Does LeBron James have a point about teams playing him too physically? Defenses are only going to get tougher on him during the postseason. What does he hope to accomplish with these comments?
-- Paul G., Orlando, Fla.
LeBron was in the news all week, Paul, for fouls that weren't called and for a game he didn't play. Let's deal with the latter first.
I understand why the Heat held out James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers from their game Sunday at San Antonio. It was actually a highly competitive bit of gamesmanship that Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was playing, based on the Spurs' infamous decision to send home their leaders -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green -- before a game at Miami in November, which the Heat barely won 105-100.
From Miami's point of view, the Spurs' tactics came off as an act of disrespect. So the Heat copied that tactic in order to derive the same benefits. They showed faith in their role players, who built up their confidence with a remarkable 88-86 win at San Antonio thanks to Chris Bosh's last-second three-pointer; they rallied the players to raise their focus in anticipation of the playoffs; and they beat the Spurs at their own game.
[MAHONEY: Heat show blueprint for stifling Spurs]
So why was San Antonio fined $250,000 for resting its players in Miami, but the Heat received no penalty? For one thing, the Heat players weren't put on an early plane back home, which was the act that appeared to gall commissioner David Stern more than anything. It was the image of fans paying big money for tickets and making plans to arrive at a game that was important to them, while the Spurs thought so little of the game that their best players left town early. It was a bad message to send to the fans.
What Miami did was more nuanced. At this time of year teams are beginning to rest their stars for the playoffs anyway. The Heat trio was in the arena; the players didn't fly home early. Plus, there was gamesmanship involved here that will lead ultimately to more attention on the two teams if they should meet in the NBA Finals. It will be the rare championship series in which their first authentic view of each other will come in Game 1.
As predicted by Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who is a member of the competition committee, the NBA is certain to create some kind of rule this summer that will lay out the circumstances by which a coach can or can't rest his players. (James, Wade and Chalmers are expected to sit again Tuesday against the Knicks.) In the meantime, this episode shows how the NBA works: Fans are paying more attention to the two best teams because their best players didn't play. It's a strange sports world, and you would never be able to explain any of this to Red Auerbach.
Now to your question, Paul, about whether James has a point about the fouls he endures. What I would say is that he has a point of view similar to that of other stars who have been bigger and stronger than most of their opponents. Intimidating stars like James have always believed that they don't receive the benefit of the doubt because they're able to absorb blows more effectively than most players. It's as if the assaults bounce off them, and they complain that if they were smaller, then more fouls would be called on their behalf.
[LeBron stars in Cleveland paper's April Fool's joke]
Here is what a star like James misses when he complains: He would never want to give up the advantage of his size. James is able to dictate the way the game is played. If opponents feel the need to overcompensate, and if officials don't always view potential fouls from James' point of view, then isn't that a small price to pay for all of the advantages that come his way?
He wants to have it both ways.
Danny Ainge reflected the opinion of a lot of NBA people when he basically said that James' complaints are in inaccurate. James does appear to receive the benefit of the doubt, especially in the closing minutes of tight games.
And then Pat Riley also reflected a majority opinion when he pointed out that Ainge complained about the officiating as much as any player. The truth is that all of them -- James, Ainge and Riley -- are trying to spin this to their benefit, and we ought to be skeptical of just about everything they say on this subject. All of it is self-serving.
Looking back at the trade deadline, is it fair to say the Magic may have been the big winners after all? Sure, Milwaukee solidified its postseason status in acquiring J.J. Redick, but Tobias Harris has been great for Orlando. Seems like all he needed was a change of scenery.
-- Bill E., Albuquerque, N.M.
There were no big winners because nothing big happened at the deadline. But you're making a very good point here, Bill, because Harris is averaging 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds since joining the Magic. He scored 30 against the Wizards and has had a couple of 15-rebound games.
It's a promising start, but in the context of the trade it's important to note that Harris is putting up these numbers for a bad team. Redick, by comparison, has shown that he can produce for winning teams. There is a big difference in their value.
Still, Harris has been a tremendous find for the Magic. He is exactly the type of prospect they were seeking from the Redick trade -- he's 20 years old, he's on a cheap deal paying him $1.5 million this season and he enables them to move forward with a young asset that didn't have nearly so much value before he was acquired in February. At this early stage of his career, Harris is a much better fit for the rebuilding Magic than the more expensive Redick.
How do you explain Jeff Green's recent play in Boston? Is he finally delivering on the potential the Celtics saw when they acquired him?
-- Scott, Boston
The Celtics believe he has upside in this sense: The more he believes in himself and the more intensity he brings to the gym each day, the closer he'll come to fulfilling his potential. It can't be pointed out enough that Green underwent major heart surgery that saved his life last year. My view is that his play has been remarkable, given everything he has overcome.
[Green beats Cavaliers with buzzer-beating layup]
He arrived in Boston as a tweener forward with no true position, and the Celtics continue to believe that he can turn his size and athleticism into a strength (as opposed to a weakness) by creating mismatches.
I was disappointed to see the Heat fall short of the Lakers' record winning streak. Which do you see happening first: a team breaking the Lakers' 33-game winning streak or a team topping the Bulls' record 72-win season?
-- Susan Teal, Milwaukee
I don't know if we'll ever see either record broken, Susan. But the more impressive record is the 72 wins of the Bulls. Think about it: You could win 33 in a row and you would still need to go 39-10 in the other games -- a winning percentage of .796 -- to equal the Bulls' accomplishment. No team in the league has won 79.6 percent of its games this season. Apart from their 27-game winning streak, the Heat have gone 31-15.
Are Danny Granger's days done in Indiana? The team has shown it can play well without him and he's poised to be an expiring contract next season.
-- Leonard R., Buffalo, N.Y.
He's on the books for $14 million next season, when he'll be 30. The Pacers will definitely be asking around the league to see what they can receive in a trade for him, and I'm guessing -- based on the lack of interest at the trade deadline for more healthy players on expiring deals -- that they won't be happy with the offers. They've already used the amnesty provision (on James Posey), and so both the Pacers and Granger must assume that he'll be on their roster going into next season. Indiana will see how he performs and decisions will be based on events to come, because it's going to be difficult to move him.