What a roller coaster week in the league we just witnessed. The season is now a month and half away from the playoff and all the personnel moves have been made. ”Crygate” has dominated the headlines as Miami has become completely unglued at this point. I will touch on that subject in just a moment. The LA Lakers have finally decided its time to play basketball and have quietly posted seven straight wins. Their domination of the San Antonio Spurs Sunday served notice that the two-time defending champs are still the team to beat in the west. I knew how much that game meant to Kobe when I saw him jutting his jaw out (This jaw thing Kobe is doing is becoming his signature I guess like Michael Jordan’s tongue wag) and talking trash to the Spurs bench.
Now I could spend this entire column dissecting what’s wrong with Miami but it’s not enough time in a day for that. What I see on the court from them is a team lacking confidence in late game moments, which is flat out insane when you think about it. Lebron James and Dwayne Wade have been among the best at knocking down game-winners in their career. According to 82game.com, Lebron has 17 career game winning shots and D-wade has 11. Even newly acquired Mike Bibby has 8. It also seems very questionable that Wade is not touching the ball in clutch moments. The moment of truth that I predicted has finally came to bear its ugly head. Lebron and D-wade are struggling to figure out who team its going to be. Wade made the following statements after their loss to the Bulls: “I’m used to coming down in the fourth, having the ball, making mistakes, getting a chance to make up for them, etc.” I don’t know but to me it sounds like he wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game. Lebron has always been and always will be the best player on his team. He is the best player on the planet right now and is use to having his way with teammates. Lebron and Wade have to learn to trust one another in those moments. It shouldn’t matter who takes the shot as long as IT’S THE RIGHT SHOT. They also seem to lack ball movement in those crunch time moments, rather just relying on isolation plays for James and Wade. Teams know this and crowd who ever has the ball in those final seconds. In the game against Chicago, if Wade or Bosh had cut to the basket they could have had an open shot if Lebron was able to get the pass off. That goes back to the coaching as well as Spolestra has to have more imagination in his play-calling because smart teams know what is coming and how to defend it.
As for the crying thing, give me a break. The last thing any player should be doing is crying after losing a regular season game. This wasn’t a NBA finals game, this wasn’t even a playoff game. The biggest rub I have about this situation is that the coach comes out and publicly announces that his team was shedding tears in the locker room. Do you think Phil Jackson or Greg Popovich would come out and admitted that for everyone in the world to ridicule? Me neither. Coach Erik Spolestra has made a crucial mistake in my opinion. Can’t you just imagine Kevin Garnett having a word or two when these teams play? Yep, me too (I would pay any amount of money to hear what he says to Bosh when they play again!). You never want your team be known as soft and now they will forever have to carry that burden with them. Maybe crying was their way or showing how much they care about their season but I reiterate you never want your team to show weakness. The Heat still have the 6th best record in the league at 43-20 and are in first place in the Southeast division. Remember way back at the beginning of the season when they started 9-8 and the bandwagon wheels begin to fall off? They promptly went 21-1 over there next 22 games. They have too much talent not to compete but the expectations they have made for themselves may be to much for them to win a championship this year.
Now to the rankings:
1. Los Angeles Lakers (45-19) – The Lakers just destroyed the best team in the league in the San Antonio Spurs. That win served notice to the league that the championship still goes through Hollywood, like it or not. The Spurs big 3 version of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan were held to just 22 points. Andrew Bynum was a beast on the boards as he just inhaled any missed shot they came in his direction and finished with 17 rebounds. Kobe has that look in his eyes as Lakers haven’t lost since the all-star break. The Lakers showed how good they can be against the Spurs and the league better concern themselves with the champs once again.
2. Dallas Mavericks (45-17) - Every year there is a team who has a bunch of wins in the regular season just to fall flat on their face in the playoffs. I hate to say it but that is what this team puts me in mind of but I have to keep them here because they just keep winning. Their lost Sunday to surging Memphis is just their second in 18 games. The Lakers are creeping up on the Mavs for second place in the conference as they are just percentage points behind them. A bright spot for Dallas though is the return of Roddy Beaubois as he has scored 28 points in 29 minutes. Talk about efficiency.
3. Chicago Bulls (43-18) - These guys just don’t let up defensively. Coach Tom Thibodeau deserves a lot of credit for making them into one of the stingiest teams in the league. They added to Miami’s misery this weekend by beating them Sunday. Derrick Rose seems to be able to step his level of play up in late game situations as well as the Bulls defense. Sometimes it’s the little things in games and Joakim Noah’s block-out of Lebron and Erick Dampier was a thing of beauty. It allowed Luol Deng to get the ball and get fouled in which led to the ensuing game winning free-throws. This is mentally tough team and they proved it against Miami.
4. San Antonio Spurs (51-12) The Spurs took one on the chin against L.A and therefore take a big drop in the rankings. San Antonio looked old, weak in the post and overmatched against the Lakers. Even though they have the best record in the NBA and the inside track to home court advantage, I just don’t see how they could beat the Lakers four out of seven. Tim Duncan scored a measly TWO POINTS against the Lakers and never looked comfortable against L.A’s front line. They were only out rebounded 49-43 but it seemed like it way worse than that. Who knows, maybe this was just a bad day at the office for the Spurs but whew did they ever stink in that game.
5. Boston Celtics (46-15) The Celtics just keep chugging along under the radar while Miami and L.A dominate the headlines. The Celtics have gotten a nice boost from Nenad Kristic of all people as he is averaging 12.2 points since he came to the team. That is big for the C’s as Glen “Big Baby” Davis recently was hit with the knee tendonitis that could sideline him for the next week. They also added the recently cut Miami point guard Carlos Arroyo for some back court depth. They will now have to work on making their new additions (Kristic, Jeff Green and Arroyo) fit in. Just look for more of the same until playoff time from the Celtics
Other news and notes:
Kevin Love ties double-double record: Shaq couldn’t do it, neither could Dwight Howard, Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlin or even the great Bill Russell. Hopefully that can put into context what Love is accomplished here. The previous record by Moses Malone has stood since 1979. It’s an incredible feat and will be that much better if he is able to break Malone’s record. The man has played possessed this year and was three rebounds short of recording his fourth straight 20-point 20-rebound game. He should get the record against the Pacers (Roy Hibbert has never put up much of a fight on the boards) Can you imagine the difference he could provide for a team that needs rebounding (Miami, Philadelphia or Dallas) and a little offense. I think its time that we gave this man a nickname, he has clearly earned it. And please don’t give me a goofy white guy name either just because he happens to be white and playing in the NBA (A la White chocolate, Ghost rider, etc). I will have to think about that and come up with one.
New York Knicks taking form – The Knicks are looking like a team that could surprise a higher seeded team in the playoffs this spring. They put 131 points on Utah last night in their victory and showed what they could be when clicking. Notice I didn’t say clicking on all cylinders as they didn’t have starting PG Chauncey Billups who is still recovering from Dwight Howard’s mammoth knee to his thigh. Carmelo had 34 points and Stoudemire just abused the Jazz post going off for 31 of his own. This is a dangerous team. They have a deadly perimeter scorer in Melo, who also can knock down the clutch shot when needed and with Stoudemire on the block you can’t double team him. Another big surprise I noticed with the Knicks is their shooting stroke. These guys can fill it up with Landry Fields, Shawne Williams and Toney Douglas. They shot 13-26 behind the three point line and again that with one with one all time shooting greats in Billups sitting on the bench. When this team is able to get some more depth to add to the talent they already have, they will be title contenders, let me be the first to say it.