TORONTO - It is not fair to blame LeBron James for all that ails the Miami Heat, a team constructed to run roughshod on the NBA that instead sits perilously close to destruction.
But, like it or not, it is James, the league’s MVP and most dominant force who will get almost all of the pushback should the Heat succumb to the relentless Boston Celtics.
That’s the price of being James, the cost of alienating so many basketball fans with past bad behaviour — albeit off of the court and none of it criminal — and the burden of being perhaps the best player ever to pick up a basketball not to have an NBA championship.
In reality though, it isn’t James who has let the Heat down.
He has averaged a shade under 30 points per game in the playoffs and has actually upped his average to 31.8 points per game against the Celtics on 50% shooting.
Yes, he blew a chance to win a game with a buzzer-beater, but that happens.
Far more troubling has been the play of Dwyane Wade, who, with a championship already in hand from his work with Shaquille O’Neal, seems to oddly be going through the motions at times.
The consistent hustle and dominance we’ve seen so often from Wade has been absent.
He has shot only 45.6% from the field, far worse than what he managed against his previous playoff opponents and damningly didn’t run the floor late in the Game 5 loss, allowing Boston to score easily.
He needs to be better.
Miami has also suffered from the absence of Chris Bosh and from the refusal of head coach Erik Spoelstra to play Bosh more than 14 minutes upon his return, a mistake.
LeBron has nothing to do with either of those failings, nor is he at fault for the horrific play of the rest of his teammates.
James and Wade are creating all kinds of daylight for Shane Battier, yet the veteran forward has missed 19-of-27 attempts from three. Meanwhile, Mario Chalmers is 5-for-22 from deep and just 13-for-22 from the free throw line.
Over the course of the five games, James, with apologies to Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo has been the most consistently excellent player on the court.
"I think we played good enough to give ourselves a chance to win, and that's all you can ask for," James said after Game 5.
But, the thing is, “good enough” won’t cut it.
For the next two games, James needs to be all but perfect.
His legacy could be at stake.
Wade gets it.
“For us, it’s championship or bust,” he said before heading back to Boston.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING?
“That’s why they play the games” might be a cliché, but it is accurate. Strange things happen in sports. Even if certain things don’t come about very often, at times they do and that’s what makes sports so interesting.
Case in point: Heading into the 2012 playoffs only three teams had come back from 0-2 deficits after losing twice at home (2005 Dallas Mavericks, 1994 Houston Rockets — the eventual champions — and the 1969 Los Angeles Lakers.
Now it might happen two more times in the same year if Oklahoma City and Boston can complete their shocking comebacks.
Only 6% of teams come back from an 0-2 deficit whether home or away.
RAPTORS GOING SHOPPING
It’s no secret the Raptors are aggressively shopping for a talent upgrade at guard or small forward.
Memphis small forward Rudy Gay and Philadelphia swingman Andre Iguodala have long topped the wish list of the club and ESPN put fuel on the fire on Wednesday by reiterating as much.
However, according to sources, the report that the Raptors have been trying to package a young player like Ed Davis with the No. 8 selection and a veteran (Jose Calderon or Andrea Bargnani, according to the report) is not entirely accurate.
The Raptors are not inclined to both solve the salary cap problems of a team like Memphis by taking on Gay as well as surrendering that significant a package of assets and have let that be known.
The price would likely have to come down for Toronto to agree to a deal.
The Raptors front office is in Chicago for the draft combine.
Though the top prospects maddeningly don’t tend to do a whole lot on the court at the combine, it’s still a chance to get their measurements and see what they are all about from a mental standpoint.
The Raptors own the No. 8 selection of the first round, as well as two second-round picks.
Raptors president/general manager Bryan Colangelo said last month that he believes No. 37: “Is a pick that might be a player that can add something to this roster.
“There’s some players that get you a little bit excited … 37 looks pretty strong.”
Colangelo indicated the 56th pick was a good candidate to be moved in a deal, or used to select a player who will be stashed overseas.
AROUND THE RIM
Both sides have poured cold water on any talk of Phil Jackson to Orlando. According to ESPN, former Portland and Memphis executive Tom Penn has emerged as the favourite to become Orlando’s general manager … Celtics centre Greg Stiemsma and Hornets forward Lance Thomas have been added to USA Basketball’s select team. They, along with teammates like rookie of the year Kyrie Irving and Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, will train against the U.S. senior team … Once known as the Big Ticket, Garnett has certainly lived up to that nickname, earning a cool $291.4 million US over the course of his career, according to Business Insider. For the sake of comparison, Michael Jordan only took home $89.8 million in salary and LeBron James has earned $92.5 million so far.