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LeBron's Burden

Game 7 isn’t strictly about LeBron James.

He’ll play a major role and his team absolutely needs him to have a great game, but the NBA Finals aren’t about one man. That won’t stop fans and many members of the media from going after the four-time MVP if the Miami Heat come up short in their effort to win their second consecutive title. But it shows that many people have missed the overwhelming theme of the series: Teams, not individuals, win championships. The team that has played harder and smarter – minus a little Heat luck in Game 6 – has been the winner through the first six games. That won’t change in Game 7.

James won’t beat the Spurs by himself as Tony Parker won’t beat the Heat by himself.

Both men will take the lead for their teams, but a one-man show probably won’t happen. It’s the beautiful thing about this year’s NBA Finals; it’s truly about team. Sure, you have to watch the games to understand that as much of the media fascination is still focused on James’ legacy and future if the Heat lose tonight. Looking at it from that perspective makes James someone that should be admired even more than he already is. His game is worshipped, but he does a pretty good job of staying focused and dealing with the pressure of being LeBron James.

The guy doesn’t get a break.

Every play is magnified and examined. Every success is measure up against Michael Jordan, the best to ever play. And each failure is overplayed and exaggerated as if his career is filled with personal and team success. It’s an impossible situation, at least viewing it from the outside. James, however, keeps it in perspective and accepts the scrutiny as a piece of a bigger blessing, which says a lot of LeBron James the man.

“Yeah, it is what it is,” James said. “That's okay. It won't stop me from loving the game, playing at a high level, doing it for my teammates, putting that uniform on.

“First of all, I mean, I'm blessed, man. I don't even know how I got here. I wasn't supposed to be in the NBA, if you go by statistics and things growing up where I grew up. Every time I go into my locker room and see the "James" on the back of an NBA jersey, I'm like wow, no criticism can deter me from playing this game because of that. I'm not supposed to be here. The fact that I'm doing what I'm doing and doing it for my teammates, it's all that matters.”

These types of things get lost in the immediate result, and subsequent fallout, of the game.

Before the game begins people are ready to pounce, preparing their best jokes or criticism of the league’s best player. It doesn’t matter that Dwyane Wade is hurting. It doesn’t matter that Chris Bosh is, for the most part, ineffective. It doesn’t even seem to matter that the Spurs are a great team.

Only James and what the win or loss means for him and his legacy.

It’s more pressure than I’ve seen any other athlete deal with. But I don’t feel sorry for James; I respect him. Like he said, considering his circumstances growing up, well, it could be a hell of a lot worse than one game for the NBA championship.

Searching For Ginobili

It’s time for Manu Ginobili to contribute.

Through the first four games of the NBA Finals, Ginobili hasn’t given the San Antonio Spurs much help. In fact, it can be said that Ginobili is even hurting his team’s chances at winning the title.

Dwyane Wade went through a similar stretch for the Heat before having a breakout performance in Game 4. He reminded everyone how great he is while fueling his team to a huge Game 4 victory. There is no doubt the Heat found energy from Wade’s effort; it’s Ginobili’s turn to provide his team with the same type of performance.

The Spurs will tell you their success isn’t based around one guy and will preach their team-first philosophy to anyone that will listen. Without a doubt, their team concept has been proven successful, but it only works when their key guys are leading the way. Ginobili, at this point, has been a key guy in name only. Through the first four games of the Finals, Ginobili is averaging 7.5 points on 34 percent shooting. If the Spurs are to win their fifth NBA championship, Ginobili must find a way to break out of his funk and give his team something they can use towards a win.

Game 5 will provide the two-time All-Star with the perfect stage to change his standing in the series. It’s a must-win game for both teams and there is an understanding on both sides that nothing can be held back.

“This game is huge,” Ginobili said. “We don't want to go to Miami knowing that we have to win both. Going there to win one of the two is a different situation. So Game 5 regardless of where you play, it's huge for you at 2-2. We've seen it too many times. We really want to win this one.”

While he seems to understand the magnitude of the game, Ginobili also believes his team is good enough to win in spite of his struggles. He trusts the system and doesn’t seem like he’s willing to go outside of it to find his own offense.

“I trust the system, I trust my teammates and I try to force a little less and find my teammates,” said Ginobili. “I didn’t have a super game in Game 3 and we won by 30. It’s a matter of us not me. Of course the team needs me to play better, much better. But I I don’t I think we have the resources to overcome anyone we play against.”

There is something admirable about a player that is willing to take a step back when he’s struggling. Many times guys will force offense and play outside of themselves and their system. There are also times where it’s necessary to be a little selfish in search of a groove. Tim Duncan suggested that time may have arrived for his teammate.

“I think he's just trying to be incredibly unselfish right now,” Duncan said. “I think he's trying to make the right play at the right time. He's trying to make the right pass, make the defense move instead of looking more for his own. So I think he's just trying to make the right play more than anything. We need him to be a little more aggressive, be a little more selfish, maybe and hopefully we can find him a way to get him to do that.”

The bottom line is his team needs him to do more, a lot more. Their core is older and the league is changing. This may be the last chance the Spurs have to win with this collection of players. There has been talk of retirement after the season, but none of that really matters today. All that really matters is how Ginobili plays the rest of this series. He doesn’t need to be Superman; he doesn’t even need to be Dwyane Wade. Ginobili just needs to be better for two more games and if he can do that the Spurs will improve their chances of winning their fifth title.

Dwyane Wade's Game 4 Arrival, Masterpiece

Most people expected a Game 4 explosion from LeBron James. He vowed to be better and more aggressive after the Miami Heat lost by 36 points to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3. What we saw was Dwyane Wade finally make a statement in these NBA Finals.

Whether it’s due to injury, frustration or good defense from the Spurs, Wade has struggled to make a lasting positive impact on the series. In Game 4, however, he was the Heat’s catalyst, setting the tone and leading the way to victory, tying the series at 2-2. Wade also gave everyone a reminder of how he can change a game. It’s hard to truly understand his impact while watching him struggle through injury. There is also the issue of his contributions, large or small, being overshadowed by the attention paid to James, his more famous teammate. After his latest performance, there won’t be many doubting what he can do and how important he is to the Heat’s success. Contrary to popular belief, the Heat have more than one All-Star on the roster.

“No matter how great you are, no matter what your résumé is, to have a game like this,” James said. “It lets you know that you're still one bad ‑‑ you know the next two words. I can't say, my kids may be watching. That dude was amazing. Like I said, he was '06 Flash tonight. And we needed every bit of him.”

There is no doubt that Wade needed to have a big game. Not only for his teammates, not only to silence the critics – those that haven’t completely forgotten about him – he needed to gain some confidence that he could have a big game in spite of the injury and still contribute top-tier performances for his team.

Wade was aggressive from the start of the game. He attacked offensively and disrupted the Spurs with his defense. Finishing the game with 32 points, six rebounds, four assist and a playoff career-high six steals, Wade controlled the game and set the tone for the champs. It was his best game of the playoffs and a performance that could serve as a springboard for the remainder of the Finals.

“I needed a game like this, but my teammates needed a game like this from me,” Wade said. “They needed me to be aggressive, needed me to play the way that I'm capable of. Most important, they needed the Big Three to play the way we're capable of.”

Things only get tougher for Wade and the Heat following their Game 4 victory. They’ve been great following losses, but so far in the Finals neither team has been able win consecutive games. Wade, until his breakout performance, hasn’t been able to put together complete game performances. If the Heat have any chance of winning Wade is going to need to be as good as he was in Game 4, maybe better.

It’s a challenge he understands and is looking forward to.

“I think Game 5 should be the best game of the series,” Wade said. “Both teams should come out knowing each other, knowing what each other want to do, and it should be a very good game.”

Heat Seek Bounce Back In Game 4

Win or lose, LeBron James is ready to make a statement in Game 4. He won’t forget about his teammates, understanding he wouldn’t be in the Finals without them, but he understands it’s time to place his signature on the series for something more than a spectacular block or bad shooting night.

Spurs Looking To Shoot Better, Take Care Of Ball In Game 3

The Spurs have shown they can win playing while below their standards and now they have to find a way to make shots and play the type of basketball that led to a 12-2 record to reach the Finals. The first step in that process is playing better in Game 3.

Ray Allen's Choice

Only Ray Allen can tell you what he really felt about the way he was treated after deciding to leave the Celtics, but none of that really matters. He’s four wins away from his second NBA title and his decision to join the Heat has been validated. That, however, wasn’t what this was all about.

Spurs Start Fast With Game 1 Win

The Spurs have drawn first blood by winning Game 1. The bigger problem for the Heat is it appears the Spurs can play better. They’ve waited six years to get back to the Finals and it’s clear they plan on making the most of the opportunity.

Stephenson Has Become Pacers' X-Factor

The difference for the Pacers has been Lance Stephenson; they win when he plays well and lose when he doesn’t. It’s been this way the throughout the playoffs where Stephenson has shown the world he has potential to be a really good player if he can become more consistent.

Cavaliers Moving Past Being Defined By LeBron's Departure

The luck of the lottery, combined with the Cavaliers' young talent has made the ending with James easier to move on from. These days, the disappointment of that situation is a memory more than a motivating factor for Cleveland.

Thunder Head Into Offseason Early, Weakened From Season Ago

Had the Thunder been patient and truly believed in the strength of their program, they would have discovered that James Harden is better than good. Meanwhile, the Thunder are left with the burden of finding the right guys to get the team back to contender status.

Carmelo's Next Step

Carmelo Anthony cannot truly become a great player until he consistently makes great plays that go beyond simply scoring. The championship chances of the Knicks depend on Anthony’s willingness to do more than shoot the ball.

Dwight Howard's Choices

An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his nine-year career, Dwight Howard will have to choose the franchise that best positions him to grow as a player and compete for championships. The time has come for Howard to decide whether he wants to be an all-time great player, or just a player that was good for his time.

Bulls Playing On House Money Without Rose, Possibly Noah

The Bulls finished the season 5-5 over their final 10 games. While the record is disappointing, they know they're much better than they've played. Leaving the regular season behind, the Bulls are looking forward to getting the playoffs started and reminding everyone what they're capable of when healthy and focused.

Celtics Rested, Ready To Go

The Celtics, old as they may be, are still capable of playing good basketball, that we know, but will they have enough in the tank to compete for another title? Rested and healthy, the Celtics are confident that a deep playoff run is not only possible, it's probable.

Bucks Struggling Ahead Of Heat Series

The Bucks are are expected to put up a fight against the Heat, with enough talented pieces to be a dangerous team with nothing to lose. But they are finishing the regular season looking far more like a lottery team.

Realities Changing For Lakers

In the past, a player could easily be swayed to come to play for the Lakers. Who wouldn't want to play for a franchise with such a rich history and strong fanbase? Who wouldn't want to play for the Buss family and add to the tradition? But the NBA has changed and so has the perception.

Given Minutes In Orlando, Tobias Harris Is Thriving

Tobias Harris has gone from benchwarmer to trade throw-in and now he's widely seen as nice young piece with a lot of upside for the Magic. Needless to say he appreciates his new role.

Miami's Win Streak In Real Perspective

One of the most admirable things the Heat have shown us is that even the most talented team isn't opposed to the idea of growth and maturity, elements that have been at the forefront of their season. Winning the championship only made them hungrier for more championships. The same thinking can be applied to their historic streak.

Oklahoma City's New Third Star

Serge Ibaka has truly benefitted from not trying to replace James Harden. Accepting and knowing his role has allowed him to win the respect of his teammates and made his job a lot easier.

Kings Juggling Talent, Immaturity

Without a doubt the Kings have a locker room filled with talent and also immaturity. Many times the latter overwhelms the former and results in a team getting drubbed regularly and developing a losing culture where the individual becomes the focus.

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