Posts Tagged ‘Chris “Birdman” Andersen’

Right & Wrong: King James Earns Title

 

The Miami Heat got the repeat and LeBron James is the undeniable king of the court.

Like it or not, the Heat, established in 2010 to pile on titles, have played for one in each of their three seasons together and they’ve won the last two. It hasn’t been a cakewalk. They’ve been tested along the way and even they acknowledge that their 2013 foe, the San Antonio Spurs, afforded the Heat new life when they couldn’t close out Game 6. For the immortal Tim Duncan, coach Gregg Popovich, the rest of the Spurs and their legion of die-hard fans in South Texas,  94-89 with 28 ticks to the title will be tough to reconcile.

But give the Heat their due. Dwyane Wade put his bad wheel behind him and came to play. Shane Battier brushed off a brutal first five games with two high-impact performances, going 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. His 6-for-8 night in Game 7, making his first five, offset a strange scoreless game for Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Mike Miller.

And finally, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, 42 years old, has earned two championships. He made an adjustment to his starting lineup, sat Battier along the way, benched veteran Heat stalwart Udonis Haslem as well as Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who was so integral in the East finals. He used James to defend Tony Parker at just the right times and ultimately Spoelstra matched the wily Popovich step-for-step through seven wild games.

For one last time, here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong in one of the most riveting NBA Finals in years.

Right: LeBron’s fourth Finals started slowly with 18, 17 and 15 points in the first three games, and again the criticism came hot and heavy: Not assertive enough; needs to score more; no killer instinct. Wrong, wrong and wrong. He scored no fewer than 25 in the next four games and at least 32 in three. His Games 6 and 7 totals: 69 points, 22 rebounds, 15 assists and five steals. Yes, his two turnovers at the end of a brilliant fourth quarter in Game 6 looked to be the start of a long summer of LeBron bashing, but his 3-pointer helped to save the day as the Spurs collapsed in those final 28 seconds. He was sensational in Game 7 with 37 points — that included five 3-pointers as the Spurs dared him to shoot it — and 12 rebounds. The four-time regular-season MVP deserved his second Finals MVP averaging 25.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg and 7.9 apg.

Wrong: Duncan waited six grueling years to get back to the Finals for a shot at a fifth championship. He had never before swallowed defeat and the bitter taste of this loss will linger. Game 6 will burn for a long time, but so will the short running hook he missed with 48.9 seconds left with a chance to tie the game, and the ensuing tip that wouldn’t go. Back at the defensive end, Duncan slapped the floor in disgust and moments later James drilled an open jumper to make it 92-88 Heat with 27.9 seconds to go. He wouldn’t get another shot opportunity. At 37, Duncan had a phenomenal season and a terrific playoffs. His 30 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6 should have been enough to seal the deal and his 24 points, 12 rebounds and four steals in Game 7 proved he has plenty left to go for it again.

Right: Bad knee and all, Wade left the drama behind and just balled. In the final three games, Wade put up two double-doubles with 25 points and 10 assists in Game 5 and 23 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7 that included a critical first-half onslaught of 14 points and six rebounds.

Wrong: Wade’s counterpart, Manu Ginobili, had his one shining moment in Game 5, but otherwise struggled through a regrettable Finals and postseason. Not that he didn’t put it all out there because Ginobili knows no other way to play. He battled through the good and bad in Game 7 to post 18 points and five assists, but he had four more turnovers to give him 12 in the last two games. All four came in the final quarter and the last one, a wild drive ending in an errant pass with 23.8 seconds to go ended all hope.

Right: Popovich hasn’t been shy about tabbing second-year forward Kawhi Leonard as the future face of the Spurs franchise, and now the world knows why. Leonard, who valiantly took on the unenviable task of guarding James, was everywhere in Games 6 and 7, amassing 41 points, 17 rebounds and four steals. He missed a crucial free throw late in Game 6, but the San Diego State product’s future is extremely bright. As Popovich said after Game 7: “Leonard is a star in the making.”

Wrong: Tony Parker and Danny Green suffered unthinkable free-falls that the Spurs ultimately could not overcome. Parker didn’t use the Grade 1 strain of his hamstring as an excuse and he really couldn’t because he went 10-for-14 from the floor for 26 points in Game 5. But in Games 6 and 7, Parker went 9-for-35, including 6-for-23 in Game 7. In the Spurs’ four losses, Parker shot 32.3 percent (21-for-65). Green was having a storybook Finals, knocking down 25-for-38 from 3-point range through the first five games. He set a new Finals record for most 3-pointers made and he was shooting for the record for most 3s in any playoff series. But the well dried up as the Heat applied great pressure. Green went 2-for-11 from beyond the arc in the final two games. In the first five games he made three, four, five, six and seven 3-pointers. In the last two, he made one in each. After three games he was the leading scorer in the Finals and through five games he had scored no fewer than 10 points. In Games 6 and 7 he scored eight combined.

Right: Mario Chalmers doesn’t always get the job done, which is why Spoelstra occasionally benched the point guard, but the Heat aren’t celebrating today without his gutsy play in Games 6 and 7. Chalmers totaled 13 points on 4-for-19 shooting and 25.3 mpg in the middle three games in San Antonio. In the final two games he totaled 34 points on 13-for-26 shooting and 41.5 mpg while outplaying Parker. He proved especially crucial in Game 6 with 20 points that included 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Wrong: Popovich has earned the respect he receives, but it doesn’t mean he’s beyond reproach. He made strategic decisions late in Games 6 and 7 that didn’t work out and Popovich should explain those moves when asked. That’s how this business works. Late in both games, Popovich put the ball in the hands of the turnover-prone Ginobili instead of Parker, who was taken out of the game for a late possession in Game 6 and was sitting on the bench in Game 7 with 27.9 seconds to go and the Spurs with the ball trailing by four. Ginobili drove, got caught in the air under the basket and tossed an awful pass that was easily intercepted by James. It was Ginobili’s fourth turnover of the fourth quarter. Parker, who was having a rough night shooting, no doubt, is typically quite secure with the ball and had two turnovers all game. After the game, Popovich was asked by a San Antonio reporter why Parker was not in the game: “Because that’s what I decided to do,” Popovich answered. The reporter followed up: “Can you elaborate on that?” Popovich said: “No.” It seems Spurs fans have the right to understand why their All-Star point guard was sitting at the most critical juncture of the season. Even if the coach has earned the benefit of the doubt.

24-Second Thoughts On Game 6

.

24 — So, LeBron James hit the court two hours early to get his pregame work in, huh? That says the man recognizes the magnitude of this moment and has prepared himself properly to man up to it. As ridiculous as it sounds to criticize the four-time MVP and the world’s best player, LeBron knows he has not left his mark on this series. If the Heat go down tonight, it won’t be without a desperate fight from LeBron, which is exactly the way it has to be when you are the best player in the game. Season on the line, you have to show up and set the tone from the start on both ends.

23 — I love that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stuck with Mike Miller in his starting lineup. As much as you need a defender in the game to slow down “Dancin’ “ Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs’ other shooters, you need shot-makers on the floor in an elimination games. Miller is aggressive early, which exactly what the Heat need him to be in this situation.

22 — Kawhi Leonard is absolutely fearless. Goes at LeBron on the break, ‘bows him out of the way and finishes with the hoop and the foul. Drains a corner 3-pointer two possessions later. The Spurs are aggressive early, Leonard and Tim Duncan in particular, showing absolutely no hesitation.

21 — Dwyane Wade bangs knees with Ginobili with 7:42 to play and you could see it was a Ginobili’s knee cap smashing the inside of Wade’s left knee. We have to see how bad it was for Wade, who clearly took the worst of the collision. If they win tonight and force a Game 7, how does that blow impact Wade for the finale?

20 — Kawhi “Captain Corn Rows” Leonard just posterized Miller on a sweet feed from Tony Parker. I’m not sure what’s more impressive: Leonard’s eight early points or the fact that he’s the last man in the league still rocking corn rows (and doing it without any fancy designs or anything special; just straight ol’ school, straight-to-the-back corn rows). The 70s are proud of you, young fella! BTW, the Spurs are up two and DDG hasn’t even taken a shot yet.

19 — Duncan is working on a perfect night right now (6-for-6, 12 points and 3 rebounds). I wonder how history will remember Duncan? It certainly seems like we all take him for granted in the present. We don’t appreciate the greatness of his game and fact that he’s more than just the most fundamentally sound power forward to play this game, perhaps ever. He won’t have the flashiest highlight video to look back on in 20 years. But there aren’t but a handful of players who will be able to say they played at an elite level for as long as he did during his Hall of Fame career.

18 — Heat pulling out all the stops tonight; Chris “Birdman” AndersenMario Chalmers and even Shane Battier‘s 3-point bankshot to tie the game. It’s going to be that kind of night, I can feel it. ‘Rio already has 10 points in the first quarter and is 4-for-5 from the floor. If he’s aggressive like this all night, the Spurs are going to have to figure out a way to keep him from duplicating the work he did in Game 2.

17 — Chris Bosh was wrong … DDG is still getting open looks from deep. Still knocking ’em down, too.

16 — Duncan has 25 before halftime with a hand in his face on every possession. The Spurs are 14-2 in closeout game since 2003 for a reason.  His nickname is The Big Fundamental! He’s 11-for-13 and dominating the Heat in every facet of the game right now. He’s putting on an absolute showcase right now, outscoring Miami’s Big 3 by his lonesome, 25-21. The rest of the Spurs matched his 25 first half points and they lead by six at the break.

15 — The Spurs’ 17-4 run to finish the second quarter might very well be the most impressive stretch by either team in this entire series. Duncan, Boris Diaw, Leonard … unreal effort, unbelievable mettle and just a complete demolition of the Heat on both ends during the run. The Spurs own the Heat inside with a 32-12 scoring edge in the paint in the first half.

14 — Where you at LeBron? Nine points (on 3-for-9 shooting) is not going to get your team to a Game 7.

13 — Third quarter starts without Wade. Ray Allen is out there for him. It has to be that knee. No word from the Heat PR staff until after the game, per Doris Burke’s sideline report.

12 — The Heat’s night in a nutshell to this point: LeBron has Parker guarding him in the low post, Heat swing the ball all around the floor until Bosh gets it on the opposite baseline bricks a jumper off of the far side of the rim. The Heat are completely out of sorts on offense right now. The only thing saving them right now is that they are turning the Spurs over (courtesy of Ginobili, whose Game 5 magic has worn off completely).

11 — Leonard is having the sort of bully-ball game you expected LeBron to have. The Spurs’ 11-0 run here late in the third quarter is one of those backbreaking stretches in a game like this. The Heat’s inability to slow them down is startling. Credit the Spurs for sticking to what they do best, and that’s unleashing all of the weapons in their arsenal to take away what you do best. The Heat are being overwhelmed on their home floor the same way they were in 2011 against the Dallas Mavericks in a Game 6.

10 — Wade is on the bench changing his shoes with 10.3 seconds to play in the third. Maybe he has an extra pair for LeBron, because if they Heat don’t come up with something to change the momentum in this games in the next six minutes, the Spurs are going to break them down the stretch with their execution and claim title No. 5.

9 — “Shoeless” Mike Miller with the 3-point dagger to cut the lead 77-73. Spoelstra imploring his team to “trust each other” at this stage of the season sounds a bit strange. But the message seems to be working. The comeback is officially on, with the Heat’s rally lineup (LeBron, Miller, Allen, Birdman and Chalmers) on the floor. Granted, the Heat’s rush has come with both Duncan and Parker resting on that Spurs bench.

8 —  Bully LeBron has finally come alive and he’s ridiculous force of nature when he plays like this. He’s overpowering Leonard, Duncan, Ginobili and whoever else gets in his way around the rim. Desperate times call for desperate measures, apparently. A block on Duncan under the basket triggers a break the other way and LeBron ties the game at 82-82 with a layup at the 6:37 mark. Allen gives the Heat the lead on a reverse layup with 6:03 to play. Crazy turnaround for the Heat and it’s all been fueled by the man without the headband, who is in full blow attack the rim mode right down the stretch. Heat on a 22-7 run right now and LeBron has 11 points during the run.

7 — Wade comes back for Miller with 3:48 to play, taking away the other long distance shooter (along with Allen) who caused the Spurs so much trouble during the comeback. Those shooters forced the Spurs to cover the perimeter and leave lanes for LeBron to drive to the rim and change the entire flow of the game for both teams. We’ll see if that substitution comes back to bite the Heat in these final minutes.

6 — Duncan and Parker are scoreless in the fourth quarter inside the final dos minutos of the biggest game, so far, of the Spurs’ season. How they are within three points is beyond me. It’s a testament to the system and all of the cold-blooded role players on that roster.

5 — Parker with the step-back 3-pointer over LeBron to tie the game with 1:27 to play erases all doubts. He’s going to snag his second Finals MVP trophy if the Spurs win this thing. Huge turnover by Chalmers and Parker converts on the other end, shades of Game 1 dancing through the building, Spurs up 91-89 with 58 seconds left. This is nuts.

4 — LeBron turnover under the basket, Spurs on the break and Ginobili is fouled with 37.2 left. Sinks both free throws and a 93-89 Spurs lead. Unreal. Another LeBron turnover and Ginobili is fouled again and drains the second of two free throws. 94-89 with 28.2 left. LeBron goes from the goat to the hero and now back to the goat in the final seconds. I say that Wade-for-Miller substitution changed the flow for the Heat. Could very well cost them this game.

3 — LeBron bricks a 3-pointer and gets the ball back after a wild scramble and drains the 3-pointer that cuts the lead to 94-92 with 20.1 to play. Money time for both teams here and Duncan is not on the floor (gotta have your best rebounder on the floor, Pop! I don’t care what is going on …). Leonard misses the first of two free throws but sinks the second with 19.4 to play. Oooohhhhhh!!!!!!! Allen drains the corner 3 to tie it up with 5.2 to play. Winning time, with LeBron on Parker and TP air balls the  last shot of regulation. Unreal finish to the first 48 minutes. Allen might not have the Finals 3-point record anymore, but it was his shot that keep this game alive. Five more minutes of what has turned out to be the best game of the entire season. I’ll take it.

2 — Overtime is like a mini-movie of the entire series in five minutes, complete with turnovers, big shots, clutch rebounds, timely blocks, stunning mistakes, star turns from everyone from Duncan, Parker and Leonard to James, Wade and Bosh, whose work rebounding and on defense help propel the Heat to a Game 7.

1 — Fitting end to a fantastic game. Allen knocks down two free throws for the winning margin and Bosh comes up with the clutch block on DDG at the buzzer. All those Heat fans booing Bosh earlier in this game can thank their lucky stars they had him tonight because he did the dirty work (rebound and kick to Allen was as clutch as the block at the end) down the stretch to help deliver the Heat. Allen with nine points in the fourth quarter and overtime, doing exactly what a future Hall of Famer is supposed to do, helps save the Heat, as well. But if LeBron hadn’t come alive in the fourth the Spurs would be popping bottles in their locker room right now. Game 7 here we come!

jh

24-Second Thoughts On Game 5

24 — Manu Ginobili making Gregg Popovich look like the genius he is by starting him (much the same way Mike Miller made Erik Spoelstra look like a hoops Einstein by starting his veteran shooter in Game 4). Manu’s energy and effort early on will likely set the tone for the Spurs, who need a spark after getting handled the way they did in Game 4. Bald spot or not, Ginobili remains a champion and will show a champion’s heart in this game. Guaranteed.

23 — Tim Duncan and Chris Bosh are absolutely going at it in the post. You have to wonder how this series might have gone for the Heat if Bosh had played like this in Games 1, 2 and or 3 … he doesn’t have to get the better of Duncan. He needs only make Duncan work overtime (they are trying to front him on every offensive possession) for his offensive touches and put the pressure on him to defend Bosh in a similar manner on the other end of the floor.

22 — The Spurs’ balance is ruling the day early. They open a 10-point lead late in the first quarter bolstered by said balance and some great defensive work … make that a 12-point lead after another fantastic stop and scramble that results in a Kawhi Leonard dunk with 60 seconds to play. Their 29-17 lead was really 5-on-3. The only Heat players to score until the final seconds of the quarter were Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Ray Allen scored the Heat’s only other basket

21 — Leonard has been exposed as a no-frills performer, rivaling Duncan for the title of the most boring (in a good way) player in this series. But how anyone can watch this guy work on both ends of the floor and conclude that he’s anything other than a star in the making is beyond me. He’s been spectacular working against LeBron basically the entire series. His 3 from the corner pushes the lead to 32-19 at the end of the first quarter.

20 — Danny Green for 3 … again. Welcome back to The Finals roller coaster folks. This series swings so wildly in one direction or the other on a given night that it’s impossible to get a feel for which team has any real rhythm. I don’t know if that’s a credit to the team that’s hot or an indictment of the team that’s getting torched. Either way, it makes for spectacular viewing. Green has tied Allen’s record for 3-pointers made in The Finals (22), with a shot over Allen, and we’ve got more than six minutes until halftime.

19 — The Spurs have absolutely no one who can cover LeBron in the post consistently, just as the Heat have no one who can cover Duncan in the post consistently. At least no one can single-cover either one of them on a regular basis. If we get another close game it’ll be interesting to see if Popovich or Spoelstra goes there on a final play.

18 — Parker with a sweet drive and finish to wrap up a breakneck first half for both teams. Spurs are shooting a wicked 62 percent in the first half with four of the five starters in double figures already and the fifth (Leonard) has nine. Loving the bounce back on both sides. Pop says it best, “this game is a big boy game.” The fact that both coaches continue to implore their guys to crank up the tempo is perhaps my favorite part of this series. It’s rare that you see teams willing to play to what could be the others strength on purpose. Supreme confidence on both sides. Splendid.

17 — Jay-Z comes up with three minutes of funky stuff, coming July 4, at the end of an instant classic first half that sends Twitter and Facebook into a frenzy.
(more…)

Confident Chalmers Leads Heat Rout




.

MIAMI — Mario Chalmers has no problem asserting himself on the big stage.

It’s been in his blood since he was a teenager, but it became evident when he was starring in college for Kansas’ national championship team and more so last season, during the Miami Heat’s championship run.

Chalmers went off for 25 points in Game 4 of The Finals last season against the Oklahoma City Thunder, draining nine of his 14 shots en route to a win that helped the Heat move one step closer to closing out the Thunder in Game 5.

That’s why performances like the one he delivered Sunday night at AmericanAirlines should surprise no one. The Heat point guard relishes the opportunity to take and make the big shots, make the big plays and accept the challenge of dealing with a future Hall of Famer like Tony Parker the way he did in the Heat’s 103-84 rout of the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of The Finals.

Chalmers led the Heat with a team-high 19 points and helped limit Parker to 13 points and just five assists. His layup and free throw with 3:11 to play in the third quarter was the turning point as the Heat went on a 33-5 run to blow the game open. They went from trailing by a point to coasting by 27 points to tie the series at a 1-1 headed to San Antonio for Games 3, 4 and 5.

Chalmers walked over and told a struggling LeBron James that now was the time.

“I felt like we had them on the ropes at the time,” Chalmers said. “I told them let’s go for the kill.”

James might have had the highlight play on Tiago Splitter and Chris Bosh broke out of his funk and finished with a double double (12 points, 10 rebounds). But it was the Heat’s role players who saved the day. Guys like Ray Allen (13 points), Chris “Birdman” Andersen (nine points) and Mike Miller (nine points) showed up.

And in this series, James is convinced that Chalmers could very well be the Heat’s most critical performer, even with “Big 3s” on both sides.

“‘Rio has to play big for us in all facets,” James said. “I think that especially defensively, he’s guarding arguably the best point guard in the league. But I think he also has to make Tony work on the defensive end. He can’t be passive. He has to shoot his shots when he has them.”

Chalmers won’t bite publicly when asked about an individual matchup like the one he’s locked in with Parker right now, but his history against the other top players at the position suggests otherwise. He’s never backed down.

“It wasn’t nothing about Tony Parker,” Chalmers said. “It was the fact that we lost Game 1.We never want to lose, especially in The Finals. My mindset was just to do what I can for the team and go from there.”

It goes back that intestinal fortitude, the big game moxie that Chalmers has always exhibited.

“Mario’s got guts. Come on,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He had that all the way [back] in college. He’s got incredible confidence in his game. He’s shown that throughout the years, even when it’s sometimes — I wouldn’t say irrational. You have to have guts to play with our guys. If you don’t, you get swallowed up. The good thing about it is the other guys were fine with him making plays. That might be different the next game. As they make adjustments, everybody has to be alive. Him being aggressive helps us, no question.”

There’s no strategy involved. Just plain old guts.

You either have it in you to thrive under pressure or you don’t.

“We have a lot of those guys,” Spoelstra said. “You can’t teach that quality, the big game guts. They feel most alive in these situations when you typically feel the most pressure. Drives me crazy sometimes in December and January. But when you get to this time of year you like it.”

‘Birdman’ Sits, Heat’s Anthony Next Man Up




INDIANAPOLIS – Miami forward Chris (Birdman) Andersen got his wings clipped for a night – he’s missing Game 6 of the Eastern Conference championship series Saturday for his altercation Thursday with Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough. But it’s not as if NBA headquarters poured salt on his tail for the rest of the playoffs or his career.

“I’m not going to change who I am and how I play,” Andersen told reporters after Miami’s morning shootaround. “I just have to keep my composure a little better and be smarter and make the right decision the next time something like that happens.”

The next time “something like that happens,” if Andersen keeps his composure, it won’t happen at all. He started the incident with Hanbrough in the second quarter of Game 5, throwing a blindside shoulder into the Pacers forward as the two headed upcourt.

After Hansbrough got up off the court, the two banged chests. Then Andersen pushed Hansbrough back with a two-handed shove. Referee Marc Davis rushed over to push Andersen away from Hansbrough and the Heat forward briefly pushed back, grabbing at the ref’s wrist and arm.

That – resisting efforts to bring the altercation to an end, the league said – might have been the biggest reason Andersen’s flagrant-1 foul was upgraded to a flagrant-2 and he was hit with the one-game suspension. If his composure had kicked in at any point before that, he might have stayed eligible for one of his team’s biggest games of the season.

“I can’t regret anything. It is what it is, bro,” Andersen said.

The Birdman will be cooped up at the Heat’s hotel during Game 6, while coach Erik Spoelstra and the rest pick up the slack in rebounding, defensive and finishes at the rim that have made him so valuable of late. Spoelstra said backup big man Joel Anthony would get minutes normally reserved for Andersen but allowed for the possibility of other lineups and options.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said his team would be prepared for a variety of Miami looks. “It’s not just going to be [Anthony],” Vogel said. “They’ll play [Chris] Bosh a little more at [center]. They’ll give [Udonis] Haslem more time. They’ve got plenty of different lineups they can throw at us that I don’t expect them to have any dip.”

NateRob, The Pound-For-Pound King!



.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Nate Robinson said it best, “God blessed me with a lot of heart and no height, and I’ll take that any day.”

So will the Chicago Bulls.

Krypto-Nate devoured the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter of the Bulls’ Game 1 upset in the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The best fourth quarter scorer in these playoffs, Robinson served the Heat by scoring the final seven of his game-high 27 points (he also had nine assists) in the defining minutes of the game. He did all this after needing 10 stitches to close a gash over his lip, courtesy of a LeBron James elbow and head smash during a scramble for a loose ball.

“Get stitched up and continue to battle,” Robinson told reporters after the game.

LeBron’s already snagged the “King” nickname. But after watching Robinson the past eight games (and, really, the past eight seasons), is there any doubt that he’s the pound-for-pound king of toughness in the NBA?

Yes, that’s high praise for a third-string point guard. And Robinson remains one of the more unpredictable players in the league. His highs, though, trump his lows every time. Tell me the last time a third-string point guard outdueled the MVP on the night he received his trophy? Robinson became the NBA’s first three-time Sprite Slam Dunk champ and built a cult fanbase from New York (where he spent his first four and half seasons in the league) to Boston to the Bay Area and now Chicago and beyond.

Nowhere is Robinson more beloved than in his native Seattle, where he was the big man on campus at Ranier Beach High School, where he was a three-sport (football and track, too) star. Unlike many of his NBA colleagues who love to fantasize about being crossover stars in the NFL, Robinson could have pulled it off.

He was a All-Pac-10 Freshman Team pick at cornerback at the University of Washington, where his father, Jacque Robinson, was a Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl MVP. Nate Robinson was believed to have a much brighter future in that sport.

But he chose basketball instead and the rest is pound-for-pound history for a player who says he’s having the time of his life with this Bulls team.

“There’s something special about this group,” Robinson said. “It feels like we’ve been playing together for, like, 10 years. I told [Bulls] Coach [Tom Thibodeau], we just love to play for each other.”

Hoops fans love having players with Robinson’s toughness on their team. That’s why he’s the king/captain of the Hang Time Pound-For-Pound Toughness Team. These are the guys still working in these playoffs who give up every ounce of what they’ve got on a nightly basis for their respective teams, be it blood, sweat, tissue, tears or whatever else is needed.

The other starters:

David West, Indiana Pacers

6-foot-9, 250 pounds

An absolute bruiser, West changed the entire culture of an organization in Indiana with his reserved-but-unwavering leadership style. The Pacers have become the picture of defensive toughness and consistency since West arrived. West is a physical specimen who has found a way harness his brute strength and play under complete control at all times. He’s a huge reason why the Pacers are up 1-0 on the New York Knicks in their Eastern Conference semifinal.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

6-foot-7, 220 pounds

Another reserve who has moved into a starring role during this postseason, all Butler has done is play every single minute in three straight playoff games (Games 6 and 7 against the Brooklyn Nets and Game 1 against the Heat). That’s 48 straight minutes for three straight games while guarding the likes of the Nets’ Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. With his tireless work on both ends of the floor, Butler has done a masterful job filling in for Luol Deng while also showing the sort of mettle of a future star.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

7-foot-1, 265 pounds

The Memphis branch of the Gasol basketball family tree is much sturdier than the Los Angeles version in every way imaginable. Pau Gasol has always been considered the most skilled big man in the family. But the toughest Gasol, the recently crowd Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year, does his home work near Beale Street. He’s got it all … brains, brawn and he can ball.

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

6-foot-4, 214 pounds

A defensive stopper everywhere he’s been, Allen’s junkyard dog attitude inspired the Grit and Grind movement in Memphis (where you could fill out a Pound-For-Pound roster with the likes of Zach Randolph and others). Allen’s greatest trait is his fearlessness, which was on full display during the Boston Celtics’ title run in 2008 and has been as identifiable as his No. 9 jersey is since he joined the Grizzlies three seasons ago.

SECOND TEAM

Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls; Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs; Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks; Chris Andersen, Miami Heat.


Heat Burst Burns Bucks Again



.

MIAMI — You know it’s coming, no matter what you do. Even if your brace yourself for the blow, there isn’t much you can do to stop it.

The Miami Heat will come at you at some point during a game with a vicious run that either knocks you off balance or knocks you out cold. It doesn’t matter if they are up 20 or down 20, that run is coming. It’s not a matter of if but when for the Heat, who have made a habit of smashing teams this season with quick and wicked runs that decide games.

Even in a close game against a playoff opponent, they can go from zero to 60 faster than the opposition. And when they hit that speed, the way they did in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Milwaukee Bucks had to know Game 2 of this first-round playoff series was gone.

The Heat went from clinging to a 3-point lead at the end of the third quarter to an insurmountable 15-point cushion in the time it takes most teams to stretch out for the mayhem that comes with a tight fourth quarter against the Heat. When the dust cleared from the Heat’s 98-86 win, it was obvious that Chris “Birdman” Andersen‘s energy had spilled over for the second straight game during a critical stretch for the Heat, who battled the Bucks every inch of the way through those first three quarters.

Andersen kicked off the run with a rebound and putback for a 70-65 lead and Norris Cole finished it off with a deep 3-pointer off a feed from LeBron James for the 80-65 lead with 9:58 to play. The 95 seconds of choreographed mayhem between those buckets has become a Heat staple. You better be buckled up for the ride or you could get run over. And chances are, you’re going to get run over anyway.

“At that point, when it got to still a 3-point game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “we were more of the mindset that, ‘hey, we’re going after this big.’ We hadn’t been in a great rhythm. We certainly were not playing a great basketball game. You have to give them credit, they were doing some things that had us spinning around a little bit defensively and got us on our heels. Offensively, we never got into a rhythm, so we figured we’re just going to have to have to find a way to grind in the fourth quarter. We figured it was going to be a close game. It was just a quick skirmish and explosion. Obviously, that second unit with Bird and Norris came in with a great deal of energy.” (more…)

LeBron As Efficient As Ever In Opener




h
MIAMI — For a guy who claims not to have slept much Saturday night, LeBron James looked remarkable Sunday night, refreshed even, for the start of the Miami Heat’s defense of their NBA title.

And no, it had nothing to do with the designer red sweater he wore to the postgame media gathering after James and the Heat demolished the Milwaukee Bucks 110-87 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

A restless LeBron looks a lot like the same uber-efficient LeBron we’ve seen all season, and particularly in his past 10 games. James is shooting a staggering 70 percent from the floor and 57 percent from behind the 3-point line. While everyone else plays at game speed, James continues to play at his own speed. It’s not breaking news that he flirted with a triple-double Sunday night … he does that on the regular. It’s the way he does it, making it look easy, that makes you pause.

He needed just 11 shots, making nine of them, to pile up his game-high 27 points. The 10 rebounds and eight assists, nearly each and every one of them a momentum-shifter in one way or another, completed his performance.

“He really just let the game come to him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He facilitated quite a bit for us. He was creating triggers a lot of times by setting screens and generated a lot of offense just by doing that. It was a very mature, high IQ game. Yeah, that’s about as an efficient as you can get. He made that look easier than it was.”

James has a knack for doing exactly that, making it look easier than it was. Sunday marked the 13th time in his career that he has finished a playoff game with those numbers, the most of any player in NBA history.

“When [James] has a game like that, what can you do?” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “I thought Luc Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels battled him well. The guy is the best player in the world right now, so what can you do?”

A calm and composed James can nitpick his own work, highlighting his five turnovers and the Heat’s 19 that resulted in 22 points for the Bucks, who will get another dose of this in Game 2 Tuesday night.

“That is the disappointing thing for us,” James said, “The 19 turnovers and 22 points. A lot of those 19 turnovers were careless, including myself, I had five. You know how I am about turning the ball over. I had five of them and three or fourth of them were careless and unforced. We can’t allow that to happen.”

Actually, you can. When you have a bench, powered by Ray Allen‘s 20 points and Chris “Birdman” Andersen‘s 10, capable of producing 43 points, to the Bucks’ 25, you can get away with a little sloppiness in your playoff opener. You can get away with it when superstars like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can play complementary roles to the most efficient and dynamic player in basketball.

“He’s in playoff mode,” Wade said of James. “We love him in that mode. Now he is focused on his goal. His goal is to dominate every game and help take this team to a championship.”

Having done it once before, you might assume that this playoff journey would stand out to James above others. But that’s not his way, not his frame of mind for this postseason. He said before the game that he couldn’t remember how he felt before Game 1 last year, so he couldn’t compare then and now. Truth be told, he has no desire to compare what was with what is or even what could be. Competing against his own ghost holds no appeal to James.

“I try to stay in the moment, to live in the moment,” he said.

And why wouldn’t he?

His next game always provides an opportunity to set a new standard or at least chase one that someone else set. He’s scored 25 or more points in 16 straight playoff games, and he kept that streak alive Sunday night with the fewest shot attempts in his playoff career. Shooting 82 percent from the floor, of course, makes these sorts of things possible in LeBron’s world.

The Bucks found that out the hard way. They stayed close early thanks to Brandon Jennings (26 points on not-nearly-as-efficient 8-for-20 shooting) and kept fighting long enough for Monta Ellis (22 points on solid 10-for-19 shooting, though he was just 1-for-6 from deep) to get going, too.

And the Heat still won going away, with all of their turnovers tossed in for good measure, thanks to James.

It’s like Boylan said, when a guy has a game like that (and game like that), what do you do?

Birdman, Allen Help Heat Bench Soar



h

MIAMI — Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Ray Allen watched the Miami Heat roll to a championship last season from afar, Birdman from the basketball abyss and Allen technically still a member of the Boston Celtics, the team the Heat vanquished in the Eastern Conference finals.

Neither one of them had a clue at that time of the role they’d play in the Heat’s initial step at repeating that feat. And yet there they were Sunday night in the midst of all of the madness at AmericanAirlines Arena as the Heat kicked off the encore tour with a 110-87 blowout win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their first round series.

Birdman provided the energy and effort, as he has routinely since the Heat signed him off the street in January to a 10-day contract that turned into the remainder of the season once they realized what they were getting in the 34-year-old big man with the energy of a guy half his age. Allen provided the constant threat against his former team, he was a Milwaukee Buck before he played in Seattle or Boston, that he always provides. There is no court Ray Allen plays on in the NBA where the opposition doesn’t view him as a threat.

They combined for 30 of the 43 bench points the Heat used as fuel to beat down the Bucks; their reserves outscored their Bucks counterparts by 18 points in a game where the starters’ offensive production was basically a wash (67-62 in the Heat’s favor).

Anderson finished with 10 points (on 4-for-4 shooting with three dunks) and seven rebounds in 16 supercharged minutes, while Allen finished with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists. And he didn’t even shoot the ball particularly well from deep (2-for-8), not that it mattered for the Heat’s new super subs.

“They are impact players,” said Heat star LeBron James, who was spectacular and efficient in his first playoff game since the Heat’s title-clinching Game 5 win over Oklahoma City in The Finals last year. “Ray is a threat out on the floor at all times, no matter if he is making shots or not, you have to account for him. Bird raises energy every single night rebounding, setting screens, put-back dunks and blocking shots. He brings that effort.”

The Heat needed to get it from somewhere. They knew exactly what they were getting from Allen, arguably the greatest pure shooter the league has ever seen — I said arguably — and still plenty dangerous some 17 years into what is sure to be a Hall of Fame career.

Andersen was a wild card, though, a gamble the Heat made to help shore up an inside game that served as the long-glaring weakness for the defending champs.

“You don’t normally see an opportunity to pick up an impact player in the playoffs on a championship-level team,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team is 40-3 in the games Andersen has played in since joining the Heat. “To come right into your rotation in March, you don’t see that very often unless it’s a trade. He’s had a great impact on our team on both ends … and he does it in short bursts.”

His work Sunday night serves as a 16-minute infomercial for “Energy by Birdman,” complete with Heat fans and teammates clad in white flapping their wings.

That’s a pretty good playoff start for a guy who admitted to being a bit skittish in his return to the playoff spotlight.

“At first I started off a little bit nervous,” Andersen said, “But once I got that out of my system I came back in the second half and pushed myself a little bit harder to go after offensive boards, play a little bit harder on defense. We made a couple of changes on [Brandon] Jennings and [Monta] Ellis and that paid off.”

Just like that gamble the Heat made on a couple of new faces, one early and one late, to solidify their reserves.

Heat Thrive With ‘Best Supporting Cast’





ORLANDO — One of the unintended benefits of a team plowing through week after week of a 27-game (and counting) win streak is the collective strain it puts on not just a team’s superstars, but also it’s supporting cast.

And in the case of the Miami Heat, that would be, as All-Star forward Chris Bosh coined it, “the best supporting cast in the business.” Bosh was, of course, speaking about the cast surrounding reigning MVP LeBron James, a group headlined by Dwyane Wade and himself.

But those three superstars have the added benefit of leaning on what has developed into the best cast of veteran, high basketball IQ specailists in the business. From stalwarts like Udonis HaslemRay Allen and Shane Batter to Mike Miller and Chris “Birdman” Andersen to Norris Cole and occasionally James Jones or even Joel Anthony, the Heat found ways to tap into their resources at the right time throughout this streak.

It’s a delicate balance, knowing who to go to, and when. But it’s a luxury that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff have cultivated for the past three seasons. And for a team that will need every player to defend their title, this streak and the finish of this regular season could prove to be crucial in ensuring the reserves are ready for that grind.

“They are gaining more and more confidence,” Spoelstra said. “They really are. It doesn’t really matter which group we have out there. They take it to heart that they want to put together good minutes on the scoreboard. Those guys are just stepping up and giving us good minutes.”

Great minutes, actually, in spurts.

Cole scored a season-high 15 points and led seven scorers off the bench in Sunday’s win over Charlotte, the first of two straight games the Heat played without Wade, who sat out with a sore right knee. Cole (3-for-4), Allen (4-for-5) and Battier (2-for-5) lit it up from distance as the Heat used an 11-for-13 barrage from 3-point range to subdue the Bobcats.

Miller started in place of Wade Sunday and played 22 minutes in the win over the Bobcats. That’s the exact same number of minutes he played in the 10 games before that, and looked comfortable doing it. He started again Monday night against Orlando, making three of his six shots from the floor in 20 minutes against the Magic.

He attempted a total of four shots in those 10 games prior to his Bobcats start, but didn’t hesitate Sunday night, uncorking a couple of 3-pointers in the opening minutes of that game.

“My view was to just fill in,” Miller said. “But you can’t be shy. My motto is to let it fly. That helps our team, when our shooters are aggressive it opens up lanes for everybody else.”

Cole, Andersen and ex-Magic All-Star Rashard Lewis (11 points, courtesy of a 3-for-5 shooting effort from long-range) provided the boost the Heat needed to get win No. 27, outscoring the Magic reserves 42-15. The Heat are 26-1 this season when its reserves outscore the opposition’s.

“It’s just knowing your role and knowing what’s needed,” Battier said. “It’s the way we’ve worked all season long and right now it’s the perfect complement to what we’re doing offensively. Our main goal on offense is to create space to allow our best guys the room they need to operate. The only way to do that is to put shooters around them. So when we get the open looks, we have to make shots. It all has to work together.”

Making sure the bench was ready was of critical importance for Spoelstra, though he wouldn’t have forced the issue down the stretch of the regular season. Not with the type of veterans the Heat have.

“They’ve already had a body of work,” he said. “They’ve been called upon at times this year, and they are keeping themselves ready. The most important thing is all the work they’ve been doing behind the scenes. You could whither away on the sidelines by not playing if you didn’t have the right attitude. But our guys come in every single day. They do their conditioning and they also stay in it mentally. They do it every day.”

You win 27 straight games and everybody has to bring it — the superstars and the “best supporting cast in the business.”