May 13th, 2010, LeBron James’s last game in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform, James walked off the court at Boston’s TD Garden in utter disgust, once again failing to fulfill his promise of bringing Cleveland its first ever Larry O’ Brien trophy.
July 8th, 2010, James shamelessly announces his widely anticipated “Decision” through the forever infamous phrase “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.”
April 16th, 2011, James will take the court at the American Airlines Arena for the Miami Heat, looking to earn his first-ever NBA championship. This time, however, James will be in a much different position.
James is now armed with two of the league’s best talents in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and probably has the best chance he has ever had at a championship. Regardless of the supporting cast, enormous pressure mounts James’s shoulders due to the fact that this is his eighth season and his guarantee that the city of Miami will be home to an NBA dynasty.
Let’s quickly go back to that infamous “Decision” day back in July. James’s rationale for choosing Miami was that it was where he would have the best chance to win multiple titles, granted that’s because he’d be playing with two other superstars, but in the potential situations in New York and Chicago, a championship would’ve been a much more daunting task.
Winning a title is a very challenging task regardless of the situation, but James has certainly put himself in the strongest position possible to win multiple rings.
The ultimate factor which makes this postseason so much more different for James is that he longer must carry the team by himself in order to win. James doesn’t necessarily want to be the guy taking the last shot like Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose do, but there’s no denying that he’s the best player on the court for the first 46 minutes of the game.
Ultimately, the Heat’s blueprint is LeBron James for the first 46 minutes, and Dwyane Wade for the last two.
Does that take a lot of the pressure off of James? Not necessarily. James was the one who guaranteed the Heat dynasty, plus let’s not forget that James ultimately wants to go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game. He’s received all the individual accolades and set many milestones; however, in order to cement his legacy among the greatest of all time, James needs championships.
Which bring us to the ultimate question: will this finally be James’ postseason? Will he finally take his team to the promise land?
I’ll be the first to admit, this was Derrick Rose’s regular season. Rose played outstandingly while carrying the Chicago Bulls to a league best 62-20 record, but James is the best overall player in the game today. The 2011 Cavaliers are true evidence that James is really the most valuable player every year.
But to answer the question, James has his best ever chance to win a title, and he’s primed for a breakout performance. The Heat ended the season about as hot as any team in the league, and much of that was due to James’ stellar play, which gradually improved as the year went along (James averaged 28 points a game post All-Star break).
I want to dispel this myth that James always comes up short in big games. James has played some of the best basketball of his career in big games. Remember Game Five of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons in which James scored 48 points, or even last year’s Celtics series, LeBron played an outstanding Game Three, scoring 38 in a blowout win.
James may have had a terrible Game Five against the Celtics in last year’s series, but he’s no choker.
James certainly has no easy path to the NBA finals. The Heat will easily get past the young 76ers; however, a potential second-round matchup against the Boston Celtics, and a potential Eastern Conference final against the Bulls show that the Heat has an uphill battle ahead.
I predict the Heat will ultimately get to the NBA finals, however, if it intends to win a title, James will have to play in spectacular fashion. Wade and Bosh alone can’t take the Heat to the promised land. Like previous years, a championship will come at the labor of the king.