LeBron James is used to shouldering the blame for each of his team’s losses, but the four-time MVP could also see his legacy take a serious blow if the Miami Heat fall to the San Antonio Spurs in five games in the NBA Finals.
The 29-year-old’s production in the playoffs has never been of concern with career postseason averages of 27.9 points off 48.2 percent shooting from the floor, with 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists, but he’s in danger of losing this third Finals as the star of an Eastern Conference team.
James lost the first Finals of his career to San Antonio with Cleveland, and fell to Dallas in his first season in Miami, only to claim the last two titles and keep the Heat as perennial contenders.
Now the Spurs are up 3-1 and have the first of three opportunities to eliminate James from the Finals for a second time Sunday night in Game Five at AT&T Center.
San Antonio has torn the Heat asunder with three victories of at least 15 points while dominating inside with 40 or more points in the paint. The Spurs also won back-to-back road games for the first time in these playoffs to take Miami’s home court out of the equation.
Perhaps passing the franchise torch off, Tim Duncan has helped with excellent defense and rebounding but much of the credit belongs to third-year Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard and point guard Tony Parker.
Leonard followed up his career-best 28-point outburst in Game Three with 20 points and 14 rebounds in Game Four’s 107-86 blowout, and Parker’s shot better than 50 percent from the field and dropped 5.3 assists throughout the series, while living in the paint.
Forward Boris Diaw’s contributions have also broken the Heat. After nearly playing himself out of the league due to poor conditioning, the French national has come up with timely rebounds and assists while creating matchup troubles for Miami down low.
Thusly the Spurs have pushed Miami to the brink as a team, while James can’t seem to get consistent play out of his. Dwyane Wade continues to age before our eyes, shooting 1-for-13 from the field in Game Four and looking lethargic or even lazy on the defensive side.
With Wade inconsistent, James could turn to forward Chris Bosh, who’s averaging 14.3 points in the Finals off a limited 9.3 shots per game, but with each game turning into a blowout before the end of the first quarter or half the Heat are unable to play a half-court post game while San Antonio knocks down threes and effortlessly drives to the basket.
James and the Heat may need to make some adjustments to their defense, which was ranked fifth in the regular season, but has crumbled during the Finals, and force more turnovers to get out on the break where they are most effective.
Otherwise, its 2-3 for James in the Finals.
Start Time: Sunday, 8 p.m. EST
TV Channel: ABC
Live Stream Info: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: San Antonio -6
Over/Under: 196 points
Prediction: San Antonio 105-98