3 votes – Lebron James. LBJ dominated this game in the last quarter and Wade dominated it through the first three. And that is what makes this Heat team so hard to stop. You can pin these guys down for a quarter or maybe a half, but not both of them for a whole game. That didn’t seem like such a formidable problem for Heat opponents during the regular season, but it’s pretty clear that Wade and Lebron have stepped it up another gear in the playoffs.

Apart from a solid 17-point 11-rebound game from Bosh, Lebron and Wade literally got nothing from the rest of their teammates. The six other Heat players combined for 22 points, 18 boards and 6 assists – a nice line for one player, horrible for six, especially when it includes two starters. Yet despite this massive unbalance, the Heat still comfortably beat the Boston Celtics in a playoff game, and go 2-0 up in the series. Think about that. This proves beyond doubt, that Miami really can go all the way this season with 2.5 great players and little else.

2 votes – Dwyane Wade. See above.

1 vote – James Harden. The Thunder bench won them this game, make no mistake. And it was Harden (along with Maynor) that sparked them with a stat-stuffing 21 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. And here’s the problem for the Thunder – their bench will need to keep producing like this if they have any chance of beating Memphis in this series. Guarding Durant and Westbrook isn’t such a major issue for the Grizzlies, as it is say for the Lakers.  I have a feeling the Grizz will do just fine containing those two. It’s the Thunder role players – guys like Ibaka and Harden – who can swing this series, and it’s a fascinating test for the Thunder to prove they’re championship worthy.

My 2 cents on the Lakers – and this was written today after they fell in a 0-2 hole.

A lot of people (well, maybe like 10 or 12) messaged and emailed me a couple of weeks back when I changed my title-predictionfrom LA to Miami. They were surprised and shocked and confused by my prediction. And when it came to me writing about it, I found it hard to articulate exactly why I’d given up on the Lakers. A “hunch” was the best I could come up with. But thinking back, and hindsight is always a wonderful thing, the overriding feeling I had was this: “the Lakers look tired”. These guys really do look like they played 100 games in each of the past three seasons. They look banged up. They look like a team that slept-walk through the regular season, had a caffeine-hit for a few small stretches, but always kept coming back down to earth. A lazy equilibrium. They look like a team that has already achieved enough, and lets be honest, they kinda have. No team since LA and Boston in the 80′s has managed to make 4-straight Finals appearances. Not MJ, not Shaq, not Duncan (he never even made 2-straight).

Gasol looks buggered. Everything he does seems like hard work. He hasn’t had a single game-winning performance in this post-season. He’s regressed into the softer shadow of a player he once was, and seems fed up with disproving that “soft” tag (I don’t blame him). Odom looks content with his 6th Man of the Year Award, as if it was his third ring. Fisher looks lost and hasn’t had any of the gutsy performances we usually associate with him. It’s almost laughable to think he would be the starting point guard on another championship team, yet these Lakers were good enough to convince us otherwise.

And then there’s Kobe. Kobe is Kobe and you can’t deny his competitive drive. But I think he has tricked us. I think Kobe Bryant tricked us into thinking he was still an elite player in this league that can carry his team to another championship. And most people would say he still fits that description. But the facts have been there for all to see – he just hasn’t been able to dominate games the way he used to, not during the regular season, not during these playoffs. Sure he’s not 100% and that does have something to do with it, but also consider these facts:

- Regular season and playoffs combined, Kobe Bryant, as of today, has played 200 more NBA games than Michael Jordan had at the time of his retirement in 1998.

- He’s played 250 more than Bird and 210 more than Magic for their entire careers.  That is another 2-3 seasons worth of games. And Bird and Magic were completely washed up when they retired. Jordan wasn’t washed up, but no one expected him to keep playing on and dominating. His last season as a Bull was statistically the worst of his career (at that point).

Yet Kobe has had only minor slippage this season, statistically. He’s still regarded as a Top 5 player and the debate of Lebron vs Wade vs Kobe is still a lively one. And it shouldn’t be. Because Kobe Bryant should be an old man in this league. His athletic prime was 9 years ago. His scoring prime was 5 years ago. The peak of his veteran powers, in my opinion, was 3 years ago.

But Kobe has tricked us into thinking he’s still in the window of some sort of prime. Except he’s not. He can’t just drop 40 at will like he used to. He can’t just take over games in the 4th like he used to. It’s not that he’s getting less clutch. He’s just getting past it. And he tricked us, because we never saw it coming this soon.

The Lakers will need a miracle to survive in this series, because the number 1 weapon they usually rely on to climb out of these situations – Kobe Bryant – simply doesn’t have the firepower. He’s running out of gas when I swore the needle was at half-full just a few miles back.

He tricked us.

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