What to make of Miami’s XMas win

 

LeBron James may have stood tall over Kobe and the Lakers on Christmas Day, but their is no hiding his team's flaws.

 

 

Watching Miami’s blowout 96-80 win over the Lakers on Christmas Day, only one thing in particular struck me about the much-hyped, sensationalized game between one NBA heavyweight and another supposed contender.

That thing was this: How blatantly obvious it was that the Lakers did not care.

This was supposed to be a game that declared the Lakers’ supremacy as the league’s best. It was supposed to be another opponent that the Heat fell to; one that showed that Miami still has quite a way to go, no matter how sexy its winning streaks.

Instead, this was a Los Angeles team that showed little effort or heart, aside from the first play of the game on a beautifully designed alley-oop set from Kobe to Lamar Odom.

Instead, it was all Miami, all the time. The Heat held the Lakers 25 points below their season average. LeBron James earned his third triple-double of the season. Chris Bosh destroyed Pau Gasol in the paint, opening a lot of eyes for those who suggested the Lakers’ frontcourt would deem Miami’s laughable.

The bottom line came to this: Miami, simply, cared. Los Angeles did not. This was a game that was so much more important to the Heat that I’m not exactly sure what to take away from it. Yes, I was impressed by Miami’s relentless defense and a much improved passing game thanks to an offense that is moving freer and more often.

But this was a game the Heat needed to win if it wanted to be amongst the true legit title contenders. The problem was, the Lakers so willingly let them have it. Phil Jackson might as well have been absent, refusing to pound the Heat inside or go zone to negate the driving and passing lanes and force jumpers. Kobe forced some things, showed some anger but otherwise seemed disinterested. And when Kobe and Phil are disinterested, it’s very easy for the rest of the Lakers to follow suit.

As two-time defending champs, the Lakers – rightfully so – don’t have anything to prove until the playoffs. These games mean little to them, no matter how much ESPN and the media wish to hype them up. Kobe and Co. are clearly saving their energy for the more important games in late April, May and June. After all, a third consecutive title won’t be won in December, no matter how titanic the matchup.

“These games mean more to our opponents than they do us,” Kobe acknowledged following the game, stressing a need to fix that.  “We always suck on Christmas … they should just take us off this day.”

As far as Miami, it was a solid road victory. Impressive? At the very least. Their defense was excellent. We knew that. The offense looks a whole lot healthier. That’s a positive sign.

But no matter how many wins they compile in the regular season, their true essence lies in this: They are weakest at the league’s two most vital positions, center and point guard. And until that is resolved, this is a team bound for the Eastern Conference semifinals, maybe the East finals if the cards fall right. Individual games can be easily won courtesy of individual greatness. But in a seven game series against the likes of a Chicago, Boston or Orlando, that lack of size and a true playmaker – not to mention substantial depth – will become their downfall unless it is addressed before March.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are not a cast of emotionally empty talents, which is why it’s simple to cast Saturday’s episode as an aberration. They will be heard from when it counts, and it’s because of what they DO have – superior size, depth and playmaking – that I’m not sure their ugly holiday loss should mean much in the big picture.

 

Getting the rash out of the NBA’s Rasheeds

Rasheed Wallace would have never made it considering the NBA's latest crack down.

The NBA announced earlier this week that it was cracking down on “overt gestures” players and coaches offer in response to foul calls.

These gestures include swinging a fist in the air at a perceived bad call, waving off an official in disgust, gyrating in disbelief, clapping sarcastically, et cetera. The league feels there is too much whining and complaining from players, and apparently, fans do as well.

The league did this as a means to encourage respect for the game. It makes sense, because I certainly agree. But this will not end well.

In the heat of competition, emotions can get out of hand. A player may be reacting to his own act, not necessarily an official’s. He may be unable to contain his feelings about calls – not necessarily whining – considering the magnitude of the moment.

In large part, this is further proof of David Stern’s master hand in restricting players; not good considering a lockout is on the horizon, in all likelihood, next year. This only further distances players and the league.

If players already feel enslaved to the league – i.e. because of the dress code, fines and overall Big Brother environment – this does nothing to help.

It’s my belief that only a select group of players act excessively out of hand in response to officials; it does not help, however, that some of those names include players the league hangs its hat on, like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

And ultimately, no, I don’t feel the players are truly being unsportsmanlike. Again, these are players often acting in the heat of battle, at the top of their game, and I’m not sure you can curtail human nature.

As a fan, I would much rather just let the players be than for a game to be decided by some silly point off a technical free throw awarded because Kobe swung his fist in the air disapprovingly after a bad call. Let’s face it, referees certainly make their share of bad calls as well, and it will be amusing to see what happens when James is slapped for a T when he, rightfully so, acted aggressively in response to a poor call.

In the end, this will not go over well, and I do think the refs already do a fine job punishing those who do outwardly exhibit disrespect, like Rasheed Wallace and others.

It’s even more ironic that Rasheed – heck, we might as well call this whole shebang the “Rasheed Wallace effect” – retired this summer. I wish he would, for the sake of us fans, unretire just so he can smash his single-season technical foul record.

Forget the Miami Heat. That would surely be something to see.

Back again

The NBA offseason has hit a very quiet point.

I refuse to believe it’s been almost a month since I last updated this. But, alas, it is true.

The good news is that not much has gone on in the world of free agency since the whole disgusting LeBron ordeal. Shaq is a Celtic now. The Heat have managed to put together a decent roster around its infamous trio, with the likes of Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eddie House and others selling their souls in hopes for a ring that won’t come anytime soon.

After all, I still have the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls and Magic as better teams; more complete and well-rounded clubs. I especially like what Chicago has done, and the Lakers have really made some nice, under-the-radar moves by picking up Steve Blake, Theo Ratliff and Matt Barnes.

The NBA released its marquee games of the 2010-11 season yesterday. The Heat will open in Boston. My Rockets will get a first-hand look at the Lakers receiving their new rings as they recharge for a three-peat.

Christmas Day is jam-packed:

Dec. 25 Noon ET Bulls at Knicks
Dec. 25 2:30 p.m. ET Celtics at Magic
Dec. 25 5 p.m. ET Heat at Lakers
Dec. 25 8 p.m. ET Nuggets at Thunder
Dec. 25 10:30 p.m. ET Blazers at Warriors

You can read the full story here: http://www.nba.com/2010/news/08/03/2010schedule/index.html?ls=iref:nbahpt1

Each team’s full NBA schedule will be released Aug. 10.

Other than that, pretty quiet for the league. I did get a chance to meet and talk with San Antonio Spurs guard George Hill last week. He did a camp here in town and I got some video shots. I’ll put those up as soon as I can.

Also, Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Kaleb Canales will be coming back home next week for a few camps. I hope to get video and a couple of stories done for that, so I’ll keep ya’ll on the lookout.

As far as that, it’s low and steady right now. If y’all have some ideas or want to strike up a convo, hit me up here or on my Twitter to the right. It’s boring these days and I’d like to get this blog back poppin’ again.

From A King to a Prince

LeBron James' decision to bolt for the Miami Heat was not taken too kindly in Cleveland.

By now you know, LeBron James is gone. The Ohio native bolted the only NBA team he has known the last seven years – the Cleveland Cavaliers – for South Beach, to play alongside Dwanye Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert wasn’t too thrilled with the decision. Neither were Cavs fans (see photo above). But everyone else is enamored with the move as the new Big 3 makes its way to Miami.

Some of my thoughts:

– Pat Riley is a mastermind. I don’t know how he does it, but he just pulled off arguably the biggest free agent coup in any sport’s history. Give him credit for shooting for the stars. It would have been a spectacular offseason with just Wade and Bosh in tow. But LeBron too? Kudos for Riley, and certainly a grand testament to his influence even after winning just one NBA title in the last 20 years.

– This wasn’t about money for LeBron. But it wasn’t about winning, either. If it was, he would have headed off to Chicago, where he, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah would have been the most intimidating starting lineup in the league. That would have given LeBron the best chance of winning right away, as in this next year. Even with the Big 3 in haul, Miami still needs two or three pure shooters from deep, considerable size and shotblocking and rebounding, and a bench. Mario Chalmers is a competent point guard, but the Heat need more there too. This move to Miami says one thing about LeBron: He just wanted to play with his buddies. It’s glorified pickup basketball. But the Knicks offered, arguably, the most potential. The Bulls were the team he could win right away with and start something of a true dynasty.

– This move will take a huge, HUGE hit on LeBron’s legacy. For someone so conscious of his image and how he wants to build his brand and be global and be such a memorable, undying ambassador of the sport, this move really raises a lot of questions. Miami is Dwanye Wade’s team. No doubts about it. No questions asked. It will be Wade getting the last-minute shots. It will be Wade running the show. It is Wade’s city. LeBron is taking a significant step backward, and if he does win a title, it will always be because he had Wade with him. Wade already has a ring. LeBron will have to answer to Wade, make no doubt about that. The Heat have proven they can win without LeBron. But LeBron has yet to prove anything to anybody, aside from producing a few gawdy highlight reels here and there. Again, for someone so conscious on his brand and squeezing each dollar out of every ounce of his name, face and talents, this was a really big leap for LeBron. The King is not even the king of his own team.

– This stinks for Cleveland, but, let’s face it, the Cavs did nothing that made sense this offseason. They fired GM Danny Ferry, the man who did everything possible to provide LeBron with a solid supporting cast (maybe if LeBron hadn’t quit in the playoffs against the Celtics, he’d at least have a ring to equal Wade’s right now). They fired coach Mike Brown, which was at least understandable because of Brown’s lack of competence on the offensive end of the floor, but they were willing to give Tom Izzo the job. How is that attractive for LeBron at all? Bringing in a rookie coach with no NBA history? The Cavs were actually the benefactors when Izzo said no and Byron Scott was brought in. (Ironically enough, Scott would have been the better draw for LeBron, but Cavs management differed in that, I suppose). Nothing made sense, specifically the Ferry move. So the Cavs did nothing to help their case in making themselves a more attractive option for LeBron. They figured they’d have the edge by just being the hometown team, and, boy, was that a really bad gamble. It obviously cost them.

– In the end, I have no issues with LeBron changing teams and leaving the Cavs. That’s his right as a free agent, and his decision and I respect that. But the way he went about it – the one-hour ESPN show to dig the knife deep into the hearts of Cavs fans; the hoopla and dramatic way he played it out (he had made up his mind days before; the man was just putting on a show) – was unprofessional and a big reason why he lost a lot of respect of many. Totally uncalled for and unnecessary, and if he thinks he won over a lot of people with this or that he has stayed a beloved player in the league, he’s wrong. He lost a lot of fans and respect with this whole free agent ordeal.

This will be the last I have anything to say on this, at least until the season starts. I have been completely LeBron-ed out (Thanks, ESPN! :|). At least it’s over and done with, and now we can focus on the real question this summer: Where the heck is Kyle Korver going?

You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.

Wacky Wednesday

As a Jazz fan, I hate to see Boozer go. But his departure won't hurt the Jazz as much as most people probably think.

An action packed Wednesday for the NBA. Here’s my thoughts on the deals:

Chris Bosh and Dwanye Wade commit to Miami: Nice haul by the Heat. Never thought Wade needed LeBron with him, but he did need a big and Bosh certainly fills that role. Still, with Mario Chalmers (underwhelming PG) and Michael Beasley (mercurial PF) the only other roster members for now, a lot of holes to fill for the Heat. Good start by Miami, though.

Carlos Boozer to Chicago: I love this move by the Bulls. They needed an interior threat, and he’s going to be a dynamic pick-and-roll threat with Derrick Rose. Add nice pieces like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, and that’s a solid look for Chicago. Now they need shooters, some athletic wing defenders and bench stabilization and they’ll be set. As for how this affects the Jazz, it doesn’t significantly. That’s why they signed Millsap to a deal last summer, because they knew this was a big possibility. Plus, this will leave more minutes for Kyrylo Fesenko, who I really like because he’s the interior presence they need as a shot-blocker and rebounder. As a Jazz fan, I don’t mind this move, and while I would have liked to have seen something gained in return, I do think the Jazz have more moves coming on the horizon. I’ve already seen Rockets fans claiming the Jazz are no longer playoff contenders now that Boozer is gone. Puhleeze. While I’m a loyal ambassador to both the Rockets and Jazz, that’s just delirious thinking.

Ray Allen stays with Boston: Two-years, $20 million for the best shooter in the league. I thought the Cs could have afforded to let him go and just look elsewhere. But not too bad of a deal, though he’s more of a 6-8 mill/year player at this point. Looks like Boston is willing for at least a couple of more contending years with KG/PP/Ray core. I thought they’d blow things up and start fresh, but I guess now. I still think they need a backup PG, another athletic/scoring wing and some frontcourt insurance (not Jermaine O’Neal, who I’ve heard is leaning toward signing with Boston). In short, the Cs desperately need some young, athletic punch.

Chris Duhon to Orlando: Kind of an ‘eh’ move; I thought Jason Williams was just fine as a backup. Now that the Rockets lost out on Bosh, I’d like to see them pursue Williams and Brad Miller, addressing two of their biggest weaknesses right now: frontcourt depth and point guard.

And now, for where I think LeBron ends up as he’s supposed to make his decision tomorrow night on ESPN:

It’s my belief he stays. HOWEVER, if he truly wants to win now and get some rings, he inks with the Bulls. If he’s as egotistical and attention-whorish as we think he is (and is becoming, according to those who know him), New York is very much a viable option.

But I think he remains a Cav. Time will tell.

The guessing game

Could LeBron James and Dwanye Wade play on the same team? No, of course not.

My apologies for the lack of blogging the past week or so. Our sports department is undergoing radical personnel changes, so I’ve been very busy attending to those and directing the ship with the 2010-11 sports year just a little more than a month away.

I regret having blogged about the draft more in-depth, but it was pretty underwhelming. Not a lot to say, other than I don’t like the Rockets’ pick of Patrick Patterson at No. 14. With Luis Scola, Jordan Hill, Chuck Hayes … I think the Rockets are pretty sound at PF, and I would have loved to have seen them draft a big to backup Yao and get him some significant rest from time to time. Who? I’m not sure exactly, but a trade down would not have hurt in order to maybe get an extra second round draft pick and get that center at a more valued pick.

Either way, I’m eager to see what the Rockets will do this offseason. I do trust GM Daryl Morey, but this team lacks at point guard (i.e. a true PG who is pass first), center and pure shooting. So we’ll what will happen.

Speaking of the offseason, July 1 is just around the corner, and everyone’s talking about the free agent bonanza of LeBron James, Dwanye Wade and Chris Bosh; specifically, there are crazy rumors of whether all three will sign up to join Wade in Miami.

No, let’s discuss all that is wrong with that. First of all, there is no reason to believe three alpha dogs will co-exist in harmony in pursuit of a NBA championship. If anything the 2003-04 Lakers showed us (with Kobe, Shaq, The Mailman and GP) it’s that, yes, egos do count, and when it comes down to it, pro players have a lot of pride. Shots are wanted. Minutes are craved. The ball in their hands in the last minutes of the fourth quarter is desired. Bosh doesn’t worry me so much as LeBron and Wade. Miami IS Wade’s team. LeBron signing on makes him No. 2, period, as he will be sidekick to an NBA champ and the guy who has been the face of the Heat for quite some time now.

Simply put, the considerable egos of these three won’t allow this. Each needs the ball in his hands to be effective. It can’t work. It won’t work. Nice idea, but, no. No siree.

So we can put to rest any notion of all three playing together on the same team. Not happening.

The real truth is no one knows where any of these guys will end up, other than the fact that Bosh will not be back in Toronto and it’s 99 percent sure Wade stays in Miami (the Heat have cleared enough room to make sure another star player or two will be alongside Wade for the coming years).

Without anything more than a hunch, I see LeBron going to Chicago, Bosh joins Wade in Miami and the Knicks – tee hee! – are left with third and fourth options like Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer.

Man, those Knicks are something else, aren’t they? I would hate to be a Knicks fan right now. That is not an attractive situation at all, as it seems like all of these players involved are smart enough to not just go strictly to where the money is.

But, we shall see. I generally love this time of year, but the hype and fanatical attention to the free agency period has driven me nuts. Almost to the point where I change the TV whenever I even see an image of LeBron. Why Wade is not the more pursued free agent, I’ll never know. He’s actually won a ring, and he’s never surrendered in the playoffs, at least as far as his effort and intensity. LeBron is looking more and more like an ‘All style, no substance’ player, and that is not a good thing. Not when you’re fixing to blow millions for this player to be the heart, soul, face and posterboy for your franchise.

There are bound to be winners this free agency period. But, with each passing day, I’m getting the sense there will be more losers than we first thought as well; teams who sold their soul to realize in the end that it was not worth it at all.

A sad reality

Today's NBA "stars" like Dwight Howard, left, and Joe Johnson, right, are setting a bad example for the NBA's up-and-coming talent.

Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson watched as his team was decimated by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals this year.

With his team being outclassed in every which was on the court, Johnson – unquestionably the leader of his team – simply took his place in line, averaging 12.8 points and shooting 29.8 percent from the field, including an ungodly 17 percent from downtown.

He averaged 3.8 assists and 2.5 turnovers.

But, during these playoffs, he is not alone.

The game’s best player, LeBron James, was just as underwhelming as he watched his Cleveland Cavaliers – the best team in the NBA in the regular season – get embarrassed by the Boston Celtics.

James is a once-in-a-generation talent, Magic Johnson on steroids. He has the ability to rise up and take over games single-handedly.

This year, however, he did not. Instead, he issued statements of denial, showed a lack of urgency and allowed his team to wilt incredibly under pressure, en route to an Eastern Semifinals performance of 26.8 points per game on 44 percent shooting (LeBron shot better than 50 percent the rest of the season) while turning the ball over 4.5 times, including nine in a Game 6 elimination defeat.

Specifically, in Games 5 and 6, with the series tied 2-2, “The King” shot 11-for-35 in the two games and turned the ball over 12 times.

But, he, too, is not alone.

The Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Phoenix Suns’ Amar’e Stoudemire are headed along similar roads as the aforementioned star duo.

Howard has been horrible against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it would only be appropriate that we dismiss the superstar label put upon him and realize that he is nothing more than a superb defender.

In three games against the Cs, Howard has compiled 50 points on 15-of-33 shooting, though twice (in Games 1 and 3) he shot 3-of-10 from the floor each time.

He has turned the ball over, never enforced his will upon a game (with the possible exception of the Game 2 defeat in which he scored 30 on 9-of-13 from the floor) and has done little to help keep the Celtics away from the rim.

His team, needless to say, has been laughed at enough as it trails Boston 3-0 in the East finals.

Amar’e, meanwhile, has been lethargic defensively in the West finals against the Lakers, which his Suns trail 2-0 and seem right along the way toward a nice and easy sweep. He will get his points – especially with offensively-geared Phoenix – but his defense, which is oh so vital against the Lakers’ tremendous frontline, has been deplorable, to the broken tune of 4.5 rebounds per game and fewer than 1.8 blocks per game.

So why has it been like this? Why have these players – players whom the NBA spotlights endlessly and features as star representatives of its league – failed when it mattered most?

It’s confusing and frustrating, especially for fans who are being exposed to the lack of mental toughness and desire of some of the league’s best and brightest.

Those who argue that the NBA overhypes its stars are looking like pure geniuses. LeBron doesn’t have the passion or heart of the Kobes and MJs of the world, no matter how much the league wishes he did.

Joe Johnson is a second-tier star, perhaps more third-level. Howard is a glorified defensive specialist.

And Amar’e is all style, no substance.

It’s a sad reality for NBA die-hards. Today’s stars simply don’t want it as much as yesterday’s.

Kobe and Iverson grew up watching the Isiah Thomas’ and Jordans and Larry Birds of the world, so they followed suit. It was expected that, to win championships, you had to go above and beyond.

But today’s stars have seen nothing but exaggerated contracts and the luxuries of being a professional athlete. They have earned nothing, and they don’t fully appreciate the journey toward what it takes to earn something.

Today’s “stars”, such as Dwight, Joe Johnson and Amar’e, are only setting a bad example for up-and-coming stars, such as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, and such.

Those youngsters are following a long line of guys who’ve proved nothing, and they’re too young to have seen the MJs and Birds to understand what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the profession.

A sad reality, indeed. Perhaps a sad future as well for the world’s greatest sport.