LeConqueror

Like many memorable teams before them, the Atlanta Hawks have chosen to kneel before The King

(Philstar/Pinerest)
“It’s bitterly disappointing to lose to this team three years in a row. But we’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era.” ~ Frank Vogel on LeBron James in 2014

Players like Charles Barkley often lament that their biggest “mistake” was being born around the same time as Michael Jordan. I would imagine that players like Paul George will someday say the same thing about LeBron James.

Michael Jordan was a Conqueror— once he beat a team, he’d never lose to them again. He was an Era-Ender. There were a number of memorable teams in the 1980s and 1990s that challenged Jordan’s Bulls in the playoffs — and Jordan thwarted them all. Here are a couple to refresh your memory:


Like Jordan, LeBron James is a Conqueror — teams don’t just lose to LeBron James — they surrender. Last week, by trading Kyle Korver and shopping Paul Millsap, the Atlanta Hawks became the 6th memorable team to waive the white flag and kneel before LeBron the Conqueror — “LeConqueror”.

Back in 2015, the Hawks won 60 games and appeared poised to take down an injury-riddled Cavs team in the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron, however, had other ideas and took the Hawks along with their advanced analytics out to the woodshed as the Cavs swept them, 4–0.

In 2016, the Hawks actually played some of their best basketball against the Cavs in the 2nd round of the playoffs — unfortunately, they ran into an absolute buzzsaw of historic 3-point shooting and were once again swept, 4–0.

And even though the 2017 Hawks are projected to make the playoffs (they’re currently the 4-seed), the inevitable evisceration awaiting them in the playoffs was enough to make the Hawks’ management effectively give up on the Paul Millsap-Era and make a peace offering to the King in the form of Kyle Korver.

The Hawks players that made this Era memorable (Millsap, Korver, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, etc.) shouldn’t feel ashamed of their failures though — they just made the “mistake” of being born around the same time as LeBron James. 5 other memorable teams have made the same “mistake”. Let’s take a look at them and figure out why they couldn’t get passed LeBron James.


Losing to a LeBron-led team in the playoffs comes down to 3 factors:

  • Matchup (Did Team X lack the wing(s) to matchup with LeBron? Did Team X lack the talent to compete with LeBron’s team?)
  • Bad Luck (Did Team X suffer major injuries to key players? Was Team X too young/too old when they faced LeBron in the playoffs?)
  • LeBron (Did LeBron take his game to a G.O.A.T. level against Team X?)

Washington Wizards

This team was memorable because: They were LeBron’s first ever playoff opponent; they had 3 All-Star-caliber players in their respective primes — Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison; and they had some classic trash-talk with LeBron (which yielded one of the best sports/hip-hop analogies ever).

Le conquering:

2006: Lost 4–2 to Cleveland Cavs in Round 1 (LeBron: 36p/8r/6a/1s/1b)

2007: Lost 4–0 to Cavs in Round 1 (LeBron: 28p/9r/8a/2s/1b)

2008: Lost 4–2 to Cavs in Round 1 (LeBron: 30p/10r/8r/1s/1b)

They were conquered because:

Despite facing the worst of the LeBron-led teams, the Wizards never won more than 2 games in a series against LeBron.
  • Matchup: 5% — The Wizards definitely had the athletes at the wing position to matchup with LeBron (Butler, Stevenson) and a huge offensive advantage at guard with Arenas and power forward with Jamison. On paper, the Wizards should have been able to win at least a series.
  • Bad Luck: 15% — Arenas and Butler missed the entire series in 2007 and Arenas missed a couple games in 2008 as well.
  • LeBron: 80% — Beyond the ridiculous numbers he put up against the Wizards, beyond the prophetic Jay-Z vs. Soulja Boy analogy, beyond the multiple game-winners he hit, LeBron simply got into Arenas’ head early in the rivalry (see below) and the Cavs never looked back.
(youtube/NBA)

Which led to . . .

(youtube/NBA)

The Era was over when: Arenas and future 1st-degree murderer Javaris Crittenton had an infamous gun standoff in the locker room in 2009 — which nearly resulted in the death of Arenas.

Detroit Pistons

This team was memorable because: They won the 2003–04 NBA Championship; they made the Eastern Conference Finals 6 straight seasons; they had one of the best defensive teams ever; and their loss to the Cavs in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals doubles as The Moment when people realized that this LeBron-guy might be one of the all-time greats.

Le conquering:

2007: Lost 4–2 to Cavs in Eastern Conference Finals (LeBron in 4 wins: 31.3p/9.8r/8.8/2.3s)

They were conquered because:

The Pistons may have been a little past their prime, but without a superhuman performance by LeBron, they would have crushed the Cavs.
  • Matchup: 5% — Let’s compare the starting lineups. The Pistons had Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups & Tayshaun Prince. The Cavs had LeBron James, Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic & Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Whoa!
  • Bad Luck: 10% — Yes, the Pistons’ best players were near the end of their respective primes and they no longer had Ben Wallace, but just look at how bad the Cavs starting lineup was!!!
  • LeBron: 85% — After going down 0–2, LeBron went full Superhero on the Pistons. His Game 5 (where he scored 29 of the last 30 including the last 25) was probably 1 of the top-5 greatest playoff performances ever.
The video is a lot crisper than it appears in this freeze frame (youtube/NBA)

The Era was over when: Billups was traded for Allen Iverson (a washed-up Allen Iverson) at the start of the 2008–09 season.

Boston Celtics

This team was memorable because: They had The Big 3 (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen); they beat LeBron in the playoffs 2 seasons in a row — including the shocking upset that ended LeBron’s first stint with the Cavs in 2010.

Le conquering:

2011: Lost 4–2 to Miami Heat in Eastern Conference Semifinals (LeBron: 28p/8r/4a/2s/2b)

2012: Lost 4–3 to Heat in Eastern Conference Finals (LeBron: 34p/11r/4a/1s/1b)

They were conquered because:

  • Matchup: 25% —This was the first time LeBron took on the Celtics with championship-quality teammates. Miami’s Big 3 were a matchup nightmare for basically any team.
  • Bad Luck: 10% — No injuries. Although the Celtics’ Big 3 had aged a bit, they still had a budding star — Rajon Rondo — and other young, solid role players — Kendrick Perkins and Jeff Green.
  • LeBron: 65% — James actually rode Dwyane Wade’s coattails a bit in 2011 (Wade: 30p/7r/5a/2s/1b) as the Heat cruised to a 4–1 series victory. However, as you no doubt remember, James unleashed an all-time, legacy-defining performance while facing elimination in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.

The Era was over when:

(youtube/NBA/ESPN)

This performance alone was enough to make Ray Allen leave the Celtics that offseason to join LeBron and the Heat . . . and the Era was over.

Pacers

This team was memorable because: They were the LeBron-Era Heat’s toughest Eastern Conference opponent; they had an incredible defense; and they had a young superstar — Paul George — whom LeBron treated as 1 of his equals.

Le conquering:

2012: Lost 4–2 to Heat in Eastern Conference Semifinals (LeBron: 30p/11r/6a/3s/1b)

2013: Lost 4–3 to Heat in Eastern Conference Finals (LeBron: 29p/7r/5a/1s/1b)

2014: Lost 4–2 to Heat in Eastern Conference Finals (LeBron: 23p/6r/6a/2s/1b)

They were conquered because:

The Heat always seemed like a cat toying with its food against the Pacers — always allowing them to get close to escaping, but crushing the Pacers’ dreams in the end.
(youtube/NBA)
  • Bad Luck: 15% — The Pacers’ former go-to guy — Danny Granger — was never healthy against the Heat. Then again, his injuries created an opportunity for George to become a star.
  • LeBron: 65% — Although his stats in 2013 and 2014 were just okay (by LeBron’s standards), every time the Pacers would push him to the brink, he’d respond like a champion.
(youtube/NBA)

The Era was over when: Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury during a Team USA scrimmage in 2014 (don’t click on the link if you have a weak stomach).

Chicago Bulls

This team was memorable because: They were supposed to challenge LeBron for Eastern Conference supremacy the entire decade; they had the youngest MVP (Derrick Rose) in NBA history; they had a defensive mastermind for a head coach (Tom Thibodeau) who had helped the Celtics beat LeBron’s Cavs twice in the playoffs.

Le conquering:

2010: Lost 4–1 to Cavs in 1st round (LeBron: 32p/9r/8a/1s/2b)

2011: Lost 4–1 to Heat in Eastern Conference Finals (LeBron: 26p/8r/7a/2s/2b)

2013: Lost 4–1 to Heat in Eastern Conference Semifinals (LeBron: 24p/7r/8a/2s)

2015: Lost 4–2 to Cavs in Eastern Conference Semifinals (LeBron: 26p/11r/9a/2s/2b)

They were conquered because:

  • Matchup: 5% — Whether it was Luol Deng or Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson or Joakim Noah, the Bulls always had the athletes to matchup against LeBron.
  • Bad Luck: 30% — Obviously, the Derrick Rose injury in 2012 hampered this rivalry. However, the Bulls absolutely should have beat the injury-depleted Cavs in 2015.
  • LeBron: 65% — LeBron James owned the Chicago Bulls, plain and simple. Just look at his numbers in 2010 and 2015!!!

The Era was over when:

(youtube/NBA/ESPN)

Atlanta Hawks

This team was memorable because: They came out-of-nowhere to win 60 games in 2014–15; they were on the forefront of the pace-and-space movement in the NBA; and they had lots of regular season success against the Cavs (3–0 in 2014–15).

Le conquering:

2015: Lost 4–0 to Cavs in Eastern Conference Finals (LeBron: 30p/11r/9a/2s/1b)

2016: Lost 4–0 to Cavs in Eastern Conference Semifinals (LeBron: 24p/9r/8a/3s/1b)

They were conquered because:

At least the Hawks have the coolest looking pie graph.
  • Matchup: 15% — The Hawks simply could not guard Playoff LeBron — he’d post-up on their wings and blow-by their bigs, creating wide-open shots for his teammates.
  • Bad Luck: 20% — Injuries to DeMarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver all happened at inopportune times. However, make no mistake, the Hawks weren’t beating LeBron in the playoffs.
  • LeBron: 65% — LeBron just had the Hawks number. When he had a bunch of backups playing with him in 2015, the Hawks played like crap; and when he had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love playing with him in 2016, the Hawks played well . . . but not well enough to win a single game.

The Era was over when: The Hawks traded Kyle Korver to the Cavs last week. (I realize that Korver and the Cavs have played poorly thus far — but that can be attributed to the lack of practice time and crazy West Coast road-trip).


Who’s next?

2017 candidate — Toronto Raptors

Stay woke.

2018 candidate — Golden State Warriors

Stay tuned.


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