Tag Archives: Flash

At Long Last, It’s Miami vs. Boston

Finally, it has come to this. Those pesky Bulls had to crash the party, had to make this series take place one round early, but never mind them. While Chicago sweeps the Hawks, all eyes will be on this.

Heat vs. Celtics, Evil vs.Good, free agency vs. the trading market, tampering vs. a little help from your friends, individual Rucker Park basketball vs. championship-level synergy.

Sunday afternoon, it begins — and all we have to do is sit back and watch, pens drawn, narratives abound.

That said, those of us who want to watch a basketball series and not the ultimate battle of clashing basketball philosophies that don’t clash at all are in for a treat as well. Seven All-Stars will take the court Sunday for the start of a four-to-seven-game series. At least 6 future Hall of Famers will play. And if we’re lucky, Hubie Brown will be in the announcing booth, pointing out every important thing we’re watching.

But what exactly do we need to be watching when they tip-off?

I’m glad you asked.

Who’s Guarding Lebron James?

I’ll let Tom Haberstroh take this one, because he’s much smarter than you, me, and everybody.

According to Newmann and Oliver, Pierce checked LeBron 69 percent of the time, with Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Marquis Daniels (no longer with the team) filling in the rest. But against Pierce, LeBron shot just 43 percent from the field and his efficiency plummeted to depths rarely seen from him. In fact, LeBron scored 75 points per 100 possessions with Pierce covering him, down from his 93 points per 100 possessions when guarded by all other Celtics defenders.

We’ve seen this going on in previous Lebron vs. Boston series. Though Boston guards Lebron in a team-wide manner, having Pierce spearhead the defensive effort is key – more than ever when the defensive monstrosity that is Jeff Green is the primary second option. Boston needs Pierce in prime shape, hoping that working on Lebron won’t take the same toll it has taken on his offensive game in the past.

Where’s Dwyane Wade?

In four games against Boston this year, Dwyane Wade is shooting 28% from the field. His true shooting percentage isn’t much better, at a disturbingly low 38%. He registered 21 turnovers to 21 assists, and got to the line only 5.8 times a game (after averaging 8.6 for the year). The narrative dictates that Wade is clutch and Lebron is not, that Wade shows up for the playoffs and that Lebron does not, and that Wade is a good person and Lebron is not, but with Lebron’s averages against Boston on par with his season numbers (29, 6.5, 6.5 on 56.2 TS%, albeit 5 turnovers), the onus to show up will be on the former Finals MVP.

Will Rajon Be Rajon?

In three wins against the Heat, Rajon Rondo had 43 assists. In one loss, he had 5. This is obviously a very cut-and-dry way to look at things, with millions of other factors going in to every one of those 4 regular season games, but the difference is simultaneously astonishing and extremely logical. When Rondo is at the top of his game, penetrating at will and finding his teammates, this Boston offense is a completely different beast. When Rondo is not well, the offense boggles down to a 9-7 March or a 4-4 April.

Who Plays Center?

Joel Anthony has risen from national punchline to cult hero, and with good reason. The handless +/- monster has had a strong effect during the regular season series between these two teams, playing fantastic defense on Kevin Garnett in Miami’s blowout April win. In fact, the Celtics have only scored 89.7 points per 100 possessions with Joel on the court, compared to 99.6 when Zydrunas Ilguaskas is out there.

The picture flips on offense. By replacing Joel’s dunk air-balling goodness with Z’s pick-and-pop acumen, the Heat’s offense vs. Boston jumps a staggering 14 points per 100 possessions. Balancing the two centers (perhaps occasionally playing centerless when Boston trots Garnett out to the pivot) will be key for the Heat.

(Just for kicks, in case one of you still thinks Erick Dampier is a valid NBA center: Miami has scored 54.4 points per 100 possessions against Boston with Damp on the floor. It should be noted that this took place for only 6 minutes all season, but hey, why take notice of sample sizes when making fun of Erick Dampier?)

The center position is just as important from Boston’s side as well, if only because of the increasingly unlikely scenario that Shaquille O’neal ever takes the court again. Shaq was a key part of Boston’s torrid start to the season, which included two closer-than-the-score-indicates wins over these same Heat. Miami has no one on it’s roster who can handle Shaq.

Sadly, it seems as if 39 years of humongousness have finally done the Diesel in.

The Supporting Casts

Miami is the big 3 and nobody else, while Boston is a TEAM. Right? Anybody?

This line of thinking should probably go down the drain at this point. Beyond Boston’s 4 all stars, the team has been absolutely atrocious. Adding on to the Jeff Green outlash is just plain cruel at this point, but Glen Davis hasn’t looked much better, and Jermaine O’neal looks about as creaky as the frequent and generic punchlines make him out to be. Delonte West is shooting 27% in these playoffs so far, and while this probably improves considerably, he’s hardly been the model of consistency these past few years. Boston’s fifth  best player might be Nenad Krstic at this point, which says a lot.

Meanwhile, Joel Anthony has been fantastic defensively, and the James Jones/Mario Chalmers combo are shooting a combined 39% from three. Hardly spectacular, but with rest between games and enabling Lebron, Wade and Bosh to play upwards of 40 minutes a game, the Heat don’t really need spectacular. All they need is to drag Boston’s supporting cast down with their’s, which at the moment, seems very plausible.

Who Shows Up?

A simplistic question, without much analytical standing.

Yet, this will decide the series.

Miami has shown a disturbing lack of urgency throughout this season. The reasons as to why now become completely irrelevant – from here on out, Miami runs the risk of it’s season ending. The urgency should accompany that prospect.

Similarly, we have no idea which Boston arrives. The Celtics aren’t as bad as their post all-star play indicates, but expecting them to flip the switch all the way back up, even if they did it last year, is an extreme leap of faith. And as impressive as they looked in the final 2 games against the Knicks, they were also very close to losing twice on their home floor, to the Knicks.

Prediction, Just Because It Has To Be Done

The Heat are not going to blow the Celtics out. Boston is too proud, the defense is too good, and Miami still lacks the cohesion to pull it off. And Boston is not going to blow Miami out, because Miami has the two best players in the series, in a sport where this sort of thing matters. (Don’t give me the “New York had the two best players in the series too!” bit, because we know better.) It will be a close series, with low scoring and high drama. But this Boston team needs too many things to go just right, and unlike last season, when everything did go just right, I don’t think Lebron skips Game 5.

Heat in 7.

The Miami Heat: If Ya Aint Runnin’ With It, Run From It

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

I’m on record as being very pro-NBA Voltron. I really wanted to see LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh play on the same team. Not because I want them to succeed — or even care if they do — but just because I wanted to enjoy watching the moments of greatness that would be achieved by a team featuring two of the three best players in the world. Will they win a bunch of titles? It’s hard to believe they won’t take home a few based on skill alone, but I’m not even talking about that type of season-long, seven-game-series winning greatness. I just simply wanted to see several-minute-long stretches of amazing basketball being played.

My desire to see LeBron and Wade play together comes from purely selfish reasons. I love watching amazing basketball, and these two guys play it very often. Simple as that. Throw in Bosh and things could get historic at times. We might see some random, throwaway quarters and halves of basketball in December or February that rank among the best that have ever been played.

Never is this possibility more apparent than when these guys get out in the open court. LeBron on the break is the equivalent of Karl Malone times Latrell Sprewell with Shawn Kemp’s ability to finish. Dwyane is nearly as ruthless with the ball in the open court — just ask Anderson Varejao. Combine the two and the outcome can get just downright silly.

Well guess what? They are starting to run.

Looking at the data, the Heat stepped on the gas in Dallas after a series of sleepy games peppered with stagnant half court offense. Their transition rate (percentage of transition plays as part of their overall offense) over their last seven games has been above their seasonal average of 13.4 percent.

Thanks to their acceleration lately, the Heat now rank 12th in the NBA in transition rate which is still below where many think they should be. But if we believe their recent transition game is a permanent switch, then their 16.5 percent average over the past seven games would rank head and shoulders above the entire NBA; the Pacers and Bulls currently lead the league with 14.7 percent of their possessions in transition.

The writer of this piece, the excellent Tom Haberstroh, notes that as the run more, they are also improving at it. LeBron started out the season sloppy, turning the ball over too often on the break. “Maybe he was pressing in his new digs and trying to do too much for the fans,” writes Haberstroh. Perhaps. But whatever it is that made him turn the ball over a staggering 18 times in transition in Miami’s first 19 games seems to have been solved — he only has one giveaway in the open court in his last four outings.

And the players are starting to embrace the break. Look at the video below. A 2-on-1 break by LeBron and Wade after a made basket leads to an easy score.

That’s nuts.

Buckle your seat belts.

You Probably Haven’t Heard, but LeBron Will Be Playing Basketball in Cleveland Tomorrow

You heard it here first: LeBron will return to clash with his former team tomorrow night in Cleveland. It will undoubtedly be a really bad game because that’s how these things work.

Still, no matter how bad the basketball is, all is not for naught. The occasion spurred Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game, Hardwood Paroxysm, NYT’s Off the Dribble, NBC’s ProBasketballTalk, Voice on the Floor and probably soon the White House to create this epic video.

It’s the best thing you will find on the internet today and perhaps in your lifetime. (via Hardwood Paroxysm)

6 Reasons to Not Panic About the Miami Heat’s First 10 Games

The Miami Heat are 6-4. That is, to put it mildly, a much worse start than Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or really anyone expected.

But while the whole world seems to be savoring this unanticipated opportunity to kick the big, bad, arrogant bully off his pedestal, the reality is that burying this team as a hollow contender right now is premature. Very premature.

The only thing less important than November basketball in the NBA is preseason basketball. So while we should continue to monitor Miami’s struggles, we should also remember these six reasons to not panic just yet.

Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James

1. They Haven’t Lost to a Bad Team Yet

The Heat obviously didn’t want to start off 6-4. But they have not lost to teams that are playing poorly. Their first and fourth loses came against the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics, who are deeper than ever and look like they are going to actually try in the regular season this year. Their second loss came in New Orleans against a team that just suffered its first defeat last night. And their final loss came against Utah.

At the time, this looked like a monumental collapse by the Heat — and it was. But given that it took two three-pointers — and another jumper — from Paul Millsap in the final 12 seconds of regulation just to send the game into overtime, and considering that the Jazz have been causing a lot of other teams to “collapse” of late, this looks more like a tip of the cap for Utah than a wag of the finger for Miami.

2. They Have the Highest Scoring Margin in the NBA

Through 10 games, Miami’s average scoring differential is +9.4 ppg. They have definitely played a few cupcake teams (looking at you Minny and Jersey), but their strength of schedule as ranked by overall opponents’ winning percentage (.534) is actually the 10th hardest thus far. The 8-2 Lakers currently have the second-best scoring differential at +8.9 ppg while playing the 19th toughest schedule. (LA’s opponents are a collective .459 thus far.) The only other squads in the league that have even beaten other teams by an average of more than 5.5 ppg are New Orleans (+8.0 ppg), San Antonio (+7.78 ppg) and Orlando (+7.1 ppg). (And among those, only New Orleans has played a schedule with opponents that are over .500 collectively).

In many educated NBA circles, margin of victory is one of — if not the — best predictor of Playoff success. Part of this is the fact that very good teams regularly blow out the dregs of the Association. But it is also because good teams rarely themselves get smoked. That has so far been the case for the Heat.

Yes, the Heat lost to Boston by 8 points on opening night. But their other three loses have been by a combined 10 points (by 3 to NO, by 2 to Utah and by 5 to Boston the second time). Any loss is a bad loss, but we should probably reserve “the sky is falling” talk for those truly getting smacked around. Admittedly, the final score in both Boston games did not tell the whole story, as the Celtics thoroughly outplayed the Heat in both contests.

But importantly, even playing bad, they had chances to win both times.

3. Miami’s Preseason Was Unlike Boston’s in 2007

When Boston’s Big Three assembled like Voltron in the summer of 2007, there was a feeling of sudden, unexpected joy for Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and — especially — Kevin Garnett. They had all be languishing away their primes on mediocre-at-best squads and became caught up in a whirlwind Danny Ainge talent grab that shocked everyone. Then they met up before the season and headed off to enjoy a team-bonding preseason in Rome followed by another game in London. By all accounts, the three stars were able to kick back and dream on the upcoming season in a care-free European climate, soaking in the fact that they were now, on paper, the best team in the NBA. They also got to chill in Rome, which most people will agree is pretty relaxing.

The Heat’s assembly was almost the complete opposite.

There was no surprise. There was big unveil of The Decision, sure, but LeBron, Wade and Bosh all knew that the 2010 summer was their summer and that they very well might be playing with at least one of these two other guys. Then, after the paperwork was finalized, they faced perhaps unparalleled media coverage and scrutiny. Much of it they brought on themselves, no doubt. But it did happen, and they were never able to escape the cameras like Paul, Kevin and Ray were able to do when they flew across the pond to Italy.

Maybe most importantly, Dwyane got hurt in Miami’s first preseason game of the year. So the team never played together against NBA-level competition until the regular season began. You probably can’t find a person who thinks what happens in preseason is more meaningless than I do, but that has to matter. Rotations, offensive sets and just learning each other’s tendencies does require some time spent playing together — no matter how good the players are.

4. They Weren’t Supposed to Be Historically Good This Year

Forget what you have heard from the talking heads on TV and the new blogs that have been created solely to chart the 2010-11 Miami Heat season. When Pat Riley cleared his entire salary cap just to give nearly every dollar the league will allow him to pay in salary to three guys, it was a coup.

But it wasn’t a 2010-11 title-guaranteeing coup.

At the time, most NBA experts said “Wow. They might win three or four titles together.” Few thought they would be able to fill out the roster well enough to dominate the league and go take the title in year one. Just on talent alone, they might be able to “steal one” if the Celtics, Magic and Lakers came up with some bad injuries or just hit the skids for whatever reason. But there weren’t many who said “Dwyane, LeBron, CB4 and Chalmers? Champ-ion-ship.”

5. Mike Miller Is Injured

As noted above, depth was always going to be the Achilles’ heel of this team. One thing that actually made the case that a 2010-11 Heat title could become a reality was Pat Riley’s unexpected moves to acquire Mike Miller, Eddie House and Big Z while also retaining Udonis Haslem.

Initially, it looked like it would be LeBron, Dwyane, Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony, a few waaaay-past-their-prime guys willing to play for the minimum (looking at you, Juwan Howard and Jerry Stackhouse) and a roster filled out with D-League call-ups. By getting two very valuable role players in Miller and Haslem as well as LeBron’s very-shaky-but-serviceable-for-a-few-minutes-a-night former running mate from Cleveland, it started to look like this team could have an actual 7- or 8-man rotation.

Mike Miller was the guy that made it seem like the Heat could actually be a team rather than an incredible core surrounded by nothing. Without him, the team quickly reverts back to “this will be fun but I’ll start taking them seriously when I see who they can acqure next summer with the mid-level exceptions, minimum-salaries and the draft.”

6. The Struggles Are Strategic — Not Structural

Kevin Arnovitz knows a ton more about basketball than I do. Here, he poignantly breaks down three key flaws we have seen in Miami’s first 10 games: (1) an inability to stop the opponent’s second option in a half-court set on defense, (2) an inability to get easy buckets near the rim on offense, and (3) an inability to prevent points in transition.

These are major things indeed. Great teams don’t struggle with such fundamental concepts of high-caliber basketball. But they are not structural flaws based on the typical talking head rhetoric of things like “Chris Bosh is soft,” “LeBron is not an alpha dog, dawg” or “Wade and James cannot co-exist.”

Kevin’s conclusion on the nature of these strategic flaws must be remembered. “For Miami, each of these three shortcomings is imminently fixable.”

These are Xs and Os of basketball problems. And the fact that they are occurring to the degree that the are, while perhaps surprising, is not shocking. It’s a completely revamped roster featuring three of the best players on the planet trying to adjust their instincts (“it’s going to demand that Wade, James and Bosh each perform a little rewiring,” notes Arnovitz) and several guys who barely belong in the rotation of any NBA team. Yes, that includes the T-Wolves

None of this means that we will see a parade in Miami seven months from now. They very well might not win the title this year.

But this team is far from being a failure — not yet anyway.

So let’s just all calm down.