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Tag:Miami Heat
Posted on: March 6, 2013 11:12 pm
 

Best Story: Blackhawks or Heat?

This was gonna’ be a piece all about the amazing Chicago Blackhawks’ and their stupendous start to abbreviated NHL ‘12-13, but then hoopsters Miami decided to turn-up the Heat on the rest of the NBA and remind everyone who’s boss. Tough call.

Every time I get the scores on these two clubs I’m muttering to myself words like “Really,” “Wow” or “Is that right?” It’s real and it’s right.

As of this writing (3/6) the Blackhawks’ record stands at a mind-boggling 21-0-3, while the Heat have fattened-up their mark to a weighty 45-14 with zero defeats in their last sixteen contests.

So who’s the better storyline, Chicago’s ice-men cometh or the Miami marvels?

Going by the media’s reaction it’s the Heat Express, hands down.

During the streak Miami is winning by an average of 12 points per contest, faring fine in team-rankings for both scoring (5) and defense (10).

While their two biggest threats at this stage in San Antonio and Indiana are absent from the run (L 2/1 @ IND 89-102), the sixteen Ws do include nice wins over serious squads from each Conference including OKC, LAC, LAL, MEM, NYK, CHI and ATL.

Those susceptible to being ‘captured by the moment’ now feel compelled to put LeBron James in the ‘greatest all-time‘ discussion (Kobe shrugs). Such succotash probably puts a wry smile on the face of the savvy Mr. James who’d quickly dismiss the fawning.

Greatest or not, the “merely super-great” James (a Bing-ism) reigns supreme in ‘13 and is big reason why the Heat cook like Rachel Ray on short notice, joining leaders in PPG (27 / 4), assists (10), FG% (8) and rebounds (22), while Dwyane Wade contributes (21.7) and Chris Bosh rebounds lite (7.0). Heat hiccups: an Ass’n worst RPG (38.8) as Eastern rival IND excels (45.7) and disturbing up-tick in LeBron’s 3-pt. tries in opposite of prior trend downward.

Any aspirations Miami has of dynasty can only be realized if James works his business inside (where he’s nearly unstoppable) and passes on the tres-temptation like it was that frosted cupcake calling you for a late-night snack. Gotta’ watch the GERD!

Those residing north of the 49th parallel or folk who favor the checks & balances in the spectacle of skate will vote Blackhawks the better narrative. I concur.

Any team that stays unbeaten for as long as the ‘Hawks deserves the nod. One thing though, the word ‘unbeaten’ is a bit tricky in the NHL, given the three dimensions of play: regulation, overtime and shootout periods. The Chicagoans remain unbeaten in regulation and OT (4), having gone 3-3 in shooters.

As for the point record (24G season-start), I’ve never been a fan of streaks or streakers (bad look in the 70s). That’s especially true when a streak is subject to the whims of official scorers (Joe 56), player discretion (Cal 2632) or stapled onto a prior season (CHI 30 / 35 ‘79-80 Flyers). Pointless.

These Blackhawks impress because of their scoring differential (72 GF vs 41 GA), wealth of goal-tending (Corey Crawford & Ray Emery / 1.73 GAA), resilient, bounce-back ability (COL 3/6) and parlay probably the most talented, diverse trio on ice in Jonathan Toews (C), Patrick Kane and the wily veteran who serves as team bellwether, Marian Hossa.

Chicago’s penalty minutes are where they should be (270 / 18th) but power-play is pedestrian (19.7%). No matter, it’s an over-rated stat. This is where you work in those wise & famous words of Mr. Disraeli: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” Damn the scoring part, it’s killing the PP that matters and in that regard ‘Hawks are fine.

Some compare this Blackhawks’ squad to the 2010 Stanley Cup winners. Fair enough. Many players and coaches (Joel Quenneville) remain. But each team has its own dynamic and must forge its own identity requiring a new assessment. One asset from ’09-10 that will need duplication come playoffs is defenseman-enforcer Dustin Byfuglien, now with Winnipeg. That ‘10 Finals (PHI) was hero heavy but “Big Buff” played a key role.

A lot can change between March and May, but for now, the ‘Hawks and Heat are playing like teams with a destiny and the know-how to grab hold a’ that brass ring and hang-on tight.

Oh yeah, there’s one more thing that makes the Blackhawks’ Cup Quest II the better tale: they display the best uniforms and moniker on the sporting landscape, hands down. So please Reebok Suits & Skirts, hands off.

Steven Keys
Neutral Zone
Posted on: January 7, 2013 11:59 am
 

NBA Feeling Lakers' Pain

“When America sneezes, the world catches cold.” That’s a variant of what Klemens von Metternich wrote about France during the Napoleonic period in the early 1800s.

In the same vane, when the Los Angeles Lakers are under-the-weather, all of basketball feels a tad queasy.

With his title in tow, LeBron James may be the contented face of the NBA and other clubs can surely pack a punch, but if there’s an America’s Team on the pro hardwood circuit it has to be the men in purple & gold of southern California.

Don’t like the Lakers as NBA standard-bearer? Tough noogies. Find another team that‘s done their fans as proud as have the Lakers over past sixty years and you can complain.

Celtics had a good run there but have fashioned just one title (‘08) since ‘86; the Knicks’ drought is so long it raises concerns over climate change; Bulls will milk the Jordan / Jackson legacy dry, content waiting on good fortune to land in their lap again; and only time will tell whether the Spurs, Heat, Mavericks and the myriad of contender / pretenders that pop up every decade will make the long-term investment standard-bearing requires.

Whether it was the Yankees, Maple Leafs, Packers or Gophers football and their 6 national crowns that provided the template, I don’t know. What I do know is that when the NBA set-up shop in the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1947, the new ownership created a strategy for success that’s remained in place as long as any other franchise in all of sportdom.

From those early days when original superstar George Mikan carried the frozen Lakers on his back (‘49-50, ‘52-54), to the Baylor / West era, Wilt’s arrival and first golden title in ’72, Kareem‘s return, then the magical ride of Earvin Johnson & friends to the Jacksonian Era (Kobe), LA’s foray into the NBA has been great for its fans and good for the game.

As of this writing LAL’s record stands at 15-18. Not in full funk yet but starting to give a faint feeling of futility.

The numbers tell a tale.

Kobe Bryant’s putting up points like Michael Jordan was pre-Phil (30.5), bidding time while he and everyone around him tries to find their bearings.

Pau Gasol’s numbers are down (8.5 REB / 12) as he adjusts to the new arrivals and bears-up under the constant talk of trade.

Prize pre-season pick-up Dwight “Pip” Howard of the “Great Expectations” has seen his offensive boards ebbing low (3.7) but overall puts up respectable digits (12 REB / 17+).

The other half of Lakers surprise off-season haul, Steve Nash, is rounding into form (8.2 APG / 10.2) since returning from a leg injury that had him sidelined from tip-off. The challenge: Is there a power-sharing or does Nash take charge and direct the flow?

Team tallies: Lakers are fifth in scoring (102.8) but just four spots up on NBA worst Charlotte (103.8) in points allowed (100.5), in the top-half of FG% (45.3), near the rear in FT% (69) but just behind leader Golden State (46+) in all important RPG category (45.8).

Recent coaching changes have taken their toll on continuity, chemistry and confidence.

Mike Brown’s firing felt like panic, Kupchak & Buss’ flirtation with Phil Jackson smacked of a bad, discount chain, shoe-store interview in Green Bay and current mastermind Mike D’Antoni’s record is spotty: solid in Phoenix, so-so in NYC.

It’s too easy and a bit lame to blame their current malaise on “old” age (Bryant). A likely motivational move by their team-leader but not carefully crafted when it comes outta’ the mouth of one of the NBA’s aging war-horses (34).

Kobe may’ve signed-off on the D’Antoni hire to show Steve he’s team-minded and fully-vested in his addition to the Lakers’ roster. If yes, a classy move by KB but complicated when Jackson was also in the mix. Phil’s too savvy to demand the sun, moon and stars from Buss, though, certainly had every right to do so given his credentials and the State of Lakerland at the time, a state it’s not all together clear has improved much.

But the Lakers have ‘crossed the Rubicon’ with Mike D., for the rest of this season. There’s still plenty of time to turn this thing around and make the playoffs, where anything can happen and often does in today's wild & wacky sports world.

I see an intelligent, experienced Lakers’ team, deep in talent and guided by a skillful coach, all of whom, through some calculated trial & error, need time to make the proper adjustments. More specifically, better defense, fewer 3-pointers, more inside game, protect the ball (15.5 TOG) and concentration when at the charity stripe.

A season can take on a feel, a mood where either it keeps clicking or instead stays out of sync. This Lakers’ squad may need more than one season to gel, more time to flavor that broth that too many cooks can spoil if not of the same recipe. The new-fangled Miami Heat of a few years back had a better record to this point than Kobe’s crew but also needed their own time to find a cohesiveness and style for success.

Words to the wise: I’d get my licks in now when opposing these Lakers because when they do hit their stride, watch out NBA.

Steven Keys
The Solid State
Posted on: October 16, 2012 3:22 pm
 

Lakers / Heat Stoke NBA '12-13

Consider this the year of LeBron.

Not because he and his Heat team are a lock to repeat as champs in 2013. Au contraire, the new & improved Lakers will have a thing or two to say about who dons that crown come next June.

Rather, it’s because this’ll be the first time in his 10-year NBA tenure that Mr. James can actually enjoy himself on a basketball court.

Having garnered that elusive championship-ring by confounding the over-matched Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals of a strike-shortened ‘11-12 NBA season, LJ effectively bumped that proverbial primate off his back, placed there by fans, media, owners and himself.

Now he can relax, a little.

That could be a good thing. It could free-up LeBron to attain new heights of excellence, or, it could be impetus to trouble, inviting the 2012 MVP to revert to old form, thinking himself like Dirk Nowitzki and capable of draining jumpers from anywhere & everywhere on the court.

If he chooses the later he’ll be applying for membership in that exclusive club of great under-achievers, a/k/a, under-achievers that were great. That’s popular perception, anyway. Men and women who, though talented and holders of a victor’s laurel or two (Wilt Chamberlain / Mary (Decker) Slaney), never met the great expectations their special abilities created in the minds of fans & scribes.

Over his career James has taken more than his share of flak for being hesitant & detached in crunch time, but no one has ever accused him of being short on brains. He is certainly one of the most articulate men in the NBA and should know full well what made the difference this time around. Like Nowitzki in the ‘11 Finals, LJ ditched the tres as a child out-grows a toy, played to his strength and embraced the inside game. He and his team controlled the tempo by dominating under the boards and won’t soon forget it.

Neither will Eric Spoelstra, Heat guru who could‘ve used a flak-jacket himself these past two long & trying years.

And the Heat team? Choosing them as anything less than ‘favorites to repeat’ would be...“uncivilized?” I think Mr. Right Guard Sir Charles (Barkley) might agree.

Both have a tendency to drift to the perimeter but when James and Chris Bosh work in the paint there is no better tandem in the game today, even with the Lakers dreamy up-grade. Though often excluded from the Wade-James cliché, on the court, Bosh made himself a leader, the glue holding this team together in good times & bad.

Dwyane Wade has been a rare talent in the Ass’n with two rings to prove it, but he’s oft-injured, past prime and has a propensity towards juvenileness (‘11 Finals). Finding his eventual replacement(s) is key for Miami maintaining its top-perch.

Los Angeles Lakers

Commissioner Stern must be on cloud nine: an East Coast champ (a bit lower on the map than most prefer) with a West Coast contender in LA who’s loaded-for-bear.

My only complaint Mr. Buss: What took you so long? Sure, the Dwight Howard thing had to play out in Orlando, but Steve Nash? The 2-time MVP might’ve been coaxed out of Phoenix years ago, given that his talents were being under-appreciated by an inactive ownership. Lakers believe Stevo still has some gas in the tank. I think they’re right.

And the retention of F/C Pau Gasol (Lakers’ Mr. Dangerfield) through all the deal-making was the cherry on top. This future Hall of Famer is a key component in keeping continuity with what worked in the past, while helping Coach Mike Brown and Kobe Bryant facilitate a transition with the Lakers’ new-look roster.

A pro since ‘04, Dwight Howard is still part-unknown. Terrifically talented in the vital rebound department, Dwight‘s been afforded consideration for playing most of his career on a non-contender. Like Kobe, this Atlanta native has the mind (NBA’s Age of Enlightenment?) and thick-skinned, resilient persona to handle the babies & brutes under the boards. But can he handle the pressure that will build on an expectant winner throughout the ebb & flow of a long NBA season? More importantly, can he find comfort on a team of stars as a not-quite-as-large-a-fish in a bigger pond?  Sure, why not.

Challengers

San Antonio Spurs

I fell for it last season. I’m not doing that again. The fade-away San Antonio pulled in the Western final last June against up-start OKC (2-4), a squad clearly not-ready-for-prime-time (Heat / 1-4), was the biggest story of the PS and nothing short of pitiful. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich forged one of basketball’s great dynasties. Thanks for the memories, fellas.

Oklahoma City Thunder

“Surprise, surprise, surprise!” It’s like Gomer Pyle was running the 2012 post-season. The way OKC breezed through the West, tossing aside powers LA Lakers (4-1) & San Antonio, it looked like nothing would stop Kevin Durant & Co. from grabbing the first in a long line of titles. Unbeknownst to America the Miami Heat had other plans. Kevin proved to be, if not a paper tiger, certainly not as advertised. He seems destined to hoist the hardware one day but OKC’s failure to acquire a proven, dominant force down-low, along with KD’s insistence in making the talented but high-maintenance Russ Westbrook his cause-celebre, puts that day off for a spell.

Boston Celtics

The surprise here was that green gang got one win away from the promised land in PS ‘12, then failed to close the deal in G6 vs the Heat (98-79) in of all places, the Garden. Because these guys play with passion they just might get close again, but it’s doubtful. Like the Spurs, key Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are long in the tooth (Terry / 13-yr) while gifted Rajon Rondo seems determined, but ill-advised, to keep trying to carry this club.  See; Westbrook.

Chicago Bulls

Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer comprise a nice one-two punch inside but it’s former MVP Derrick Rose who makes the Bulls a contender. Chicago hopes to stay classy until that time Rose can return from a knee injury (ACL / Rubio) suffered in last season’s 1st-round playoffs (76ers). This explains the Bulls (other teams) dipping deep into the foreign b-ball market hoping to find the next Gasol, Nowitzki, Kukoc or Drazen Petrovic, evidence it’s not just soccer / futbol covering the globe in athletic glory.

New York Knicks

Had Knicks’ ownership seriously pursued coaching great and former NYC player Phil Jackson to work his Magic on this talented but underachieving roster, I’d have this team near the top in Eastern Conference potentiality. But as game as stars Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler can be, and laudable their efforts versus the Heat last spring (1-4), reaching the next level to ‘challenger’ should be the realistic goal here.

Playoff Aspirants

The Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz will give their fans hope in NBA '12-13.

Steven Keys
Posted on: June 3, 2012 4:54 pm
Edited on: June 6, 2012 12:12 pm
 

LeBron and Great Expectations

Like every NBA rookie, LeBron James had high hopes.

When he joined the Cavaliers right out high school (Akron) after being selected # 1 in the 2003 Draft, he surely thought anything was possible. As far as NBA accolades were concerned, the sky was the limit.

Not just because he was a phenomenal talent with a ton of hype, but because any team that uses the 1st overall pick on an untested 18-year old has gotta’ mean business, as in, the business of winning an NBA championship.

In retrospect, it seems the business Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert had in mind was less about building a champion and more about milking all he could from publicity generated by the most touted NBA rookie since Patrick Ewing.

Because the younger fan is less demanding in the expectation department and winning that elusive NBA title is quite costly, selling celebrity is the preferred choice of owners, marketers and those who would do their bidding (media).

Just take a gander back at Cleveland rosters from 2003 - 2010. It’s a wonder they ever made it to a Finals at all during James’ tenure in the Forest City (’07 Spurs). Best explanation: Cavs lone appearance in an NBA Finals was a testament to team-play, good coaching, an unexceptional East and LeBron James’ strong back.

While Dan’s goals for his prized player seemed unambitious, the rest of America has had nothing but great expectations of LJ from the get-go, including a title or two.

Great Expectations: It's a famous work by Charles Dickens (1860). I’ve seen the David Lean movie (‘46) but never cracked the book. By the time I’d become a human being, educators were passing on the classics. In short, it’s a tortuous story of an orphaned boy (“Pip”) and his rise to a class of “great expectations” with help from a secret benefactor.

But besides being crowned 'Most Very Popular' player thrice, two forgettable Finals and making lots ‘o loot, LeBron’s been more expectation than great. "Clutch Cargo" he ain’t.

James isn’t alone.

The hype-hero is a frequent player on the public stage.

A select few matched or exceeded their buildup (Gretzky / Jordan / Woods / Magic / Bird / Montana).

Some who sipped champagne early never went back for more (Chipper / Ripken / Dale Jr. / Roddick / Daley), while others proved marketing mirages, either total busts (Leaf / Oden / JaMarcus), not as advertised (Mandrich / Bosworth) or perennial winners who were fantasy favorites but never grabbed the brass-ring (Bonds / Marino).

Then there are Kareem & Wilt. Arguably the two best b-ballers in history, maybe the two best athletes ever. But even with armfuls of MVPs, both fell short of great expectations. Alcindor took but one title in Milwaukee (’71) and when back in LA, it was Ervin’s magic that put Lakers back on top (’80). And while Wilt is still king of the record-book, he must’ve rued the day he ever met Bill Russell and his Boston Celtics.

Tony Romo, Mike Vick, Alex Ovechkin, Dwight Howard, Phil Rivers and Matt Ryan’s stars still burn but are fading, while stories on the newest hype-heroes like Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Bryce Harper, Steve Strasburg and Danica Patrick are still being written.

Even when your best days are behind (Woods), the hype-machine can keep chuggin’ along. Though, in Tiger’s case it’s understandable, given how none of today’s one-win wonders on the PGA seems interested or capable of ascending to his throne.

Just remember this next time your super-hero falls short of expectations: 1) They don’t run the hype-machine or set content at ESPN; and 2) Apart from bowling, bull-riding, golf, etc., team-sport requires a team-effort. “One for all, all for one (Three Musketeers).”

While Gretzky and Jordan exceeded expectations, look at the rosters they occupied: HOF’ers, All-Stars, proven supporting cast and top-notch gurus (Jackson / Sather) filled the bill. Winning a title in the NBA and the like still requires a talented roster, no matter how much your titillated talk-radio meathead would have you think otherwise.

To keep his mythical crown, King James needs a real title-ring.

Heat v Lakers was preferred Finals for NBA brass, but then the tres is risky business, Mr. Brown (OKC / G2). In fact, any of the four possible match-ups is a ratings salivator.

Whomever does get there, it ain‘t gonna’ be easy.

Big-hearted Celtics got moxie to burn but age & depth make ‘em vulnerable, while high-energy OKC’s maturity-level gives ring-laden, re-focused ‘Patriots of San Antonio’ the decided edge.

“The really big shew (Sullivan),” ain’t from Reebok. It’s pro basketball’s biggest stage, the NBA Finals. A place where substance rules while flash, ego and roster holes get exposed right quick. It’s where even old, tattered expectations of greatness can finally be fulfilled and worn with pride, as Dirk “Pip” Nowitzki did in last year’s Finale.

If His Majesty and the Heat can channel an inside game and go easy on the three, Mr. James just might complete that royal ensemble fans & marketing mavens across America have long been expecting.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com