Can the Heat bounce back? How are they going to plug the hole in the middle with Bosh injured? Is their bench good enough? They are never going to advance if Wade keeps playing like this. Can LeBron come up big in the 4th quarter for once?
We all want to know how and when the Miami Heat are going to stumble. Any chance critics get to point out a flaw they are quick to hypothesize over the demise of the team. This team, understandably, is analyzed and picked apart like no other in the league. I’ll admit that I’m one of the biggest offenders; any chance I get to rip on LeBron James and company I will take it.
But it is time for all of us to realize one thing: this team, as much as us haters loathe admitting it, has proven time and again that it can bounce back from almost anything.
Believe you me, I want to see them fail just as much as the next person, but their track record shows that this team is at its best when its doubters have the most ammunition.
You need not look further than the Heat’s first round matchup with the Indiana Pacers. After Chris Bosh went down in Miami’s Game 1 victory, they dropped two in a row to fall back 2-1. Not only that, but the way they dropped Game 3 (which Original NBA predicted) by giving up 38 points in the paint and making Roy Hibbert (19 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 blocks) look like the franchise player he never will be, while getting only 5 points out of Dwyane Wade had the doubters in full force. Wade was injured beyond repair, the Miami bench was quite possibly the worst in these playoffs, and the Heat absolutely could not replace Chris Bosh in the middle.
However, Miami shut us all up real quick. They reeled off five straight wins to knock the Pacers out of the playoffs and go up 2-0 against the Celtics. In fact, since that game Wade has put up 26 points a game and played some of the best ball of his life. Miami has had huge games from their non-star players, including Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem. Haslem and Joel Anthony have at times filled in admirably for Bosh, who will in all likelihood be back for Game 5 against the Celtics.
Earlier in the season, when Miami lost three games in a row in January to the Warriors, Clippers, and Nuggets, critics across the country were telling us all the reasons why the Heat should be concerned in the long term. What did they do to respond? They put up 20 wins over their next 23 games. Hell, that run included a nine game winning streak and Wade even sat out six out of those 23 games.
And speaking of Wade, during the 14 games he missed due to injury, when Miami was supposed to be relegated to a two-man team incapable of running with the big boys without their leader, the Heat went 13-1.
The long and short of it is this: any time the Heat have faced significant adversity this season, they have bounced back to play some of their best basketball.
So now that they have dropped two in a row inBoston, how ever will the Heat rebound and get back on track? They will do the same thing they have done all season long and battle through the questions and just play basketball. Getting Bosh back is certainly going to help ease the pain, but even without him back in the fold, my money would be on the Heat to make a big statement against the Celtics tonight. Instead of overreacting as I and countless others have done after things don’t go Miami’s way, I instead expect them to respond to their previous two defeats in a big way. After how they responded to adversity throughout this season, I would be a fool not to expect their best tonight.
LeBron or Durant? That’s been the question all season. While other names have come and gone these two have consistently been the front runners in the MVP race all season. But who really deserves it more? The two contributors to the Original NBA lay out their cases for their MVP candidates.
The Case for Kevin Durant, by C.M.
People go on and on about the historic regular season that LeBron James had this year. Hell, at one point in the season I heard some people calling it the greatest season of all time. But just compare his numbers to those of Kevin Durant and you will be a lot less floored. This year, Durant averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks, while James posted averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals.
Fans (myself included) and members of the media are astonished by the fact that LeBron posted significant numbers in several different categories. I mean, seriously, how many guys in the league can put up 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals a night? But Durant’s numbers are equally as impressive.
The difference here is that Durant puts up great numbers in the “big man” categories (rebounds and blocks) but does not excel in the guard categories (assists and steals). However, his numbers down low are pretty damn impressive for a wing player as wiry as he is.
The reality is that people think of Durant as simply a scorer, whereas LeBron gets credit as the one guy in the league who can effect a game in every way imaginable. Admittedly, Durant will not penetrate and dish like James, he won’t run an offense like LeBron can, and he isn’t going to shut down the other team’s best player like LeBron can. But Durant doesn’t need to do those things for his team to win like LeBron does. Durant has other guys on his team who can run a pick and roll, who can create for others, and who can shut down the opposition. Instead, KD excels as a scorer (where his input is needed most) and as a rebounder and shot blocker (areas where others on his team specialize).
The Heat need LeBron’s efforts to maintain the delicate balance they have on their roster; the Thunder use Durant’s extra efforts all over the court to put them over the top in several categories.
If you replace Durant with another scorer who would put up those same exact 28 points a game while shooting 49.6% from the field, 86% from the line, and 38.7% from beyond the three-point line, the Thunder become a team struggling for home court advantage. But with Durant on their side, they continue to score the ball at the third highest rate in the league while also standing out as the best shot blocking team and the sixth best rebounding team. For all LeBron’s efforts,Miami still ranks No. 21 overall in both rebounding and assists.
Simply put, Durant puts his team over the top while LeBron is the keeping his team afloat in many different areas.
Lastly, Durant deserves credit for taking a team full of youngsters and delivering them to the third best record in the league; whereas James’ team is stacked with proven veterans. Oddly enough, it is the young Thunder squad who is known around the league for having laser-like focus and the Heat who have a reputation for going through lulls throughout the season. Durant, as the unquestioned leader of his team, deserves a ton of credit for that. He has done everything for this team from leading, to deferring when needed, to sacrificing his body. And for that, he is the MVP.
The Case for LeBron James, by J.M.
Let’s get this out of the way right now. I am not a fan of LeBron. I disliked him when he came into the league and dubbed himself “King James” and that disdain grew when he pulled off “The Decision.” I cheer for almost any opponent he faces and gain sustenance from his 4th quarter meltdowns. With that said, LeBron is easily the best player in the NBA and my vote for the regular season MVP.
After an MVP-caliber 2010-2011 season that was only out-shown by the “anybody but LeBron” MVP race, LeBron took to the offseason aiming to improve his game and take this Miami Heat team to an NBA Championship. With the way he has played this team doesn’t look too far away from that goal. He improved in almost every category including: field goal percentage (53.1%), three point percentage (36.2%), rebounds (7.9 per game), and points (27.1 per game), all while playing less minutes, taking the same number of shots, and greatly improving his post game and defense.
While the argument can be made for Kevin Durant as MVP it is not nearly as strong. Yes, Durant is the better scorer and in all likelihood I would choose him over LeBron in a late game scenario, but his advantage ends there. LeBron is the better rebounder, passer, and defender and a more valuable asset to his team. Some people may argue that because LeBron has one of the best wing players in the league on his side (Wade) along with faux-star Chris Bosh he cannot possibly be the most valuable player. The issue with this argument is that while LeBron may have the better superstar sidekicks, Durant has a team built around him. Surrounding Durant are Westbrook, a young star point guard, Harden, a young wing scorer off the bench, Ibaka, a young dominant defensive presence, and Perkins, a veteran, championship-winning, hard-nosed, post player.
The key difference is that the Thunder were assembled to work as a team, each player knows their role and they almost always defer to Durant (at least this season after the whole “Durant or Westbrook” debacle last playoffs). LeBron, however, is burdened with the task of keeping the Heat afloat without any key role players and two sidekicks who are accustomed to being ball-dominant players. The fact that LeBron distributed the ball well enough to keep both Wade and Bosh scoring frequently and efficiently (22.1 ppg 49.7% FG and 18 ppg 48.7% FG respectively) is reason in itself to hand him this award. I haven’t even mentioned that LeBron was far and away the most efficient player in the league with a PER of 30.8, three points higher than the man in second, Chris Paul, and nearly four points ahead of Durant who placed in fourth.
I know it’s hard to place yourself objectively off the anti-LeBron bandwagon, I struggle with it plenty of times, but when it comes down to it, we all know LeBron is going to win the MVP, and rightfully so. Now if only he could work on that hairline.
5. Rose vs His Body
Well, this matchup has already been decided. The main concern for the Bulls during the post-season was going to be keeping their star player healthy in an effort to maintain their title hopes. Unfortunately for Chicago fans those hopes were all but dashed last night when Rose tore his ACL while driving into the lane. In spite of their recent success without Rose it is highly unlikely that the Bulls will make it far in the absence of their best player.
4. Roy Hibbert vs Glen Davis
Without Dwight Howard the Magic have a distinct size disadvantage in this series and Roy Hibbert will look to exploit that. Both Davis and Hibbert were pretty inefficient offensively last night going a combined 11 for 31, but the discrepancy becomes immediately apparent when you look further into Hibbert’s stat line. The Pacers’ big man grabbed 13 boards and swatted away 9 shots giving Indiana an inside presence that will pay off in this series, even if it did not carry them to victory in the first game.
3. Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson
If the Hawks want to make it past the surging Celtics they will need Joe Johnson keyed in on both sides of the court. Johnson finished the last 4 games of the season shooting 61.67% and averaging 23.8 points, numbers he will need to continue to put up against the 2nd best defensive team in the league. His task on defense is to impede Paul Pierce, a man who has averaged 21.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 110 career playoff games, not to mention one of the most clutch shooters in the league as evidenced here. Good luck to the both of them
2. Luol Deng vs Andre Iguodala
Both Deng and Iguodala are underrated players who excel on the defensive end and contribute in multiple ways offensively. Iguodala has taken a dip in scoring in favor of a more team-oriented style of play for the Sixers but continues to spread the ball around (5.5 assists per game) crash the boards (6.1 rebounds per game) and pick pockets (1.7 steals per game). Deng, on the other hand, now becomes the Bulls most important offensive player with Rose out for the rest of the playoffs. With Rose attracting most of the defense’s attention Deng contributed 17 points on 8-14 shooting last night, but the game will be completely different with Iguodala focusing all of his efforts on Deng.
1. LeBron James vs Carmelo Anthony
After Game 1 it’s already advantage LeBron. Last night was a perfect example of a worst-case scenario for this matchup. Carmelo couldn’t get his shot going (3-15 from the field) and LeBron was aggressive on offense going 10-14 from the field and 11-14 from the line. Carmelo is going to need to continue shooting an exorbitant amount if the Knicks are going to have a chance against the championship hopeful Heat. He’s already shown he can be an efficient scorer (29.1 points per game over 16 games since 3/26) but LeBron’s DPOY candidacy can and will effectively stop both him and the Knicks.
Flash back to February 2010: Amare Stoudemire is set to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland. Of course, in the end the trade fell through and James was working his way out of his hometown. The Cavaliers had a shot to land another superstar to team up with James, but they balked at the idea for several reasons, Stoudemire’s shaky health chief among them.
One major reason the Cavs were reluctant to pull the trigger on this trade was because they thought they might have a future star on their hands and didn’t want to give him up. Surely, this trade is a prime example of not only the Cavs failure to appease James and convince him to stay, but also of the fall of that rising star: JJ Hickson.
Hickson had shown flashes of brilliance in a limited role with Cleveland team that finished the season 61-21. In his second season in the NBA, Hickson averaged 8.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg on 55.4% shooting from the floor. He was considered a building block for a team that had little else surrounding James. His upside was such that the Cavs ultimately decided he was worth more than a shot at pairing Stoudemire with James.
In Hickson,Clevelandhad a forward with good size, great athleticism, and an incredibly appealing upside.
However, we all know how the story played out for the Cavaliers: James bolted in free agency and the team was left to pick up the pieces on a haphazardly assembled roster.
As a result, Hickson was rewarded with more playing time during the 2010-2011 season and asked to carry a much heavier load for this rebuilding team. Yet, rather than budding into the star the Cavs brass hoped for, Hickson showed his limitations.
In 80 games, 66 of which were starts, Hickson played 28.2 minutes per game but converted on 10% fewer of his field goals than the previous season and averaged 3.7 turnovers per 48 minutes.
His stock lower than it had been since being drafted 19th overall by the Cavs in 2008, Hickson was traded this offseason to the Sacramento Kings for another fading prospect, Omri Casspi. After suffering through 35 miserable games with Hickson, in which he shot 37% from the field and averaged 4.7 points per game, the forward was released outright.
In all of two seasons, Hickson had transformed from a promising prospect to being rejected by one of the league’s five worst franchises.
However, Hickson managed to find a soft landing spot Portland and has managed to turn some heads in the process. Since being picked up by the Blazers off the waiver wire, Hickson has averaged 14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, had five double-doubles, and four 20 point games. Best of all, he has strived in two areas that plagued him in the past. With Portland, he is shooting 55.5% from the floor and turning the ball over only 1.2 times a game while playing a career-high 30.1 minutes a game.
Surely, much of Hickson’s success in Portland will deservedly be attributed to the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge has been injured during much of Hickson’s stint in the City of Roses. Certainly, more opportunity has led to more success for Hickson.
However, he had plenty of chances to show his worth during the past three seasons in both Cleveland and Sacramento, but just could not stick. Pride may be kicking in and Hickson is trying to show he belongs. Maybe he is motivated by the fact that this offseason he will be an unrestricted free agent.
Whatever the explanation may be, the fact remains that Hickson is playing quality basketball. In fact, he has done the unthinkable: he has gone from rising star to NBA failure, only to reemerge once again as an intriguing prospect. Hickson is still only 23 years old and although his future may not be in Portland, the Trail Blazers certainly have a reborn player on their hands.