Posts Tagged ‘Heat’

Report: Bosh didn’t want ‘pressure’ of title chase with Rockets

You know the old saying: If you can’t stand the heat, stay with the Heat.

That’s pretty much the admission that Chris Bosh made about his decision last summer to turn down the free-agent offer to chase another championship or two with the Rockets.

When LeBron James chose to leave Miami and return to the Cavaliers in July, it was generally believed that Bosh would make a perfect fit with fellow All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston.

The Rockets made Bosh a max offer of four years, $88 million. The Heat eventually got him to stay for their own max of five years, $118 million. And it’s hard to anyone to tell someone else to simply give up $30 million.

But it wasn’t solely about the money. Bosh told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com that after four years of living under the microscope of intense scrutiny in Miami, he was ready to, well, not put so much effort into intensity-filled title chase:

“I could see where people would think that’s an attractive site,” Bosh told CBSSports.com, speaking of Houston, where half the NBA expected him to land back in July. “They were trying to win right away. And I was really happy to be touted that I possibly could’ve been out there. But you know, that doesn’t guarantee anything, and I know that. All that guarantees is a bunch of pressure.”

Before you jump on Bosh for taking the easy way out, consider what the past four years were like for him. He was never the most important corner of the James-Wade-Bosh triangle, except when he missed an open jumper or flubbed a defensive assignment. He had to sacrifice and unlearn key parts of his game to adapt to the more dominant talents and personalities around him. For four years, every day in the life of the Miami Heat was like being on tour with the No. 1 artist in the land.

The perpetual chase, the championship-or-bust environment, the celebrity status afforded basketball’s three-headed monster — all of it wore on James, who spoke often last season of the mental fatigue of pursuing a fourth straight trip to the Finals. Everyone was so busy chronicling James’ every word that they forgot to ask Bosh what he thought.

It wore on him, too.

“It’s incredibly difficult to win a championship,” Bosh told CBSSports.com. “I know that, and I know it’s a whole process.”

The Rockets had pushed all their chips to the center of the table in pursuit of Carmelo Anthony (who chose to stay in New York) and then Bosh, a perfect complement to Howard and Harden. With James gone and with Rockets GM Daryl Morey clearing the runway for Bosh to chase a third ring as the third wheel in his home state of Texas, it all seemed to be a fait accomplit. The Rockets sure seemed to think so.

“Did they?” Bosh told CBSSports.com. “… I think they’re still in contention for it even without me. It’s free agency. It’s a crazy time. It just kind of got crazy real fast and then it settled down completely.”

It did so when Bosh chose to settle down in Miami, a place that he and his family have adopted as “pretty much our second home,” he said.

“I’m familiar with people,” Bosh said. “I know how to get to work. And if there’s traffic, I know the shortcuts. It’s those small things that I really love about the city and I love about being comfortable that guided me back. And you know, if you can make a couple of dollars on the side, then it works out.”

Dwyane Wade’s veteran perspective


VIDEO: Derrick Rose takes another spill and tweaks both of his already tender ankles

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Dwyane Wade remembers those days when he was crashing to the floor on almost every other possession and he could bounce up like nothing happened, when his body allowed him to do things only the best of the NBA’s best could do.

It seems like a lifetime ago for the Miami Heat’s veteran superstar, whose stellar career has been marked by injury issues in recent years. Wade is still one of the league’s elite players, of course.

But his body hasn’t allowed him to be that player every night. So if anyone understands the plight fellow Chicago native Derrick Rose is living through now — trying to get back to MVP-level after two tumultuous years dealing with severe injuries, it’s Wade.

When Rose talks about taking things easy now because he’s thinking about the future, it produced chaotic reactions around the basketball world, including a parade of former players and pundits eager to indict him for not being true to the game.

But when Wade said it wouldn’t be wise to push it on a sore hamstring before sitting out a recent game against the Atlanta Hawks, no one blinked.

The Heat star talked about Rose, life after LeBron James, reinventing yourself in the second half of your career (like Kobe Bryant)  and the veteran perspective he has acquired over the years during a recent interview with NBA.com …

 NBA.com: I remember when you were a young player and throwing your body all over the place and other people were saying you needed to be careful. How cognizant are you as a young player, thinking about the future and worrying about your body?

Dwyane Wade: I don’t think it’s something that is on your mind until something serious happens. For me, when I had my shoulder surgery, that’s when I started thinking differently. A serious injury, a surgery shows you that none of this is promised to you. And that’s when it really sets in for you as a player.

NBA.com: A lot has been made of Derrick Rose and his comments recently about how he’s going to approach things. Some people took it as him saying he wasn’t going to go as hard. What did you make of his comments and the fallout?

DWade: When you have serious injuries the way he has, your mindset is going to be a little different. There’s no way around that. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the game and you are not going to give it your all. It just means that you know, if this happened to me once it could happen to me again. And you start thinking about things in that context all the time. It’s inevitable, at least in the way you think about things.

NBA.com: One day you’re 20 or 21 and invincible and the next day you wake up and realize you’re not Superman anymore. How hard does that hit you as an elite-level athlete?

DWade: At some point you have to put all of that in perspective. But I don’t ever think it’s going to be at 19, 20, 21 or when you are in your physical prime without any issues. We shouldn’t expect that. But at some point, you would hope that each individual comes through this game has a moment when they realize things have to be done differently. You don’t ever like to see guys you play with go through the struggles, on or off the court, there has to be a point when you slow down, recognize where you are in your career and make the necessary changes to do things in a way that allow you to be effective for whatever stage of your career you are in. You have to learn through the process of growing and maturing and learning how to handle yourself from being young to being a veteran.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James formed one of the most dynamic duos in NBA history

NBA.com: There’s that word, process. Speaking of that, how has this process worked for you guys, trying to reinvent yourselves from the Big 3 with LeBron to the team you are now?

DWade: It has been interesting, this process, and there is that word that has been used and overused around here the past few years. But that’s the best word to describe it, really. It’s been a journey and for us it’s been a good change. But it’s still early. The frustrations haven’t set in yet. I don’t care who you are, when you go through a NBA season there are bound to be some frustrations and some adversity. And you don’t know what you have until you go through those things, deal with them and come out on the other side. It’s early still. Everything is still fresh. It’s good to have wins like we had in Dallas. But then it’s good to come back and have a tough home loss to Indiana. It is a bad loss. But that is the ebb and flow of a season. It’s different, though, especially for myself and Chris [Bosh], taking on a new challenge that we haven’t really had the last four years, and making it work.

NBA.com: One of the biggest differences has to be the glare of the spotlight you had compared to the one you’re dealing with now. Every practice and every shootaround doesn’t seem like a made-for-TV event anymore, does it?

DWade: [Laughing] It’s actually cool for me. Listen, we didn’t run from the spotlight or anything when we had it. We took everything that came with it and owned it. Now that it’s off of us, it’s fine. We understand that it’s been shifted, the spotlight has been shifted and let them [Cleveland] enjoy that right now. Besides, you never know how things might change in this league. One minute you can’t get out of the spotlight and the next it’s gone anyway.

NBA.com: It’s funny you mention how quickly things change. I was telling someone the other day about covering the Heat in the playoffs your rookie year when you played point guard. And they argued me down that you never played point guard …

DWade: I might not have been a “point guard”, per say, but that’s what I played then. It was fun to come into the league and find my way.

NBA.com: Does it seem strange to you know, at 32, being on the other side, so to speak, and looking back at where your career has taken you from experimental point guard back then to where you are now?

DWade: I came in as a point guard and now I’m a post-up player [still laughing] … I mean, I do pick and rolls now, but I came in as a point guard and we run most of our post-ups now for me. So you have to understand that the the game evolves, the world evolves, the world around you evolves.

NBA.com: That’s spoken like an old(er) and wise man. You’re only 32, right?
DWade: It’s just the reality of the world we live in, as professional athletes and people in general. You look at technology and how much it has changed from my rookie year until now. And it’s the same thing with sports. You have to look at all the different changes and how you can change and stay relevant. And I think of all of the players you don’t see around now, guys that you say, “man, they should still be playing,” and they’re not here. Then you look at a guy like Kobe Bryant, and he’s found a way after all these years to still be Kobe Bryant and evolve with the game and figure it out, through all of the injuries and ups and downs. You figure it out. And that’s how you have longevity.


VIDEO: Dwayne Wade’s still got it 12 seasons into his future Hall of Fame career

Retired Battier isn’t eyeing a comeback

VIDEO: Inside Stuff with Shane Battier

The immortal baseball player Satchel Paige once said don’t look back, because something might be gaining on you.

The indefatigable Shane Battier says the only reason to look in the rearview mirror might be to check out his backswing.

Let the Cavaliers, Spurs, Bulls and Clippers chase the aging sharpshooter Ray Allen to bolster their championship hopes, Heat style. The 13-year veteran Battier, who retired after last season with Miami, says he’s having too much on the golf course to even consider a comeback.

Battier, who averaged 8.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, was a defensive specialist and won a pair of championships (2012, 2013) with the Heat, told Shandel Richarson of the Sun Sentinel that he wouldn’t nail the door shut, but it would “take a lot” to get him to lace up his sneakers and return to the court.

It’s not just giving up the physical grind at age 36 that is good, but also breaking out of the confining, narrow mindset that it takes to be a successful pro athlete that has Battier enjoying life:

“In this business, you get so caught up in the next shootaround, the next game, the next practice, the next play,” Battier said. “You have a very myopic view of the world. The most fun part is just talking to people … and just having amazing conversations.”

Morning shootaround — Nov. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suddenly confident Lakers get first win, eye more | Thunder “supporting cast” leads the way over Kings | Waiters clears the air on anthem-gate | Hibbert: Paul George is getting LeBron big

No. 1: Suddenly confident Lakers get first win, eye more – Leave it up to Kobe Bryant to be thinking about mountains after his Los Angeles Lakers climb a mole hill. The Lakers suffered five straight losses before securing their first win of the season over Charlotte Sunday. Now Bryant is looking to get greedy this week, suggesting that a couple more wins this week are a distinct possibility. Helene Elliott of The Los Angeles Times explains:

Where are the Lakers going? That’s tough to say. We know, at least, that they won’t go 0-82.

It’s also certain that they’re headed into a tough part of their schedule. Had they not won on Sunday, they might have had a long wait for that first win because they will face Memphis and New Orleans back to back on the road Tuesday and Wednesday before returning home to face San Antonio and Golden State. After that, they’re on the road at Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

So if it wasn’t now-or-never, it was close.

Sunday became now because they defended with some energy and had a balanced offense that wasn’t just Kobe Bryant and a bunch of other guys. Their success was constructed with 16 points from Carlos Boozer, 12 from Jordan Hill and 21 points and seven assists from Jeremy Lin, whose midcourt scream seemed to sum up fans’ long pent-up frustrations after he hit a three-point shot that gave the Lakers a 94-79 lead with 4 minutes 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

“They got into it,” Wesley Johnson said of the fans. “When we started making shots, that’s when the crowd got into it and everybody’s energy levels picked up a little more.”

And so did the Lakers’ confidence level. Asked if they would carry some momentum into those games at Memphis and New Orleans, Bryant spoke in a tone that was matter-of-fact. “I wouldn’t be shocked if we went out there and won both of them,” he said.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about the Lakers’ first win of 2014-15

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 3


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Beast of the East still in Miami? | Melo’s 20,000-point milestone | Cousins, Kings on the rise | Showtime for Nets’ Lopez

No. 1: Bosh back to a starring role – The last unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference is not that crew in Cleveland led by LeBron James or the group in Chicago headlined by Derrick Rose. It’s those guys in Miami, the ones who were supposed to falter out of the elite ranks after James skipped town. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the new-look Heat had other plans, of course. And it’s showed early on this season, with Bosh back in a starring role and the Heat soaring. Mike Wallace of ESPN.com explains:

For the better part of the past four years — even as LeBron James racked up regular-season and postseason MVP awards during four straight runs the NBA Finals — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly referred to Chris Bosh as the team’s most important player.

And each time, the muffled scoffs and eye-rolling would follow from those within earshot.

But Spoelstra always felt there was a clear distinction between LeBron’s value and Bosh’s impact.

“I don’t expect everyone to always understand it,” Spoelstra would say at least once every couple of weeks. “But in terms of what we do, how we want to play, what we need to happen on the court on both ends for us to be successful, C.B. is our most important player. That’s how we see him.”

What Spoelstra saw then is becoming abundantly clear to many now.

Bosh is off to the most productive three-game start of his Miami tenure, and the Heat have emerged from the first full week of the regular season as the lone unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference after Sunday’s 107-102 victory against Toronto.

While Bosh refuses to buy into the notion that LeBron’s departure to Cleveland in free agency is solely responsible for his initial statistical outburst, the 12-year veteran believes his development is part of a natural progression in his game that was inevitable, regardless of Miami’s personnel.

In other words, after four straight seasons of seeing his scoring and rebounding numbers decline as he settled into a role as primarily a spot-up shooter, something had to give.

“It’s just time,” Bosh said after he finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes against the Raptors. “I knew I couldn’t settle into that same position I’ve been in the past four years, floating outside and shooting a couple of jumpers. I know I had to switch it up a little.”


VIDEO: Chris Bosh  helps power the Heat to a win on Sunday (more…)

Summer Dreaming: Coach of the Year

Let’s face it. For all the talk about stability and commitment, most NBA franchises change coaches the way the rest of us change T-shirts on these sweaty dog days of August — often and without even thinking twice.

When the regular season begins in two months, there will be nine new coaches roaming the sidelines. Some will sink, some will swim and some will stand out from the pack.

So as our Summer Dreaming series continues, let’s take a bold leap to next April and have a look at the five candidates most likely to be filling the Coach of the Year ballot for 2014-15.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers and Steve Ballmer discuss new Clippers era

Doc Rivers, Clippers — After making the coast-to-coast jump from Boston to L.A., Rivers probably didn’t think his leadership duties on the West Coast would include being the spokesman and face of the team in the difficult scandal involving former club owner Donald Sterling. But as you might have expected, Rivers was out front, direct and kept a firm hold on the situation and his locker room, though it’s hard to discount some effect in the playoff loss to OKC. Now with a new owner and clean slate, he can get back to just concentrating on basketball, where he already upped the franchise record for wins from 56 to 57. He used an up-tempo attack to overcome the losses of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick for stretches. His fingerprints were all over the dramatic improvement of center DeAndre Jordan to become a mainstay rather than a sideshow in the lineup along with CP3 and Blake Griffin. The next step is the Western Conference finals and real bid for a championship.


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra’s exit interview

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — Now you see him, now you don’t. One minute you’ve got the best player in the game in your starting lineup every night and the next minute he’s gone home to Cleveland. Maybe that’s what it takes to finally get Spoelstra noticed for being more than just Pat Riley‘s pupil and the guy who let’s LeBron James pile up wins. Truth is, he dramatically revamped the Heat offense after that 2011 loss in The Finals and that did lead to back-to-back championships. But as Phil Jackson learned with the Bulls and Lakers, there is nobody overlooked more than the coach of the reigning league icon. The Zen Master won the award just once (1996) despite his 11 titles. Now if Spoelstra can keep a reinvented Miami attack built around Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in the top half of the Eastern Conference race, he’d finally get the credit he’s been due.


VIDEO: Dwane Casey accepts the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Dwane Casey, Raptors — Midway through last season, Casey was on many lists as the coach most likely to be fired next. But talk about pulling yourself back from the brink. Once the Raptors unloaded the contract and the bad fit that was Rudy Gay to Sacramento, Casey got his team to raise its level of play by getting the Raptors to tighten down on defense and make that a calling card. So much for the outside world that thought the Raptors were going into the tank for a lottery pick. They went from ranking 22nd in defensive rating the previous season to finishing 10th and used that identity to win 48 games and the Atlantic Division title. It all came together enough to convince free agent Kyle Lowry to remain committed to what Casey is doing and sign back on. Casey himself re-upped on a new three-year deal. With up and comers DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, there’s no reason to think the Raptors can’t build on their success and stay in the fight in a rejuvenated Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Tom Thibideau talks about the Bulls’ upcoming season

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls — Admit it. After what he’s done just grinding out wins the past two seasons with holes in his lineup, we want to see just how far Thibs can take the Bulls if a healthy Derrick Rose stays on the court. And don’t forget that the front office dealt Deng out from under him at midseason. You have to know that Carmelo Anthony‘s decision to stay in New York was all and only about the money when he passed up an opportunity to be the perfect piece in the puzzle in Chicago. Neverthless, Thibodeau gets to supplement his frontline with the ultra professional Pau Gasol, who’ll fit in nicely alongside the semi-controlled frenzy that is Joakim Noah. There is no question that the Bulls have bought into the philosophy and completely taken on the hard-driving, do-anything, no-excuses attitude of their coach. Yes, he has overused players to the point of wearing them down to the nub. But that’s only because he’s been playing shorthanded for two years. Give him this full season with all of the key players able to stay healthy and the Bulls will be challenging LeBron and the Cavaliers at the top of the East with a real shot at championship contention for the first time since that guy with the statue outside the United Center was still in uniform.


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich helps celebrate the Spurs’ championship win

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — Now that he’s won five titles and also this award three times in his career, it’s no longer fashionable to say that he’s taken for granted down there in little ol’ San Antonio. But you simply can’t have any list of top five coaches in the league without including the guy who is generally regarded by his peers as being the best. Far more than just a grumpy face, Pop has changed the focus of his offense during the 17-year championship run from being low post oriented with Tim Duncan to whipping the ball around the perimeter in an international style of unselfish frenzy and filling up the bucket with 3-point shots that Pop himself admits “I hate.” He’ll stick with his plan of managing the minutes of his core players Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the point of sacrificing wins — but never too many — in the regular season. He’ll continue to shift more of the burden to rising young players such as Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. They’ll likely be written off again as too old, too worn out at some point during the long regular schedule. But the Spurs will win 50 games, make the playoffs and, if physically fit next spring, Pop will have them once more as the team with know-how and the ability to win West again.

The fall guy in Cleveland?


VIDEO: Kevin Love is Cleveland bound — how will his arrival help the Cavs?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Seventeen games into his tenure with the Miami Heat, LeBron James was taking abuse from every direction. In those early stages of the 2010-11 season, the Heat were 9-8 and the Big 3 era was off to a shaky start, given the outrageous expectations that accompanied the joining of forces between LeBron, fellow free agent Chris Bosh and incumbent face of the franchise Dwyane Wade.

The Heat rebounded from those early stumbles and made it to The Finals before being taken apart by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.

In the aftermath of that ugly finish to their first season, LeBron was quickly cast as the scapegoat (with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stuck in the mud with him). He flatlined at crunch time in The 2011 Finals. Unlike Wade, he had no championship ring or Finals MVP to fall back on. And Bosh was seen as the third wheel, so there was no way he could be the fall guy in that scenario. So LeBron was left to shoulder that burden, one that ultimately led to back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs.

The roles have been shuffled in LeBron’s latest super-team situation in Cleveland, where he’s the championship veteran with rings and Finals MVPs, playing alongside young All-Stars in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Unlike Bosh and James back in 2010, though, the next playoff points Love and Irving score will be their first.

Far be it from me to rain on the attention parade going on in Cleveland, the epicenter of the sports universe with the Cavaliers’ new look and the seemingly never-ending Johnny Manziel news cycle. But what happens if (it’s blasphemy, Cavaliers fans, I know) LeBron and friends don’t win the title in their first season together?

Who is the fall guy this time?

Forget the common sense that should come with a new team with new leadership (coach David Blatt playing the Cleveland edition of Spoelstra’s role). The 2010-11 Heat and the 2014-15 Cavaliers face this similar circumstance: anything short of a title will be viewed as a disappointment by most.

And that means someone has to shoulder the burden of that disappointment the way LeBron (and Spoelstra) did when he went dark for weeks after The 2011 Finals trying to reflect on what had been a whirlwind 11 months.

LeBron should be immune this time around. We know what to expect from him. He has extensive experience playing with other elite superstars. He won’t have to make as many adjustments to his game to be effective. Even with the San Antonio Spurs shredding the Heat in The Finals this year, LeBron (cramps aside) was basically unstoppable. It was his supporting cast, both Wade and Bosh in particular, who didn’t play up to their own lofty standards.

And the Spurs were so good, it might not have made a difference if Wade and Bosh played well or not.

Love and Irving are clearly in the crosshairs this time around, given their lack of playoff experience and the fact that the only time they have shared a locker room with players as good or better than them is during All-Star Weekend and their time with USA Basketball. No one knows how either of them will hold up in the crucible that is the postseason. All of those regular-season highlights are useless if either of them melts down in the playoffs or runs into a matchup they simply cannot win.

Love will have to assume the Stretch 4 role that Bosh played in Miami, where his numbers dipped considerably compared to what he put up as a stand-alone All-Star in Toronto. Irving will have to relinquish some of the facilitating duties and scoring load that he’s had to carry early in his career to make sure his game meshes perfectly with two new elite teammates with higher profiles than his own.

Both Love and Irving will have the luxury of playing with the best player on the planet. But not even LeBron will be able to save them from expectations that are not fulfilled. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, general manager David Griffin and LeBron have all done their part. The pieces for success at the highest level have been assembled.

The rest is up to Love, Irving and the supporting cast. And if things go awry come playoff time, the scapegoat list will be easy to make!

‘Melo says Knicks are a playoff team

Carmelo Anthony is putting in the work this summer to back up his words about the Knicks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Don’t count the New York Knicks out of the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference.

Not yet.

So says the face of the franchise, Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony is not only talking the talk, insisting that the Knicks will rebound from last season’s dismal 37-45 finish and return to the playoffs this season, he’s putting in the work to prepare himself physically and mentally for the rigors to come during the first full season of the Phil Jackson-Derek Fisher regime.

Fred Kerber of the New York Post caught up with ‘Melo and delivers the goods:

But the playoffs are another matter. In fact, Anthony on Monday asserted his belief the Knicks “absolutely” will be back in the playoffs after missing out last season.

“Yeah, I think so for sure. Absolutely,” an impressively slimmed-down Anthony said of the Knicks’ playoff chances before entering a Midtown gym for a late morning-to-early afternoon workout with a group of NBA players.

Anthony snuffed an attempt to establish any goals for the revamped Knicks, who will enter their first full season under team president Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher.

“I can’t wait to get started,” said Anthony, who missed the playoffs for the first time in his career when the Knicks stumbled to a 37-45 record last season. “No goals. Not setting any goals, but I just can’t wait to get it back on.”

Whether this is just a star player exhibiting the expected confidence in himself and his situation or ‘Melo channeling the power of positive thinking is irrelevant. Knicks fans should love what they are seeing and hearing from ‘Melo. He’s either all in with the new program in New York or a better actor than anyone on Broadway.

There are plenty of factors in the Eastern Conference conspiring against ‘Melo and the Knicks.

LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, who are expected to add Kevin Love to their mix in the coming days, have forced a complete reshuffling of the playoff deck. If what we’ve seen from Derrick Rose this summer is any indication, the Chicago Bulls (with Pau Gasol now on board) will also force changes at the top.

The Indiana Pacers are expected to tumble a bit with the losses of both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency). But the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets are poised to move up in the standings. The East’s defending champs, the Miami Heat, have Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade ready to hold the line sans LeBron and remain in the projected playoff mix.

That leaves a narrow opening for the handful of teams (led by the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Knicks) vying for those final precious playoff spots. I don’t know that Anthony’s confidence is warranted, especially given the 2013-14 season he and the Knicks endured.

But the bravado is good to see and should be welcomed by folks who like to see the best players embrace the super-sized expectations that come with playing in New York. Whatever the Knicks do this season rests on Anthony’s re-sculpted shoulders. If his personal transformation is any indication, and if his confidence has infected the locker room, the Knicks could very well find their way into the playoffs.

It won’t be easy, of course. And it’ll take some luck of some sort along the way.

It’s the offseason, everybody … well, almost everybody believes deep down that this is going to be their year. Even if they are completely delusional, they believe in August.

‘Melo is no different. And he’s got a 54-win season from two years ago as a reminder of what the Knicks can do when they are clicking. Some of the faces have changed and the system will be different from what the Knicks operated when coach Mike Woodson was calling the shots.

But if ‘Melo says the Knicks are “absolutely” headed back to the top eight mix in the Eastern Conference, I see no reason to dismiss the notion now.

It’s like Kevin Garnett once famously said: “anything is possible!”


VIDEO: Knicks.com highlights the top matchups for the 2014-15 season

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

Half-century club: Top scorers of 2013-14

If you wanted to see points piled up as high as the Himalayas in 2013-14, the team to watch was in Charlotte. Not because the Bobcats were much of a threat to fill up the basket themselves. They ranked just 24th in offense.

But the Bobcats did give up the two highest-scoring individual games of the season, letting Carmelo Anthony explode for 62 points on Jan. 24 and then, six weeks later, becoming the victims when LeBron James went off for 61.

In all, there were a half dozen games last season when the half-century mark was topped. Not surprisingly, two of the others were by Kevin Durant, who won his fourth scoring title.

One thing to keep in mind. It helps to hit the long ball. In those six games, the big guns hit 38-for-65 (58.5 percent) on 3-pointers.

Here are the six games that cracked the 50-point barrier:

6. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Jan. 25, 2014 vs. L.A. Clippers — 51 points (16-for-29 FG, 10-for-17 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Ross’  big night

The crowd at the Air Canada Centre might have been less surprised that night had a UFO landed at mid-court. After all, Ross, a second-year guard who was the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, came into the game with a career best of 26 points. He blew through that by connecting on 10-for-17 3-pointers. It still wasn’t enough as the Raptors fell 126-118 to the Clippers. It was the only plus-50 game last season that came in a loss.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
March 21, 2014 at Toronto Raptors — 51 points (15-for-32 FG, 8-for-20 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Durant’s big night

This was familiar ground for Durant, becoming his fourth-career 50-point game and the second time he eclipsed the half-century mark in the season. Durant had to pull the load after Russell Westbrook was lost to injury in the third quarter, carrying the Thunder by scoring 38 points after the intermission in a 119-118 double-overtime victory.

4. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
April 11, 2014 vs. Houston Rockets — 51 points (19-for-30 FG, 2-for-6 3PT FG)


VIDEO: Brewer’s big night

How does a nine-year veteran with a career-scoring average of 10 points per game light up the scoreboard for five times that much? Well, it helps to be going up against the whipped-cream soft defense of the Rockets’ James Harden. Brewer just kept attacking the basket, making 19 of 30 shots and 11 of 15 at the free-throw line. Of all the players in the list, he made the least use of the 3-point line, hitting only 2-for-6 behind the arc. The Wolves beat the Rockets, 112-110.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jan. 17, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors — 54 points (19-for-28 FG, 5-for-9 3 PT FG)


VIDEO: Durant’s big night

It wasn’t long after Westbrook suffered a setback with his knee and went back onto the shelf when Durant lit up the early part of the new year with his own special brand of fireworks. OKC certainly need all that K.D. could deliver on a night when the Splash Brothers of Golden State were lighting it up themselves – Steph Curry with 37 and Klay Thompson 26. On his way to a fourth NBA scoring title, Durant had more than enough in his tank to come through for a 127-121 victory.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
March 3, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 61 points (22-for-33 FG, 8-for-10 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: James’ big night

Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins might have been the only one on the planet who was not impressed when the game’s current best player had the biggest night of his career. Wilkins criticized the Bobcats’ defense and their effort. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive that LeBron had the highest field-goal percentage (66.7) in a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal hit 60 on 68.6 percent shooting back in 2000. James tied his career high with eight 3-pointers and set Heat records with 25 points in a quarter and 22 FGs in a game in the 124-107 win. It’s what they’ll moon over in Miami when he’s missing this season.

1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Jan. 24, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 62 points (23-for-35 FG, 6-for-11 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Anthony’s big night

There have been a lot of games played in the history of the NBA, but few demonstrations of shooting proficiency that topped Melo on the night he set scoring records for the Knicks and for Madison Square Garden. He was a sizzling 23-for-35 (65.7 percent) overall, 6-for-11 behind the 3-point line and a perfect 10-for-10 on free throws. Oh, and he didn’t commit a single turnover. The fact is that if the Knicks weren’t cruising to a 125-96 win over the Bobcats, Anthony likely could have gone much higher. He had 56 of his points in the first three quarters and didn’t play the final 7:18 of the game.