Links: Playoffs Diary Day Three

by April 22, 2008

by Lang Whitaker

I guess one day people will learn: If you plan on beating LeBron James, you better bring something special to the party. Because odds are if you’ve watched any of his first two games this year in the Playoffs, you’ve probably seen something incredible. I’ve watched every minute he’s played thus far, and can only recall him taking off a few minutes in the second quarter of game one. And tonight? Forget about it.

If you missed it, LeBron had 30 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds in 39 minutes, and he led the Cavs over Washington to their biggest postseason win in franchise history, 116-86. And get a load of this stat (courtesy of TNT): In 12 career Playoff games against Washington, LeBron is averaging 32.3 ppg (on 49 pct from the field), to go with 7.8 rpg and 6.7 apg. And in those 12 games, the Cavs are 10-2.

Does this mean the Wizards will stop all their talking and start playing basketball?

Tonight was nothing but a blowout. All Washington’s swag, and they were beaten by one man. Granted, that man was playing dominant basketball, but still. How dominant? LeBron looked like Iron Man out there, blasting to the rim over and over, zooming up and down the court. They doubled him, he hit the open man. Single-covered him, he beat his man. Someone rotated, he found the open man. Heck, check out his plus/minus for the game. Amazing.

Other than LeBron, the Cavs really don’t have much there. Ben Wallace is shell of his former self, Wally Sexyback is strictly a spot-up shooter, Delonte West can’t keep his cool. If Washington could stop LeBron, they could win some games in this series. But they haven’t stopped LeBron, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to for the rest of the series.

Actually, Brendan Haywood figured out one way to stop him, at least than I can see: Make him afraid to come inside. Giving hard fouls on LeBron is actually a pretty good strategy, because he hasn’t shot his free throws exceedingly well (18-31) and maybe you can wear him out. But the Wizards sure have painted themselves into a corner. Coming into the series, the Wizards announced their plans to be physical with LeBron, which gave Cleveland plenty of time to make sure every referee in the NBA (and every suit in the NBA marketing department) was aware of this. This is our superstar, everyone agreed, and we must not allow him to be injured. So now, every time Bron drives, those whistles are blowing.

More and most importantly, LeBron keeps driving. He ain’t never scared.

And he sure is fun to watch.

Down in Houston, the Rockets handed over Game Two, 90-84, putting them down two games heading into Utah, and meaning Dikembe Mutombo is probably on the phone right now with his travel agent looking into booking a tropical vacation starting early next week. (“Hey ocean, you still work for beach?”)

Houston actually played pretty well, considering their entire offense is just Tracy McGrady dribbling around and either creating a shot or passing it out to Bobby Jackson for a long jumper. Yao Ming could run out there carrying the Olympic torch and being chased by a band of protesters wearing Rockets jerseys, and Utah would still just keep moving the ball around the perimeter and trying to slip it to Boozer along the baseline. Utah is the constant, the K. Houston’s just getting KO’d.

To their credit, the Rockets are a scrappy bunch. They kept this game close and then had the ball down three with about 30 seconds left when Luis Scola made a rookie mistake, even though he’s in his late 40s, by fouling Kirilenko and effectively ending the game. As I type this, Rick Adelman is stammering through a press conference about how the Rockets played as well as they could play and they still lost. I’m waiting for him to start waving a white flag.

Some other random thoughts…

• What’s worse in the Cavs’ pregame introductions: LeBron and Basketball Jones pretending to hold up mirrors and let each other adjust their looks, or Damon looking directly into the TNT camera afterward to make sure it had been on camera?

• Washington doubled LeBron some, but shouldn’t they be doubling him from the minute LeBron gets out of his car?

• Reggie Miller was dead on when he pointed out that Washington really had “no assembleance of an offense.” Insightful.

• With the way LeBron zips about on the court, it’s easy to forget how strong he is. But there was one play in the fourth quarter where Bron was around the free throw line driving to his right to the basket, with Antonio Daniels trying to guard him. Daniels was just a little bit off-balance, and LeBron slammed his right shoulder into Daniels, who went soaring out of bounds along the baseline. And a foul was called on Daniels. But Bron just shrugged him off about 12 feet.

• If Cleveland doesn’t add some personnel next season, LeBron should opt out of his deal and take the minimum to go play on a great team for a year or two. Imagine if he went to Boston or L.A.? He doesn’t need the cash, so let him create a legacy as the guy who left the money behind in his prime in order to win championships.

• That’ll never happen, but still.

• Mike Brown has no excuse for playing LeBron for 40 minutes, either. Give that man a rest, especially when they’re trying to take him out.

• I can’t believe Dan Gilbert hasn’t thought of this yet: at Cleveland home games they should sell Ben Wallace Cotton Candy, where they dye it black and puff it out like Big Ben’s hair.

• I bet a Playoff team never thought they’d desperately need Rafer Alston to return from injury.

• Kevin Harlan referred to Craig Sager as “our award-winning reporter.” I didn’t think Mr. Blackwell counted.

Your turn…