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Tag:Oklahoma City Thunder
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: May 22, 2012 12:25 pm
 

How the Tres Tamed the NBA

They were giants of the sporting world: names like Mikan, Pettit, Russell, Wilt the Stilt, Truck, Moses, The Enforcer, the Big O, the Big E and the Big Redhead.

Basketball’s leviathans in the low post.

Fans thrilled at their combination of size, strength and agility. The battles they fought under the boards defined the NBA and made sport headlines for nearly 40 years.

But change is the constant in a consumer democracy.

The Chuck Taylor high-tops and short-shorts are long gone, replaced with hideous foot-wear and a plethora of prison-yard tattoos. Historic but cramped old arenas gave-way to bigger & brighter venues with better seats, paint-happy hardwood and $12.50 nachos.

And no change has been greater than disappearance of the inside game. In particular, the demise of the dominant center and power-forward.

Different from women’s basketball where the tall pivot player still reigns, the menacing man in the middle has become an endangered species.

Since the days of Kareem Abdul Jabbar you could count on two hands the number of big men who’ve dominated down low: Bob Parish, Bird, McHale, Laimbeer, Shaq, Rodman, Magic, Olajuwon, Duncan and Karl Malone nearly fill out a very short list.

The culprit: NBA’s adoption of the three-point shot.

The National was sitting pretty in the late 70s, having absorbed what remained of a monopolized ABA (1976) and negotiated lucrative TV / merchandise deals. But a dramatic rise in player salaries gave some jughead in a Suit reason to get creative.

In 1979 they reached into their former rival’s bag of tricks (the American employed the dunk and the tres in 1968 “as marketing tool(s) to compete with the NBA (Wikipedia)” and pulled out the three-point gimmick to prime the pump.

Basketball’s never been the same.

There had been a balance, a symmetry, a ying & yang in roundball.

Fans were treated to two theaters of play: one inside, where bruisers like Nate Thurmond, Dantley, Unseld, Reed, Walton, Lanier, Cowens, Gilmore and Dan Issel waged war; the other, out on the key where long-rangers Jerry West, Bing, Frazier, Maravich, Gervin, Winters and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson could Heat it up in a hurry.

As long as both theaters had direction there was a symbiosis and the game flourished.

But by the mid-80s the physical, combative play which for years had made the sport so colorful…vanished. Centers and power forwards regressed into mere supporting players or disappeared all together. Much of the action moved away from the paint and up to the high-post where guards and guard-wannabes directed the flow and became the stars.

The spotlight swung away from bangers and over to finesse guys like Julius Erving and Mike Jordan as the 3-pointer and un-contested dunk became signature plays of the NBA.

If you see a guy in the low-post today chances are he’s only waiting on an alley-oop or mesmerized as an opponent dunks on his head. Post game both will hug & laugh about it.

As most NBA rookies are today on the 5-year maturation plan, they’ll never develop the wide range of skills that even stylers like Dr. J and Jordan would eventually pick-up.

“You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle” (Seinfeld).

They don’t sell the game anymore, they sell celebrity (endorsements), air-time (TV / Twitter / fantasy) and merchandise (cantaloupe-sized driver heads and wicked metal bats in Little League (Outside the Lines; 3/1/11)). If it generates a nice revenue stream, then history, integrity and sometimes safety, it would appear, all get swept under the rug.

When big-shots like Kevin Love (6’10) and Kevin Durant (6’9) spend half their time on the perimeter you know the game’s gone soft. Both should live inside 15 feet. Instead, the past four seasons has seen a steady up-tick in their 3PAs. It's surprising, given the tremendous shooting touch both possess (FG%: .457 / .468) when not launching 3s.

So much for pumping-up the offense.

In comparison, the newly-crowned MVP LeBron James has seen his 3PA% decrease each of the past three seasons: 25% (‘09-10); 19% (‘11); 13% (abridged ‘12). That’s growth.

Prime example of the tamer NBA: With 6 ticks left on the clock and down by only one vs OKC (PS G2 '12), rather than design a drive to the hoop for two, likely draw the foul, and even with a miss and no whistle, ball’s in play for a rebounded score (Gasol / Bynum), Lakers Coach Mike Brown opts for the thrilling, unnecessary, low-percentage 3-pointer that Steve Blake rims out. Blake & Brown are lambasted but what the Lakers did was SOP in today’s b-ball.

There are men who keep the spirit alive with dynamic play in the paint. A few of the standouts: centers Tim Duncan, Howard, Pau Gasol, Bynum and Joakim Noah; forwards Blake Griffin, Garnett, Cousins, Humphries and Atlanta’s Josh Smith.

It’s time to bounce the 3-pointer outta’ the gym. Send it, along with the dunk contest and home run derby over to where they all belong: Saturday morning TV.

Then watch the roundball renaissance begin.

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