Flash forward – is it 5 years ago?

LeBron James is in an interesting and enjoyable phase of his career: the “I will do whatever it takes to win even when I literally have to drag my team to wins” era.  Five years ago the Heat asked him to do the same thing at the start of his astounding prime, and now, despite all the extra mileage on his legs, the Cavs are asking him to do the same.  Basketball wise it makes sense to ride the greatest player of his generation (and probably #3 or 4 all time) but he is no longer a young 26 year old.  However, due to the massive amount of injuries and the loss of Kevin Love, LeBron is going into the Jordan ’96 portion of his game.  Even when he shoots badly or is a subpar defender he has to do just enough to get the Cavs the win and not surprisingly, he is managing to gut it out game after game.  Sometimes the things he does are spectacular and we as fans suddenly remember, and are stunned, that Bron is in fact only 30.  His block on Derrick Rose with the Cavs leading by two was a huge play by a big time player and completely swung the momentum of the series.  LeBron and his staggering iq of the game have turned him into what we have always envisioned he would become: a force of nature in the low post, a physical freak on defence and a player who is literally unstoppable in transition.  He is a devastating player and crunch time killer who thrives on pressure and as he put it recently, “just put the ball in my hands and I will win it”.

What must it be like to be fans of an opposing team and have to see LeBron on the court.  Psychologically it must be shattering, knowing he can take over and will his team to victory.  He no longer cares about home court or who he has to play because he truly knows what it takes to win.  It drives him now, it consumes him.  Like Jordan or Bird or Magic or Duncan it is what matters most to him.  We should enjoy this LeBron because like all those who came before him, he won’t be around forever.

Luongo = LeBrongo?

Some people have been tossing around the name LeBrongo for the Canucks embattled goaltender. Did giving up 20 goals in the series doom the Canucks or was it their lack of offense? This demands comparison:
LeBron, also of the epic disappearing act, vanished in the NBA Finals, seemingly unable to do anything against the Dallas defense.
LeBrongo was the most visible, and most watched player in the entire Stanley Cup Finals. He could not have chosen a more public platform on which to melt down. The worst moment: knowing we had no chance in Game 6 to take the Cup in Boston because Luongo could not get out of the net fast enough when Schneider came to replace him.
LeBron should have been raising his first Championship title, but never really put in the effort required to secure it.
Luongo had two great games and one good game in the Stanley Cup Finals…unfortunately you need to win four games.
Luongo will no doubt be the subject of a myriad of trade rumors…the latest: to Tampa for Vinny LeCavalier.
No GM, Coach or President is going to trade the best player on the planet at any time in his career. Collapse or not, LBJ is not going anywhere but back to South Beach.
LeBrongo took his talents away from South Beach…to Vancouver.
Next season will arguably be the biggest season in both their lives. Championship or bust.
No way around it.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – January 27, 2010

Is Lebron James turning into some kind of NBA version of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight?

Lebron James still seems to be the most hated man in the NBA – and one of the most hated athletes in sports at this particular moment.  However, more and more it seems like he has become a villain that we love to hate. 

How much do we love to hate Lebron?  Even as he stirs controversy with each and every word; we just cannot get enough.  We desperately want to know what is happening with Lebron – all the time.  Foxsports.com has a “Heat or 3Peat” tab on their NBA page; ESPN has a “Miami Heat Watch” page and Sports Illustrated may as well have a Heat page given all the coverage they have tossed the Heat over the 2010/2011 season. 

Take the recent example of a Foxsports writer who provided midterm grades for all NBA teams – he gave Miami an F (lower even than the lowly and truly awful Cavs or Raptors).  Why would he give them this ranking?  To increase readership and to ensure that we continue to love to hate Lebron.  The Heat are the third or fourth best team in the NBA right now (Spurs / Celtics / Lakers / Heat) .  Do they deserve an “A” at this point in the season?  No, not even close…but a “B” or “B+” would probably have been a more appropriate grade for a team that has reeled off 2 long win streaks and at times appeared ridiculously dominant. 

Sort of like Ledger owning The Dark Knight:

The Dark Knight’s iteration of the most famous of Batman characters was that of a dark and extremely twisted induvidual who truly believed he was “good” by proving himself the world’s ultimate representation of “evil”.  He was a suicidal anarchist who was showed how powerful one man can be against the system – when that man literally has no rules to follow.  The Joker’s master plan was a sleight of hand so devious that Batman missed the entire point of his plot – corrupting the white knight of Gotham (Harvey Dent) in order to show how delicately one must tread the line between good and evil.  Batman fights every night not to cross the imaginary line into the grey zone the Joker occupies…but sees how easily he could slip over.  Ledger’s performance was so captivating that he was rewarded with a well deserved – and unfortunately posthumas – Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Lebron?

For a man allegedly hated incredibly deeply by all but Miami Heat fans, he sure has an uncanny ability to draw in the biggest crowds in the NBA.  It is Lebron and his Heat teammates who have brought the NBA to newfound heights of popularity.  Bill Simmons, ESPN’s The Sports Guy, was one of the harshest critics when Lebron made his fateful “Decision”.  Now?  He believes Lebron will be MVP again this year and has begun giving him begruding respect for maintaining his status as the NBA’s alpha dog while sharing the ball with the 2nd or 3rd best player in the league; Dwyane Wade. 

To top it all off? His Oscar Moment:

Lebron is the leading vote getter for the NBA all-star game which seems pretty unlikely for the most hated man in the NBA to achieve.  (Then again, can we really trust All-Star voters?  Who are the people that vote Yao Ming into the starting lineup whether he has played ten games or not…and Kobe always seems to make the starting lineup despite his years of , ahem, “difficulties”) 

People hate Lebron, and yet, like Ledger’s Joker we cannot turn away when he is on the screen because we are fascinated by what he may do next. 

And terrified that we will miss it.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – January 18, 2011

As the hobbled Heat continue to contemplate life without Lebron James, Chris Bosh and possibly Dwyane Wade (this has to be some kind of cruel joke?  They are all going to be on the court next game, popping up like they were just having a laugh, right?) the NBA’s other disgruntled star, Carmelo Anthony has started to drag his sort-of rival Lebron into his ongoing “I want out of Denver” saga. 

Melo, who you may remember, has had some troubled times in his career.  He was suspended for a long period of time following a brawl and needed a lot of help to get his career back on the right track.  One of the places he made a positive impression was at the 2008 Olympics, where he was helped by LBJ (and others) to regain his place among Basketball’s best. 

Now, however, Carmelo has almost totally succeeded in destroying all the good will he has built up since 2008.  He has torn his team apart with his desire to leave Denver, and his ongoing drama has morphed into the sorry step brother / younger brother of last season’s “where will LBJ go?”  The major difference?  LBJ never let his impending departure ruin his team’s title shot (at least until the second round against Boston), while winning a title for the Nuggets this season seems to be pretty low on Carmelo’s list of things to do before he slinks out of town. 

However, in a vain attempt to partially save the image he is so casually setting fire too, Carmelo has gone and fired the final missile in his arsenal.  He used Lebron and “the decision” to try and make himself look better. 

According to Carmelo “I would never go about it the way Lebron did.  If he could do it all over again, he wouldn’t do it that way – he would do it a totally different way, I can guarantee you that.  Unfortunately for Nugget fans, Melo has not stopped talking – “People throw away that whole seven-and-a-half years, and that’s what makes me laugh.  Because I’m like, me?  Out of all the people, you’re booing me?  Out of all the people.”

Really, Carmelo?  Really?  You’re playing the Lebron card?  You would never leave Denver the way Lebron left Cleveland because you imply you have never had the stomach for underhanded moves?  (While making a completely underhanded move!)

Are you trying to show us how much better you are by throwing all the loyalty of your fans in their faces for an entire season – or part of a season – before you callously leave them one day for a destination more suited to you and your wife’s career desires in the entertainment industry?  In many ways Carmelo does bring up a valid point, he would never have his own decision because he is not big enough to have one.  Lebron is a once in a generational talent who wants desperately to win, so much so in fact that he was willing to blindside his home state’s franchise on national television because he has a better shot at a title in Miami. 

Carmelo on the other hand, is destroying a team for his own selfish reasons that have nothing to do with winning anything but rather with satisfying Carmelo (and his wife).  Now, I am not saying Lebron’s move to Miami was not one of the most horrific assassinations of a team we have ever witnessed – but at least he has provided the illusion of sacrifice.  He took less money and smaller stats to sign with another top three player so that they could create a dynasty.  Sure, Melo has been bandied about as a potential New York Knick (joining with Amare and Chris Paul? or Raymond Felton to create another Big Three) but their biggest star, Amare Stoudemire, thinks the team is doing just fine as it is. 

Amare’s subtle message to Carmelo: NYC is mine!

You don’t understand why the Denver fans are booing you, Carmelo?  Maybe because instead of living an entire season of hell like Cleveland, a season spent not knowing if Lebron is leaving – but hoping he will stay – the Nuggets know you are leaving.  There is no chance of your staying put.  They are being forced to go through the motions and feign interest and quite frankly, are sick of it.  Why should they cheer someone who has only acknowledged them by questioning the fact that they boo him?  Carmelo is completely and totally unwilling to accept the role of villain that Lebron has embraced, and by comparing his trade drama to the decision has attempted (and failed miserably) to cast himself in a different light.  Lebron, is, naturally enjoying being a bad guy and has thrived in the role.  Carmelo?  Not so much. 

By now, we know that Carmelo’s preferred destination is New York, which would put him in the Eastern Conference whether he goes to the Nets or Knicks.  Some observers have pointed out this could finally ignite a Lebron / Carmelo rivalry but I am not so sure.  Carmelo just does not seem to have the heart for it, and as I have written before, I do not see him regaining that desire anytime soon. 

Why it would not work for him in New York / having a real rivalry with LBJ:

1) The Knicks would not be his team– New York has filled the position of a “me-first” superstar who believes he is the greatest player in Basketball history; Amare Stoudemire.  As he has publicly said, he does not think the team needs Carmelo to be successful as they are doing fine now.  Carmelo wants the team to be built around him.  This does not seem like a DWade/LBJ/CB1 situation wherein they are more than happy to share the ball.  There will be major conflict and if there were ever two players who would not work well together you can pretty much pencil in Carmelo and Amare.  Sharing the ball may be the least of their problems (especially since neither is particularly interested in defending anyone).  I mean, really – Carmelo could not even coexist with a fading Allen Iverson.  How will he possibly mesh with a star in his prime? 

2) He can never top Lebron – Lebron outdid Carmelo completely with “the decision” and essentially stole the thunder from every future marquee free agent, none of whom could ever top what he did or how he did it.  Carmelo wants to portray himself in a positive light but all he is doing is further angering Nuggets fans.  It has been clear from the outset that he is only in it for himself…and his wife.  Carmelo must be sitting there saying to himself  “man, I just cannot get by Lebron” and is attempting to seperate himself and become distinguished in his own right.  He is too late.  The Decision happened and it has changed the landscape of free agency forever.  Carmelo and everyone else, were one-upped forever and Carmelo must be stewing about it.  If he goes to the Eastern Conference, he is always just following Lebron and always just one step behind.  He may be the marquee free agent this year, but not of all time.

Last week, Bill Simmons suggested (as I did months earlier) that perhaps Carmelo should stay in the Western Conference and lead a superteam there.  Simmons suggested his hometown Clippers who are building a pretty fantastic team right now around Blake Griffin.  Would Carmelo be a good addition there?  I could see Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon playing with small ego’s for awhile but this is the NBA!  They have a good thing going, and adding Carmelo to the mix may upset the balance completely.  Carmelo is fast gaining a reputation for being a team destroyer (and only compounding the rep further by pretending he is not) and may eventually go down as the NBA’s version of Terrell Owens – a supremely talented man whose narcissm has completely shattered every single team he has ever played on. 

Carmelo has a chance to avoid that, but with his recent comments he is not endearing himself to anyone in Denver or the NBA.  Plus, he probably pissed off Lebron something fierce – does he really want to play him a couple more times a year when he is this mad?  Or in the playoffs, where Carmelo is notorious for disappearing at crunch time? 

Carmelo will likely end up on the Nets, which at this point seems to be the only plausible landing spot for him near New York.  The team will eventually be playing in Brooklynn and he would (literally) be the only great player on the team.  They could build around him but he would be sacrificing years of his prime toiling away near the playoff cutoff while the team gets better.  Meanwhile, Lebron and DWade may be raising multiple championship banners.  Would Carmelo be willing to do that – give up prime title years on a rebuilding team? 

The answer is simple: Absolutely.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – January 4, 2010

The Miami Heat continue to roll through the regular season but, with their dismantling of the rest of the league comes a new, unique challenge for the team: dueling MVP candidates who are also teammates. 

Lebron James and Dwyane Wade have played astoundingly well in the past month – so well in fact that the Heat have won 18 out of 19 games and 11 straight on the road.  On Christmas Day, in one of the biggest regular season showdowns in recent years, they dismantled the champion Lakers and thoroughly embarrassed Kobe Bryant. 

The largest part of the winning tear?  Lebron and DWade finding completely unique ways to coexist…and dominate.  Against the Lakers Lebron was fired up and ready to go from the opening tipand the Heat showed what they were capable of as a team.  Last night against Charlotte however, Lebron and DWade showed what they are capable of on their own. 

Lebron – 38 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists

Wade – 31 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists

The Heat’s two signature players combined for 69 points, 20 rebounds and 9 assists – add in Chris Bosh’s mostly forgettable (due to foul trouble and LBJ / DWade takeover) 11 points and 4 rebounds and the big three threw down 80 points and 24 rebounds.  Charlotte scored 82 points total.  The Big Three essentially outscored an entire professional basketball team.  Astounding.  Right now, the Heat are dicing up the competition with more efficiency and regularity than Miami’s other slash and dash artist, Dexter Morgan:

Naturally, with Lebron and Wade playing so well together, some have begun to track their duel MVP candidate stats.  As Miami writer Chris Perkins writes “…why not throw James and Wade into the MVP mix?  You always give consideration to the best players on the best teams”.  For the Heat this statement clearly has more than one meaning when your team’s best player is definitely “best players”. 

How does one possibly attempt to seperate Wade and James?

The short answer: not easily.  The NBA did not even try to sort it out when they made James and Wade co-players of the month for December.  There is little doubt the two have taken their respective and combined game to another level in the last month.  For one thing –  they are much more comfortable on the court together and that makes defending them a tricky proposition.  Currently they are fifth and sixth in the league in scoring average (both ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose…and just a hair behind Kobe Bryant) and they play on the same team.  Think about that for one second in this context: Kobe Bryant is 3rd in the league in scoring – his next closest teammate, Pau Gasol (on the supposedly balanced Lakers), is in 27th place

How is that for sharing the ball?

Lebron and DWade have clearly figured out how to coexist on the basketball court and that has been reflected in some recent MVP predictions as credit must be given where credit is due.  The “consensus”: Lebron will win his third MVP award this season.  Are they giving it to the right player?  Lebron is a walking triple double and his versatility is incredible but in the month of December, Wade has ascended to a place few other players have.  His play has been unbelievable and he has been virtually unstoppable.  A few people (like Michael Wilbon) have suggested that Wade is the new NBA alpha dog and that having Lebron on his team has unlocked his ceiling, as clearly he just continues to ascend. 

Wait one second though

Sure, Wade is one of the top three guys in the league…

At this point in the season, the league breaks down for me like this:

5) Kevin Durant – Difficult pick because of the emergence of Russell Westbrook, who is challenging his authority on his own team.  Durant still seems to be a year or two from complete dominance as the draining summer spent playing for Team USA has hampered his usual all-around style. 

4) Dirk Nowitzki – Absolutely dominating right now and has the Mavs positioned to make a deep run in the playoffs, even with a soft bench.  Shooting the lights out night after night.

3) Derrick Rose – Only one word can describe his play right now: amazing.  He is the heart and soul of the Bull’s return to prominance and he plays like it every single night. 

2) Dwyane Wade – Destroying teams right now, absolutely unstoppable when he drives for the basket.

1) Lebron James – If I had to pick one player to build a team around, it is Lebron.  The biggest reason?  He is shooting well, and not just on his dunks and layups, with his jumper from 15 – 20 feet.  Watch the highlights from the Golden State game or against the Bobcats – at one point he is pushed, steps back and hits a rainbow three with a defender in his grill.  Sure he still dunks the ball a ton, but Lebron with a jump shot to go along with his 7.3 assists per game?  Truly terrifying. 

Key Omissions – Kobe Bryant (not playing well right now and dragging the Lakers down with his typical “me-first” attitude), Deron Williams (almost there), Kevin Love (a rebounding machine), Dwight Howard (play has fallen off as of late), Carmelo Anthony (mired in trade trouble), Amare Stoudemire (should probably have been on the list), Russell Westbrook (one more year and he could leapfrog Durant), Blake Griffin (will be on the list in a couple of years – maybe topping it). 

Why Lebron over Wade or Wade over Lebron? 

In the opinion of ESPN’s Mike Wilbon: “LeBron is a better all-around basketball player. But if you ask me who I want in the final two minutes of a game, my answer is D-Wade. And that’s precisely what makes Miami so damn good. And why there might not be anybody in the league who can beat them.”

Yet it almost seems like while we are giving Wade his just due, we are short-changing Lebron (and vice-versa).  For one thing Lebron is so effortless in his dominance that at times we neglect to remember just how difficult the things he does are.  In addition, Lebron has always made his teammates better – he draws so much attention and creates so well that it is a natural by-product that his teammates get great scoring opportunities.  With so much attention focused on James, Wade has been able to join him on an ever rising plateau.  How high can the two teammates go?  When you throw Chris Bosh into the mix they are an incredibly tough team to beat, especially now that they are firing on nearly all cylinders.  Miami is in an envious and unique position in the basketball world because of their duel alpha-dog MVP candidates. 

Have any other teams faced a similar situation?  Sure, but never with two players in their absolute primes (in the NBA anyways…):

1) LA Lakers 2003 – 2005: This team featured MVP worthy performances by both Kobe and Shaq (in 2003 they finished 3rd and 5th in voting), but neither won the award while both were at their combined Laker peak.

2) Chicago Bulls 1996 – MJ won the award, Scottie Pippen finished 5th.  This may be the closest we ever come to a modern parallel to this situation.  However, in this case, there was little doubt as to who was the alpha dog on that team.  While Jordan was willing to share – it was his team, bottom line.

3) Edmonton Oilers 1980’s – Wayne Gretzky dominated hockey and won a slew of MVP awards; yet Mark Messier was at times just as deserving (including winning a Conn Smyth trophy for Playoff MVP during their first run to the Cup).  Two alpha dogs on one team in their primes, but again – Gretzky was better…until the Oilers became Messier’s team when Gretz was traded to the Kings and the Oilers still won the 1990 Stanley Cup. 

4) Vancouver Canucks 2010 / 2011 – My local team features last year’s MVP Henrik Sedin and his twin brother Daniel, either of which could take the award this year (if not for Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos).  If only one could differenciate himself from the other…

At this point in the season it is impossible to pin the MVP award on any player, let alone decide between Wade and James.  The final tally may come down to one simple question: who is more valuable to the Miami Heat?   The answer is not as simple as the question because at times it will be Wade and at others it will be Lebron – at others still it will be Chris Bosh.  What is clear is that when Wade and James each score thirty points in a game they will be impossible to beat and we may see it happen with increasing frequency. 

For me, though, there is larger question: was Miami a title contender before Lebron made his decision?   The realistic answer was that no, they were not.  Now, because of a single, villainous act – they are and Lebron is the major reason.  He has transformed the team frommaking the playoffs to title contender.  Miami is currently the team to beat and few teams have found a way to do it now that Lebron and Wade are playing so well together. 

At the end of the season I hope the NBA decides to do then what it did in December…

Co – MVP’s? 

What do you think?  Who would you vote for MVP – Lebron or DWade or neither? 

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.

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.