Miami Heat: Predicting LeBron James' 10 Biggest Games of Next Season
If there's one characteristic of LeBron James that we all know and either love or hate, it's his showmanship.
It's one of his greatest gifts and curses; James loves to put on a show for whatever audience is watching. It doesn't matter if the crowd loves him or hates him, but mostly if it hates him, James is a showoff in its truest form as he breaks out his entire repertoire on both sides of the floor. He came into this league with a spotlight cast on him and he's made sure to keep it on him throughout his NBA journey.
It's when the crowd really doesn't want to see him perform well when you see James at his best. Take his first meeting back in Cleveland as a perfect example of James wanting to put on a show. He knew that everyone in the building would be against him and hoping for him to fail, yet he went out and poured in 38 points in 30 minutes and helped his team build up a lead that nearly eclipsed 40 points.
He also carried on the tradition of being a superstar that loves to go berserk whenever he gets near Madison Square Garden. From his 52 points, 10 assists and nine rebound performance to the 17-point fourth quarter he had in Game 3, James has loved putting on a show when the spotlight was at its brightest.
With so many marquee games and some opponents that don't contain near the defensive stoppers necessary to limit James, he has the potential to have his greatest performances next year in these ten games.
October 30th vs Boston
Before we reach that moment, however, we need to get back to the start which features the Heat and Celtics taking on each other in the season opener. The October 30th meeting will be the Heat's home opener as well. It's the second consecutive season in which the Heat have opened up their home schedule facing the Celtics.
Miami won 115-107 in last year's home opening thriller, and they're coming off a memorable 4-3 series victory over the Celtics last year. Fuel was only added to the fire since then, with Ray Allen jumping ship to join the Heat. Allen departed for Miami after feeling like the odd man out and then seeing the Celtics sign free agent Jason Terry.
It's always an event when these two teams face off and it's sure to be a big one when they meet up in the first game of the season for both sides.
With LeBron James riding high off the Gold Medal victory and the NBA championship, he should go off for another incredible game against a Celtics team that succumbed to arguably James' greatest postseason performance in Game 6.
It's doubtful that James will go off for 45-15-5, but he should go off for a huge game against a Celtics team that will likely throw a 35-year-old Paul Pierce to defend him.
November 2nd at New York
If there's been a team LeBron James really doesn't like, it's been the New York Knicks.
There's a stigma among the league's superstars when it comes to facing the Knicks, because it seems as if every time a star takes on New York, they're going to go off for a ridiculous stat line. There was even a time when Kobe Bryant dropped 61 points on New York and then LeBron James went off for 52 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds in the same week.
Dwyane Wade scored 55 points against the Knicks in the same season, although that took place in Miami, whereas LeBron and Kobe's performances took place in the Garden.
LeBron was wildly efficient against the Knicks in their first-round series last year and it's more than likely that he should remain that effective this year. The Knicks still sport Carmelo Anthony as their small forward and will probably throw Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith to defend James as well.
Anthony and Smith couldn't defend James and it's unlikely the undersized Brewer would be as effective. With this being on national television and also being his first visit to Madison Square Garden, James is going to look to be at his best as he attempts to put on yet another show for the awestruck fans of the Knicks.
December 25th vs Oklahoma City
The Miami Heat could probably remember last Christmas like it was yesterday.
It was the delayed season opener to the 2011-12 NBA season, and teams were wary of how well their players would be to start the season because of the lack of preseason games and shortened training camp.
Nobody wanted the season to start more than LeBron James and the Heat, which showed in the Heat's 105-94 victory over Dallas, a score that was not nearly indicative of how badly Miami annihilated Dallas. The Heat were up by as much as 35 points in the third quarter in front of a stunned Mavericks crowd that was coming off the high of seeing their team's championship banner raised to the rafters.
James rose to the occasion more than anyone else, recording 37 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Who's to say that LeBron won't do the same against last year's Finals opponent this upcoming Christmas?
Yes, the Heat will spend another Christmas on the court where they will be taking on the same Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time since defeating them in five games in last season's NBA Finals. There's no doubt that the Thunder will be motivated to hand the Heat a defeat on their home court, but it's also a certainty that LeBron would love to be the one to spoil that occasion.
James loves a challenge and this will be his greatest competition until a January 17th date with the team out West that's projected to topple the Heat off their throne.
January 16th at Golden State
Yeah, you know how badly LeBron James wants to beat the Golden State Warriors, right? He's still seething from that overtime loss last year and he's looking for sweet revenge!
Or not. No, LeBron isn't going to go off against Golden State because he has a vendetta against them, he's going to go off because there aren't any individual players who will be capable of stopping LeBron. With rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green and veteran Richard Jefferson as the only small forwards on this team, it wouldn't come as a surprise for LeBron to score at will.
Then again, it has a high possibility of not happening. When LeBron goes off, it usually happens against the league's top teams, such as his 51-point performance against the Orlando Magic in his first year with the Heat. It's been rare to see James go off against a team like Golden State because he doesn't want to waste his energy against teams that don't need his complete and total effort.
However, since LeBron likes to put on a show and considering this game will be on ESPN, James still might have one of his best offensive performances of the season if he's willing to put in the work that would be required.
January 17th at L.A. Lakers
This is what we've all been waiting for, right?
Since LeBron James and Chris Bosh teamed up with Dwyane Wade in South Beach, we have been waiting for the day where the Los Angeles Lakers would gain the necessary talent to give the Heat a legitimate run for their money in the NBA Finals. Up until this offseason, it appeared that wouldn't happen with the Lakers failing to get out of the second round, but it is now becoming widely projected the Lakers will make it to the 2013 NBA Finals to take on the Heat.
Before we reach that point, however, we must go through the regular season and get a first-hand look at what a potential NBA Finals matchup would look like.
The first time these cross-country rivals face off will be January 17th in front of what should be a raucous pro-Laker crowd at the Staples Center. The Lakers will be looking to make a statement against the league's reigning champion and the Heat will be looking to return the favor to the team that everyone is starting to jump on as the next team to beat the Heat.
LeBron James, as well as his Heat teammates, will look to extinguish these ideas momentarily with a win on the road against the mighty Lakers.
We've seen how well the Heat respond to opponents that begin receiving a lot of hype. You all remember what happened to Jeremy Lin on his first trip to Miami.
January 30th at Brooklyn
LeBron James is the type of player that likes to make his entrance felt.
With his first trip to the Barclays Arena on January 30th, James should feel right at home playing in a brand new venue in front of fans that were calling him M-V-P last year.
While it's doubtful that James will receive those same chants from the people of Brooklyn, he'll still end up most likely having one of his bigger games because of the circumstances. Since he's been so successful playing in Manhattan against the Knicks, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him transfer that same energy to a different New York borough in Brooklyn.
This Nets team is even believed to be among the Eastern Conference's small class of elite teams. Although the team looks similar to last year's, the Nets will now be featuring a strengthened backcourt featuring Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, as well as getting center Brook Lopez back from an injury-plagued 2011-12 campaign.
With high-octane scorer MarShon Brooks coming off the bench after an impressive rookie season, the Nets could be looking to prove a few doubters wrong. If LeBron and the Heat see them as a potential threat, then they may play a little harder than they would against the New Jersey Nets team from last year.
Plus, it's an entirely new location and LeBron would love to leave his mark on it in the early-going.
February 21st at Chicago
Although Derrick Rose will most likely not be featured in this game due to recovery from his torn ACL, it is always an event to see the Miami Heat take on the Chicago Bulls in the unfriendliest of confines in the United Center.
For some reason, the Bulls faithful have developed a disdain for all things LeBron James, even though they were one of the six teams that were clamoring for his services in 2010. They are one of the few fanbases that still jeer LeBron whenever he touches the ball and also one of the few fanbases that believes their team is quality enough to beat the Miami Heat.
James hasn't had the greatest of success against the Bulls, but he's capable of anything if he puts his mind to it. Plus, with the Bulls selling off a number of key defenders off their bench, the lane should open up wider for LeBron as he no longer has to come across the likes of Omer Asik.
Also, with Ronnie Brewer out of the picture, James will mostly be defended by Luol Deng and possibly second-year player Jimmy Butler if he's in the rotation.
Either way, this should be a game for James to go off because he'll be feeding off the negative energy he receives from the crowd.
March 3rd at New York
You didn't think that LeBron James would limit his greatest performances to just one game against the New York Knicks, right?
While I don't doubt James' abilities to play just as well at home, let's face it: LeBron loves playing when he knows there are a lot of people watching and when a lot of those people don't like to see him play well.
There's no better environment for James than Madison Square Garden. The city that once embraced him in hopes that he would join their team has now become one of the most hostile environments for the Heat to play in. Throughout the two games the Heat played in their first-round series against the Knicks, the faithful weren't none too happy with James, which is why they peppered him with chants I can't say here.
Considering that this will be in the Garden, and that LeBron should be in midseason form, it's reasonable to believe that James will go off for a second time in the stadium that has housed some of his greatest moments, such as last year's 17-point fourth quarter in Game 3.
Plus, the month of March may be statement time for the Heat, as they face the brunt of their schedule that features a number of foes they may see in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
January 27th at Boston
With James being in midseason form by March, a matchup between the Heat and the Boston Celtics on January 27th should be one of the most anticipated games of the regular season.
Not because of LeBron, but because it'll be Ray Allen's first visit to Boston. The city that had respected Allen since he joined up with their squad in 2007 lost a lot of it upon Allen leaving. Even though the organization was just as cruel to Allen attempting to trade him, many still look at Allen as being selfish and a traitor for going to the Heat of all places.
Because you know how we should treat players that want to do nothing but win.
With this being the first visit back to Boston since his legendary performance in Game 6, it's going to be an incredibly ravenous crowd at the Garden—possibly one of the most hostile in years. There's a lot of bad blood between Miami and Boston and no player is going to take the brunt of that more than James, who was last seen at TD Garden with a beverage being poured on his head.
With this also being a game that could decide playoff seeding and who potentially sits atop the Eastern Conference, LeBron should be ready to have one of his better performances, especially if the 35-year-old Paul Pierce is going to be set to defend him.
March 20th at Cleveland
There are two meetings between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers this season, but with one of the games coming in the second-to-last game of the season, the March 20th meeting will be the only time for James to come out and perform his usual work on his former team.
Everybody remembers how well James played against Cleveland in his first meeting back and he's had consistent performances in the other two meetings he's had there, although the Heat lost one of the meetings near the end of the 2010-'11 season.
In his lone visit to Cleveland last year, James only needed 30 minutes to record 28 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the game was how inaudible the usual jeering and booing was for James. Although that may have been caused by the fact that the Heat were up by 20 as soon as the first quarter, it also seemed as if the Cavs' faithful had actually backed off of James at least compared to what he experienced the year prior.
It's tough to say whether or not James will have a big game in Cleveland. There's no doubt that he'd love to go off for a historic night in his old stomping ground, and while he may not have a choice considering the likely defenders, he may not get the chance because his team could be up by too large a margin to play extended minutes.
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