Jun 3 2013 11:41AM

The Real Three Kings

Isaac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

The 2013 Eastern Conference Finals will forevermore be remembered for The Big 3, and not the Big 3 as christened by the sports public in Summer 2010.

These 2013 NBA Playoffs are about an emerging storyline coming out of the East, featuring a king in reign (LeBron James) and two proud princes in waiting (Roy Hibbert and Paul George) who have valiantly battled King James and his countrymen for the right to represent the East in the 2013 NBA Finals.

No matter what happens in Game 7 Monday night, these three men deserve to be treated as NBA royalty for the way they have ruled this seven-game series.

LeBron truly has played like a four-time MVP in these 2013 NBA Playoffs, averaging 25.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.5 steals in 41.2 minutes per game, with a 27.9 Player Efficiency Rating, .609 true shooting percentage and +112 plus-minus score in 15 games.

If Miami beats Indiana to reach the NBA Finals for the third straight season, LeBron is more than half the reason it still happens.

When you dissect this 2013 Heat open, you see some obvious parts missing from the defending champions of the 2012 NBA Finals.

Gone is Dwyane Wade's efficient shot creation, most likely disabled with a knee injury that has flattened out his offensive game (2012-to-2013 playoff drop in PER, from 22.0 to 17.0; scoring, from 22.8 points in 39.4 minutes per game to 13.6 points in 35.1 minutes; true shooting percentage, from .526 to .491).

To a lesser degree, Chris Bosh's game is also off, with a similar drop in PER (19.7 to 16.1), true shooting percentage (.574 to .557), coupled with a decline in points and rebounds (from 14.0 and 7.8 in 31.4 minutes per game to 12.5 and 6.5 rebounds in 32.0 minutes per game).

Face it.

Miami's Big 3 no longer plays big in these playoffs, with The Injured Two-Thirds being reduced to above-average role players by Indiana (No. 1 in defense), Chicago (No. 5) and Milwaukee (No. 12).

This clearly has been Wade and Bosh's worsts playoff performances in three years at Miami.

One might want to give all of the credit to Indiana's top-ranked defense--orchestrated by Hibbert--but that wouldn't be totally fair because the Heat went against four top 10 defenses last season, when Wade and Bosh actually fared better.

Part of this drop-off falls at the All-Star feet--or rather, knee and ankle--of the Not-So-Big Two.

If anything, LeBron now seems to be playing with a Heat team comparable to the 2007 East champion Cleveland Cavaliers, rather than the 2012 NBA champion and 2011 NBA finalist Miami Heat squads of the past.

I mean, LeBron's 2007 teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas played much better as a second banana than either Wade or Bosh in these 2013 NBA Playoffs, which could be quite telling next round should Miami advance to the Finals to face the San Antonio Spurs.

After all, when all was said and done in 2007, those Cavaliers did not have enough to win even one game against the Spurs, going down in a 4-0 sweep at the 2007 NBA Finals.

Indeed, the defending champion Heat are nowhere to be found: the Fast Five lineup that made history in the 2012 NBA Finals--Mario Chalmers, Wade, Shane Battier, James and Bosh--have all but disappeared, playing only 23 minutes in these playoffs and 3 minutes in the 2013 ECF.


Seems like a case of identity thief, with Indiana's Fab 5 lineup being the guilty party of making the Heat play Pacer basketball.

That is why this Game 7 is so big on so many levels.

D-Wade and Bosh are certain to face a whole offseason of scrutiny, whether it's fair or not because of the injuries, if Miami loses this Game 7.

Should LeBron overcome the mountainous obstacle that lies in his path, set by Pacer princes Hibbert and George, it banishes that tabloid story to another realm for another day.

From the Pacers' perspective, Indiana is in a truly enviable position, albeit as the face of underdogs against great odds of winning a Game 7 in Miami.

Should the Pacers upset the Heat, you can bet George will start getting Top 5 MVP consideration next season, something he did not get much of in a year where he cleaned up on other league hardware (All-NBA third team, All-Defense second team, Most Improved Player).

That's what 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assist averages in the playoff series when you guard LeBron will do for a man's rep.

Should Indiana reach the Finals, Hibbert undoubtedly becomes a top candidate for next season's Defensive Player of the Year award, a status earned by his play in these 2013 NBA Playoffs, not to mention the $75,000 investment he made this weekend to insure he got his name out there, for your consideration.

That's what 17 & 10 point-and-rebound average will do for your credibility when you post a 21.6 postseason PER, while playing the best post defense in the East-side bracket of the playoffs.

Indeed, Hibbert and George have proven to be princes in NBA lore.

James is still a king.

The only way D-Wade and Bosh symbolically return as King James' Knights of the Round Table in these 2013 NBA Playoffs is to have the night of their lives in Game 7 Monday.

If not, Miami's Big 3 reign comes to an end, for a spell.