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Taking My Talents….Home!

 

The Miami Heat’s failure to capitalize on its first shot at an NBA Championship, with their “Big 3,” in place, will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest disappointments in Sports History.  It’s not the fact that a team so top-heavy in talent can lose a series; it’s what happened prior to this point, that’s the problem.  This series wasn’t about what Dallas Accomplished, but more about what Miami failed to Accomplish.  The series wasn’t about the dynamic leadership displayed by Dirk Nowitzki, but the lack of leadership by LeBron James.  All of these things are magnified due to the brash and very bold statements made by James, starting with “The Decision.”

The Decision

James’ announcement of his choice of team via Television Special, followed by a proclamation of at least 7 Championships, ultimately set the Heat up for failure.  James was so confident in the team’s ability to succeed, that he hinted at victories even if Pat Riley was the team’s starting Point Guard.  With a team this talented, who’s going to argue LeBron’s statements?  I for one saw the Heat as a dead-lock for the Finals, which was correct.  I initially picked them to lose the Finals versus the Lakers, but uhh…We saw how that turned out for “Showtime!”  Once the Lakers were ousted, I didn’t see anyone standing in the way of Miami’s Destiny.  As a team, they entered the playoffs clicking on all cylinders, and even watched LeBron mature as a player through the first 3 series.  But then came the Big Stage…(Here’s where you insert for favorite sad face : ( perplexed style : / or the highly emotional crying face (,-__-,)

 

James basically disappeared in the Finals, averaging 18pts, 7ast, & 7reb!!! LeBron is a former NBA Scoring Champ, and averaged 18 ppg!  Let’s also note that James averaged 21ppg as a ROOKIE!  Now, not taking anything away from his overall playoff performance, because he is the reason Miami got to the Finals.  James was playing like a man possessed in the first 3 rounds, and hit some huge shots in both the Boston and Chicago Series’.  You can argue that it’s a team game, and all of the blame can’t be placed on James, which is correct.  However, LeBron’s actions coinciding with his talents are what create the enormous bulls-eye on his back.   He also doesn’t help the scrutiny by his comments, and almost nonchalant attitude at press conferences.  Again this is a team game, but the team itself doesn’t share in the talking aspect, which James excels in.  If you go back to the introduction of “The Heatles,” it was LeBron who did the most talking, and predicting on behalf of the Heat.  Look at it like this…Muhammad Ali was known for his trash talk before, and during, some of the biggest fights of his life.  While Ali didn’t have an unblemished record, he always came back to avenge a loss, thus backing his proclamations.  LeBron doesn’t have a history of closing games, playing to his full potential, nor being the leader that the “Face of the NBA,” should; but talks as if this isn’t the case.  If LeBron showed a little more humility, I don’t believe the backlash would be to this unbelievable level.

 

So What Exactly Happened?


Aside from LeBron’s shortcomings in the Finals, what else seemed to go wrong for Miami, that didn’t for Dallas?  Let’s start with Miami’s consistency outside of its core.  The bench play was much uninspired throughout the series, while Dallas had its role players contribute on a nightly basis.  But despite the poor role playing on behalf of the Heat, they controlled this entire series.  Splitting the first 4 games, could have easily been a 4-0 Miami Sweep.  Dallas turned the Heat into a jump shooting team, and prevented them from attacking the paint, which is their
strong suit.  Along with Dallas’ defensive adjustment, was Dirk’s relentlessness as a leader.  There wasn’t a moment in this series that Dirk wasn’t in attack mode.  This same thing can be said about Dwayne Wade, who played his heart out throughout the series, and if not for injury, wouldn’t have let up.  If you take each team at 100% attack mode, the Heat should win out every time.  My reasoning is simple; Dwayne Wade and LeBron James excel on BOTH sides of the court, which is a headache for every team in the league.  I fully believe that if LeBron guarded Nowitzki for the entire series, and Wade on either Terry or Barrea (depending on who’s in the game), I don’t see Miami losing this series at all.  This tactic then forces other players to beat you, who aren’t as offensively gifted as the aforementioned Nowitzki, Terry or Barrea.

I also believe that the Heat lost some faith in the process at some point.  Squandering big leads in games they controlled from the beginning, is inexcusable.  The team got extremely passive during the final moments of Game 6, and the stars of the team almost seemed to defer to its role players.  A play that replay’s endlessly in my mind, is the Chalmers turnover under the basket.  With 3 players making over 100 million dollars each, and have the ball in Mario Chalmers’ hands in crucial parts of the game in ridiculous!  I just don’t see the team letting up if Pat Riley is who you have to face when you come off the floor, versus Erik Spolestra.  While Spolestra did improve as the season went on, I think his lack of big game experience is what ultimately did him in.  But again, the coaches aren’t the ones who perform on the floor…it’s the players!

 

The Fallout

While the Heat are the early favorite to win next year’s Title, something has to change.  With 7 players as unrestricted free agents, 3 will likely return with their player options (House, Jones & Illgauskas).  Mario Chalmers is the team’s lone restricted free agent, and has already been rumored to be receiving a qualifying offer from Miami.  Two things that need to change are the team’s ability to score off the bench, along with the team’s interior defense.  When your Shooting Guard is blocking as many, or more, shots than your big’s…There’s a problem!  But not only does the interior defense need to improve, but the overall toughness of the team.  As it stands, it seems as though when Wade isn’t at 100%, the team loses its heart and backbone.  If Miami is lucky enough, there are a few players that I feel could be added at a bargain price to aid in the team’s improvement.  Perimeter Players – Tracey McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Al Thornton, Michael Redd, T.J. Ford, Shane Battier, Andrei Kirilenko, and Josh Howard.  Interior Players – Kenyon Martin, Samuel Dalembert, Chuck Hayes, Craig Smith, Chris Wilcox, Boris Diaw, Troy Murphy, and Etan Thomas.  While these are all unrestricted free agents that are all possibilities for the Heat, bigger players like Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Nene, and J.R. Smith, are all likely to command too high of a price tag on the market.  Players like Redd, Prince, Ford, Battier, Kirilenko, Martin and Dalembert, would dramatically improve the Heat’s overall roster.  Dalembert provides added shot blocking, along with Martin, who also would be an enforcer that the Heat desperately need.  Battier, Prince and Kirilenko provide length, and solid perimeter defense, as they can defend several positions on the court.  TJ Ford would be a tremendous upgrade at the Point Guard position, while Redd provides more scoring ability off the bench to go along with Mike Miller & James Jones.  Players like McGrady, Josh Howard and Michael Redd are all very injury prone players, but can be very serviceable if their health/minutes are preserved for a playoff run.

 

Along with these changes, I have a strong feeling that Pat Riley will step in as the new coach.  Riley worked too hard to put this team together, to see them fail.  Riley is often linked with the great Phil Jackson, as they not only were great coaches, but managed some of the game’s biggest personalities.  Riley has the pedigree to get the most out of this Heat team, and surely would not have allowed them to relinquish those late game leads.  Look for major changes in South Beach, which will result in Miami’s hoisting of the Championship Trophy.  The only thing that could prevent a title run from happening, are another implosion by the team itself, but if Pat is patrolling the sideline, I wouldn’t bet on it!

 

 

Follow – @TheKidSkoob

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Expectation Series: Part 4 (Most Surprising Players)

Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.

Hornets point guard Darren Collison has filled in brilliantly during Chris Paul's absences this season.

For every player who underachieves each season, there is another who exceeds expectations to compensate. And this year is no exception. In selecting my top five, I tried to avoid rookies (who really don’t have clearly defined projections), though I couldn’t help but include my No. 1. So here’s the list.

No. 5 — Kevin Durant

Everyone knew going in that Kevin Durant was a fearless and unstoppable scorer. But who really thought that we’d be seriously considering him as MVP if LeBron James weren’t playing? Durantula added four-and-a-half points to his per-game scoring rate and may very well win the scoring title. In addition, he’s nearly flawless at the line, has improved his rebounding, and can hit the big shot. And believe it or not, he can still improve. If he can get his field-goal percentage over 50 percent and shoot over 40 percent on threes, he’ll truly be in the elite category. Let’s see if he has the ability to lead his team to victory in the playoffs this year.

No. 4 — Andray Blatche

Andray Blatche’s performance has gone more or less unnoticed because of his playing on a terrible, terrible team. If you look at his per-40-minute averages, they are rather impressive. He’s posting nearly 20 points and nine boards per 40 minutes. As a starter, he’s averaging over 20 points a game. While Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison were in town, he didn’t have a chance to shine. Maybe while Washington is rebuilding, he can let the world know he’s ready to stand out at the highest level with the right playing time.

No. 3 — David Lee

David Lee’s improvement this season has come mostly in the scoring department. He could rebound last year, and he has carried that over to this season. But he’s scoring over 20 a game, and his high PER reflects that, all while playing out of position at the 5. Hopefully he can sign with a serious team next year and wreak some serious havoc when the games actually matter.

No. 2 — Andrew Bogut

Andrew Bogut is what situated the Milwaukee Bucks in prime playoff position for 2010. Now that he’s out for the rest of the season, they don’t stand too much hope of advancing beyond the first round. The former first-overall pick began to justify his draft selection, adding 16 points and 10 rebounds a contest to his team’s line. Moreover, his defense was stellar. He contributed 2.5 blocks a game and began to develop a Dwight Howard-esque effect on opponents’ shots whenever they were foolish enough to enter the paint. Bogut will be back next year with a healthy Michael Redd, so he should be able to do the same again for the Deer.

No. 1 — Darren Collison

As I mentioned above, it is tough to include rookies on this list because their abilities aren’t really evident with no experience in the league. In this case, what chance does a point guard playing behind Chris Paul have of succeeding in his first professional campaign? That said, Darren Collison, the 21st-overall pick out of UCLA, has played magnificently this year. Paul has missed a lot of time with injures, and Collison has capitalized. His per-game averages over the course of the season aren’t terribly impressive, but if you limit the scope to the games he’s started, it becomes more glaring. His stat line in games started: 18.4 points, 9 assists, 3.6 boards, 1.4 steals, 47 percent shooting, 41 percent from deep, and 85 percent from the charity stripe. The dude needs to get out of New Orleans, because he doesn’t deserve to be playing behind CP3; he’s way too good.

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What’s up with the Bucks?

John Salmons has the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs this season.

The Milwaukee Bucks are going to be in the playoffs this year. The boys from Wisconsin, who haven’t played into May since the 2005-2006 season, are playing better than anyone could have expected them to at the beginning of the year. Currently in fifth place in the East, the Bucks are slated to draw a first-round matchup with either the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks, who are tied for third place.

What has accounted for the Bucks’ surprising and sudden transition to a postseason-caliber team after being assumed lottery players for three years? Well, certainly very few expected rookie Brandon Jennings to play superhuman basketball at the beginning of the season (and still-above-average basketball, especially for a rookie, now). And certainly very few expected former No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut to be posting 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks a game for a cool PER of 20.6. But they’re not the true reason for the Bucks’ absurd play.

No, John Salmons is responsible for that.

Since acquiring Salmons prior to the team’s February 19 contest against the Pistons, Milwaukee is a stunning 16-4. During this span, Salmons has averaged slightly over 20 points per contest after putting up about 14 a game with Chicago earlier this season. He showed flashes of this scoring ability in Sacramento and Chicago last season, but after an inauspicious start to the current campaign, I expected it was just a fluke. He can really score the ball, has meshed well with Jennings in the back court, and gives Milwaukee a reliable late-game jumpshooter after Michael Redd went down with a season-ending injury.

Speaking of which, credit the Bucks’ front office for not folding the cards after that and selling away the season. They went out and made a deadline deal to keep themselves competitive, and now they figure to be at least competitive in the playoffs. With six scorers averaging in double figures, they have a balanced offense.

The emerging problem? Are they deep enough up front with Bogut, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, and Kurt Thomas? That will be definitely be problem against every single one of the teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

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