Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – May 30, 2012

After the Miami Heat had put away Game Two in overtime – seemingly – Rajon Rondo buried two threes with such ridiculous confidence that it was as if the ghost of Larry Bird was possessing him.  Crazy and unbelievable.  The man could not miss and you have to hand it to him for having the guts to take and make shots that are far, far out of his comfort zone.  His second OT 3, with the game out of reach showed how desperate he was to win.  He never gives up.  Ever.  After playing every single minute of the game and OT, he was burying threes with no time left.  Given that he played last years series with one arm, Rondo is showing again how much of a big time player he is.

While Rondo showed guts and moxie, on the other side of the ball it was pure luck that carried the Heat through a very, very, very sloppy game.  LeBron could not shoot.  Wade could not hit free throws.  LeBron missed a good luck with the buzzer sounding…but…I take some comfort in the fact that he did not hesitate to take the shot.  Baby steps.  Next time we will discuss how he could have taken the fraction of his size Rondo to the hoop and easily won the game, but again, baby steps.

As for Wade, at one point I said to my lovely girlfriend “its a good thing he made the ridiculously difficult hoop since he will not hit the free throw”.  How infuriating is it to watch Wade and LeBron play as passively as they do when it is clear they can dominate when they want to.  Now is the time to put Boston away, not to sit back.

For large swaths of the game the Heat seemed to be treating it like a weekend pickup game in the Hamptons.  the energy and focus they displayed previously was missing.  They have to regain that focus to close out the series in Boston.

Because if they do get through they will run into one of the fifteen best teams in NBA History, who are handily destroying the second best team in the playoffs (and seemingly toying with them).  I badly underestimated the Spurs.  Very, very badly underestimated them.  How are they keeping their vets healthy?  The “Moses Malone” strategy seems to be in play.  Yes, the Spurs are employing the extremely rare “fo fo fo fo” style.  This “sweep everyone including the ridiculously good Thunder” game plan is allowing Tim Duncan to play like he has been to Kobe’s doctor and helping keep the pass happy Spurs fresh.  They just might be one of the fifteen best teams ever and in the playoffs they have lived up to their billing.

Before the postseason started I was extremely guilty of underestimating San Antonio.  I remembered the team that was humiliated by the Grizzlies last year, not the team led by one of the six best players ever (Duncan), a frenchman playing out of his mind post-divorce (Parker), the greasiest player ever (Manu) and one of the five best coaches ever (Pops).  Can anyone stop this team?

Game two of Miami – Boston will eventually get steady rotation on ESPN as a classic, but the Heat rarely played it that way.  They need to step it up if they are going to have the honor of being swept by the Spurs.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – May 27, 2012

As the final five minutes of last night’s Celtics / 76er’s game played out I knew there was no way Miami was going to welcome Philly tomorrow night.  No chance at all.  Right about the time that Rajon Rondo hit his second straight deep three (astounding given his range is 5 feet) there was little doubt that Miami will again have to go through the aging Celtics.  Can Boston’s big three pull out some sort of miraculous victory?  A few things tip the balance in favor of the Heat:

– Rondo has been “inconsistent” at times (this is a nice way of saying no one truly knows if he is going to show up on any given night).

– Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are playing on one leg apiece.

– KG is playing at a completely unsustainable pace.

The seven game series with Philly was a hard fought one for the Celtics which took an enormous physical toll on nearly every player on the team.  They certainly did not escape unscathed, not by a long shot.

There are a few concerns for the Heat however, namely that a three and half man team is now down to two and half men.  Miami did not escape their series with the Pacers without sustaining a major injury of their own, as Chris Bosh was felled by a tomahawk dunk leading to a “day to day” status that does little to cover the severity of his injury (most likely a torn abdominal muscle).  The loss of Bosh makes a “good” team into an “okay” one – except for the fact that the two remaining guys are LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.  Shouldering an extra burden, the two absolutely destroyed the Pacers by themselves and now have to do the same to the Celtics.

Otherwise Miami loses, plain and simple.  Miami might struggle to stop KG, but there is absolutely no one on Boston who can possibly stop LeBron and Wade.

On the other side of the bracket an epic series is set to kick off between OKC and San Antonio pitting youth versus experience.  Both teams have been playing out of their minds andf this clash could take everything out of them (fingers crossed!).  Just how good are the Spurs?  We will find out.  How has Tim Duncan rejuvinated his play?  Can the Thunder make “the leap”?  We will find out.  The Spurs have not played anyone as good as the Thunder in these playoffs, but neither have the Thunder.

As a Heat fan, I would rather play the Spurs, simply because I do not think they can stop LeBron.  The Thunder terrify me because they are an absolute matchup nightmare.  The real key to the OKC – SA series is going to be the coaching.  I see the Wily old Spurs continuing their terrific play…

But not beating OKC.  Young legs will trump experience here.

Miami – OKC final.

 

Are the LA Kings a team of Destiny?

After watching the LA Kings go through my beloved Vancouver Canucks as if they were simply not there, they have begun appearing more and more like a team destined to win the Stanley Cup.  Part of me wants to believe this because they beat my team and I would feel a little better if we lost to the Stanley Cup Champs (even if we did not put up much of a fight).  Why do the Kings feel like one of those teams destined to hoist the Cup – they have everything they need to win:

1) They are riding a hot tender – Few goalies have been better than J Quick in these playoffs.  He outdueled the other goalkeeper of the postseason (Mike Smith) in five games which were not really all that close.  Quick is coming into his own at exactly the right time at has been the backbone of a team that had to make a major trade just to sneak into the playoffs.

2) Their offense has come alive at the exact right time – Adding Jeff Carter as a rental helped the Kings finally find some offense…but not much, at least until the postseason kicked off.  Suddenly Dustin Brown and Carter and Richards and even Penner were lighting the lamp.  The Kings were putting up 3 or 4 goals a night.  Crazy.

3) A good draw – Playing the Devils in the Stanley Cup finals is a great East-West draw for the NHL (sure the Rangers would have been better) but the Kings have played well as a team while the Devils are a cobbled together cast of role players.

I think the Kings snag their first ever Stanley Cup.

Miami Thrice Title Quest – March 24, 2012

As the Indiana Pacers season came to a close they could only stare in wonder at the man who closed them out: Dwyane Wade.  After being much maligned for his truly awful game 3 performance, Wade rebounded and played one of the best games of his career to finish off the upstart challengers to the Heat.

(Although it should be mentioned that he had his knee drained in this series and suddenly was “playing amazingly afterwards”.  If there are five words I never want associated with the second best player on my team it is the following: he had his knee drained…)

In a series that has seen some truly bizarre moments – Bosh injuring himself on a dunk, multiple suspensions for Heat centers and career best games for both Wade and LeBron – I can honestly say I am glad it is over.  I am also glad that it was Wade who closed it out, although he should not make it a habit as there is little doubt LeBron is the team’s best player.  Consider his performance in Game Four when the team had their backs against the wall and he so thoroughly dominated the game that the Pacers simply gave up all the way through the end of Game Five.

Tonight it was Wade’s turn and he played with a supreme amount of confidence.  On one play he drove and was knocked down but watched the shot bounce around and go in as he rolled up and swaggered all the way to the foul line.  He knew as soon as he let the ball go from an impossible angle that it was going on.  Maybe three guys could know that in the entire world and two of them play for Miami.  Wade hardly missed all evening and his astounding array of floaters, most of them over an increasingly humorous cast of look-alike Pacer players (Has anyone else noticed that Roy Hibbert, Paul George and Danny Granger could be triplets?  Can this possibly be a coincidence?) led to foul trouble for the Pacers and eventually sealed Miami’s win.  At one point LeBron cruised in for an easy layup as if the Pacers had forgotten he was on the floor.  This is the Miami we need to see more of!

I do not know if Miami can beat OKC, or San Antonio or even Boston (I will never cheer as hard for anyone as I cheer for Philly on Saturday) but this whole season still comes down to LeBron.  He is truly breathtaking and truly unstoppable when he chooses to be.  If the Heat are missing Chris Bosh they will not beat OKC or San Antonio.  However…you can never really count them out simply because in a game like tonight, when Wade and LeBron genuinely play off each other, they are the most dangerous combo in the league.

Bring on the 76ers!!!

Please, please, please, please, please….

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – May 22, 2012

Just when I was ready to write off the Miami Heat and LeBron (who might be the most frustrating superstar in history) they go and put on a performance for the ages.  To put their 70 points in context: last night OKC’s “Big Three” dropped 70…with three of them.  LeBron simply put the team on his back and refused to let them lose.  His 40 points, 18 board and 9 assists was one of his greatest performances ever.

The win that evened the series was even more important.  Maybe, perhaps, finally, possibly…could LeBron finally know what it takes?  He needs to dominate every single game for Miami to have a chance to win the title.  Boston will be waiting to shred them in the Eastern Finals (if they make it) and San Antonio or OKC will be waiting to kill them in the Finals.

When did the team become underdogs?

And underrated?  Lest we forget the power of a focused LeBron, who can single handedly sway the playoffs and bend the game to his will.

Champions League Champions!!!

On Saturday, my beloved team Chelsea, completed the most improbable run to the Champions League Title the sport has ever seen.  I was in Seattle during the game, ironically the first place I came into contact with the team three years ago when they were playing the Sounders in an exhibition.  It is ironic then that the greatest moment in the club’s history happened while I was in Seattle.

I turned on the game from the 80th minute on and did not leave until I watched the players raise the trophy and celebrate on the field.  It was absolutely magical – and truly stunning.  As Gary Neville stated “this was about more than football”, from the outset of the tourney Chelsea has seemed like little more than an afterthought.  They did not take the easy route to the title by any means.  From their magical comeback against Napoli (Cole’s goal line clear????!!!) through their epic contest with Barca the “best team in the world” (Messi missed a penalty and Chelsea played with 10 men!!!!), Chelsea simply gutted out a run that can be described only as destiny.

Even the final against Munich in Munich had the feel of some kind of higher power in control – consider Robben’s missed penalty (where he had the game, literally on his foot) through Bastian’s muffed penalty with the game on the line.  There will be a lot of babies named Drogba being born in London this year…

As for me?  For the first time in my life my team actually won (amazing games by Cole, Gary Cahill and of course, the incomparable Petr Cech).  It is almost impossible to describe what that feels like.  Sort of a dream-like state where nothing can touch you and you need to frequently remind yourself that yes, this is really happening.  Winning the Champions League is sort of like winning the NBA Playoffs…twice.  Unbelievable for a team that finished in sixth place this season and needs a complete overhaul during the offseason (Drogba’s last kick won them the club’s only Champions League title!) but for the vets like Drogba, Lampard, Cole, Cech and yes, even John Terry – this was truly the culmination of all the years of service.

I finally know what it feels like to see your team win.

It feels as good as I thought it would.

In fact, it is amazing.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – May 17, 2012

Is it too late to become an OKC fan?

Miami has just put on what might be the single worst display of playoff basketball I have ever seen.  To be blown out by the Indiana Pacers is ridiculous when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are on your team.  To play as truly horribly as Miami did is another thing altogether.  DWade had what might be the worst game of his career and LeBron checked out in the second half once the team started sliding.

This does not bode well.

Nor does Wade getting into it with Eric Spolestra.

Suddenly I feel bad for LeBron.  Really, really bad.  It seems like he was bamboozled to come to Miami by DWade and Pat Riley (“Come on LeBron, it will be easy to win titles here and you can hang out in the clubs in South Beach…”) and now Miami is a team in crisis.  Wade was really, really awful tonight.  Nothing went right for him.  In the first quarter, LeBron was focused and aggressive and then without him the team fell apart.

Except for Mario Chalmers who played well with James and Wade falling apart.

The team is in a major crisis and is down 2-1 to the Pacers.  Boston would be ripping them apart right now.  They have better get it together quickly here.

Again, is it too late to start rooting for OKC?

Free Kicks – May 17, 2012

The final weekend of the Premier League has come and gone, and I have finally processed just what went down.

What exactly happened?  Only one of the most exciting moments in the history of English football.  With the title on the line and no time remaining, Man City snatched away victory from their hated rivals and raised their first trophy in many, many, many…seasons.  In the 94th minute of the game, City striker Sergio Aguero put the finishing touches on a sensational, gutsy comeback with a moment reminiscent of Joe Carter’s World Series winning home run, or, more aptly, Michael Jordan’s game winner over the Utah Jazz.

It was thrilling…soccer?

Truly the victory was a staggering achievement in a season that has seen a ton of ups and downs.  In the end though, the best team won.  Now City will look to stake their claim in the Champions League next season, while Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal all try to close the gap through a ridiculous spending spree.  Meanwhile Tottenham will be cheering their hearts out for Bayern this weekend as Chelsea tries to snatch their fourth place finish and the final Champs League spot.  My friend, @madadub (a huge Spurs fan) will be there (lucky!) cheering as hard for Munich as he ever has for his own squad.

Overall an amazing season for me to come over and join the masses who are jumping on the Premier League bandwagon.

Until August then…

 

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – May 16, 2012

A few seconds after the Heat handed the 2nd game of their series to the Indiana Pacers through one of the most horrible examples of free throwing in the history of the playoffs (shades of Nick Anderson ’94???).  With the Heat desperately needing free throws from LeBron and DWade to tie (and take the lead!) they failed to get them.  LeBron bricked four to chants of “choke” around the world; DWade missed two.  These are two of the best players in the world.

The team seemed to deflate completely behind the failing of their two stars and they never really had a chance from that point onward.  Without Chris Bosh who in all truth probably tore a muscle doing a tomahawk dunk, the Heat desperately need Bron and Wade to step up.  They did…sort of…but definitely not enough.  LeBron cannot lay back and he cannot defer too much.  The Miami Heat have to be his team if they are going to have a chance.

The loss of Bosh may however prove to be too crippling for the team to overcome.  Can they beat Boston without Bosh?  Can they beat Oklahoma?  Can they beat Indiana?  Since the Big Three came together a season ago the entire “8 Championship Plan” has rested solely upon the contingency of all three players staying healthy.  Without Bosh this is not a great team, but merely a good one.  Bosh can stretch the floor due to his 18 foot range and ability to put the ball on the floor.  He opens lanes for LeBron and DWade and without him, even though they both went to the rim with reckless abandon it was occasionally misguided.

Wade even became so flustered at one point due to a non-call (on a clear foul) that he committed a very silly flagrant foul by bodychecking one of the Pacers from behind.  It was simple frustration at being unable to put the game away but it cost the Heat a chance to go ahead – and ultimately win.  The boys need to step up big time, there is no question this is Wade / LeBron’s team now.  They will be playing huge minutes and will have to play huge to make up for Bosh’s absence.  Already these “extra duties” seem to be causing tension, as LeBron is bemoaning having to play power forward as it is “taxing”.

You know what else is “taxing” LeBron?  Not winning the freaking Championship…again! 

Will Wade and LeBron be enough for the Heat to advance?

(Editors Note: They better be!)

 

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – March 9, 2012

Thus one of the strangest New York Knick seasons in the history of the franchise is concluded with a solid Miami victory.  Consider that the following happened during a turbulent run for the NY squad: Jeremy Lin, coach fired, Melo hurt, Melo trade rumors, Amare punching out a fire extinguisher…simply a ridiculous season for them.

Coming into the series I was worried about a “Game Four” Melo type performance throughout, but in the end the Heat were able to take control through the surprisingly strong play of their bench.

For much of the game the Knicks showed exactly why Carmelo can never be a franchise player – he does not make anyone else better.  He can only play one on one and he can only be an effective player when he is scoring.  Will he be able to steal some games down the line when he gets as hot as he did against Miami in Game Four?  Of course he will, but he may never be a champion.  Melo simply does not get it and honestly I do not think it matters to him.  Winning for Melo is less important than a good game.  In Game Four, he had a great game and leaving the arena with the crowd chanting “Melo” was probably the highlight of his season.  Yet it could be argued the Knicks played their best ball of season when Jeremy Lin was leading the team (at least until he ran into Miami’s defense).  Going forward what should the Knicks do?  They do not look anything like a team, but rather a collection of individual talent – ironically led by the most individual of players.

Miami has some concerns going into their series with Indiana as well: for one thing, LeBron was only partly engaged in the series.  When he wanted to he completely took over.  When he did not care, Melo walked around him like he was a pylon.  Several times, even in Game Five, LeBron would casually stroll upcourt while Wade put on a series of impossible moves.  Miami is clearly at their best when the two superstar’s play off each other, which happened with much more frequency in the first three gamers of the series.  The players also need to sit Mario Chalmers down and inform him how a fast break works and that he must stop settling for open three’s when they have a clear numbers advantage (“Just take it to the basket Mario!”).  Sometimes a three is a good shot but every time he let the ball go I groaned.  Poor shot selection has long been a hallmark of Chalmer’s game and against Indiana it could mean the difference between a win or loss.

LeBron must stay aggressive and engaged for the entire series.  If he wants the title it is his.  If he wants to drift off, he will not raise another banner in the arena.

On to Indiana.