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Tag:Joel Anthony
Posted on: May 15, 2011 2:18 pm
 

LiveChat: Heat-Bulls Conference Finals Game 1

Join us for a livechat at 7PM EST leading up to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls. We'll cover such insightful topics as:


And other actually relevant topics. Join us at 7PM EST on CBSSports.com


 
Posted on: May 15, 2011 1:05 pm
 

Really, Chicago? Really?

Posted by Matt Moore


From the Chicago Sun-Times...


 


Hey, the crying thing was only two months ago, and it's not like the Heat just got done spilling the Celtics from the playoffs in a gentleman's sweep. So, really, this is entirely appropriate.  

Sigh. 

(Via SBNation.com.) 
Posted on: May 14, 2011 7:34 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 8:58 pm
 

What's at Stake: Dwyane Wade

What's at stake for Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Posted by Matt Moore





It was easier for Dwyane Wade, for his peace of mind, at least. A championship in your third season takes the pressure off of your Build-A-Legacy workshop. The only problem is it robs the player of blissful ignorance. Dwyane Wade has suffered through the past five seasons having tasted championship champagne and never sipping it again. The pressure of watching your career unwind without that ring is greater, LeBron will be the first to tell you that, Garnett's the one who taught it to him.

But Wade remains driven by the memories of 2006, determined not to rest on his laurels. For Wade, this championship drive is deeply personal, but it's not because of some pre-ordained self-concept as is the case with LeBron James. James is incomplete without a title, his self-image not hollow as so many of his critics claim, but incomplete, as if half his face is missing. Wade does not approach winning as a badge to be earned, part of his fashion statement. It's inherent. Wade reflects Kobe Bryant in that regard, the drive a part of his makeup. The difference being that Bryant would never deign to allow a superstar equal in caliber. Things have to be done on his terms. That's Bryant's makeup. Wade's, on the other hand, is to win regardless of ego, within acceptable boundaries. He ceded iconic status to Shaq. He considered joining Rose's Bulls (and though from Chicago and a substantially larger star, refers to Chicago as "Rose's city"). Wade not only accepted but recruited James to join his team, to become the face of the franchise he'd taken to their first title. Wade's ego is considerable, but he manages to shape it around whatever situation is best for him. 

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls
For Wade, the fashion and lifestyle is a significant part of his life, but he's always been driven by winning, career wise. Wade's never complained much about his exclusion from MVP consideration. The 2008 season was murder on him, watching his team fall apart while he had to sit by injured. Missing out on Rose was the icing on the cake. Wade suffered through two more seasons, trying to grow Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers. But his patience didn't allow for it. For all the talk of how players should try and "do it themselves," Wade can speak to the frustration of not having the roster to contend, and the experience of getting swept from the playoff seas by superior teams, like the Celtics.

Wade was central to this plan, to put together the Triad. Rumors put he and Pat Riley's machinations back years ago. Wade recruited the other two, sold them on the plan, got them to his city, not Chicago or New York. A failure this season, even with all the promsie of the future, means he sacrificed top billing for nothing. It means he may have been wrong in the plan. That all the criticism, the boos, the hatred, the hits to his popularity, was for nothing. That's a crushing blow, on top of what Wade hates more than anything: losing. 

Wade needs to succeed, but not only that, he has to make his statement known as far as his involvement. If Bosh steps up, it's about how Bosh surprised everyone. If it's James, well, that's a whole other set of issues. Wade has to succeed and yet somehow impress everyone. That's what this series is about. It's going to be difficult for him, heading into his hometown to ruin their hopes. Well, okay, no it won't. Wade knows this is a business. He's got his guys, they've got theirs. 

Wade has quietly had a stunning season, but a quick look at the All-NBA team rosters confirms how he's slipped in James' shadow, despite equal play. Wade needs to rise up beside James, showing their equals. That was the goal when this thing started. Wade has to finish the job, or his latter career will start to override the shine of that ring he received in that third year.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 4:47 pm
 

What's at Stake: Chris Bosh

Posted by Royce Young



It's not so much what's at stake for Chris Bosh. It's more what's at stake because of Chris Bosh.

Let me explain.

You know that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are good. You know that they're the real Big Two in Miami and that Bosh is sort of an outsider when it comes to the real superstars in South Beach. But where Bosh comes in is that when he's good, the Miami Heat are very, very good.

Erik Spoelstra said it early in the year that Bosh might be the Heat's most important player. And while we all sort of laughed at that idea, it became more and more true as the season went along. There's no doubt that Wade and LeBron are the engine that make the car run. But Bosh is certainly the wheels. When he's rolling, so are the Heat.

He has an interesting matchup too, going against Chicago's version of him. Carlos Boozer has disappointed at times, even bringing Bulls fans to boos early on against the Hawks. He hasn't been near the dominant $80 million big man that the Bulls dreamed of. But when Boozer is good, so are the Bulls. For both these guys, it's about being assertive, aggressive and all the other cliche catch words that people love to spit out. With Bosh and Boozer though, they fit every time.

Remember when Bosh said he needed the ball more on the block? When he said he needs to get away from the 3-point line and start pounding down low? It was a revelation to him and to the Heat. It was like Bosh remembered that yeah, I was once a 20-10 All-Star big man. Yeah, I can score on the block. He's always been the black sheep in Miami trying to figure out where he stands next to LeBron and Wade, but he's never been an outsider. The team knows it needs him. The good, aggressive version that is.

Bosh took a beating in the media for much of this season for a number of different things. And to his credit, I don't think he ever handled any of it that poorly. He just didn't always play up to the level most imagined. He was good, but not the Chris Bosh that was the prize big man free agent last summer (remember that?).

And he could make up for all of that with a standout series against Chicago. The Heat need him in a big way for at least four games against the Bulls. Whether it's taking on Boozer or just adding some rebounding and scoring inside, Miami has got to have Chris Bosh if it wants to win the East and after that, a title. All that joking at his expense could go away because it's hard to really rag on a guy when he has "NBA champion" after his name.

At least for a while. Ask Pau Gasol about that.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 8:03 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 9:04 pm
 

What's at Stake: Derrick Rose

What's at stake for Derrick Rose as the Bulls face the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals? Oh, the usual for a 22-year-old... not really.

Posted by Matt Moore





At first glance, Derrick Rose is playing with house money here. Rose is only 22 years old, the youngest MVP in league history, and in only his third year has taken the Bulls to the top seed in the conference and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Everything else should be gravy. He's already accomplished so much, with a proven package of success like he's enjoyed, this should be considered only the start of his arrival, of his long prime play in games that matter. Instead, though, we have to realize that this series is big for Rose, not only just because of its inherent importance in proximity to a Finals appearance, but because we've come to understand that those teams with perennial chances have a way of falling to the wayside due to chemistry, pressure, injury, and plain ol' dumb luck. 

If Rose needs proof of how important it is to grasp this opportunity in both hands and shake it as fiercely as he can, look no further than LeBron James across the court from him. Just four years ago, James was a 22-year-old  superstar, playing in his first conference finals on his way to the Finals. He was a phenomenon, just like Rose. It certainly seemed as if this was the start of the reign of King James in the court of O'Brien. 

Yeah, about that.

Or, Rose can look at James' partner in crime, Dwyane Wade, a fellow Chicago kid who managed to grasp the ring early in his career, and now is fighting tooth and nail for another sip of the cup. Wade plays with determined intensity, well aware that his body, while once like Rose's, incomparable and seemingly invincible, eventually gave way to the wear and tear that makes each Finals run harder than the last. 

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls
Or look at Dirk Nowitzki, awaiting his opponent across the other conference. Nowitzki has contended with the Mavs for over a decade. At some point Nowitzki was the one you assumed would have one or two rings before all was said and done. Instead, he's chasing that one last shot at glory. That's how quickly things can change.

Rose's path has been blazed with fury and silk. It's not just the blistering drives and the unstoppable floater high off the glass.  It's the drive and kick, the pull-up jumper, elbow extended, wrist snapped. It's the humility and the ferocity and above all the undeniable will. He's reached this point, while his elders who were supposed to hold dominion have fallen by the wayside. He's rapping on the gates of basketball heaven at 22 years old, head down, eyes up. Rose's sudden appearance at the top of the conference holds with it an awe of "Is this the start of a dynasty?" in its whispers. The Jordan legacy in Chicago only intensifies this, with the city clamoring not just for one sweet moment of gold and parade, but with a thirst for a new era of dominance. Rose isn't Jordan, but for Chicago, there's no reason to believe he can't be equally as successful. After all, they've seen it before. 

But beyond the hype, expectations, and barber-shop "How many titles you think Rose will win?" talk lies this bone-chilling truth: so many young stars have been right where Rose is, looking forward to a decade of rings and the money and glory that comes with it, only to find it all escape them. I'm particularly fond of we in the media's favorite discussion point after a team wins a title, "How likely are they to repeat?" with everyone climbing on board the "Look at what they just did, they're set for the future!" train. You know how many teams have won back-to-back titles in the past 20 years? Three, the Lakers, Rockets and Bulls, four if you throw in the 88-89, 89-90 Pistons. That's all. Granted those teams covered three three-peats and a near third before the Lakers implosion over the NBA skyline this season, so that covers a lot of ground. But in between Jordan and Kobe lies a field of teams that thought they would win rings consistently, with only Duncan and his Spurs filling the gaps. I say this to make a painfully obvious point.

Winning titles is hard. Making Finals is hard. Cashing in on potential at a young age is much more difficult than it looks.

Rose is already discovering this with every tweak of his ankle, every time he crashes into the photographers. He's finding that regular season dominance doesn't make it any easier to close out playoff teams. The Pacers and Hawks were supposed to be nothing more than exhibitions of how hard the Bulls can shut down a team. Instead, they've showcased disturbing trends for the Bulls in terms of the extra gear and weaknesses on both sides of the floor, even as the Bulls only trailed in a series once these playoffs.

It's only going to get worse from here on out. Rose's Bulls have their own set of things going for them. A suffocating, enveloping, eclipsing defense, the backbone of any championship squad, surely is in place. Shooters in Keith Bogans and Kyle Korver, a slasher wing in Luol Deng, a competent post player in Carlos Boozer, and the high-energy, high-hilarity antics of a super-motor center in Joakim Noah, the pieces are all there, even if the true No.2 option is not. It's those players that we'll see determining whether Rose can topple a team with greater talent, because do not be confused, despite the "Really, that guy?" factor of the Heat's 4-12 spots (and some would say 3-12), this is still a great team in the Heat, talent-wise. The hype surrounding the Heat at season's beginning and throughout is not without basis, even if their regular season left us cold and disgusted after their antics. The Heat are loaded. 

Are the Bulls great? Hard to say. It's not self-evident, even with their record and place in the Conference Finals. There are still points where many of us who watch the game night in and night out ask "Is that a championship team?" even as they keep winning.  This team could be great, and if it is it will be in the reflection of their accomplishments, the true exemplification of "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts plus Carlos Boozer and his terrible defense." If they are, it'll be because of Rose's relentless greatness, his leadership, his tenacity, and his simple but humble demand of "Why not me?".

It started with asking "Why can't he win MVP?". It continued with "Why can't the Bulls get the top seed?". It increased to a roar with "Why can't the Bulls make the Eastern Conference Finals?" Now it's not even "Why can't the Bulls make the Finals?", instead it's "Why can't the Bulls beat the Heat?".

Rose has his chance, like so many before him. Chicago believes he'll cash that opportunity in and lead them to a title, the first of many. But first, he has to get by the two players in the generation just above him, who have staked their claim to this era before planting their flag on the summit. If the Heat were audacious in their confidence about climbing the summit, it's Rose who has been audacious enough to make it clear the mountain doesn't belong to them yet.

What's at stake for Derrick Rose? The chance to avoid the heartbreak of an opportunity lost, the kind that you never recover from. It's a chance to climb the stairs at the top of the world and defy the odds. The 2009 series against the Celtics was his coming out party, his 2010 series against the Cavs his baptism by fire. His 2011 campaign has been his arrival to the pantheon of the elite.

Some players only get one shot and a failure to cash in means a lifetime of wanting another. Rose is playing to reset the rules, make the Finals, win the championship, and have everyone say, "Yeah... and he's only 22 years old."  

This is Derrick Rose's shot at simultaneously ending the presumptive reign of the Heat and ushering in the Kingdom of Rose.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 2:48 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 7:04 am
 

Eastern Conference Finals Storylines

As the Heat and Bulls collide in the Eastern Conference Finals, we set the table for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and the rest. 

Posted by Matt Moore





The Bulls and Heat begin a hugely anticipated series on Sunday. It's full of drama, moreso than the usual ECF, what with the MVP and the Triad and Thibs and the Jordan legacy and everything else. Here then, are the top storylines of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. 


The Line: Talent vs. Teamwork

The Story: Sounds absurd, but consider how the Heat won the Celtics series. LeBron James drove on several occassions, but he also hit a barrage of 3-pointers, heavily contested.  Dwyane Wade hit ridiculous Dwyane-Wade-shot after ridiculous Dwyane-Wade-shot. The Heat finished off the reigning Eastern Conference Champs, the big bad boogeyman Celtics, in five games, despite not really getting contributions outside of the Big 3 from anyone past James Jones' 20-point Game 1. So there's a narrative starting to take shape that echoes a version of what was discussed in preseason when the Triad got together. Are the Heat really just that much better than everyone else, even if they're not an all-time team in terms of record? That's been the trend. The Heat really are living and dying by the virtue of their superior talent. That's the big clash in this series, because even with Rose, the Bulls represent a more collective team effort.

Is an overload of talent able to overcome a complete team, if the elite team commits to defense? Or is the complete team a more solid option because it's about the collective? The Heat aren't about one guy doing it all, they're about two guys doing it all and a third guy doing a lot, and a few other guys doing a little. Which, when you think about it, has actually been a fair model throughout the NBA considering all the 1a-1b duos we've seen. But it still feels like an abandonment of our principles that say it should be a team "15 strong"... you know, the motto of the 2006 NBA championship Heat. So this series, for all its overblown "good vs. evil" parallels, does have one point where it reflects a "moral" issue. The complete team vs. the top heavy approach is on display, even with Derrick Rose arguably the single best player and the highest usage player in the series. 


The Line: Is destiny held in the Bulls' season?

The Story: It's funny what six championships can do. The Jordan years taught Chicago, normally a pretty cynical sports city, an entirely new paradigm. We've seen the resurrection of the approach from those halcyon days this year as the Bulls climbed to contention, then domination, of the Eastern Conference.  I likened Bulls fans' belief in the 2011 Bulls to manifest destiny. They believe that as the heralds of the Jordan era, the team possesses a preternatural right to the championship. Rose is merely proof of that destiny. 

So what's the story of the Bulls this season, what prompts that claim to greatness? It follows the script, even if the exact times and elements don't line up. Boozer is surely no Pippen. Rose's first few playoff exits don't reek of the frustration Jordan suffered at the end of the 80's. But it is a star who took the league by storm, not riding pre-ordained hype like LeBron but instead making his own greatness. The youngest MVP in the league, strafed by an all-world defensive system created by a tactical genius and surrounded by shooters. The hometown kid takes the MVP, the top seed in the East, and eventually the championship. Isn't that how the dream's supposed to end? If anything's going to strike that spark of magnificence driven by imagination, it's this tale in the Windy City.


The Line:  Tom Thibodeau: the real Lebron-stopper

The Story: Boston failed. But then, was it really the same Boston who shut down LeBron James for three years (twice in the playoffs)? Doc Rivers is a great coach, but the defensive system has long been considered the work of Tom Thibodeau, who took his talents to Chicago and made them the best defense in the league. So did James really chase away any demons that had pursued him, or did different ghosts merely don the same costumes?

The elements that shut down James against Boston in years past are easily recognizable in Chicago.  James will clear the pick and roll and find two defenders cutting off his driving lane with a third covering the roll man. They'll bump him coming around screens enough for the weakside big to rotate. They'll challenge his dribble, challenge his passes, and focus on preventing him from getting to the rim. Thing is, the Celtics did a lot of that in their series against James, and he simply executed beyond them. James' jumper has gotten good enough to where it can force the Bulls out of their comfort zones. When that happens, cutters happen. 

Tom Thibodeau has orchestrated the best defense in the league for years. Instead of Rose vs. James, it's really Thibodeau vs. James we should be watching.


The Line: Which defense will have more impact? 

The Story: The Heat's defense is terrific. It's aggressive, athletic, sound, and consistent. It's just not as good as Chicago's. Chicago is able to make any game into a wrestling match in a trash dumpster. It's principles are flawless, the execution superb, and more important, consistent as clockwork. But this series really boils down to this question:

Will the Heat's great-not-best defense do more damage to Chicago's good-not-great offense than Chicago's best defense will do to Miami's great offense?

Chicago's offense can seem very strong. When Carlos Boozer is working off-ball, Rose is in rare form, Joakim Noah is taking opponents off the dribble, and Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans are nailing 3-pointers, they're a versatile, dynamic, balanced attack. They produce enough offensive rebounds to negate their inefficiency, an advantage that won't disappear against the Heat in all likelihood. But when the pieces don't come together, even when Rose is hot to trot, the total product can be less than impressive. The Bulls were 11th in offensive efficiency. When things aren't clicking, the whole orchestra's out of whack. Against a Miami defense that can shut down an opponent in their own right, the Bulls' offense could freeze solid. 

Compare that with the Heat's offense which is driven by players you can count on. As goos as the Chicago defense is, can it shut down Miami, who don't need open looks to create points? This balancing act will decide the series. The Bulls' defense doesn't need to be perfect, if they can get some production on offense. If not, then their defense and Rose will have to carry them, as they have all season. 


The Line: Is Derrick Rose ready?

The Story: Yes. Next Story. 


The Line: Who's the Underdog?

The Story: It's a fascinating question. All of our experts picked the Heat. Vegas has the Bulls. The majority of people are picking the Bulls, but saying they're picking the underdog. The Heat have the Triad. Chicago has the MVP. There's massive hype on both sides. Both teams will likely play with a chip on their shoulder. Trying to decipher who is really the one facing the bigger challenge is nearly impossible.  This is just two great teams meeting on even ground, with a slight advantage for Chicago in homecourt advantage. 

Who's the underdog? No one. Everyone's the favorite. That's what will make this so fun.


The Line: Derrick Rose/LeBron James is the best player in basketball. 

The Story:
This series shouldn't decide it. It's not reasonable for it to. But it's still going to feel like it. Both guys want it. Go get it.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 1:03 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 9:55 pm
 

What's At Stake: Carlos Boozer

What's at stake for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer in the Eastern Conference finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.



The one good thing about having your reputation ruined when the world thinks you double-crossed a blind man during public contract negotiations is that you have nowhere to go but up. Sure, everyone looks at you sideways and cracks jokes at your expense, but the pressure to be perfect and the expectation that you’ll rise to the moment in big situations is lifted. That’s not a trade-off most people would make, but once it happens things could be worse.

That’s been the situation for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. For the past four years, Boozer put up solid playoff numbers for the Utah Jazz, teaming up with Deron Williams to advance out of the first round three times. Never really seen as the centerpiece, Boozer nevertheless averaged roughly a 20/12 over his playoff career in Utah, numbers that are mostly forgotten because they came with the help of an elite point guard and, frankly, because they took place for a small market team.    

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls

After joining the Bulls this past summer, Boozer got a taste of the big-city spotlight and it hasn’t gone over perfectly. He broke his hand mysteriously before the season, forcing him to miss 20 games, and has battled turf toe during the playoffs. His playoff numbers scoring number is way down – he’s averaging just 11.8 points per game while playing roughly the same number of minutes as he did during the regular season. Despite the fact that he continues to keep his rebounding near double figures, he’s a running punch line and punching bag for Bulls fans, who obviously expected more from their $80 million man.

Whether he actually views it this way or not, Boozer should approach the Eastern Conference finals as if he has nothing to lose. If the Bulls are eliminated he will be at or near the top of the scapegoat list regardless of how he plays. That much has already been cemented. Should the Bulls win, however, he’s got a chance to soak in some of the Derrick Rose media glow sunshine and rehabilitate/recast himself as a hard-working veteran who hung around long enough and played his game long enough to get his shot at a ring. That’s not a bad trade-off.

Even better, Boozer isn’t enough the most highly-paid, disappointing and unreliable power forward in this series. That honor goes to Heat forward Chris Bosh, of course, who will be crucified and buried should Miami not advance. Boozer should have a physicality advantage and he certainly has a more physical frontline surrounding him. Bosh enters the series with a tougher personal assignment given Miami’s thin center rotation and the Chicago’s commitment to hard-nosed defense and rebounding.

So what’s at stake for Boozer here? Given that this is Chicago’s first playoff run together and doubts are already high, he just doesn’t have much to lose. If he throws together a big series, the United Center fans that were booing him earlier during the playoffs will surely rally around him. If not, he was the bad guy anyway.

Posted on: May 13, 2011 8:07 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 9:54 pm
 

What's At Stake: LeBron James

What's at stake for Miami Heat forward LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.




What’s at stake for LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals? Only the world, Chico, and everything in it.

James played two of the best minutes the NBA has ever seen to eliminate the Boston Celtics, stopping only long enough to kneel on the court, to take a moment to appreciate all that he had accomplished in overcoming his bitter rivals. The only problem, of course, is that he is still just halfway to a title. Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls are capable of evaporating everything James has earned in the past 48 hours – confidence, peace of mind, a feeling of accomplishment, validation for his decision to leave Cleveland, a rush of popularity – by defeating the Heat. If James doesn’t emerge from this summer with a ring, he’ll be back at square one, hearing the same old boos and answering the same old questions he dealt with all season long.

This all-or-nothing conundrum probably isn’t fair to James but he should be used to it by now. He has demanded attention since he was in high school. He has ascended to the pinnacle of his sport, the undisputed best all-around player in the NBA. He’s even made it to the Finals before. None of that has mattered to his critics. And, we came to find out last summer, to him either.

Winning his first championship -- with others to follow -- was his stated goal. He’s reiterated multiple times over the past week that the Celtics helped inspire his decision to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He couldn’t beat Boston alone, he admitted. Securing the best shot to climb the mountain won out over hometown loyalty, the biggest paycheck and any other factors. That’s the narrative he’s crafted, that's the script he's reading from.

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls

The Heat envision themselves as the future of the NBA, the axis that everyone else spins around, the epicenter of both cool and success, a dynasty in the making. In James' mind, he's the protagonist always.

A loss to the Bulls, then, would amount to an identity crisis. Being beaten by a team with just one All-Star? A team that had won one playoff series in the past 12 seasons combined? It would be not only an embarrassment but also worrisome. Chicago’s core is set in place for the foreseeable future. Their coach is one of the most widely respected in the game. They’re deep, disciplined and hard-working. They’ve got big city cachet and an instant likeability among both casual fans and basketball purists. The Heat would be set back, back to being the villains, back to being the foils. 

Wade already has a ring to console himself. Bosh has admitted to being in a bit over his head already during the playoffs, so he would be able to rationalize away such a loss. Coach Erik Spoelstra has demonstrated an ability to maintain a long-term perspective through adversity, so he’d be alright in the event of a loss too. He would beat himself up but then realize that there are plenty more opportunities ahead. Pat Riley has so much hardware and such a great tan nothing really matters at this point of his career, at least not comparatively.

But James? James would be out of excuses for another year. Left to walk off the court in defeat, his team’s roster-building ability in the hands of the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, his reputation as a player that can’t get it done extended for at least another 12 months. Self-doubt would be back in a big way, the team's top-heavy approach would be questioned, he would have to hit the recruiting trail hard, hoping that the league's elder statesmen could be convinced to sign up at the minimum salary to help him win his ring. Would James have the stomach for all that? The patience? The composure?

james-dunk-celtics 

He’s been the best player in this year’s playoffs, averaging 26.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals while playing more than 43 minutes a night. He’s been clutch. He’s been steady. He’s even been newly flexible, allowing Wade to carry the load when he has it going. He’s shown an admirable commitment to the boards. His level of focus this year is as laser-like as we’ve ever seen, his intensity the exact opposite of what it was a year ago. 

To imagine all of those things wiped away by four losses, just as the vast majority of his previous playoff heroics have been forgotten because he hasn’t secured a title, is a difficult proposition so soon after the triumph over Boston. But that’s what happens if the Bulls win. The pendulum swings that hard. It's happened before, and it’s inevitable.

This might not be his best shot and it certainly won't be his last shot. But, given the remaining teams left in the field, this is a very, very, very good shot. Once Game 1 tips, he, more than anyone else, will be expected to deliver. 

And that’s why the Eastern Conference finals – and the NBA Finals too -- mean more to James than anyone else. His career, reputation, personality and trajectory are subject to a total redefinition and reevaluation with eight more wins. That's why James has the most at stake. Nobody else is a close second.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com