Miami Heat: Olympic London games suddenly puts pressure back on LeBron James

MIAMI -- LeBron James had his month.

The detractors had to duck for cover. Those who previously mocked were now embracing. The Larry O'Brien trophy had been a steady companion, the glare blinding the skeptics.

But unlike those who get a yearlong reprieve until put-up-or-shut-up time arrives the following June, LeBron got about a month.

Because if the U.S. Olympic team does not deliver gold at the London Games, which open this week, guess who goes to the head of the blame line?

Dwyane Wade? Chris Bosh

Nope. They ducked for cover, taking needed, and well-earned, time for recovery and replenishment.

But back into the line of fire -- fair or unfair, right or wrong --  heads LeBron.

Yes, he already has Olympic gold, achieved four years ago in Beijing alongside Wade and Bosh.

But for as much as his prediction of multiple NBA titles led to second guessing about that confidence, he will find himself with even less wiggle room over the next three weeks.

Because when it comes to the U.S. men's program and the Olympics, it is either gold or failure.

Had Dwight Howard's back, Bosh's abdomen, LaMarcus Aldridge 's hip and the knees of Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Wade not gone bad, there not only would have been ample support, but not nearly as much of a need for LeBron to do as much.

Instead, through training camp and these pre-Olympic exhibitions, there have been times when his role with the national team has been eerily similar to his heavy-lifting during the Heat's just-ended two-month playoff run. With Tyson Chandler the lone true center on USA Basketball's roster, there have been times when James has been cast in a power role, similar to his time defending the likes of Chandler and Kendrick Perkins during the playoffs. At other times, he again has assumed the role of point forward.

This isn't summer vacation. This again has become work, a workload that included a needed 30-point performance in last week's escape act in an exhibition against Brazil.

This is supposed to be a roster so loaded with talent that it requires no definitive leader beyond the guiding hand of coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Yet a leader typically emerges.

By tenure, that would be Kobe Bryant.

Except.

Except there was Krzyzewski this past week calling LeBron, "our best player."

After winning regular-season and NBA Finals MVP honors, who's to argue?

And yet that means it's back, all of it: the pressure to produce, to be the best of the best, to stand as the difference between success and failure, with failure not tolerated.

"He's been very good for us, such a team player, a real vocal leader for our team," Krzyzewski said.

Unlike the NBA playoffs, Olympic play ends with three rounds of knockout play. Lose any of those final three games and there can be no gold, no matter the overall Olympic record.

Had the NBA Finals been one-and-done, the Heat would have been done after their series-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Best-of-seven instead led to a reprieve and ultimately LeBron's championship, the moment that ended the doubts.

For the moment.

Now a new moment of truth is at hand, either an Olympic gold to hang around that Larry O'Brien trophy, or another round of the questions that were supposed to have been silenced a mere four weeks ago.

London's calling, LeBron.

IN THE LANE

BE A BATTIER: Shane Battier's versatility apparently has become the rage. In introducing free-agent acquisition Landry Fields, Toronto Raptors President Bryant Colangelo offered a comparison to the Miami Heat swingman who could not be defined by position during the playoffs. "Shane's obviously had a very nice career. Very similar traits, a lot of similar characteristics," Colangelo said. "If we get anything close to that, we're going to be very happy."

MORE RESPECT: Then there is New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, who said during a televised interview during summer league that the Heat model is one his team should embrace. "They take the game very serious, and, also, they believe that anything less than a championship is a wasted season," he said, with the Knicks having fallen 4-1 to the Heat in the opening round of the playoffs. "We have to take that same mentality going into next year." The offseason Southwest Ranches resident then added the kicker of, "anything less than a championship is a wasted season."

SMART MOVE?: Amid his departure from the Knicks, questions lingered about whether Jeremy Lin could have done more to get himself on the court for the first round of the playoffs against the Heat. The reality is the way the Heat bottled up Lin during the regular season, Lin might have made the right move in light of his payday from the Houston Rockets. The more Lin, even fully healthy, would have been exposed against the Heat, the greater chances an ultimate payoff may never have occurred. That Harvard education clearly paid off.

D-(AS IN DONE) LEAGUE?: The NBA this past week announced 2012-13 Development League affiliations and it essentially reinforced the

notion that the Heat again will have little to do with their affiliate. Having shared their Sioux Falls (S.D.) affiliation last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic, the Heat will now also be joined by the Philadelphia 76ers in what has grown to a four-team mix. While 11 NBA teams smartly (if not economically viably) now have their own D-League affiliate, to compare the Heat's style or goals at this stage to those of the 'Wolves, Magic or 76ers under a common umbrella in Sioux Falls is misguided. Then again, the Heat long have preferred to handle development on their own.

MOVING ON: The Minnesota Timberwolves allowed Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster and Darko Milicic to depart this offseason, so we're not exactly sure who Kevin Love is talking about here . . . or are we? Of how things might change for his team next season, the All-Star and Olympic forward told the Pioneer Press, "There was some bad blood in that locker room we were able to get out of there and smooth things out. That should help us out going forward." Just to review, Beasley, the former and failed Heat lottery pick, did not receive his draft-scale qualifying offer from the 'Wolves and has since signed with the Phoenix Suns.

JERMAINE, AGAIN: It took mere weeks into his Heat tenure for Jermaine O'Neal to start talking about how he could be better utilized. To his credit, coach Erik Spoelstra found a way to make it work during O'Neal's brief Heat tenure. So it hardly came as a surprise, amid a workout last week for the Los Angeles Lakers, that O'Neal mentioned how he could have been utilized better during his two seasons with the Boston Celtics. The problem in recent years has been how O'Neal sees himself compared to how others view his game.

NUMBER

15. Teams yet to use their one-time amnesty provision over the 10-year term of the collective-bargaining agreement to excise a player (and his salary) in order to lessen a luxury-tax hit, with the Heat still among that group.

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