Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What's Wrong with the Heat?

With their third straight loss in a row, including a 19-point drubbing by the Indiana Pacers (who now have a better winning percentage), the grand experiment with grouping three of the League's top ten players together on the Miami Heat appears to be reaching depths unforeseen by many in the media.

I expected some bumps in the road, but I figured the team would at least be exciting to watch. In fact, they’re quite boring outside the occasional Wade to Lebron or Lebron to Wade alley-oop. After watching several of their games this year, I’m noticing a couple of things.

First of all, it’s obvious that Wade and Lebron struggle when they aren’t dominating the ball. That’s about as “duh” of a statement as I can get. But, let’s really break it down.

Tonight against the Orlando Magic, at the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Lebron subbed out for Zydrunas Ilgauskus and Wade came in for Jamaal Magloire. Over the course of the next four minutes, Wade dominated. After a Bosh three-point play, Wade had his hand in nearly every positive play—he got to the line and made a pair of freethrows, assisted on a Big Z jumper, assisted on an Eddie House three, burned Reddick baseline for a dunk, hit a running jumper and-one to put the Heat up 88-87. In a four-minute span, he carried the Heat to their first lead since the 4:50 mark of the first quarter.

As soon as the Heat took the lead, up from the bench came Lebron and I had a strong feeling that the Magic were going to win the game despite the Heat holding all the momentum.

Look, I’m not trying to make big sweeping statements. According to plus/minus, the Heat’s three best lineups all involve the big three.

But I’m convinced that Bosh and Lebron don’t know how to do “dirty work.” For the last couple of seasons, Lebron’s compiled wicked stats, flown in for momentum-shifting breakaway blocks, barreled his way to the hoop for monstrous dunks...he's basically been able to have all of the glory, all of the spotlight moments. But he’s always had others to do the dirty work. Anderson Varejao being the foremost, but also guys like Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Ben Wallace, Joe Smith. All of those guys set mean picks, grabbed offensive rebounds, played all-defense caliber defense (well, not Moon), showed on the pick and roll, took charges, etc.

This year's Heat don't really have that guy, especially now that Udonis Haslem is out for several weeks. Jamaal Magloire might have been that guy seven years ago, and he can do some damage in 15-minute spurts, but he’s not close to the same ilk as Varejao, Wallace or even Smith. And he certainly can’t do it for 25 minutes a night.

Instead, Lebron’s got Chris Bosh, another guy who’s never really done the dirty work, but more because he’s just not physically built to do so. Unlike Lebron, however, Bosh has not had a complimentary guy to do it for him (let alone four or five)—hence the inability to advance past the first round.

I had high hopes for Bosh (who has started to come around offensively thanks in part to Wade sitting out with injury) because he was the garbage man during the Beijing Olympics. He did all those little things that helped the team win and shot 70 percent basically because he was the recipient on pick and rolls and put backs.

He works beautifully on the pick and pop with Wade. But with Lebron on the floor, everything seems to grind to a terrible halt. Lots of Isos and standing around watching. While some of that has to be on coach Spoelstra, as the team's best player, Lebron has to take most of the, ahem, heat for this. He’s the only player who hasn’t changed his game at all. Sure, he’s giving the ball up a bit more so that Wade can dominate for a while, but he hasn’t really changed the way he goes about his game.

If he’s not the main focus of a play, he tends to float on the perimeter. With his strength and athleticism, he should be the ultimate version of Trevor Ariza when he’s playing off the ball. Instead, he’s averaging a career low in rebounds. The most damning sign of all is his 0.4 offensive rebounds per game. Lebron’s never been a great offensive rebounder mainly because he’s always been the guy creating offense, but now with Wade and Bosh attracting so much attention, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be getting at the very least one offensive board per contest.

Besides, Wade has done that. He’s always been a great offensive rebounder despite also shouldering the burden of carrying teams (far less talented then Lebron has had). Wade is averaging 1.2 O-boards a game from the guard position and he gives up four inches and 45 pounds to Lebron. Wade is averaging more total boards than Lebron, more blocks (1.1 to LBJ's 0.6) and more fouls. All effort categories. All dirty work.

Not only that, but Wade also looked like he worked on his three-point shooting this offseason. He came out the gates sizzling hot hitting 11-26 before his current shooting slump where he's missed 18 of his last 19 attempts over his past six contests. The point is, he knew he was going to have to play off the ball and worked on his three-point shooting . In fact, the one three he made tonight was the one where he got his feet set and squared up—a spot up shot.

If the Heat want to be the best team in the league, and by all means, they should at least be the best starting five in the league with Carlos Arroyo playing out of his mind and Big Z at supreme efficiency, Lebron is going to have to take a page from Kobe’s playbook and become a firefighter. (Quick side note: Gotta love Arroyo for recognizing the opportunity of his lifetime and not shying from the moment. A career 44 percent shooter and 33 percent from beyond the arc, Arroyo is hitting at 50 and 64 respectively. Yeah, 64 from three).

What I mean by firefighter is Lebron’s going to have to be the guy who does whatever the team needs. Basically, Wade will orchestrate the offense and set everyone up while Bosh plays that ideal, complimentary scoring option. Lebron’s going to have to be the guy who fills in all of the gaps--the ultimate role player.

He’s going to have to drop the I’m-no-longer-Jordan-I’m-Magic schtick.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, Lebron ain’t no Magic. The sooner he realizes this the faster the Heat will get on track. Lebron’s going to have to get his hands dirty. He’s going to have to start diving to the hoop for offensive rebounds instead of watching from the perimeter as Wade throws up a fadeway jumper. He’s going to have to take it upon himself to shut down the opposing team’s best player whether that’s Kobe or Dwight Howard. He’s going to have to start focusing more on his defense and less on his stats. With his freak athleticism and strength, stats will come. They might not be as pretty as they have been. His PER might not lead the league and he might not get many triple doubles, but dude has all the potential to be a consistent 5x5 threat every single night. On this team, there's no reason why he shouldn't average at least two blocks, two steals and two offensive boards a game.

No reason.

Do I think that’s going to happen? No. As evidenced by “The Decision” and his butt-hurt talk in its aftermath, Lebron is not lacking in pride and subsequent arrogance. I have no personal insight into his mind or his life or anything like that, but the fact he didn’t work on his game at all this summer shows me that he thinks he can be Lebron, simply add Wade and Bosh, and win it all.

Lebron’s going to have to change the most if he wants this to work. He’s the most talented player on the team, the most versatile and the most dominant. But that just means he’s the most suited to be the ultimate Trevor Ariza—the ultimate Scottie Pippen.

If and when Lebron gets his inner KG on, look out NBA.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jazz Heat: Milsap's 46

First things first, Paul Milsap. Wow. 3-3 from 3 and 46 points. He's looking great on offense. Duh. New teammate Al Jefferson, however, is not. I've watched three Jazz games thus far, and in all of them, Big Al's looked lost and simply hasn't been able to finish plays. It's like he can't believe he's getting the ball when he's open. I still think that he'll come around, but not sure how everything is going to work out when Mehmut Okur comes back. Who starts? Jefferson, who's generously listed as 6-10, looks closer to 6-8. As was the case in Minnesota, he's really a power forward. But, how can you bring Milsap off the bench when he's been playing so well? Sloan will figure it out. Look for this team to be dangerous come playoff time, especially when Deron Williams can throw up 19 and 12 assists in 24 minutes of basketball. Crazy. Once Al starts hitting those little chippies he's seemingly constantly missing, Williams' assists will jump up. One last nitpick I noticed about Jefferson, he gets his hands on a lot of rebounds, but fails to pull them in on way too many occasions. Not to continue to compare him to Carlos Boozer, but Boozer pulls those balls in.

As for the Heat, notice how Dwyane Wade was the guy finishing the game. From the point in the fourth quarter when the Jazz took the lead 81-80, Wade scored 19 of the final 34 Miami points and hit the game tying three with 17 seconds left. Of course, he blew a crucial freethrow in regulation that would have made CJ Miles' three-point heave a must and Milsap's last second put back moot. Speaking of freebies, I know Utah's defensive game plan involves a large amount of fouling, but the fact that Miami shot 47 freethrows to the Jazz's 21 despite the Jazz scoring 56 points in the paint to Miam's 36, just is a bit curious. No conspiracy theories here, just an observation.

Another observation, or something to watch for, is if any of these guys make the all-star team. Well, as starters at least. Not only do the Heat have a huge target on their backs thanks to Lebron's decision, his butt hurt commercials and twitter proclamations, the big three's pyrotechnic-filled dance fest announcing their greatness to the world, and all of the media (ESPN cough, cough) hype, not sure the fan vote will be there for any of them. Add to this theory the indisputable fact that none of them are having real standout seasons (especially Bosh), there is every possibility that none of them start in the all-star game. I wonder how that plays on their psyches.

It's apparent that Bosh's mental state is already frazzled. He's a much, much better player than he's shown in the first eight games, but with his comments about trying to fit in and needing to just go out and play, paired with his inability to have an impact on the glass (only one double digit outing coupled with a couple of games with only one, yeah, one rebound) and Bosh's soft label continues to follow him around even though he's no longer the man on this team. If his struggles continue along with the Heat's mediocre play through 25 games or so, it won't be Lebron taking the brunt of the backlash. Bosh is going to get his share of criticism despite being the third wheel on this team.

As for Lebron, I just don't see the Magic in him. Sure, he makes some great passes, but his "creating" for others is wildly overrated. Passing to an open man is not necessarily creating a good shot for someone else. Lebron can hit the guys that are open, but he doesn't always create for his teammates. Not like Magic. Just as a point of reference, Magic's Lakers led the league in offensive rating seven times and finished second twice. A Lebron-centric team has never led the league in offensive rating. In fact, the best a Lebron-led team has finished is fourth in 08-09. And for those who say the Cavs didn't have the necessary talent, just check out how well they're doing right now without the King.

Are the Heat going to be good? I believe they can be, after all, they're already a good defensive squad. However, could I see egos getting in the way after some all-star snubs and a continued bout of losing? Sure. I could also see Wade or Bosh or both going down for an extended amount of time and unlike the 09-10 Cavs (12-deep squad) this Heat team lacks enough impact players off the bench. We're only eight games into the new season, but 72 wins is already out the window. The Heat better start focusing on just playing hard and smart for 48 minutes each and every night because taking things for granted has gotten Lebron exactly zero rings.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Toronto vs Sacramento (108-111) 110110

Why we love Reggie Evans...

Reason number one. At the 2:45 mark, the Raptors are spread out around the perimeter, Weems is out at the right wing, Jack is up at the top of the key while DeRozan is spotted up in the right corner behind the three point line. Bargs is at the left baseline side with the ball. He jab steps twice, and then shoots it over Dalembert. When the shot goes up, the only Raptor in the key is Evans and he’s surrounded by Udrih at the top, Garcia, Landry and Antoine Wright. The thing is, Evans sees the first jab step by Bargs and he immediately goes into rebound mode rudely introducing himself for the fifteenth time already to Carl Landry, who is undersized to begin with. There’s no real way he should have the rebound, and he doesn’t get it, but he does jump, get his fingertips on it and make Wright miss it. Ball goes out of bounds on Wright, Raptors’ ball. Where the stat for that? It gets the team an extra possession, but it can’t be quantified by the limitations of our current statistical systems. It’s not a rebound, though it’s just as good as an offensive board, and it’s not a steal. In the boxscore, it doesn’t exist.

Reason number two. At the 1:40 mark, still in the first, Evans is given the ball in the post. I’m not entirely sure why Calderon delivers the ball into him with 14 seconds left on the shotclock. Reg doesn’t really have anything resembling a postgame. But, regardless, in the ball goes to Evans. Garcia dives in from the right corner and knocks the ball loose. Reggie is after itand it takes him out to just within the three point arc. Garcia, a physical player, is leaning into Evans with his arm stretched out. So, naturally, Evans pulls a Kobe/Durant and earns two freethrows sinking both. While he did find his way into the boxscore on this play, the entirety of it does not truly get accredited to him because he drew a foul on Garcia and gifted him with an elbow to the jaw for his trouble.

Reason number three. Dude pulled in 19 rebounds—10 of those on the offensive end. Is he the reincarnation of Dennis Rodman?

Reason number four. The beard. Along the same line of thinking as reason number three, since Evans doesn’t sport hair up top, he should start dying his beard different colors.

Dalembert sure did look overweight and out of shape, not that I hold that against him in the slightest seeing all the work he did for Haiti earthquake victims this past summer. Of course, I’m not paying him $13,428,129.

An aside. Evan’s replacement is Amir Johnson. This guy grabs my attention not because he can’t get away from fouling (at 16 minutes per he’s averaging 4 fouls), AJ looks like a giant Andre from Outkast. In honor of this observation, I now christen Amir Johnson—

Andre the Giant.

A side note: can’t tell for certain, but Kleiza could probably get away with some of his traveling if he didn’t make it look so much like traveling. If he made it look better, (for example Kobe, Wade, and Roy are masters), mainly, he needs to stay more grounded and stop shuffling his feet.

And finally, what a crazy couple of plays to end the game. Ty Evans sets up Casspi for a layup that Casspi makes harder by reversing it. He misses, but Ty gets the O board and briefly sets up before attacking again and finding Casspi in the corner for what seems like a backbreaking three.

Then there was DeMarcus Cousins spinning through the lane and and flipping it up and in (he looked so excited after he made it, pumping both fists. Gotta love that energy). Followed immediately by Bargs hitting a three to put the Raps within three points.

And then, of course, DeRozan seeming to gather himself in the air and then dunk it to pull the score within one, 108-109.