Are LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers poised for a turnaround?

Are LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers poised for a turnaround?

In July 2014, LeBron James announced he was reversing his Decision, leaving the Miami Heat to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. After going to four straight finals in South Florida, critics thought he was crazy to leave a good thing, let alone the weather, behind. You can’t go home again and all that.

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The King didn’t go 0-3 to start his first season as a prodigal son. The Cavs lost to the New York Knicks in the Quicken Loans Arena on opening night but topped the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. James and company needed overtime to get it done, however, then lost their next two against Portland and Utah. Not too different from his first games as a Laker.

Finally, they started a four-game winning streak against Denver only to stutter again with a commensurate losing run. With the hounds baying at the 5-8 beginning, the squad found its bearings, ripping off eight wins in 15 days.

Overall, it was an inconsistent season. A six-game losing streak loomed but would soon be followed by an 18-2 run in the New Year.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying the Lakers can match that success in LeBron’s first season at the Staples Center. I don’t think a ninth straight Finals appearance is in the cards. I wouldn’t put it past the man to prove me wrong but I wouldn’t bet on it either. According to Alex Kay of Forbes, the Lakers were +2000 to win the NBA title before James signed but the odds shrank to +350 when he inked. No one cared who else Magic Johnson did or didn’t sign afterwards.

What I am saying is 0-3 is just bedding in, getting the lay of the La La Land, as it were. It’s going to take some time for the Lakers to play a tune fans can dance to, but they aren’t going to keep losing either.

Tonight’s game looks like a ground floor opportunity to start profiting from a Laker resurgence. With Phoenix 1-2, it’s an opportunity for LA to claim their first win in the LBJ era even though the Suns’ lone victory came at home.

The total trends are more telling, however. Phoenix is 1-6 Against The Spread in their last seven home games against losing opposition. Igor Kokoskov’s team is 6-1 ATS in their last seven anywhere against a sub .400 squad, 4-1 in their last five against any losing team. That’s confused seas in the desert if you’re betting the line. When you combine those numbers with the following:

  • the Over is 7-2 in recent meetings between the Suns and Lakers,
  • it’s 7-1-1 in the last nine in Phoenix,
  • the Over is 3-0-1 in the Lakers last four road games and
  • 3-0-1 following games in which they surrendered 100+ pts,

you must take a long, hard look at the over.

It’s 236.5 in this game. Phoenix posted 124 in their home opener. They knocked up 103 against Golden State, the team where Lakers coach Luke Walton cut his teeth. The Lakers threw in 119 and 115 in their two defeats in regulation. LeBron contributed 26 and 24 in those games and just 32 in the overtime affair with San Antonio. He’s been consistent but hasn’t made a statement yet.

Tonight, against a team that hasn’t held an opponent below 100, seems like a good time.

Free Pick: LALvPHO Over [236.5]
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

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If it’s June, mistakes must be magnified

If it’s June, mistakes must be magnified

They say no one remembers who finishes second. ‘No one else’ is more accurate. The players who finish second can never forget until they finally win it all.

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Right now, both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Vegas Golden Knights are having series they would rather forget in the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals respectively. If they cannot forget now, the end will arrive sooner rather than later and both will have at least a year to replay it all in their minds, wishing after what might have been.

Vegas

Last night, the team playing with house money took the game to the Washington Capitals in the opening ten minutes. Down two games to one in the series, victory would both level terms and return home-ice advantage to the Golden Knights.

The puck gods had other ideas and, apparently, all their money on the Caps. Ninety seconds in, a shot deflected off Eric Haula’s skate then the post. Reilly Smith was up next. He fanned on a shot with the net gaping. James Neal hit the post on the powerplay with Washington netminder Braden Holtby flat on his back, helpless. Those three misses may have cost Vegas the series and the rest of us an amazing Cinderella story to get us through the next lockout.

The Capitals would not miss three times in the following ten minutes, taking a commanding lead into the second period, one that would translate into a 6-2 victory and a 3-1 series advantage.

Washington Capital TJ Oshie pops in the rebound Vegas Golden Knight Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't control in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Lady Luck has caught up with irrepressible Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, too. The ever-smiling, effervescent ex-Penguin carried the club through the regular season, then the playoffs’ first three rounds. Against Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg, his net was emptier than Donald Trump’s promises. Fleury boasted a .947 save percentage. At the worst possible time, he has regressed to the mean, his number in the Finals 102 points lower.

It will have to come back up and the skaters in front of him will have to start converting their chances. As hard as it is to relax when it’s win or go home, Vegas can’t afford to grip their sticks any tighter or make that one extra pass out of uncertainty.

Cleveland

It wasn’t three misses that put the Cavaliers under the cosh in the NBA Finals; it was one shot declined. Things had been going swimmingly for the Cavs in the NBA playoffs. LeBron James had been carrying the load and the supporting cast was ensuring he had a clear path to the basket against Indiana, Toronto and Boston. Matters were much the same for 47 minutes and 56 seconds or so of Game 1 in the fourth instalment of their annual NBA Finals confrontation. Then JR Smith happened.

In case you were locked in your bathroom for five days [it happens, I’m not judging], the 6’9″ Freehold, New Jersey native who the game program lists as a shooting guard suddenly declined to do so. Collecting the ball under the rim with the score tied [NHL Fan Book rule number 14: Never listen to Don Cherry], Smith dribbled to the sideline to run out the clock, apparently thinking the Cavs had the lead when the score was tied. Cleveland then lost in overtime.

Needless to say, LeBron was displeased. He’d been driving the bus for three series just to get the chance to beat the Warriors, and now JR Smith decides to hop out for cigarettes?

Game 2 was a debacle. Cleveland suddenly couldn’t trust each other while Golden State had to believe the stars were aligned and the moon was in the house of Klay and Curry. The Warriors won by 19 to take a two-games-to-none lead as the series switched to The Land.

Another time-honored truism in best-of-seven series is that you’re never in trouble until you lose at home. Well, the Cavs are 48 minutes from trouble of a kind they absolutely do not want. They cannot afford to give Golden State a 3-0 or even 3-1 lead. There will be no coming back. JR Smith, at 32, may face a lifetime thinking, “I could have sworn we were up one.”

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

Are you ready for LeBron versus the Gang of Three, Chapter Four?

Are you ready for LeBron versus the Gang of Three, Chapter Four?

We live in an age of instant gratification. Our attention spans have dwindled to almost nothing. Virtually everyone’s kids–look at me when I’m talking to you–are diagnosed with ADD, ADHD or ADWTF. They’re all heavily medicated. Moms and dads take out one-year leases on cars built to last a decade. We trade in our old phones for the newest on a monthly basis. Nothing is ever good enough. In the immortal words of Freddie Mercury, we want it all and we want it now.

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Except when it comes to the NBA. Then, we’re happy to slog through an 82-game season listening to Charles Barkley make no sense, followed by four rounds of playoff action just so we can get to what everyone knows is coming: another episode of the LeBron and Steph Show known as the NBA Finals.

Both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors deserve credit. They tried to throw us off the scent, teasing us that maybe this was the year a new team would step up to move the NBA forward by taking their respective conference finals to seven games. Golden State even let a Houston Rockets side without Chris Paul run out to a double-digit lead in the first half before pulling out another patented shock-and-awe third quarter to put the series to bed.

In the end, though, there will be a fourth consecutive final between the Cavs and Warriors, and people couldn’t be happier. If LeBron can somehow drag his supporting cast of cable repairmen and UPS drivers to a title, it could tie this best-of-seven-years series at two and force it to at least a sixth season. And the fans would eat it up. So would the television executives. Guaranteed ratings for the foreseeable future.

The opening matchup of this year’s series is tonight in Oakland. Golden State open as 12.5 point favorites. My gut wants to buy into that line by taking Golden State. I can see Steph, KIay Thompson and Kevin Durant outshooting King James. Both teams won on the road to close out but the Warriors went last and have the momentum.

On the other hand, I remember that opening scene from Once Upon a Time in the West. The planks on the train platform are too rotted and warped to dribble a ball, but the tension in the three-against-one gunfight is dead-on. Harmonica (Charles Bronson) asks Not Frank (Jack Elam) if he brought a horse for him. Not Frank laughs and says, “Looks like we’re shy one horse.” Harmonica shakes his head and replies, “You brought two too many.” Then he outdraws Not Frank and his two cohorts, gunning them all down.

I worry that LeBron James is feeling his inner Harmonica coming into Game One. He certainly felt it in Games 6 and 7 against Boston, when he ripped off 81 points.

Is he still up to it? Maybe, but he’ll definitely be alone. Kevin Love remains doubtful as he undergoes Concussion Protocol. Larry Nance Jr isn’t likely to be effective simply because Golden State doesn’t go inside as often as Boston. He should be around to clean up for James at the other end, however.

The critical point in this series will come when Golden State starts strongly. If they are even or ahead going into the half, how will Cleveland respond in the third quarter? If they have an answer for the Warriors berserker onslaught, it will be a long series. If they don’t, well, LeBron will have to take Harmonica lessons in the off-season.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.