NBA: LeBron needs to step up and act like MVP
By Ray McNulty
Scripps Howard News Service
MIAMI — There’s no reason to panic.
There’s still plenty of time for the Miami Heat to figure out how to execute the last-possession, must-score plays they’ll need to win the down-to-the-wire games they’re more likely to encounter in the NBA Finals, when they’ll finally confront an opponent capable of posing a serious challenge.
There’s nobody in the East that can stop them.
The Indiana Pacers are simply too young. The Boston Celtics, now in the fifth year of a three-year plan, are too old. And the Chicago Bulls, who seemed poised to derail the Heat’s championship run, lost Derek Rose (knee) and Joakim Noah (ankle) to injury.
Any real obstacle on the Heat’s road back to the Finals has been removed. And there shouldn’t be many, if any, nail-biting finishes along the way.
Once there, however, the Heat might not be able to open up big leads and coast, as they should be able to do through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The competition in the Finals will be significantly better. The task will be noticeably tougher. The games should be closer.
Some, if not all, of those games will be decided in the final minute, maybe the closing seconds, perhaps on the last shot. Those games could decide who takes home the trophy. Those are the games the Heat must figure out how to win.
Because they haven’t.
Not this season. Not consistently. Certainly, not enough to feel good about their chances of making the must-have baskets at the buzzer.
Did you see the end of Game 4 Sunday against the Knicks?
Did you see Dwyane Wade driving into traffic and retreating to the 3-point line before launching a last-gasp, turnaround, fall-away jump shot that caromed off the rim?
Did you see LeBron James standing in the opposite corner, watching as Wade tried to win the game, not getting anywhere near the ball?
That wasn’t James’ fault.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the play, which produced the desired mismatch — Wade driving to his right against Knicks center Amare Stoudemire — but was botched when Chris Bosh moved to the right block, where his defender was able to disrupt Wade’s penetration.
The failed play opened the door to second-guessers, who pointed to the fact that James had scored eight of the Heat’s last 10 points, was getting to the rim at will and had made seven of his eight free-throws.
Wade, by the way, was a dismal 4 of 11 from the line.
So why not give James the ball?
It’s a good question.
Here’s a better one: Why didn’t James demand the ball?
Or two: Why does James continue to defer to Wade in these situations, even after Wade has said publicly that the Heat are “LeBron’s team.”
Fact is, James had the hot hand down the stretch in a two-point game. This is supposed to be his team. This is supposed to be his year.
This was his opportunity to remove all doubts about who gets the ball when it matters most.
Yet he allowed Spoelstra to put the game in someone else’s hands.
You think Michael Jordan would’ve done that? Or Larry Bird? Or Kobe Bryant?
They’d have looked their coaches in the eye and, brimming with confidence and determination, said, “Just give me the ball.”
Then won the game.
Apparently, James doesn’t yet possess that championship gene. And the Heat don’t yet know if they can execute the last-possession, must-score plays they’ll need to win the down-to-the-wire games that are sure to come.
But there’s no reason to panic. There’s still time.
The Finals are more than a month away.
(Ray McNulty is sports columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast (Fla.) Newspapers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Web at www.tcpalm.com.)
The Associated Press
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