After three NBA Finals games the Miami Heat are in a good position. A familiar one in fact.
A year ago, the Miami Heat led the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals 2-1. It seemed like they were unstoppable. The villains, as many NBA fans observed them, were about to grab hold of the NBA and win several titles.
The haters hated it. Skip Bayless was almost ready to eat his words.
Miami was on the precipice of a dynasty. But then it wasn’t.
The Mavericks won three consecutive games and the rest is history. The Mavericks have a banner in their arena from last season now. Miami does not.
LeBron’s proverbial chest got caved in by a combination of Shawn Marion’s suffocating defense, a zone defense that forced Miami to shoot jump shots and a collective and constant amount of pressure and hate that weighed James down in the NBA Finals.
James tells us that he is different this year. The Miami Heat will tell you this year is different, that the entire team is more mentally tough.
But a year later, with the team in the same position as last year, do you believe it?
I believe that Miami believes that they are a different team.
But is it a real transformation or is it hubris?
I think everyone’s eyes tell them yes.
James looks much more relaxed and comfortable in his skin. He said before the season began that he was done being the villain. He never fit as a bad guy. He smiles too much. He cares too much about family. And he doesn’t have the level of jerk that Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have.
The evidence is on the basketball court.
Throughout last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs James hit daggers against Boston and against the Bulls. Dagger 3-point buckets that put Miami in a great position to win, that were clutch. But dagger 3-pointers are not a sustainable offensive weapon, especially for a player who is not an elite shooter. And it showed in the finals.
In the offseason, as a three-time MVP should, he decided to improve his game in different facets. That’s the true evolution of a superstar.
Can you continue to evolve and get better as a player? For James, the answer is yes.
“Just trying to make plays,” James said. “I told you guys, last year I didn’t make enough game-changing plays, and that’s what I kind of pride myself on. I didn’t do that last year in the finals. I’m just trying to make game-changing plays, and whatever it takes for our team to win, just trying to step up in key moments and be there for my teammates.”
His arsenal includes a post game now. James is deadly in the painted area. No one in an OKC uniform, or in any NBA uniform for that matter, can handle him down there.
So he has sacrificed shooting three pointers as much.
Instead of being a slasher who shoots threes, James, this year, is a slasher who can bloody your nose in the painted area and shoot the occasional deep shot. There are just more tools in the toolbox today.
Another difference is that James now has a clearly defined role. Everybody and their baby knows James is Miami’s best player. There are a few line straddlers who say that Dwayne Wade is Batman because he is “clutch,” but all reasonable individuals recognize the situation for what it is.
Wade relinquished the throne earlier this season and reaffirmed during this season’s post-season run. It was big of him. In order for the Heat to win a title it had to be done. Wade took a step back
James now knows what his team needs. They need him to be an MVP.
James has responded. He has averaged 30.7 points per game and 9.7 rebounds in the playoffs. That’s impressive.
In the Finals, James was averaging 19 ppg in his previous two appearances. He has completely blown that number out of the water this year.
Game three was the first time the polarizing superstar scored less than 30 points in this series. He scored 29.
OKC is not out of this series. A win tomorrow night and they are back in the driver seat.
But it just seems to be James’s time. He has struggled to get to this point in his career. Most stars have to taste defeat before enjoying success.
That’s true of names like Jordan, Wilt, and West.
Durant hasn’t taken this type of loss yet. But maybe they won’t have to.
Obviously, James has taken another step in the right direction, just how much….we’ll see.