The biggest storyline of the 2011-12 NBA season is guaranteed to feature the nine-year championship quest of LeBron James.

Win or lose, the player nicknamed “King James” will be the top story in the world of professional basketball, a situation familiar to the wildly-talented point forward who today celebrates his 28th birthday.

James combines equal parts of force and finesse with his intimidating size and speed to create a player unlike any other in NBA history.

James soon will have another label attached to his game: the most gifted player to never win an NBA title.

LeBron’s 2-8 record in the NBA Finals is one of the few blemishes on an otherwise impressive list of career accomplishments which includes an NBA scoring title, a pair of NBA MVP awards, seven NBA All-Star appearances, a pair of NBA All-Star MVP awards, five-time honoree of All-NBA First Team and three-time honoree of NBA All-Defensive First Team.

Critics point to LeBron’s inability and/or unwillingness to extinguish opponents in the final minutes of a game or final stages of a series.

The “choke” label is grossly unfair because his career playoff averages (28.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists) are slightly better than his regular-season numbers.

But his basketball IQ involving shot selection must improve.

No longer should an experienced player of his size, strength and raw ability settle for off-balance 20-footers or challenged shots from beyond the arc.

A check of Miami’s first three games this season reveals LeBron is improving with age.

James has yet to hoist a three-point shot in Miami’s first three games, opting instead to drive into the lane and attack the rim at every opportunity.

With teammate Dwayne Wade at LeBron’s side, this year’s playoff season should be dominated by the most talented duo in the league.

After all, the NBA is in a state of transition with older teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Mavericks regressing and younger teams like the Bulls, Thunder, Grizzlies and Clippers still a year or two away.

LUCKY 7’S…..Baylor rolled up 777 yards of total offense in a 67-56 spread-covering victory over Washington in last night’s Alamo Bowl in San Antonio where defense was optional and both teams opted out.

Baylor and Washington combined to score an all-time bowl-record 17 touchdowns.

Sixteen extra points, a two-point conversion and a field goal rounded out the scoring.

Washington’s second-half collapse (the Huskies led by 11 at the half and lost by 11 in the end) was the third straight double-digit loss by a Pac-12 representative this season. Earlier, Arizona State lost by 32 points to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl and California lost to Texas by 11 points in the Holiday Bowl before Baylor and Robert Griffin III outdueled Washington’s sophomore quarterback Keith Price.

With the poor performances of Pac-12 teams in early bowl action, there have been several understandable betting moves against UCLA, Stanford and Oregon with the Ducks dropping from a 7-point choice at The Mirage to a limp 5-point favorite over Wisconsin in the January 2 Rose Bowl.

CAREFUL…..Week 17 of the NFL season has a preseason feel to it. The schedule — exclusively featuring 16 divisional games — presents challenges for bettors and bookmakers alike. Information is difficult to assess and the reliability of published reports can be suspect at times.

Some NFL teams are competing for playoff spots (Cincinnati and Tennessee) or playoff seeds (Baltimore and Pittsburgh) while others (Green Bay and Houston) are locked into their playoff seeding and decided to rest players to gear up for a postseason run.

While four teams battle for the AFC’s final wild card spot, the winner-take-all game between NFC East rivals Dallas and the New York Giants is cut and dry. The winner advances to the playoffs; the loser goes home.

There’s good news and bad news for the winner of Sunday night’s game featuring Tony Romo and Eli Manning: the good news is the winner remains alive for Super Bowl glory but the bad news and the harsh reality of the situation requires the winner of Sunday night’s game to win four more do-or-die contests, making a five-game undefeated streak highly unlikely for either the Cowboys (losers of three out of four) or the Giants (2-5 in their last seven).

Professional sports bettor Mike Greene appeared earlier this week (December 27 and 28) on two episodes of The EOG Sports Hour. Greene’s commentary on Week 17 action in the NFL is available for downloading at www.eogradio.com. The astute handicapper and shrewd investor discussed many angles not covered by the mainstream media.

Here’s a gem from Greene: “Everybody thinks the 2-13 Colts may lose on purpose to assure themselves the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft which most assuredly would be quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford.”

Greene continued, “But think about this…Jacksonville has incentive to lose as well. If the Jags lay down, Jacksonville could avoid seeing Andrew Luck in the AFC South for many years to come. The Jags faced Peyton Manning twice every year for the past dozen years or so and Jacksonville could more than likely avoid the same situation with Andrew Luck if they allow Indy to win.”

SATURDAY’S BEST BET…..Play 244 VANDERBILT -1.5 over Cincinnati. Horseplayers will understand this pedigree play for a couple of reasons. Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Aaron Rodgers, started the last six games for the Commodores and the team displayed plenty of heart and determination behind the leadership of Rodgers. Cincy quarterback Zach Collaros will start for Cincinnati despite breaking his ankle on the second Saturday of November in a 24-21 loss to West Virginia. Aggressive treatment and a will to play finds Collaros in a spot to shine this weekend. Prefer the SEC rep over the Big East rep. I also like the student-athletes of Vanderbilt over the undisciplined minds at Cincinnati. Look for Vandy’s defense and special teams to do the dirty work while Rodgers does just enough to win and make the headlines.

COMING SUNDAY…..A closer look at Week 17 in the NFL.

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