Even crushing the Thunder in Oklahoma City to finish it on a 7-0 run left the defending champion Miami Heat with the No. 3 record, although – unlike the days when every misstep prompted charges that LeBron James was a choking mercenary – there was no outcry at all.
Bron ended that with last year’s title before going to heights he hadn’t even been to – and no one else may have – scoring at least 30 points and shooting at least 60 percent six games in a row.
In the classy part, James let it end in garbage time against the Thunder, missing his last shot to dip under 60 percent at 14-of-24, while going for 39 points, 12 boards and seven assists.
The tidal wave of excitement even moved James, who said he was “at a loss for words [at being] in the record books by myself with such a stat.”
Of course, all this and a failure to win a championship this spring will prompt more choking mercenary charges, but for what it’s worth, his feat isn’t in any record book.
ESPN created it out of the data in its trusty mainframe, hyping a “mathematical distinction” into a “record” to make it a “historic moment” in a slow news week.
How slow? How about filling it up otherwise with a week-long tribute to Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday, even if ESPN felt obliged to tack on a segment, asking if MJ and his six titles had just been eclipsed by Bron and his one.
Happily for the NBA – and, of course, ESPN – the Heat remain a good bet to get back to the Finals as the rest of the East circles the drain.
The No. 2 Knicks are 14-13 since their 18-5 start. The Bulls, their only East peer at full strength, learned they won’t get Derrick Rose back after the All-Star break and perhaps not even this season.
Miami has hurt itself, sticking to its three-guard lineup with Chris Bosh at center and Bron at the 4-spot that is regularly hammered on the boards. Coach Erik Spoesltra, and, more to the point, president Pat Riley, are convinced that is their best, and may be right.
On the other hand, their main challengers, the Knicks and Indiana Pacers, both are bigger and deeper up front. More important, both are 2-0 against Miami.
The West has three teams that look like they could go all the way: San Antonio, which remains San Antonio; Oklahoma City, which remains Oklahoma City, more or less; and the Los Angeles Clippers, who have nothing to do with their past. Barring an upset in the East, that means the major action will be in the second and third rounds in the West.
The Thunder have managed to prove that no matter how good James Harden was, it could subtract him in favor of Kevin Martin – whose efficiency doesn’t make him half the producer Harden was – and still be great.
The Spurs need only good health to get it done.
And the Clippers have been the deepest, most cohesive team all season. Said a Knicks official after the Clippers blew apart the Knicks last week in New York, “That’s the best I’ve seen an NBA team play in years.”
Vinny Del Negro has gotten little or no mention as a Coach of the Year candidate, on an expiring contract with everyone aware he will take the fall for any disappointment. Nevertheless, someone is coaching the hell out of the Clips, be it Vinny or – as in Riley’s early days with Magic Johnson – Chris Paul.
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In any case, as long as it lasts, LA will still have one contender.
On to the rankings.