True Hoops

True Hoops

Friday, June 22, 2012

The King Gets His Ring!!!!!!

I'm sure by now you've seen all the highlights and you've heard all the analysis.
We can look at all the numbers and stats we want, but the bottom line is this:
The Miami Heat were not going to be denied this year.
This is their time. And more specifically, this is LeBron's time.

Yes, the Thunder are a great young team. They will more than likely get another opportunity.
Yes, Kevin Durant is perhaps the world's greatest offensive talent and a top 2-5 player.
But, Miami is the best team in the NBA.
And, LeBron James is the best player in the world.
And, "it's about damn time" everyone recognizes that.

It has certainly been a journey.

So much so, that going into last night's championship clincher both my brother and myself thought LeBron would cry upon receiving the trophy (and Finals MVP). But why on earth would we think that? LeBron always does things his own way. We all know he likes to dance and have fun. And this is Miami after all. These guys know how to party. It's actually the first thing they did when the Miami Big three came together.

I guess practice makes perfect.
Care to see all that practice pay off - in the championship locker room?

1) you are in a noise sensitive environment
2) You are still a LeBron is the best denier
3) You are still a Heat hater
(And let's be real, if you're one of the latter two - shame on you).

But, if you want to see LeBron celebrating after attaining greatness and the Heat champagne soaked, dancing, and clutching the trophy......will a Fab Five cameo......then by all means, enjoy:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On the Cusp

The Miami Heat are on the verge of winning the NBA championship.
This shouldn't come as a shock.
But, it may be a little surprising as to how they actually got to this position.

As they have done all series long, the Thunder big three out scored the Heat's big three in game 4. The Durant/Westbrook/Harden trio combed for 79 points while the LeBron/Wade/Bosh trio combined for 66 points. For the series, the Thunder trio is averaging 70 points per game, compared the Heat trio's average of just over 65 points per game.

You would think since 3/4 of the games in this series have been decided by 6 points or less, having a -5 point deferential from their stars wouldn't bode well for the Heat.


Not when the Heat's supporting players are decisively outplaying that of the Thunder's. Not when Mario Chalmers goes off for 25 points in game 4, including the last 5 points for the Heat to close it out. Who cares about only three players? With those 25 points, the Heat's big three + 1 combined for 91 points - clearly pushing them over the top.

Truth be told, having that extra help hasn't been aberration for the Heat in the Finals. Okay, maybe Chalmers' performance was a little bit of an aberration, I mean after all with 26 for LeBron, 25 for Wade, and 25 for Chalmers the Heat became the first team in the NBA Finals to have three players score at least 25 points since the Lakers did it in 1984 with Magic, Worthy, and Abdul-Jabar. But still, the notion of a 4th player making significant contributions has been a consistent theme for the Heat thus far in the Finals.

Dig this: the Heat have had a 4th player score in double figures 3/4 games this series (Battier twice and Chalmers once). The Thunder, on the other hand, have yet to have a 4th player score in double figures.
Of course, the Thunder have also only had one game in which every member of their big three score in double figures, but that's another issue.

As stated last time, the emergence of the Heat supporting players has surely been the biggest irony - and thus far defining factor - of this series. Coming in, the Heat was the team supposed to be top heavy and lacking depth. While the Thunder was supposed to be the team more balanced with numbers and chemistry. This couldn't have been anymore opposite from the truth in game 4. Beyond Chalmers' 25 points, you had Norris Cole off the bench with 8 points, and even without scoring as much, the Heat still had Battier making winning plays by tipping a loose ball out to Chalmers with under 20 seconds to go in the game.
What balance.
And then you had the Thunder, who are suddenly top heavy and without any support for their stars. In game 4 Westbrook was absolutely brilliant with 43 points and Durant - as always -  was impressive with 28. But as eluded to earlier, no one else on OKC scored in double figures.

Did anyone see this turn of events coming???

I know someone that might have.

I would like to bring up something I asked LeBron a couple of weeks ago, after his 45 point, 15 rebound, and 5 assist performance in game 6 of the Eastern conference finals. After almost single handedly staving of elimination, I asked LeBron if "it was ever anymore apparent how essential it was....that he continues to shoot the ball......even if it's over 2-3 defenders?" With a laugh, he responded "This is a team game. Without my teammates we don't win this game. I am very good at math, if 2-3 defenders are on me that means someone is open. I will continue to pass the ball to my teammates when they are open. I have confidence in them that they will make the shot. That's they way I was raised and learned how to play the game. And that's the way I will continue to play the game."

After the best game of his NBA career, from an individual stand point, here you had LeBron James talking about his teammates first and how essential they are to winning. How he will willingly pass the ball, even though it's quite obvious he can score at will.

It's one thing to just say those things.
It's another thing to actually believe them.

Now go back to game 4 the other night.
LeBron had only 10 points in the first half, yet the Heat still managed to erase a 17 point first quarter deficit. Of course, LeBron also had 8 assists in the first half. He finished with 12 assists for the game.
The Heat won.
Obviously his trust and confidence in his teammates was prescient.
More importantly, it has also been rewarded.

That's why he is the best player in the world and I am just a biomedical scientist.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that LeBron, thankfully, still knows how "essential" it is for him to shoot. For the first 33 minutes of game 4, LeBron had 12 points and 12 assists on 6-11 shooting, without going to the foul line. Over the last 15 minutes of the game, LeBron had 14 points and 0 assists on 4-9 shooting and 5-8 from the line. And he knows how important it is for him to shoot - thankfully - even when barely able to walk. With under three minutes to go in the game, with the score tied, and with leg cramps, LeBron took and made a three to give Miami the lead for good.

Yes, that's trusting in/making your teammates better and dominating the game by being aggressive and scoring  - even if it's mostly through shear will. Thank goodness.

And now here we are, game 5 tonight.
Keys to winning the game?
At this point, it's quite simple.

For the Thunder:
Don't let the moment get the best of you.

For the Heat:
Get the best of the moment.

Things to consider:
1) The difference between LeBron and Durant.
Has it ever been more apparent?
Durant, perhaps the most gifted offensive player in the game, is averaging 30.3 points in the Finals (on 55% shooting). LeBron, 29.3 points (on 47% shooting).

Durant is also averaging 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a little over 1 steal per game.
LeBron, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and almost 2 steals per game.

In other words, LeBron is averaging 1 point less than the most skilled offensive player in the league while being at least twice as good at doing everything else.This is no knock on KD. It's just a testament to how great LeBron is.

I think Greg anthony said it best the other night after the game:
"LeBron James may be the only player in the history of the NBA that averages 30 points a game......and that's not even what he does best."

2) Sidekicks?
Yes, it's been LeBron vs. Durant in the Finals.
But I just have to say something else:
Russel Westbrook is averaging 29 points (on 48% shooting), 7 assists, and 7 rebounds.
And dudes want to hate on this guy???
Westbrook's numbers are so good, Wade looks like the 4th best player in the series:
23 points (on 41% shooting), 6 assists, and 6 rebounds a game.

3) Finding ways to win
How many have the Heat discovered through their run thus far?
Without Bosh.
Down 2-1, on the road.
As a two-man show with LeBron and Wade.
Down 3-2, facing elimination on the road.
With LeBron literally doing everything.
In a game 7 - coming from behind.
With Bosh hitting three pointers.
Down 0-1, on the road.
With battier dropping 17.
With Bosh being a 12 & 10 "role player."
Down 17 in a game.
With an opponent going off for 43.
With Chalmers dropping 25.
With LeBron playing the whole game.
With LeBron not playing the last minute in a close game.

What more do you want?

I know.
Finding a way to win a 4th game in the Finals.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Advantage LeBron (Miami)

Wouldn't you know. Both Miami and OKC were able to do in game 3 exactly what they hadn't done the pervious two games. OKC game out of the gates strong and didn't dig themselves a double digit hole. With only a one point Miami lead at the half and a two point Miami lead at the end of the 3rd, you had to like the young bucks chances.

But amazingly enough, the Heat countered by actually finishing the game stronger and in the process even over came their own double digit deficit (10) in the 3rd quarter. And dig this - LeBron outscored Durant in the 4th quarter, 8-4. Who would have thunk it?

And so here we are now, Miami with a 2-1 series lead. Can't say that we haven't seen this before. This series now truly becomes a battle of wills. OKC, having lost two in a row to trail the Spurs in the Conference Finals, will have to duplicate that come from behind effort. The Heat, having been up 2-1 in the Finals last year - only to lose the next three games - will have to do everything in their power to handle things differently this time.

So, without further delay, here are some of the things each team may want to do to achieve their respective goals.

For the Thunder:
1) Have Sefolosha guard LeBron for a majority of the game. He has been by far their best defender this series - most notably defending Wade. Who knows if he can prevent LeBron from bullying his way to the rim, but he has length and is probably stronger than Durant. It's not that Durant can't guard LeBron, but do you really want him getting into foul trouble......again? If anything, let Durant guard LeBron the last five minutes of the game.

2) Somehow, get James Harden back into the series. Yes, he kept OKC in game 2 with 21 points, but 5 points in game 1 and 9 points in game 3 just won't get it done. OKC needs this dude to be a difference maker.

3) In game 3 Miami was 4-12 on three pointers and an incomprehensible 1-19 on mid-range jumpers......but 23-35 in the paint and 31-34 from the foul line for a total of 91 points. Can it be any more blatant what the strength of the Heat is? Maybe try a zone defense?

4) Get more production out of your bigs on both sides of the ball. In game 3, Ibaka/Perkins/Collison combined for 17 points and 19 rebounds. In game 2, they combined for 11 points and 15 rebounds. In their game 1 win - 22 points and 23 rebounds. Seems like a correlation: points and rebounds in the teens = loss, points and rebounds in the 20's = win.

5) Speed up the game and put pressure on the Heat ball handlers - all of them. At this point LeBron might be the Heat's best dribbler. Wade has made some costly turnovers when the defensive intensity was turned up on him. Who knows how Chalmers would do, but I'm sure OKC can get some TOs (and buckets) off of Battier, Miller, Cole, and Jones.

For the Heat:
1) It is "essential" that LeBron continues to shoot the ball and be aggressive. Forget the assists - Wade should have more. Keep him operating out of the post and mid-range wing. And for goodness sake, have him shoot throughout the entire 4th quarter. Is this not the perfect game to go for the kill and take a strangle hold of the series? No time to get cute and play conservative. Go all out - and go for 40!

2) Take better care of the ball down the stretch. Two games in a row, Wade has had costly turnovers late in the 4th. Luckily for Miami, neither cost them the game - but don't push it. And this is part of the reason why you want LeBron with the ball in his hands - he is the best scorer, rebounder, and ball handler for the Heat. But it's a thin line - you don't want LeBron running the point.

3) Continue to double team and deny Durant the ball in the 4th. My, this certainly worked wonders in game 3. After averaging 16.5 points in the 4th quarter for the first two games, Durant was held to 4 points in the 4th of game three. Every time Durant managed to get by LeBron in the 4th - he was confronted by Chris Bosh in the paint - once for a block, and another time to force a high degree of difficulty shot that wasn't close. Furthermore there were two particularly telling Possessions in the 4th. One where KD was doubled on the wing and the Heat deliberately left Derek Fisher open for three - the same Derek Fisher who has 5 rings and has made a living of making big shot (even in this series). But you know what? The Heat will live with Fisher beating them instead of Durant (Fisher missed the shot anyway). And on one of the last possessions, when Westbrook took the three in attempt to tie the game. Westbrook was wide open - and LeBron denied Durant. Great defense.

4) Keep having Chris Bosh do whatever it takes to help his team win. Sure he's only averaging 12 points a game. But he is also averaging 10 rebounds a game. And as noted above, his help defense was spectacular in the 4th quarter of game 3. He even is being a vocal leader out there - yelling at Chamlers a few times to get him to make the right passes. His game doesn't have to be pretty or prolific - just sufficient for the win.

5) Don't believe the hype. This is a great Thunder team who may actually be in a comfortable position.  Make no mistake about it, Miami is still the underdog - and should continue to play like it. Continue to attack the rim, continue to hit the boards, continue to initiate the physical play, and continue to scrap for every lose ball. That's the only way to get this done.

Things to consider:
1) The only stats that will matter are those a week from tomorrow.
But half way through the Finals:
Kevin Durant  - 31 points (57% shooting), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers per game.
LeBron James - 30 points (46% shooting), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers per game.

Points per 4th quarter
Kevin Durant - 38 points total, ~13 per game.
LeBron James - 21 points total, 7 per game.
For Miami's games 2 & 3 wins (with LeBron mostly guarding Durant in the 4th):
Durant: 10.5 per game
LeBron: 7 per game

How will these numbers change over the course of the next 2-4 games? And how will it affect the outcome of this series???

2) With all the talk of LeBron vs. Durant, maybe there is something to this being a team game.
The Heat trio in game 3 combined for 63 points and are averaging 65 for the series.
The Thunder trio in game 3 combined for 53 points and are averaging 67 for the series.
So much for that magic number 68.

But interestingly, even with the Thunder trio outscoring that of the Heat - they are still behind in the series. As mentioned before, Shane battier may be the difference in this series right now. He is averaging 14 points a game. No one outside of the big three on OKC is averaging double figures. Confounding things for the Thunder, although Harden is averaging about 12 points a game - he has only scored in double figures once in the series.

Ironically, even though the Thunder came into the Finals looking like the more balanced and deeper team, their stars haven't gotten the necessary support while the Heat's star have.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

All Even

What? Did you really think things would be different by now?
The two best teams in the League.
The two best players in the world.
At this point, it may be too close to call.

With a small sample size, we have seen the Heat come out of the gates strong while the Thunder finish strong. Would it be too much to say that for a team to take control of this series, they will have to do the opposite of what they have done thus far?

As the scene shifts to south beach for game three, here are some of the positives for  each team, as well as perhaps some adjustments to be made and things to consider.

The good news for the Thunder:
1) Kevin Durant is absolutley having his way in the 4th quarter this series. He is averaging 16.5 points in that quarter through the first two games. You have to feel confident if the game is close down the stretch and/or don't have to overcome a huge first half deficit.
2) Despite everyone chastising him, Russell WestBrook's numbers are amazing: 27 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebonds per game. You know, he may actually have soemthing to do with the fact that Durant is sometimes being left open for three - as incredulous as that is.
3) James Harden looked Durant-esque in the first half of game two. If he consistently gets it going, that's three players the Heat may not have an answer for.
4) Despite trailing by 17 points in game 2, the Thunder nearly came out of OKC up 2--0
5) Shane Battier won't have more performances like he did in games 1 & 2......will he?

The good news for the Heat.
1) Despite looking incredibly shaky during most of the 4th quarter of game 2, LeBron had huge plays with less than two minutes to go - hitting a jumper to push the lead to 5, stopping/fouling Durant with under 10 seconds to go, and hitting two free throws with 7 seconds to go to seal the deal. Heck - I would even say the three pointer he took (and missed) with 13 seconds to go was great. It showed a willingness to go for the kill and take big shots.
2) Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh brought their A- and A games, respectively. Wade didn't necessarily dominate, but he had a bounce in his game and made big plays at the rim. 16 points for Bosh was big, but 14 rebounds was huge.
3) Is it me, or has LeBron not played his best basketball yet? Sure, 31 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.5 steals a game is out of this world. But he is shooting under 50% from the floor and is only 3-16 from outside the paint. My goodness, what happens when he starts making his jump shot???
4) Ibaka and Perkins have not been difference makers thus far. In fact, playing small ball with Battier at the 4 has worked overwhelmingly in the Heat's favor.
5) The Thunder star trio out scored that of the Heat's in game two (80-72). They are averaging more in this series (76-65.5). Yet the Heat still won game two and the series is tied.

For the Thunder:
Kevin Durant is shooting 57% for the series. He is averaging 34 points a game......on 21 shots. Maybe it would be a good idea to get him some more shots, especially early on. That might actually help with the Thunder's slow starts. Open and close with Durant.

On that same note, how about moving Westbrook to the two, at least in half court offense? James Harden is more than capable of running the one. But of course, still let Westbrook do his thing on the break and in transition.

What about playing small to match Miami? How about Ibaka/Collison at the 5, Durant at the 4, Sefolosha guarding LeBron, and Wesbtrook and Harden up top? Put Durant on Battier. His length will bother Battier's shots and keep him out of foul trouble from guarding LeBron.

For the Heat:
Under no circumstances should you leave Kevin Durant to help on someone else. You would think this is intuitive, but there were actually times, even in the 4th, where Durant was left open.

Don't set on the ball screens for LeBron, especially in the 4th. The Thunder will just double him and force him to pass the ball. If you think anything like me, having the ball out of LeBron's hands is NOT a good thing. Instead, keep him in the post or on the mid-range wing. If anything, set off the ball screens for him.

Actually, run more on the ball screens for Wade. As seen in game 2, he is still quite adept and weaving through defenders to get to the basket, either for a score or assist. And, when LeBron made that critical shot in the fourth, it was off a play in which Wade initially drove and then passed it back out. Wade seems to be more effective this way and there is nothing wrong with him having more assists that LeBron.

Things to consider:
1) As mentioned above, the Thunder star trio is Outscoring that of the Heat's. But there are some interesting trends developing here.

The first is the emergence of Shane Battier, who is averaging 17 points a game in his first ever Finals. If you throw him into the equation - to make a big 4 if you will - the Heat then combined for 89 in game two and are at 82.5 for the series. That puts them over the top. Who would have thought the Finals might come down to the ability of the Thunder to contain Shane Battier?

Additionally, the Thunder's offense is clearly situated around perimeter play. The Heat on the other hand have Bosh as a post player and LeBron geared towards playing out of the post as well. Usually, over the course of a game and series, layups tend to beat jump shots - no matter how good of a shooter you are (57% for Durant).

2) What is your definition of clutch?
Someone who has 16 points in the 4th quarter, but misses a 10 foot jump shot to tie the game?
Or, someone who was 1-3 for 2 points in the 4th quarter, 2-14 in the series on jump shots, but makes a contested jumper late in the 4th to push the lead back to 5? And that same someone was around 70% from the foul line for the playoffs but makes 12-12 on the road, including 2 with 7 seconds to go.

I'm just saying.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Advantage: Durant (Thunder)

One game down.
What have we learned?
The young bucks in OKC are ready.

They don't panic and they certainly act like they have done this before. My goodness, 36 points (on 60% shooting) and 8 rebounds for KD and 27 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds for their first Finals game ever! Is it too much to say that in game one of the Finals, KD and Westbrook made LeBron and Wade look like a poor man's version of themselves? And thus for the Thunder as a whole, it was just another day at the playoff office overcoming yet another double digit deficit. Where did this youth movement come from?

Maybe it's a surprise that these kids are this good, this soon. But then again, sometimes special players don't have to wait their turn - they simply take it. We seem to have this notion (probably because of Jordan) that all superstars and/or great teams have to pay their dues to taste championship glory. Jordan was 28 during that iconic scene of him crying while hugging the Larry O'Brian trophy. But historically this might not be the norm for the all-time greats. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was 24 when he won his first championship (and Finals MVP). Magic Johnson was 21 when he won his first championship (and Finals MVP). Larry Bird was 25 for his first chip. Tim Duncan, 23. Kobe, 22. Therefore, With KD and Westbrook at 23 years of age apiece - they may actually be primed to raise their first banner. Was all of LeBron's trials and tribulations for naught?

But was only game one.
And with that said, here is the good news for each team heading into game 2:

The good news for the Thunder:
1) It doesn't seem as if anyone on the planet (let alone the Heat) can guard Kevin Durant and/or Russell WestBrook. They played like favorites.
2) They overcame a 13 point deficit and won by 11...... with James Harden only scoring 5 points.
3) Derek Fisher has certainly done this before - and his 6 points in the first half helped stem the Heat tide early on.
4) Nick Collison was a beast on the boards - grabbing 10 rebounds (to go along with 8 points). He was a difference maker in the 2nd half.
5) Shane Battier probably won't have another performance like he did in game 1
6) LeBron only took 6 shots in the 4th quarter.

The good news for the Heat:
1) Dwyane Wade was offensively inefficient and Chris Bosh didn't make an impact, yet they still led most of the way and were in the game until late in the 4th.
3) The supporting players, particularly Battier (17 points), Chalmers (12 points), and Haslem (11 rebounds) seem up to the task.
4) LeBron James had a "okay" game. He shot less than 50% from the field and perhaps made only two jump shots the whole game. And, for the first time these playoffs, he seemed to be out of gas. Yet he still finished with 30 points 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals.
5) The Heat have trailed in a series twice already these playoffs. Both times after falling behind, they won their next game to tie it up.
6) In those two wins that tied up their series against Indiana and Boston, LeBron James averaged 42.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, and 7 assists.

For the Thunder:
Not much - except not falling behind by double digits. If Miami goes small with battier at the 4, Ibaka has to contest threes better. Additionally, getting Harden more involved is a good idea - especially in some pick and role situations.

For the Heat:
Put Wade in the post on offense when Westbrook and Harden guard him. Put him in pick and roll situations with Bosh when Sefolosha guards him.

Need to do a better job of limiting second chance points - that killed Miami when the Thunder took the lead late in the 3rd/early in the 4th.

Maybe trying a 3-2 matchup zone would be a nice option? It would take away Westbrook's drives to the basket and contest Durant better on jump shots. Also, put LeBron on Durant in the 4th.

And, to sound like a broke record, RUN MORE PLAYS FOR LEBRON - especially in the 4th. 6 shots in the 4th is unacceptable. Put him in some curls to the basket off of down screens set by Bosh (having Bosh set on the ball screens for Wade and down screens for LeBron will get him a lot of open looks and favorable switches). The Thunder defenders can't stay in front of LeBron and therefore are practically begging him to take 15 foot jumpers. Getting LeBron more shots will get him in a rhythm to make the defense pay. Continue to put him in the post.

Just a little food for thought.

1) Remember that magic number 68?
You know, the the amount of point that the trios of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh as well as Durant, Westbrook, and Harden combined for during the playoffs, for their respective teams. Well with 36 for Durant, 27 for Westbrook, and even just 5 for Harden - the Thunder trio still managed to combine for......68 points! It's almost like magic!
As for the Heat trio: 30 for LeBron, 19 for Wade, and 10 for Bosh, means they only combined for 59 points. That's not gonna get it done. Guess what? If they would have reached 70 - the game is tied. They reach 72, the Heat win. It's simple math.

2) Kevin Durant was absolutely amazing, and looked like the best player in the world.
17 points in the 4th quarter - like he does it on the regular......oh wait.
36 points on 60% shooting. 8 rebounds, 4 assists.

LeBron, we can all agree wasn't as impressive right?
He only had 30 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists.

Yeah, you're reading that right. One guy: "out of this world." The other guy: "okay."
The difference: 6 points.
You tell me what that means.

Can"t wait till game 2.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

The NBA season started on christmas day.
And now it ends with Christmas in June.

You had to know this was coming. If fact, you could see it developing a couple of years ago.
And with Magic/Bird being remixed in LeBron/Durant, we could potentially see this for quite some time to come. But with the first of the Finals match-up between these two players, and these to teams, here are some keys and things to consider for the series.

The Keys for the Thunder:
1) Make LeBron a facilitator instead of a scorer.
 17-7-7 would be a godsend. 24-10-7 would be great. But really, anything less than 34 and 11 would be acceptable.
2) Get LeBron off the post/mid-range wing.
 Make him take contested threes or challenge the trees down low.
3) Attack Wade offensively and defensively.
  Send double teams at him and let Westbrook and Harden take turns at isolations.
4) Make Bosh create for himself. 
  Can he shoot over Ibaka?
5) Keep games close down the stretch.
  At this stage in the game, is it possible the heat still don't know who to give the ball to at the end of games?

The Keys for the Heat:
1) Get into the body of Kevin Durant.
  Don't give him a pocket, don't let him get comfortable. Be physical and make him work.
2) Make Westbrook beat you with jumpers.
  Preferably from three. But certainly more than Durant and Harden
3) Keep Ibaka and Perkins off the offensive glass.
  Can't give a talented team multiple shot attempts and can't let these guys get easy buckets
4) Keep Harden from making timely threes.
  Force him to drive right and shoot going left.
5) Force turnovers and get buckets in transition.
  What ever happened to the uptempo Heat team that started the season? Any chance of seeing some full court press?

A couple fo things to consider:
1) The Thunder's run to the Finals was surely impressive. Yes the names of the teams they beat make for good headlines, but really, it was how they beat them. They seem to be at their best during the most crucial moments of the game and always seem to make the big plays down the stretch.

But, was the Heat's run not as impressive if not more? Say what you want about the Lakers, but Indiana had a better record during the regular season - and Miami beat them with essentially two players. Say what you want about the Spurs and Tony Parker, but the Celtics also had one of the best records in the NBA after the all-star break and at this point, is there a better NBA playoff point guard than Rajon Rondo?

Yes, the Thunder's ability to come from behind with late game heroics have been amazing. But, have they had to go into a game 4 on the road already down 2-1? Or, have they been faced with elimination down 3-2 and gone into one of the more historic arenas and hardest places in the NBA to win......and still win?

2) LeBron James and Kevin Durant are evenly matched. But has KD ever faced as much pressure as LeBron the past two years? In these playoffs? In the past week? Ironically enough, the determining factors between the two may be LeBron's offense (especially in the clutch) and KD's defense (he was able to hold Kobe in check during the 4th).

3) Russell Westbrook is an all-NBA point guard. But would you take him over Dwyane Wade?

4) Will James Harden have more of an offensive advantage over Shane Battier than Chris Bosh over Serge Ibaka?

5) The Miami Heat are surely underdogs. But is that a bad thing for them? Is being the favorite a good thing for OKC?

6) OKC's youth may actually be the best thing they have going for them. Hard to succumb to the pressure of the NBA Finals if you don't know any better.

7) And finally, there is a bunch of talk out there that OKC is hungrier than Miami. I find that hard to believe. After what happened last year, you don't think the Heat have been yearning for another opportunity? You don't think LeBron has waited a whole year for this? You think he's going to let this opportunity slip away again? Maybe LeBron by himself isn't enough for the Heat to win, but you can be fairly sure he is going to be more than willing to try this time around.

I won't make a prediction.
But I'll make some statements.

LeBron has paid his dues. On any given night Durant can be better than him. KD is surely more skilled offensively...... unless we get the Eastern Conference Finals game 6 LeBron. And when locked in, LeBron has the ability to dominate every aspect of the game. Maybe OKC has a deeper and better balanced team. But, when you have the best player in the world on your side - and he plays like the best player in the world - that makes up for a lot.

In the Playoffs thus far LeBron, a "subpar" Wade, and an injured Bosh go for 68 points a game. While a firing-on-all-cylinders Durant, Westbrook, and Harden go for...... 68 points a game. Look it up.

I'm gonna say in the Finals, LeBron, Wade, and Bosh will go for 75-80 a game while Durant, Westbrook, and Harden will go for 70. And that may be the difference. Are you gonna tell me Ibaka, Perkins, Sefolosha, Fisher, and Collins are that much better than Haslem, Battier, Miller, Chalmers, and Anthony? Are you gonna tell me that the Thunder's defense is better than Miami's?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
But for now, just sit back and relax, and enjoy the show.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back Where They Belong

For a while last night I had to wonder if my question to LeBron fell on deaf ears.
There he was settling for only 5 field goal attempts in the first half.
There Miami was, not running any plays for him or looking get him the ball in the post.
Was it a surprise that Boston mounted a 7 point halftime lead?

But then it all changed in the second half and things started to click for Miami.
And perhaps LeBron was able to have his cake and eat it too.
After his game 6 maestro I asked LeBron how essential it was for him too continuously shoot - even if over 2-3 defenders. He responded, first with a laugh, then by saying that this is a team game and he will continue to look for his teammates and have confidence that they will make shots.

Well, that confidence was rewarded last night. Up 1 point at a critical juncture in the 4th last night, LeBron found Chris Bosh open in the corner after being double teamed - and Bosh came through:

That shot pushed the lead to 4 and the heat never really looked back after that. Bosh, was 8-10 from the field for the game, including 3 three pointers to finish with 19 points (and 8 rebounds). How big was that?

But, let's be real about it. Beyond getting some much needed help. This was LeBron's show and he decided to take 16 shots in the second half. Including this one, which came right after the Bosh three:

Yeah...... a 35 footer while being double teamed. But you know what? As long as LeBron is shooting,  that's the shot you want! Of course, LeBron finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds - 11 points in the 4th quarter.

It also helped that Wade contributed 23 points (5 rebounds and 6 assists). In fact, the Miami big three accounted for all 28 points in the 4th quarter - 73 total points for the game. And that's the way it has to be for the Heat to be successful. LeBron has to lead and has to shoot - a lot. He has to constantly attack and put presure on the defense, not as a facilitator, but as a scorer (he only had 2 assists last night - but so what?). And at the same time Wade and Bosh are great enough to still get their points - as they did last night. Let's be clear, LeBron didn't join Miami to become a role player for Wade and Bosh. He joined Miami so his role players were Wade and Bosh. There is a big difference. And the later is the only way Miami can win at the highest level.

And here we are, a year after their short comings in the Finals last year, the Heat are right back where they want to be - or rather where they need to be - with an opportunity to make amends for their mishaps.

However, this time things are quite a bit different:
Last year as you might recall, Miami breezed through the eastern conference and thus were not prepared for Dallas to push back and challenge them in the Finals. This year the Heat have met and overcome all sorts of challenges on their run - from Losing Bosh against Indiana and subsequently falling behind 1-2 and having to win game 4 on the road to tie the series. To meeting a tough Boston team that pushed them to the brink of elimination and forced them to win a game 6 on the road and come from behind to win game 7 last night. Dare I say that the Heat are better prepared this time around? LeBron in particular?

Additionally, while the Heat were overwhelming favorites in the Finals a year ago - they must surely be  the underdogs this time around - facing a deeper, younger, bigger, and dare I say more talented/athletic Thunder team. Perhaps this will also better serve Miami towards reaching their ultimate goal.

Either way. The Heat have seemed to coalesce around each other at the perfect time and have found ways to win. They have found ways to survive. What's up next will perhaps be their biggest challenge. But for now, they are probably just happy to know they have another chance. And they must be reassured to know that no matter who they face, when the going gets rough, they have each other......and they have LeBron James.

That is surly a cause for celebration:

There are so many things right with this video. 
And you know what? Every NBA fan should be doing their own sort of dance as well. Because with the Heat squaring off against the Thunder in the Finals - now the real fun begins!!!!!!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Play Time is Over

It looks like the Heat followed through on "the keys to beating the Celtics" to extend their season and swing a game 7 back to Miami.

For those of you that don't remember what those "keys" where, let me reiterate them.
Well actually, let me just reiterate the last and most important one:

(I even left in my grammatical error of "mostly importantly" to leave the true essence of how imperative this last point is).

What happens when LeBron decides to shoot the ball?
In case you're living on another planet:

Well, if you want to be technical about that last point, LeBron didn't really shoot all that much in the 4th. But of course that's because he had 30 in the first half and 41 through three quarters. By the time he got to 45 in the 4th quarter, this game had been long over. If you must know, he finished 19-26 for 45 points, to go along with 15 rebounds and 5 assists.

I have never heard an arena as loud as it was before game 6 last night in Boston. And I have never seen a building get it's breath sucked out of it and have it's collective morale broken by an individual they way LeBron did it to Boston last night (and I grew up a Knicks fan during the Jordan era).

Surprise, surprise.

LeBron, this is what you need to do for your team to win.
It doesn't have to be always 45 points. But it does have to be 25-30 shots, early and often and throughout the duration of the game. I know you are an all-around out of this world multifaceted player.  But right now, this year, this run - this is what makes your team the best it can be.

Do you understand the importance of what you need to do?
No really, LeBron do you understand?:

First, let me just say, this really wasn't a question so much as it was a point of inception.
Having watched a pattern develop over the year of him not looking to shoot in crucial moments and and get enraged by the lack of proper support from his coaches and teammates to literally force him to shoot the ball - I kind of felt it necessary to take matters into my own hands and try to drive home the importance of him ALWAYS looking to shoot.

You have to know that Doc Rivers will throw everything including the kitchen sink at LeBron in game 7 tomorrow night in Miami. And my response is:  it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how many defenders come at you LeBron. It is "essential" that you shoot - because once you pass the ball, the defense has achieved it's primary goal.  You have to dictate. You have to dominate. And it's really that simple. It's not a matter of make or miss. It's a matter of taking and establishing. Of taking what's yours and establishing to everyone in the building, especially those having the misfortune of suiting up against you, that make no mistake about it - this is your game.
Trust me, everyone else will follow suit.

And what was really the most elegant part of last night's game, was how he did what he did. LeBron didn't  force the issue going to the basket (he only had maybe 3-4 layups). He didn't relegate himself to taking three point shots (he was 2-4 from three). No. Instead he relied and trusted in his vast repetoire of skills. In particular, he confided in his mid-range game and newly mastered post game. How many Dirk one-legged fade aways did you see him make? How many baseline fade-aways did you see him make - over two defenders?

And to drive this point home - that's the point of looking to continually shoot the ball. You won't make every shot. But if you keep taking shots - your aggression and confidence mounts as your rhythm manifests itself.

But how about the fact after having the best game of his NBA career, and after my "question" LeBron's response was how important his teammates are? About how much confidence and trust he has in his teammates. Does it get any better than that?

Listen, for  everyone out there that questions this guy's character, his ego, and his unselfishness - you need to get a grip on reality. Seriously. In fact, I would say LeBron's biggest fault over the years has been his tendency to be too unselfish on the court. His tendency to make the right play, even when it's not in the bet interest of the team.

LeBron, you play the game the right way. And you don't have to be a doctor in biomedical science to realize that. But, if I may speak on the behalf of everyone in your corner and rooting for you to achieve the ultimate goal, rooting for you to be your absolute greatest......
Put this team on your shoulders, take the onus, take the shots...... and see what happens.
That is the right way to play.
Win, lose, or draw - everyone will concur with that.

You might ask, how long is this sustainable for?
I would say, 5 more wins.


Let me just share with you some anecdotes from the game:

I stood next to Steven A. Smith for practically the duration of the game. I get the feeling we were both rooting for LeBron - although he was a little more reserved about it.
Case in point - after LeBron flew in for that one handed dunk off a rebound in the first half last night, Stephen A. kind of subtly jerked his head to the side in silent approval.
My response was a little more overt: "Holy S*#@!"

You will probably read this a lot today - and perhaps for some time to come.
I have never seen that look of focus, determination, and out right refusal to lose on LeBron's face before. I like it. And if it comforted me, I can only imagine what it did for his teammates. The fact that he wasn't demonstrative was more telling of his confidence. He didn't seem to talk during the game, but you could see the emotion bubbling over in his eyes. And he simply pointed to his teammates to direct them. He simply demanded the ball on every possession.

Coming in and out of the locker room and the half he looked at the floor - completely in his own zone. And this persisted in the second half - although he spoke to his teammates a little more. The only time he broke out of his trance? After the game walking back to the locker room - when some idiotic heckler spilled beer on his head. What did LeBron do? He turned around and smiled.

After the game, I saw LeBron as a humble young man - who spoke of his teammates first and the task at hand rather than try to embellish what he had just done.

"How many points did you have?" Some woman asked him.
"I don't know" LeBron said.
"45 points! 15 rebounds! And 5 assists!" some overly eager little kid blurted out.

Yeah kid, we know.
You'll learn as you get older and more mature that greatness doesn't have to announce itself.
It is inferred by mere presence and performance.

What can get better than this?
Well, I can think of a certain match-up with an aspiring 23 year old next week.
But first, how about a pre-requiste dominating game 7 performance by LeBron tomorrow night?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Here We('re) Go(ne) Again?

What started out as a joke, is on the verge turning into a disaster.
(Seems as if we've been down this road with LeBron before, haven't we?)

So without further delay, here are,
The Keys for the Heat beating the Celtics (and saving their season):

** Of course, this assumes that someone in Miami cares about extending their season. It also assumes that someone there has the acumen to make strategy adjustments on the fly. 

** If Miami's season comes to a crashing halt tomorrow, the Heat should make sure to offer any and everything to get Phil Jackson to take over in South Beach.

** But the crazy thing is......isn't this the perfect opportunity for LeBron and Miami to exorcise their personal and collective demons???

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rolling Thunder

Who cares about experience?
Sometimes the naivete of youth can be much more valuable.

For instance:

What does it matter that your opponent won 20 games in a row (tied for third longest winning streak in NBA history)? If you didn't know any better, you might assume they could just as easily lose 3 in a row, perhaps even 4. Forget streaks, maybe it's enough to live in the moment and realize it's what you do in the your last game that counts.

And what does it matter if as the point guard of your team you commit three straight turnovers in the 4th quarter, that enables your opponent to trim a 8 point lead to 2? Apparently it means nothing if you're Russell Westbrook, who almost immediately after those turnovers was still able to knock down a huge mid-range jumper with a minute and a half to go to push the lead back up to 4.

What does it mean after scoring 18 points in the 4th quarter of the previous game, you only have 5 points in the first half of a pivotal game 5 on the road? Absolutely nothing if you are Kevin Durant, you must surely know you can drop 22 points in the second half, on the road, when your team needs you the most.

And finally, who cares if you have the three time NBA leading scoring on your team, that has been unstoppable in the clutch this post-season? Or that you have an all-NBA point guard as his side-kick. Not a darn thing if you're 6th man of the year James Harden. You don't know any better than to look them off while you keep your eyes on the shot clock and nail a three pointer with under 30 seconds to go that essentially seals the deal for your team.

Ah yes, you got to love youth.
Irreverent when it comes to history and legacy.
Not thoughtful enough to realize how big the moment is, but fine tuned to seize it.