Thursday, May 13, 2010

There's a big game tonight

So, did you know LeBron James is playing tonight?

He is, in what promises to be one of the more intriguing sporting events we've seen in years. The storylines are overflowing, like Rasheed Wallace's pot belly.

If LeBron loses tonight, he's probably on his way out of Cleveland. If he leaves Cleveland, the next 10 or so years of the NBA landscape will change. The balance of power will shift to somewhere, be it New York or Chicago or wherever he might wind up.

There's poor, God-hates-us Cleveland. If the city's hometown icon bolts for a bigger city, the whole place could crumble. That's no joke. It could literally crumble. The Cavs would be relegated to Raptors territory and LeBron would suddenly become Art Modell Jr. The whole psychological makeup would be transformed forever. They've been through hell, but this would be Armageddon.

Oh, there's also another team playing tonight. The Celtics, if they win, could rise from the nursing home everyone sent them to (including me) as they took off January through March. The Big Three are healthy, Rajon Rondo is quickly becoming the most interesting Celtics player since Larry Bird and the whole team is playing better than it has all season. Maybe they were just waiting for the playoffs this whole time.

Win tonight, and suddenly they're a threat to win a second title in three years while also burning a Midwestern city to the ground.

I can't wait to see this game, and I haven't looked forward to a Celtics game this much since the season opener. But something is nagging at me.

Everyone is already packing LeBron's trophies and his Nike puppets, ready to ship them to a media-powered metropolis of his choosing. The post-mortems are ubiquitous. Cleveland fans sound a lot like Boston fans after Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.

So, what if Cleveland were finally to win a championship? Wouldn't the first come after everyone had already written off its chances?

There's no way LeBron does not play with a Michael Jordan-type intensity tonight. He's just too good to stink up the court like he did Tuesday night. He could drop 40-8-8 in the New Garden and I would not be surprised. The Cavs won more than 60 games for a reason: They're very good and they have the best player in the world.

The problem for them is, if LeBron has an off night in any game, they're toast. If Kobe struggles, Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom can pick up the slack. If Dwight Howard sucks, Rashard Lewis or Jameer Nelson or Vince Carter can come to the rescue. Ditto for the Celtics, since they have four of the best five players in this series. The Cavs cruise when LeBron is playing like LeBron. Only then do their mediocre complimentary pieces (overweight Shaq, soft Antawn Jamison and the valedictorian of the Dan Dickau school of defense in Mo Williams) look like title contenders.

When LeBron is off, they have nothing. No contending team in decades, not even the Bulls of the 90s, has relied so heavily on just one guy. (I don't count the post-Shaq, pre-Gasol Lakers. They were never contenders).

But LeBron can't struggle tonight. There's just too much on the line. Which is why I fear this Game 6, even while I eagerly await it. Too many people are dumping on him. Too many people have penned obits on the Cavs. When this happens, I get weary. Obviously, it has nothing to do with what happens on the court, but it's still scary. I'm just a worry wart.

I hope the Celtics make my consternation look foolish. No matter what, anyone who follows sports has to watch this game.

The stakes are higher than Alyssa Milano.

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