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15 posts from November 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Big game preview

Since I won't be able to watch the new Celtics in Miami for the first time tonight (will be at Traz Powell watching the juggernaut Northwestern Bulls in a playoff game), wanted to see if there were any thoughts on the Heat's chances tonight against Mean Green.

I think the new lineup is great and all, but I have a feeling Penny will really struggle containing Paul Pierce. My guess is he gets in foul trouble early and it'll mean even more minutes for Ricky Davis, which isn't a bad thing.
Udonis will probably have more liberties with KG at home and keep him below the 26 he scored up in Boston earlier this month.
Shaq is also playing a lot better, obviously, so I would look for him to get Kendrick Perkins in foul trouble, which would leave the Celts with Scot Pollard as their only other option in the middle. That would be another hack-fest against Shaq, so if he's hitting his free throws at a decent clip, he could have a nice game.
Other than that, I would say the biggest challenge is Dwyane containing Ray Allen while still having enough energy to put up about 25 and 7 dimes. To me, that would be enough to create another close game, with the Heat having a good chance to win at home, especially with the Celts on the second night of a back-to-back (although, you can't really called that a game last night against the Knicks. It was more like a quarter-and-a-half of basketball).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bench craze

Well, that came out of nowhere.

Pat Riley benches Jason Williams in favor of Chris Quinn (who at this time of year should always go by "Santa's Little Helper"), and keeps Smush (who at this time of year should always go by "future Sacramento King") on the inactive roster.
Riles doesn't stop there either, starting Penny Hardaway instead of Ricky Davis.
Now, I could've seen the Davis-Hardaway move happening. After all, when you want to get Shaq the ball early in games, it helps to have two guys who are used to getting it to him. Plus, it adds some scoring balance when you bring Ricky off the bench because he'll be in the game the entire time Dwyane is on the bench. Not to mention it makes life easier on Ricky when he knows he's in there for scoring and not just waiting around for Dwyane or Shaq to do something and working off them.

But the Williams-Quinn move I was kind of shocked by -- especially because it came at the same time as the Ricky move. In that starting lineup of Shaq, UD, Dwyane, Quinn and Penny, you're almost asking teams to send two or three guys at Shaq and Dwyane and not worry about the consequences. It's also surprising because Riles talked about needing more production from the PG spot, and Jason can't exactly score while sitting on the bench (he'd be out of bounds).
Now, it worked this time, with Quinn only needing to take two shots for the game, and Jason playing long stretches in each half that let him get into a rhythm and run the floor, etc. But I just can't see it working long-term. I would think you'd need another threat in Jason if teams come out aggressively against Shaq and Dwyane. That's not to say Chris can't do that, but Jason obviously has more experience as a scorer in this league.

The obvious conspiracy theory here (and there will be one for every move Pat makes until the trade deadline passes) is that he may be looking to trade Jason (seriously, this time). But as I've said all along, there's no way Riley would potentially sacrifice a win right now for a move he plans to make down the road. Each win is too precious to a team that started 3-10 and has sights set on big things. So this was just a move he felt would help the team right now.

The other surprising element on the roster front was Dorell Wright sitting on the bench wearing a suit. He has gone from starter to bench player to no time at all to not even in uniform. At this point, he probably is begging to get sent elsewhere, because it's clear he has no future here.

And finally, the daily praise of Daequan Cook. Man, that kid is shocking the heck out of me. He had such a bad pre-draft camp in Orlando that I thought he was going to be a bust. But he can shoot. And as long as he's not trying to do too much (even though he did hit a few tough shots on Tuesday), then he can be a regular in this rotation any time and be productive. I mean, 19 points in 21 minutes against the 'Cats is pretty darn good.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The formula

So many things about Friday's game were similar to how the Heat won games two seasons ago when all the components were healthy.
First, Dwyane played 42 minutes, took 24 shots and 13 free throws. Not a great shooting night, but the jumper looked good, which will be crucial for him going forward.
Then there's Shaq, who looked as good as he has all season (he always seems to get up for Yao). Scoring 26 points on 12 shot attempts is huge, but add 14 rebounds, 12 free throws, three blocks and no foul trouble, and it's pretty much the perfect game for Shaq.
Ricky Davis did his best James Posey impersonation (minus the charges taken) by guarding McGrady and doing an admirable job. And he didn't feel like he needed to jack up a bunch of shots as a reward (4 of 9 for the night).
Then there were the turnover distributions. Dwyane had five and Shaq had six, which sounds like a lot for two guys. But the rest of the team had just two turnovers, which make the mistakes of Shaq and Dwyane permissible.
Would still like to see Jason Williams try to get in the paint more often, but six points, five assists, four rebounds and no turnovers in 45 minutes is close to ideal. Mostly because it was a lot of minutes and not very fatiguing.
That gets me to the rotation, which Riley has struggled with. He kept Smush out of the game, which is great. And he used Mark Blount both at power forward and center, which he really hasn't done regularly. I think it makes sense because, if the inside game of Shaq and/or Zo is getting stifled, then Blount can open up the pick-and-roll game as the center and unclog the paint.
Still no Daequan, but that's more acceptable when you've got J-Will and Dwyane playing heavier minutes.
I wouldn't expect these guys to do too much in practice if they have to continually play these kinds of minutes, but surely Riles will trade relaxed practices for more wins.
Bring on the Magical Van Gundys! (No, seriously, don't. That team is really good).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oh, my eyes!

Went to a Heat-Hawks game Wednesday night and THE WORST GAME I'VE EVER SEEN broke out.
The retinas still burn. If there were two hours I could have back in my life, I'd take those two.

Just a few observations because I'd like to forget that game as soon as humanly possible.

1. I ABSOLUTELY get what Shaq is saying. He has a good 2 1/2 quarters, then never touches the ball again unless he gets an offensive rebound. Don't know if that's the play calling (that would be my guess) or just the guards not looking for him, but if they find Shaq in that game at any point in the fourth quarter, it's a Heat win. Then he gets pulled in the final 1:49 for defense, when he was playing some of the best defense he has played all year (SEVEN BLOCKS).

2. What in the world is up with Jason Williams? He plays only 26 minutes while Penny (no offense to him, of course, because he played well for some stretches) plays 38 minutes!?!?!?!?! I know Jason was 0 of 4 from the field, but he had four assists, zero turnovers and runs the offense sooooooooooo much better than Smu...(it's hard to even type the rest. Let's just call him No. 21).
The only thing that comes to mind as a reason is Riley is saving Jason's legs because he's trying to trade him. Andre Miller's name has come up, which I think would be a bad idea because Miller doesn't exactly stretch the floor with his shooting. Plus, what exactly has Jason done wrong? When Dwyane was out, he was the team's best player. Mind-boggling, really.

3. With 51 seconds left in third quarter, No. 21 enters game, the Heat is leading 66-56. With 6:03 left in the game, Smush exits a 71-71 tie. Any geniuses want to figure that one out?

4. Daequan Cook, anyone?

I would say Happy Thanksgiving, but I'm guessing anyone who watched that game has already decided not to eat Thanksgiving dinner, for fear memories of the game will simply make them vomit. Me, I'm taking a forget-me-now (Arrested Development reference) and hoping the food stays down.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Change of heart

After spending the day in practice and talking to Riley and Shaq, I no longer think this is one of those instances where Shaq is lashing out at authority.
Not that he hasn't done in the past, it's just that this time he sounded like a player who recognizes it's just as much about himself playing better as it is about anyone else.
Now, for Shaq to play better, that requires him to get the ball more often, and he still makes that perfectly clear. He is satisfied with Dwyane and Penny getting him the ball, but he wants guys like Ricky and Smush or Daequan (basically, any of the guys he never played with) to recognize that he's still a strong option, even if his numbers might not show as much so far this season.
As for Riles, he insists he was not targeting Shaq in any of his criticism. And his quick hook of Shaq was not meant to make a specific example out of Shaq. He would've done it with anyone who wasn't playing the specific defense he asked his guys to play before the game.
Dwyane also denied any of that stuff in the Chicago Tribune that claimed he was unhappy with the direction of the team, etc. He says he did want his guys to play harder because he didn't want the franchise to go back in the direction it was headed before he got here. But that was just a matter of a quick pep talk and leading by example. It was nothing as serious as the Chi-town paper made it sound.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Things hitting fan? (updated)

So Pat Riley and Shaq are finally getting to that point in their relationship. What point is that? Well, the point that Shaq always reaches with his coaches. He tends to have only limited respect for authority figures (at least coaches, anyway), and once there's a line that's crossed, he tends to go his own way.
And that's exactly what he said after the Nets game, during which he got pulled in the opening minutes for struggling defensively, that he's going to do things his own way now, no matter who likes it.
Well, I'm not certain what that means, given that Shaq's way has appeared to be closest to "average" than it has at any point in his career. I'm wondering if there is another gear he has been holding back on, or if it's just a defensive strategy he plans on employing (taking on a defensive strategy might be a good start), or if he's going to start giving in to his aches and pains and actually ask out of games, if only to get across just how important he is to the team.
Whatever happens, you can bet there will be gestures or loud remarks after monster dunks, which is kind of what he used to do when he was unhappy in Los Angeles.
Personally, I think it'll die down because Riles won't let it get very far. But it will be fun to see if there is anything that plays out here in the immediate future.
According to a Chicago Tribune story, Ricky Davis has been heard (or maybe just seen) calling off Riley's plays at times and saying he's not going to run that stuff. I have a hard time believing that, if only because Ricky has been here all of one month and is in no position to be taking over offensive sets. Never mind that he just doesn't seem like that kind of person anymore, but who would listen to him? Jason Williams? Shaq? Zo? UD? None of those guys would really let Ricky wander off into this rebellious mode so soon.
As for Dwyane, it's amazing how much he has been able to do this early in his return. I think, though, that he'll eventually work guys in even more often. I mean, you saw plenty of stretches against the Sonics and Celtics where he was strictly looking for other guys, rather than trying to make the play himself. Once everyone else gets comfortable around him, and vice versa, it should be more of the same chemistry he found with Posey and Kapono, etc. I think Cook, Ricky and even Mark Blount will find that Dwyane will enhance their games, eventually.
So things aren't that bad. It may be time to reassess a projected win total (I'm looking at 46, 47 at this points, which could easily still translate into a No. 4 or 5 seed).
And if it does get worse, it'll never get as bad as it is with the Knicks. This from a New York Magazine story on Stephon Marbury:

“If I didn’t play the way how I played, I wouldn’t have gotten no max contract,” Marbury said. “They can talk about whatever they wanna talk about me, because I got maxed. I’m a max player. Don’t get mad at me, because I’m telling you what’s real. One plus one is two, all day long, and it’s never gonna change. And that’s factorial.”

We talked about the Bible. “I’m in Genesis,” he said. “I’m reading from the front of the book. Genesis is hot.”

“I think he’s lost his mind,” says Jeffrey “Slice” Morton, an old friend who lived with Marbury during his rookie year in Minnesota until the two had a falling-out and who now speaks with him only intermittently. “He says he’s seen the light, but people that are saved don’t act the way he acts. I think he’s confused.”

You think???

(Interesting, detailed comment, Taheati, but I think you might have taken my point a little differently than I intended. I never said Shaq drives a coach out, or makes life impossible for him. He just has a limit for how much he'll allow someone to tell him what to do, even if it is his coach. It happened with Van Gundy, it'll happen with Pat, if it hasn't already, and I'm sure it happened with Phil because Phil allowed for his players to work out a lot of their own problems. I believe Shaq's mind set is, 'If you can't do what I do, how can you tell me what to do?' That's not to say he doesn't respect Pat, I just believe that things aren't working out for him, he'll try things his own way. The problem with that is, unlike in his Lakers days, Shaq really can't play by his own rules and still dominate. So in this case, Riles might have the upper hand.

Relax with all the "fairy tale journalism" stuff. This is a blog, and I'm telling it like I've seen it in my experience the last four seasons.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Poor choice

I'm sorry, but that decision by Dwyane on the game's last play Friday was just plain bad.
It's hard to be critical of a guy who is so good and means so much to this team and is playing so well after a 7-month layoff, but when you consider everything, Dwyane should've approached that differently.
First and foremost, the team was desperately in need of a win. At 1-7 at the time, and with such a fragile team, every game means a whole heckuva lot right now. So, as many chances as you can give your team a chance to win, you take them.
That means Dwyane shouldn't have taken all the time off the clock with the team trailing by one. Even if he was going to take a jumper (I think he bails out his defenders in spots like that because he doesn't take it to the rim often enough), he should've tried it with at least 8 seconds or so on the clock. Worst case scenario that way is you give up a defensive rebound, foul a Celtic and still have a shot to tie the game with a three.
A win in Boston, against an undefeated team, would've done wonders for the team, I think, in terms of confidence. Plus, there was no guarantee at the time that Dwyane would feel good enough to play against the Nets the next night, so that win would've been critical if they had to go into a game against NJ without him.
Again, it's hard to criticize the guy, but it's just not a smart play. And if someone like, say, Eddie Jones had done that a few years ago, people would be all over him for it.
That said, I think this team is pretty much back on track as long as Dwyane stays healthy.
Also, Daequan should be a regular in the rotation (did you see that and-one dunk? That was nice).
And, you have to give credit where credit is due: Smush played a pretty good first half against the Celtics.

(This from J.A. Adande's column on your friend and mine, Gary Payton, who I heard had one particularly confrontational moment with Pat Riley late last season...

...The topic of coaches seems as good a place as any to start off this GP career retrospective.

"If I had to rate 'em, George [Karl], Phil [Jackson] and then Doc [Rivers]," Payton said.

Noticeably absent: Pat Riley, his coach for two years in Miami, one of the all-time greats. Riley, after all, was the coach when Payton won his long-awaited championship with the Miami Heat in 2006.

"Well, ohhh-kay, that don't mean nothing," Payton said. "It just so happened we won a ring with him. He ain't my favorite. [It's] a lot of things. I really wouldn't want to go into it. I put the relationship before everything. As far as a relationship, George was the best. Doc was next."...)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Benching Shaq?

Seriously, did anyone think Riley would follow through and bench Shaq like he suggested after the loss to the Sonics?
There was no chance that was happening, because Shaq, in my opinion, would've just said he was hurt and asked out of the active lineup altogether.
But anyway, now that Riles says he won't bench Shaq, any recommendations on what should change, lineup-wise?
If Dwyane starts against the Celtics, it's assumed that Ricky Davis will start at the three. But would Dorell make a better sidekick as a starter? He does seem to play his best with Dwyane on the floor. And Ricky can be a scoring spark off the bench.
Or would it make more sense to start Davis and let Wade set him up, because Ricky tends to take a lot of first quarter shots anyway.
I don't think there's much Riley can do in terms of tweaking the lineup, really. What the team does need, though, is another long-distance shooter -- even if it's just a specialist Riles can bring off the bench. It would make any comeback attempt (like against Seattle) easier because it spreads the floor for Dwyane and it's more opportunities for three points instead of just two.
Don't think there are any realistic options available on the market, but I'm sure if Riles dug a bit he could find some options via minor trade. Maybe Dec. 15, when Smush is eligible to be traded, it'll be something he pursues.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wade's back tonight

One day after saying he should suit up and play, Pat Riley found a better option.
Wade's back, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
I think the one area where you'll see the biggest impact, as far as other players, is the speed of the game will pick up. Every possession won't be slowed down to make sure Shaq gets the ball, and it'll seem a lot more normal for some of the guys that haven't played with him, namely Ricky Davis.
There should just be a lot more possessions because of that, as well, which takes less pressure off guys to make shots. If you know every shot isn't the key one to get you out of a drought, then it's a lot more natural, comfortable a feeling.
Wade's coming off the bench tonight, but he should be starting after one or two games, at most. I'm guessing if he feels good after this game, he'll be starting Friday in Boston.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Heat beats Knicks, Dolphins

Yes, those of you who had the Heat in the "who will win first, Heat or Dolphins" pool, prepare to collect. The Heat played a game straight out of 1976 to beat the Knicks 75-72.
It temporarily takes away the sense of desperation to get Dwyane back, but it certainly wasn't pretty. This was the kind of game Pat Riley is used to coaching when he doesn't have a carry-the-offense player. I guess that means the defense can be pretty good when it needs to be. Unlike last year, when the offense goes flat, the defense isn't following suit. It has been the opposite, actually. The defense this year has, for the most part, managed to pick it up just when it's needed most.
Udonis Haslem has been huge in that respect (he had a big deflection on the Knicks' second-to-last possession that led to a J-Will steal), and he has had a few big games numbers-wise also. He had 16 points and 16 rebounds Sunday, coming off a 20-point, 13-rebound effort against the Suns. It's looking like Riley is slowly going away from Mark Blount at PF (he played five minutes against NY after not playing against the uptempo Suns). That just leaves UD with the minutes he badly wants to play, and it should result in plenty of games like this one.
Jason Williams was very good again, with 17 points, including the last four for Miami, with five assists and three steals.
Penny started again, and Dorell played just six minutes. To me, it looks like Riley is going to slow the game down when he can, therefore allowing his main guys to play heavy minutes without getting too fatigued. It's a sound strategy, but the offensive struggles are going to keep the Heat from beating anyone easily.
As for Dwyane, it now looks like Seattle at home on Wednesday makes the most sense. It's doubtful he would play in the first game of a back-to-back set, which would probably rule him out of Tuesday's game against the Bobcats. If the Heat can keep Jason Richardson under control, it's not hard to believe Miami can win Tuesday's game in Charlotte.



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