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Friday, May 07, 2010

James and the Cavs Need Less Talk, More Action

I am not foolish enough to say that game three of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals is the biggest game of LeBron James' career; I will leave that kind of senseless hyperbole to others. James has already played in bigger games (including the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, the 2007 NBA Finals and the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals) and he will almost certainly play in bigger games in the future (including this Sunday, which will be a must win game if the Cavs lose tonight). However, the Friday night showdown between James' Cavs and the Boston Celtics is certainly a very important game. James is the consensus MVP, the Cavs have had the best record in the NBA for two years in a row and James plays alongside the deepest supporting cast in the league--yet the Cavs squandered homecourt advantage in this series with a 104-86 game two loss that Cleveland forward Antawn Jamison quite correctly called "embarrassing." Cleveland Coach Mike Brown was certainly embarrassed, angry and frustrated when he delivered a postgame rant to the media about his team's deplorable lack of urgency and intensity, while James stepped to the podium not 20 minutes later and blithely insisted that there is no reason to panic. James also denied that he is having any problem with the much-discussed right elbow that he is constantly rubbing, the elbow that mysteriously enables him to shoot half court jump shots with perfect form and yet was apparently incapable of shooting an important end of game free throw versus Chicago in the first round. The big NBA news on Thursday was that James did not receive another MRI on the troublesome joint not long after a previous MRI showed no structural damage.

The Cavs--led by Brown and James--have long called themselves a "no excuse team" and they have for the most part lived up to that standard. I don't know what the deal is with James' elbow but after seeing Kobe Bryant play virtually a whole season without complaint despite a broken index finger on his shooting hand (after winning a championship last year despite a similar injury to the pinkie finger on that same hand) and after hearing Bryant recently say that no one on his team would dare sit out due to a minor injury because that player would be called out as a "chump," I do know that I am sick of hearing about James' elbow. Coach Brown said after game two that the doctors and training staff did not say anything to him about James being injured and James reiterated that he will not make excuses, so the Cavs collectively need to stop talking about the elbow and start focusing on their real problem: the team defense that has been the cornerstone of their success for the past several years has shown noticeable cracks throughout this postseason. The Cavs need to play with greater energy, focus and precision at that end of the court and James must lead the charge--and he must do so not just by making flashy "chase down" blocks for the highlight reels but also by serving as the defense's signal caller to ensure that everyone is positioned properly. That is the role that Bryant has played for the Lakers for years and James' ability to take on that responsibility is the real reason that he deserves to be considered an All-Defensive First Teamer.

If the Cavs do not beat the Celtics in Boston on Friday night then Sunday's game becomes a must win (due to the difficulty of coming back from a 3-1 margin in a playoff series), so as the league's best player it is James' responsibility to prevent his team's season from lurching toward the brink of elimination. There are many ways for a truly great player to dominate a game and James' performance tonight will ultimately not be judged by individual numbers but rather on whether or not he clearly asserts himself as the best player on the court. He must impose his will on this game. That is the true measure of greatness. We saw Kobe Bryant do this versus the Oklahoma City Thunder in game five with playmaking and defense, followed up by scoring a game-high 32 points in the game six series clincher. Rajon Rondo has been the most valuable player so far in the Boston-Cleveland series and James must decisively change that reality tonight. He is fully capable of doing so and I expect that he will come through with a signature performance--but if he fails I do not want to hear one more word about his elbow.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:16 AM

17 comments

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17 Comments:

At Friday, May 07, 2010 7:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MARCEL

i think it is the biggest game in a while for the city of clevand and the cavs in a while. the espn anti kobe pro lebron media was critcal of kobe in 08 finals even though pau gasol was the biggest hole on lakers and played soft in the finals was a bigger reason they lost.

the lakers were favored foolishly because celtics had homecourt and best overall record with 66 wins. all you heard was kobe choked and he has been favored numerous times and lost and he doesnt belong in same sentence with jordan, the only real time he was favored and lost was 04 finals.

but back to this now lebron james has had best record in league last two years with 66 61 wins favored to win it all both times last year choked loseing to magic in 6 even though he had homecourt. and this year a better team deepest team in league and struggling agian in playoffs but none calls him a choke and say he has to win a championship to validate his career even though kobe already has 3 rings its a true double standard to me.

i believe cavs will win series and david i might be eating my words its 36 to 15 in first quarter lebron got 21.

 
At Saturday, May 08, 2010 1:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

LeBron did what he had to do, as I thought that he would. Now I hope that we don't hear anything more about his elbow from him or anyone else.

I agree with you regarding the double standard that has been applied to Kobe compared to LeBron. I don't expect anything more or less from LeBron now that he is the league's best player than I expected from Kobe when he held that title.

The 2004 Lakers may have been favorites on paper but with Karl Malone hobbled and Gary Payton playing defense like he was 102 years old the Lakers had matchup problems at point guard and power forward. I still think that the Lakers probably would have won that series with a healthy Malone.

 
At Sunday, May 09, 2010 2:37:00 PM, Blogger Allen said...

"There are many ways for a truly great player to dominate a game and James' performance tonight will ultimately not be judged by individual numbers but rather on whether or not he clearly asserts himself as the best player on the court. He must impose his will on this game."

David - I think we can safely say that Lebron passed that test with flying colors, no?

 
At Monday, May 10, 2010 3:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

the cavs got the split i thought they would get rondo 29 18 13 AMAZING he been the best player on court for 2 or 3 out of 4 games. I never thought he was this good or could dominate a series like he has lebron 22 8 9 subpar for his scoreing standard but had a nice game when lebron scored 35 and 38 they won because he got help this game shaq had 17 played well jamison all right mo willams parker nice west had 14 game 3 only 3 tonight but the rest of the cavs didnt really play great.


game 5 they have to put lebron on rondo ala kobe westbrook in game 5 vs thunder that threw westbrook off for that game and he did not adjust initially well but if lebron score 30 35 points the other cavs play well they should be able to win game 5 and have a chance to close in game 6 hard to see celts win 2 in cleveland.

 
At Monday, May 10, 2010 4:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

LeBron obviously came through in game three but he followed that up with a subpar performance in game four (poor shooting, too many turnovers, overall lack of energy).

LeBron is a two-time MVP and it is his obligation to assert himself as the best player on the court during this series, a title that to this point Rondo deserves at least as much--if not more--than James does.

 
At Monday, May 10, 2010 4:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

This has not been a great series for LeBron so far even though he had an epic performance in game three.

Perhaps Coach Brown will put LeBron on Rondo for certain key stretches but I understand his reluctance to make that switch over the course of an entire game: LeBron has completely locked down Pierce, so putting LeBron on Rondo jeopardizes the Cavs' effectiveness versus Pierce. There is no guarantee that LeBron would shut down Rondo, so making that switch could create more problems.

 
At Tuesday, May 11, 2010 4:33:00 AM, Blogger Allen said...

David - Yup, I spoke too soon ... was actually trying to give Lebron some credit, as I am partial to Kobe's refined skill set in comparison to Lebron's power and speed ...

 
At Tuesday, May 11, 2010 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Codysseus said...

I feel like Lebron should have been much more aggressive in game four. Sure, he may have been taking what the D gave him (not much) but they're up against a well-coached veteran team that is worried primarily about him. Perhaps moving him more off-ball will work best. It's not like he's not capable of torching a team even when their defense is set up to stop him, he's done it before. This might have been an example of his eagerness to pass actually hurting the team. The best example of this would be the pass to Varejao for a midrange jumper from the baseline during crunchtime.

 
At Tuesday, May 11, 2010 2:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Codysseus:

I agree with you that some of LeBron's plays--like the pass to Varejao that you mentioned--are unselfish on the surface but are really not in the team's best interests. In one of his postgame press conferences earlier in the playoffs, LeBron mentioned that he has never been the kind of player who thinks that he has to take all of the shots if things are not going well for his team; he always tries to get his teammates involved. That sounds nice in theory, but in practice sometimes the best player must take over by scoring, a la Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

 
At Tuesday, May 11, 2010 7:28:00 PM, Blogger Codysseus said...

That's exactly my point. It's not as if Lebron is incapable or unwilling. He's done it many times before with some excellent results, I just wonder when he'll feel enough pressure to do it in this series. Judging from his post-game comments, he's far from worried about losing this series at this point, will it take another close game going into the final quarter to provoke him to try to dominate? I'd imagine if it was Michael Jordan's team that was on the receiving end of such ridiculous individual performance (Rondo, of course), Michael would surely come back the next game looking to correct the wrong that had been done to him and his team. It will be interesting to see if Lebron bounces back with the same level of determination that he did for game 3.

 
At Wednesday, May 12, 2010 12:52:00 AM, Anonymous Dmills said...

Unbelieveble. And at home at that. I guess the the rumors of Lebron surpassing Kobe have been greatly exaggerated.

 
At Wednesday, May 12, 2010 4:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MARCEL

we had weird lebron agian david 3-14 15 points most of the time lebron deliversin big names but this won he stunk it up. a player of his magnitude he came up extremely small i cant remeber micheal jordan bird magic even kobe in a game this big be so passive un agressive hey they had bad games but they went out swinging lebron to me did not tonight it was weird how he just didnt bring it.


jamison averaging 13 8 in series as a 2 option not good enough mo willams 11 6 not good enough as well when garnett averaging 18 7 and rondo 20 12 7 so there opponet is killing them on a indivdual basis. mike brown a good coach but doesnt have the personality to motivate players or as charles said that it factor that they need to get ov er the hump i believe.

bottom line cleveland is chokeing for the second straight year last year lebron averaged 38 8 8 in east final so it wasnt his fault. this year it is in this series he been outplayed by rondo been uninspired passive and had 3 subpar games out of 5 so far. gonna be tough for cleveland to come back i think they can but lebron got to be game 3 and 1 lebron they need mo and jamison to step up as well shaq has played well west last two games non existent varejo where is he? moon parker been non existent got to be a team effort not all on lebron even though he got to play better.

 
At Wednesday, May 12, 2010 10:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Codysseus:

We all saw LeBron's game five response and it was not pretty.

 
At Wednesday, May 12, 2010 10:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dmills:

LeBron has been a more consistently productive player than Kobe during the past two regular seasons but you are correct that LeBron has yet to surpass Kobe in terms of knowing how to manage his energy and employ his skill set to win at a championship level in the playoffs.

 
At Wednesday, May 12, 2010 10:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I supposed that "weird LeBron" is as good a description as any; that sure was not one of the characters in the famous "LeBrons" advertisements!

I have yet to read, hear or see a good explanation for LeBron's lethargy and disinterest. He apparently does not understand that this could be his best opportunity to win a championship: he has a defensive-minded coach and a roster stacked with talented players. One can quibble about the individual and/or collective production of various Cav players but the biggest and most obvious problem is that the captain of the ship is not leading the way. Some people criticize Kobe's methods but the end result is that Kobe wins championships. It is pretty easy now to see why Team USA turned to Kobe when things got tight in the 2008 Olympic gold medal game; it is also easy to see why Team USA fell apart against Greece in 2006 in the FIBA World Championships--despite taking an early lead, much like the Cavs did in game five versus Boston--when Kobe was not on the roster.

LeBron may think that the grass will be greener in the future but that is not at all necessarily the case, so it is a big mistake for him not to exert maximum effort to try to win a championship this year. Just think about how many players and teams came close to winning a title and thought that they would have other opportunities that never materialized due to injuries, trades and other unforeseen circumstances.

 
At Wednesday, May 12, 2010 3:52:00 PM, Anonymous Dmills said...

I wonder if Lebron is in love with the game of basketball? I suspect that it's a means to an end (global icon) for him and if he happens to win, great, but he isn't consumed with it like MJ or Kobe.

 
At Wednesday, May 12, 2010 11:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DMills:

I disagree with the premise that LeBron does not love basketball. I think that he has a great passion for the game but that is not the same thing as knowing how to perform at a championship level on a consistent basis versus elite teams.

 

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