Tag Archives: Mario Chalmers

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 6/21/13: GAME 7

Good things come to those who wait. From October through June we collectively watched 1,314 games of NBA basketball this year. Some were good, and some were bad. Some were awful, and some were downright legendary.  All of it culminated last night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It’s the game that every kid in their backyard dreams of playing in growing up, and we got to witness it in all of its sweet, sweet glory last night. This is the hardest Lion Face, Lemon Face column I have ever had to write not just because it’s the last one of the year, but because if I had my pick, both teams would have won last night. The fact that there was a winner and loser, heroes and goats, lion faces and lemon faces absolutely kills me. But what has to be done has to be done, so let’s get to it.

Lion Face: LeBron James

Big time players make big time plays in big time games. In the NBA, there is no bigger game than Game 7, and in today’s NBA, there is no bigger player than LeBron James. LeBron was absolutely sensational tonight delivering a Game 7 performance that will, or at least should, put together the debate on whether or not he’s “clutch” or not. In between Games 5 and 6, parody site Sports Pickle re-ran a post that they had previously developed titled “Pocket Guide For Criticizing LeBron James in Any Situation”. It poked fun at the numerous lines that fans and media alike could use in order to create a no win scenario for LeBron that was designed to be used no matter what kind of performance he turned in during the course of a game. The second statement on that list read “If LeBron has a big 4th quarter and leads his team to victory…say ‘Big deal. It’s only the regular season. Let’s see him do it in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.’” LeBron’s line in the fourth quarter alone last night? Just your casual 9-5-2-2 line including an absolute dagger 19 footer with 27 seconds remaining to push the lead to 92-88 and finally ice the series for Miami. Mission: Accomplished. He ended the game with 37 points and 12 rebounds; the 37 points are the most points ever scored in a Game 7 Finals win tying Boston’s Tommy Heinsohn in 1957 so you can go ahead and give LeBron both a championship ring and a Tommy Point for last night’s effort.

Lemon Face: Manu Ginobili

It’s never a good sign when you get a text in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the NBA Finals from a friend asking you what the record is for turnovers in a seven game series. While Ginobili, 22 turnovers through the seven games, didn’t come close to matching Charles Barkley’s in the 1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals v. Milwaukee (37 turnovers!), it sure felt like the ones he did make came at the most inopportune times in the ball game. Last night, he turned the ball over four times, all of them occurring in the final period of play, including a brutal attempted jump pass on the baseline with San Antonio trailing by 4 with 23 seconds remaining which once and for all finally extinguished any hope that the Spurs had of making a miracle comeback of their own.  While it would have been a fairy tale ending for Manu’s career to go out with a title, instead he is left wondering just what went wrong in his final games.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

In a game featuring at least 6 future Hall of Fame inductees, it was Kawhi Leonard (and as I am contractually obligated to mention, his catcher mitt sized hands) who stole the show for San Antonio last night. Any lesser player would have crumbled after missing a critical free throw late in the potential championship winning Game 6 but the 21 year old Leonard responded with a monster 19 points and 16 rebounds in Game 7. As Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker fade into the twilight of their careers, the future in San Antonio continues to appear bright with Leonard leading the way.

Lemon Face: Chris Bosh

I know he played solid defense. I know he came up with seven rebounds including corralling Duncan’s missed tip-in that would have tied the game, but to put up a goose egg in the points column in Game 7 of the NBA Finals? That’s true Lemon Face material. God help him if Miami would have lost that game because I don’t see any possible way he would be on the Heat roster next year if San Antonio won and shut him down like that. Miami still faces a decision this offseason on whether or not to trade Bosh, but it will be excruciatingly difficult to break up a team that has reeled off two consecutive titles.

Lion Face: Shane Battier

We may never see the adage that role players tend to play great at home and are dicey on the road more than this series. After earning a couple of DNP’s in the Indiana series, Battier turned in scoring lines of 0, 3, 0, 2, 7, and 9 points through the first six games of the series. Coming into last night, he has hardly thought of as an X Factor. But fittingly, in a series that proved to be as difficult to predict from game to game as any other we’ve ever seen, Battier responded with an NBA Jam style hot hand shooting display knocking down six threes in eight attempts on his way to the biggest 18 point game of his life. For the second straight year, the Heat rode to a title in a championship clinching game thanks to one of their shooters going unconscious from beyond the arc. Last year it was Mike Miller’s 7-8 from long distance, 23 point game that proved to be the difference in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. It one of those nights where you in the first half he was going to have a Lion Face game, and he didn’t disappoint. Between his insane three point shooting and cerebral interviews, who could have guessed that a guy from the most hated college in America playing on the most hated NBA team could be, dare I say, likeable?

Lemon Face: Danny Green

For as good as Shane Battier was as a role player, Danny Green was equally as bad for San Antonio. For a stretch during the first five games, it appeared that we were headed for one of the most unlikely Finals MVPs of all time as Green was turning three point attempts seemingly into layups by breaking the record for triples in an NBA Finals just five games into the series. At this point in the series, Cavs fans and other NBA fans alike were quick to criticize the Cleveland organization wondering how they could possibly let a player like this slip through their grasp. Well, now we know. Unfortunately for Green and the Spurs, the clock struck midnight on his Cinderella story sometime between the end of Game 5 and beginning of Game 6 as he would go on to shoot a ghastly 10.5% from the field (18% from 3) over the course of Games 6 and 7 in Miami. Even despite how cringe worthy poor he was last night, he nearly changed the complexion of the game just over midway through the fourth quarter. Following a Manu Ginobili three pointer that cut Miami’s lead to 85-82 with 4:20 to go in the game, Green stole Dwyane Wade’s entry pass and launched a 3. A make would have tied the game as part of an 8-2 run in the course of 45 seconds and conceivably could have changed the complexion of the game. Alas, it was not to be as the shot missed, and the next score came a couple of possessions later from Shane Battier who knocked down a 3 and pushed the lead to six. We’ll always have Games 1-5 Danny Green. We’ll always have Games 1-5.

Lion Face: Mario Chalmers Shot

The Spurs were set to head into the fourth quarter with the lead. They would have been 12 minutes away from only having to match the Heat point for point in order to win the title. And then Mario Chalmers happened. It gave the Heat the lead and the momentum heading into what proved to be the final period of the NBA season. In a game where we got the entire Wario AND Mario Chalmers experience, this was one of the biggest shots of Chalmers’ career.

Lemon Face: Tim Duncan’s Shot

GIF via @SBNationGIF

Tim Duncan could retire right now with four championship rings, $200+ million in salary earned throughout his career, and the title of Greatest Power Forward Ever to Play the Game, but you can bet that he is going to be rehashing that missed tip shot in his nightmares for the conceivable future. With a chance to tie the game at 90 with under one minute to go in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Duncan missed both a hook shot and the subsequent tip in. Eons from now when people are browsing Wikipedia version 1239.1 on their super computers, they are going to see on the surface that this turned out to be an eight point game and, without reading a game story, not fully recognize that we were that close to having a tie game in Game 7 with each team having only a couple of possessions remaining to decide a champion.

Lion Face: NBA Fans

If someone had told you that this Finals would produce four games decided by double digits, including a 36 point blowout in one of those games, and yet it would still prove to be one of the best and most memorable Finals we have ever seen, how confused would you be? Your allowable answers are A) Very B) Really and C) Extremely. Luckily, that’s exactly what we got over the course of the past couple of weeks:  two teams that threw absolute haymakers at one another for seven straight games. For the rest of our lives, we’ll remember these Finals for Tony Parker’s incredible shot to put away Game 1, Danny Green going absolutely bananas in San Antonio, Ray Allen’s shot from the corner and Miami incredible comeback in Game 6, and LeBron James’ ultimate Game 7, but the chess match that was engineered on a game to game basis between these two teams was just as exciting. The constant adjustments needed on both ends to even get a result where no team through six games had won consecutive contests was incredible to watch. It was an honor and a privilege to watch that basketball series for seven games, and I think we all, Miami fans excluded, wish that it could have gone at least seven more.

From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of all NBA fans, thank you to the Heat, Spurs, and NBA for giving us this series. It was, as Zach Harper and Tim Bontemps described on their Eye on Basketball podcast earlier this week, the equivalent of basketball porn. And thank you all for your constant support of us here at Hardwood Paroxysm throughout the season. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in a Panera Bread at lunch putting the finishing touches on my 15 Footer game preview for October 30, the opening night of the year. Time flies when you’re having fun, and we had a whole lot of fun here over the past eight months. Can’t wait to do it again next year.

When it falls down, who you gonna call now?

lucidtech | Flickr

Noam and Amin try to break down what’s going on with Miami, where Indiana’s future is taking them, and how teams can be successful over the long haul.

Noam: This Heat-Pacers series has been something of a basketball treat. All games have been competitive, excepting those in which Udonis Haslem goes 8 of 9 from the field (which, incredibly, amounts to more than one game). Paul George and Roy Hibbert have made themselves household names. Chris Andersen LITCHERALLY hasn’t missed a shot. And that LeBron guy is pretty good. Having seen these two squads matched up two years in a row, I would gladly sign up for another four or five.

You posit an interesting question on Twitter, though: could the Pacers possibly be considered as favorites in any future permutations of this series? Of Miami’s core, only LeBron, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are on the right side of 30. More importantly, Dwyane Wade, supposedly among the younger-oldies at 31, has seen fluctuations between his prime self and a sadder, broken down version happen frequently and violently. On the other side, Indiana’s starting wings are 22 and 23, with latter doubling as a third-team All-NBA premier wing defender. Roy Hibbert is 26, George Hill is 27.

But Indiana, for all its up-and-coming appeal, does have a major age concern. That would be David West, 33 by the time 2013-14 will tip off. He had ACL surgery two years ago, and while he seems to have recovered admirably, he plays a very physical game. Indiana’s strength is in their five man unit, but if one declines sharply, are we sure that balance isn’t irrevocably disrupted? Could growth on the wings, as well as the incremental improvements Hill and Hibbert project to make as they hit their prime, be enough to offset West’s age?

Amin: First of all, I don’t want your Chris Traeger reference to go unacknowledged. Well done, sir.

Second of all, yes my question is interesting. That’s sort of what I was alluding to. Indiana’s core–aside from West–is on the upswing. I could see West decline (as you said, he’s 33, he had ACL surgery, and he plays a tough, low-post game), but he looks like he’s declining gradually. I think that’s kind of the most ideal situation for any player in any sport, but especially for a guy who plays how he does. West will be slightly less effective next year, but he won’t have a stark drop off. Hibbert should improve, right? Will he make up for any potential deficiencies in West? Will Indiana let Hansbrough walk and pick up a backup PF who has a little more offense up his sleeve? Maybe Indiana can pounce on Thomas Robinson’s availability and play him heavy minutes behind West? Wowee.

Then, you’ve got the potential re-addition of Granger. Assuming Granger can play at even 75% of his former self… that’s pretty good. Granger is an effective scorer and a great defender. He gave LeBron fits during their intra-division CLE-IND series a few years ago. Granger also doesn’t seem like the type of player who would be difficult to fit back into a Pacers-style offense or defense. And based on the Pacers’ slower offense and their need for a wing upgrade over Gerald Green, slotting Paul George at the 2 (with Lance Stephenson behind) and Granger at the 3 seems like it would make the Pacers really good without causing extra stress/undue injury to Granger and his recover. And when I say “good” I mean “really really good.”Back to Miami real quick: Even with a very effective post game, LeBron + a bunch of other guys is probably not a championship team, right? That’s what existed in Cleveland, and it was proven time and again that LeBron needed a bit more reliability from the rest of the roster. That reliability came in Miami in the form of 1 guy who can get to the free throw line at will to close any gap (Wade) and another guy who is essentially guaranteed to make any shot if he’s wide open (Bosh). Those two players were not available in Cleveland. I am saying this as an unabashed Cleveland homer and someone who is rooting for a team with TYLER HANSBROUGH to beat the Heat.

Sorry about the Cleveland-aside. FOCUS. Ahem, OK. So, what I’ve noticed during this series is that the Pacers have been VERY good at preventing LeBron and Wade from living at the free throw line. As Derek alluded to in his piece, they’ve also effectively neutralized Chris Bosh’s impact by drawing him away from the basket on nearly every possession and contesting every shot he puts up. Miami has been relying on LeBron (as it should) and a 20-point performance by random role player X on any given night. Last night, it was Udonis Haslem. Haslem played really well, and the Heat needed every bucket he made–if not for their points then for their momentum.

When you look at the Heat’s roster, LeBron and Bosh are still in their primes, Cole and Chalmers are still young, and pretty much everyone else is a dinosaur in NBA years. Also, Chris Bosh is still possibly a dinosaur, but for other reasons (JOKES!). Going into next season–and more important the next postseason–if you have this same roster, you have LeBron still in his prime, a Bosh that people can figure out, an OK Chalmers/Cole backcourt (OK in Miami, average or less elsewhere), a Wade whose bad nights are starting to outnumber is good nights, a Ray Allen/Shane Battier combo that not doing its only required task of making open 3s, a revolving door of bigs, and Udonis Haslem. That’s… not gonna cut it.

Sorry, guess that wasn’t quick. But as it stands now, Indiana’s got options and are generally moving uphill. The Heat are still going to be good, but with their cap situation, they’re really only going to be able to make changes around the edges… and right now, their potential long term problems are with their core.

What do you think the next step for both teams will be to make sure we’ve got a rematch of them in the ECF next year?

Noam: It’s hard to throw out a foolproof ECF plan just because so many things can go wrong – injuries, luxury tax, injuries, random bounces, injuries, Nate Robinson catching fire, injuries. My gut says Miami is pretty much fine staying the course, as Erik Spoelstra would say, using the mini-MLE to get another 3-and-D guy (but maybe a less decrepit one this time, eh?) and gambling on a few minimum deal bigs. Indiana might be more interesting – I think convincing cases can be made for both keeping and trading Danny Granger, West is a free agent and could potentially come out of this summer either overpaid or in another jersey, the Pacer bench is epically horrendous. Also, after they refused to give up the 23rd pick in the draft for J.J. Redick, I demand that they either sign J.J. Redick or find a way to draft an immediate contributor with that pick. DEMAND IT, I SAY. HEAR ME, DONNIE?! However, I will immediately turn on my designation of Indiana being more interesting than Miami and ask you this question: is Miami’s run for a repeat title a historic abberation? This whole Wade business creates a unique vibe around the Heat – the way they came together and the mere existence of a 28 year old LeBron James makes them seem dynastic, and yet, as covered earlier, they might just be headed for a decline. We’ve seen teams win the title in a manner that seemingly dooms the following decade (Jordan Bulls, Duncan Spurs, any Laker title team ever), and we’ve seen teams win titles while giving the impression that they’re about to fall off from that level (the 2011 Mavs are a prime example of that), but do you remember any other team ever looking like it may just be both?

Amin: There are three important variables in this evaluation: 1) The CBA and salary cap, 2) Are any of the things that LeBron/Wade/Bosh do things that other players can do? and 3) What is Miami’s draft outlook looking like?

If you want this 3-man core to be dynastic, then the ret of the roster needs to be filled out in the same way as San Antonio’s. You gotta draft, develop, and trade your way into good parts that fulfill some of the tasks (or cover the deficiencies of) your core guys. And you gotta have the money to do it. If you do, you start to play your core guys fewer minutes as they get older, but the system is locked down. Alternatively, you can do what Dallas does and break the bank, stack, and reload the roster later around 1 or 2 pieces.

Right now, the Heat have a lot of good players, one great player, and two guys in between that are injured so are playing as good-level. Now, San Antonio has definitely recovered from a situation like that, but they’ve also consistently had draft picks and a well-managed cap. There’s a good chance Miami can pick up the same great play next year–like 99% certainty if Wade is healthy–but the nature of the Heat’s management of those 3 Spursian variables points to them not being able to turn this team into a 3+ championship dynasty like they hubristically promised.

In today’s CBA, is 3 rings the best anyone can do? Will the Spurs be terrible after their core retires/leaves? Can any team maintain contender or semi-contender status for 10+ years anymore? 5+ years, even?

Noam: The Thunder will be the ultimate test case for that, won’t they? They’ve hit all the theoretical checkpoints by drafting a transcendent star in Durant, finding another all-star to flank him in Russ, and being good enough early enough so his prime isn’t wasted. It’s what the Cavs couldn’t do with LeBron – they got to the Finals in his fourth year, one year ahead of the pace Durant set for OKC, but they did it with a supporting cast that was mostly veterans and role players. As LeBron continued to grow, they wilted instead. I think that’s the point that makes San Antonio so unique – David Robinson sitting out in 96-97 gave them their two cornerstones as a starting point, and they capitalized even further on that by inexplicably picking up two more in Tony and Manu. Without discrediting their developmental system, there are only so many such players percolating through depth charts, and grabbing several of them closely enough to have them all hit their primes together (or, in two different batches) requires immense amounts of luck.

Could it happen again? Sure, in theory. It’s hard to say if there are any other candidates for such a run, though. The Pacers are trying, but Paul George isn’t LeBron or Durant, and Hibbert is more Ibaka than Westbrook. Since this has somehow become a heavily anti-Cleveland exchange, we should point out that Kyrie might be that kind of transformative talent, and is being smartly surrounded by players his age, though none of the Waiters/Thompson/Zeller(/Nerlens Noel?) seems to be of the Westbrook caliber. There are some other tandems that one might throw out there – Chris Paul/Blake, Rose/Noah, Rubio/Love, Harden/Morey Acquisition X, Andrew Wiggins/Whoever Is On The Roster That Drafts Andrew Wiggins – but all are stretches, whether because they are dependent on unknown qualities, or because the known qualities have so far been lacking.

Is that CBA-designed or just plain happenstance? I would call it the latter, but it’ll be hard to tell without the benefit of hindsight. After all, this Spurs stretch is an outlier not just for the 2010s, but throughout NBA history. Outside of Red Auerbach being decades ahead of the curve, the Lakers continuously getting hall of fame centers, and the greatest player of all time existing, these things tend not to happen more often than they do. Again, the viability of the model could hinge on where OKC lands, with the Harden trade as the potential turning point. It’s an interesting wrench in that it simultaneously rid them of a third all-star, but brought in some assets that, if maximized, could theoretically bring in some of those young assets to develop in the Spursian manner you mentioned. If their run is cut shorter than we envisioned when this team came together, the Harden trade could become the turning point in NBA dynasty building.

Which brings us back to the Heat. They seem to be staring down some financial issues of their own – they’re scheduled to be repeater tax payers the moment such designations become available. If Wade’s knees don’t ruin everything, could his contract? Could Bosh’s? Are they due for a Harden trade of their own? Or, conversely, LeBron walking next summer before his supporting cast is torn apart? God, these would be great questions to discuss retroactively during all the free time we’ll have in the 2017 lockout.

Amin: Game 6 seemed to exacerbate all the same questions we had after Game 5. It’s going to be tough to figure out what Miami needs to do, but they need to do something. Be it a Harden-type trade, a use of the amnesty provision, any other type of trade that creates some complementarity and reliability… something. I don’t think they anticipated their core becoming unstable like this so quickly. And I don’t think any of us did either.

That Was Mario Chalmers, Everyone

Mario Chalmers is, perhaps, one of the most unaware starters in the NBA. It’s how he can consistently be in the completely wrong place on both ends of the court, get harangued by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and still claim to be one of the top 10 point guards in the league. There is a veil that shields Chalmers’ enormous ego from harm, and while he’s far from perfect, his belief has kept him afloat on a team as top-heavy as the Heat.

The words “quickness” and “confidence” are tattooed on Mario Chalmers’ wrist. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, we all caught a glimpse as to why. Within the first five minutes, Chalmers started the game with three snap decisions, resulting in dunks from James and Ronny Turiaf, and a corner 3 from Shane Battier. With James and Wade combining for a paltry 4-of-15 from the floor (though James made up for it shooting 7-8 from the free throw line) in the first half, Chalmers took initiative, scoring 14 points and handing out four assists. Beyond shooting 60 percent from 3 in the first half, Chalmers was slipping into the paint for layup attempts and exploiting the gaps in the Celtics defense which had moved further out.

James’ vacation at the free throw line and Wade’s remarkable offensive explosion in the second half took away some of Chalmers’ luster, but his insistent attack on the Celtics defense was a huge reason for the Heat victory. What Chalmers lacks in sense, he makes up for in conviction. We don’t always see this Mario Chalmers, and I’m sure he’s aware of that. There’s unquestionably a disconnect in his self-perception and what we end up seeing in games. It must be nice for him to see the two align in a meaningful way. It’s blissful living in your own world. It’s even better when you get to share a bit of your world with everyone else.

 

It’s A Numbers Thing

Photo courtesy of therapup.net

Artest told Yahoo! Sports he plans to wear No. 70 next season, but the NBA has rules that prevent players from switching their uniform number from year to year. The deadline for a player to change his number is in early March to have it go into effect for the next season and once a number is changed, it has to be worn for five seasons with that team before a player is allowed to change it (unless he is traded to a new team or leaves as a free agent).

Artest wore No. 37 after signing on as a free agent with the Lakers in 2009-10 and did switch to No. 15 last season. It’s not clear what he had to do to accomplish that.

The uniform rule does not come with any stipulations for a name change, however.

If there is a request or circumstance that calls for a number change within the five-year period is approved, it may come with a cost of some kind, according to a league source.

via Los Angeles Lakers’ Ron Artest’s name now officially Metta World Peace – ESPN Los Angeles.

Look, I can’t say I care too much that Ron Artest is changing his name to Metta World Peace. As amusing as it’ll be to see “World Peace” on the back of a dude’s jersey during actual NBA games, I probably won’t start calling him that. Unlike Chad Johnson, who introduced the “Ocho Cinco” nickname informally a couple of years before making it official, Artest is expecting the entire sports world to start calling him by a new, esoteric name over a decade into a career that hasn’t exactly been low-profile.

No, what interested me most from Dave McMenamin’s report on Artest’s name change was the explanation of the process for jersey-number changes, something I’ve always wondered about and been fascinated by. Why does the NBA make players wear the same number for five years? Is it just so they don’t have to print new jerseys to sell? Major League Baseball doesn’t seem to have any rules about this whatsoever. When the Giants acquired Carlos Beltran at this year’s trading deadline, manager Bruce Bochy switched his number from 15 to 16 so that his new power hitter could keep the number he had worn for six years with the Mets. They made the decision at Beltran’s introductory press conference, and both his and Bochy’s new uniforms were ready for the game that night. Considering the NBA’s willingness to bend this rule for its stars (more on LeBron James and Mario Chalmers in a minute), its very existence seems somewhat archaic and unnecessary.

This got me thinking about other noteworthy number changes in recent NBA history, and the reasoning behind them.
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NBA Playoffs: (4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Miami Heat – The Unknown (Disclaimer: This Is Not an M. Night Shyamalan movie)

The Celtics are a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a conundrum wrapped in a knee brace.

No one thinks this team has a shot at making the Finals — and rightfully so. Personally, I would be shocked if Boston even made the Eastern Conference Finals. They’re old. They’re slow. They’re inconsistent. They’re cavalier. (And, not in an amazing, LeBron Jamesian way or even a crazy, fantastical Delonte West way either). Most importantly, they simply have not been playing good basketball for the last two-thirds of the season. (They’re a Chicago Bulls-like 27-27 during their past 54 games.)

We know all this.

Still, they are better than most people think. And it’s almost entirely because of the defense. You just can’t get a 5th ranked defense by accident. The schemes, the commitment and — yes, even in 2010 — the personnel got it done this year. Kevin Pelton rightly points out that KG can still play some defense. He may overstate the case a little, and few people have made more jokes about KG’s gimpy knee than I have, but the reports of The Kid’s death have been greatly exaggerated. You look at photos like this and think back to the infamous Saturday afternoon when he allowed Al Harrington to look like Bernard King in MSG, and it’s easy to dismiss all the good stuff Garnett does out there even while less fleet-of-foot than ever. This isn’t 2004, sure, but particularly with Kendrick Perkins standing next to him, KG can anchor very good defense.

And he has done exactly that this year.

Outside of Rondo for the first 45 minutes and Pierce for the last 3, there isn’t much about Boston’s offense that should terrify anyone. Ray Allen is finally shooting like Ray Allen again (40.3% from three since the All-Star Break compared to 33.8% prior) and KG, even on one leg, can still make the mid-range jumper, but, if you’re Miami — especially if you’re Miami — or any other team, figuring out how to stop the Celtics isn’t the biggest hurdle to exposing Boston’s geriatric mediocrity.

The challenge is figuring out how to score on them. And that’s not something Miami does particularly well. (They’re 19th in offensive rating and 15th in effective field goal percentage). Flash is Flash, and he’s as much of a rock as anyone we have in this league (and I’d still argue that he is underrated), so he’ll obviously get his. But the key for Miami won’t be hoping Dwyane pours in a few 43-point nights and jumps on the scorer’s table and tells his fans whose house it is. Whether or not the Heat can advance depends more on consistent production from everyone else. They need points from the guys Charles Barkley calls “a bunch of Tito Jacksons.”

Can Beasley, aka the East Coast Lamar Odom Sans All the Versatility, show up to play two games in a row? Can JO do more than just protect the paint? Will Carlos Arroyo keep playing the point well enough to let Wade play off the ball? Will Udonis get the minutes he deserves? Will Q and Chalmers hit their open threes? Can Dorell Wright finally translate his scoring ability into enough a playoff success to actually make me remember whether or not his name has two Rs or two Ls without fact-checking? (/googles dorrell wright)

I know that asking a bunch of obvious questions is a lame way to try to provide insight into this series, but I honestly have no idea if any of those things will happen. I don’t think anyone does, frankly. Not Eric Spoelstra. Not Pat Riley. Definitely not Dwyane Wade. Anyone who tells you different is either a liar or someone who somehow got a hold of the Gray’s Sports Almanac Biff brought back from the future.

But there are a few things we do know: (1) The Heat will play high-level defense, (2) The Celtics will play high-level defense, (3) Boston will execute well enough late in games and get enough big buckets out of Pierce, Rondo, Ray and maybe even KG to grab a win or two, (4) Dwyane Wade’s parents are not strong spellers.

The only thing left that we’re really not sure about is whether or not the Heat, who have won 9 of their last 10 games and an ungodly 18 of their last 22, will score enough to ensure that that late-season run continues.

I would love to see it happen.

But I doubt it does.

Boston in 6

We’re All Pretty Bizarre. Some of Us Are Just Better at Hiding It, That’s All.

From top to bottom, the Miami Heat are a pretty captivating team.

Dwyane Wade needs no introduction; he’s all-world, and if injuries hadn’t temporarily halted his career’s momentum, he would have single-handedly propelled the Earth into the sun. But as it stands, he’s a hyper-charismatic telepathical knight who knows the secrets to all space and time. I guess that’s good enough.

But down from Wade, the Heat are a rag-tag group of promising young players, cast-offs, and stopgaps. Michael Beasley is a terrific talent, but his off-court (and online) troubles of various kinds have eclipsed his promising improvements. Mario Chalmers is a good player with plenty of skill, but he’s still the NCAA standout that somehow couldn’t merit a first round pick. Jermaine O’Neal wore out his welcome in both Indiana and Toronto, only to find new life this season behind a cleaner bill of health and some team stability. Quentin Richardson was traded to 29 of the league’s 30 teams in the off-season, and his expensive price tag and limited skill set make him both an expensive luxury and a provider of a much-needed service in Miami. Carlos Arroyo once had the buzz at his back coming off Puerto Rico’s upset of Team USA in the 2004 Olympics, but since was bounced off of teams and out of the NBA before making a grand return to bolster the Heat at point guard. Jamaal Magloire is the worst All-Star to ever live. James Jones and Daequan Cook are each other’s worst enemies, as they end up splitting time when all Jones wants to do is play defense and Bowen it up from the corner, and all Cook wants to do is launch up threes every time he touches the ball. Joel Anthony manages to look like a pretty decent shot-blocker in the 2008 Olympics, and then immediately manages to revert to his former self the second he steps on a NBA floor. And Shavlik Randolph? Yakhouba Diawara? You get the point.

Every team and every player has their story. Maybe they bounced around the D-League, or recovered from an injury, or overcame some real life, non-basketball issues. But when you look to the Miami roster aside from Wade and Udonis Haslem, it’s just tale after tale of ‘disappointment.’ Each of Miami’s role players has found a fairly unique way to fail, and while that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the quality of this bunch, I don’t mean to tear them down. Although this particular group of players may not be the most talented supporting cast, they’re certainly able, and beyond that, they may be the most interesting such group in the NBA. If you ever had the luxury to invite an entire team to a dinner party, there are a few no-brainers. The Spurs, for one, who are much more interesting people than they let on. The Cavaliers, maybe, because their camaraderie and genuine like for one another is downright infectious. But right with those squads has to be Miami. On the floor, they’ll fool you into thinking they’re a cohesive unit at times. But in terms of personality types and personal narratives, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Somehow, Wade’s transcendent talent and Erik Spoelstra’s underrated abilities as a coach manage to hold everything together. It works. Not at the level of the Magic, Celtics, or Cavs, but certainly at a respectable level given this team’s unique context. I wouldn’t say it’s uncommon for players of diff’rent strokes to play together under a banner, but the Heat simply take that possibility to a ridiculous extreme. They’re a complex bunch with diverse histories and backgrounds, even if we want to see them in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions: a “pothead,” a draft bust, a maligned star, a consummate workman, a gunner, an outcast, a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Just add basketball everything else disappears.