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21 posts from January 2006

Monday, January 30, 2006

Finals bound?

It's just a coincidence, but it's an interesting one.
The regular seasons of the this year's Heat and last year's PIstons have played out eerily similar so far. Through 21 games (which is when Van Gundy resigned), both teams were 11-10.
Through 45 games, which is where the Heat is right now, both teams were 27-18.
Now, the Pistons were in the middle of winning 13 of 14 games at that time, and by March 1, the Pistons were 36-19 and looking good once again. And we all know where the PIstons ended the season, in the Finals.

That's what the Heat seems has yet to make, that one defining run that gives the team confidence and includes a couple big wins against good teams.
They did it twice last year with two separate double-figure winning streaks.
They currently have an opportunity to do just that. It depends on how fast they get Jason Williams back, and if his finger injury bothers his shooting, but Shaq is starting to look very good, and the schedule is friendly in February.

The Heat has only one set of back-to-backs in February (a home-and-home against Orlando on Feb. 14-15). The team has a big game at Dallas on Feb. 9, but has two days off to get ready for it. The very next game is big, too, at home against Detroit. But again, the team has two days off to prepare for it.
And with a team as old and injury-prone as this one, that always helps.

I'm not predicting a Finals berth for the Heat, because the Pistons are sick right now. I just think the Heat still has a run in them this regular season that will make you say, "Hmm, maybe they can give the Pistons a run."
We'll see.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


If the Heat didn't realize it last year, the first game against the Suns this season should have gotten the message across again: To beat the Suns, you have to think offense first.
It goes against everything the Pat Riley has been trying to teach his guys lately, but there's just no way for the Heat to keep the Suns from putting up numbers, especially because of the unorthodox lineups the Suns put out there against the very traditional Heat lineup.

Last year when the Heat beat the Suns at home, the team scored 125 points and won by just 10. And this year, in the Suns' 11 regulation losses, the winning team is averaging 106.2 points, including 111 points given up to the Magic, who average less than 93 a game.

I think Jason Williams is going to be pretty crucial, not necessarily in how he defends Steve Nash, but how he scores against the Suns defense. WIlliams and Dwyane Wade missed the first game against the Suns, so the Heat had to try to force it to Shaq, which the Suns just wouldn't allow. Now Williams and Wade should make the Suns pay for doubling Shaq.

J-Will has done well against the lesser defensive teams in the league. In games he has played against five of the 10 worst defensive teams in the league, Williams has averaged 19.8 points a game, which is significantly better than his 14.5 season average. Phoenix gives up more than 100 a game, putting them in the bottom 10 of the league in points allowed. It might be a little misleading because they only allow opponents to shoot 44 percent from the field, but the point is you have to outscore them, and Williams should be able to put up numbers against Phoenix.

Udonis Haslem is going to be left open a lot, so his pride will be tested, too.

And, finally, a weird stat: Wade's points, blocks, assists, rebounds, shooting percentage and free throw percentage are better in road games than at home. That probably means he concentrates a little more on the road and takes on more responsibility in adverse situations. He also averages 28.7 points in losses compared to 25.5 in wins this season.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Best Scorer Ever?

What Kobe Bryant did in scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors has to be the single most impressive scoring accomplishment in NBA history.
Wilt Chamberlain's 100? It's obviously a bigger number, but all of Wilt's big performances (he had so many of them) were more about having a signficant physical advantage over his opponents (at least that's what all my 70-year-old friends tell me).
David Thompson and David Robinson both had 70-plus, but they were both on the last day of the season as they chased a scoring title, and scoring that many points was their only goal in those games. Teammates were also looking to set them up every time down the floor.
Elgin Baylor's 71 points must have been pretty impressive. It came with 25 rebounds, too, in a November game. But he had Jerry West on his side, so he certainly wasn't a one-man operation.

Kobe clearly has to carry his team on his own, and every opponent knows it. So not only can he score, but he can score despite the full attention of every defender.

In this game, Kobe had to bring his team back from 18 points down. And he had a slow first quarter. He scored 55 points in the second half alone. He did it in 42 minutes. At the rate he was scoring, he could have gotten to 100 if he played the whole game. Kobe's teammates were 14 of 42 (33 percent) from the field, giving the Raptors all the more reason to help on Kobe.

I just saw highlights, but he hit seven three-pointers, and it looked like a lot more of his points came on jumpers. Can anybody else have done that in the game today? Tracy McGrady maybe, but he doesn't attack enough, and if he gets hot with his jumper and you take that away from him, he won't get to the rim enough to pile up the points. He'll probably just pass the ball.
Allen Iverson? I don't think so, only because he's too small to shoot over many people, and he doesn't have that pull-up three in his game. At least not with a hand in his face like Kobe and T-Mac hit all the time.
Shaq? Maybe 10 years ago, but probably not even then.
LeBron? Maybe five years from now, but only if his jumper gets as consistent as Kobe's.
The only other two I would even put into the conversation are Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter. But Dirk doesn't have a good enough handle to create for himself, and Vince doesn't have enough toughness to do it when everyone's trying to stop him.
Michael Jordan probably could have put together a game like this, but he was once a one-man team, and he didn't ever score 70. So maybe he couldn't have.

Kobe's scoring exploits of late have been ridiculous, averaging better than 45 since Jan. 1. The way things are going, he's going to probably finish the season averaging close to, or better than, Jordan's 37.1 in 1986-87. If he wanted to prove he's as good or better than Jordan, he's doing a pretty good job of that this year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

J-Will's Time

Jason Williams picked a bad time to have his second-worst game of the year.  We haven't seen anything like his  2 of 10 against the Lakers since the second game of the season against the Pacers, when he was 1 of 8 and played just 27 minutes.

But given his recent strong play, let's call that Lakers game a hiccup and look at what's coming up for him. This next homestand includes four big games for the point guard.

First he's got Tony Parker and the Spurs. No one has been able to keep Parker in front of them all season, so it's up to the Heat team defense to help out Jason (make Parker shoot a jumper, please). And on the other end, he's got to make Tony work, and he can't be afraid to drive and draw Tim Duncan away from his man.

Then he's got Mike Bibby, who can fill it up, in a game against his first team, the Kings. The last time Jason played against Sacramento, he was inspired, scoring 20 with eight assists.

After that, it's another emotional game against his last team, the Grizzlies, and his former Kings backup, Bobby Jackson. Nobody's going to want to win this game more than Williams. Jason beating Mike Fratello means as much to him as Shaq beating Kobe.

And, finally, it's MVP Steve Nash and the Suns, who just beat the crap out of the Heat 11 days ago. Jason didn't play in Phoenix, but he should be able to get past Nash at will. And given how much attention the Suns pay to Shaq, others will need to create some offense.

Let's see how J-Will responds -- assuming his knee lets him play all four games.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Everybody saw the Kobe-Shaq embrace. Here's some stuff I saw.

I think the Heat players got a little caught up with the energy in the arena and, in the first half, didn't play the way they had been the last four games. The defense was OK, but the offense was rushed. Even some of the shots that James Posey and Jason Williams missed didn't look like their normal shots.

Denzel Washington was chatting it up with L.A. writers during the game, and he was angry about the Indianapolis Colts' approach to the second half against the Steelers. He wanted Edgerrin James to touch the ball some more, and he called Peyton Manning the best "regular season" quarterback in the league. Ouch, man.

I honestly think Dwyane may have had a breakthrough in this game. Here's what I mean by that.
Dwyane has had his decent games against the Lakers, but I honestly feel that, even though Dwyane would never admit it, he felt like Kobe could defend him well -- to the point where Kobe could take him out of his game.
But in the second half of this game, even in the fourth quarter when Dwyane was playing on a bad foot/ankle, he took Kobe, no screens, no nothing, a few times, and did to Kobe what he does to every other defender in the league. I've watched all four Heat-Lakers games closely (I watch all games closely), and that's the first time I've seen him do that consistently against Kobe. Now, it's too bad it came in a loss, but I think it only opened Dwyane's eyes to the fact that, at this point in his career, no one can guard him one-on-one. And because of that, assuming he doesn't have to miss any games with this latest injury, I think Dwyane's gonna put together some great games coming up.

I said a few entries back that I thought Antoine would put together a good string of games. He made it to four straight, then he fell back to playing rushed, forced basketball against the Lakers. But just like the Heat, you have to figure it a three-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of thing, and games like Monday's will become more of a rarity for Antoine than a common sight.

Referee Joey Crawford was OUT OF CONTROL in this game. He was calling techs for no reason, looking for fouls to call on certain plays, getting people kicked out. It's funny how refs have their moments during these big-time games. I guess they have to get their airtime, too.

The play that Andrew Bynum spun and dunked on Shaq, that would have been called a hook offensive foul (Bynum used the old chicken wing with his left elbow as he spun) had Shaq been in better position defensively. Shaq was kind of falling forward for some reason, so it didn't matter what Bynum did when he spun. I doubt it, but don't be too shocked if Shaq gets some sort of fine, or even a suspension, for the forearm he gave Bynum.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Wade's Weakness?

Just saw a comment asking about Dwyane Wade's three-point shooting and what he's doing to improve it.
Well, no, he's not a three-point shooter. But, really, for a guy whose strength is attacking, three-point shooting should be the last aspect of his game to develop. The reason is, the three-point shot tends to become a crutch that guys rely on too much. How many times have you watched Tracy McGrady or Gilbert Arenas play and say, "Why settle for that three? Take it to the hole!"

Look at the way Michael Jordan did it. He went to this strength over and over and over again until later in his career. Then he needed an outside shot and developed that.

Dwyane, as good as he looks now, is still improving his current style of play. His scoring is up, his turnovers are down from last year. Steals, assists, rebounds, FT percentage and shooting percentage, all up. So until he really needs to add that three-pointer, there's nothing saying he needs to add that consistent three-pointer.

How many times this year can you remember Dwyane getting caught with the ball on the perimeter and you saying to yourself, "Man, he needs to shoot that three." I can't remember one, because he always has a higher percentage option, and that's either a drive to the hole or a pull-up mid-range shot.

Another writer and I joke regularly about the subject of Wade's threes, because Dr. Jack Ramsay wrote a column earlier this year pointing to Dwyane's three-point shooting percentage as a reason to criticize him... "even phenom Dwyane Wade, while averaging 27.3 ppg, is shooting a miserable 7.7 percent from 3-point land," the ESPN column read.
That's like questioning Dan Marino's greatness by saying he averaged 0.3 rushing yards per attempt in his career. It's just not a part of his game right now.
Plus, if you've seen Heat games, you know that most of Dwyane's 35 three-point attempts this year have been desperate heaves as a clock is expiring.

I'm sure Dwyane is still shooting threes on his own and trying to improve that aspect of his game. And, yes, he actually can shoot from that distance. But it won't be something he turns to until he feels he needs it. And right now, at age 23 (he turns 24 on Tuesday), he doesn't need it. Right now, one-on-one defense is probably a greater concern.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


I can't take credit for that clever spelling of brick. A fan at one of these recent games -- it might have been Oklahoma City but I'm at the point where this whole trip is starting to blend -- held it up as Shaq was shooting free throws.

The Big Fella missed his first seven shots Saturday against the Jazz, looking pretty bad on a couple because Greg Ostertag blocked him (actually, I think the rim blocked Shaq the second time, but Ostertag got the credit). This only increases folks' concerns that Shaq's abilities have fallen significantly, even since the end of last season.

I'm still not buying it. If he gets these same bunny hooks and one-on-one matchups two months from now and is throwing up briqs and getting blocked by Fred Flinstone, then I'll have no choice but to agree. But I think Shaq's ankle, opposing defenses and the liberties defenders are given when defending him are all factoring into his falling production -- not to mention the fact that the Heat doesn't need him as much because the team is good in so many other places.

Shaq's numbers aren't what people should be looking at with this team, at least not in the sense that his production is problematic. If anything, the fact that Shaq can look bad for a minute and the Heat can look good despite it should be an encouraging sign for Heat fans. This is why Riley put this team together, and it's starting to make sense.

Posey's on fire, Antoine is fitting in, Dwyane is being Dwyane, Gary Payton is such a savvy veteran, Jason Williams is a great complement to Dwyane and Zo is putting a road block in front of the rim. Shaq doesn't need to put up 25 and 12 when all those other things are going on.
Shaq is, after all, The Big Pacesetter. He'll pick it up when he needs to... if he even has to.

The Eyes Don't Have It

Apparently NBA rules regarding replay don’t factor in common sense. At the end of the first half against the Heat, Matt Harpring put up a shot just before time ran out. But as the shot was rattling in the rim, Andrei Kirilenko clearly tapped the ball, which should have been called offensive goaltending and disallowed the basket.

None of the referees saw the violation, but the play went to replay anyway, as all buzzer-beating shots do in the NBA.

The referees went to the replay, but ruled the basket good anyway because Harpring got the shot off before the buzzer.

Now, the referees saw the offensive goaltending violation on the replay, but their interpretation of the NBA rule is that you cannot review whether or not a player committed an originally unnoticed violation, only whether or not the final shot was released before the clock expired.

That’s all well and good, but here’s where I have a problem with this ruling. If the officials see Kirilenko hit the ball, regardless of where the ball is at the time, doesn’t his contact with the ball become the final shot attempt? And because the replay showed that the attempt clearly came after the buzzer, shouldn’t the basket be waved off? What if it wasn't a goaltending violation, just a legal tip-in that went unnoticed by the referees? Would that have been considered the final shot attempt? I think so.

It might be something the league should look into. I asked lead referee Jimmy Clark about it just before the start of the third quarter, and he said, “All we can review is whether the shot was released before the buzzer.”

And I asked, “Shouldn’t the Kirilenko tip be considered the final shot, though?” He gave a look like, “That’s something to think about,” but shrugged it off and walked away.

It’s not Jimmy’s fault they got the call wrong. The rule is the problem, and it should be altered.

On an aside, and this has nothing to do with the Heat – unless you consider that the Heat has two former Gators that follow the basketball team closely in Jason Williams and Udonis Haslem – but are the Gators the least known No. 2 team in recent NCAA history? I just watched a Sportscenter highlight where the anchor badly mispronounced the names of Taurean Green and Joakim Noah and then called UF’s reserve center Chris Richards. There’s no ‘s’ at the end of his name. Yet everyone on TV knows how to pronounce the name of Duke’s Lee Melchionni.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Kobe Kriticisms

OK, it has been 13 days since I wrote my Sunday column on Kobe Bryant, in which I questioned his ability as a leader and said Lamar Odom has failed to thrive in large part because of Bryant, and I'm still getting nasty e-mails from people who, obviously, disagree.
I'll say this much, Kobe supporters can be as cruel as they are loyal (I can take it, though).

I'd like to take this opportunity to point out a few things. First, none of my views on Kobe are skewed by the fact that I now cover Shaquille O'Neal. I know Shaq has an extremely slanted view on Kobe, and it's impossible to come up with an objective opinion of Kobe while listening to Shaq. Second, I don't hate Kobe. I think he's not as fully respected as he should be because he has spent too much time trying to be someone he's not. If he didn't spend so much time trying to be Michael Jordan earlier in his career, no one would think this of him. Third, there are plenty of people that fully agree with my assessment of Kobe in that column, and not just his opposition.

Here's what I think people want to see from Kobe: Just be yourself. The last few games he has played since the suspension, he has actually done that. No transparent attempts at being everyone's best friend. No tough-guy acts. And even though he's taking as many shots as he has of late, that's fine, too. Defenses obviously haven't done enough to make him pass the ball, and Kobe has responded by taking the Allen Iverson approach: I'll score because that's what my team needs. And for the most part he has been efficient with it (maybe not the 2 of 12 start against the Clippers).
As for Lamar Odom, he'll have to learn to be more aggressive in the triangle, just like Kobe is. I still think Kobe could have done a better job of building up Lamar to this point in the season, but by now it might be too late to establish anyone, and Kobe might just have to continue to play this style for the rest of the season.

If Kobe wins MVP this year, leads his team to the Western Conference Finals and shrugs off that whole reputation as a me-first guy, then great. It would be a complete waste of such a gifted player if he doesn't do something to that effect, and I can think of only one person who wouldn't want to see that (hint: he's tall).

Now I gotta put on my bullet-proof vest and check my email again.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Good-Guy Tussle

Got back to the hotel in time to watch highlights of Keyon Dooling and Ray Allen in an all-out brawl in Seattle.
That was one of the strangest things I've seen, only because Keyon and Ray are two of the genuinely nicest guys in the NBA. I always make it a point to talk to Ray whenever the Heat plays his team, and he's always great. And Keyon last season was one of the nicest guys I've ever covered.
So there must have been some nasty physical contact going on between those two for them to get into it that furiously. I don't know of a history between the two, either.
And not only was the on-court fight strange, but Keyon tried to get to the Sonics locker room to go after Ray again. That just floored me. And this was Keyon's first game since Nov. 25 because of a foot injury.
I guess it just goes to show that when competitive juices start flowing, it can get the best of anyone.
Doesn't have anything to do with the Heat (other than the Keyon connection), but I just thought it was worth a mention.



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