LeBron Melts Down in Press Conference, Rips NBA Fans

Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven...none
He had to know what was coming if he couldn't come through. Nobody could have expected sympathy or even understanding from a nation of fans who had been passionately rooting for him to lose. And yet LeBron has put his foot squarely in his mouth yet again. When asked what he thought about the people who were celebrating his loss, he replied with this: "All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. So they can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they got to get back to the real world at some point."

This is stupid on several levels, not the least of them being that it paints him as a bad guy yet again. There was little he would be able to do to make himself a good guy per se, but he would be better served not vilifying himself with this moronic statement. I am not offended by these comments. What he said was technically true. When I woke up today, I still had the same problems as when I woke up yesterday. I was, however, a little happier with the world because the Heat and particularly LeBron did not win that title. Deos that make me small and petty? After all, I don't know the man personally. But in sports, you root for someone and inevitably, you have to root against someone. Sure, we pour more of that negativity on LeBron but he is the one who upped the ante with that asinine The Decision special. He threw his talent in everyone's face and made himself as big a deal as he possibly could. So yes, LeBron, we root against you but only because you asked us to. You were the one talking about accepting your role as a villain in that commercial. So if you play it up and play it up and play it up, only to find that you maybe can't deliver in crunch time quite like you thought, don't blame us for being happy for it. He was so ready to throw it on our faces, but he was unprepared to have it thrown back in his own. So stop complaining about your haters. As a matter of fact, stop talking. You had your summer. Now, you're just another good player without a ring. So until you start winning, you can shut your mouth. Everyone will be happier for it.
-Ling Bon, 6/13/2011

The Dallas Mavericks Control Game 6, Win 1st NBA Championship in Franchise History 

I feel like I have to show some restraint here. I am a proud and self-admitted LeBron-hater, but I don't want to spend this article just bashing him. I would much rather congratulate the Dallas Mavericks, for playing a spectacular series and proving themselves to be the convincingly better team when nobody believed that they would. Everyone was so high on the Heat after their dismantling of the Celtics and Bulls. Dallas had handled Oklahoma City and obliterated the Lakers, but they were still a pick made in spite of the Heat more often than not. But after game 4, people started to really believe. For some reason, the Heat's vaunted defense seemed to be crumbling in the face of Dallas' high-paced offensive attack and the pressure inexplicably started to affect LeBron again.  But it didn't seem to matter if LeBron scored 8 points or racked up a triple double, the Heat's aura had disappeared almost entirely by this morning.

But nobody could have expected that Mavericks were on such a higher plane than the Heat that Dirk Nowitzki could play his worst game in the Finals and still win in convincing fashion. Dirk shot 9-27 from the field including 1-7 from three. And the Mavericks still shot 50% as a team and 43% from three! This was simply a team that was not going to lose. Entering the playoffs, they had a "Dirk and everyone else" reputation,. And to a certain extent, that was true. But only because Dirk is a better player than most people, including myself, gave him credit for. The rest of those players have some game, particularly Barea and Terry. Jason Terry really turned himself around in these Finals and could have made a convincing case for Finals MVP, though nobody could argue with Nowitzki receiving the award. JJ Barea has guaranteed himself a much bigger contract than he probably could have dreamed of entering the year. 

But the Heat seemed off. Maybe it was the fact that they were playing a stronger team than they had before. The Celtics and Bulls both had noticeable flaws, and while the Mavericks certainly aren't a perfect team, they do not have that one weakness that another team can attack. The Heat do. Their poor execution in a halfcourt offense cost them over and over ans they simply couldn't score fast enough while the Mavericks were capable of both chipping away and having the rally. The Heat scored in furious bursts, with fastbreaks and fadeaway threes. That style of basketball is impressive to watch, with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James doing everything that their prodigious talents allowed. But against a consistent and free-flowing offense predicated on teamwork over iso plays, they could not keep up. So maybe it was that. But you got the sensation that the Heat's two and a half players weren't quite as unstoppable as they had initially appeared. That could be a real issue for the Heat going forward. They will be able to add player or two, but this model of three on five failed in this Finals. Obviously, this was not a wipeout, but the Mavericks played much better as the series progressed. The Heat trailed off, LeBron especially. If he scores 21 points and turns the ball over 6 times, that just isn't good enough in a game that turned out to be their last of the year. And, most damning, they quit. They completely gave up as the clock hit about two minutes and it became evident that the Mavs were not going to give up their lead. I kept waiting for a foul, even a hard press defense, anything to make the Mavericks feel uncomfortable, give up the ball or stop the clock. And they just let them dribble around undeterred. Jason Kidd dribbled in on Chris Bosh, who is younger and 8 inches taller, drew a foul and sunk a layup. The heart, or lack there of, that the Heat showed should be extremely disconcerting going forward.

Just this morning, I said that I did not believe in grading a player based solely on one night. And I still think that is ridiculous. But I have to question if LeBron is tough enough to win a title. He stepped so far down to the occasion that it starts to validate the criticism that has floated around in the ether around him. In one short series, he completely wiped out all of the legacy building that he had done throughout the playoffs. It will be very interesting to see how well the Heat bounce from this. They were all but being crowned champions halfway through game 2, only to have it snatched away from them. If starting are going to make a commitment to toughness and determination, starting strong next year will be a good place to start. As for the Mavericks chances next year, that will be easier to determine when the fates of JJ Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler are decided. Sure, they did just win a title without Butler, but he certainly would help their chances to repeat. The other three each performed a specific role to perfection, making them each a valuable sign. The Mavs will have an interesting off-season for sure. I just want to close with congratulations again to the Dallas Mavericks, from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd to Brian Cardinal and Peja Stojakovich. 

LeBron Must Step Up for Game 6 or the Heat are Done

For some reason, LeBron James can't seem to figure out quite who he wants to be. His ability to finish as a deadly closer fluctuates from week-to-week and sometimes even day-to-day. And, predictably enough, everyone is quick to forget what happened last week. When he squashed the 76ers, he went from media punching bag to ok. Then, he roughly handled the Boston Celtics and he turned into a titan whose arrogance was going to cost him against a younger team. Then, he suffocated Derrick Rose and all of a sudden, Scottie Pippen is shoving his head up his backside saying that LeBron is the greatest player ever because I guess Michael Jordan didn't play defense. Now, he has turned in one stinker and one quiet triple double and all of a sudden, he's a coward again. At the risk of sounding like a Heat-apologist, LeBron is under a tremendous amount of pressure. That being said, someone needs to slap him like Don Corleone and tell him to act like a man and deal with it. He placed this pressure on himself by turning himself into a sideshow. 
If LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put it together on the same night, there is simply nothing that the Mavericks can do to stop them. Shawn Marion can guard one of them, maybe, but nobody can handle the other one. For the Mavericks to win, they need Jason Terry and JJ Barea to play well, and that leaves them with a fairly weakened defensive lineup. The same, however, is also true of Dirk Nowitzki. He has justly earned his reputation as "unguardable." If Dirk is feeling it, nothing you do is going to change his shot enough to make him miss without drawing a foul. He could go off for 35 points and hope to counteract an explosion from either Miami scorer.
 Again, it all comes down to the pieces around the two dominant forces. If, say, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem go off and Miami shuts down Barea and Terry, the Heat are likely to win. But if Barea and Terry can get off, they make the Mavericks' offense much more efficient than the Heat's.
The Mavs have shown that they can outscore the Heat in a shootout. And they have shown that they can close out the Heat if given a window of opportunity in the fourth quarter. The Heat have to thoroughly crush the Mavericks if they are going to win. And for that to happen, LeBron needs to perform like he is capable of. And the pressure might just be too much. Mavericks win it in 6.
-Ling Bon, 6/11/11

Dallas Takes 3-2 Series Advantage with Dramatic 112-103 Game 5 Win

In a series that has been dominated by strong defensive play, both teams came out ready to score last night. Dallas came out red hot, obviously amped up by their rabid home crowd and they never cooled off. They shot an astounding 66% from the field in the first half, which dropped to a measly 56.5% after halftime. But what really put the Mavericks on top was strong shooting from beyond the arc. They started strong and kept it up, culminating in a third quarter where it seemed like their threes were guided in by lasers and bomb after bomb kept landing, including a rainbow fadeaway three from Dirk Nowitzki over Chris Bosh that literally cleared the shot clock. Incredibly, not a single Maverick shot under 50% from deep. 
Dirk was the centerpiece to the Mavericks once again, he went for 29 points on 9-18 shooting, including 1-1 from 3 and a perfect (of course) 10-10 from the free throw line. A lights out free throw shooter rarely gets the credit he deserves because free throws aren't sexy, but it is time to recognize Dirk as maybe the greatest clutch free throw shooter of all time. Would you believe that now, in 20 playoff games, Dirk has missed only 11 free throws? And he isn't a perimeter shooting softy any more; he fights and scraps his way to the line as much as anyone in the series. He had a truly spectacular game, highlighted by the second quarter where he scored 10 and really embarrassed multiple defenders with his sweet finishes near the basket, including several lefty scoops. But I commented yesterday how he couldn't do it himself and there were two other players nearly as instrumental in the win: little Puerto Rican ball of energy JJ Barea, and boisterous bench-scorer Jason Terry. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle elected to start Barea, who had only started two games in the regular season, over DeShawn Stevenson starting in game three and hasn't looked back since.
Barea shot 6-11 from the field but what is really staggering about his performance was the 4-5 from three-point-land. He shot 80% from deep! Most of his points came in a spectacular third quarter, when he just could not miss from three and was creating havoc left and right with his speedy dribble penetration and acrobatic reverse finishes by the basket. It was inspiring to see someone so average sized going against the suffocating, athletic, huge Miami defense and make absolute mincemeat of their entire crew. He ended up with 17 points. Then, Jason Terry had a stretch where HE took over the game, scoring a very loud and flash 21 points on unbelievable 8-12 shooting with 3-5 three point shooting and he chipped in 2 points from the line. Terry, who boasted that he would get his pre-season tattoo of the Larry O'Brien Trophy removed if the Mavericks lost the series, took some criticism for his inability to score on lockdown defender LeBron James. He took that criticism to heart and it seemed like every time the Mavericks needed a bucket, he was there to score.
Speaking of LeBron, he finds himself suffering slings and arrows for the second game in a row. He had perhaps the quietest triple-double ever seen in the playoffs, with 10 rebounds and assists and 17 points - but only two points in the fourth quarter on 1-3 shooting. Dwyane Wade led the team in scoring with 23 points (6-12, 1-2 3pt, 10-12 ft), shocking when you consider that he almost didn't play after the first quarter when he suffered a hip bruise that left him in obvious agony and brought him back to the locker room. But he came back and gave a gutsy performance, showing why he might just have a gene in him that LeBron does not. Dwyane Wade is at this point the Heat's 4th quarter go-to-guy as he had 9 in the quarter, even in a losing effort. 
But this story is really about the Mavs and their seemingly greater desire. There was a four minute stretch where the Mavericks held Miami without a field goal and never really looked back from there. This was after Miami had fought back and taken a 4 point lead and 4th quarter close-outs were almost their signature this postseason. Btu their regular season bete-noire - the fourth-quarter collapse - reared its ugly head again last night and now Miami has to win their two last home games of the year if King James is to live up to his title and justify having taken his talents to South Beach.
- Ling Bon, 6/10/11

Game 5 Showdown in Dallas

Tonight is the night. Somehow, the Mavericks are going into game five on even footing with the Heat, even after they've been seemingly controlled this entire series. Few people question that the Heat are the better team in this series. Or rather, they have the better players. Two players, in particular. Dwyane Wade (playoff stats: 25 ppg/7.4 rpg/.490% shooting) and LeBron James (24.2 ppg/8.5 rpg/5.6 apg) were supposed to be their Superman and Batman and, for the most part, they've delivered. Even Chris Bosh (18.5 ppg/8.4 rpg/.464% shooting) has come through in these playoffs as the Heat's resident Aquaman. But no matter how much the Heat seem to be the superior team on the court, the Mavericks refuse to let go. They refuse to cave in. Dirk Nowtizki (28 ppg/8.1 rpg/.496% shooting) has shed his "soft" label with gritty play, especially in this last Finals game 4 where he was greatly impaired by the flu. 

And now, after a game in which LeBron was a complete non-factor, Dallas seems to have the momentum - for the time being. Tonight's game is in Dallas, but then the series returns to Miami. Dallas all but needs to win tonight or face being down 3-2 in unfriendly territory. And though I have often mocked the Heat's homecourt advantage, the fact remains that they have lost only once in these playoffs while in South Beach. Whether it's a real boost playing at home or it's just a lack of the other team's fans, Miami has been deadly at American Airlines Arena. That puts all the pressure on Dallas tonight. Jason Terry has shown an ability to score in spurts, but he will have to be more consistent if the Mavs are going to pull out this series. Right now, there is too much burden on Nowitzki to score. He's a great player, maybe one of the top 20 ever, but he can't beat a star-studded lineup like the Heat by himself. If Terry and Barrea can make their contributions, the Mavs can pull it out. However, should LeBron and Wade go off, there is little Dallas can do to stop them. If that happens, it will only be a matter of time until they lift the trophy. Tonight, however, I expect a win for the Mavericks, needing one as they go back to Miami. If that happens, I favor them in seven games. If Miami wins tonight, then I believe they will win again when they go back home and end this series in six.
-Ling Bon, 6/9/2011