Tag Archives: LeBron James

Believing in the Mavs

13 Jun

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks finally got theirs, winning the 2010-11 NBA Title // Keith Allison

Congratulations to the 2010-11 NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.

Feels weird to say, doesn’t it?

Rather than jump on the bandwagon and pretend that I “knew it all along”, like many sportswriters (and non-Mavericks fans) will claim, I’m going to be honest. I’ve never believed in them. Ever.

I picked them to lose every series – this year, last year, and as long as I can remember.

And for good reason. Despite averaging 56.3 wins per season over the previous 10, they only made it past the second round twice. After making the finals in 05-06, they blew a 2-0 series lead. The next year, they went 67-15 (tied for 6th best regular season in NBA history. SIXTH!), and got swept in the first round!

But they finally got it done.

Obviously, the addition of Tyson Chandler was huge – he led the team in rebounds and was one of the most efficient scorers in the league. Each playoff round, his scoring increased, and he pulled down nine rebounds a game. While Dwyane Wade had a few highlight blocks on him, the Heat never really had an answer for him. Miami had questions all year about their hole at centre, and it finally caught up with them.

If you’ve been watching the games, you’ve probably heard at least a billion times that Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are the only guys left from the previous finals team. And while the supporting cast is different from ’06, it’s not much different from last year’s team that got dumped in the first round (outside of the Chandler addition).

The third time was the charm for Jason Kidd, winning his first NBA title // Bryan Cedeno

While Jason Kidd, 38, reminded us that he’s an all-time great, and JJ Barea made all guys under six-foot believe they can ball if they just try really hard, it was Nowitzki and Terry who played like champions on the big stage.

After Game 3, Dirk called out Jason Terry, saying “Jet hasn’t really been a crunch-time, clutch player for us the way we need him to”, after he went 11-for-34, and scored just 14 PPG, in the first three games. But Terry got it together, shooting 58% (25-for-43), and averaged 21.6 PPG in games 4, 5 and 6. He had a big 27 points in game 6, offsetting the unusually bad game from Nowitzki. I’d still prefer Manu Ginobili as my sixth man, and I’ve never thought of Jason Terry as a real number 2, but in these finals he came up huge and proved that he was.

After game 1 of the Western Finals vs. OKC – where Dirk scored 48 points and went 24/24 at the free-throw line, I was finally sold on him as a playoff performer, and his team. He was making his shots, the only way to stop him was to foul, and he was lights out at the line (vs. the Lakers, Thunder and Heat, he shot 96.4% (109/113)). Last time in the finals, he missed so many shots (being held to 14% shooting in one game), and was especially horrible from the 3-point line. This time, (excluding game 6) he hit long range shots when they needed him to, and even upped his rebound game.

In North American sports, there’s a notion that European players can’t lead a team on the big stage because “they’re soft”. Just like Nicklas Lidstrom ended the “European captains can’t win the Stanley Cup”, I think Dirk has killed the notion that Europeans can’t do the same in the NBA. How many times did he help turn around a huge deficit? Even in a game (Game 6) where he was an atrocious 9-for-27, he had 10 points in the fourth quarter. Never mind Kobe Bryant, in the NBA, “the closer” is Dirk Nowitzki.

Just like in the series with Boston and Chicago, the question for Miami was: can the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh beat a team that is better than them overall. Finally, the answer was no. The Mavs had what the Heat lacked: role players who could play two-way ball. The Heat took advantage of Boston’s age, and Chicago’s inexperience, but the same couldn’t be said in the finals, as Dallas had more experience, hadn’t lost a step, had a top 10 defense and more depth.

This year, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said Dirk was one of the top 10 players of all time. While I still completely disagree with him, he’s now viewed as being simply wrong, rather than a complete moron. But if they win another title, that’s a conversation I’d be willing to have.

It’s really too early to talk about next year, especially with a lockout looming and uncertainty about Jason Kidd’s future, but just remember: Caron Butler didn’t even play. Their core is aging, but they still have a few years to contend.

While I’m not picking them to repeat as champions, I’m going to do something I’ve never done: pick them to win their division next year. It may not be much, but hey, I just started believing in this team a few weeks ago.

LeBron, Miami look to finally beat the Celtics in the playoffs

1 May

LeBron and D-Wade look to end their losing ways vs. the Celtics / Keith Allison

After LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade last summer, many christened the Miami Heat as “the team to beat in the East”. Some even predicted they would break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season. This was in spite of the fact that the Boston Celtics were the defending Eastern Conference Champs, and had won it all just two years prior.

The first game of the NBA season was also the “Heatles” first opportunity to prove their championship worth, as the league scheduled them to face the Celtics. Boston won 88-80. In their next two games against one another, Boston also won. But in their final regular season meeting, the Heat manhandled the Celtics 100-77.

Now they face each other in the second round. Last season, the Celtics knocked Miami out in the first round, 4 games to 1. That was before LeBron. But he has history with these Celtics too. In two of the last three seasons, Boston eliminated the LeBrons the Cavs in the second round. Now equipped with teammates actually worth mentioning, he’ll look to avenge those losses.

With the series about to begin, let’s look at the positional matchups.

Centre

Everyone’s been making a big deal since Boston trade Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. While the trade didn’t improve the team, it doesn’t necessarily matter in this series. Sure, it would be nice to have some additional defense against LeBron in the post, but Jermaine O’Neal, Glen Davis, or whoever else will be playing Centre for Boston, don’t have to worry about their Miami counterparts. Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas wouldn’t start for any other playoff team that’s still alive.  I’ve heard a lot about how a healthy Shaquille O’Neal would help the Celtics, but in 2011, a healthy Shaq is an oxymoron.

Forward

LeBron James is the best player in the league. Don’t even get me started on Derrick Rose or anyone else. LeBron James is the best player in the league. We all know the problems the Heat have had this year. Who should be the primary ball-handler? Who should take the winning shot? But all that doesn’t matter. The Heat, much like the Cavs used to, will live and die with LeBron James. He can score massive amounts of points, be your best defender, and average 8 assists per game. And he’ll need to do that for the Heat to win.

Paul Pierce will look to contain the NBA's top player, LeBron James / Keith Allison

His main opponent will be the versatile Paul Pierce, who can score in the paint and from outside the arc. While Pierce isn’t LeBron’s equal by any stretch of the imagination, LeBron will need to be dominant, because he’ll have to offset the results of the Kevin Garnett-Chris Bosh matchup. At this point in his career, Garnett is not the type of scorer that Bosh is. However, Garnett is still a superior defender.

Guards

Rajon Rondo had another big year, averaging 11.2 assists per game. And although he’s known for his passing, like the rest of the Celtics, he plays D (being a 1st or 2nd All-Defensive team member the previous two seasons). Much like the Knicks in the first round, or the Lakers in last year’s finals, he’s going to pose problems for Miami.

Don’t get me wrong, D-Wade is premier scorer and will get his points. And he can stop Rondo. But then who’s guarding Ray Allen?

Mike Bibby? There’s a reason the Atlanta Hawks, a team that believes they can compete with the big boys in the East, dumped him at the trade deadline.

Mike Miller? Well, at least he can shoot some threes…

Kobe has struggled to guard Ray Allen in the playoffs. Whoever is joining D-Wade in the backcourt, is going to get torched.

Prediction

Of the last 20 NBA champions, 16 of them have had a top-10 defense. This season, Boston was number one (only allowing 91.1 PPG). On the other hand, the notion that Miami only scores isn’t true. While Miami scored 102.1 PPG (6th in the NBA) this season, they only allowed 94.6 – good for sixth in the league. Simply looking at point totals actually goes in Miami’s favour. However, Boston owns the season series (3-1), can present problems in the backcourt, and has more talent off the bench. I don’t value experience nearly as much as I value talent, but Boston has more of both. If Udonis Haslem was able to play, maybe it’s a different story. I think LeBron and Co. will have to wait another year in their quest to win the first of their eight championships.

Celtics in 7.

Heat coach tells reporters team was crying after loss

7 Mar

Sunday’s 86 – 87 loss to the Chicago Bulls was a tough one for the Miami Heat. So tough, in fact, that they had a good cry over it, according to Heat coach Eric Spoelstra.

“There are a couple of guys crying in the locker room right now,” Spoelstra said in his post-game press conference.

Dwyane Wade / Photo courtesy of Keith Allison

On Sunday – their fourth straight loss – the Heat blew a nine-point lead against the Bulls, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both missing game-winning shots in the final seconds of the game.

On Friday, they suffered their biggest loss of the season against the San Antonio Spurs (losing 95-125), and on Thursday, they squandered a 24-point lead in a loss to Orlando.

Miami now has a combined record of 0-6 against the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls – the two teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. They are 5-5 against the three teams below them.

Miami’s last significant win happened over a month ago, and the team still hasn’t figured out a way to share the ball, win close games (2-8 in games decided by three points or less), maintain leads, or even beat good teams (15-17 against teams with winning records) .

Perhaps Spoelstra wanted to show how much his team cares about winning. But he’s actually given people another reason to question the Heat’s mental toughness, and probably angered some players.

Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra may have said too much when he told reporters that players were crying in the locker room / Keith Allison

Since the “Big Three” of Wade, LeBron, and Chris Bosh joined forces this summer, there’s been speculation that Heat GM Pat Riley would replace coach Spoelstra (like he did with Stan Van Gundy in 2005-06), as Riley (and his five championship rings) would instantly be respected by the team.

Earlier in the season, Wade was criticized for saying that Spoelstra wasn’t “his guy.” James was also criticized for bumping shoulders with the coach during a timeout that may or may not have been intentional. It’s unlikely that spilling the beans on a team sob-fest will increase Coach Spo’s popularity in the locker room.

So far, he has done nothing to stop people from talking about a possible coaching change, and if he can’t get the team to play well come playoff time, Spoelstra may find himself taking his talents to the unemployment line.

NOTE: Stats as of March 7.

No ‘Melo, no problem – Nets get D-Will

24 Feb

Another day, another blockbuster trade in the NBA.

A day after Carmelo Anthony was dealt to the New York Knicks, Utah Jazz PG Deron Williams is headed to the New Jersey Nets.

It was known for well over a year that ‘Melo wanted to leave Denver for the Knicks, so his trade to New York is a little anticlimactic. It wasn’t a question of if he would be traded, it was simply when and for whom.

But the Williams trade is a shocker. Just two weeks ago, it appeared that Jazz’ management was committed to building the franchise around Williams, after legendary coach Jerry Sloan strangely and suddenly resigned the day after a dispute with Williams. It was logical for the team to choose its 26-year-old superstar over the Hall-of-Fame coach, who at 68, was near the end of his career.

The New Jersey Nets were deemed “the losers” of the Carmelo trade, after offering much more than the Knicks, and still not landing him after he refused to sign an extension with the Nets.

This was just another rejection, after the allure of playing for (Nets co-owners) Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z – or being the centrepiece of a team soon moving to Brooklyn – wasn’t enough to convince LeBron James, or any other big name free-agent, to sign with New Jersey last summer.

But now Deron Williams is a Net.

In the last five seasons (including this season) Williams has averaged 18.9 points and 10.1 assists per game. Only Chris Paul (19.2 PPG, 10.4 APG) and Steve Nash (16.9 PPG, 10.9 APG) have had as impressive numbers over that time span. Williams is also a big-time playoff performer. In 44 post-season games, Williams has put up 21.1 PPG and 9.6 APG, and each time the Jazz have been eliminated, it’s been by the eventual Western Conference champions.

Unlike Carmelo Anthony, Williams wasn’t going to be a free-agent this offseason, so the fear that he will bolt to another team isn’t there. While he can leave after next season, a new collective bargaining agreement will probably enable the Nets to offer him the best contract, keeping him in New Jersey.

In exchange for Williams, the Nets sent PG Devin Harris, PF Derrick Favors (last year’s third-overall pick), two first-round draft picks and $3 million to Utah. It isn’t always the best idea to trade away first-round picks when you’re rebuilding a team – especially when at least one of them will probably be a lottery pick  – but this deal was a no brainer for the Nets. In the NBA, success is dictated by superstars. Adding a bona fide superstar like Deron Williams can change a bottom-feeder (like the Nets) into a playoff team, or a playoff team into a title-contender (see: Gasol, Pau). The Nets have too many losses to seriously compete for a playoff spot this year, but they are considerably better than they were before the trade.

Last week, reports had the Nets trading Harris, Favors, two other players and four first-round picks to Denver for Carmelo Anthony. The Nets should be happy that ‘Melo wanted to play for the Knicks.