Sports fans often obliterate the boundaries of good taste when supporting their teams. The free, fun-loving nature of the games which we all grew up playing sure seems to have a regressive impact on adults, doesn’t it?
It’s a fine line to walk, but whomever created the billboard below nailed this tightrope act with expert precision.
Complex Magazine posted photos of an electronic billboard in Chicago featuring a rotation of creative images supporting the city’s pro sports teams. Joakim Noah -the Bulls’ most eccentric and interesting player since Dennis Rodman- is shown blasting a grimacing LeBron James with a fire extinguisher.
I’m actually laughing just typing this up right now….The look on LeBron’s face is priceless.
Sure, it was only ONE playoff game in which Noah and the rest of the depleted-yet-not defeated Bulls shocked the defending champs, but the fans and city should savor every single moment they can.
Kudos to whomever created these ads. Aside from a burst of carbon dioxide to the face, the “Noah extinguishes LeBron” image (as well as the pro-Blackhawks billboard) is hilarious without hurting anyone’s feelings.
If anything, the billboard will add fuel to the Heat’s fire heading into Game 2.
Without Luol Deng and Derrick Rose, that billboard might be the last we see of the Bulls putting the Heat on blast.
Ahhhh yes, the so-called “coronation of King James” finally happened Thursday night as the Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 for the NBA Championship. LeBron James, the self-proclaimed King, earned his crown in his ninth season in the League, leaving everyone asking questions like “is this redemption,” and “does a title signify the pinnacle for James and will it quiet the haters?”
With one notch on his Championship belt comes a level of respect for James that even the toughest of the haters must acknowledge. You don’t have to like the guy or forgive some of the crappy choices he’s made in the past, but with this title comes the confirmation that LeBron is more than just a superstar; he’s a winner.
James has experienced a true career evolution, but in reverse. As a high school phenomenon, James was, without earning them, handed the keys to the kingdom -based on talent, not results- before making an NBA roster. While he was a celebrity from Day 1 and showcased an arsenal of offensive skills in his very first season as a Cleveland Cavalier, it took James a few years to get his defense up to par, which elevated his game and reputation significantly.
Since becoming the complete package circa 2009, the question seemed to be not “if” but “when” James would win a Championship and enter the elite ranks of the NBA.
For years, nobody doubted James’ talent, instead, using non-basketball reasons to pick the man apart. From the rumored affair between ‘Bron’s mom Gloria and Delonte West, to Handshake-gate vs. the Magic, to The Decision and The Heatles, much of the James-hatred was self inflicted.
The criticisms of being unable, and even worse, unwilling to take “big” shots tainted James’ on-court image just enough to change the question to, “will he EVER win a title?”
Individual talent is no longer good enough for those playing team sports. The debate exists, “can you be at the most elite level without a Championship ring?”
Look at Dan Marino, or Peyton Manning before he finally led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2006?
With career averages of 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 48 percent shooting in 39.9 minutes per game, PLUS a host of hardware including three MVP awards, four NBA All-Defensive First Team honors and eight All-Star appearances, all that remained was a Championship to put a bow on an already-Hall of Fame worthy career.
John Stockton & Karl Malone, TOGETHER, never won a championship.
Eglin Baylor never won a championship.
Charles Barkley never won a championship.
Reggie Miller never won a championship.
Dominique Wilkins never won a championship.
Patrick Ewing never won a championship.
These guys are some of the best to EVER play the game of basketball, an opinion backed up by the fact that each one is a member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Had James failed to win a title during his career, he would still be in great company. That said, he would be haunted forever, just like the men listed above remain, to this day.
Michael Jordan won his first of six Championships in his seventh season. It took Shaquille O’Neal eight years, and poor Dirk Novitzki toughed out 13 seasons before winning it all.
While second place is indeed the first loser, there is something to be said for the fact that James had already been to the Finals twice, with two different teams. Neither the Cavaliers nor last year’s Heat team would’ve made it there without James on the roster.
Every great individual basketball player needs a good team surrounding him (or her) to win at the highest level. It took James a LONG. ASS. TIME. to get the right people around him on the court, clipboarding on the bench and sitting in the front office before he could possibly put on a ring.
After Miami’s Big Three went through all kinds of trial and error in its first season together, the players finally fell in place this year as the Heat figured it all out. Miami completely dismantled a Thunder team that looked unstoppable, losing a mere three playoff games heading into the Finals.
There would be no taking a backseat for James in the Finals this year, no sir. He did not defer to his teammates. James was the first option, period. That says a lot when Dwayne Wade is on the court as well. I don’t care if Wade looked old and beat up at times, he’s still a damn good basketball player who was dwarfed by LeBron in this series, a few specific moments aside. James averaged 28.6 ppg and 10.2 assists in the series, earning him the title of Finals MVP.
After the series-clinching Game 5 win, Wade said of James, “I don’t know if I could be happier for another guy, another man to succeed in life as I am for him.”
Talk about a different tune. Not so long ago, word would occasionally leak from Cleveland depicting a young, cocky and often times selfish player who was so untouchable that the head coach was afraid to discipline him, causing resentment among fellow Cavs players. Now, it sounds like James is clearly adored by his Miami teammates, including Wade, the brightest of stars in his own right.
The haters will keep on hating. “Well, how many rings will he get? I mean, Mark Madsen has more rings than LeBron.”
True. But who cares?
In my book, all it takes is one, therefor James can finally rest on top of the mountain and enjoy the view.
If you’ve watched even one NBA playoff game this year, you’ve probably heard “the end of an era” used in reference to (insert any old team here). The cliche might be warranted, depending on the team.
Should the Celtics big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen dissolve in any fraction during the offseason (win or lose against Miami, or Oklahoma City), “end of an era” would seem appropriate considering the impact those men had on the franchise.
Then we have Boston’s western counterpart in the Lakers, who were there every step of the way as the Celtics established their long-awaited reemergence as a league power.
After a failed attempt at trading Pau Gasol in the offseason, the likelihood of seeing the Lakers nucleus of the Spaniard, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant remain in tact for 2012-2013 is slim. Dismantling the L.A. trio would certainly signify the end of the Lakers latest championship era.
But we’ve seen this act before. When Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson left L.A., the Lakers were doomed. That was the end of an era. That is, of course until the Lakers acquired Gasol from Memphis for peanuts (thanks again, Jerry West). Then a new era of winning began as the Lakers made three straight NBA Finals appearances bringing home two Championships.
L.A.’s second title in the latest era came against the Celtics, who, after January 1, 2010, were a .500 team. The Big Three was too old and too injured. They weren’t even expected to win a first-round playoff series, much less make it to a Game 7 of the Finals and come within minutes of title No. 18. No, that era had ended with a regular season loss to the 12-win New Jersey Nets.
How ‘about the San Antonio Spurs? How many times have they been “done?” Who would’ve imagined a 36-year-old Tim Duncan would average more than 15 points per game and 9 rebounds per game while the 30-year-old Tony Parker would have the best statistical season of his career? This “old” team was the fastest and most entertaining Spurs team I’ve seen in the last five years. The Thunder are the only team with comparable ball movement and quickness. Who’s to say with good health and a few minor adjustments that the Spurs can’t get right back in the saddle next season?
“Out with the old, in with the new,” is inevitable for any dynasty or successful NBA team. The Chicago Bulls spent plenty of time in the toilet after the Jordan era and have just recently returned to glory in the last few years, thanks to Derrick Rose. After one magical run led by Shaq and Dwayne Wade back in 2006, the Heat needed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to get back to the Championship ranks.
Neither the Bulls nor Heat are that “young,” as the average player’s ages are 27.9 and 28.6, respectively. In fact, when you look at the last ten NBA champions (Mavs, Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Heat and Pistons), most of those teams were comprised of “mature” players with a sprinkle of youth and veteran savvy mixed in.
That’s where the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the equation. The Thunder are the seventh youngest team in the NBA with players on the roster averaging 25.8 years of age. OKC’s nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden is barely old enough to get into the club as KD & Westbrook are 23 years old and Harden, a mere 22. That said, we’ve watched this team get to the top the old fashioned way, by working hard and improving every single year, climbing its way up up the mountain.
When a team this young makes it this far (which is extremely rare in general in the NBA), I would usually peg it as an anomaly with few expectations for the future. But the Thunder seem to be the real deal after disposing of the Mavs, Lakers and Spurs -three of the last four NBA championship teams- in one postseason.
Just because the Thunder are legit and likely to stay atop the NBA standings for the foreseeable future doesn’t mean that the torch has been passed for good. I look at it like a game of tug of war. The Celtics, Lakers and Spurs are all on one side of the rope while the Heat and Thunder are pulling from the other end with neither side able to force the other into the mud pit.
Does that mean there is room at the top for all five teams? Nope! Somebody has to give, it’s just a matter of who gets pulled down first.
If two of the Celtics’ Big Three remain on the roster next year and Boston makes it back to the Finals, clearly, they still won’t officially be over the hill, despite our best efforts to put them there. The Lakers can trade Gasol and still end up with a team in title contention. Should Gregg Popovich rest the Spurs elders from time to time throughout next season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see San Antonio win it all.
For now, we’ve got the Thunder in it to win it, and the possibility of the new Big Three or the old Big Three trying to show those young bucks from OKC how its done.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
It’s a battle of old school versus new school in the Western Conference Finals as the good ol’ San Antonio Spurs look for a fifth championship while the young Seattle Super Sonics….errr, Oklahoma City Thunder strive to make their first-ever trip to the NBA Finals.
Both teams have only ONE loss between them through the first two rounds of the playoffs, a stat which really boggles the mind. The Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks before losing just one game to the L.A. Lakers in the second round while the Spurs swept both the Utah Jazz and the L.A. Clippers. The Spurs won the regular season series between the two 2-1.
The Spurs have won 18 straight games dating back to early April, making this a run for the ages if they make it past the Thunder in any number of games.
What makes San Antonio so good? The Spurs run a quick offense with superb ball movement led by point guard Tony Parker who is having the season of his life. with Russell Westbrook running the point, the Thunder are even faster, especially in transition (especially on the fastbreak) and have been successful shooting jumpers from all over the floor. Just as important, OKC is averaging a league-low 10.7 turnovers in the playoffs while often capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes instead.
During the regular season Westbrook, NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant and James Harden were the top scoring trio in the league combining for 68.4 points per game. That is FIERCE. Sure, we’ve watched each guy go through shooting slumps are various points throughout the playoffs, but they were short in duration and clearly, didn’t cost the team wins at the end of the day.
The Spurs aren’t exactly slouches on the other end. He might be on the older side, but Tim Duncan is having an outstanding year. The big man up’d his 28.8 ppg in the regular season to a fierce 32 points even in these playoffs. Duncan also boosts a small hike in rebounding, now averaging 17.6 per game. The guy is 36 years old. Seriously. It’s beyond impressive.
Might OKC’s Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins limit him down low? Yes. The Thunder defense stifled L.A.’s bigs Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol at times, forcing the Lakers to settle for bricks, errrr, jump shots and three-pointers. Luckily for the Spurs, who, along with its own trio of stars (Manu Ginobili being the third), also have legitimate depth as NINE guys on the roster averaged 8.9 points per game during the regular season. Rookie Kawhi Leonard has come up big for the Spurs in these playoffs. San Antonio will need all of the help it can get in dealing with a tough Thunder team.
The Thunder definitely took the tougher road in getting to the Conference Finals while getting nearly the same amount of rest as the Spurs. My heart says the Spurs will win this series because of their experience level and coaching, but my eyes have seen the Thunder and the fury they play with. I see this series going seven games and boy, would it be tough to send San Antonio packing on their own home court. You guys will have to decide your own winner on this one since I can’t!
I hate to say it, but I don’t think the Boston Celtics matter all that much in this series. What I mean by that is the winner of the series depends on which Miami Heat team shows up at the arena. Is it the confused, Bosh-less Heat? The secure, pink-pants-wearing DWade, Bosh-less Heat? The Heat, with Bosh?
Surprisingly, the Celtics won the season series 3-1 against the Heat and even with players out due to injury, looked their best against Miami. The old Big Three definitely get inspired taking on the new Big Three and it shows. The great thing about Boston is the palpable emotion that drips from the pores of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, lifting not only their teammates but firing up the crowd as well, at home or on the road. Aside from the Lakers, no other team enthuses the Celtics the way Miami does.
I would give the playoff edge to the team with a true center, but neither the Celtics or Heat has one, which is pretty interesting considering the value of the position historically. I was looking forward to a Bosh vs. Garnett match up down low, but that is unlikely given Bosh’s abdominal injury.
The season-ending injury to Boston’s Avery Bradley could really hurt the Celtics as he has been integral to Boston’s defense, which has carried the team through the playoffs. Boston is holding teams to a mere 83.9 ppg in the playoffs, good for the best team defense in the postseason. It should be fascinating to watch that defense go up against the ever-potent Heat offense which is averaging 95.5 ppg. The highest score against the Celtics this postseason has been 92 points while the Heat have scored over 100 points in six of 11 games.
What makes the Heat machine run so well? LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. When they are on and feelin it, back up or else! Despite having issues at times, check out the overall playoff performances of these two. James: 29.0ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.9apg. Wade: 23.8ppg, 4.5rpg, 3.6apg. Of course, various Heat role players step up to the plate each night which is great, although not fabulous for the sake of consistency.
Interestingly, the Celtics Big Three has been offensively inconsistent throughout the playoffs while Rajon Rondo has done most of the heavy lifting averaging 15.0ppg, 12.5apg, 6.4rpg and 2.6 steals. If Miami’s defense heats up and the Big 3 are off the mark offensively, it will make life tough on Rondo. Sure he can sore and be a one man show, but his job is to distribute the ball. Rondo alone can’t beat the Heat.
If Miami plays the way they did closing out the series against Indiana, they’ll beat the Celtics with the youth, speed and strength of LeBron and DWade along with the shot of Mario Chalmers (ok, shots…many shots… should they make it in the net). I say Miami in 7.
After last season’s transformation under then-rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau, 2011-2012 was supposed to be “the” season in which Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls would fully bloom into a team that could legitimately challenge the Heat for a spot in the NBA Finals.
But something was wrong from the start.
First and foremost was the NBA lockout which kept many players away from their typical off-season workout and conditioning programs in efforts to adjust to an unknown timetable of when the season might start up again. This affected every player.
Then, Rose was the passenger in a car when his buddy, the driver, was pulled over and arrested for DUI. While Rose wasn’t in any trouble personally, surely the incident shook the quiet 23-year-old who goes out of his way to keep his personal life private.
But things seemed to turn around in late December as Rose agreed to a five-year contract extension worth a whopping $94.8 million just days before the start of a shortened NBA season.
The much-deserved reward from his Chicago bosses would prove be the high point of Rose’s season which turned ugly quite quickly as the All-Star guard suffered a myriad of injuries.
Toe, back, groin foot and ankle injuries forced Rose to miss 27 of the Bulls’ 66 regular season games. Rose had only missed six games in his first three NBA seasons combined.
The Bulls logged a respectable 18-9 record without Rose and held on for the No. 1 seed in the East, despite the frequent absence of their superstar.
It was only fitting, in sports’ version of a cruel shakespearean tragedy, that Rose would wilt for good late in his team’s first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, sidelined for up to eight months with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Kyle Korver said after the game, “It’s the saddest win,” as Rose’s teammates were clearly shell-shocked by the severity of his injury and the impact it would have on what was, just minutes earlier, a postseason full of promise and potential.
Leading the series against the 76ers 1-0, the Bulls have enough talent to dispose of Philadelphia, even without Rose. As fate would have it, Rose’s teammates are fairly used to playing without him, having figured out a system that worked well enough in the regular season. Chicago’s stellar defense, combined with adrenaline and the competitive spirit will propel the Bulls for the rest of this series against an inconsistent 76ers team.
It’s the long-term prognosis that is worrisome for the Rose-less Bulls.
While the Bulls beat Miami once and Boston twice without Rose during the regular season, a seven-game playoff series is a completely different animal.
Rose is so important to the Bulls not just because of the points he puts up, but because of the opponent’s perception of him as a scoring threat, forcing double teams which allows open looks for his Bulls teammates.
Who will opponents double team now? It won’t be Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah. They SHOULD be the guys drawing a double team but they won’t be because neither is consistent offensively warranting the additional attention. Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver certainly won’t draw the double team, thus the big guys shouldn’t get many easy scoring opportunities down low.
Ideally, opponents tried to force Rose to shoot outside instead of driving the lane, the place where he often put on a spectacular show while having his way with the defense. With veteran guard C.J. Watson set to start in Rose’s place, the defense will strive for the opposite in forcing Watson closer to the rim rather than allowing him to shoot from his comfort zone outside of the key.
This will be Luol Deng’s time to shine, even brighter than he has already this season. He has to make good choices and consistently execute offensively. Boozer, whose biggest knock as a pro has been that he doesn’t play up to his potential, finally has the chance to prove the haters wrong by stepping up and leading my example.
The biggest challenge for Chicago, in this series at least, will likely be mental, not physical. Losing your MVP can shatter one’s psyche. The Bulls have to find a way to quickly shake off the stench of losing Rose and focus on the immediate task, which is the 76ers.
In a condensed season that has lacked consistency in quality of play and top-notch rivalry games, the NBA fed its hungry fans with a prime time basketball feast on Wednesday night. Both the Thunder vs. Heat and Lakers vs. Clippers games were full of excitement and intensity, fueling the competition as the league prepares for the playoffs.
The Heat and Thunder proved that in fact, basketball is a game of runs, and typically the team that puts their foot on the gas last comes out the victor. Oklahoma City couldn’t sustain its early lead as the Heat came roaring back in what turned out to be a nail-biting 98-93 finish, good for Miami’s 17th consecutive home win, which is the longest streak in the league this season.
Sitting just two games behind the Bulls for first place in the East, Miami would do itself a huge favor by pulling ahead of Chicago as home court clearly means a lot to this team which is poised to, once again, do real damage to opponents come the playoffs.
That was just one of a few pertinent messages delivered by the Heat with a victory in which they overcame an 11-point second quarter deficit and were held to a dismal 37 percent shooting overall. Apparently, some people think the Heat are a bunch of wussie, prima donnas. Now, the latter might be true but this is one tough group of players that has battled injury, top-notch defenders and physical play throughout much of their careers.
Wednesday night brought more of the same as the Thunder weren’t the least bit intimidated by the defending runner-up Heatles. It was no guts, no glory for OKC which was evident in their chippy style of play and the willingness of Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins to go one or two body slams short of WWE on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. With the evolution of Perky in OCK comes more and more of a Celtics-like attitude of entitlement and fearlessness that the Thunder need to survive the playoffs out West.
Despite relinquishing an early and ultimately losing the game, the Thunder made just as big of a statement as the hometown Heat in the fact that they are a forced to be reckoned with on the court, both physically and fundamentally. With the media’s coronation of these two as eventual Finals foes, both teams had to send a message and both did, even though only one team got the “W” at the end of the night.
Across the country in Downtown L.A., another edition of intra-Staples Center play commenced between the Lakers and Clippers, duking it out in front of a Red and White home crowd.
It is truly fascinating how one player can change the tone of a team, and thus the ambiance of an entire rivalry.
Blake Griffin brought boatloads of excitement and confidence to the Clippers in his debut NBA season last year and while the “other” L.A. team certainly improved, they didn’t exactly instill fear in their bully big brothers wearing Purple and Gold.
But this season is completely different. Not only are the Clippers in the playoff hunt - and by that, I mean actually going to make the post season, instead of hovering between 8th and 12th out West (and that’s during a good year!) - but the team’s attitude has undergone a complete makeover with the addition of Chris Paul.
It started with the first two pre-season games on the schedule for both teams, which saw the two LA squads playing each other. From opening tip, there were no smiles and only scowls, specifically on the face of Blake Griffin, which would soon spread to the rest of his Clippers teammates.
The Clipps put the Lake Show on notice: we’re no longer the lovable underdog who you share an arena with and whose fans buy our cheap season tickets just for the two games here at Staples where you, the Lakers are considered the “road team.” We have an All-Star-caliber lineup of our own with Paul, Griffin, De’Andre Jordan and Chauncy Billups (pre-injury, of course), so don’t mess with us or you’ll be sorry.
The Clippers carried that swag right into the regular season and have not let up against the Lakers. Heading into their third and final meeting of the regular season, the series was tied 1-1, with those two games consisting of 11 individual technical fouls between both teams.
A red-hot Kobe Bryant and the Lakers put the little Clipps in their place early on in the rubber match, but the Red and White fought back with a massive run of their own, making the Heat’s comeback look lame in comparison to CP3 & company’s comeback from a 15-point third quarter deficit.
There were dunks, threes, and fouls galore in a game full of high-flying antics and brutal physicality that scared the Lakers straight, as late-game defense coupled with the hoops-heroics of Bryant and Bynum sealed a 113-108 Lakers victory.
The Clippers are now 2 1/2 games behind the Lakers who own the 3-spot in the Western Conference, at least for the time being. More importantly, the Lakers own the tiebreak as they won the season series against the Clippers 2-1.
Including the two pre-season games, each of the five meetings between the Lakers and Clippers this season were worth watching as every one of them involved a sense of urgency, rivalry, bitterness and importance. A few years ago, when the Clippers made the playoffs for the first time in what felt like forever, there was a possibility that the Lakers would meet their neighbors in the second round, but that never came to fruition as the Phoenix Suns knocked out the Lakers in round one before giving the Clippers the same treatment in the second round.
A Lakers/Clippers playoff series could easily go seven games even though I think the Lakers are a stronger team on many levels at this point.
Aside from providing ratings gold for the NBA and various TV networks, both a Lakers vs Clippers and Heat vs Thunder playoff series would be a welcome treat for basketball fans.
Alrighty ballers, the fun is over.
You’ve had two months to remember how to play basketball, learn to play alongside your current teammates, and use the fact that you were without an organized off-season as an excuse for playing poorly. We all had fun watching the All-Star weekend festivities. We laughed, we cried (well, hopefully not, but I’m sure somebody did) and it seemed like the players enjoyed themselves (sans Kobe’s nose), whether they were in Orlando or relaxing elsewhere and taking advantage of the time off.
With all of that nonsense out of the way, it’s time to quit playing games and step up it up on the court. After nearly 40 games of the 66-game schedule played thus far, most teams have not impressed during this truncated season. The Bulls, Heat and Thunder are the cream of the crop, but there’s a significant drop-off after the top three. The difference isn’t necessarily in wins and losses, but in consistency.
Oklahoma City is fresh and fierce. These young bucks have finally honed that killer instinct mentality allowing them to demoralize the opponent and kick it in to high gear down the stretch if need be. I’m interested to see if the Thunder will lose any firepower once the playoffs start as teams with older rosters will benefit from the rest between games.
Miami is out of this world when all of the guys are healthy and have their heads screwed on straight. As most pundits said from day one (and I agree), it’s the Heat’s championship to lose. Aside from last night’s loss to Utah and the occasional slip-up, I’m curious to see if Miami can maintain the standard they’ve set for themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it all come crashing down at some point, but as usual, that would most likely come not in the regular season, but in the playoffs where it counts.
I think the Bulls are the most fun team in the league to watch (with the Timberwolves right behind them, believe it not) because they have blended fight and finesse together, creating a smooth yet edgy style of play. Obviously, if Derrick Rose suffers any relatively long-term injury, the team is in trouble, so lets all say our prayers at night that that doesn’t happen. For now let’s enjoy Rose, the great team around him and the sweet sounds of Tom Thibodeau screaming about defense from the sidelines.
As for the other 27 teams in the league, get your act together! I know it can’t be easy, going from couch potato to NBA player once the owners lifted the lockout, but you should be properly conditioned by now. If not, perhaps the coaches need to re-evaluate how they rest their players (see Greg Popovich in San Antonio).
The time is now to put aside any differences or bulging egos in the spirit of team sportsmanship and winning. Quit hogging the ball and pass it to the open man or someone with a higher shooting percentage than you. It won’t kill ya! I promise. Well, I guess that applies to everyone but LeBron. Sorry dude.
Sure, some teams aren’t even in the running to make it through April, but so what? That wouldn’t stop the Honey Badger from playing his butt off, would it? No. He don’t give a s*** about the playoffs! He just wants to kick ass and take names.
Charlotte, I KNOW you can win at least 12 games this season. Seriously. If not for your own pride, do it for the poor media that has to cover you and somehow find a different way to write about losing evert night. A few years ago, the Nets were on the brink of finishing the season with the worst record in modern NBA history and even they managed to escape that fate. Bobcats, you can do it!
All of the teams in playoff contention today are talented and worth watching, but the team that excites me the most here in the second half is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They are only two games out of the final playoff spot out West and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak in as the last few seeds could easily shuffle around several times before the post-season begins.
They remind me of the 1999-2001 Clippers teams that only won maybe 20-30 games a year, but were so fun to watch. Those teams had some wonderfully talented guys and decent role players too, they just never found a way to win together, but gave it one hell of a shot on most nights making their games very entertaining.
I love Kurt Rambis, but Rick Adelman seems to be a better fit for the TWolves, a team with an astounding six players who were Top 5 draft picks. With a coach who knows how to harvest talent, this team is a move or two away from a Thunder-like assent over the next few seasons. For now, I’ll watch Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and a red hot Michael Beasley any night. Rubio is a highlight reel all on his own and once he has an NBA season or two under his belt, WATCH OUT.
Instead of watching players get injured and burned out, I’m hoping the rest of the NBA regular season is fruitful with skill, drama and competition. After all, that’s the way it should be.
If the NBA Playoffs started today, hoops fans would be happy campers! Why? A first-round Heat vs. Knicks match-up alone would be enough to send ratings through the roof and keep the many TV talking heads yapping from here to eternity.
Can you imagine? The Heatles versus Linsanity? Then again, it would be somewhat of a letdown if the most exciting series of the playoffs came in the first round. Either way, it’s a win-win situation, right?
If the NBA playoffs started today, we’d have a familiar cast of characters out East:
8. New York
…and an eclectic and somewhat surprising group in the West:
1. Oklahoma City
2. San Antonio
3. LA Clippers
5. LA Lakers
The teams in playoff contention (at the moment) in the Western Conference aren’t that shocking in and of themselves, it’s their seeding that brings the element of surprise.
Before the Chris Paul trade (umm, the second trade… to LA’s “other” team), who would’ve guessed the “Clippers” and “playoffs” would be words spoken in the same sentence? Sure, the Clippers had potential with a young nucleus of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Gordon and a veteran in Chris Kaman, but still… Donald Sterling’s team would be the type of squad to evoke a statement like “I’ll believe it when I see it” in conversation.
Instead, Chris Paul and the Clippers are only 3.5 games behind the first place Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that has risen to power the old fashioned way; through hard work and experience. This could be the year we finally see ThunderUp in the NBA Finals. Perhaps the youth of the Thunder’s roster gives them an advantage in this shortened season as OKC trails only the Heat and Bulls with a 23-7 record. Could an older, more experienced team catch up to them in the playoffs when everyone has a few days rest between each game? Sure, but Kevin Durant and Co. look pretty good halfway through the season and have been fascinating to watch in the playoffs in the last two years.
Sandwiched between the Thunder and Clippers are the aging San Antonio Spurs who could earn Greg Popovich a second Coach of the Year award (he also won the award in 2003). The Spurs have managed to stay atop the Western Conference without their star guard, Manu Ginobili who has missed 22 of the Spurs’ 31 games with an injury. What the Spurs have done is quite impressive, and as usual, until the playoffs, San Antonio will be largely ignored by many in the mainstream media. The Spurs have never been a flashy team full of typical stars or large personalities, but come playoff time, you’d better hope your favorite team doesn’t have to play them.
The Dallas Mavericks are basically back on track after an ugly start to the season and if they can stay healthy, I think they have a great shot at returning to the NBA finals. The Lakers, Grizzlies, Rockets and Nuggets are all in the hunt, each within two games of the 4-seed Mavs. All of these teams have a legitimate shot at making the post season, but it wouldn’t shock me if Portland, Utah or even Minnesota finds a way to sneak in, knocking a current contender out of the race. With young players like Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams sharing the court, the Timberwolves are easily the most entertaining team to watch on any given night. They remind me of the Thunder a few years ago: they are one or two pieces short of putting the puzzle together. If they can make a personnel move or two, these guys will be ready to shine after another year or so of learning how to play together.
If I had to predict today, who we’ll see in the NBA Finals, I’m going with a rematch (or three-match) of Heat vs. Mavericks, with the possibility of Heat vs. Thunder at a close second.
The Miami Heat are ON FIRE right now. So what if they lose a few games here and there, that doesn’t matter too much. We’ve watched them win with only two of their Big 3 healthy and playing, so barring a catastrophic injury, the Heat can easily survive the wear-and-tear of a typical NBA regular season. Miami leads the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. The Heat are third in free throw attempts and somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to defense and rebounding. I think the Heat will roll right through the regular season and will once again have a chance to prove their worth in the NBA Finals. Of course, all the focus will be on LeBron James and whether or not he has the mental fortitude to win it all. From taking the last shot to making bizarre comments in the press, it will once again be the LeBrown Show should the Heat make it back to the Finals. In the words of Bart Scott, CANTWAIT!
The only team I can picture challenging the Heat in the East is Chicago. If Derrick Rose can overcome his back problems in the near future, there is no reason the Bulls shouldn’t make it to the Conference Finals. Chicago is second in the NBA in defense allowing 88.1 points per game (the 76ers and Celtics are tied for first, allowing 87.2 ppg), second in rebounding and ninth in scoring. The Bulls are tied for 15th in free throw attempts (22 per game) which surprises me, and are 25th in terms of free throw makes, capitalizing on only 72 percent of their attempts. The Bulls are a good team, even without the superstar Rose on the court. But can Chicago make it to the Conference Finals without Rose? I don’t think so.
The 76ers, Magic, and Hawks are all within five games of the Heat and Bulls, but none of them excite me all that much. I think Philly is the best of the bunch and would welcome a first round playoff series between them and the Indiana Pacers, which is what we’d get if the playoffs began today.
The Pacers are an interesting team that is flying under most peoples’ radars, including mine. I had forgot that Indiana made the playoffs last season and was reminded of it only when they pulled off an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Lakers at Staples Center back in January. I see the Pacers as a younger, Eastern Conference version of the the Spurs. They won’t razzle-dazzle you, but they’ll find a way to beat your team down for the win. Like last year, I think this group will put up another tough fight in the playoffs with the difference being that I think they’ll pull off a first-round victory this time.
Now we come to the Celtics and the Knicks. The Celtics and Lakers, oddly enough, are in the same boat. Each squad’s Big 3 is no longer good enough on it’s own to propel their teams to victory. It’s sad watching both LA and Boston unable to do what came quite easily over the last few years knowing each team is probably just one player away from being a championship contender this year. For the Lakers, it’s a point guard, for the Celtics, it’s a dominant center. The Celtics are still fun to watch because you never know which team is going to show up each night so there is always an element of mystery when they take the court. As we’ve seen recently, the Celtics seem to take a nose dive after the half-way point in the season when age and health start to take a toll, but come playoff time, the older guys have adequate time to rest between games and get re-energized. As long as Boston makes it into the playoffs, they are in good shape. I’d be shocked if Danny Ainge doesn’t make a move of some sort by the trade deadline so who knows what the Celtics will look like in April.
Because of the NBA lockout, many teams have needed more time than usual to adjust, working out the kinks long into the start of the regular season. This might be the year where the NBA looks more like the NHL, where playoff seeding means virtually nothing as the lower seeds frequently beat the higher seeds in post season play.
The Knicks are a wildcard right now. Jeremy Lin has seemingly taken over the basketball world and we are all in a tizzy over how he has turned the Knicks around overnight. The story is sensational, in both meanings of the word, and hopefully New York can keep the train rolling. When the Knicks are good, it’s good for basketball. Period.
The Knicks are playing well at the moment, but who knows how the chemistry will change once Carmelo Anthony returns. As instrunmental as Lin has been to New York’s success, the addition of JR Smith might prove to be just as important as Smith is already in post season form after playing for several months in China. Plus, it would be helpful for Amare Stoudemire to turn into his old self by upping his shooting percentage.
But back to the “important” stuff… If Mike D’Antoni can figure out a way for Lin and Anthony to coexist, we won’t get a first-round Heat/Knicks match-up because there’s no chance New York will head into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the east. If Lin and Anthony can work together, the Knicks will not only make the playoffs for only the second time since 2004, but they could find themselves hosting a first-round series at Madison Square Garden. Wouldn’t that be something?
This is why Kendrick Perkins is one of my favorite athletes to cover as a reporter. He looks mean and scary but the Oklahoma City Thunder center is actually a really nice guy and also happens to be exceptionally honest.
A week or so after getting dunked on by Clippers forward Blake Griffin, Perkins had a lot to say, not only about the dunk itself, but about LeBron James who famously tweeted after the dunk, “Dunk of the Year! @blakegriffin just dunked on Kendrick Perkins so hard!!! Wow! I guess I’m No. 2 now. Move over #6.”
I was in Indianapolis covering Super Bowl week when the dunk happened, and when I saw James’ tweet up on SportsCenter, my first thought was, “wow, LeBron can’t help but show arrogance even in trying to compliment someone else! Go figure.” It turns out I wasn’t alone as Perkins absolutely ripped James in a conversation with Yahoo Sports writer Marc J. Spears.
Take a gander at this missile Perky launched directly at the Heatles super star:
“You don’t see Kobe [Bryant] tweeting,” Perkins said. “You don’t see Michael Jordan tweeting. If you’re an elite player, plays like that don’t excite you. At the end of the day, the guys who are playing for the right reasons who are trying to win championships are not worrying about one play.
“They also are not tweeting about themselves talking about going down to No. 2. I just feel [James] is always looking for attention and he wants the world to like him.”
I had a hot flash reading that. So juicy. So angry. So real.
Perkins - a former alter boy who once told me he needed custom-made robes to fit his large frame as a child - threw down SO hard on LeBron right there that he should probably go to church and ask for forgiveness. On the other hand, Big Perk is just speaking the truth, isn’t he?
“The people that move out the way and stuff are the people who have insecurity problems,” preached Perkins. “That’s my job. How will my teammates look at me if next time I just back out the way and just let him dunk when I’m supposed to be defensive-minded, a shot-blocker? That would be a coward move on me. He’d just have to dunk on me again.”
I love that. Perkins would rather get posterized while doing the right thing than save himself the embarrassment by backing down.
I have yet to meet a reporter who knows Kendrick Perkins and doesn’t like him. While the Big 3 and Rajon Rondo possessed the top talent in Boston, Perkins had become the heart and soul of the Celtics. Perkins represented what that Celtics group was at its core, becoming an extension of Kevin Garnett in terms of ferocity, intimidation and drive.
The Thunder are lucky as hell to have a veteran like Perkins to keep the young guys on track and teach them what defense and determination are all about. In most cases, I would think a move like this by a player was a calculated way of using the media, but knowing Perk, Spears might have just asked the perfect questions that solicited honest answers from a genuine, hard-working man.
Sunday, March 25… Mark your calendars folks because LeBron and the Heat will face Perky down low and the rest of the Thunder in Oklahoma City. The teams meet again in Miami on Wednesday, April 4. I’m guessing LeBron will play with an air of oblivion, as if Perkins did not verbally abuse him in the press. As for Perkins, I expect him to put on his meanest and nastiest game face yet, using the tweet and his own comments as big-time motivation next time he takes on the Heat. A la Bart Scott, “CANTWAIT!!!”
To read the rests of Perkins’ gritty comments, click the link for the original story from Marc J. Spears: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=mc-spears_kendrick_perkins_lebron_james_blake_griffin_020712
While news outlets were busy falsely reporting the death of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, the sports world was missing out on a spectacular sight. The uniforms worn by the Miami Heat during Saturday’s home game against the Philadelphia 76ers loud, bold and strikingly similar to Robin Williams’ wardrobe in “The Birdcage.”
At first glance, one might wonder where the heck the pink and orange striped outfit came from. Sure, the NBA loves throwback unis, but I never saw Alonzo Mourning wearing THAT.
Turns out, the pretty in pink getup is indeed a legitimate throwback piece. The Miami Heat paid homage to The Floridians, the ABA team based in Miami (although the team played games in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and West Palm Beach as well) from 1968 through 1972, according to the website RememberTheABA.com.
The Heat rocked the Floridians’ black away uniforms in 2004, according to ESPN.com, but Saturday’s 113-92 win over the 76ers marked the first time the Heat wore the old school white home uniforms.
I was in shock for a moment upon first seeing the guys in the colorful uniforms, but they quickly grew on me. What woman doesn’t appreciate a daring statement piece? Plus, the rumors are true; real men wear pink.
No wonder that Miami Heat vs. Minnesota Timberwolves game was so close the other night! Perhaps LeBron James had a case of cold feet and shaky hands during the Heat’s game in Minneapolis on Friday, but if he did, James didn’t show it as the South Beach star logged 34 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in a near-loss to the Timberwolves. Less than 24 hours after Miami’s 103-101 victory, James proposed to the mother of his two children and girlfriend of eight years, Savannah Brinson on New Years Eve.
Eight years LeBron? Sounds like this was the real decision.
After pondering the possibility for nearly a decade, Brinson said “yes.” According to website theybf.com, Brinson was surprised by the proposal which came in front of a large group of the couple’s friends at a New Years Eve party. The photo posted above came from theybf.com and if you look closely, you can see some bling on Brinson’s ring finger.
Oh hey Chris Bosh, is that you wearing a funny top hat behind the bride to be? I think so!
Of course, the congratulatory tweets started rolling in soon after James popped the question. Here are a few:
@MickyArison (Micky Arison, Miami Heat Owner): Congrats to Lebron. @KingJames and Savannah so happy 4 u guys.
@CP3 (Chris Paul): Happy for my brother @KingJames and sis @SavannahRB on their engagement!!! Extremely happy for them and the good times to come #HappyNewYear
Jada_AP (Jada Paul, wife of CP3): CONGRATULATIONS to 2 of my favorite people @SavannahRB and @KingJames! SO happy for you guys! LOVE you!!
Between an early undefeated record, celebrating his 27th birthday on Friday and getting engaged on Saturday, 2012 could finally be LeBron James’ year. After receiving pretty good press during the offseason, including stating his regrets over “the decision” in an interview, the dust seems to have settled and people are jumping back on the James bandwagon.
The truth is that it’s hard to hate on beautiful basketball, regardless of what you may think of the players on a personal level. If the Heat build upon what we’ve already seen them do thus far and stay consistent, LeBron and Savannah better keep their schedule open through late June and play it safe with an August wedding.
Before the Celtics’ first victory of the season on Friday night, there was plenty of panic running up and down Causeway Street as Boston began the season with an 0-3 slump. Meanwhile a familiar foe was going through a similar situation out west as the Lakers lost their first two games of the season causing folks to practically crown the Clippers as the new kings of Los Angeles hoops.
Both Celtics and Lakers were missing a star player, not to mention a number of other factors contributing to their slow starts, so working with a sample size of less than five games, is it really fair to freak out just yet?
Yes and no.
No, because when you are missing a team captain in one case, and a starting center in another, the expectations should be lowered substantially. Yes, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said there would be no excuses for his team to start slow; losing Jeff Green to heart surgery right before the season, team captain Paul Pierce out with a bruised right heel… neither was an acceptable excuse for failure according to Rivers. Obviously, a coach can’t tell his or her team, “hey listen, we’re missing some key parts, so if we suck, well, no big deal. Nobody expects us to win anyway,” but losing to the Knicks, Heat and Hornets all within four days on the road shouldn’t really come as a shock.
The Knicks looked good in the opener, the Heat were forced to fend off a furious Celtics comeback and the Hornets have some great young talent thanks to the Chris Paul trade so I don’t think there is much shame in this particular 0-3 start.
Here’s where Celtics fans have the right to worry. Jermaine O’Neal is your starting center. Yikes. The big man finally got his act together dropping 19 points on the winless Pistons in Boston’s 96-85 victory over Detroit on Friday, but one good game doesn’t give me much confidence. In his 15th NBA season, O’Neal (who missed much of last season with injuries) only scored eight points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Celtics’ first three games combined. The guy is 6’11, c’mon! O’Neal’s backups are Chris Wilcox (who has missed two games with a bruised shoulder) and rookie Greg Stiemsma.
The good news is that Stiemsma, last year’s D-League Defensive Player Of The Year has a lot of potential. The 26-year-old was a standout in an otherwise awful game against the Hornets, with 6 blocks in about 20 minutes in his NBA debut. I heard good ol’ Tommy Heinsohn compliment Stiemsma a few times during the Celtics broadcast of the Pistons game during the rookie’s 16 minutes which comprised of 2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, one block, one steal and four fouls. While the stats seem small, Stiemsma’s presence was felt in a big way, which will only improve with time.
More good news/bad news …. Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett might be on the verge of dinosaur age by NBA standards, they all still have “it.” They are still fierce competitors with the physical abilities to win on a nightly basis. The shortened season is a double-edged sword for an older team as they benefit from playing fewer games overall, yet suffer a disadvantage of little rest between games. As a true master of this team, Rivers knows these cats well enough to pick the right games to rest each guy when they need it.
Then there’s Rajon Rondo getting ready to hit his prime, not to mention that trade rumor chip on his shoulder that will keep him intent on his proving his worth to Danny Ainge and anyone else who dares to doubt him.
Guards Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling will be nice role players for Boston as will forwards Brandon Bass and Sasha Pavlovic. But as with most things in life, it all comes back to the middle, or the center. Will the trio of O’Neal, Wilcox and Stiemsma be strong enough to fend off the likes of Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, Al Horford, and the entire Miami Heat throughout the whole, albeit shortened regular season? Can the Celtics rotation of Bigs truly compete with the size, strength, skill and experience of the top teams in the East at the 5 position? Time will tell, but I won’t get my hopes up.
Then there’s the defense. Losing a defensive mind Tom Thibodeau is a big deal and it showed last season. The defense is what made this team dangerous over the last few years. It is one thing to ask older players to produce offensively but it’s another to expect them to play as tenaciously on the other end of the floor. I think the younger players should do whatever they can defensively to compensate for what the Big 3 might lack at that end.
If the Celtics can find a way to stay rested and maximize the play of their big men, I think they’ll get back on track and be a legitimate factor in the East.
As for the Celtics loathed rival, I would start with expressing concern over Kobe Bryant’s health, but after doing so over the last few years of bad knees, jacked up pinkies and whatever else, I have finally learned to accept the fact that injuries rarely hamper Bryant. He says his surgically repaired right knee is “as close to 100% as it’s going to get” after an offseason procedure in Germany, and despite a torn ligament in his right wrist, Bryant is shooting a career-best 48.1% from the field. True, the Lakers have only played four games this season, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Barring catastrophic injury, I expect Bryant to kick it up a notch on the heels of what many perceived was a “down year” for him on the court. Kobe has been less concerned with offense though as he says defense will be the bread and butter for this Lakers team. Even in L.A.’s losses to the Bulls and Kings, the team played stifling defense in stretches, but not consistently. That changed in the Lakers last two games against the Jazz and Knicks as the team really picked up its pick and roll defense and held both teams to under 33% shooting. If the Lakers can play the defense that Mike Brown and his staff have implemented on a consistent basis, their offense will come easily via the fastbreak, turnovers, and defensive rebounds.
Defensive rebounding shouldn’t be an issue for the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hanging out under the hoop. If Bynum can keep his head screwed on straight, the Lakers won’t need Dwight Howard this season. Every year, Bynum is proclaimed as the “key” to the season by coaches, teammates and the media. While he has showed flashes of brilliance, a combination of injuries and mental/emotional weakness has derailed what should be an all-star career going into his sixth NBA season.
I ran into Bynum at one of L.A.’s toughest workout spots over the summer and he looked fantastic, perhaps in the best physical shape of his NBA career. If he can stay disciplined and even-tempered, playing alongside Gasol will give the Lakers a lot to work with. As for Pau, remember how he got hammered after the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the finals back in 2008? “He’s soft,” “he sucks,” etc.? How did Gasol rebound from that criticism? He kicked ass and led the Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles. Gasol is now facing the same situation, and thus far, has responded accordingly. He has to prove himself once again and Gasol is already playing with a fire he lacked last season.
Now to Lamar Odom. Without bringing in an all-star player, Odom can only be replaced by committee which is what the Lakers are looking to do. Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks have both played surprisingly well thus far at the 3 and 4 and will do so with less pressure once Bynum returns from a four-game suspension today against the Nuggets. New addition Jason Kapono has made the most of his little playing time behind Kobe, and Steve Blake is not only facilitating but actually hitting his shots this season! Who knew?
The X-factor here is none other than Metta World Peace. Fitting, right? The artist formally known as Ron looked HORRENDOUS in the Lakers preseason games and regular season opener, in fact, I half-joked that he might get cut before the season started. He was slow, couldn’t run, certainly couldn’t jump and was unable to make a basket if you stood on the baseline waving cash in front of his face.
But with a new name (‘Metta,’ a Buddhist term meaning loving kindness) and a new outlook on life also comes a new job on the court. World Peace is filling Odom’s old shoes as the anchor of the Lakers second unit and is actually scoring points in doing so, 12.4ppg to be exact. While the 2004 Defensive Player Of The Year is known for what he does without the ball, the Lakers need him to produce offensively as well. Like Odom in years past, I think putting World Peace in the “bench leader” niche will give him just enough responsibility to feel accountable and important without the pressure and lofty expectations that come with being a starter.
With so many new and inexperienced players on the roster, not to mention a new head coach as well as overhauled systems both offensively and defensively, there will definitely be a learning curve for this Lakers team. Having said that, this specific group of guys (a few stars and several role players) reminds me of the kind of roster the Lakers had back in the Phil Jackson 3-peat days. The real concerns for the Lakers are heath (as it is with every team), consistency and just how big the learning curve might be in this truncated season.
Thanks to the groups of lawyers representing the NBA and its players, we were given the gift of the professional basketball this Christmas. Opening day of the shortened 2011-2012 NBA season was no throw-away as each of the five games had something to positive offer as well as something to hate on. In the spirit of Christmas, we present the naughty and nice of NBA’s opening day!
The Justin Beiber/NBA Holiday Promos: Was the idea that the Beibs has the power to draw in the under 18 female viewers? Surely, the NBA’s target audience was cringing while being force-fed spoonfuls of the talented teeny-bopper throughout the day.
Rajon Rondo, But In A Good way: The Celtics guard stole the show for me (despite Carmelo Anthony’s performance) as many wondered if preseason trade rumors would distract Rondo and make his already questionable attitude worse. If anything, Rondo did what the best competitors do as he excelled among controversy (real or perceived), picking apart the Knicks defense and dropping 31 points and 13 assists while logging five steals in Madison Square Garden. While the Knicks escaped with a 106-104 win, Rondo’s performance was encouraging for a team playing without the injured Paul Pierce and boasting Jermaine O’Neal as the starting center.
Lamar Odom: Adding insult to the injury of his new team being humiliated by the Heat, Lamar Odom got himself tossed out of his first game playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Coincidently, the ejection was the second in as many games for Khloe’s husband dating back to last season when Odom was ejected in what would be the Lakers final playoff game after being swept by the Mavs in Dallas. This time around, Lamar got tossed because he barked at the referee about a foul call in the third quarter, or as my Mom explained to my Dad, “he sassed the ref.” Looks like L.O.’s track record in American Airlines Center could use a turn-around real soon.
Dallas Mavericks: The reigning NBA Champion Mavericks were god awful in their season debut leaving a sellout crowd disappointed in Dallas as last season’s finals foe, the Miami Heat trounced the home team 105-94. The game was nowhere near as close as the final score with the Heat leading by 35 points midway through the third quarter. We’ll address the Heat in the “nice” section, but the Mavs, while still reigning champs, lost several vital pieces of the title-winning team, such as J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler. The addition of Sixth Man Of The Year Lamar Odom is fantastic, but with Vince Carter and Delonte West also new to the roster, Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and the gang have a lot of bonding to do in order to find the right team chemistry.
Dwight Howard: The Orlando Magic big man had a less than Super performance on Sunday as the Oklahoma City Thunder held Dwight Howard to only 11 points. Thunder bigs Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed did most of the damage on Howard helping OKC to a 97-89 win. Sure, it was an ugly team effort for the Magic as only three players scored in double figures, but as the leader of your team, trade talks or not, Howard needs to shoot better than 4-12 from the field (he’s 7 feet tall, c’mon now) in 38 minutes. Howard grabbed 15 rebounds, so I’ll give him credit for that, but if nobody on the team can convert rebounds into points, why bother? Meanwhile Kevin Durant balled out, dropping 30 on Orlando in a solid overall team win by the Thunder at home. By the way, if you folks haven’t checked out Kendrick Perkins on Twitter (he recently joined), you are missing out big time. He is one of my favorite athletes I’ve covered as he is sweet, sincere and brutally honest. Follow him on twitter for some good laughs and Perky knowledge bombs at @KendrickPerkins
Drunk Santa Harassing LeBron James: A lovely man dressed as Santa Claus heckled LeBron James with an alcoholic beverage in hand as the Heatles star shot free throws during Miami’s shellacking of the Mavs. Santa, clearly a Dallas homer, shouted to James, “What do you want from Santa? A ring?” I would give this guy props if he had anything original to say to James, but not only was he boring, but his team was getting hammered which makes heckling a bit pointless.
Carmelo Anthony: On a day where the New York Knicks led by 17 points and trailed by 10 in the same game, Carmelo Anthony provided the only real consistency for the home team in MSG. Anthony scored 20 of his 37 points in the second half and sunk two free throws which proved to be the game-winning points for the Knicks. After trying to pull a Sprewell on former teammate Billy Walker after the game, Celtics big man Kevin Garnett told reporters, “They seem to have a little swag and confidence behind them. It’s good for the city. It’s good for the Knicks. I’m going to see how consistent they are with that, but for the most part Carmelo played really well.” When KG shows you love after you beat him, that is saying something.
Los Angeles Clippers Swagger: There was no shortage of confidence among the Clippers starting lineup; Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul took the court at ORACLE Arena in Oakland beaming with pride and a sense of belonging as they faced the Golden State Warriors. While the Clippers performance was far from perfect and the 105-86 win over the Warriors was closer than the score indicates, the Clipps season opener was encouraging as the guys demonstrated noticeable differences from Clippers past. As an L.A. native and long time Clippers fan, I have never seen a Clippers team with this kind of swagger. There was a time when a young run & gun collection of guys like Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Lamar Odom got cocky after doubling their win total one year after a 15-win season. Once Blake Griffin took off last season, the Clippers showed more and more confidence with each game they played, but this season, that positive attitude is on a different level. Now watching the Clipp Joint play with legitimate energy and boldness from the opening tip (backed up by their play in the preseason and down the stretch vs. Golden State) until the final buzzer sounds is really refreshing.
Miami Heat: Yes, it was only the first game of the season but it was important for the Heat to get off to a good start this year, especially given the time and place of their 2011-2012 debut. Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra kept his team sequestered as the Mavericks unveiled their championship banner and celebrated last season’s finals win over Miami on the court before the game. It was a small gesture that sent a strong message that their finals failure was in the past and it was time for the uber-talented Heat to start anew. That they did as Miami scored at least 30 points in each of the first three quarters, and at one point, held a 35-point lead en route to smoking the Mavs 105-94. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade scored 37 and 26 points respectively as the Heat finally got the better of the Mavs; at least for one game.
NAUGHTY & NICE
The final minutes of the Bulls/Lakers game played out like a poetic Wagner opera, full of surprise, joy and heartache. My eyes began to water and butterflies took over my stomach after Chicago’s defense forced a turnover resulting in a gorgeous Derrick Rose floater good for a one point Bulls lead with 4.8 seconds to play. The beauty of DRose’s shot coupled with the anticipation of watching perhaps another Kobe Bryant game winning shot was a bit overwhelming for me on Day 1 of the NBA season.
While the home team Lakers started strong despite a torn ligament in Kobe’s shooting wrist as well as being without center Andrew Bynum (who is serving a four game suspension), L.A. let it all slip away in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Bulls fell flat for a good chunk of the game, seemingly unable to hit air with the basketball or play anything resembling defense. But that all changed when Chicago woke up as Rose went down with 3:34 left to play after the league MVP took a shot to the head, care of teammate Luol Deng’s elbow, as he landed a pretty up & under for two points. Rose hit the deck shortly after, and clutching his head, the Bulls took a timeout to make sure he was okay and had not received a concussion. Rose stayed in the game and from that moment on, Chicago’s offense and defense were synchronized enough to dig them out of an 11-point hole and lead them to a one-point, 88-87 win over LA.
For the Lakers, they have to be pleased with the play of Kobe as well as Pau Gasol, despite the drama surrounding a failed trade that would’ve sent the Spaniard to Houston for Chris Paul. Role players (aka guys you probably didn’t know existed) like Josh McRoberts, Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake were impressive in running Mike Brown’s new offense as well as variations of Phil Jackson’s old triangle. The Lakers defense was also spectacular until the final minutes. It is not encouraging for LA that they had the Bulls down in the dumps and couldn’t keep them there, at home, on opening day, with the Staples Center going crazy.
As for the Bulls, they struggled to shoot and rebound for much of the game, despite having scoring ability and being one of the league’s top rebounding teams last season. The defense was non-existent which was shocking as the Bulls had the top defense in the league last season. Despite a long rough patch in this one, the team managed to turn water into wine, pulling the win out of nowhere. As usual, DRose did his part but Deng was also sensational, playing stellar defense down the stretch and scoring 21 points, second only to Rose’s 22 for the Bulls. I think this young Bulls team started slow and just needed a while to realize the lockout truly is over, for real, and no, they weren’t playing in a charity game or Vegas league contest. The Bulls are incredibly talented and fun to watch, thus I wouldn’t anticipate too many more slow starts like the one we witnessed against the Lakers on Christmas.