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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lakers at Heat: LeBron's Flu Game

Michael Jordan was the best human basketball player ever to live. Ask any serious person and they'll tell you that. Every so often people who comment on basketball are forced to try to deem some young athlete "the next Michael Jordan." This is kind of crazy, but it happens anyway. Nowadays, LeBron James gets a lot of these comparisons because he is currently the most talented player in the NBA. I don't particularly love this practice of judging James by Jordan's standards as it's not really fair to him. He is an astoundingly talented basketball player and deserves to be evaluated separate of expectations thrust upon him by others. However, thieves get rich and saints get shot, so we continue to make these comparisons.

Before last night's Lakers/Heat game, LeBron was reported to be suffering from the flu. This brought up the obvious comparison to Jordan's "Flu Game" in game 5 of the 1997 finals. Clearly there was a little less on the line for a regular season game in January, but LeBron had the chance to quiet the critics who question his mettle. Perhaps LeBron could channel his inner-MJ and make these comparisons more than just a useless exercise.

LeBron didn't disappoint. He put up 31-8-8 with 4 steals and 3 blocks. He did this on 12-27 shooting, going to the line 7 times and making 5 free throws. Compare this with Jordan's 38-7-5 on 13-27 shooting. Jordan also had 3 steals and a block. Amazingly, Jordan drew 12 free throw attempts despite his illness. Again, it's pointless to say who's performance was better as one was in the Finals and one was in the 14th game of the season. But clearly there won't be a narrative about LeBron being a "choker" or not living up the standard of His Airness.

Early in the game it didn't appear obvious that LeBron was going to put up such a stellar performance. He was taking a lot of jumpers off screens and not attacking. The offense was mainly a 2-man strong side set with James and Bosh that resulted in either a LeBron jumper off a pick or a dump into Bosh. However, once LeBron got aggressive, it was clear that it would take more than mere influenza to stop him. A couple of good drives, one which prompted Josh McRoberts to do his best Chris Mihm impression, allowed LeBron to open up the floor and assist open shooters like Battier and Mike Miller. Hell, he even made a pass so user-proof that Eddy Curry finished it.

LeBron showed great effort as well, fighting for a steal in the 2nd quarter which he would then take all the way down the court before getting fouled. A chase-down block on Matt Barnes in the 3rd showed that LeBron was going to make his presence felt no matter what. James said after the game that he wanted to be a more "complete player" and that he wanted to "make plays for his teammates." Done and done. His work on the block and some savant-like passing helped him achieve those goals in a game that the Heat controlled for most of the second half.

Despite recent criticism of his late game and crunch time ability, LeBron showed he can play at his normally awesome level whether he's under the pressure of comparisons or just the weather.

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