Monday, June 13, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Heat’s Lose and Dallas Mavericks Win Finally

The Miami Heat were the most talented team in the NBA this past season. They were two fourth-quarter collapses away from sweeping the NBA Finals. None of that matters after they lost Game 6 by a final score of 105-95, and the series by a final score of 4-2.

Miami’s losses in Game 2 and Game 4 can be directly traced back to atrocious late-game execution on both ends of the floor and inexcusable performances from LeBron James. Miami had chances to win Game 5, but that game was ultimately decided by a red-hot Dallas shooting performance that the Heat had little hope of matching.

So what happened in Game 6? The Heat, a team capable of doing anything, failed to do the most basic of basketball tasks throughout the night, and their lack of fundamental execution ultimately ended their season.

Miami looked nervous all game long, and while their offense didn’t go stagnant because of too much one-on-one play, it did often evolve into a game of “hot potato,” with the Heat forcing passes left and right and committing a series of turnovers that ultimately destroyed them. Miami gave the ball up 17 times on Sunday, and those turnovers led to an incredible 27 points for the Mavericks. Miami was supposed to be the best fast-break team in the league, but Dallas punished the Heat in transition all series long thanks to their superior discipline.

Miami’s lack of discipline didn’t only show up when they tossed the ball away. With the pressure on them, the Heat failed to do one of the most fundamental and simple tasks in basketball: make free throws. Miami had Dallas in foul trouble for nearly the duration of the game, but missed a stunning 13 free throws, which turned a 15-free throw disparity into only eight extra points for the Heat.

On both offense and defense, the Heat repeatedly simply gave up possessions that they should have treated like the most important things on the planet. Wade, who had carried the Heat through the first five games of the series, was on tilt in Game six, forcing up inexcusable deep jumpers and trying to attack the basket wildly when the lanes weren’t there for him. LeBron James tried, but he had some inexcusable turnovers of his own, most of which were the result of over-passing or trying to force a drive instead of taking an open jumper.

The Heat also let their tempers flare up when they should have been focused on the task at hand. Directly after an impressive 14-0 run that dug Miami out of a 12-point deficit in the first half, Udonis Haslem allowed DeShawn Stevenson to engage him in an altercation, and Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony both made things work by coming into the conflict. Dallas had already called a time-out, but the extra delay and Dallas technical free throw that resulted from the fracas sapped all the momentum that the Heat had going for them. A Wade technical on a charging call that didn’t go his way later in the game made things even clearer: Miami was clearly rattled after losing three of its past four games and having fourth-quarter leads in all of them.

The Heat also failed to box out at key times, and while the Mavericks only ended up with one more offensive board than the Heat did, several of those offensive boards came in the fourth quarter, when the Heat desperately needed to get the ball and try and get their offense going.

In the end, what did the Heat in wasn’t a poorly-constructed roster or proper offensive and defensive strategy. It was their mentality. With the Heat’s talent, they should have coldly and methodically carved through the NBA all season long and put Dallas away when they had the chance to win an NBA championship. Instead, they allowed themselves to have a roller coaster of a regular season marked by poor late-game execution and losses to elite teams, gritted through the first three rounds of the playoffs thanks to stifling defense and heroic late-game play, and blew the NBA Finals.

The Heat have the right roster pieces to win the championship next season, assuming it occurs. Spolestra is more than capable as a coach. Their stars have shown that they are capable of playing together on both ends of the floor. But if they want to reach their ultimate goal, they are going to have to tighten things up next season. They can’t forget to play defense on the nights their offense is rolling. They can’t let teams back into games by committing silly fouls. They can’t try to get caught up in macho posturing in an NBA Finals elimination game. They can’t throw the ball away when it matters most. They can’t miss free throws.

In 2011, the Heat showed that they have enough talent to win a champions. In 2012, the Heat will have to show that they have the maturity and discipline to be champions.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Stanley Cup favorite Canucks take on villain role

In Canada, much has been made as to whether folks outside of the Canucks’ sphere of influence should cheer for the Van City squad, simply because of geography and overall patriotism. Some in Vancouver have weighed in by saying ‘thanks, but no thanks – we know you actually hate us.’ (Which is ludicrous. Coming from the Greater Toronto Area, I am well aware which city other Canadians truly despise.)

The villain has replaced the anti-hero as pop culture’s new favorite, from Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker to the only reality TV stars anyone cares about – the crazy ones. So Vancouver Canucks fans, say hello to the bad guys: your boys in blue and green.

Yes, the Canucks are a tremendously well-built team, handcrafted and honed by GM Mike Gillis to include finesse, grit, a deep defense corps, an Olympic-caliber goaltender and a backup who would start in many other NHL locales.

They’re also the villains of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is not to say the Canucks deserve to lose to the Boston Bruins. It just needs to be stated that it will be no Hallmark movie-of-the-week ending should they raise the chalice in six or more games.

In the most straightforward sense, unless you’re already a fan, it’s hard to cheer for the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy to go all the way. We watch sports for the drama and the underdog meme exists because the unexpected is so much more exciting: Chaos and anarchy trump simple mathematical odds.

But in another, more visceral way, it just seems as if the Canucks have done a lot of line stepping en route to the Stanley Cup. If this were a sports movie, they’d be wearing the black jerseys and cheap-shoting their way to the final where a scrappy bunch of misfits would miraculously topple them.

Raffi Torres got the ball rolling in Round 1 with his savage hit on Chicago’s Brent Seabrook and the karmic whiplash nearly destroyed the Vancouver side, with “Chelsea Dagger” serving as the soundtrack as they descended several levels of choking hell before emerging out from the other side courtesy Alex Burrows’ Game 7 overtime heroics.

More recently, it was defenseman Aaron Rome’s two-Mississippis-too-late crushing of Nathan Horton that put Vancouver’s troops in the baddie category, ironically absolving the Big, Bad Bruins of many of their sins.

(As an aside, the B’s have matched the Canucks in selling high-sticks that never touched flesh and in nasty after-the-whistle behavior. But the optics of Boston losing playoff hero Horton, himself a great story thanks to years of futility spent in Florida, are not the same. This is compounded by the fact Marc Savard had previously been lost due to a nefarious head shot and Patrice Bergeron had his own concussion hell even before that.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bulls VS Heat:Heat take Game 1 then which side you stand?

MIAMI — The Big 3 is under contract through the 2014 post-season. But if the NBA emerges from this summer's collective-bargaining negotiations with a hard salary cap, Commissioner David Stern said, it's possible the Heat wouldn't be able to keep all three superstars.

Chris Bosh and LeBron James signed $110.1 million contracts last summer while Wade signed for $107 million. The Heat likely wouldn't be able to fit all three under a hard cap.

"That's part of the negotiation," Stern said before Game 1. "This is very complex. If there's a will, we'll be able to work all those issues out."

The NBA, like the NFL, is headed to a lockout July 1 if players and owners cannot agree to a new CBA before the current one expires on June 30.

Stern said owners and players will conduct a "full-blown bargaining session" today in Miami.

"We told the players and the owners to bring their negotiating talents to South Beach," he joked.

Carlisle's ploy for Dallas?

One of the story lines of this series is whether Dallas coach Rick Carlisle can get the Heat scrambling through his use of unconventional defenses.

First, though, Carlisle got the media scrambling.

Before Game 1, Carlisle was asked about Heat forward Udonis Haslem.

"We know we're going to see a lot of him in the series. There's a very good chance he could even start in Game 1," Carlisle said.

Haslem said, "That would be something new if it happens."

It didn't. Erik Spoelstra stuck with Joel Anthony at center, with Haslem - who only recently recovered from a foot injury - remaining a reserve.

Spoelstra did say that there were no limitations on Haslem's court time.

Cuban in the house

Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who took a seat behind the Dallas bench, wore his trademark jeans and Mavs T-shirt.

This shirt appeared to have been through a season, or 10, prompting the question of whether it was Cuban's lucky shirt.

"They're all lucky," he said.

A 92-84 loss isn't going to define the Mavericks or this series on the whole. Which is not to say the Mavs are going to win the NBA Finals, but they're surely going to show more than they did in Game 1 on Tuesday.

They never elevated, and the Heat were happy to let them feel hopeful and content for more than three quarters. But a ho-hum, neither-here-nor-there showing isn't true to Dallas' character. "We have to force the game," said Mavs forward Shawn Marion, and he sounded as if he was making a promise for Game 2 Thursday. "Go out there and play ball. We were calling so many sets, it just kind of took the rhythm out of everything we normally do. When we're out there freelancing and playing the game and making it up as we go, we're one of the best to do it."

How many times can we talk about how far the Heat have come, how they've cultivated their senses of teamwork and rhythm in order to raise an important victory like this one from the basement of a 28.6 percent first quarter all the way up to the penthouse of LeBron James (24 points, nine rebounds, five assists) and Dwyane Wade (22 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks) pulling away in the fourth? Forgive me if you've heard this one before, but they never could have done anything like this in November, January, March or even early last month.

"It just takes time for players to feel comfortable with each other and a new offensive system and playing with new guys and being in this situation over and over and over," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "We had quite a few close games in the regular season where we failed. The more times you're in it, the more confident you get."

This was a victory of patience and understanding. The Heat went to Chris Bosh (19 points and nine rebounds overall) in the first quarter and then to Mario Chalmers (12 points on eight shots off the bench) in the second. The Mavs may have been able to convince themselves that everything was going to plan, that they weren't letting James and Wade destroy them.

The anticipated matchup of James on Nowitzki went unconsummated -- James nfl cheap jerseys spent more time guarding Jason Terry in the fourth -- because the Heat didn't need to go there. Nowitzki, set back in the fourth quarter by a torn tendon in the middle finger of his left hand, had a relatively blasé 27 points (7-of-18 from the field), if such a thing is possible. In the meantime, LeBron was happy to spend the first three quarters doing his own impersonation of Nowitzki while hitting all four of his threes. He's making those shots the way a red-shirted Tiger Woods used to drill putts on Sunday. Toward the end of the third, LeBron brought the ball up to the edge of the line for one of those quick-hitting threes, and then moments later, appearing to have botched a quarter-ending possession, he moved to his right a full stride behind the arc for a fall away three over Marion that gave Miami a 65-61 lead.

LeBron and the Heat don't feel the need to force much of anything anymore. "They were doing a good job of corralling him on pick and rolls and also protecting the paint when we did attack," said Spoelstra. "He was reading the game, getting off the ball when he needed to. We had some good ball movement possessions there in the fourth."

The Mavs will be disappointed that the story of this game was how Wade and James played off one another to combine for 29 points (11 of 17 together) in the second half, as if they'd once and for all committed to memory the team manual handed out at training camp eight months ago. Wade had been a disappointing 3 for 10 with three turnovers in the opening half -- a continuation of his struggles overall in the previous round against Chicago. But when Dallas scored seven points to open the third quarter and take a 51-43 lead, the Heat went to Wade for a pair of layups that made everything feel simple and straightforward for him again.

The Mavs were within 75-70 in the final four minutes when Wade finished them off. He sauntered to the top of the key for a jumper over Jason Kidd (77-70), then hit a rolling Bosh with a bounce pass off the dribble that led to a pair of free throws (79-73). At the other end, Marion (16 points and 10 rebounds) was picking up a loose ball in the lane and turning around for a 12-footer only to see Wade hovering above him to block the shot. The ensuing possession was converted by Wade into a three-pointer that made it 82-73.