HoopsHabit – Damian Lillard vs. Kyrie Irving: Who Had The Better Rookie Season?

The last two Rookie of the Year Award winners are dynamic point guards who have bright futures in the NBA. Here’s my HoopsHabit breakdown comparing the rookie seasons of Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard.

Lessons From Week 1

After the first full week of NBA action, it’s still hard to tell who going to be worth watching and who’s going to fall off the map. But to provide some context going forward, here are just a few things we’ve learned so far.

1. The Blazers and Rockets are fun to watch again. Why? Well it’s mostly because of rookie sensation Damian Lillard and James Harden’s ridiculously impressive first week in Houston. Lillard has lit it up so far with 19.3 points, 8 assists and 3.8 rebounds through four games. At this pace, Lillard is a frontrunner in the Rookie of the Year race and singlehandedly makes Portland worth watching. Meanwhile, James Harden is having an even more prolific start with his new team. Everyone was impressed by Harden’s opening night when he dropped 37 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 1 block, but no one thought he’d follow that performance up with a career high 45 points to go with 7 assists in his second game. The Blazers held him to 24 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists (yes, Harden has been so good so far that people are calling a 24-6-5 statline “holding” him), but Harden looks like a truly dynamic shooting guard and deserves player of the week honors without a doubt. We’re still very early in the season and we might not get to say this for much longer, but at this point, James Harden is the frontrunner in the MVP race. But no, the Thunder made a great trade for their second/third-best player. Speaking of which…

James Harden is tearing it up in Houston. But who’s really feeling his wrath right now?…

2. A few teams are off to rocky starts and need to develop chemistry. Although the Oklahoma City Thunder are not at the top of this list, it’s undeniable that OKC has struggled without The Beard around. Kevin Martin has certainly done his part providing instant offense off the bench, but Russell Westbrook has struggled mightily in their two losses, shooting 11-for-39 in those two defeats. Serge Ibaka hasn’t been able to get in a rhythm offensively either, which leaves only Kevin Durant and Martin to pull the load offensively. This could explain losses to a San Antonio team without Manu Ginobili and a Hawks squad without Josh Smith, but the truth is, ever since Harden took off for Houston, OKC was doomed in a small way. Martin will play his role off the bench, but the chemistry and offensive stability Harden brought by handling the ball, running the offense and attacking the basket (especially when Westbrook and KD get too trigger-happy with their jumpers) is irreplaceable. Unless Scott Brooks finds a better offense in the fourth quarter other than have Westbrook dribble around for 18 seconds before launching a jumper or turning the ball over trying to feed Durant, this team will continue to struggle.

However, OKC’s struggles pale in comparison to some other teams that were predicted to be contenders this year. Boston is supposed to be Miami’s biggest competition in the East, but lost by 11 to Milwaukee at home and looked just as bad in a narrow victory over the lowly, John Wall-less Wizards. Doesn’t look like much of a contender to me right now. Then again, the Celtics are still trying to adjust to having Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger in the lineup regularly in addition to missing Avery Bradley. And I expressed early-season concerns about the Celtics last year too, but they turned things around and were one dominant LeBron James game away from another NBA Finals appearance.

Meanwhile, one Western Conference contender has started their season at 0-3: the Denver Nuggets. After two horrendously uninspired and offensively challenged performances to start the season, the Nuggets came to play in their third game. Unfortunately, that game was on the road against Miami and big nights from Ray Allen and Chris Bosh resulted in another disappointing loss for Denver. Ty Lawson has looked timid and isn’t popping open jumpers like he usually does, Andre Iguodala hadn’t looked offensively competent until the Miami game and George Karl isn’t giving JaVale McGee enough minutes for some confounding reason. The only bright spot so far has been Danilo Gallinari, who is proving how valuable he can be when he’s completely healthy. Denver will figure things out if Iggy and Lawson start scoring more, but how many minutes McGee gets could hold this team back unless Karl transfers Kosta Koufos to a bench role. Luckily for Denver, their next game is against the Pistons. If the Lakers could turn things around with all their chemistry issues against Detroit, so can Denver.

And speaking of the Lakers, Los Angeles should be just fine once they figure things out. Despite the fact they won their first game without Steve Nash, the Lakers should be better once he returns, especially if Mike Brown stops trying to make his questionable Princeton offense work. The Lakers have struggled on the defensive end and Nash hasn’t had an impact yet, but Kobe Bryant will always give you 20+ points and Dwight Howard looks like he’s getting back to Superman form after dropping 28 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks on the Pistons. Then again, the Lakers were 0-3 before and their only win of the season is against the Pistons. Not exactly inspiring. However, if Brown realizes his team needs to play more up-tempo with Steve Nash (and use the pick-and-roll for goodness sake) and the Lakers have more time to develop team chemistry, they will still be a contender when May comes around. However, not every team in the NBA is struggling right now, with a few teams trying to step things up this season…

Los Angeles has a star-studded cast, but the Lakeshow hasn’t been very good so far.

3. Two teams to keep an eye on are the Knicks and Bucks. Right now, the Knicks are the best team in the East. Sure, the inspiration of playing for a city devastated by Hurricane Sandy probably played a big factor in New York’s opening 20-point victory over LeBron James and the Heat, but Carmelo Anthony and company backed it up with two dominant performances against a good Sixers team. The 46.8% 3-point shooting won’t continue forever, but for now it’s an elite force in the NBA. Melo is playing hard on both sides of the ball, Steve Novak is draining threes and J.R. Smith finally looks like he’s worn off the rust from playing in China, shooting 62 percent from 3-point range. But just as vital has been the leadership and intelligence Jason Kidd brings to the lineup. The Knicks may be old, but they’ve got experience and depth now. Here’s hoping Amare Stoudemire doesn’t screw that equation up once he returns (he probably will though).

In Milwaukee, Brandon Jennings is proving why he deserves a contract extension as one of the league’s better point guards by averaging 17 points and 13 assists through two games. He’s outshone leading scorer Monta Ellis so far this season and has been clutch for his team: not only did he hit a game-winning fadeaway 3-pointer to down Cleveland, but he also hit some key shots to help finish off Boston in the Bucks’ opener. And despite back-to-back disappointing performances from Ersan Ilyasova, guys like Mike Dunleavy and Larry Sanders have stepped up to contribute on offense. Whether these kind of role players will continue to contribute all season remains to be seen, but for now, the Bucks don’t look half-bad. However, two of the best teams in the league are still indisputable.

Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Jennings have been lights out for their teams so far.

4. The Heat and Spurs are still elite.  They may have gotten stomped in Madison Square Garden, but the Knicks certainly had a lot more inspiration going into the game. And after squashing a much better performance from Denver, there’s no doubt the Heat are still a dominant force in the NBA. LeBron James will continue to do it all, Dwyane Wade contributes across the board, Chris Bosh has shown he still has a knack for high-scoring nights and Ray Allen has been superb off the bench. Miami’s defense could use a little work, but it’s still early in the season. Plus, nothing helps a team’s defense quite like playing the offensively inept Phoenix Suns. In the West, San Antonio has raced out to a 4-0 record, the first in franchise history, with two of those victories coming without Manu Ginobili. People forget how close the Spurs were to sweeping the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals last year, but as healthy and youthful as Tim Duncan looks right now, San Antonio should be in the front-running for their conference. So even though Ginobili’s availability has been up-and-down recently, the Spurs are still a tough game every night. But they’re not the only team who have missed a key player lately…

Tim Duncan seems to have turned back time in the West, while the Heat remain a dominant force in the East.

5. The Pacers, Mavericks and Sixers need their superstar back. The Pacers without Danny Granger have been inconsistent at best. Paul George has done well with more responsibility, but not well enough to replace Granger’s scoring. Veteran David West has stepped up on offense for Indiana, but Roy Hibbert’s uninspiring and all-around dismal play in the middle leaves a lot to be desired for somebody who’s 7’2″. In fact, George is leading the team with 10.5 rebounds per game, compared to Hibbert’s 7.8. Narrow victories over the Raptors and Kings don’t give a lot of hope, while a loss to the lowly Bobcats and a blowout loss against the Spurs are even worse. Here’s hoping Granger gets healthy fast, or Indiana will fall very short of the compelling force in the East they were last year.

In Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki is steadily making progress in trying to return to the floor, but it will still be awhile before he’s back in full swing. The Mavericks have actually done pretty well without Dirk at 3-1, as Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo have proved they’re not that hack backups they were last season for their old teams. Even Brandan Wright stepped up with Chris Kaman sitting out with a calf injury, and now that Kaman’s back and getting limited minutes, the Mavs are even stronger in the paint. However, as decent as this team is now, imagine what they could be with Dirk back on the floor. And although Andrew Bynum hasn’t played a game in a Sixers uniform yet, Philadelphia could definitely use him on the floor. Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young have been decent in the post, but Bynum’s presence could elevate the Sixers to a whole new level, especially since Jrue Holiday has been having a breakout season so far. But even without superstars on the floor, these teams can all contend better than the scrubs of the league, such as….

The Sixers could really step up their game if Andrew Bynum gets healthy.

6. The Detroit Pistons might be the NBA’s worst team. At 0-3, with one of those losses coming to the 1-3 Phoenix Suns, Detroit looks awful in all facets. From Rodney Stuckey’s unprecedented/appalling/couldn’t-throw-a-penny-in-the-ocean 1-for-23 shooting to start the season to Greg Monroe’s entirely underwhelming performances, the Pistons could be the new Bobcats for the 2012-13 season. But don’t forget to mention the Sacramento Kings at 1-3 and the Washington Wizards who have yet to win a game. And of course,the Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Bobcats aren’t far behind with only one victory each. But on the uprise are the New Orleans Hornets and the Orlando Magic, who both have two victories so far despite the Hornets’ awful record last year and the Magic’s expected pitfall without Dwight Howard.

Since Stuckey’s only hit one shot this season, it’s likely this was a miss.

Joe Johnson Heading To Brooklyn

The Atlanta Hawks and the Nets have agreed in principle to a trade that would send All-Star guard Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. The deal was contingent upon Deron Williams resigning with the Nets at first, but eventually went through anyway, regardless of whether Williams returns or not. Atlanta will clear out a huge amount of cap space with Johnson’s enormous contract out of the way and will receive Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson and a 2013 lottery protected first round pick.

In the short term, this seems like a questionable trade for Atlanta, but with the big picture in mind, getting rid of Johnson is the first step in trying to assemble a team that can actually compete for an NBA title in the future. Johnson hasn’t lived up to the giant $119 million contract he signed two years ago with Atlanta and at this point, it seems the Hawks have accepted that they can’t contend for a championship with only Josh Smith and the overpaid Johnson leading the way. Shopping Johnson clears up a large amount of money to put pieces around Josh Smith, and although the likes of Morrow, Farmar and Stevenson does’t give much hope for the 2012-13 season, rest assured the Hawks will put their new draft pick to good use and make some big offseason moves to turn things around.

For Brooklyn, this deal is extremely questionable. Aside from nearly sending away their entire bench, the Nets may have just eliminated themselves from the Dwight Howard sweepstakes for this year. Even worse, they may not end up with anything now that the deal is underway without Deron Williams committing to Brooklyn first. Williams and Joe Johnson pairing up would make a formidable backcourt, but there’s no question the Nets would rather have had Superman and Williams over Johnson and Williams. And at this point, they might not even get Williams, meaning the Nets could lose their All-Star point guard, miss out on Howard, send away almost all of their reserves and end up with only Joe Johnson’s large contract to show for it. The fate of the Nets lies with Williams now, as they wait for him to make his decision between Brooklyn and his hometown Dallas Mavericks. But for the time being, the Nets’ big offseason plans may end with Johnson and fall well short of any dreams fans had of seeing Dwight Howard and Deron Williams on the floor together.

The Nets acquired Joe Johnson from Atlanta but have ruined their Dwight Howard plans. Things could get really ugly if Deron Williams doesn’t resign with Brooklyn.

“World Peace” and Lakers Haters

A highly anticipated Sunday matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder turned ugly pretty quick after Metta World Peace got so excited from a dunk he felt the need to elbow James Harden in the head as hard as he could. Watching it live, it didn’t look particularly severe or intentional; watching the dozens of replays that followed immediately proved otherwise. The irony of “Metta World Peace” making such an idiotic and downright despicable play was immediately clear as everyone hammered him and the Lakers on Twitter and Facebook while LA fans tried to come up with some clever response to what had just happened.

Now I’ve never liked Ron Artest (from here on out I don’t care what his name is, I’m never referring to him as “World Peace” again) because I’m a Phoenix Suns fan. His buzzer-beater changed momentum in a playoff series that ended my favorite team’s hopes of going to the Finals. And as an ASU student, I love James Harden and his epic beard, especially since he’s having such a breakout year. So I’m sure any Lakers fans reading this are going to accuse me of being biased. But let me assure that when I wrote this post, I considered both sides and wrote it in a fair and strictly professional way. With that being said, there are times in sports when it’s acceptable for there to be haters because of the actions of some players, and this is certainly one of those moments.

Artest’s elbow on James Harden was a disgrace to the game and if he isn’t banned for more than 10 games, I will be disgusted. You can say all you want that maybe it wasn’t intentional because he wasn’t looking at Harden when he threw the elbow, but even if he just felt the presence of someone next to him, how does it make sense that he maliciously threw the elbow and followed through? He knew what he was doing, whether he was looking at him or not. He tried to explain to the referee that he was just pumped up and beating his chest, but I don’t recall the last time someone in the NBA beat their chest and threw an elbow while doing it. So there’s no question that after such an awful play, Laker haters were in heaven. They had another valid reason to hate on the team they previously could only resent because of their success.

To be fair, Lakers fans have to deal with a lot of hating. And until last year, it was mostly because Kobe Bryant and his team were so successful (although it’s also true a lot of fans dislike Kobe because of the rape allegations a few years ago). But whatever the case, sports fans will be sports fans; Laker haters make comments about the integrity of the organization and Kobe any chance they get and LA fans respond with generic comments reminding everyone about how historically successful their franchise has been. I admit, I’ve hated on the Lakers before just because of how long they’ve been successful and how great Kobe Bryant has been in his career (especially on my poor Phoenix Suns). And that may seem two-faced of me considering how one of my team’s former players, Raja Bell, was responsible for one of the biggest cheap shots in NBA history on Kobe Bryant. But Raja Bell doesn’t play for Phoenix anymore and found no love in my heard for that horrendous excuse for a foul; in fact, I condemned him after that play and wanted him out of my team’s uniform immediately, something I had no problem telling anyone who would listen. But I didn’t hear anything like that from Laker fans yesterday.

To all my Lakers fans, I have to say this: While it’s been unfair for most people to hate on the Lakers in the past for the reason of resenting success, there’s a legitimate reason to do so now. Artest’s blatant elbow to Harden’s head was a disgrace to the game and he should be fined and suspended for at least 10 games. But what a lot of people should remember is that this isn’t the first time this kind of crap has happened with the Lakers. There was Andrew Bynum’s ridiculous body check on J.J. Barea in the playoffs last year, followed by him taking his shirt off in an immediate ejection. Lamar Odom’s hit on Dirk Nowitzki was completely disrespectful and got him ejected in the same game. And who could forget the fact that Ron Artest is a repeat offender after the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004? So is there any question that Laker haters actually have a legitimate reason now?

Artest is a repeat offender. A ban of no less than 10 games should happen here.

It’s wrong to hate on a team because of their success, and at some point in our sports-loving lives, we’ve all been guilty of it. But the fact is, it still happens and that’s never going to change. Lakers fans, Steelers fans, Yankees fans and a lot of other great teams know this already. But after things like this happen, I don’t blame fans for jumping on the “HATE L.A.” bandwagon. And something else to consider is that Lakers fans aren’t making things any easier on themselves with their sarcastic, anti-Laker hater tweets defending such an indefensible act. A few of them admitted how disgusted they were with what he did, but the majority were already on the defensive because of the barrage of Artest-hating sentiments that were raining down. Rightfully so, and I’m not saying Lakers fans should go choose another team to support just because of what Artest did. But when your first move as a “true fan” is to go on the offensive to defend your team and ignore what happened after such an egregious act, you (and your team by extension) don’t deserve the rest of the league’s respect.

The Thunder losing the game and Kevin Durant disappearing like that was absolutely disturbing. They had a reason to win and someone to play for and completely choked. But it’s not inexplicable; after that elbow, OKC lost their third best player and all the Lakers lost was Artest. LA was actually better off without him, as Jordan Hill had a terrific game. And sure, LA took the lead, won it in double overtime and got everyone in the Staples Center fired up, but anyone who wasn’t a Laker fan wanted them to lose, especially after Staples Center gave Artest a standing ovation as he left the court. It felt like injustice. I’ve never been more disgusted watching a team win a basketball game in my entire life, and seeing Laker fans jubilantly celebrating the win and Kobe’s clutch performance didn’t feel right, even if they had every reason to do so. Now it’s unfair to blame an entire organization for one idiot’s mistake, but after Bynum and Odom’s actions last year and now this, it’s hard to fault Lakers haters.

Ron Artest has always been a punk and changing his name to “Metta World Peace” might be one of the biggest ironies in NBA history. You can call me biased and you can call me a Laker hater, but when I watched that Oklahoma City Thunder-LA Lakers game on Sunday, I was cheering against the Lakers not as a James Harden fan and not as Laker hater. But I sure as hell cheered against the Lakers as a fan of the integrity of the game of basketball. So please, Lakers fans. Just this one time, can you stop being so damn defensive about Laker haters and admit that someone on your team did something wrong and just leave it at that? Because the rest of us would probably take it easier on you if you had the courage to say you’re just as disgusted with Ron Artest as we are. In fact, you’re doing a disservice to the very team you love so much, a team with a rich basketball history, by not doing so. You want Laker haters to stop? Show them you’re won’t tolerate any kind of behavior that tarnishes the image and reputation of your team. Then you will have my respect as a truly classy fanbase.

Support your team all you want. But when stuff like this happens, you should be ashamed if your first thought is to defend your team and not condemn this crap that makes your team look bad.

The Thunder Roll

After James Harden’s 40-point performance against the Suns last night, I was reminded why the Thunder should be the favorites to win the NBA Finals this year. Yes, over the league’s MVP LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Yes, over Tony Parker and the impressive San Antonio Spurs. And yes, over the Chicago Bulls and all their amazing team chemistry. Why? Because despite their recent struggles, the Thunder are just too damn dangerous on offense to stop for an entire playoff series.

OKC benefits from having former a scoring champion and runner-up MVP in Kevin Durant, an offensive-minded and athletic point guard in Russell Westbrook, and an outside shooter who can also get to the rim and play phenomenal defense in James Harden, the Thunder’s big three might be more impressive than the Miami Heat’s. Yeah, I said it. The fact is, LeBron James doesn’t play as well when Dwyane Wade is on the floor and Chris Bosh has tendencies to disappear. OKC’s big three on the other hand, complements each other and picks up each other’s slack in the event that one has a mediocre night. Look at last night; Westbrook finished with only 15 points, but Harden went nuts for 40 and Kevin Durant had a “quiet” 29. Now to be fair, the Heat’s big three pick up each other’s slack, so why are the Thunder such imposing favorites to win it all? Because of their supporting cast. The Heat can barely get anything out Mario Chalmers, whoever they start at center on a given night and their entire bench who have all but disappeared lately. Meanwhile, the Thunder benefit from great defense down low from Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Thabo Sefolosha leaves a lot to be desired at times, but the majority of this Thunder team plays defense and Nick Collison, Daequan Cook, Nazr Mohammed and Derek Fisher make up a decent bench of role players.

James Harden dropped 40 last night. He plays half as well in the playoffs and the Thunder will be extremely tough to beat.

To sum things up, if James Harden plays half as well during the playoffs as he did last night against the Suns, the Thunder will be the team to beat in the playoffs. I said that Harden would be one of the top 20 players to watch in the playoffs this year, mostly because of how dominant OKC becomes when he scores 20+ points. Harden and his beard are having a breakout year, and when you combine that with the already winning combination of MVP-hopeful Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, you’ve got a championship formula. And you know what the best part of that formula is? They don’t have to deal with the pressure, hype and media criticism that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh do. If OKC falls short, who cares? They’re still young and the Thunder are a developing franchise. But if Miami loses in the second chapter of their big three experiment with the greatest player in the game, one of the all-time great point guards and an All-Star big man, the world’s perception of that failure will tear them apart.

I think San Antonio can give the Thunder a scare and it’s also true that the Bulls, Celtics or Pacers could very well knock the Heat off in the East. But I still think we’ll ultimately see a Thunder-Heat NBA Finals matchup. What better way to end the season is there? I want to see Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden go up against Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and you should too. The two top MVP candidates, two phenomenal point guards and two exceptional role players going at it? You can’t script a better Finals than that. It’s important to remember that it’s nearly impossible to stop Miami’s big three when they get going, but don’t forget this either: It might be even harder to stop Kevin Durant AND Russell Westbrook AND James Harden for a whole seven-game series.

This big three has become every bit as formidable as Miami’s.

LeBron In The Fourth

This headline should look old and almost foreign to anyone who’s followed LeBron James over the past few years. But after last night, it’s the most accurate one to describe how the Heat got such an improbable win over the Nets after trailing for the majority of the game: LeBron’s clutch fourth quarter performance lifts Miami past New Jersey. Wait, what? Is this an evergreen story somebody wrote when LeBron was back in Cleveland? King James hasn’t shown up for the fourth quarter in Miami….ever!

But it’s true. Last night, LeBron James was the definition of clutch. You can chalk it up to Dwyane Wade being out. You can say it only happened because it was against the Nets. You can even just call it a fluke and say it won’t happen again. But the fact remains: when LeBron James attacks the basket in the fourth quarter and in the final minutes of most games, something good usually happens for his team.

I’m not foolish enough to say that LeBron James scoring the last 17 points for his team in a game against the lowly Nets excuses him for the past year and a half of vanishing and deferring to teammates in the clutch. It doesn’t even qualify him as a good crunch-time player. But if all of ESPN’s sportswriters aren’t going to give LeBron enough credit to put this on paper and point it out for the world to know, somebody’s got to: LeBron James can be a clutch player again if he just keeps attacking the basket.

LeBron James did the smart basketball thing by attacking the basket in the fourth quarter.

There’s no denying statistics; often, when a so-called “clutch player” gets the ball on the final play, goes one-on-one with his defender and takes some ridiculous fadeaway jumper with a hand in his face to win the game in dramatic, memorable fashion, his team’s chances of winning go way down. Guys like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chauncey Billups and even guys like Derrick Rose and Chris Paul have reputations of being great clutch players for some of the fantastic game-winners they’ve hit in their time. But how many do they miss? How many times does their team lose because of that one-on-one, last-second-heroics BS? The fact is, when the game is on the line, if the guy with the ball in his hands attacks the basket (instead of dribbling around for five seconds and then launching some hopeful fadeaway jumper), his team’s odds of winning go way up.

If a clutch player goes to the rim and tries to draw contact, one of four things happens: 1) The guy gets by his defender and makes a game-winning layup/dunk or at the very least, drains a short-range shot. 2) The guy gets enough speed going and draws enough contact to get to the free throw line. 3) The defense commits to stopping the drive with help, leaving shooters on the perimeter wide open. 4) The defense makes a great play and actually earns the victory. Ask any defender late in the game what’s easier to stop: a guy full of steam attacking the basket and possibly finding open shooters after penetrating, or a proud superstar wasting valuable seconds (that could be used for a rebound and put-back on a miss) and jacking up some stupid contested jumper? They’ll tell you it’s the guy attacking every time. It’s just good team basketball. Instead of running some isolation play and putting the fate of the game in one guy’s hands, why not do the intelligent thing and go to the hole, increasing your chance of scoring, getting fouled or freeing up teammates? It’s just the smart basketball play and that fact doesn’t change just because we’re talking about the NBA. As much as we wish there were, there won’t be another clutch player like Michael Jordan.

Everybody wants to do this with the game on the line. But the fact is, there was only one Michael Jordan. So be smart and attack the basket!

So going back to LeBron, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he didn’t make every lazy jumper he took in fourth quarters and we rightfully labeled him as a disappearing act. “This is still Dwyane Wade’s team; D-Wade is the one making the big shots in the fourth quarter and keeping his team alive in close games down the stretch. Hell, Chris Bosh seemed like a better option than giving LeBron the ball in the fourth!” But did anyone stop to think about why LeBron seemed completely absent in the fourth? I’m sure some of it has to do with LeBron and D-Wade struggling to work out who is the alpha dog with the game on the line. And in the NBA Finals last year, it was true that he was vanishing because he was flat-out not shooting the ball. But the other part of it is shot selection. While LeBron spends the first three quarters attacking the basket and making pressure-free jumpers, once the fourth quarter rolls around, he settles for easy jump shots he can get at any time. And it’s true, sometimes he’s had games where he’s attacking the rim but doesn’t get results and so we still label him as a disappearing act. And there’s also nights were he finds wide open teammates for game-winning shots, but nobody praises him for drawing double teams and finding wide open guys because his teammates miss the shot and all we remember is that LeBron is adding to his developing legacy of disappearing in the fourth. But when he attacks the rim throughout the final period like he did last night, he’s nearly impossible to stop. There’s a reason he scored those 17 points straight: he went hard to the basket, made contested layups because of his size, speed and strength, and drew contact and got to the foul line.

LeBron James’ legacy is still developing. There’s no question we think less of him for losing a championship by himself and then another one once he had D-Wade and Bosh on his side. It definitely didn’t help that the second lost Finals had a lot to do with his blatant absence in the clutch. He’s failed so many times in the fourth quarter for the Heat that we forget that just a few years ago, we would have given Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron the ball with the game on the line over about 95 percent of the guys in the league. Hopefully LeBron takes last night’s game to heart and understands why he was so successful in closing that game. Because if he does, can you think of anything more terrifying than watching your team play the Heat in a close game with LeBron James driving hard to the basket like a runaway freight train? I can’t.

Is LeBron clutch? Not anymore and not yet. But can he get there by going to the hole in the fourth? I say yes.

Kings Arena Deal Collapses

After things were looking so bright for the Kings a month and a half ago when a tentative deal was reached to build a new arena and keep the team in Sacramento, the future now looks uncertain for this struggling franchise. The deal fell apart today and the possibility that the team could be moved from Sacramento has returned.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson met with the Maloofs today and listened to their list of concerns, which he said they hadn’t previously brought up at all. Johnson said it seemed like they were almost looking for reasons to back out of the deal, as one of the biggest concerns they had was with environmental and pre-developmental costs. Johnson said these costs constituted less than one percent of the total cost for the new arena, joining NBA commissioner David Stern in expressing disappointment and a little disgust in the new developments.

This news is huge blow to the city of Sacramento and fans of the Kings, whose future have been in jeopardy for a few seasons now. The Kings are committed to staying in Sacramento, but without the Maloofs and their wealth, that decision may not be in their hands anymore. Anaheim seems like the most likely place for the Kings to move if a new agreement cannot be reached, but it’s a pity for supportive Sacramento fans who were so excited about a new arena just over a month ago.

Kings fans are extremely supportive of their team despite Sacramento's poor last few seasons. The collapse of an arena deal that would have kept the Kings in Sacramento is a big blow to such a great fanbase.