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Shaun Powell

No matter what LeBron James does well, his limited shortcomings always seem to take the spotlight.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron, warranted or not, continues to wear bull's-eye

Posted Feb 21 2012 11:28AM

The Knicks visit Miami on Thursday and everyone will see this is no fluke, that he's having a rare and epic season and maybe, despite the doubts, the best is yet to come for him and his team.

Oh, wait. You thought this was another Jeremy Lin story?

No. It's LeBron James and how his steady all-around and all-encompassing performance is being buried by all the pixie dust blowing from New York. It's weird. James is ripping through the season and throwing up mad numbers and the basketball public just shrugs and points toward the 2012 NBA Finals, specifically the fourth quarters (assuming Miami is playing). Such is the life LeBron created for himself, and his critics created for him, here in a season in which he's taken for granted, a season shaping up as another MVP run which will be dismissed if the Heat don't win it all.

LeBron is bringing 28 points (second in the league), 8.2 rebounds (tied with Kevin Durant among small forwards; no one else is close), seven assists, 1.71 steals (ninth) and plenty of scorched earth from rim to rim on the fast break. If he spends the second half of the season crashing boards and passing more than shooting, he could average a triple-double for the year, or come close. Then you'd have to give him an Oscar (Robertson) in addition to the MVP.

Plus the Heat are steamrolling, losing only three times since January 14, showing no sign of slippage even when Dwyane Wade sat and ached for a spell. LeBron simply took over as a solo star, as he did for seven years in Cleveland, keeping Miami on pace to overtake the Bulls for the conference lead.

Of course, this being LeBron, even the good times couldn't last without a burp. LeBron gushed about a Blake Griffin dunk a few weeks back, never mentioning the victim by name, and still the hypersensitive Kendrick Perkins, the victim, pounced and said that as a great player, LeBron shouldn't spend his time Tweeting (ignoring that his own teammate, Durant, tweets, too). As expected, LeBron took heat from the media and fans for poking fun at a fellow player, rather than for praising Griffin, and it's a reflex reaction he has grudgingly come to accept.

"That's the way it is," said LeBron, his feet plunged in an ice bucket while his head smoldered. "I'm an easy target. If someone wants to get a point across, just throw LeBron's name in there," he said, before adding, half-joking, how everything wrong about the world is "LeBron's fault."

More recently, LeBron was accused of floating a trial balloon about returning to Cleveland someday when he answered a hypothetical question. Suddenly, he was plotting an exit strategy, or at worse, being traitorous to Miami, at least according to a segment of the public. Once again, LeBron was passionately debated on talk radio and TV shows and social media, everyone choosing sides regarding the self-proclaimed "easy target."

He said the "Decision" backlash is starting to weaken, and there may be some truth to that, judging strictly by the fainter boos in visiting arenas (Cleveland excepted). But there will always be the "Fourth Quarter" until he goes great lengths to silence that angle, too. And that can't happen without a ring which, fair or not, makes his regular season somewhat moot, remarkable as it is.

The table is set differently for LeBron, who in every way is the exact opposite of Lin. LeBron was raised in a dysfunctional home, was on a magazine cover before his 16th birthday, never went to college (much less Harvard), was ticketed for the Hall before he took his first NBA dribble, won MVPs and dragged a weak Cleveland team to the Finals and saw his popularity soar and crash almost overnight. He's had his own mania, LeSanity if you will, not all of it glowing and gushing.

That's understandable. Humble and educated and never spoiled by a sports-mad media as a teenager, Lin says all the right things while a brash and unapologetic (at least initially) LeBron made a silly "Decision" and was treated like a convict.

It'll be interesting to witness these two completely separate comets headed in the same direction when the Knicks play the Heat. This will hardly be a statement game for LeBron and the Heat; just as well, they can get an up-close look at what all the fuss is about.

And so, too, can all of us, when we see the season LeBron is putting together. There will be no fuss being made over a player who's doing the expected, at least until he covers new ground. Because, as captivating as he is right now, the Jeremy Lin moment for LeBron James must wait another four months, when a still-skeptical public sees how valuable he truly is. Or is not.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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