June 13, 2013
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How is San Antonio stopping LeBron?
Through three games of NBA Finals betting, we know that San Antonio is the better team. The first matchup was a hard fought battle that the Spurs edged out by a mere four-points Then there was the Tale of the Two Blowouts, where LeBron facilitated his team to a dominant victory in Game 2 before being shellacked by the Neil-Green combo which obliterated them in Game 3. Understanding these matchups is pivotal to how you bet a slim +1 line on Game 4 that favors the Spurs in the house that Duncan and Popovich built.
By now you’ve probably devoured all you can about the Spurs notching a playoff record with 16 three-pointers. It was a transcendent performance by Danny Green and Gary Neal, and something that simply needs to happen every now and then. You can count on the big stars for the most part, but there is usually one game where guys like Green (or Dragic or Big Baby) turn in to pan-flashes. It’s how these things go.
Green and Neal will see plenty of game time during the fourth meeting on Thursday night, and NBA Finals betting nutjobs will be eager to back the Spurs based on their shooting ability. Just remember that neither player has had those types of games on a routine basis, though Neal stands a chance of recreating the magic if he plays significant time in place of Tony Parker who is nursing a minor (albeit terrifying) hamstring injury.
Still, you can’t discount how unbelievable the Spurs are as a complete unit. All the pieces fit, and every player on the roster obeys their duties like well trained German Shepards. There’s a reason they’re 8-2 SU and 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games, and receiving nearly two-thirds of the action heading in to Game 4.
But that also has to do with the curious play of LeBron James. I’ll credit Kawhi Leonard with doing an insane job of defending him, especially when he’s mauling LeBron in transition and getting turnovers. Consider James’ averages through this entire year:
Regular Season – 26.8 points, 7.3 assists, 8.0 rebounds
Best Month (March) – 29.8 points, 7.8 assists, 7.5 rebounds
First Three Playoff Rounds – 25.7 points, 6.6 assists, 7.4 rebounds
NBA Finals – 16.7 points, 7.3 assists, 12.8 rebounds
Two things obviously stand out about those numbers (points and rebounds) and both are somewhat intertwined. LeBron is scoring 10.7 points less than he usually does under optimal circumstances and is muscling for rebounds because Chris Bosh isn’t doing his damn job and Udonis Haslem is veritably useless unless he’s launching his patented baseline jumper.
Jump in to a rhetorical mode for a second and some natural questions crop up. Is LeBron working too hard on the boards and sacrificing his scoring energy? Is San Antonio really so good at defense that they can mitigate the best player in the world? If you asked, “Is he just flat out tired?” then you’re asking the right question.
LeBron has played more basketball than any other player over the last three years. Sure, Wade and Bosh (and Chalmers) were around for their last two trips to the Finals but LeBron was carrying the load. He also has a stint in the 2012 Olympics last summer that ate up all of his usual, off-season resting time. Couple the sheer amount of minutes he plays at the level of intensity and energy output he generates along with the emotional drain of “being LeBron” and you have a recipe for exhaustion.
You can groom the trends and the numbers, but NBA Finals betting is sometimes about nuance. LeBron just looks like he’s not the same player, and when you consider the emotional, mental and physical toll the last three years have taken off of him you can begin to understand why he looks so flat and erratic. We often overlook the fact that LeBron is human because he’s pretty much the apex of the human genome project, but he’s still vulnerable to wearing down.
The proof is in his play. LeBron isn’t finishing at the rim like he has been throughout the playoffs and his shot is off. In fact, his last three games against San Antonio have produced his worst field goal percentages of this entire playoff run (.333, .412 and .438 compared to a .525 average over the post season). LeBron is able to contribute in a multitude of ways, which is part of what makes him great, but this Heat team needs his 30 points per night because it’s not coming from anywhere else.
Like you, I’m skeptical about this theory, but if he comes out wonky in Game 4 then you know something is up. He could very well be pissed at Dwyane Wade’s terrible performances, or fed up with guys riding his coattails like his teammates did in Cleveland. It’s not a far fetched theory that he’s just physically drained from three extended seasons (i.e. going to the Finals three times in a row) and the trip to London for the Olympics.
You can argue that “Well, it’s the f----ing Finals! Just man up!” Listen, you’ve been there before. Whether it’s at the gym, in an amateur pick-up game or in your high school glory days, sometimes you go to the reserve and you just don’t have it. No matter who you are, when the gas tank is empty the gas tank is empty.
The Spurs have concerns with Parker’s hamstring but they’re such a well oiled machine, that is maintained brilliantly by Popovich, that they can plug a lot of different, high-caliber players in to their system and amplify their strengths. If Parker is unable to go, a San Antonio win is simply harder. It’s not impossible.
If LeBron is as taxed as I think he is, a win for Miami is all but impossible. Shrug it off, call me an idiot and bet on Miami if you’d like because – again – LeBron seems immortal at times. That said, how can you look at his performances through three games and not wonder what the hell is wrong with him? There’s simply no other way to explain his numbers. The Spurs defense is fantastic, but even Stephen Curry was able to go bananas against them and find holes. Shouldn’t LeBron?
He should…unless he’s as gassed as I truly believe he is.
Bet San Antonio at +1 or on the moneyline to win Game 4 and bury the Heat in a hole that they will likely be unable to dig themselves out of. NBA Finals betting is up at CarbonSports right now, so take my advice and lean far and away from the fatigued LeBron.