Thursday, April 18, 2013
The NBA regular season has finally run its course. It was long, it was fun, it was historic and at times, mind blowing. For some teams it was a disappointing season (76ers), for some it was shocking (Warriors) and for many, the outcome of the season is still yet to be determined.
Over the past 6 months, we have ridded ourselves of the lower half of the league (Bucks excluded, they’re still here because the East stinks) and we have prepared ourselves for a two month spring to the finish line.
Before we move onto the Playoffs, we have to discuss the season that was by handing out some awards.
Most Improved: This was a tight race between a couple guys. Jrue Holiday and Larry Sanders separated themselves from the pack by taking their games to “the next level” this season. Many people are giving this award to Paul Geroge because he supposedly became a superstar this season but I disagree with that notion. Stars don’t have PER’s under 17.
Larry Sanders gets my vote, slightly because of the wide array of improvements. He became a better defender, clearly and even a better offensive player. His PER skyrocketed, as did his FG%, free throw percentage, points per 40 minutes and his blocks per game almost doubled.
Sanders has some attitude issues to work through but he looks like a Serge Ibaka type player if he can develop a solid mid-range jumper to open things up. And if he doesn’t, he’s still going to be a good player for a long time.
Defensive Player: I’m a stat guy. I love the new age NBA numbers. I love PER and true shooting but the defensive metrics aren’t quite as trustworthy as the offensive stuff. So with this award, I went back to the eye test. There are so many candidates here but one guy sticks out above the rest to me.
Iguodala has a case, as does Tony Allen and Joakim Noah and Serge Ibaka and Roy Hibbert too. But this came down to two people. Lebron James and Marc Gasol.
Two totally different kind of defenders. Lebron is the flashy one, can cover PGs and Centers (some of them). He can guard Durant and Melo in the 4th quarter of a close game or guard Kirk Hinrich when he was killing the Heat. He can play Rondo, Pierce and KG all in the same game. He can make things tough on people with his size and speed, he can get a steal by jumping a passing lane which leads to a dunk or he can chase you down and block your shot. But he also can take too many possessions off. Because he does so much offensively, he can’t also guard the other teams best player for 40 minutes.
Because of that, Gasol gets the nod. Gasol quietly goes about his business, anchoring one of the best defenses in the league while shutting off the paint to opponents. He doesn’t lead the league in blocks, he doesn’t yell constantly to get everyone into position like KG but yet, he gets the job done.
With Gasol it’s the little things. Hedges on screens, proper rotations, rebounding (which does matter) and anything else. The Grizzlies are a great defensive team for many reasons but none bigger then Marc Gasol in the middle.
Coach of the Year: I personally think this is easy. I think it’s a runaway and I think anyone who doesn’t agree with me is overthinking things. People love to give this award, in any sport to a Coach or Manager who led a team that surprised us. People discussing George Karl, Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson because we didn’t think those teams would be as good as they are. Don’t overthink this.
Eric Spoelstra has been the best coach this year and he’s consistently under appreciated because he does have the best team. But the Heat have won without Wade this year, they’ve won without Lebron at the end of the year and without Bosh. He completely changed their offense, going small and perfectly worked in Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers to that offense. The Heat signed Birdman in January and he worked him into the rotation little by little. The Heat do have the best roster but that doesn’t mean Spoelstra wasn’t the best coach. 66 wins is the most for a defending Champ since MJ, 27 game winning streak is the second longest in history and in two short years, the Heat offense has gone from “your turn, my turn” to one of the best, most consistent and toughest to defend in the league. All of that falls on Spoelstra, let’s all stop pretending it doesn’t.
Rookie of the Year: This was boring. Damien Lillard wrapped this up in December when Anthony Davis started missed games. Davis was solid this year when he played and I still believe he will be a star in the league but Lillard won this award a long time ago.
6th Man of the Year: This was my favorite race of the year and in the end, it came down to two guys. Jarrett Jack and JR Smith. I watched the games, I looked at the numbers and it still took me until the last game of the year to decide.
I think Jack had the better all-around season. He shot better from the field, the 3point line, he was much more efficient offensively and coming off the bench at PG allowed Curry to play off the ball, where he is probably more comfortable. Jack was really good this year and a large part of the reason for the Warriors playoff run.
JR was well, JR. He came off the bench with one idea, score the ball. And he did. He led all bench scorers this season with his typical volume shooting. Some nights he won the Knicks a game and other nights he cost the Knicks a game. That’s what JR does and that’ll never change. At times he plays well, takes smart shots and get to the rim and at times he chucks 27 footers with 15 second on the shot clock. JR being JR.
I’m giving the award to Smith though. He was inefficient but he mattered. He changed more games (some bad, yes). When Melo was hurt, he could step his game up a little and do just a little more. And honestly, he hit a few game winners and those images tilted the scales. Jack had a great year but JR mattered just a bit more.
MVP: 27-8-7, 56% shooter, top5 defender in the league, 27 game winning streak, 66 wins and a one seed. Let’s just move on and give the man his 4th MVP in five seasons.
Durant, CP3, Kobe and Melo round out the top5.
Onto the season that matters.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The Miami Heat’s win streak began the day of the Super Bowl and ended the day before the Sweet 16.
The Heat won 27 straight games, which is just under one-third of the entire schedule.
27 wins are more than 10 NBA teams have all season.
But the Heat didn’t get the record. They came up six game shorts of the 1971-72 Lakers. They challenged the record, had a real shot at it but they didn’t quite get there. The streak ended with a bad loss against a team they should have beaten.
But regardless of any of that, the Miami Heat just put together one of the greatest streaks we’ve seen in recent sports history.
This is the kind of streak people will talk about years from now, whether they win the NBA Championship or not.
The streak had some great moments too.
There was the whipping of Oklahoma City in Oklahoma City the night before the All-Star game.
There was the double-OT game vs. the Kings, which was one of the most fun games I’ve watched this season.
The Heat beat the Grizzlies on a Friday night when both teams brought long winning streaks into the game (Heat had won 7 straight, Grizzlies 8).
The Heat gave a statement type performance to the Indiana Pacers as people were claiming the Pacers could challenge them in the East.
Don’t forget about LeBron’s game winning lay-up with three seconds left in Orlando or the string of double-digit comebacks.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this winning, the Heat put out a hilariously fun Harlem Shake video, which only made people realize how close they were as a team. It shined a light on why they could win all these games in a row.
But this streak really got crazy in games 23 and 24. You remember them. Game 23 was played in Boston, where the Heat hadn’t won any of their last 10 regular season games. They trailed by 17 in the first half, stormed back to tie the game in third quarter before falling behind again by 13 in the fourth. It was then that LeBron went into videogame mode and led the Heat to a two-point win with a game-winning jumper in the final 10 seconds.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get crazier, the Heat went to Cleveland two nights later, fell behind by 27 points before a massive run late in the third and early in the fourth got them the lead, a lead they held until the end for a three point victory.
Late in the streak, the Heat became too reliant on comebacks and “flipping the switch”. They typically fell behind to bad teams early before blowing past them in the second half and cruising to victory. They tried that in Chicago but the Bulls proved to be too good defensively to allow the Heat to finish off the comeback.
What the streak did more than anything was simply add amazing intrigue and enjoyment to the NBA during what are usually their dog days. The streak brought sports fans through the black hole that is February and early March.
The Heat became must see TV for NBA fans. People wanted them to win so they could witness history. People wanted them to lose because they hate the Heat. But everyone wanted to watch.
Certain writers and fans grew to appreciate the style of unselfish, team basketball the Heat play. They grew to enjoy watching LeBron’s nightly greatness. They grew to appreciate the little things Shane Battier does and Chris Bosh’s mid-range game (and photo bombing). They grew to realize how well Chalmers, Ray Allen and Birdman fit around the stars.
People enjoyed watching the Heat win 27 straight games because it meant something. It was history and we all were there to witness it.
The streak ended 7 games short of the ultimate history. But that’s OK.
The Heat will now regroup, rest some guys and prepare for the Playoffs. They wanted 34 wins a row, no matter what they say. You could tell by how hard they played down the stretch last night. The Miami Heat didn’t want this streak to end.
But now they chase another streak. A bigger streak. Now, the Miami Heat will try to win a second straight NBA Championship.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
In sports, we as fans are constantly underrating and overrating everything. Someone gets hot for a month and we overrate just how good he is. Someone in a small city has three great seasons and we don’t give the man his proper due. Rarely is someone simply properly rated.
People are flavors of the day, week, month, season and the second they struggle a little, we forget about them.
Deron Williams was arguably the best PG in the NBA for a few seasons when he really never was in the discussion. He struggled for a couple years and suddenly he stinks, also not true. He’s somewhere in between.
One thing that isn’t properly rated in the night-to-night consistency and greatness of LeBron James.
Most of you read that sentence and think I’m crazy, just some LeBron homer who can’t properly rate LeBron but I would argue that most people are missing the point.
Anyone with a brain realizes LeBron is the best player in the NBA and that he has simply run away with that title. With two gold medals, three MVP titles and an NBA championship, his legacy is building rapidly as he ascends his way into the top10 best players of all time.
People don’t underrated LeBron (besides Celtic fans who only do so because of a deep hatred for him) but what people underrate his simply how great he actually is.
In a World where superstars routinely play take plays or games off in every sport, LeBron never does. In a time when people have no issue missing 8 of the last 10 games of a long season or not playing Week 17 of the NFL year to rest, LeBron wants to and mostly plays every single game. We have long cried for a superstar that gives a shit and cares as much as the fans do and yet we have missed the point here. LeBron does.
This current win streak the Heat are on, led by LeBron, will end at some point but it won’t be because LeBron didn’t care enough to keep it going. He’s been playing this way for years; most people have just missed it.
If the jumper isn’t falling or he’s having a turnover-laden game or just having an off night, the effort never ends. LeBron doesn’t pack it in and go home. He doesn’t chalk it up to a off night in the midst of an 82 game season. No, he plays as hard as he can and hopes he’ll find his game.
This isn’t about the win streak, the triple doubles or the nightly stats. This isn’t about everything else that makes LeBron James great. The point here is about the effort, the drive, the will, and the fight.
In a time where fans complain about people not running out ground balls or someone not giving it 100% on defense or a wide receiver not finishing as route because he didn’t want to get hit, LeBron does none of that.
The King is far and away the most talented player in the World but he also plays the hardest. First quarter, February, All-Star, it doesn’t matter, LeBron shows up.
His teammates credit him for getting them going on a back to back or the fourth game in five nights. He routinely states that he never wants a kid who might be going to his only game of the year or his life to show up and see LeBron not give his best effort.
But yet, so many people focus on his arrogance on the court or pretend to still be caught up on The Decision and how awful that was. People manufacture the hate and that clouds their mind on the greatness.
LeBron is going to win a 4th MVP this season. He and the Heat are the prohibitive favorites to win the Championship. He’s well on his way to being either the 2nd or even the best player of all-time. People are slowly turning on him, in a good way.
The more he wins, the longer the greatness continues, the more and more people will appreciate him. They’ll learn to love the 27-8-7, the perimeter defense, the leadership but mostly; people will learn to love the effort.
That’s where it starts for LeBron James. 82 games a year plus Playoffs, he shows up. He might have a bad game, he might miss a big shot and hell, the Heat might even lose sometime but one thing you can count on is LeBron’s effort. He’s going to play his ass off.
I watch most Heat games and the effort always sticks out to me. There are nights Wade doesn’t have the same energy or nights Bosh is completely out of it. I’ve watched the Spurs long enough to see Duncan or Ginobli just not play certain nights. I watched the Lakers when Shaq used the season to get himself ready for the Playoffs. I’ve watched people like Garnett, Dirk, even Chris Paul take nights off for their knees or backs in preparations for the Playoffs. But not LeBron.
He shows up. He gives the game everything he has. He wants to win every single night and most of the time, he plays damn well. But he wouldn’t always play well if the mindset was different.
If LeBron gave less then 100% on certain nights, he would be great more often but that doesn’t happen.
The triple doubles, the MVPs and this current win streak happen because LeBron James shows up and plays hard.
Don’t take it for granted any longer, it may seem far off but LeBron won’t be here forever.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
For the first time in his career, Lebron James will open the season with a ring ceremony. It’ll be the last reminder of the year The King just put together. Beginning last season after the lock-out, through today Lebron has officially become the Top Dog in the basketball world. There is no more debate.
In the last 12 months, James has won his 3rd MVP, put together one of the greatest Playoff runs the NBA has ever seen, captured his first Championship, had Dwight Howard take over as the most hated player in the league, been forgiven by many fans (when was the last negative Lebron story you read? Exactly) and led his country to the Gold Medal as the clear team leader and best player.
The Heat have fallen in line and have finally given in to what they are. That’s because Lebron has finally given in to what he is, a dominating power guard who can punish opponents from the block or the perimeter or even moving without the ball. Wade has become the official Robin to LBJ’s Batman while Bosh has become a proto-typical “small center” who can space the floor and open the lane for James/Wade. The Heat have filled their roster with shooters from Chalmers and Mike Miller to the newly signed Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
And as all this has happened, the rest of the NBA has built themselves to beat one team, the Miami Heat.
The Celtics got younger, deeper, more athletic and like the Heat, have installed an under sized guy at center, Kevin Garnett.
The Lakers went the other route, they got bigger, in hope of dominating the Heat in the paint if they were to see them in the Finals. Dwight was brought in to play with Pau (which makes so much more basketball sense then Pau and Bynum) while they brought in Nash to orchestrate the offense and take some of the burden off of Kobe. The Lakers are old and will have some chemistry issues to work through but if they mesh all that talent, they’re dangerous.
The Thunder shocked the World by trading their third best player in what seems to be a salary move, only days before the season begins. They’ll hope Kevin Martin can provide the same punch off the bench that Harden consistently brought (he isn’t half the play-maker Harden is but he can score) and they’ll need Serge Ibaka to continue to improve as a shooter (to space the floor). The Thunder made a choice and took long term stability and better money situation rather then making another run with who they had.
The 76ers brought in Bynum, who they hope can mature into their marque guy and lead them deep into the Eastern Playoffs. The Hawks began building around Horford/Smith and did away with Joe Johnson’s massive contract. The Nets are looking to build around a top-level backcourt with DWill and Johnson while the Knicks hope the Melo-Amare-Chandler trio can figure out a way to make things work (when Amare gets healthy that is).
The Nuggets brought in Andre Igoudola to further strengthen their speed and athleticism while the Clippers tried to create the deepest roster in the league. The Spurs and Grizzlies stood pat and will rely on what they already had.
But almost every move in the league is made these days to combat the man down in South Beach. The power guard that has finally realized the low post is his friend is running the NBA and forcing everyone’s hand.
That’s how this league works. One team starts to get that Dynasty look and everyone tries to figure out how to beat them. People tried beating MJ, they tried toppling the Lakers and Celtics in the 80’s, they attempted to find ways to beat the Shaq led Lakers and even as far back as the Russell led Celtics.
Sometimes it works and sometimes the top guy is too good and all competitors fall short of their goal.
Will Lebron continue to grow his legacy toward becoming one of the two best basketball players ever or has another team done enough to topple the Champs?
(Below is my standings at the end of the year, team records and predictions for certain players)
1. Heat 63-19
-Lebron averages a double-double this year with 28-10-7 line
-Rashard Lewis still sucks and didn’t “need a change of scenery”
2. Celtics 57-25
-Rondo puts together a career year, 16-5-11 and starts shooting the 15 foot jumper
-The Truth misses extended time with a knee injury during the middle of the year
3. 76ers 53-28
-Bynum has a two-month stretch where everyone wonders if the Lakers messed up (they didn’t)
-Evan Turner, though solid, doesn’t take “the leap” some expect him to take
4. Bulls 50-32
-I have a feeling Rose is back earlier then expected, sometime shortly after New Years
-Taj Gibson starts by mid-season, mostly because Boozer sucks
5. Pacers 48-34
-Roy Hibbert isn’t as good as he looked at times last season
-But Paul George is and will only get better
6. Nets 46-36
-I don’t think they’re that great but they’re going to play HARD in the new city
-Joe Johnson continues to remind people, he’s the most over paid guy in basketball
7. Knicks 45-37
-The Amare injury could actually help them early on, I think they’re better without him
-Carmelo is in for a big year, kind of reminding everyone he’s awesome on offense
8. Hawks 42-40
-The mad dash for the 8 seed is the Hawks, who though rebuilding, still have some really good players
-Jeff Teague isn’t one of those good players
1. Thunder 60-22
-Even without Harden, they’re this good and they play hard, every night
-Durant might average 33 this year, just watch him now without Harden’s 17 a night.
2. Spurs 57-25
-I don’t think they’re going away, even with the age concerns
-I have my doubts that the Gary Neals and Danny Greens of the world will shoot as well as last year
3. Nuggets 56-26
-They might be the deepest, fastest and most athletic team in the NBA
-But they still lack that go-to guy at the end of close games
4. Lakers 54-28
-I think they’re going to have some struggles to make it all work
-Steve Nash is the key, he HAS to control the offense and make the plays, not Kobe
5. Grizzlies 52-30
-I think they’re small window to really contend for a title is gone
-Zach Randolph will remind everyone that, when healthy, he’s almost unstoppable
6. Clippers 48-34
-CP3 is the best PG in the World, it’s not close and he might be a free agent in 8 months
-Will Blake ever develop a low post game?
7. Jazz 44-38
-Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are one heck of a front court duo
-I have my concerns with Mo Williams as the ball handling PG though
8. Hornets 43-39
-Anthony Davis will average 17-10 and 3+ blocks per night. He’s the real deal
-Eric Gordon has to stay healthy for this to work, if he gets hurt again, this team will struggle
*The West is DEEEEEEEP. I think the race for the 7/8 seeds is going to be insanely close and any of them teams I have out (Blazers, Suns, Mavs, TWolves and Rockets) could make the Playoffs.
*Most people seem to hate the Suns but I think they’re solid. Gortat, Scola, Dragic and Beasley should give them enough offense to win games
Heat over Hawks in 5
Celtics over Knicks in 5
Nets over 76ers in 7
Bulls over Pacers in 6
Heat over Nets in 5
Celtics over Bulls (DRose healthy) in 7
Heat over Celtics in 6
Thunder over Hornets in 4
Spurs over Jazz in 5
Nuggets over Clippers in 7
Lakers over Grizzlies in 6
Lakers over Thunder in 7
Nuggets over Spurs in 6
Lakers over Nuggets in 6
Lakers over Heat in 6
*If the Lakers figure this out and Kobe can play off the ball without complaint and allow Nash to work the high pick and roll with Gasol or Howard, this team is unstoppable. I believe Kobe wants that 6th ring more than he wants ANYTHING and that will allow him to put his ego aside to get it. Beating Lebron puts the icing on the cake for Kobe.
Also, it’s Dwight that makes the difference. His size with Gasol will punish Miami. His defense will make things tough on James/Wade. The Heat will beat anyone except the Lakers, in my opinion.
The King enters the season on top with everyone chasing him but the Heat dynasty? Not happening, yet.