As I write this, the Cleveland Cavaliers are down 0-2 to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals and LeBron James’ critics are already making noise. Questions and statements about James’ having a dismal record in NBA Finals.
This is James’ seventh trip to the Finals and it is beginning to look like he will leave the 2016 Finals with a 2-5 mark. Both his titles came when he joined an already talented Miami Heat team. If James and the Cavs fail to mount a comeback against Golden State, this will be the fourth Cavaliers’ team he has failed to win a Finals with. Will repeated failures in Cleveland tarnish LeBron’s legacy? I think it will if the Cavs fail to ever win a title with James on the roster.
James did not seem to be thinking about his legacy after his team’s humiliating 110-77 loss to the Warriors in Sunday night’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals. In his post-game interview, he did not show frustration but nor did he have any ready explanations for why his team looked overmatched in the first two games here. And he did not hesitate to point the finger at himself.
James repeatedly stated that he has to get better. That statement alone is one reason why I think his legacy could take a hit.
It’s rare to see a superstar so humbled. Not since his first of seven trips to the Finals in 2007 has James faced a 2-0 deficit. He’s right. He has to get better. His 19 points on Sunday marked the first time he failed to crack 20 in his past 26 playoff games. His seven turnovers were his most in a game since December.
The NBA record book could explain why LeBron has been humbled. Never has a team lost the first two games in the Finals by a combined total of 48 points like Cleveland just did.
Critics are pointing out that nothing like this happened to Michael Jordan. And James is a player who is forever compared with Jordan and his six rings. LeBron is now two losses away from falling to 2-5 in the Finals. People seem to not talk about how remarkable it is that James has been to six straight, with two different teams. It seems like we expect nothing short of spectacular, every night, from James.
A year ago against the Warriors, he was just that, near-singlehandedly willing a Cavs team missing injured stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to a sixth game. He averaged 35.8 points for an overmatched team. A year later, Cleveland is at full strength, yet James has been nowhere near as effective and his team even worse. Irving and Love are defensive liabilities. J.R. Smith has gone completely MIA. At times, aging role player Richard Jefferson was the Cavs’ second-best player on the floor.
The prospect of adding a third ring this season seems increasingly unlikely for James. Only three times in 31 instances has a team that fell behind 2-0 in the Finals come back to win the trophy. Right now, winning four of the next five games does not seem possible. The immediate priority for Cleveland is to stop getting embarrassed.
James can’t make that happen by himself, but I have a feeling he’ll still be held responsible if he doesn’t.
Madison Bumgarner Making More News
Local product Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants has been making news on an annual basis as an All-Star pitcher. Now the South Caldwell HS graduate wants to show off his batting skills by participating in the Home Run Derby.
Bumgarner is far from an automatic out, like most pitchers, when he is at the plate. The lefty has 13 career homers, hitting 11 of those in the past three seasons.
But after putting on an absolute show in batting practice Sunday in St. Louis, Bumgarner told ESPN’s Buster Olney that he wants to be in the Home Run Derby during this year’s All-Star festivities. He said this after hitting a few blasts Sunday that landed well beyond Big Mac land, a section dedicated to former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. The only player to hit balls that far in batting practice at St. Louis is Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz.
With that kind of power, Bumgarner might have a chance against some of baseball’s best power hitters. Now, will the Giants let their star pitcher participate? It doesn’t sound like it will happen as Giants manager Bruce Bochy told ESPN that he could not let him do it.
Kurt Busch Wins
I was going to write this week about five drivers who I thought would win their first NASCAR race of the season. Kurt Busch won on my list and he came through before I had a chance to put my list in writing.
Busch won the rain-delayed Axalta We Paint Winners 400 at Pocono Raceway on Monday, outlasting the rest of the top contenders as many of them attempted to stretch their fuel mileage to the finish. Earnhardt finished second. Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.
The first half of the 26-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season has produced nine different winners in 14 races.
Kyle Busch, the defending series champion, leads the way with a trio of victories, while Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards are two-time winners. Series points leader Kevin Harvick has one victory to his credit so far in 2016, as do Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.
Statistics tell us that there will likely be three to five more first-time 2016 winners between now and when the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins. Here are my thoughts on who these winners will likely be.
I really like Chase Elliott. Unlike a lot of rookies, Elliott has lived up to the hype that preceded his arrival into the Cup Series. He is eighth in points, and in the last eight races, he has five top fives and a worst finish of 12th. He’s ready to win now.
Another youngster I like is Kyle Larson. He came close to winning at Dover and he came close to winning again in the Sprint All-Star Race. The next time he is a position to win, look for him to finally see the winner’s circle.
Earnhardt Jr. has to win one race this year doesn’t he? He has finished second four times this season. I see him winning at least one race this summer. He usually does well in Michigan.
Let me close with Joey Logano. It is hard to believe, but Logano is winless in points races so far this year, after leading the Cup Series with six victories last year. He did win the Sprint All-Star Race, though, is in the top 10 in points and his Penske teammate Keselowski has won twice.
Photo: LeBron James