Sunday, June 2, 2013

LeBron James Must Unite Big 3

They say that winning back to back championships is the most difficult task in professional sports.  If you asked the Miami Heat today, I think they would agree.  As predicted, the Heat and the Indiana Pacers will need seven games to determine the Eastern Conference Finals.  Throughout the series the Pacers have robbed the Heat of their identity with only one game left to take it back.

Most of this season it was a forgone conclusion that the Heat would win the NBA championship.  They won 66 regular season games that included a dazzling 27 game winning streak. The once clunky dynamic of the Big 3 was tightened to a well oiled machine after Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh handed the keys to LeBron James.  The addition of Chris Anderson appeared to be the final piece of the puzzle as the Heat dominated the regular season.

Before winning their first championship together last season, the Big 3 were the most scrutinized group in NBA history.  Each individual faced daily criticism and were openly mocked for their impolitic choices before ever playing together.  Most were delighted when the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals.  As the biggest star, James was the biggest target for critique, especially after consecutive poor fourth quarter performances.  Bosh and Wade helped shoulder James' burden and made him the leader the following season.  Rather than crumble, the Big 3 were galvanized.

There was more adversity their second season together and they relied on the previous year's experience to win the championship.  It was never as easy as they imagined when they signed together.  They faced deficits against the Pacers in the second round and in the Eastern Conference Finals where they needed seven games to beat the Boston Celtics. They were pushed to the brink, but they crossed the finish line together.  That's what was unique about the Big 3.  Each player gave up personal glory to play for team.  James was recognized as the best player on the planet, but his greatness is defined by his unselfish play.  It was that unity that pushed the Heat over the championship hump.

The obstacles that the Heat currently face are unlike any they have experienced as a group.  Game 7 tips off Monday with everything on the line for both teams.  Unlike last year's game 7 against the Celtics, the Heat are not riding momentum, in fact, it appears they are fracturing as a group at the worst possible time.

Wade and Bosh have struggled miserably throughout the series.  Bosh has less rebounds than three point attempts and Wade's knee problems have stolen his athleticism.  In the Heat's three wins against the Pacers, neither Wade nor Bosh contributed offensively.  It has been James who handled the burden while the national media dubbed the Heat a Big 1.

The Pacer's size has disrupted Miami's offense into an identity crisis.  Pacers center Roy Hibbert has dominated the paint and made the Heat reluctant to attack the rim.  Even while James has put up spectacular numbers, he is doing most of his damage through jump shots.

Matchup issues aside, the real concern is what's going on inside the Heat's locker room.  James seems to have lost trust in Wade and Bosh referring to his game 5 heroics as, "going back to my Cleveland days."  Reggie Miller referred to the Heat as the "Miami Cavaliers" in their game 6 loss.  After the game Bosh took responsibility for his play and said little else.  Wade, however, said the Heat (James) need to work harder to get he and Bosh involved in the offense. Perhaps it was a response to James' Cleveland comment.

James has a very important decision to make for game 7 as the primary ball handler and playmaker.  Should he trust the other Big 2 in the apex of their worst simultaneous slump as teammates, or should he imitate Michael Jordan and look for his shot early and often?  To do so would mean to abandon the very dynamic that carried the Heat to a championship last season.  James certainly carried the scoring load in critical games last year, but he never lost trust in his teammates, especially Wade and Bosh.

It's a tough decision considering Bosh has played tentatively preferring to shoot three pointers rather than mix it up with David West and Hibbert, and Wade hasn't found his jumper the entire playoffs and lacks the explosion to get to the basket and finish.  It also doesn't help that Ray Allen and Shane Battier have been no-shows.  Both were extremely reliable three point threats all season at over 40 percent.

So what should James do?  He should look to score, but he needs to stop relying on jump shots.  The Heat are far more effective with Hibbert off the court, yet they haven't tried to get him into foul trouble by challenging him.  It's as if James and company are concerned with getting shots blocked.  James needs to lead the charge in the paint as he did all season and get the rest of his teammates follow his lead.

Getting Bosh going means getting him open looks from about 15 feet.  Bosh has always been more effective offensively when he makes his first jumper.  James looked for him early in game 6 but after he missed a few attempts, the ball didn't go back his way very often.  Even when Bosh would get a touch he was looking to pass immediately.  Getting Bosh going early should be a huge priority for James and head coach Eric Spoelstra.  Hibbert has been free to plant in the paint because Bosh has not factored in the offense.

Getting Wade going is a matter of chemistry with James.  Wade is a slasher by trade.  The Heat are at their best in transition and cutting to the basket.  Back cuts and easy dunks broke Wade out of his slump last year against the Pacers.  There's no reason not to approach game 7 the same way.  If there is friction between James and Wade they have 48 hours to get it sorted out.  Wade is limited, but he should be much more productive.  James can't turn his back on him now.  He has to take it upon himself to get Wade involved, just like he did in game 4 against the Pacers last year.

It would be easy for James to put up 30 shots and try to win on his own in game 7.  Unlike prior years, he will not get the bulk of the blame if the Heat lose.  But, one ring is not enough for James and the Miami Heat.  They were built to win multiple championships.  Team play is the hallmark of Miami's Big 3 and team play is what led them to the championship last year.  If the Heat are not unified by James' play in game 7, they will be watching the NBA Finals at home.

Having Anderson's interior presence will be a boost after missing game 6 for being an idiot, and Mike Miller should eat some of Allen's minutes after he provided a fourth quarter spark last night.  But, it will be up to the Big 3 to play like a trio if the Heat want to advance.  If they are united, they will find a way to win.  Together.


Related Posts with Thumbnails