Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
How do you think LeBron is playing so far in these Finals?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Look, I’m weary of every game in every Finals -– wait, in every postseason series –- being a new referendum on LeBron James‘ greatness. The fixation people have with seeing him match Michael Jordan in taking over games as a scorer is misplaced, in my view. The strong Magic Johnson elements in James’ game means he makes other players better even when he’s not scoring — beyond Jordan’s knack for that, frankly. And I defy anyone to rattle off Johnson’s good games vs. off games in the Finals or anywhere else. If this Finals slips away before James can reassert himself in all his dominance, OK, some criticism is due. But it won’t redefine him or his legacy.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Tepidly. I didn’t have so much a problem in the first two games, because he was doing things to get his teammates involved and not trying to force the action. However, in Game 3 James appeared passive, settling for outside shots and rarely driving to the hoop or working in the low post. Has Kawhi Leonard gotten inside his head?
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not assertive enough. LeBron always seems so focused on making the “right” basketball play, getting the ball to a teammate if he believes it’s a better shot. It’s hard to fault a guy for doing that. I mean we rail on Kobe Bryant for just the opposite. With so much expected from star players and every play scrutinized, sometimes they just can’t win. But this series does remind some of 2011 when the Mavericks took LeBron way out of his comfort zone and he disappeared in the fourth quarters. I haven’t looked this up, but when’s the last time (probably the 2011 Finals) LeBron has scored 18, 17 and 15 points in three consecutive games? He didn’t even get to the free-throw line in Game 3. In the three games, he’s put up 13 shots from beyond the arc and has made three. Where’s post-up LeBron? He has to start getting in more comfortable positions where he can use his size to his advantage. Of course, the other side of that coin is that Spurs defender Kawhi Leonard, 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, is holding his ground.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s not playing poorly, but he’s shooting poorly. He’s 7-for-30 (23 percent) from outside the paint in the series. If he was shooting from outside the paint as well as he did in the regular season (42 percent), the Heat would probably be up 2-1. His lack of free throws (six in three games) is as much a product of the Spurs’ defense as it is of the way he’s playing. He could certainly force things a little more, but I think he’s making the right decisions with the ball for the most part. He’s just in the middle of a cold spell from the outside, and unfortunately, those seem to pop up at this time of year. He’s now 39-for-164 (24 percent) from outside the paint in 18 career Finals games.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: His legacy and all the other usual LeBron drama aside, he’s playing lousy. And that’s according to his own lofty standard. He looks nothing like the dominant player we watched all season. He’s allowed Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to frustrate him defensively in ways that I honestly did not expect they would or could (even though I did mention before this series started that LeBron vs. Leonard was the most intriguing matchup in The Finals). The good thing for him is that Game 4 offers up yet another blank canvas for the four-time MVP. But I have to admit, he looks a bit spent to me right now. His performance is eerily reminiscent of the way he played against Dallas in 2011. Not a single free-throw attempt in Game 3? He doesn’t seem completely engaged in this series right now and that has to change for his and the Heat’s sake.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He’s playing pretty well for any player not named LeBron James. Is he playing like a four-time MVP? Nope. What makes LeBron so perplexing right now is that we’ve seen him take games over on the offensive end, but so far he’s seemed mostly content to play “the right way,” finding the open player and making the right pass. But just because someone is open doesn’t always mean you need to find him with the skip pass. It is unbelievable to criticize a guy who has flirted with a triple-double in each of the NBA Finals games he’s played (and had it in one of the games). But with the Heat scuffling, that’s where we are.
Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: We’re definitely due one of LeBron’s banner performances in this series, and you know that’s coming. It usually comes just when people start questioning his performance, so that sounds like Game 4 will be such an occasion for James to step up. He has been OK, better than most, but surely we’ve come to expect much more out of the best player in the world. He needs to be more aggressive, get to the block more often and, hell, just for the sake of it, hit a couple of 3-pointers. That would frustrate the Spurs a lot.
Pawel Weszka, NBA Africa: LeBron’s struggles offensively. We know that he can take off at any time — that’s what we have been used to — but 16.7 points on 39 percent shooting per game in the Finals is his lowest in a series this postseason and is not going to cut it. Credit to Leonard and the Spurs, but James will have to be much more aggressive and influential if we are to keep mentioning his name next to Michael Jordan’s in one sentence as one of the greatest ever.