Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Category Archives: Southeast Division

Enigmatic Approaches to the Three-Point Shot featuring Dwyane Wade

As part of what’s become a completely random foray into the pre-season here at Dancing with Noah, today we’re exploring some strange comments by Miami Heat lifer, three-time NBA champion, and Li Ning-shoe lover, Dwyane Wade. On the Miami Herald’s Sports Buzz blog, writer Barry Jackson shares Wade’s recent comments:

“I’m not falling in love with the three but [will be] shooting it more than the last couple of years,” he said. “Coach hasn’t told me I could shoot threes the last couple years. So just him saying that is a different mindset.”

In Jackson’s own words, he specifies “corner threes,” which appears to be a league-wide trend and one need not stress too hard to imagine a future where the corner three is as fundamental as the Mikan Drill with pickup ballplayers racing to tight corners in droves while creative coaches strive to create defensive schemes leveraging corner traps.

Awkwardly enough, it was just over a week ago that ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh tweeted out:

As a player with dwindling athleticism due in no small part to a roughshod playing style that has seen him spend a good portion of his career picking himself up off the floor after countless fearless forays to the hoop (Wade’s averaged over eight free throws/game for his career – only three other players in league history who have been 6’4” or shorter have averaged as many FTAs), Wade no longer has the same lateral quickness or straight forward explosiveness that marked his first 500+ games. That he would choose to not work on his long ball is a questionable choice.

But contextually speaking, it could just be Wade was worn out from playing so many high stress minutes over the past four seasons. Maybe he saw LeBron leaving and decided to give himself a break this past summer.  For his career, Wade’s three-point shooting has oscillated somewhere between below average (31.7% in 2009) and very bad (17.1% in 2006) with no trends indicating improvement in either volume or rate. If he’s done any work on the long ball in the past, it hasn’t stuck. Whatever the case, his comments that Coach Erik Spoelstra may be open to more Wade threes appears to be a poor idea or unlikely misinformation.

If we drill deeper into Wade’s corner-three ability, we see a player who rarely finds himself in the corners. Corner three attempts make up 1.5% of the total shots he’s taken in his career and over the past three seasons it’s made up less than one percent of his shot volume. And that makes sense because he’s a career 28% from corner threes. To put that in context, no single team has shot below 30% from corner threes in any of the past three seasons. As players are gaining efficiency and shooting more threes (and corner threes), Wade’s shot less of them, but to his credit, has made a few more (10-26 from the corners – over 172 games!). This is a guy who shot less than one three per 100 possessions last season. For more perspective, the only other non-post players who shot threes as infrequently as Wade were Michael Kidd-Gilchrest and Shaun Livingston.

So Dwyane Wade didn’t work on threes this off-season, he’s struggled without the shot for the duration of his career, Miami lost the great LeBron James, Wade’s no longer the same attack threat so it’s less likely he’ll have a big cushion (unless he keeps missing), and yet he may shoot more threes? Welcome to life after LeBron, a place where all options are on the table.

The Courts are Alive (Playoff Edition)

What a night. What a fucking night for the NBA, for the game of basketball, for Nate Robinson, Steph Curry and Manu Ginobili. What a night for Twitter and the screaming woman at the Spurs game. What didn’t happen? Game ones of the second round: Bulls @ Heat in the early game and Warriors @ Spurs in the later game.

The Heat were 11.5-point favorites and for good reason. Coming into tonight, Miami was 39-4 at home (counting playoffs) and was mostly healthy with the exception of Dwyane Wade’s nagging knee injury. We all know about the Bulls: Kirk Hinrich’s out with a calf injury, Luol Deng’s dealing with fallout from a spinal tap gone wrong and we’re all depleted from the media throwing Derrick Rose on repeat and forcing us to listen over and over. So the Bulls rolled out Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. They did everything. Every damn thing you could ask for from a group of rejects (Robinson and Belinelli), outcasts (Noah), overlooked (Butler) and scorned (Boozer) players.

Down the stretch of this game, with Noah compulsively hustling and diving, scowling at opponents and teammates alike with long tendrils of hair stuck to his sweaty face, the Bulls stared up at a slight fourth quarter deficit of four points; but if felt like a Miami’s game all the way. How many times this season have we seen the Heat cruise through three quarters against lesser-talented teams only to turn up the intensity late in the game and walk away with easy victories. And when Jimmy Butler, all 6’7” and 220lbs of chiseled Jimmy Butler, attempted to wrap up LeBron on a fast break, but was overpowered by Bron’s lefty layup, I was impressed and relaxed, thinking Miami was just closing out another victory against another helpless victim. But I was oh-so-fortunately wrong and had no idea what was about to happen. The Bulls hit three threes (two by Belinelli and one by Butler) in the final five minutes, they shot 9-10 from the line and they frustrated the defending champions into missing all five of their shots in the final 97-seconds of the game. Somehow, the Bulls went down to the hardly hostile American Airlines Arena and beat the Heat 93-86 including a 35-24 fourth quarter.

For all that happened (Nate Robinson) and didn’t happen (Miami scoring points—they had their lowest point total since an 86-67 victory over these same Bulls on 2/21), what stood out most to me was Dwyane Wade’s irrationally selfish decision, coming out of a timeout, to chuck up a contested three at the 1:07 mark of the 4th quarter with his team down two points. On so many levels this was a bad shot. Many of us have become accustomed to the “hero ball” or “toilet bowl” offense where we get Paul Pierce or Kobe or Melo pounding the air out of the ball followed by a contested three. We all know it’s a bad shot, but there’s a level of latitude for the players I just mentioned. And Wade’s earned plenty of latitude in his career as well, but not enough to pull the shit he pulled on Monday night. Miami couldn’t have possibly drawn up the Wade-from-the-top-of-the-key special, could they have? Let’s look at some Dwyane Wade stats:

  • Dwyane Wade shot 25.8% from three this season
  • He was 2-18 from three over his previous 33 games
  • Wade was one of the least accurate three-point shooters in the league; finishing just a few percentage points better than only three other players (Lamar Odom, Reggie Jackson and Kevin Love) who made at least 17-threes this season

 

No Threes Allowed

No Threes Allowed

I’m elated for the Bulls. It feels good and I don’t want to take away from their resilient victory, but I can’t get over Wade’s three; just a baffling, baffling shot.

It took a while to get over that first game. There was a sense of low-level adrenaline running through my body after the Bulls withstood the Heat’s meager comeback attempts. But during the NBA playoffs, there’s no time for dwelling on the past. I opened my celebratory beers and was pleasantly surprised seeing the Warriors confident and comfortable on the Spurs home court. Up four at the half in the AT&T Center? Well yes, yes of course.

All hell broke loose in the third though. Steph Curry started raining fire from the skies like a light-skinned basketball-playing Zeus firing bolts into the round cylinder. The Spurs crowd cringed with every blow, flinched at every shot release. At one point, the camera showed Gregg Popovich standing still, his eyes closed, his head hung down, but far from out. He looked like he was attempting to visualize the solution to this problem and for a split second I imagined Popovich taking the law into his hands Tanya Harding style and whacking Curry’s knee with a baton of sorts. We both snapped out of it though and after a patented succession of Warriors mistakes to end the third quarter, the dust had settled and Curry’s third looked like this:

  • Minutes: 11 minutes, 56 seconds
  • FG/FGA: 9/12
  • 3p/3pa: 4/6
  • Assists: 3
  • Turnovers: 0
  • Points: 22

Golden State 92, San Antonio 80 (end of third)

There was a sense, I think, in many of us who had been here before, who had sat through the Warriors’ near collapse on Thursday night in game six against the Nuggets, that trouble loomed ahead, that all the Curry-fueled momentum in the world wasn’t going to make this any easier. And it wasn’t. The Spurs used every ounce of savvy and veteran poise and whatever other cliché you want to dress them up with to outscore the Warriors 26-14 in the fourth quarter.

The Curry third quarter, the Spurs comeback; it all evolved or devolved into some kind of brilliant basketball game that etched itself deeper into our minds and stomachs, intertwining itself within the gray matter of our brains and the slimy coils of our intestines. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore, Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry, Jarrett Jack … a professionally-trained youth movement apparently oblivious to the fear that rides shotgun on their road to fate. On the opposite side, it was the familiar faces that have stalked the league so patiently with their secretive wisdom and insider humor: Pop, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and a strange cast of characters that plug into roles that feel tailor made: Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green. They came and they came and they came. The old men with their flu bugs and bald spots and interchangeable pieces; a group of calm Texans embodying the same ethos of the Bulls. And somehow, after being down 18 points in the third quarter, the Spurs won in double overtime. Do you believe in Boris Diaw corner threes or nights where Manu Ginobili shoots 5-20, but hits the one that really matters? Fuck man, I don’t know, but I saw it happen.

Some notable items from this insane game in San Antonio in May:

  • Golden State shot 14-24 (58%) from the free throw line
  • Golden State is a 79% free throw-shooting team on the regular season (good enough for fourth in the league)
  • Boris Diaw: The big Frenchman had a series of big plays that helped this Spurs team achieve victory:
    • He somehow became the only Spurs player able conceive of not leaving his feet to guard Steph Curry. At the 1:22 mark in the fourth quarter, with GSW up five, Curry attempted a little shake move and pull up on Diaw; likely underestimating his defender’s length and discipline. Diaw blocked the shot without leaving the ground.
    • He went to the line and hit a pair of FTs to bring the Spurs to within one late in the 4th.
    • Diaw set the screen to free up Danny Green for the OT-forcing three.
    • He was on the floor for all of both OTs, contributed rebounds, screens and a clutch three.

There were heroes on both teams. Ginobili, Parker and Curry were special tonight, but in the thick history making moments, Diaw’s hand never shook. He played intelligent, confident basketball and is a big reason the Spurs are up 1-0 in this series.  

I’ll close this with a line from Jim Morrison that embodies unknowing excitement of tonight and hopefully the days to come: I don’t know what’s gonna happen man, but I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames…Alright!

what we can't see

The Ascension of Nikola Vucevic

As we wind down this 2012-13 season, Dancing with Noah has just a few planned posts remaining. Like the entire “Guess I’m Strange” series, there’s potential for players in the league to deliver these unexpected, incomprehensible performances that kick and push me into exploring said performance in brief write-ups. So while there are just a handful of posts to go, who can say what tomorrow will bring?

Before the season, if someone would’ve put us all in a room: A great big ballroom for basketball fans with chandeliers that have mini basketballs for light bulbs and chairs covered with the worn, dimpled leather of a basketball, and asked us two questions, none of us likely would’ve answered anywhere near correctly for these specific questions:

  1.        Who will lead the league in 20/20 (points and rebounds) games?
  2.        Who will come out on top of the Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum megadeal?

The answer to number two is abstract and can’t be measured today or tomorrow or yesterday, but I can write, with a fair amount of certainty, that Doug Collins is as frustrated with the results of that trade as anyone and that’s saying something given the complete shitshow it’s turned into for the Lakers. The reason for Collins’s frustration can’t be limited to Bynum’s health concerns or Andre Iguodala’s continued consistency in Denver. Nay, it must take into account the accelerated development of the league’s leader in 20/20 games and the answer to question number above: Nikola Vucevic: a 22-year-old listed at 6’10”, 240lbs, but who looks to be a solid 7’0”, 250lbs+ and rebounds with the competency of an all-pro.

Regardless of your fondness or Rob Henningan’s fondness or the fondness of Vucevic’s own parents for his development this season, none of us expected this type of growth and development. Keep in mind, Vucevic, didn’t even arrive in the states until 2007. He averaged 12rpg as a senior in high school and never over 10.3rpg in his three seasons at USC. He showed promise as an NBA rookie averaging 10.9rpg over 36min/game, but nothing, not even his lineage (his dad Borislav was a pro player for 24 years—24!), predicated this season’s rebounding explosion.

So it was that we arrived at the Magic-Cavs game on this Sunday afternoon and saw the developing Vucevic take advantage of a bruised and battered Cavs team to the tune of 21 points and 21 rebounds for his league-leading third 20/20 game of the season.

Vucevic - 04-07-13

Nikola Vucevic: Catching NBA fans off guard since 2012.

23 in a Row! (inspired by Shel Silverstein)

23 in a row! Crown the kings! Plan the parade! The season is over!

“It’s only March,” cried the masses, “you front-running posers!”

 

We looked to Riley, pomading his hair. He consulted a calendar, made a few calls.

The season wasn’t done, “Let’s practice, get out the balls!”

 

“Not those balls, Bird!” and the team had a laugh

They played catch for a bit, then sat at the chalkboard and worked on the math

 

“23 wins in 23 games, 100% success, now isn’t that great?”

Asked Juwan and Mike Miller as they calculated the rate

 

“23 is the number that I used to wear,”

Said a goofing LeBron, but nobody cared

 

Spoelstra diagrammed and analyzed equations

While Chalmers and Cole were mesmerized by chalk dust, “amazin’”

 

Meanwhile in China, McGrady poo-poo’d and moaned

Over in Boston, Jet Terry clutched his aching back and groaned

 

Video replay showed the Death Machine flying without wings

Riley used a Chinese calculator to tabulate his rings

 

In the locker room where they filmed the famous Shake

The team gathered around the schedule looking for a mistake

 

Nope, the games were all there, everything was all clear

The Cavs were on Wednesday, there was nothing to fear

 

“Going home, going home where they love and hate me so much”

Sang a balding LeBron while Bosh made up his lunch

 

Then it’s the Pistons, Bobcats and Orlando

“For that last one, I just might go Commando”

 

Said a chucking Birdman while he sketched a new tattoo

And Battier hummed that he was feeling blue

 

About what he wouldn’t say

After all it was Pierce’s copious behind that ended the game the previous day

 

Wilt the Stilt rolled over in his grave

Passing along ill-intentioned curses that the Heat would misbehave

 

Jerry West laughed and said they had a nice run

But he hoped that the boys from Miami could continue their fun

 

If you love them, it was a blast, but if not you hated

And only a Heat loss would leave you satiated

 

Screw off LeBron and you too Dwyane Wade

Superstars or not, you’re both overpaid

 

Why so much anger and blood curdling envy?

They’re just playing and winning and Shane seems so sophisticated and friendly

 

“But what happens if we get to 24, 5 or 6?”

Asked little Chalmers, his face in a twist

 

Everyone hushed and looked on at old Riley who lit up a fat stogie

Stared back at the team and puffed out so slowly

 

“It’s not a title, but it’s more and it’s less

Little Mario Chalmers, consider yourself blessed”

 

23 couplets for 23 wins

It sure is something and no one can say if we’ll see it again

Ode to LeBron Raymone James

A post-Jordanian titanium mass of a man,

Rings be damned

If he never wins again

What we have is enough

Memories (feats, destructions) to last us a

Million basketball-less summers

Memories aren’t just for the lonely,

But for the longing too

And the longing don’t have to be lonely

The longing and/or lonely don’t

Need rings or royalty

 

Just a man moving through a

Slow-motion world of

Blank-faced helpless defenders,

A screaming freight train barreling towards punctuality

Narrative be damned

His ability exceeds our qualifications and

Accolades,

Definitions and Parameters,

His existence on-court is

Independent of contemporaries and

Forebears

I’ll take a ghetto blaster and destroy the

Trophy cases with heavy bass

I can’t wait to invent a ray gun just to melt the

Infinite statues symbolizing his greatness

I’m resurrecting René Descartes to help imagine a devilish saw and equations that

Undercut the stats and tables we use to articulate greatness

  

What is victory

Without the struggle?

What is war

Without the sacrifice?

What is success

Without the failure?

The anticipation of a hundred thousand years is

Finally over

We made it

We’re here

And free to believe in whatever we please

 

Day Three: What these Hands hath Wrought

Alright, today’s post is a consolidation of madnesses from Sunday and Monday; and make no mistake it has been mad; at least someone’s mad. We’ve witnessed referee’s being loosely assaulted, Caron Butler breaking his hand, an impossible 27-point comeback and Amar’s Stoudemire punching out a pane of glass and in the process shredding his hand. If you’re not getting kicked out of games or getting hurt, you’re not doing your part.

Utah at San Antonio, game one, Spurs won 106-91, lead 1-0: Tony Parker did that Tony Parker thing he does where he uses speed and timing to invade the opposition’s defense at will. That the Spurs now play to his strengths instead of Duncan’s is impressive and a credit to all parties involved. The Jazz took one of four games against the Spurs in the regular season and will be fortunate to do better in the playoffs.

Random fact: Gordon Hayward attempted a career-high twelve free throws in game one and hit all twelve.

Denver at Lakers, game one, Lakers won 103-88, lead 1-0: Andrew Bynum is big, tall, long, talented, occasionally immature and more. To the Nuggets, he was the boogeyman in the paint, a giant protecting his lair. Ten blocks in the playoffs? Tied Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton for most blocks in playoff game history? Yep, that’s Andy. While Dwight’s temporarily crippled by a herniated disc, Bynum looks like an invincible force doing battle with children.

Random fact*: Devin Ebanks is actually Trevor Ariza.

Boston at Atlanta, game one, Hawks won 83-74, lead 1-0: It was yet another battle in years’ worth of battles for these two franchises. The Hawks overcame a historically dismal shooting performance from Joe Johnson (see random fact below) to control this game and hang on for the win. The story that ruled the day was Rajon Rondo’s little chest bump into the ref. The timing and reaction were both overboard and could result in Boston dropping into a 0-2 hole. With Ray Allen’s health in question, the momentum Boston had built in March and April is vanishing in acts of immaturity and inevitability.

Random fact: Joe Johnson joined three other players in playoff history in three-point shooting ignominy with his 0-9 performance. His fellow culprits: John Starks, Rashard Lewis and Derrick Rose.

Clippers at Memphis, game one, Clippers won 99-98, lead 1-0: Watching this game was like watching a movie where you expect one thing to happen, but then the director/writer throws a knuckleball that leaves you disoriented and questioning the events of the previous two hours. Did it add up? Was it believable? Did I enjoy being befuddled or did the director just play a joke on me? There wasn’t a script to Sunday night’s game unless the big director in the sky is a Nick Young fan. What happens from here is anyone’s guess, but I can confidently say the Memphis Collective (players, coaches, fans, employees) looked helplessly nauseous in that fourth quarter.

Random fact(s): Reggie Evans’s 13 rebounds in 21 minutes put him in rare company with five other prolific playoff rebounders who’ve grabbed at least 13 boards in 21 minutes or less: Danny Schayes (14 in 21), Kurt Rambis (14 in 21), Scot Pollard (14 in 21), Jeff Foster (13 in 21), Maurice Lucas (14 in 19).

New York at Miami, game two, Heat won 104-94, lead 2-0: Once again, anger steals the headlines. Amar’e Stoudemire didn’t take too well to the Knicks’ second straight loss in Miami and took it out on a pane of glass covering a fire extinguisher. David Aldridge proceeded to take the event far too seriously, treating it more like Stoudemire had severed his femoral artery and was at risk of bleeding out instead of addressing it for the loss of control that it was. All this really does it take away the focus from what was another strong Miami performance and further reinforced the fact that the Knicks are simply overmatched the way blind Chinese dissidents are powerless against their government … oh, wait.

Random fact: Miami Heat nicknames: Mike Miller is “Slim,” Juwan Howard is “Nooky,” James Jones is “Jhoops” (which is actually pronounced “Joops” as the “h” is silent)

Orlando at Indiana, game two, Pacers won 93-78, tied 1-1: This game is being relegated to the NBA TV slot which essentially makes it the least interesting series in the playoffs. Ratings considerations aside, Monday night’s game was the familiar storyline of a tale of two halves. After falling behind by two at the half and being firmly bullied, the Pacers responded appropriately with a 30-13 third quarter. I wish things were different, but I struggle to find intrigue in this series.

Random fact: The Pacers are 33-2 on the season when leading after three quarters.

Dallas at OKC, game two, OKC won 102-99, up 2-0: Combined score after two games 201 – 197. The Mavs have had their chances, but unlike last season when they couldn’t miss in crunch time, Dirk and Jason Terry have come up short two games in a row and are dangerously close to seeing their title defense end early. Being pushed to the brink is nothing new for this Dallas crew, but in small spaces of their group consciousness, questions are being asked. Notable observations:

  • I’m not a Brendan Haywood fan, but the more I see him, the more I feel Shaq was justified in referring to him as “Brenda.”
  • Does Billy Hunter watch NBA games and if so, does he openly cheer against Derek Fisher? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, last night had to be particularly bitter for him.

Random fact: Miniscule sample size for sure, but through two playoff games, Kevin Durant is shooting 34% from the field compared to 52% for Russell Westbrook.

And that concludes three days of playoff basketball. We’ve had anger, controversy, pain and loss. Negativity is the overwhelming theme and I look forward to exploring the more affirmative aspects of these games in the coming days.

 

 

Day One: Agony & Ecstasy Already?

It didn’t take long for the big red balloon of optimism to pop over the city of Chicago and rain down tears in the shapes of dripping red-hued question marks. All the finger pointing in the world (at Thibodeau, at the shortened season, at Derrick’s delicate 2012 body) won’t put Derrick’s ACL back together again, so let’s march on for a quick review of Saturday’s agonies and ecstasies:

Philly at Chicago, game one: The Bulls were their controlled, dominant selves with Rip Hamilton flashing and dashing off baseline screens and running Philly defenders ragged like it was 2004 all over again. If the Bulls, sans Rose, can somehow continue to score close to 100 points, this series won’t last long. They know how to behave with C.J. Watson at the helm and will continue to execute Thibodeau’s air tight game plans, but can Doug Collins’s squad find a way to step up their defense and put points on the board against a stubborn Bulls team? I don’t know, but I’m guessing Lavoy Allen is not the answer.

Random fact: Chicago was 22-0 when scoring 100 points or more this season.

New York at Miami, game one: 100 to 67? So much for the hype machine, Melo vs. Bron, Amar’e vs. Bosh, Shumpert vs. Wade (?) and New York’s three-point bombing bench. This was supposed to be the matchup we were all slobbering over, but instead game one had that dreamlike falling feeling, but we never woke up; or at least the Knicks didn’t wake up. Since no one really knows who the Knicks are (Knicks included), it’s impossible to imagine what we’ll get in the next three to six games, but my buddy Bug made a great, although mostly unrelated, point: Miami with Tyson Chandler instead of Chris Bosh would be a nightmare.

Random fact: Miami finished the regular season 18-0 when shooting over 50% as a team. Translation: LeBron and Dwyane: Don’t give into temptation, avoid the three.

Tragic ending: To Iman Shumpert’s season. Like Rose an hour or so before, the rookie who’d been somewhat prematurely anointed as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders (already?) tore his ACL as well.

Orlando at Indiana, game one: Here’s another one I caught on the highlight reel. The stories of this game: Danny Granger wet the bed, Roy Hibbert blocked nine shots (life’s a lot simpler when you get Big Baby instead of Dwight Howard) and Stan Van Gundy continues to build support in the ongoing Dwight vs. Stan feud.

Random fact: The Magic is 10-1 all-time when winning game one of a series.

Dallas at OKC, game one: The legend of Kevin Durant continues to grow. He got a true shooter’s bounce to win the game for OKC and send the bench and hometown fans in euphoria. Even though some of the names and faces have changed and James Harden’s beard takes up a little more mass, it felt like carryover from last year’s Western Conference Finals—minus Dirk being perpetually en fuego.

Rejected!: OKC led the league in blocks per game and their 8.2bpg is the fifth most per-game total in league history. They tallied eleven blocks on Saturday.

Sunday’s games added more piss and vinegar to the mix (we see you, Rajon). I’ll be back here tomorrow with another recap. And in the meantime, leave us all to ponder if anyone plays with a Marc Gasolian zeal for the game. It’s like he took all that energy his brother has channeled into primordial roars and re-directed it to positivity and an acknowledgement that he’s paid to play basketball for a living.

Someone Peed on the Sand Castle

I spent part of my Tuesday night watching the Heat against Golden State. I was at home watching frustrated as Miami came down with a case of confusion in the fourth quarter. The road trip had been going so well through three quarters: Miami was ahead 84 to 72, GSW was missing Andris Biedrins and Steph Curry and would eventually lose Kwame Brown to a shoulder injury. The Heat were warring with their big three; yep Dwyane Wade had returned and done so in an assertive alpha style.

But as I watched that fourth quarter, I quickly realized what was happening in Oakland. The real fans, full of piss and vinegar and then some, were grasping onto each Warrior 4th quarter point like it was one more symbol to stack up against the establishment and the Miami hype machine. And the fans got in sync with the players, with Monta Ellis and David Lee, Brandon Rush and Dorell Wright and of course they saved their strongest exultations for the man who thrived off them most: Nate Robinson. Together they chopped down what was once a 17-point Miami lead, made something out of nothing, they re-wrote the media’s yet-to-be filed stories and changed the course of fates.

Along the road to disgraceful defeat, I witnessed a hardening and lack of focus among the Heat players. Dwyane had been out a few games and in his absence, LeBron James was his most confidently controlled self, consumed of no doubts, just pure efficiency for all the fans—sons, daughters, grandma’s and grandpa’s, all y’all. Then big, bad Wade showed up and all of sudden the script is flipped? I didn’t watch the game’s entirety, but I watched the last quarter and overtime with the angst of a person who’s not comfortable with disruption. And there was the disruption, calmly, expeditiously, politely. Wade wants it, LeBron wants to give it and the result was a lead whittled away by scraps of lucky points.

Near the end of regulation, there were numerous loose balls, bouncing balls, missed plays, missed catches and temper tantrums (that’s you, Udonis Haslem) by both teams. Even with GSW’s mistakes, Miami was insistent on allowing them back in. Credit is due to Dorell Wright and Nate Rob who both hit huge threes, but I had a flashback ….

It was a flashback to the 2011 NBA Finals when LeBron faded into the background, too flustered, confused or uncomfortable to let his big light shine. The man wanted to be invisible. He stood at the top of the perimeter and refused to attack. He passed to Wade or Haslem or Bosh, but would then drift out beyond three-point range.

Earlier on Tuesday, I had defended LeBron with words from the heart. It’s between the ears and once he figures it out, it’s over, I argued. What’s there to figure out? He had 26pts, 11rebs, 7asts, shot well from the field and I don’t give a shit because when it mattered he reverted to passive LeBron like a fly to the light, sucking him away from his rightful role. This was different from his days in Cleveland when he’d penetrate for the shot and pass it to open shooters if/when the defense collapsed. This was LeBron removing himself from the conversation and, in my meager analysis on Tuesday night, doing it because Dwyane Wade was around.

For what it’s worth, the stats provide an objective witness. LeBron’s quarter-by-quarter line:

Quarter Min FG FGA FT FTA Rebs Asts Stls Tos BS Pts
1st

0:12:00

4

7

0

0

3

1

0

1

0

8

2nd

0:06:59

2

2

3

4

3

2

0

1

0

7

3rd

0:12:00

3

7

2

2

3

1

2

2

0

8

4th

0:06:34

0

0

1

2

0

0

0

0

0

1

I’m disappointed too.

Naturally, Golden State gritted out the win in overtime.

Where was that man with the world’s greatest game and what was he saving it for? I feel like he needs a combination of Ben Affleck’s character from Goodwill Hunting and Jamal Wallace from Finding Forrester. Between these two, there’s plenty of inspiration and realization to help a man even as complex as LeBron James figure things out. If they could crack Will Hunting’s code and get through the thick skull of a Sean Connery character, then the resolution to Bron’s mental issues are just a climactic scene away.

Aside from that rant, I’m still happy to walk out on my balcony and shout my prediction that the Miami Heat will be the 2012 NBA Champions. And that’s what makes it all the more frustrating, even in a Tuesday night road game in January, to see the game’s best extricate himself from the big moment. Miss a shot, throw the ball away, choke slam Nate Robinson … anything is better than the nothing I saw in Oakland.

Live from Planet JaVale – Washington Wizards Preview

I’m just going to skim over the obvious Washington Wizards bullet points and save the majority of capitalonian focus for the most intriguing player in the NBA.

  • John Wall’s good and going to get much, much better. Hopefully all those summer games don’t sap his legs for the ultra 66-game grind.
  • We all know they should still be the Bullets.
  • The MJ era was awkward, but at least introduced us to a world where his Airness is far from infallible. At some point, we had to expect it and the Washington experience was just the first step toward mortality.
  • Jordan Crawford on Jordan Crawford, “I don’t tell nobody, but I feel like I can be better than Michael Jordan.”

Now that the boring shit’s out the way, let’s dissect JaVaaaaaaale McGeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…

In the eyes of his peers, JaVale holds a unique place:

Ron Artest on JaVale:

“He potentially could be a really good player. I think he got to go to school a little bit more. He’s got to work on that IQ a little bit. He got to watch more tape. I don’t think he watches tape. I think he plays video games. I do. I don’t think he watches tape. I think he plays video games and I think he could possibly have an Atari. He should upgrade to a Play Station.”

Kenyon Martin on McGee:

“He’s shooting the ball like he’s Kareem. I know I’m not good, but I’m not calling for the ball.”

Lamar Odom sharing his thoughts after playing with JaVale at team USA try-outs in 2010:

“He’s not here by accident or mistake. He’s one of the most athletic players I’ve ever seen in my life…He’s 7-1, got like a David Robinson build, springs off the floor real quick, goes over the rim. If he can just get his feel for the game together, he can have an impact on a team. Because the game is called basketball, not run and jump.”

While the National Run & Jump Association has a certain ring to it, Lamar’s right. McGee’s physical talents make him one of the most captivating players in a league made up of world-class athletes and part of the reason I decided to dedicate 90% of this Wizards preview to him alone.

The director of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo, saw him up close during those same try-outs and added this:

“He’s very raw, he’s very young, he’s a real babe in terms of game experience and he has a real future. So that’s really how we left it with him: Keep working on your game and you may get a call sooner rather than later. You don’t know. We’re playing that by ear.

With the exception of K-Mart getting after him a bit, there’s a trend of inconsistency and lack of focus here and anyone who was willing to sit through the madcap Wizards’ antics last year knows exactly what I’m talking about. I can’t even fathom the trials and tribulations Wizards coach Flip Saunders goes through on a nightly basis:

“The cinnamon thing, that thing doesn’t cut it.”

And of McGee’s misplaced inclinations to take a defensive rebound and push the ball the length of the court?

“We’re going to eliminate his full-court dribbling, that’s what we are going to do. We’re going to eliminate or he’s going to be sitting with (reporters) at the press table for a while. Because I’ve watched that on film and that’s not good.”

Even his teammate, the 21-year-old prodigy John Wall, can see the potential impact McGee’s shenanigans have on the team:

“I don’t know what they (McGee and Nick Young) got going on. They got their own little stories, and their own little movies and they rap sometimes during the season. Basically, as long as they’re being serious and doing the right things and not playing around when its game time or when we’re having a meeting or on the road, anything like that, that’s all I can really focus on.”

McGee’s in a precarious situation in Washington. Like most youngsters, he could benefit greatly from the presence of a few veterans and some stability. Instead, he’s surrounded by other young’ns like Wall, Andray Blatche, Crawford and Young—he’s not that young by NBA standards, but still acts a fool from time to time. In the midst of that prankster-loving environment, McGee’s improved his game in each of his three seasons. His points, rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, minutes played, games played, PER and offensive and defensive win shares all reached career highs last year. Just beyond the desperate cries for consistency from all corners of the NBA globe is the truth; JaVale’s rapidly improving and he’s only 23.

It’s a lot easier to get excited about a guy before he arrives. It’s the reason people have been flipping their shit about Anthony Randolph since he left LSU and the cause for Rubio mania. If we get a glimpse of that shining star potential, we’re hungry and imaginative about a cosmos full of possibilities and all the while the kids we pin these hopes on are just that … kids; still growing, still developing, still becoming. Some make it, some don’t and then some do this:

 

Nothing Changes, but the People get Older – Atlanta Hawks Preview

Deep in the heart of the south, in a place marked by crisscrossing highways and oppressive heat; an NBA franchise and its fans live in dull, apathetic pain. The strange ownership saga that began back in 2005 when the Atlanta Spirit group purchased the team is finally over, but the 2011 team, like its predecessors dating back to the Dominique Wilkins days seem destined to forever be a potential playoff spoiler and nothing more. Where Nique’s Hawks were at least entertaining, this bunch has become plodding and predictable (they ranked 27th out of 30 teams in pace last year).

The Hawks’ current path can be traced back to July 8th, 2010 when they made the decision to re-sign a then 29-year-old Joe Johnson to a six-year, $119million deal that will wind up paying him just under $25million in 2016, when he’s 35. This is the same Joe Johnson who’s made just one All NBA team (and it was an All NBA Third team) in his ten-year career. The same Joe Johnson who completed the 2010-11 season with his least productive numbers since 2006 and he’s going to be eating up nearly half of Atlanta’s cap space for the foreseeable future.

Then there’s Al Horford, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague who provide at least a glimmer beyond the dull glow of an annual second round playoff defeat. I’m trying to find something to get excited about with this team, but I’ve seen them play, there’s just not much to look forward to. At least last year Jamal Crawford had the imagination to occasionally captivate the audience. Now there’s just Jeff Teague; a 23-year-old point guard entering his third year enveloped in hopeful curiosity after his performance as a fill-in for the injured Kirk Hinrich in the playoffs. Teague could be what the Hawks have previously resisted (I won’t revisit the painful details of the 2005 draft): a pace-pushing starting point guard. The eight-game audition last spring isn’t enough to start pulling back flips and actually buying tickets to Hawks’ games, but at least it’s a departure from what’s become routine from Joe, Horford and Josh Smith (stop shooting those threes!).

With $65million committed to just nine players they have under contract, don’t expect many recognizable free agents heading to Atlanta. And since they had just one pick in the 2011 draft (Keith Benson from Oakland University), we’ll see the same crew they trotted out last year—minus Crawford and with Teague seeing more of a featured role early in the season while Hinrich recovers from shoulder surgery.

It’s not all bad though. With Boston’s big three getting older and losing some of that bark (looking at you, KG) and Orlando being distracted by new trade rumors every day, there’s an opportunity for the Hawks to be the third best team in the conference. It seems like the front office is content in that three-to-five range where they’re guaranteed to make the playoffs and, so their logic seems, at least have a chance to win it all. I blame these low expectations directly on the 2008 playoffs when the upstart eight-seed Hawks captivated the basketball world by taking the eventual champion Celtics to seven games in the first round. It was at that time that someone in Atlanta’s front office came to the conclusion that the underdog can win in the NBA and the teams they’ve built over the past three seasons have reflected that flawed rationale.

I’m sure the good marketing people in Atlanta are cooking up some compelling reasons to support the Hawks, but until this team redesigns its aesthetic and commitment to winning, I’d be hard pressed to spend money watching this them and based on last year’s attendance numbers, the residents of the Peach State agree.

 

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