published Monday, May 21st, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: LeBron James turns in a game worthy of an NBA MVP

Miami Heat's LeBron James looks down court during the first half of a NBA basketball against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Miami.
Miami Heat's LeBron James looks down court during the first half of a NBA basketball against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Miami.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

So how do you hate LeBron James now?

That 40-point, 18-rebound, 9-assists stat line that King James threw down at Indiana on Sunday afternoon not enough for you? Still certain that His Airness or Kobe could have done better? Still convinced that when the going gets tough James gets going toward the off-season?

All the guy did against the pesky Pacers was come within a single assist of a triple-double with everyone in the Hoosier state watching his every move.

Another perspective: According to the Miami Herald, no NBA player since Elgin Baylor in 1961 has put up totals that high in all three categories in a playoff game.

In fact, James and sidekick Dwyane Wade scored nearly 70 percent of the Heat's points in this 101-93 win that saw Miami down 10 in the third period. Of course, that was before James and Wade went on a 25-5 run in which they scored all but two of the Heat's points. Heck, at one point they'd accounted for 46 of Miami's 48 points from the midway point of the second quarter forward.

Do I think this wipes the slate clean for those who point to LeBron's past fourth-quarter disappearing acts, especially during last season's NBA Finals against Dallas?

Not exactly. For starters, these grand efforts from James and Wade did nothing but tie this Eastern Conference semifinal at 2-all.

As James correctly said afterward, "It's still going to be a dogfight. Now it's a best-of-three series."

Beyond that, you just can't stage a narcissistic, insensitive, overblown infomercial like The Decision -- James' ill-conceived, ESPN-beamed exit from Cleveland -- and expect the world to make excuses for your every future disappointment.

As soon as James, Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces with the Heat, talking multiple championships before they'd won one, well, the haters were somewhat justified in their venom whenever Miami Thrice fell short.

But this edition of the Heat currently has a wounded Wade and no Bosh, at least for the foreseeable future.

It may also be time to revisit LeBron's years with Cleveland. While few wanted to question Mike Brown's coaching with the Cavs, many are starting to raise eyebrows concerning his performance coaching Kobe Bryant's Lakers.

Yes, Kobe went 2-for-10 in Saturday night's fourth-quarter collapse against Oklahoma City. But this was the second time in the last three games that LA blew a comfortable lead late against the Thunder to fall into a 1-3 hole.

At some point, the focus on failure is going to shift to Brown, which should somewhat soften the criticism of James's time in Cleveland, when the whispers that he couldn't win the big one first surfaced.

That doesn't mean James is blameless beyond the The Decision. He's laid a few fourth-quarter clunkers, including a couple of wretched missed free throws in the second game of the current Pacers series.

He could still become more selfish when it matters most, a la Kobe, who doesn't always hit the last shot but is always itching to take the last shot.

But the game has also changed from Jordan's early titles with Chicago, or the salad days of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Dr. J.

Defenses are better, at least partly due to the allowance of zone defenses, which theoretically slow offensive superstars such as James. There's also the No College Factor. While Kobe at least got the benefit of maturing under the guidance of Phil Jackson and the Biggest Big Man of them all in Shaquille O'Neal, James entered the NBA in 2003 out of Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

Unlike mega-talents such as Dr. J., Magic and Michael Jordan, James arrived blessed with far more power than polish. For all his current skills, the learning curve for James was always harsher than Magic, Jordan or Kobe -- his only real equals over the past 35 years -- both for that inexperience and ineffective supporting cast.

None of that soured Sunday for James and Wade, however.

Instead, for at least one afternoon, they lived up to all the hype heaped on them in the summer of 2010, causing Indiana coach Frank Vogel to say of their joint effort: "Those two guys are as good as it gets."

For at least one afternoon the "MV" in James' recent regular-season MVP award could stand for Most Vindicated as much as Most Valuable.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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