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.

 

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.

Playoffs are here!

Denver's Carmelo Anthony was the star of NBA first round playoffs' Game 1s.

The first games of the first round playoff series’ are done, and I am left with both awe and disappointment.

Awe in the explosive performance of Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, who was easily the most electric performer of the initial contests of NBA playoffs’ first round.

Anthony scored a playoff career-high 42 points on 18-of-25 shooting. He was a one-man show, and just too much for the ailing Jazz, which goes under my disappointments.

I figured Utah to be a key figure as a Western contender … that is, until Carlos Boozer got hurt. Then Andrei Kirilenko. Then, finall, Mehmet Okur.

That’s three starters, if you’re counting at home. Never a good sign, and we’re all just left wondering what exactly Jerry Sloan did to tick off the basketball gods.

Aside from Anthony, I was also impressed with Cleveland’s intensity (no more goofing around for these Cavs. These playoffs are pivotal in so many ways), Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Chicago’s Derrick Rose (it’d be nice if the Bulls found some offensive help for him. Trading John Salmons will come back to bite them), the Portland TrailBlazers, Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings (the real deal, with 34 points in his rookie playoff debut).

I was disappointed by the lack of heart and energy of a Celtics team that seems eager to just “cut the check.” I was disappointed, though just as much saddened, by the realization that the Spurs are done. Break up the core, Pop. Time to move on. I was also disappointed with Phoenix’s lack of a killer instinct as it let a team without its star player take Game 1 on the road. Inexcusable. I’ve never been a fan of these Suns, and this is why. No defense, no grit, and a tendency to fold when the pressure mounts.

Here’s some “Silva Says” in regard to these playoffs so far:

– I think we definitely have to pay more attention to Atlanta. They’ve got everything you can ask for, in size, athleticism, speed, shooting and defense. I do think they could contend with Cleveland for the East (Orlando is a bit too inconsistent for me, and I don’t like the lack of aggressiveness on offense by Dwight Howard).

– If the Thunder expects to have any shot against the Lakers, Kevin Durant should not be their meal ticket. That should go to Russell Westbrook, who had his way in Game 1. He needs more touches and shots, and I like his ability to take over a game against any of LA’s guards than for Durant to do that against a Ron Artest or Lamar Odom.

– I like the Bobcats – a lot – but Orlando should breeze through them. Charlotte has good size, rebounding and a tough defense, but few playmakers and no sharpshooters. Larry Brown’s disdain for the 3-point shot will come back to haunt him, especially against this Magic team that thrives off it.

– As much as I’m a Jazz fan (yes, I’m a Rockets AND Jazz fan), I don’t see them getting past Denver unless the likes of C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver play out of their minds. I did like their chances with Okur and Kirilenko. Now? Not so much.

– Milwaukee and Miami are pretty much in the same boat. Tough, gritty defenses. One superstar player/scorer/playmaker. No concrete No. 2 and No. 3 guys, though John Salmons beats anything Dwanye Wade has. Lack of pure shooting, or just consistent shot-making in general. Love watching both play, though.

– In the end: I think Lakers beat Thunder in 5, Mavs top Spurs in 5, Phoenix defeats Blazers in 7 and Denver tops Utah in 6.

In the East, I have Cleveland sweeping Chicago, Orlando beating Charlotte in 5, Boston topping Miami in 7 and Atlanta dismissing Milwaukee in 5.

More on McGrady

Yep, the plan is to trade McGrady. Or, atleast that’s what CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger is reporting.

“The plan is to increase his minutes because they’re gonna trade him,” said a person familiar with the Rockets’ plans. “I know they are. It doesn’t do them any good to have him playing eight minutes a game on that contract. They’ll find somebody, and there are plenty of teams that are interested, in spite of the contract.”

Any number of teams desperate for short-term scoring punch while they prepare for a 2010 spending spree would be obvious fits; the Bulls and Knicks are at the top of my list. The Heat reportedly also are intrigued by McGrady, and team president Pat Riley is said to be closely monitoring T-Mac’s progress.

Here’s the article: http://ken-berger.blogs.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/entry/11838893/18979876?source=rss_blogs_NBA

Not sure who the Rockets would be looking at in return. The Knicks have nobody of interest. Their only attractive commodity is David Lee, and Houston already has Luis Scola and Carl Landry, both of whom I consider better than Lee.

The Bulls might be intriguing. Perhaps something like Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas? I don’t like Aaron Brooks at starting PG, simply because he’s a scorer. He’s nothing more than a sparkplug, sixth-man type on a contender. I love Hinrich’s shooting ability, leadership and defense, and he can play and defend both guard spots.

Thomas is as dumb as a bag of rocks, but he’s athletic, can block shots and can run the floor … the Rockets don’t currently have a big who can supply all of those traits.

As far as Miami … hmm. Not sure who’d the Rockets want from them. No one comes to mind, and certainly not a pair such as Hinrich and Thomas.

I personally think the Bulls make the most sense. It gives Derrick Rose another playmaker beside him, plus Joakim Noah and Brad Miller and John Salmons would benefit from the attention McGrady and Rose would see.

Only time will tell.

A deep look at the pick and roll

Via the NYT’s Jonathan Abrams: A great, insightful look at the pick and roll and its effect on today’s NBA game.

Some things I thought very interesting: The Lakers and Jazz used it the least last season – only 11 percent of their plays were initiated by the play.

LA uses the triangle offense, while the Jazz like to get other players moving and involved.

The Miami Heat used it the most, at 26 percent.

A read you don’t want to miss: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/sports/basketball/20pick.html?_r=2&ref=sports