of versatility isn’t seen often in 6’11 guys and it gives the Bulls more leeway defensively knowing Joakim Noah can do everything on that side of the court.

Roy Hibbert gets runner up because the Pacers were right behind the Bulls defensively in opponents points per game. I think his reputation was tarnished slightly toward the end of the season due to the Pacers’ rough end to the year and his being taken out of many games due to foul trouble or attitude. However, Roy Hibbert is the best rim protector in the NBA and plays the verticality game to perfection.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams

 

Runner Up: Victor Oladipo

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While it’s acceptable to argue against MCW’s rookie campaign and deny him the ROY because of the historically fast pace at which his team plays with, and the embarrassingly scarce, inexperienced and untalented roster he had around him, the talent was obviously there and for a rookie MCW definitely took the most of the opportunities he was given. His team was the 2nd worst in the league and in tank mode like we’ve never seen before, but throughout it all, he was the beacon of hope for a franchise looking toward the future. MCW led all rookies in points per game (16.7) assists (6.3), rebounds (6.2), steals (1.9) and usage rate (25% of his teams possessions) – some fantastic numbers for a first year guard. He is also the first rookie since Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson to average at least 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

Victor Oladipo is the close runner up, and had a great season in his own right. He was second amongst rookies in usage rate (24%) and averaged 13 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He played 31 minutes a game for a team with a slower pace than the 76ers and still averaged numbers that somewhat resemble those of MCW. But it’s really his energy, athleticism and aggression to the basket that have the Magic smiling about this guy.

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant

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Runner Up: Lebron James

Finally Kevin Durant surpasses Lebron James and wins an MVP. Kevin has been chipping away and sprinting on Lebron’s heels for years now and finally he should be awarded with the MVP. His individual season has been historic. I’ll repeat what I said in an earlier post about Durant in terms of some eye-opening statistics:

Kevin Durant is averaging career highs in points (32.2) and assists (5.6) a game. With Russell Westbrook struggling with knee injuries, Kevin Durant has often had the entire team to carry by himself, and that has led to two 50-point games, twelve 40+ point games, three triple-doubles and an Oklahoma City Thunder record of 59-23 good for 2nd in the Western Conference. In comparison to previous great individual seasons, Kevin Durant surpassed Michael Jordan’s record of consecutive 25+ scoring games with 41 in a row. He’s the first player since the 1988-89 season to average 32 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game – the last to do it was Michael Jordan. To further the comparison with Jordan, Kevin Durant is the first player since MJ’s 1991-1992 season to average 30+ points, 5+ assists and 5+ rebounds a game while shooting 50% or higher from the field. 

Lebron James obviously is a close 2nd, and like every season he’s ever had he’s been consistent and amazing. He is still probably the best player on the planet but this year was Kevin Durant’s year, and I’m sure it won’t be his last.

 

Why the Celtics May Be The Best In The East

The Celtics-Heat playoff series this season was one to be remembered. There was the game 6 where Lebron dropped 45 to force a game 7. There were even the loyal Boston fans cheering even after the big 3 stepped off the court in game 7. When I look back at that series I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened had Avery Bradley been healthy. Some may say he’s a non-factor. Some may say his health was irrelevant, but don’t underestimate his impact to their team. He’s a difference maker. I believe the old saying is the little details can make a big difference. He is the epitome of that saying.  He not only would’ve provided a perimeter defensive stopper but would’ve moved Ray Allen down to the 6th man position, not only giving him more time to rest but putting Ray Allen in a better position to provide an offensive spark for the team in tight situations.

The Celtics were so close, in game 7 they were tied going into the 4th. However, the Big 3 had nothing left to give, there was nobody to stop Miami’s perimeter guys and the Celtics were held to 15 points. Avery Bradley could’ve provided offense, given Allen more rest to hit threes in the clutch and take that game further. Anyway, what if? What if? What if?

This season, besides what patriotic Celtic fans may think, the Celtics got a whole lot better. Sure, they lost Ray Allen but lets be completely honest with ourselves, as much as we hate to say it; Ray Allen is declining. He averaged 14.2 points a game this season, which, let me remind you all is the second lowest average for him besides his rookie season in Milwaukee. In the playoffs, he averaged 10.7 points his lowest playoff average of his career. He also shot the worst 3 point percentage of his career in the playoffs, shooting only 30% from deep. John Terry can do more, and is a more versatile offensive player.

They also resigned Jeff Green the promising young forward they got through the Perkins trade two seasons ago. They wisely resigned Garnett who is still a top 10 power forward in the NBA and played some of the best basketball of his career last season. They signed a solid offensive guard off the bench in Courtney Lee who averaged 11 points a game for the Rockets last season. They also got extremely lucky this offseason in the draft when Sullinger and his unpredictable back slipped to the 21st pick. They also picked up the 7 foot Brazilian, Fab Melo out of Syracuse who could definitely be a huge defensive presence in the NBA. Those new additions sliding into an already strong team with Pierce, Rondo, Bass, Dooling, Pietrus, and Bradley could be the deepest team in the NBA. I think with their added depth in the back-court and front-court they could definitely pose a threat to the Heat who are clearly one of the thinnest teams in the NBA.

It’s About Damn Time

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Finally, he did it. The monkey is off his back, and everybody especially Skip Bayless can step away from criticising Lebron James and start praising the strengths of his game rather then scrutinizing the flaws. Everyone knew this day would come, Lebron is too talented and well rounded a player to not win an NBA championship.  Now that Lebron has one ring, we can most likely expect more due to the saying the first is usually the hardest. Lebron is now the king. Nobody can take that away from him, there is no more debate about Durant vs Lebron. No more debate about Prince vs King. He is the man now.

With 3 MVP’s, a finals MVP and a championship ring I think he is really close to the brink of Jordan-ness. He was always in the conversation of greatest ever, that was clear as soon as he won rookie of the year. We just weren’t sure where he compared to Jordan, Bird, or Chamberlain. He hadn’t proved he could win, he couldn’t carry his team to a victory yet. But now that he’s a winner he is so close. He’s most definitely the most well rounded player in the history of the NBA, and I think what separates him from Jordan is the rings, but that can’t all come in one season. If we want to measure the greatest of all time by rings then Bill Russell might as well be the best to ever play the game. He will earn the rings in time, but the constant ruthlessness of Michael Jordan may be something Lebron is lacking. I think Jordan is the best competitor in NBA history and one of the best ever in sports, which is why it’s so hard to compare anybody to him because nobody else possesses the drive that he had. It may not even be the ruthlessness but Michael Jordan’s ability to ignore a defensive scheme and be aggressive no matter what the circumstance. For example, Lebron’s “choke-filled” series last year against Dallas. They did a great job of keeping him on the perimeter and forcing him to settle or make bad decisions with their zone, and their pressure around the perimeter match-ups. He couldn’t succeed under the defensive pressure of the Mavericks, Michael Jordan rarely ever had games where he settled against a defense or a defense played him so well that he couldn’t succeed. That also attributes to Lebron’s jump shot, an area where Jordan is much stronger. They both shot around 50% from the field and 33% from downtown, but I can’t imagine a world where Lebron hits 7 three pointers in the first half. Jordan was more versatile offensively, but all around Lebron is the more versatile player.

Now that the ring has arrived, his spot in the all time greats top 5 list is cemented. Maybe i’m being over ambitious and naive to think anybody could even compare to Jordan, but Lebron’s numbers of 29, 10 and 7 in the Finals make me excited for his future in the NBA. With more time, comes more rings, watch out Jordan.

We Are All Witnesses

So does everyone remember that colossal poster of Lebron doing his pre-game chalk routine with the tagline, We are all witnesses. You know, the nike one that was later burned in the streets of Akron after he took his talents to South Beach. Well, I think we can all say we all understand what that poster meant. Last night Lebron really silenced everyone, everywhere. Questions were arising, could Lebron close out the Celtics? Would Lebron ever win a championship, if he can’t even reach the finals? Is he clutch? Well, he answered every single question last night.

In a vital game 6 where the Heat were on the verge of elimination, he put his team on his back and scored 45 points. He solely dominated the Celtic team and single handedly forced a game 7 back in Miami where the Heat have the advantage of the Miami crowd to boost them. Can anybody really say he isn’t clutch anymore? Maybe he didn’t hit a game winner. Maybe he didn’t score the final 10 points for the Heat in overtime. He did something more, he set the tone early and dominated a game that could’ve potentially ended the Heat’s season. He won them the game for them. All the pressure riding on him, but it didn’t matter he played one of the best playoff games ever. So let’s all backoff of King James who is the best player in the NBA by far and witness his greatness.