Three games into the 2013 NBA Finals, and we’ve yet to see a 20-point scoring performance from LeBron James. And heading into Game Four on Thursday night, the reputation of the sport’s biggest name is on the line.
Having come into the league as the most highly-touted teen ever, the Miami Heat forward has always had the impossible to live up to. Barely had he begun high school when his talent was being anointed as of the once-in-a-generation kind. Since turning pro, first in Cleveland, and now in South Florida, he has become the best of his era.
But true greatness is measured in championships and with his side 2-1 down against the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron’s legacy is far from uncertain.
The Spurs are coming off the third-largest ever Finals win, and with home advantage tonight, they’re favoured by -1.5 on the handicap at 1.94 to take a 3-1 series lead. That could be fatal for the Heat – no team has ever overturned such a deficit with the title on the line.
Despite the struggles from Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, there’s no doubt that James holds the key to Miami’s hopes. In his last two games, he has made just two of his first 12 shots from the field under pressure from Kawhi Leonard and a wall of defenders who have dared him to shoot from outside or get crowded out in the paint.
“So he has to now be more aggressive, more assertive, take more of a role in terms of scoring, and especially in the first quarter and second quarter,” said NBA legend Magic Johnson. “Because those role players will follow his lead. Not just the role players, but everybody – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – because they know he is the best player. So when he’s aggressive and when he’s playing well, that will help them to play well.”
If those poor starts continue – and San Antonio are 1.88 to lead after the opening period – there’s a risk the Heat fall away. And even though the Spurs might not get another career game from Danny Green, the news that Tony Parker has not sustained a major injury will boost their hopes of another huge win, with his side at 3.30 on the handicap of -7 and 3.30 to go on to clinch the series 4-1.
If Miami do flame out, that will leave James 1-3 all-time in the NBA Finals, far from the hallmark of a true superstar. You have to sense he’ll come out with all guns blazing. Frankly, it would be about time.
We’re just two days away from the start of the first big international tournament of the summer with EuroBasket Women tipping off on Saturday in France. And if you’re looking to back a winner, then have a punt on the hosts at 2.25 with Les Bleues – Olympic silver medallists last summer – possessing the greatest talent, strength in depth and the experience to come out on top.
With reigning champions Russia firmly in re-building mode, the race to challenge the French is wide open. 2011 runners-up Turkey, priced at 7.00, could make another run while Spain and Ukraine have the talent to contend. But the real dark horses might be Belarus with a blend of experience and vibrant youth and they’re worth a look at 4.00 to make the final or a generous 2.5 to win Group D.
Best Bet: Under 180 total points in San Antonio-Miami at 2.85