True Hoops

True Hoops

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

No Kneed to Take a Charge

My last piece was an educational one on fade-away post ups using LeBron as an example.
Why not strike while the iron's hot and use the game's best to also break down some defense as well? I know. I know. Some of you might call me biased towards writing about LBJ on this blog. Well despite that,  I couldn't resist using some of his plays from the past week to highlight a few defensive mistakes.

After intensive studying of video, I've come up with one key defensive play not suitable for defending LeBron:
Trying to take a charge

Wow, that's a small forward that handles the ball bodying an opposing team's power forward.
Was Scola trying to draw contact on the bump?
Well, at least he wasn't under the rim....

Good luck to a defender caught under the rim trying to draw a charge on a LeBron drive:

Oy Vey.
Benny, restricted area or not, I don't think that call is gonna go in your favor.
But it's okay. You're a rookie. It's a rookie mistake to try to draw a charge on the best player in the game. Ask Dwight Howard.
But all in all, good effort.
It's not like you'll be falling for this type of stuff when you're an 8 year veteran in the league......

Wait, was this the same exact play?
Paul Milsap.... shame on you.
You should know better than that.
It's obvious you didn't watch the scouting report for Miami's past few games.

Well, if there is one thing we learned from these plays, besides not trying to take a charge on LeBron, it's how to get away with kneeing your defender in the face.
Good luck practicing that.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Doing the Dirk

Imitation is the finest form of flattery.
Vino did it.
KD did it.

I guess it's only right that LeBron has now done it.
Peep the technique displayed in Miami's win over Dallas the other day:

Yep. That's LeBron pulling the Nowitzki one-legged fadeaway - during crunch time in the the 4th quarter no less.

Oh, you wanted a break down of the mechanics? Why didn't you just say so?!?

1) Take your defender to the block and set up as such: defender - your body - ball.
This way, the ball is protected with your body. Notice how LeBron's right shoulder and hand (his shooting side) is closest to the basket. Interestingly, look at how LeBron's feet are off the ground, indicative of him using a little bounce after his dribble to set up his next move.....

2) Get a wider base base and start to step into your defender with your right foot.

3) Now, lean into your defender with your shoulder (I'm sure Monta Ellis' chest appreciates it) and firmly plant your right foot to push off and go in the opposite direction. And look how low LeBron is,  that's a 6'8" dude getting lower than a 6'3" guard.

4) As LeBron pushes off, he starts to create space between him and the defender. And his weight is shifted to his left foot.

5) In one move, LeBron starts to turn his body towards the basket (after he creates enough space to prevent the defender from swiping the ball away) while lifting his right foot off the ground, placing all his weight on his left foot. Starting to get into fadeaway.

6) With his body square to the basket, LeBron elevates off one foot (his left) while lifting his right knee into the air  - which keeps the space between him and the defender.

7) Fully elevated into his shot. This move started as a sort of step-back fadeaway, but look how straight LeBron's body is in the air.

One last thing,......this move takes a lot of strength.

Looks familiar, though, doesn't it?

Saturday, November 9, 2013


I've said it before.
Kevin Durant is 6'9"with a wingspan of 7'5".
He dunks on centers.
He can post up for one-legged fade-aways.
He can come off screens to catch and shoot.
Last year, he joined the elusive 90-50-40 club (% for free throws, field goals, & threes, respectively).
No wonder he's won three of the last four NBA scoring titles.

But did you know he can do this:

Yes, that's a 6'9" dude pulling an Allen Iverson crossover to shift the defender completely out of the way.

In case it was too fast for you to appreciate:

My, what separation. My, what help defense?
I know. You might say Vince Carter was never really known for his defense.

All I would say is,
Nasty kid.......

Monday, November 4, 2013

Peace in New York

This is the realest thing I have seen in a long time:

There are times when I know basketball is more than just a game - that it can be revolutionary. Something about this video makes me feel that way.

First off, this is every NY kid that had hoop dreams......dream. We all ride the train to games while in high school. Imagine doing that as a pro.
Second off, I can't do anything thing but feel great for World Peace. A long journey home (14 years to be exact). To come back and be able to take the train to the Garden, it has to be an amazing feeling. It's evident by the combined look of reserved jubilation, reflection, and contentment of Metta's face while he is talking.

And I absolutely love the fact that he brings his crew with him and shares the whole experience with  them - while acknowledging them. The shot of World Peace sitting/waiting for the train with another guy's arm wrapped around him is priceless.

For all the talk about how great the latest LeBron commercial is (yes, there are a lot - but this one), the video above is kind of like the real thing.

Welcome home Metta.
You represent New York well.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's here!

Is it already time for a new season?
Is it?!?
Wow, how time flies!

It seems like just the other day we saw LeBron and co. beating the Spurs in Miami at the end of a Finals for the ages. Are we ready for more???

I suppose a lot has transpired since then. And I've actually learned a lot in the off-season.

For instance, I learned how the other half lives (and recovers).
        How do you recover from an achilles tear in record speed? Well one of these might help:

But I guess these things can be useful even when you're not recovering from an injury:

Nice mask.
So where do they get those? And how much do you think they cost?

Glad to see Kobe and LeBron are still linked together, even if the transition of best player in the league has finally been completed.

But speaking of the best, and learning from them, did you get a chance to read their respective recent interviews? I mean, these pieces in ESPN (LeBron) and Sports Illustrated (Kobe) have to be two of the best that I've read in recent memory. They were so informative!    

My favorite from the Kobe Piece, at the very end:
Kobe's Daughter lost a soccer game and "She cried afterward. Standing on the sideline, Bryant studied her, pained but proud. 'Hey,' he told her, after the tears dried. 'You want to see daddy cry?' He took her home and fished out the DVD from game 6 of the 2008 Finals. They sat together and watched the Lakers get mortified in Boston. Then he popped in the Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, and they marinated in the vindication."
And my absolute favorite form the LeBron Piece, in response to this question:
"When people think about the Killer instinct, they always think of MJ and Kobe. People say you have it but not like those two. Do you think you have it like they do?"
"Ahh. I'll just put it this way, man. There are different ways to hunt......look at all these animals in the wild. And they all hunt a different way to feed their families. They all kill a different way. Everybody wants everybody to kill like MJ or kill like Kobe. Magic didn't kill the same way. Kareem didn't either......The same with Bird......TimDuncan. I'm telling you. There are different ways of killing."

And while we're speaking of different, here is something Kobe would never do:

 Oh no! Not the Dungeon!.

But don't worry, LeBron does more than just workout in a fiery basement.
He's also the Rocky Balboa of Miami:

For real though, this video is crazy inspiring!

Although, I don't think LeBron's training videos would inspire Kobe......
But perhaps his ranking on ESPN will:

Yikes! Kobe Bryant ranked 25th best player in the league?!?
I know the dude is in the Twilight of his career. But 25th? really?

Kind of stinks for the Lakers. Losing Dwight and now this.
What are they ever going to do to compete for a championship again?

Well, maybe they can recruit the 15th best player in the league:

I guess ESPN isn't big on shoot first, shoot second NBA gunslingers.

Hey Kevin Durant, what have we learned about all this media ranking?

Thanks for the clarification!

But speaking of Twitter and ranking shooting guards, I think I finally learned what twitter beef is!
Oh Joy!

If you didn't hear, in Sport's Illustrated's NBA player rankings, James Harden was left out of the top 10. Shocked and dismayed by this egregious slap in the face of his former running mate, Kevin Durant responded by saying Harden should be in the top 10......and he would replace Dwyane Wade to put him there. 


Way to call a guy out Kevin. I know the man gives you nightmares and all, but dang. 
The following twitter congo/beef ensued:

So that's beef.
But when did the NBA become the WWF?
(Actually, some might say a long time ago).

Here's a question for you, which games do you think will be more exciting:
Miami vs OKC, January 29th & February 20th?
Miami vs Houston, March 4th & march 16th?

But back to ESPN for a second, they have Kevin Durant ranked #2 in the league, followed by James Harden at #4, and Russell Westbrook at #5.

So, you mean OKC currently has 2 of the top 5 players in the NBA......and they used to have 3 of the top 5 players??? Wow, already year removed and that James Harden trade is still getting worse.

But what continues to look better and better?
How about True Hoops NY's very own Point Guard Project?
You know, that thing where we interview as many point guards in the NBA as possible and ask them the same 6 questions to see how their responses are similar and/or different
Would you be surprised to hear that ESPN ranked 5 point guards in their top 10?!?
8 in their top 25?!?
For a position that accounts for 20% of player on the floor, having a 50% representation in the ten best players in the league (~33% of the best 25) seems like a statistically significant over-representation. Don't you think? I guess this really is a point guard's league!

And among one of those PGs in the top ten, is this guy:

At 22.5 points a game (on 45% shooting) to go along with 5.9 assists in year two of his career, why wouldn't you have Kyrie Irving as the face of your video game? And why not alter his eyes and brow to make him seem like bad assassin? Forget the 2K LeBron current reign approach. As NBA live says:
Nothing But Next!

And with Irving as their poster child, NBA live was kind enough to provide a preview of their game:

Wait......that was real life?
Holy schnikies.

Who does this guy think he is, Chris Paul?

Well it's good to know he can dance on the court. But I also learned that Kyrie can dance off the court as well:

We need to get this guy on the PGP!

Alright. A lot has gone on in the off-season.
So what can we look forward to now that we're about to start up again?

Guess who's back?
Question: Which one of these guys will return closest to form?
Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, or Kevin Love?

My, that's a lot of fire power that went down lsat year.
But probably a better question is, whose return is going to matter most?
Oddly enough, the Lakers and Celtics will probably be battling for lottery positions this year.
So, with that I'll say that Rose's return will have the biggest impact, but Westbrook's return will be the most important.

 Breakout teams
There have been teams on the fridges of the playoffs for the past several years. But by my estimates, three have a chance to make significant improvement this season:

Cleveland Cavs
As noted above, Irving is already a star. Now he just needs to remain healthy (52 games missed in his first two years) But look at their roster:

Kyrie Irving - star, 22 years old, #1 pick overall
Tristan Thompson - 3rd year, 22 years old, #4 pick overall, 12 points & 9 rebounds a game.
Dion Waiters - 2nd year, 21 years old, #4 pick overall, 15 points & 3 assists a game.
Anthony Bennet - rookie, 20 years old, #1 pick overall
Andrew Bynum - 8th year, 26 years old, 19 points & 12 rebounds (when healthy).
Tyler Zeller - 2nd year, 23 years old, 8 points & 6 rebounds a game, #17 pick

Not to mention they have Anderson Verejao and Jarett Jack.

Looks like a lot of young talent with some solid role players.
And coach Mike Brown back at the helm.
If they can stay healthy - they could be in the playoffs. Could you imagine them as a 7th or 8th seed and matching up with Miami in the first round???

Speaking of which, how can the Cavs go from breakout team to contender?
I don't know, maybe there is a certain small forward that will be a free agent next summer who may want to return home.
I know, it's hard to go back, but imagine that.
Forget the Harden/Wade debate, Kyrie may have them both beat as a suitable side kick.

Detroit Pistons
How's this for a starting lineup:
Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, and Brandon Jennings?

Certainly talent there. But honestly a little cause for concern with regards to efficiency (career 39% shooting for Jennings).

But the Pistons brought back one of their all-time greats: Chauncey Billups.
Kind of seems like he would be the perfect fit in terms of leadership, professionalism, and toughness for this team right? Could be interesting if he turns out to be the optimal glue guy.

NOLA Pelicans
Anthony Davis, 20 years old, going into his second season.
Is he Marcus Camby or David Robinson?

I don't know.

But he'll have some talented young teammates on the perimeter this season:
Newly acquired Jrue Holiday (fresh off an all-star year) and Tyreke Evans.
Yes, the west is tough. But can't this young core compete with Minnesota, Dallas, Denver, Portland, (and maybe the Lakers) for the last two spots in playoffs?

Revenge of the Sith
Growing up a Knicks fan in the 90's, the Bulls were equated with evil.
Just saying.

Therefore, I find it weird and uncomfortable to say that I kind of like this guy Derrick Rose.
His injury was well chronicled last season, so how can you not root for him (if not personally then at least for the sake of the NBA) to come back as close to MVP form as possible.
But, what if after sitting out an entire year to recover - he comes back better?

Well, here is what Rose had to say about himself during the pre-season:
"I'm way more explosive now."
"And as far as jumping-wise, I think I can jump even higher."

But what does he think about his overall game?
Go to the 33 second mark to hear for yourself:

Who am I to doubt him? Or at least his belief.
Remember the last time he made a bold statement before a season?
Mind you, this guy is only 25 years old and is the only player in the last 5 years not named LeBron to will league MVP.

Last year as a team, even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls presented the Heat with many challenges because of their rugged defense and rebounding. Now what happens if Luol Deng is healthy and Derrick Rose is unstoppable?

Something tells me that the Bulls are going to be really, really good this season.
And something tells me they are going to be really, really focused......

The Pacers are pretty good too
Think about this:
In last year's 7 Eastern conference Finals games, Miami scored 666 points.
Indiana scored 640.
Going to the Finals came down to 26 points.

Now think about this:
Miami's bench outscored that of Indiana's, 158 to 80.
So, if you take this into account, that means Indiana's starters actually outscored Miami's, 560 to 508.

One could only imagine what Indiana could have done with a better bench.
Well, we'll find out this year, with the return of Danny Granger (either coming off the bench himself or pushing Lance Stevenson to that role) and the additions of Luis Scola, CJ Watson, and Chris Copeland.

As with Chicago, the Pacers present Miami with problems: rugged defense, rebounding, and interior scoring. So what if they shore up some of their weak spots? Also, I'm interested to find out, can Paul George develop into a super-star?

What would be more fun to watch: either a Miami conference finals with Chicago or Indy. Or a conference semi-finals between Chicago and Indy?

New York, New York
The city so nice they named it twice.
We might actually have a rivalry on our hands here.

On paper, it seems as if BK has one of the top starting lineups in the league.
I'm thinking if Garnett can stay remotely healthy - he can do wonders for developing Brook Lopez, who already is an All-star. Also, it was evident that BK was kind of soft last year - given they lost a game 7 on their home floor to a depleted Bulls team. Something tells me Garnett, and Pierce, can change the culture of the team. They don't have to be scoring stars - they just have to bring championship pedigree. And when healthy - pound for pound, I would still put Deron Williams up against any other point guard in the league.

But, the Knicks still have the best player in the city (even if he's only considered the 15th best in the league) and they were the #2 seed in the East last year. Why are people sleeping on these dudes this year? Key for the Knicks? I would say the return to form of Tyson Chandler, the continued evolution of Melo (in terms of efficiency) and perhaps most importantly - the development of Iman Shumpert. At 23 years old, he can defend, create his own shot, and is athletic. I think this year we'll get an idea as to whether he is a star caliber player or role player.

And lest we forget, after a long, long time......Peace has finally come home to the big Apple:

And how amazing is it that we finally get to host another all-star game next year!!!!!!!!!
Manhattan keeps on making it, Brooklyn keeps on taking it!

When the East is in the house
Oh my gosh, Danger!
Considering Chicago, Indy, NYs, & the reigning champs, has the East been this strong......ever?
I mean that's 5 potential contenders. Yes, I would place BK & the Knicks on the fringe of title contention, but I would also venture to say they are as good as most of the teams in the West (I'm looking at you Clippers and Memphis). And, while the West might have more parody from top to bottom - I'm gonna say that the East, overall is better. How long has it been since you could say that?

The freaking Eastern conference playoffs is going to be crazy!

Wild West
Is there any clear favorite in the West?
For over a decade it was either the Lakers or Spurs.
Now what?

Is it possible that OKC has peaked already? And they may never get back to the Finals? When will Russell Westbrook come back? Will Serge Ibaka become more than just a defensive player? I think the big questions are: Will Reggie Jackson become a legit player (14 points, on 47%, with 5 rebounds and 4 assists in the playoffs last year)? And will Jeremy Lamb be able to contribute this year?

I'm not as big on the Clippers as everyone else is.
But it seems to me that there are two keys to them making the next step: Doc Rivers & Blake Griffin.

How much of a difference will Rivers make? Certainly a top 5 coach in the league and one of the bet at making in games adjustments. Can he make Chris Paul Better? Can he transform DeAndre Jordan?

And, will Blake Griffin evolve into a skilled offensive player? Will he be able to dominant defensively? We all know he's a physical specimen and freakish athlete. But that only get you so far in he NBA (starter in the All-star game). But, in the past two playoffs - he's gotten beat up and out played by Tim Duncan and Zac Randolph, respectively. Plus, Griffin had a down season last year (18 points and 8 rebounds a game - actually, his numbers have been on a downward trend since his rookie season). It's time this dude developed a legit post game and perhaps a mid-range jumper - unless he wants to be Dwight Howard.

Speaking of which - the Rockets made some improvements in the off-season.
Not bad when you can legitimately argue that you have the best shooting guard and center in the league. Of, course, that's what we said about the Lakers last year. But this team is younger and Harden's game may be more compatible with Howard's than Kobe's was. Not to mention McHale probably is a better fit as coach for Howard than D'Antoni was.

But let me throw this idea out there: should Rockets model themselves after the '08 Celtics?
No seriously, think about it.
In that year:
Kevin Garnet (newly acquired) averaged 18.8 points and 9.2 rebounds + defensive POY.
Pierce averaged 20, 5, & 5.
Allen averaged 17 points.
Rondo averaged 11 points and 5 assists.

Those numbers seem realistic from Howard, Harden, Parsons, and the Lin/Beverly combo.
But, I think the key lies in Houston recognizing Harden is their primary offensive weapon and that Howard has to be a superstar role player. That's not a knock on Howard. But he is what he is - a Russell/Garnett type (hall of famers). Not Shaq. Not Chamberlain. Not Olajuwon.

How great can LeBron and Miami be?
Okay, we're covered a lot here today.
But even with all of the story lines above, let's be realistic, this season is still all about LeBron James.

The dude is in his prime and at the height of his powers.......or can he get better?
There always has been and always will be talk of where he stands in the best of all-time category, not to mention the direct comparison to Jordan. Let me say - the Jordan talk has always been premature......until maybe after this season. If LeBron can lead Miami to 4 straight Finals, and win three in a row, with the East as tough as it is, and prevent KD from winning once again - yeah, that's super elite company and deserving of GOAT talk.

But that's what Jordan and Chicago did. No matter how much better everyone got, they kept winning. They prevented Ewing and the Knicks from winning (is this who modern day Indiana or Chicago is?), they prevented Barkley and the newly formed Suns from winning (is this who modern day Houston is?), and they prevented Stockton/Malone and the Jazz from winning (is this who OKC is?).

But, Jordan never made 4 Finals in a row.
And as far as making three in a row and winning only 2, Kobe has done that - recently.
Can LeBron get separation? Making 4 in a row and winning 3 - that would do it.

But as we saw with last year - the margin for error is extremely low. Indiana and the Spurs pushed them to 7, and if it wasn't for Ray Allen's three......
The thing is, this year everyone else got better. And everyone is hungry. And everyone is confident. So the margin for error, the separation, is that much smaller.

Will Wade's health hold up this year?
Has Bosh improved?
Has Miami Gotten better with Oden and Beasley?

Is Miami a dynasty?
How great is LeBron?

Well, I guess we'll find out......

Let the games begin!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


One of the best Finals ever, right?
With one of the best individual Finals game to boot.

So let's keep it simple. And look at some of the best from the best.

The best.
Would anyone dare not give this title to LeBron James after his performance in these past Finals?
I mean, is there anything else you want this guy to do?
Back-to -back titles. back-to-back Finals MVPs. Capped by one of the best Finals game 7 performances in NBA history (no that is not hyperbole). And that followed an 18 point 4th quarter/overtime triple double maestro in game 6 to save Miami's season (with the help of Ray Allen).

You want some numbers? How about after going down 3-2, LeBron averaged 34.5 points (on 47% shooting), 7.5 assists, and 11 rebounds over the last two games to bring Miami back and win the whole freakin' thing. Not to mention guarding Tony parker a majority of the time as well.

Yeah. I would say that's pretty tough.

And you want to talk clutch? Here are some things that will boggle your mind:
1) The last 5 quarters of the Finals (including game 6 overtime): 20-37 from the field for 54%.

2) Game 7: 12-23 from the field for 52%.

Over 50% shooting in a game 7?!?

This becomes even more incredulous when considering where most of his shots came from (more below). And let's compare this to the last Finals game 7 performance by the eventual Finals MVP. Kobe Bryant, who was widely considered more of a closer and more clutch than LeBron, shot 6-24 in his lone Finals game 7 against Boston in 2010. Yes, that's a whopping 25%. Think about that. Now think about what LeBron did. I'm not hating on Kobe. I'm just appreciating LeBron.

3) In games 1-6, LeBron shot 29% (7-24) from three point range!
In game 7, he shot 50% (5-10). Holy schnikies! Talk about saving your best for last. In the most pressure packed game of the season - this dude shot his best in the series from long range.

4) LeBron's 37 points in game 7 of the Finals was the most scored in such a game in 43 years! The last person to score more was Jerry West with 42 in 1969. In fact, there have been only three higher scoring performances in the history of the NBA. So yes, what LeBron did in game 7 was one of the best in history.

5) And just for good measure. Guess who has the highest scoring average all-time in NBA playoff game 7s? Yep. LeBron James, with an average of 34.5 points per game in 5 career game 7s.

Additionally, after winning back to back chips, Miami becomes only the 7th franchise in NBA history to accomplish such a feat. Not all of the greats do that.

Finalsly, LeBron is only the 9th player in the history of the NBA to win multiple Finals MVPs - joining Jordan (6), Shaq (3), Duncan (3), Magic (3), Olajuwon (2), Bird (2), Jabbar (2), and Reed (2). And this dude is 28 years old.

Something tells me there will be more to come.
But, no matter what happens from here on out, LeBron's legacy is secure.

The best way to stick to your strengths

That picture above is amazing.
It's the last jumper LeBron hit, with ~27 seconds to go in the game, that put Miami up 4.
You basically have all 5 Spurs with a foot in the lane, looking to help on a LeBron drive.
There was no way he could have gotten into the lane on this play.

We'll look at that play a little more below, but for now think about this:
LeBron took 23 shots in game 7.
20 of those shots were from outside the paint.

In other words, LeBron beat the Spurs in game 7 with his jump shot.
I know right? Kind of crazy.
Last year it was the post game. This year it was his jump shot. The evolution continues.

But even more gratifying to see than a great player honing their craft through hard work is actually seeing them stick with it and believe in their training at the most crucial moment.......and actually seeing it pay off!

The best assessment of what is critical to LeBron's game......two years ago
A mid-range jump-shot at the end of a game to take what the defense gives you?
Who would have thought that having a mid-range jump-shot is really that important?
Oh wait...... this guy.

The best most obvious analysis by a NBA correspondent/biomedical scientist
Speaking of shooting.
After game 4 of the Finals, in which LeBron scored 33 points in a Miami win on the road, this conversation ensued:

Dr. JRS: "......there seems to be a big difference in Miami's success when you're a perimeter facilitator versus someone who looks to attack and score......"

LeBron: "What are you asking?"

Dr. JRS: "Basically I'm asking, are you going to continue to look to score?"

LeBron: "And not pass?"

Etc. Etc.

LeBron seemed a little miffed at my observation/question - to the tune of only scoring 25 points in a game 5 loss. But then he handled his business with 32 & 37 in games 6 & 7, respectively.

So, let's look at the numbers for the 2013 Finals, as far as LeBron's scoring goes:

Games 1-3 LeBron = 16.6 points per game on 39% shooting (18 shots a game). Miami = 1-2
Games 4-7 LeBron = 31.8 points per game on 48% shooting (24 shots a game). Miami = 3-1

Games in which LeBron scored 30 or more points, Miami = 3-0

So you're telling me, Miami is more successful when LeBron is looking to shoot more than pass? And when he is more of a scorer than facilitator?

I mean, I am a doctor for a reason.
What, you think they give Ph.Ds to just anyone?
My thesis was entitled: "No Magic Involved: LeBron Needs to Score to Win Championships."

The best way to put your reputation on the line
During the NBA Finals, we were bombarded with these commercials:

And then Finally, with the Heat retreating back to Miami for games 6 & 7, down 3-2, this was leaked:

So, that's 
1) "welcome to the new age" 
2) "Let the new reign begin" 
and the most ostentatious
3) .....well you can read the sneaker sole above.

All this before Miami even won the chip!
Talk about fighting for the fate of the world!
What would the Beats by Dre, 2Ksports, and Nike's stocks been had LeBron not won it all???

The best respect
Magic Johnson after game 7 of the NBA Finals (to LeBron):
"I think you are the only player that can be the greatest ever."


So, if you're keeping track at home:
2011: Scottie Pippen - "LeBron may be the greatest player of all time"
2012: Charles Barkely - "LeBron might be better than Jordan"
2013: Magic Johnson - "LeBron can be the greatest ever"

I predict that in 2018, after LeBron wins 7 championships in a row, Michael Jordan finally comes out and endorses LeBron as the greatest.

The best entertainer
Please. Watch:

Now I can finally say that I laughed out loud at an NBA Finals game 7.

The best way to quench the thirst of a champion

The best way to protect your eyes from said thirst quencher

By the way, that's Ray Allen in the locker room, with ski goggles to protect his eyes from the champagne.

The best way to check if such protection works

That looks fun.

The best reason to win a chip on South beach

That looked like it would have been fun. But with at least a $100 cover and over an hour long wait just to get to the door, one could only wonder.

The best dunk
The Spurs are pretty good too.
As evidenced by:

The best compliment
After winning the chip, this is what Wade had to say about the Spurs:
"I have so much respect for them. We went through that whole series and a couple of those guys I still haven't heard their voices yet. They don't say nothing to you, they just kick your butt. No trash talking. I ain't heard Kwahi Leoanrd, I don't even know how he sounds. And he's a bad boy."

Leonard's number in the NBA Finals: 14.6 points (51%) and 11 rebounds.
Leonard's numbers for games 6 & 7: 20.5 points (55%) and 13.5 rebounds.

The best most sincere moment
Wade in the locker room, with the trophy, taking a moment for himself:

Word on the streets is that he poured champagne on his knees to thank them for holding up during game 7.

Looking back, the best Forward
Lest we forget, Tim Duncan - perhaps the best power forward of all time - averaged 27 points (on 54%) and 14.5 rebounds in games 6 & 7. So yeah, at 37 years of age and after 17 years in the league this guy is still a bad man and brought when it mattered most. But that's just what the greats do.

Honestly,  I could do nothing but appreciate seeing Tim Duncan up close on the grandest stage. The absolute look of intensity on his face during every media session combined with the upmost professionalism.

Here are some of my more favorite/surreal moments from him during the Finals:

1) In San Antonio, after a pre-game work-out before game 5, Duncan was changing in his locker and preparing for the game. While doing so in complete silence, around 30 reporters surrounded him, and only about a foot away just started filming and taking pictures of his every movement.
Imagine trying to get prepared and stay focused with that in your face.

2) On father's day, playing with his kids in the hallway outside of the locker room during half time of game 5, perhaps his last Finals game at home. There was so much right with that moment.

3) His response to a member of the media, who asked before game 5: "Is this a must win game?"
Duncan: "You know, we're all trying to get to 4 wins. They're all must win games."

The best play out of a timeout
With ~3 minutes to go in the season and Miami up three, this was the play call out of a Miami time-out:

1) Shane Battier takes out the ball. LeBron on strong elbow. Wade in weak corner.

2) After inbounding the ball, Battier runs down to the block as LeBron looks to set a screen to free him up.

3) After coming off LeBron's screen, Battier catches the ball above the elbow. Wade starts to come across the baseline to the strong side.

4) Battier faces up. LeBron looks to set a screen at the block for Wade.

5) Wade curls off LeBron's screen into the paint. My, look how open the paint is......

The result?
Wade with a layup to put Miami up 5.

Let me just say, this is a freakin' college play.
No wait......this is a freakin' high school play! Run with 3 minutes to go in the most important game of the season! Proving you can run great plays with great players to yield great results in critical situations......


The best variation on a theme
Speaking of plays. Sometimes you just want the ball in the hands of your best player and have them  make something happen. But, you can also put them in a position to facilitate that process.

With ~30 seconds to go in the season, and Miami up two, here was the play call:

1) LeBron with the ball up top, essentially in a 4-low set (this was after he waived off an initial Chalmers screen - presumably because it was too early in the shot clock).

2) Chalmers eventually comes up to set a screen on Leonard. Interestingly, LeBron is above the three point line, but Chalmers only has to come up to the foul line to set a screen. Leonard is essentially already over the screen as Parker goes out to hedge and help.

3) LeBron looks to turn the corner and pass Parker. Leonard gets around Chalmers' pseudo screen.

4) Parker stays on LeBron's hip, containing him while Leonard retreats to the paint. Danny Green, the strong side help defender, is several feet off Battier looking to help if need be (which is kind of crazy since Battier is one pass away and had already made 6 three pointers in the game).

5) Wow, you think the Spurs are trying to prevent LeBron from getting to the rim? You think they are trying to get him to pass the ball? Look how open Chalmers (got to love the fact that his hands are up looking for the ball) and Battier (triple threat position) are. Look how Duncan is protecting the rim, Leonard is in the paint, with Green and Ginobili looking to help. What's interesting here is that Parker actually leaves LeBron to go back to Chalmers. Not able to get tot he rim, it presents LeBron with an opportunity to get off an open mid-range jump shot.

6) If you're the best player in the world, why pass the ball when the outcome of the NBA Finals is in your hands? Why force the issue driving to the rim to get contested by 5 players? Why not take what the defense gives you and trust in your ability to make a mid-range jump-shot?
Oh, wait, that's what LeBron did.

You have to wonder why Parker left LeBron and why the Spurs didn't just double him.
And you have to wonder why at this moment in the game, the Spurs still conceded the wide-open mid-range jumper to LeBron.

Additionally, how many times have we seen LeBron pass in this situation before?
Well let me tell you, based on LeBron's body language, passing wasn't even a consideration here. 
Good for him.

And let me give props to coach Spoelstra too.
Remember in game 2 when LeBron screening for Chalmers was the go to play that broke the game open? How cool is it that he flipped it around and had Chalmers screen for LeBron? And with good reason. Even if Parker doesn't leave LeBron, there is no way he could have adequately contested a LeBron jumper anyway. Having Chalmers screen for LeBron dictated a defensive switch that enabled LeBron to be able to shoot over his defender. Trust me, that was by design.

This past NBA Finals was a great, dare I say, "chess match" between Spoelstra and Popovich.
Well, with three minutes to go in the last game of the season, Spoelstra won that match.

The best championship locker room video you haven't seen


The best reason to root for LeBron
For all that he represents.

How often to you get to see the best player in the world develop into his prime in real time? I guess it would have to be once every generation right?

But how many times do you get to see the best player in the world first make a fool of himself, then fail miserably on the grandest stage and forced into seclusion? Only to emerge refined and humbled enough to overcome his demons and critics - pretty much all of them?

That's LeBron. That's the journey.

And even if that is an archetypical narrative for sports heroes (or heroes in general), LeBron seems to be a different breed of superstar. For as much as he has evolved on the court, how much has he evolved off it?

Remember two years ago, after that horrible performance in the Finals, he had that statement that despite his short coming in the series he was "going back to my regular life, while everyone will still have to go back to their everyday problems." Yes, this was misconstrued, but it still wasn't in the best taste.

What about during this year's finals?
This is what he said before game 7:
"First of all, I mean, I'm blessed man. I don't even know I got here. I wasn't suppose to be in the NBA, if you go by the statistics and things of me growing up where I grew up.""

And this is what he said during the Finals MVP trophy presentation:

“I can’t worry about what everybody says about me. I’m LeBron James form Akron Ohio from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 “James” on the back, I’m blessed."

Talk about a 180.
The humility is great, but did this guy, on the grandest stage in his sport, just connote and call attention to the plight of our nation's inner city youth?

Everyone is into comparing LeBron to Jordan.
You know what? I don't think I ever heard Jordan say something like that, on this stage.

But wait, it gets better.

On the interview stage after game 7, with both trophies up on the table, this dialogue ensued:
Media member: "LeBron, you've won it all now for the two years in a row. What's the goal now for your career going forward? Where do you want to go from here?"

LeBron: “One of my first goals is to continue to inspire the youth to want to play this game of basketball or be better at whatever they do. I mean, I love kids. Hopefully tonight I was able to inspire a lot. Inspire millions to – no matter what they’ve gone through in their lives at that point in time, they can always overcome.”

Remember what you thought about LeBron after the decision and the pre-season parade.
Tell me what you think about him now.
If it hasn't changed then dude, the problem is you.

Athletes are meant to inspire on the court.
But sometimes their transformation off it can be just as influential.

And if the best player in the world can change, with the lens of every camera in the world in his face and under pressure like no one has ever seen. If he can persevere and remain true to his passion to overcome previous struggles and achieve his goals while staying humble and aware of the bigger picture......

Maybe, in our everyday lives, if even in just a small way......we can too.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Men Of Steel

There comes a time, in every journey, where things look bleak.
Down 13 towards of the end of third quarter, with Tim Duncan already scoring 30 and LeBron James only with 12 points, would qualify as such a time for the Miami Heat.

And there comes a time when those moments have to be overcome.
Perhaps the night is darkest before the dawn (Perhaps that's the wrong DC movie quote).

If ever you want to equate a basketball player's performance with that of a superhero's, LeBron's performance at the end of game 6, in a do or die situation, might be your chance.

18 points in the 4th + overtime, finishing with a triple double, blocking Tim Duncan at the rim, and guarding Tony Parker for good measure. Was he perfect? No, of course not. Did he get help? Of course he did.  But how many times have you seen someone put his team of his back and do everything, in an elimination game?

Take a look a this sequence, it sums it all up:

A Good look 

LeBron minus headband with the fist pump swag going.

Everybody Loves Ray
You want to talk about super friends?
I mean, HOLY S*%@!:

Take a look at Norris Cole jumping in the opposite corner - throughout the entire play and then as Ray Allen releases the ball, before it even goes in. That dude knew.

The look of confidence

Yes, that's essentially all 5 Spurs running out at Ray Allen in the corner.
Yes, that's team savior LeBron James WIDE-OPEN calling for the ball at the top of the key.

Question: Ray "when you caught that pass from Chris, LeBron was at the top of the key screaming. Did you ever consider kicking it out?"

Ray (shaking head): "No."

By the way, I love how Mario Chalmers has his hands up in the opposite corner calling for the ball as well. You can do nothing but admire his confidence. Truth be told - he came up BIG in game 6 with 20 points as Miami's second leading scorer.

What breeds confidence
Question: Ray, "even for someone whose work ethic is as historic as yours is, to backtrack, get your hands set, get your feet set, take that pass and then have the momentum going forward to shoot, how tough is that even for you to do all that in the span of maybe about a second and a half?"

Ray: "It's tough, but believe it or not, I work on it quite often. I try to put my body in precarious situations coming from different parts of the floor, different angles to try to get my momentum moving forward. I honestly can say that I gave myself a great opportunity, a great chance to make that shot. And it wasn't unfamiliar to me positionally. When it went in, I was ecstatic. But at the same time I was expecting to make it."

So, you're saying that practice makes perfect?
Yes Ray Allen has a historic work ethic - he gets up 300 shots before every game.
Take a look for yourself.

A much needed look 

Chris Bosh finished the game with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
One of those rebounds came with less than ten second to go in regulation that lead to the kick-out to Ray Allen. One of those blocks came on Tony Parker with just over 30 seconds to go in OT and Miami up only one. And the other block was pictured above - on the last play of the game to prevent Danny Green from getting off a game tying three.

After game 5, in which Danny Green set a record for most three pointers made in an NBA Finals, everyone wondered aloud: "how is he still open?"

Before game 6, Chris Bosh said of Danny Green: "He won't be open."
Kind of fitting for him to live up to his word on the lat play of the game.

No Looks
Speaking of Danny Green, after averaging 18 points by shooting 66% from three (making 25 of them) through the first 5 games of the Finals, he went 1-5 from three (1-7 overall) for three points in game 6.
So did the Heat switch something up?

A biomedical scientist/NBA correspondent asked coach Spoelstra about this after the game (go to 5:15 minute mark):

For the Spurs:
Game 1: 7 threes made (30%) - Green = 4/9
Game 2: 10 threes made (50%) - Green = 5/5
Game 3: 16 threes made (50%) - Green = 7/9
Game 4: 8 threes made (50%) - Green  = 3/5
Game 5: 9 threes made (41%) - Green  = 6/10
Game 6: 5 three made (28%) - Green = 1-5

Lowest percentage and makes for the team and for Green. I guess you can say Miami had "better awareness."

Of course a consequence of Playing Parker and Duncan straight up is that those guys will have big games. After averaging 15.6 points through the first 5 games of the series, Duncan broke out (in single coverage) for 30 points in game 6. He was 11-13 at the half and had everyone practically handing him the Finals MVP trophy before the second half begun.

But, is 30 points from Duncan acceptable over open threes?
And to Spoelstra's point about not accepting "trade-offs" but rather doing "both," Miami cut down San Antonio's threes and held Duncan to 5 points in the second half (0 points in the 4th + OT). Miami also placed LeBron on Parker in the 4th + OT.

Maybe they can do both.

Speaking of big games, big shots, great performances, and practice, I though this was a great comment from Tim Duncan regarding how to prepare for the pressure of a winner take all game 7:

"I prepare for every game exactly the same. That's why I feel every game is exactly the same. Obviously the pressure is there, the stage is there, the energy is there. But preparation doesn't change."

I guess that (and playing with your kids at halftime) is a way to remove pressure.

A different look

No sneaker, no problem.
Mike Miller can bang threes regardless.

So where do we go from here?
In series where both teams have taken and received their best shots, have made adjustments, are evenly matched, and pretty much know what the other team is going to do - it may not be about skill as much as it is about will. On the grandest stage how amazing is it that it may be as simple as throwing it all out there and laying everything on the line.

And as simple as that is, let me restate what I said last time:
LeBron guards Parker
Wade matches up with Ginobili (both have been resurgent and bot struggled last game)
Bosh guards Duncan
Allen matches up with Green (forget the record - who makes more/bigger shots this game)
And then it's Chalmers/Miller/Battier against Leonard/Neal

Maybe Diaw or Birdman gets some run here or there, but the match-ups above will decide the game and the championship. And each one of them is as fascinating as it is important.

Both teams are playing small.
Forget the plays and adjustments.
Why don't we just have everyone play straight up one on one, switch on screens if need be.
DON'T LEAVE SHOOTERS - no matter what!

So with that I pose to you:
1) Which team has better one on one players that can break down the defense?
2) Which team has better on the ball defenders?
3) Which team can score more in transition?
4) Which team has more versatile defenders that can guard on switches off screens?
5) Which team has shooters that can shoot better off the dribble or coming off screens?
6) Can Bosh or Duncan outplay one another substantially?

Maybe we got some of those answers last game.
Perhaps we'll get all the answers tonight.

Final thoughts
The reality is BOTH teams deserve to win this game.
And both teams can win this game. I'm sure both teams want it as much. But who will do more, when it maters most.

Duncan's legacy vs. LeBron's legacy.
Sheesh - does it get any better than this???

So Timmy, what do you think???
Duncan: "It's all about just winning the title. It's not about situation or what has led up to it......we're here for one reason. One reason only......We're just going to leave it all out there and see what happens."

So LeBron, what do you think???
LeBron: "I want to go down as one of the greatest. I want our team to go down as one of the greatest teams..... It's the hardest thing..... Last year don't even come close to what we've gone through in this postseason and in these Finals. So I'll be there......I'm going to give it my all. I'm going to leave everything on the floor. Whatever happens happens. I'll be satisfied with that."

As a basketball fan, can anything be more satisfying than watching all of that...... with everything on the line???