The Decline of LeBron James in this series would be the one and only story worth discussing except for one thing:
The Dallas Mavericks' willingness to openly discuss The Decline of LeBron James in this series makes that a story, too.
James "checked out'' of Game 4 while deferring to Dwyane Wade, said long-time LeBron nemesis DeShawn Stevenson, the Mavs swingman who has combined with Shawn Marion to keep a lid on James in this series.
More from D-Steve (some of slightly less incendiary): "I just think when you have players like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, you tend, when they have it going, to defer. ... It was very surprising -- him, with his athletic ability ... I think he just kind of faded out ... At the same time, he's a player that can get it going at any time."
LeBron's response: “DeShawn's been talking for a long time, since our Washington-Cleveland days. I don’t let that get to us. It’s a three-game series. Talk is cheap.”
OK, but facts are facts: James' eight points in Dallas' 86-83 victory in Game 4, which evened the series at 2-all going into Thursday night's meeting at the AAC, marked arguably the worst game James has ever played. His billing (self-billing?) as the game's best player, it's "King,'' intensifies the problem with him scoring a career-playoff-low eight points with more turnovers (four) than FGs (three) ... and then a one-shot fourth quarter when he relegated himself to "the guy who stands in the corner and watches.''
In other words, he is this series' Miami version of Peja.
And James is dipping. He's scored just four points in the fourth quarter of the past three games.
"Eight points is definitely inexcusable for myself,'' Myself said. "I hold myself up to a higher standard than that.''
Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki has been true royalty in final quarters. He did it again Tuesday as he scored 10 of his 21 points in the final period, helping the Mavericks outscore Miami 21-9 over the final 10:12.
Dirk did that all while death-warmed-overing his way through the night, a sinus infection causing him to suffer with a 101-degree temperature.
He pronounced himself fine today; "I still got a little high temperature, but the fever is basically gone," he said. (Big Wood and his hip are not as fortunate; he's still day-to-day). So The UberMan is on meds and tea and soup and back to the business of preparing himself for yet another showdown between two teams that, maybe surprisingly to the world, are more than just star-studded but also defensive-minded and evenly-matched.
The last three games of this series have been decided by a combined seven points. All three came down to the final shot.
“We’re in an absolute heavyweight bout,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
And in such a bout ... between two evenly-matched bears ... why should they be afraid to poke?