Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – December 28, 2010

It is finally happening – attitudes towards the Heat are slowly changing, even moreso now that they have a signature victory over LA. 

A great example comes from a friend of mine who was very anti-Miami Thrice from the outset.  He thought the superteam may ultimately end up being a good thing for the league if other superstars join together to (literally) share the wealth.  However, he maintained that Kobe and the Lakers were the team to beat and he objected to the way Lebron left the Cavs.  The other day he leaned over towards me and whispered “I kind of hope they do it now, I want to see them succeed.”

I think this is indicative of the the way alot of NBA fans are beginning to come around.  At the outset of the season when the Heat struggled to adapt to their new plethora of talent, most pointed to the fact that the team had come together under auspicious circumstances and in all scenarios was not capable of living up to the incredible amounts of pre-season hype. 

That has all changed.

Forget the 13 game winning streak and the absolute domination of a soft schedule of opponents.  Forget that Lebron and Wade are still getting comfortable with one another and have yet to truly discover where each fits in on this team;  just revel in the fact that they knocked the Lakers clear out of the arena. 

Watching the game it seemed that the Lakers were not even close to the same team that battled through seven games with Boston last year.  It seems they have reached a strange crossroads much earlier than anticipated – against the Heat they just looked…old.

Readers of this blog will know I am not Kobe Bryant’s biggest fan but I can respect the fact that he is one of the 12 best basketball players who has ever lived.  He has won games for his team in the past and he has led the Lakers to 2 of his 5 titles (6 for 24 in Game 7?!).  He once scored 81.  Kobe has a killer instinct that has lacked in most of the new generation of players.  This season he has played smartly, accepting his declining skills as Jordan did – by becomming a better shooter.  However…

The Heat ran him off the court.

Not only did they run Kobe off “the” court – they ran him off his own court on Christmas Day with a huge amount of people watching.  It was not even really close.  The Lakers looked frustrated / overwhelmed at times and completely terrified / dominated at others.  The Heat’s defense was smothering and held Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant to subpar shooting performances.  What else did the Heat reveal with their signature victory?

1) They match up a lot better with the Lakers than people thought – When the Heat came together in the summer, lineups for a potential Heat / Lakers Finals showdown were batted about.  Any way you sliced it, the Lakers had the advantage.  They were bigger, tougher and had more skill players on the bench.  Fast-forward to Christmas Day: the Lakers bench contributed next to nothing and Pau Gasol looked exhausted from feasting on the fresh-baked-donut-soft-schedule of the first three months for the Lakers.  When the Lakers brought in (complete bust – is he at that point in the conversation yet?) Andrew Bynum he looked completely overmatched by Erik Dampier.  The Heat played the Lakers at the right time as Ron Artest / Derek Fisher / Matt Barnes are all playing horribly but the mismatch matchup definitely went in the Heat’s favour.  No one on the Lakers was able to step up and contain Lebron James in the slightest and both Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade pretty much had their way inside.  As much as the rest of the league tries to shrug it off, the Heat are a matchup nightmare – even more so with Wade and Lebron sharing the ball.

2) The continued excellance of Chris Bosh

Against the Lakers Bosh threw down 24 points and snagged 13 rebounds – a far cry from the beginning of the season when he was pushed around by the most unlikely of big men.  He has played aggressively, and has played hard every second he is on the court, and the reward has been a startlingly high shooting percentage.  Bosh has played well in each game of their 14 of 15 swing.  Against the Lakers, in arguably the biggest game the Heat have had all season, he came up huge by hitting 8 of 10 shots.  So much for the terrified Bosh of the Boston series.

3) Dwayne Wade: Jack of all Trades – At halftime I had written down the name Dwayne Wade in my notes; beside it I had written: 8pts, 4 rebs, 4 assts, crazy defense.  All season long people have waited for Lebron to become the triple double machine we all know he can be (See against the Lakers!) but at the moment Wade seems to be the Heat player willing to do it all.  Wade struggled at the outset of the year along with the rest of the Heat players because no one fit comfortably into any one role.  With the similiarities in play between Wade and Lebron it was natural that one of them would have to take a step back.  Wade has accepted the role and flourished with aplomb.  He has played well in nearly every facet of the game and flies around the court with the singular purpose of making his team better.  No one on the Heat plays harder than Wade.  When they raise a championship trophy it may be Lebron who earns the MVP award but he had better be willing to share the glory with Wade and Bosh who will both be equally deserving.

4)  Lebron is comfortable – Lebron has finally realized that he needs to score to win games and he has started dominating like he did with the Cavs.  Against the Lakers Lebron rose easily to their challenge – they gave him the three and dared him to shoot.  For most of his career this has been a tempting version of trick or treat (most of the time trick…), but against the Lakers he (as I predicted) rose to the occasion.  He hit five three pointers and most of the people I was watching the game with could not believe it.  Every time he shot another three, I had a small feeling of anxiety but he just kept burying shots and as he did, his confidence rose exponentially.  Lebron dominated his matchup with Kobe and so thoroughly got under his skin that Kobe fell back into the comfortable position of blaming his teammates when he has had a terrible game himself (Kobe must need shoulder surgery by this point: he has thrown a lot of people under the bus).  Lebron is beginning to enjoy himself on the court again and his acceptance of his role as a villain has gone a long way towards people coming around on the team. 

Just a month and a half ago a friend of mine sent me an email around 9-8 time that said “I feel bad for Lebron at this point, he made a horrible choice and the Lakers are going to destroy them…if they make the playoffs”.  At the time it seemed semi-appropriate with the team in chaos, but it now appears they were merely a team in transition.  Even during their 13 game winning streak people complained that they lacked a signature win: beating the Lakers by 16 has more than taken care of that

While it may not be time to gloat completely, the signs are positive.  The Lakers were genuinely overmatched and seemed frightened: this was a team unlike any they had played.  Everything they tried to do failed miserably, as the young Heat ran the old men around until finally Phil Jackson relented and pulled his starters off the court.  They finished the game – especially Kobe – stewing on the Lakers bench next to Larry David.  It seems to be a trend, Kobe ending Christmas Day games on the bench, hurt and dejected after having been destroyed by Lebron James. 

The Heat are a scary team and no one seemed to expect they would be this good, this quickly.  The fact that they have barely scratched the surface of their talent may mean that the short reign of Kobe Bryant is over.  One thing is clear: if Lebron remains the best player in the league on a team with the number 3 player, in my opinion he gets more props, not less. 

Kobe wanted, trained and prepared for this game and in the end he was spitting mad on the bench.  Perhaps this was Phil Jackson’s greatest coup – having Kobe remember the feeling of anger and bitterness, but in the end his team was overmatched, outworked and plain outplayed in every facet of the game. 

Advantage: Heat.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – December 17, 2010

In a slight depature from the usual tone of the Title Quest Diaries it seemed an appropriate time to have a little fun with my new basketball team and ponder the eternal question that has plagued this team since the beginning: what group of superheroes do they most resemble?

Bear in mind I am not big into most superhero stuff – most of my knowledge comes from when I was ten years old and watched television on Saturday mornings.  This time in the 90’s may be remembered as the golden age of TV Cartoons – Spiderman, (original) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, GI Joe and, the single greatest cartoon of all time  The X-MenThe X-Men was a surprisingly deep and resonent show, very unlike the other standard Saturday morning fare.  The show was thematic and very thought provoking.  Obviously, being on Saturday it was still action packed, but there was something more serious going on around all the fight sequences.  My mom once commented that it was a great show – more than the timeslot and much more than a simple cartoon. 

The X-Men, therefore, with all their complexity is the team I think most closely mirrors the 2010 Miami Heat, both in abilities and temperment:

Wolverine = Lebron James

Both are virtually unstoppable and seemingly indestructible – at least until the 2009 playoffs against Boston when Lebron’s elbow got “delonte west”ed (an actual condition in which a teammate sleeps with your mother causing complete mental and physical shutdown).  Both Wolverine and Lebron are extremely powerful and tempermental.  However, they are ultimately worthwhile additions to their teams.  They can to change the outcome of any battle through sheer force of will and can take a team over the top with their transcendant abilities.  Among members of the X-Men, Wolverine is still slightly raw with his powers but more fundamentally talented than any other mutant – Lebron has more talent than anyone in NBA history and is still developing his skills 3 years ahead of his prime.  The two struggle to contain their power at times and can be known to go overboard and at times have vacilated between hero / villain.  Arguably Wolverine and Lebron are the biggest “game-changers” in their chosen arena. 

Gambit = Dwayne Wade

Gambit has similar talents to Wolverine and is incredibly powerful – but not nearly as indestructible.  Wade plays hard and fast and has struggled with injuries over the course of his career.  Additionally, Gambit is a bit of a rogue and used to going it alone before he joins the X-Men.  He struggles with the team concept and can be flaky at times, Wade is still adjusting to his new teammates while also trying to hold onto what he views as “his team”, also flaky…known to disappear against Boston in particular.  Both men are great additions to their teams but it remains to be seen if they can be counted on in crunch time.  When they do come through they reveal spectacular and jaw-dropping talent. 

Storm = Chris Bosh

Storm has command of all the elements associated with the weather / Chris Bosh is the “third man” of Miami Thrice.  While Storm is incredibly powerful…she ultimately controls the weather.  Bosh struggled to find his place on his new team at the beginning of the year, but has recently emerged as a leader on the Heat, while playing with newfound aggression.  Storm can disappear at times due to intense claustrophobia but does come through when it counts.  Ditto for Bosh who can drop 35 one night but occasionally disappears on the boards.  

Professor X = Pat Riley

The genuises who put the teams together both are focused on their own singular goals: getting the world to accept mutants is Prof X’s missions; Riley wants to create a dynasty for the most hated team in the NBA.  Likewise, the world hates the X-Men because they fear that which is different (and powerful) / the world hates the Heat because of the way they came together and because they have the ability to rule the NBA for the next decade.  We are still gaining an understanding of how the distinct personalities of the Heat will gel, which is something the X-Men have struggled with since the beginning of their run as a Super Team.

Cyclops = Udonis Haslem

Cyclops is the leader of the X-Men, much like Haslem settled into a veteran leadership role with Heat after signing with them.  Cyclops is a good leader his powers are ultimately…limited: he can shoot stuff from his eyes.  He is no Wolverine or Gambit and he definitely toes the company line.  Haslem will do whatever it takes to get a ring, and currently leads the Heat in rebounding while lacking the ability to make any other meaningful contribution (before getting hurt).  Udonis is good in his limited role as is Cyclops and the most important contribution he has made to the Heat is his leadership.  No one is asking Cyclops or Haslem to carry the main load, all they have to do is hold everything together. 

The Beast = Joel Anthony

Big, strong and utterly useless – The Beast or Joel Anthony?  Or both…  The main difference between the two is The Beast’s genius level – IQ, although Anthony was smart enough to sign with the Heat. 

Jubilee = Carlos Arroyo

Jubilee best represents the struggle for mutant acceptance.  Carlos Arroyo is mostly useless.  Jubilee can shoot fireworks from her fingers.  Arroyo sometimes plays okay.  Both are sort of taking up space on an extremely talented bench and while neither is incredibly important, the space needs to be taken up.

Rogue = Mario Chalmers

A late addition to the team, Rogue of the cartoons is a lot different from the movie version: she has super strength and can fly.  She is probably the most powerful of the X-Men because of her ability to absorb the powers of others but struggles with the denial of human contact as  she can put people into a coma with a single touch.  Since Chalmers rejoined the rotation, the Heat have reeled off a ten game winning streak.  Not that Chalmers has everything to do with it, but he has provided a steady presence at point guard (something the Heat were definitely lacking during his time on the shelf).  Time will tell if Chalmers will develop Rogue-like powers but he is certainly playing with three guys who can make him a lot better if he can absorb some of their knowledge or abilities. 

Iceman = Mike Miller

Iceman was not a member of the original X-Men team although he did appear later on in the cartoon.  Miller has yet to appear with his new team but he will be counted on to freeze the other team with his crazy-awesome three point shooting.

Jean Grey = James Jones

Jean Grey can do things with her mind and plays a small but vital role on the X-Men.  James Jones has shot the lights out and picks his spots well.  Like Jean Grey he knows his place in the team hierarchy and is more than willing to take a back seat when necessary.  However, if he is called upon he  is able to briefly step up. 

Happy Holidays! 

Make sure to tune in on Christmas day to Heat – Lakers (like you could forget about the most anticipated basketball game of the season!)

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – December 16,2010

The Heat continue to roll but an important test lies ahead…

Let’s face it – since Lebron James jumped ship and created a superteam in Miami we have been counting down the days until their showdown with the Lakers.  The league quickly saw to scheduling it on Christmas Day and turning it into an event unto itself.  This is almost like the SuperBowl of Christmas – who won’t be watching? 

Even though the Heat are on a ten game win streak and have been absolutely destroying teams, it feels like they have not had a “signature” win. 

Signature win?

One of those – “dear god they just destroyed the second best team, who is going to stop them?” – kind of wins.  Think Miami destroying Oklahoma or USC destroying…Oklahoma.  Okay, think anyone destroying Oklahoma on the national stage (when do they actually win big games and how do they keep getting into the national title games?  What does their AD have on the NCAA Commissioner?)  The closest thing Miami has to a signature victory is beating up on Cleveland twice, but who hasn’t?  (At this point I would take Duke over Cleveland) 

In their biggest games, Miami has: lost twice to Boston, lost once to Orlando, lost once to Utah and NO, lost to Dallas. 

They may have won ten games in a row (including over Utah and NO) but they are lacking a complete start to finish domination of a legitimate title contender. 

Until Christmas Day.

I think, and have previously said, this will be a statement game for the Heat.  Either they will win and solidify themselves as a real threat to win the championship this season.  Or, they will lose but still make enough positive strides to give us Heat fans hope they can take LA down the road (in a seven game playoff series perhaps?).  There is certainly enough hype for this “regular season game” already – see the Terminator-esque trailer below:

Everyone seems a strange combination of excited and terrified for this game.  For the Heat it will be one of the most hostile crowds they have played in all year; for the Lakers they…had…better…win…or…else.  In this contest there will be no middle ground and you can bet Kobe has had this game circled on his calendar for a very long time.  Why not?  The Heat stole all the preseason thunder from the Lakers seven-game brawl with the Celtics, easy to do with their explosive formation and overnight title challenger credentials.  Miami had put two of the top five players in the league together on one team.  LA has two of the top five players in the league already.  This thing will either be a blowout or a quadruple overtime game for the ages.   

Yet, I think the Heat can and will triumph.  No, I am not crazy – here are three reasons they can beat the Lakers:

1) Dwayne Wade – In the past few weeks, most of the attention has been ladled onto Lebron James and his return to MVP contention.  Lebron is the leader of the Heat and as he goes, so do they.  However…Wade has played out of his mind these past two weeks.  Last night against the Cavs he propelled an insane third-quarter rally and finished up with 28 points.  His scoring average has gone up to 23.6 per game (Lebron is averaging 23.9).  The point is, he and Lebron are working well together and he is returning to dominant form.  For a little while it sort of seemed like people forgot Wade was on the team – not anymore.  One of the things that has impressed me most about Wade during their ten-game run is his willingness to be a jack of all trades for the team (he has led the Heat in rebounding in 3 games this season).  Coming into the year we assumed Lebron would be carrying the “do it all” mantle on the team but thus far it has been Wade who has stepped up selflessly (if one can be selfless while averaging 23+ points per game). 

2) The defense is among the toughest in the league  – Since the season began the Heat have been one of the top defensive teams and that consistency has been impressive.  They can play lockdown D if they have to, and although they have struggled to contain both elite point guards and the middle of the floor they have drastically improved in the last little while.  Against the Hornets, Chris Paul had one of his worst games of the season after nearly singlehandedly winning the first contest (a Heat loss).  The entire team is playing with ridiculous aggressiveness because their overall athleticism allows them to take chances and go for turnovers.  This has helped their virtually unstoppable transition offense take over the rest of the league.  Lebron and Wade on fast breaks is not something anyone in the league wants to see bearing down on them.  Yet it happens with more frequency and increasing authority. 

3) Chris Bosh – Don’t think a player averaging 17 points per game is too dangerous?  He is.  The big three of the Heat are averaging 63 ppg this season, but during the ten game streak that has risen dramatically (several times Wade and James on their own have topped 60 points).  Bosh may not be the most dangerous of Miami Thrice but he is an all-star, just waiting to explode for thirty-plus at any time.  When the three stars have scored more than twenty each, Miami has been completely undefensible.  Teams get confused and simply do not know where to turn or who to focus on.  If you let Lebron dominate one quarter, Wade will pick up the next.  Bosh can step up as well at any time.

This may be the way the Heat triumph over the Lakers – the Big Three playing ridiculously well.  Earlier in the season (see the first game at Boston), crowds have gotten the best of the big three.  That has changed dramatically as the Heat have begun to use the animosity to their adavantage.  They feed off it:  Wade will be up, Bosh will struggle but ultimately come through.  Lebron?

Lebron loves Christmas Day games.  Absolutely loves them.  Especially when he gets a marquee showdown with Kobe Bryant – take 2009 when the Cavs dominated the Lakers:

This could be one of those games where Lebron decides to take over from the opening tip and not relinquish his dominance until the final buzzer sounds.  At times, given the quality of his current teammates, we forget that no one takes over games like Lebron.  He is the best player in the league and his talent is second to none.  The Lakers always have trouble with him because they lack a player who can stop him.  Ron Artest will probably take him with Kobe on Wade.  Artest does not do well with Lebron.  Kobe may not play much defense if he has to score 40 points to keep pace with his arch-rival.  Can the Heat stop the Lakers?  Can the Lakers contain the Heat?  Regardless of the final score, it may be one of the most entertaining and anticipated games in NBA History. 

Heat – Lakers.  We all get an extra present for Christmas this year.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – December 11, 2010

What did LBJ just say? 

As the Heat begin playing like a real life team of X-Men, Lebron has more and more instrumental in cultivating the team’s newfound attitude.  The Heat may be playing like a team full of heroes, but they are certainly not acting like it:

Playing like heroes?  How are they doing it?  

It is surprisingly easy to be superhuman when Lebron and DWade have stopped taking turns running the offense and begun playing off one another, emphasizing their impressive skill sets.  At the beginning of the season when Lebron tried to defer to Wade it was clear the Heat were not at their best.  This, for better or worse, is Lebron’s team.  If they win a title it will be because he is the alpha dog, not Wade.  For the first time Wade has seemed to accept that and the team has immediately gotten better because of it.

Miami has also accepted their limitations as a three-man team, and have developed more team chemistry.  Against Indiana the Big Three narrowly lost 77-75 to the Pacers – naturally the Heat (as a team) won handily.  A few days later when the team played Utah, the big three again overwhelmed a very good team (LBJ 33 pts, Wade 28 pts, Bosh 14 pts and 9 rebounds).  Against Golden State last night Lebron and Wade took over again and easily dispatched the young team.  Seven and counting. 

But, this is not all about Heat’s recent dominance, this is also about the steps they have taken to continue to establish their newfound, leaguewide persona. 

They are a swaggering, egotisical and seemingly undefeatable villain.  They are the 90’s Cowboys, ’86 Mets, 70’s Flyers and late 80’s Pistons (the 80’s Pistons may be one step too far as they legitimately tried to hurt people, the Heat are not that kind of villain) all rolled into one.  One of the ways they have helped the rest of the league and general public understand this transformation has been through their post-game interviews.  Earlier in the season, the Heat vacilated back and forth, seemingly unsure of what direction to take in the weeks and months following “the disaster” er…Decision. 

Lebron seemed to believe he had made a good choice in the way he announced his new team – and killed his old one.  He spoke at times of the charity that benefitted from the television special and seemed genuinely bewildered at the hatred being lobbed towards him.  His new Nike commercial “I Rise” says as much.  Well, he has risen all right – as a bad guy.  Yes, with a few of his recent interviews, Lebron all but confirmed he has crossed the fence and now stands proudly with his new team of villains:

Yes, Lebron stated he wants to continue to develop “greatness for myself in Miami“.  Oh Lebron. 

Should he have mentioned “his greatness?”  Would Bird, Magic, Duncan, MJ or Kobe (okay, scratch Kobe from this list) talk about their greatness at any point in their career? 

No.  For them, greatness was implied but never spoken of.  You just knew they were great and they went out and proved it on the court.  Lebron has to do both – lest anyone forget about him. 

However, when his comment is taken in the context of a transformation into one of the greatest NBA villains in recent history it makes sense.  He is openly and egotistically flaunting his opinion of his self-worth.  (A self-worth that has ironically been built up to legendary proportions through years of “whatever you want Mr. James, sir” in Cleveland)  Unlike other NBA players, he does not care any longer to keep his opinions about his value to himself.  He doesn’t have to, because every time he talks it just breeds more and more hostility. 

Building hatred and anger for the Heat works now because they have finally begun to feed off the hostile environments they play in.  Against Golden State and Utah, the crowds were brutal but the team responded well.  They are taking all that negative energy and finally using it to their advantage – something they failed miserably at earlier in the season.  I wish the team had a stop in the next couple weeks in Boston, it would be very interesting to see how they react now to the crowd which previously took over the team’s season opener (taking them completely out of it).  The next big test comes on Christmas Day when the Heat travel to LA.  That will be a matchup of two of the NBA’s best.  If the Heat can win it would go a long way towards cementing their title aspirations.  Do not get me wrong though, LA will be ready and primed to play – Kobe may drop 80. 

Then again, Miami may be playing LA at exactly the right time.  The Heat are beginning to gel both offensively and defensively – on the defensive end the team is #3 in the league and has re-established some of their early season tenacity.  LA will go in ready but this could be a statement game for either team.  If the Heat can slay LA the power balance in the league will shift and people will begin to take notice.  Even if they give them a good run – say take them to overtime…on Christmas Day…with the entire flipping country watching…

A couple of weeks ago when the Heat began to struggle, people were handing the game to LA in a rout; but now that the Heat have supplanted the Lakers as the NBA’s premier villain (and actually started to win games!) it could be a different story. 

One thing is clear, the Heat are exactly where they have needed to be since the season began: they will continue to rise and get better…as villains.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – December 3, 2010

The Return of the King.

When was the last time a regular season NBA game came with a movie-size trailer?

The short answer: Never before – and the only reason one exists for this one is that there was more electricty before this game than any other in the history of the NBA.  This was like Brett Favre returning to Green Bay as a Viking; only you will have to pretend that he walked away from the team while still in his prime and announced he was leaving the team by going on national television and  emphatically flashing his private parts at the team’s ownership. 

Needless to say there was a lot of hatred directed towards Lebron before, during and after the game.  How did Lebron respond?  I mean, honestly, how could he respond?  After all, he had already broken the hearts of everyone in Ohio and reduced last year’s one-man-team to a one-man-less-team.  Would he fold before the mighty onslaught of hate directed towards him?  The Heat have struggled on the road this season against less hostile crowds and this was probably the worst crowd they would face all year.  Some experts even picked Cleveland – led by…um…to win the game. 

Yet, in the face of pure hatred, Lebron did not fold nor did he allow his teammates to pull out the victory against a team nowhere near their equal.  Instead Lebron set out to thoroughly dominate and humiliate the Cavs and he succeeded.  Not only did the Heat blow the Cavs out of the water, but Lebron reminded the fans of Cleveland what they are missing.  This begs the question of which is worse: leaving your team on national television or returning with your new team and personally putting a horrendus beating on them?  Lebron put on a vintage performance and for one of the first times this season gave a glimpse of what is possible for the Heat going forward. 

So what exactly did the team demonstrate? 

For the first time this season, against a hostile crowd that threatened to swing the balance of the game, Lebron responded as he should: he simply took them out of the equation.  At times he: ignored them, smiled at them in a mocking way, taunted them with his ridiculous skills and when the time came in the third quarter to put the game even farther out of reach, he scored an insane 24 points in one quarter.  He stood in front of the home bench and reveled for the first time in being the villain

This season negative crowds have been very troublesome for the Heat but last night they fed off the energy and used it to put a dominating performance together.  There was never any doubt whose team it was last night: Lebron’s.  He led them completely in victory and added a swagger to their stance that has been missing all season long.  He enjoyed the crowd last night.  More importantly, in the past few games the Heat are finally beginning to cohere around the Big Three.  They have finally realized what they need to do in order to win: be Lebron’s team.

He is without a doubt the best player in the league and his stat line last night, in one of the biggest games of the season for the Heat proves it: 38 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 0 turnovers.  That is right, the guy who has been trying to make the transition to point guard of the Heat (and who has led the NBA in turnovers to this point) had zero turnovers last night.  He simply decided “screw it, no one is taking this ball from me” and he backed it up. 

The game against Cleveland feels a little bit like a turning point in the season.  Against Detroit the night before, the Big Three did not have to do much to get the victory – but that is not a bad thing.  They simply need to do what it takes to win and that finally seems to be taking hold in their mindset.  Last night, for the first time they embraced who their team has become to the rest of the league and it worked.  It may be the game they eventually point to as a coming out party – they win and they have shown they know how.  When the Heat go anywhere in the league they have to take all the animosity directed towards them and use it to their advantage, instead of crumpling beneath the pressure as they did in Boston.  Last night the entire team rallied around Lebron, which is exactly what they should do.   

Take the stat line of Dwayne Wade as an example.  For one of the first times this season, Wade simply got out of the way and allowed Lebron to run the show.  He was the sidekick he needs to become and had an outstanding contribution of 22 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds.  He was the jack-of-all-trades Miami desperately needs and for one night at least, he was willing to take that role happily.  Wade can dominate games, but for the Heat to become a serious contender this season he needs to take a step back and realize that for the good of the team he needs to do whatever is necessary for the them to win: defer to Lebron.  If that makes him the playmaker, so be it. 

Lebron may not be at his best when he is trying to get triple doubles – he is at his best however when he can make other players better.  One of the ways he does that is by having the ball in his hand and scoring a lot of points.  When that happens, opposing teams begin to go into panic mode because they know he can win games by himself.  At that point, Lebron can pick and choose his spots and become the great passer and all-around player he is.  Wade will still average more than 20 a game and Bosh will probably close out the end of the season near to that as well (is any Heat player coming more alive than Bosh in the last few weeks?  Apparently his coma is over). 

Do the Heat have some adjustments still to make?  Absolutely, but the blueprint seems to be coming into place:

1) Allow Lebron to be Lebron – For the first part of the season, he attempted to redefine his game and it sort of worked.  Now, he just needs everyone else to hop on the Lebron train and allow him to do what he is being paid more than $100 million to do.  Lebron is the best player in the league.  Period.  With this team, he can win a championship because when he dominates, everyone around him gets better.  To win a title, The Heat need him to do just that.  So forget about Lebron being Magic Johnson for a moment and savor the fact that for the first time this year he has decided to rise…as a villain

2) Dwayne Wade needs to accept that being a sidekick to the King still means he is important – Wade is arguably the most important player on the Heat, in fact.  It will be up to him to carry the leadership mantle.  He knows what it means to defer to a teammate.  Admittedly, he is a much different player than the youngster who helped Shaq hoist his fourth title and that has been part of the problem during the Heat’s slow start.  There is not enough room on the court for Wade and Lebron to trade possessions back and forth.  For the offense to flow it has to go through Lebron; that has never been more clear than last night.  Wade needs to be willing to take a lower point total, more assists and do everything in his power to help Lebron dominate.  It may be a tough pill for him to swallow at first but for the good of the team he needs to step up…by stepping back.  

3) Chris Bosh needs to continue to quietly play well – Bosh has been the forgotten man in all of this, but as of late his play has not reflected that.  During the past couple of weeks he has picked up his overall play immensely and has unselfishly begun to control the paint for the Heat.  (The main difference?  Aggression)  That is what they need him to do.  He can score twenty points a game in his sleep with this team, and the continued offensive coordination of the team will only help him become increasingly comfortable with his new teammates.  All he needs to do is be ready for a whole lot more uncontested dunks.

4) Embrace and use the hatred – Take one of their upcoming games this month: Christmas Day vs. LA.  The crowd will be hostile, and out in full force.  LA will want to dominate the Heat because they are tired of all the talk about them being the best team in the NBA.  They want to make a statement.  The Heat need to use that.  They need to get angry and they need to feed off all the energy directed towards them in the arena.  They need to be the team that surprises LA, not the other way around – maybe they don’t beat Gasol’s Lakers, but they can still make a powerful statement.  That statement must be: The Heat have arrived, and we will only get better  If they can do that, it would go a long way towards helping their cause.  Down the stretch, when everything is on the line, do you really want to have to play the Heat after they have a full season of playing together?  They just might be the darkhorse in the second half of the season. 

One thing on the books after last night: Lebron 1 – Cleveland 0

 

The “Real” Sportsman of the Year 2010

Sports Illustrated has named Drew Brees their Sportsman of the Year 2010 and for the most part it makes sense. 

Except for the part where it does not.  Not at all.

Is Brees deserving of the nod?  Absolutely – only in any other year but 2010.  Sure, I know that he won the Superbowl this season and redeemed the city of New Orleans after the horrors of Katrina.  I also know that his foundation has raised over six million dollars.  He gave New Orleans hope when there was none and does deserve all the accolades and applause he has recieved.

There is just, one, tiny problem.

It should not have been him.  Not this year. 

I picked my 2010 Sportsman of the Year – Lebron James – but I did not expect the most hated athlete of 2010 to actually take the coveted title.  There is quite simply too much “heat” on him right now. 

No, the person who actually deserves to be Sportsman of the Year is Sidney Crosby

Why does Crosby deserve to be Sportsman of the Year over 2010’s football hero who lifted the spirits of an entire city?  Crosby lifted an entire country, placed its hopes and dreams on his shoulders and then delievered in spectacular fashion. 

Did Drew Brees feel the weight of expectations before the Superbowl?  Undoubtedly he did, but Crosby had the fate of an entire nation on his stick at an Olympic Games in his home country.    If Canada had lost that game Vancouver would have been transformed into riot city – don’t believe me?  Look up 1994 when the Canucks lost game 7 to the Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals. 

More to the point: Drew Brees could have potentially been Sportsman of the Year next year.  This is a Winter Olympic year and Sports Illustrated usually makes an Olympian their choice since the games only happen once every 4 years.  Take Michael Phelps in 2008 for example, but this year they made a bit of a bonehead move in selecting Brees.  Don’t get me wrong, his credentials are fine but…

Crosby led Canada to gold.

Had the Penguins won the Stanley Cup this year as well (would have been their second in a row but they lost to the Blackhawks) he would have been beyond reproach and a much easier choice. 

Wait a minute…his credentials this year are beyond reproach: he is 24; has a Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold Medal; he is one the best hockey players in the league despite entering with outrageous hype;  is the most gentlemanly player since Gretzky and, finally, is one of the first hockey stars in a long time to be able to break into the mainstream public consciousness.  In Pittsburgh he has faced enormous scrutiny and led a bankrupt team to their first Stanley Cup victory in more than 15 years.  Need more?

He scored the game winning goal in the Olympics when his team and his nation needed him the most. 

Who else in the history of sports has delieved with so much pressure on them? 

Drew Brees may have lifted a city but Sidney Crosby lifted an entire country.