The 2012-13 NBA regular season is over, and the playoffs are about to begin. NBA TV’s experts take a look back and a glance forward with their picks for each of the six major awards and for The Finals.
MIAMI – Something happened to LeBron James on the way to his first NBA championship.
It’s not clear what exactly, but the LeBron James that we saw in the previous two rounds of the playoffs was not the same as the LeBron James that we saw in the 2011 NBA Finals.
“Sometimes, you got it,” James said afterward. “Sometimes, you don’t.”
Indeed, this is a make-or-miss league. James’ shooting numbers from the last two series, especially in the clutch, were probably not sustainable. But this was much more than that. James’ performance in The Finals was clearly not about shots just not going in.
The James that destroyed the Celtics and Bulls was aggressive, dominant and unforgiving. In The Finals, at least in Games 2-5, James was nothing but passive.
He turned himself into a point guard in this series, always looking to pass first. Yes, the Mavs blocked off the paint and were always ready with a second defender. Yes, “the right play” is to take what the defense gives you and find the open man.
But James isn’t a point guard. He’s 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. And the best basketball talent in the world.
DALLAS – Dwyane Wade wasn’t going to use his bruised hip as an excuse. The Dallas Mavericks certainly weren’t going to offer it up as any alibi, either, for Wade’s or the Miami Heat’s performance in Dallas’ 112-103 victory in Game 5 of The Finals on Thursday night.
Wade suffered a left hip contusion in the first quarter, left the game with 2:58 left in the period for treatment in the Heat locker room, returned at 8:52 of the second quarter and missed the first 7:27 of the second half as well.
He played the rest of the game and, with 10 points, was the game’s high scorer in the fourth quarter. Wade led Miami with 23 points, had eight assists and was 10-of-12 from the foul line. But he logged only 34:27 minutes, and the Heat were minus-13 when he was on the court.
“You know I’m not going to [talk about the injury],” Wade told reporters after the game. “It was unfortunate I had to leave the game. But I came back and I finished it.”
It was Wade, remember, who blew off a question about Dirk Nowitzki’s injury (left middle finger) and illness (102-degree fever) between Games 4 and 5. “Everyone is injured at this time,” the Miami shooting guard had said on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the fun-loving story of him being sick either. Once you show up on the court, you show up on the court.”
MIAMI – If the Dallas Mavericks know what’s good for them, they will grab a greater share of the rebounds on their defensive end than they managed in Game 1 of The Finals.
They will if they can, considering that the Miami Heat’s 16 offensive boards fueled their sputtering offense in Miami’s 92-84 victory in the series opener. And the Mavericks will if they want to get coach Rick Carlisle some fresh material for their practices and his chats with reporters.
Before the team’s shootaround session Thursday morning at AmericanAirlines Arena, Carlisle kept turning every question-and-answer into a challenge for his Mavericks to get busier on the boards.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combining to shoot only seven free throws? Gotta rebound better. Dirk Nowitzki’s injured left middle finger? Can’t give up all those extra opportunities via lost rebounds.
Tempo? Jitters? Zone vs. man-to-man? Aw, Dallas needs more rebounds. Eventually Carlisle said he sounded like a “broken record” (although in these digitized times, we might want to forever change that analogy to a “glitchy memory card” or something).
“I know we did a pretty good job of moving the ball in Game 1,” Carlisle said. “But again, a lot of this comes down to the disposition we need to have on the defensive boards. We work hard for 20, 22 seconds to get a stop and then they get the ball back, that kills you. The defensive rebounding’s got to be better for us.”
Said Mavs center Tyson Chandler, who had four rebounds in nearly 34 minutes: “I’ve got to control the paint. I’ve got to take a lot of that blame for being outrebounded. The big guys, you’ve got to put that on your shoulders. Regardless of what happens, regardless of rotations, I’ve got to go out there and make sure we get every rebound.”
Late in Carlisle’s morning media chat, even he had to laugh when, questioned about something else entirely, his answer veered back to the same ol’ same old.
“No defense is going to be good unless you’re aggressive with it and…” Carlisle said, chuckling as his own singlemindedness, “…[get] some defensive rebounding. So again, defensive rebounding is really going to be important.”
MIAMI – We strive for the biggest names in basketball on the HT Podcast, and none come bigger than the man in charge of it all – Commissioner David Stern.
The Commish joined us from South Beach while we basked in the aftermath of a thrilling Game 1 of The Finals. Mr. Stern broke it all down , including his thoughts on The Finals, the state of the League, the current CBA negotiations and variety of other topics related to The Association as it basks in the sports spotlight.
Also joining us for some serious hoops talk is NBA.com writer and StatsCube maestro John Schuhmann who provided some insight into what to look for as The Finals moves to Game 2 and beyond.
Busy at work? Never fear. Commissioner Stern joins us at 13:46 and John Schuhmann chimes in at 29:45.
We asked our stable of scribes to weigh in on the 2011 Finals before Game 1 tips — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Who wins this thing, how do they win it and in how many games?
David Aldridge: This comes down to three things: will the Mavericks make shots? Will Tyson Chandler stay out of foul trouble? And can the Heat force turnovers? The answers are 1) Yes, but probably not enough, given Miami’s ability to close out and force contested shots; 2) No, because LeBron and Wade will be able to break down the Mavs’ perimeter D enough times to force Chandler to come over and help; 3) Yes — even against the great Jason Kidd. Kidd is still deadly with the skip pass and finding weakside shooters, but the Heat’s ability to produce deflections and steals is incredible. And if Miami gets into transition, Dallas is toast.
It all adds up to a competitive, tough series that Miami wins in six games.
Steve Aschburner: You can say that the Dallas Mavericks have been built for this moment in ways that the Miami Heat still are building. You can point out the many offensive threats the Mavericks have, beginning with (and lingering on) Dirk Nowitzki but not ending there (can you say “3-pointers?”). You can cite Jason Kidd as the most savvy point guard the Heat have faced in the playoffs, beyond Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose, and Tyson Chandler as the most formidable center – the two positions where Miami is weakest. All of that may be true.
But in a mosh pit of stifling defenses, Chicago vs. Miami, it was Miami’s that was left standing. The resurrection of Udonis Haslem has transformed them, toughening up the Heat inside, cleaning up messes before they even exist. Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers at least won’t be out-quicked against Kidd or J.J. Barea. Oh, and then there are those three fellows unmentioned here till now. Chris Bosh is playing better than he has all season, and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are matching migraines for the Mavs – with the ability to get to the foul line as a hat-tip to 2006.
Heat in six.
Fran Blinebury: The Lakers proved that if you don’t guard the Mavs at all at the 3-point line, they’ll fire away like they’re making a run on stuffed teddy bears at a carnival booth. The Thunder proved that if worry a whole lot about those 3-point shooters, that guy named Dirk will tie you in pretzel knots and steal your wallet. The Heat have enough active defenders in LeBron, Wade, Bosh and now Udonis Haslem to always keep more than one body on Nowitzki and be able to still get back out to the 3-point line to close out on the long range shooters.
At the other end of the floor Miami has too many offensive weapons that are now in sync. They’ll still prefer to do most of their damage in transition. But the Chicago series showed that the Heat are now capable of making the right plays late in a half-court set.
Heat in six.
Micah Hart: Do you believe in fairy tales? Because that’s what a Mavericks win in these Finals would be: A by-the-numbers sports movie from beginning to end.
Think about how often you have seen this plot play out on the silver screen:
1. Opening: Team humbled by big bad rival. 2. Team culls together a ragtag bunch of over-the-hill choke artists, almosts and could-have-beens for one last shot at glory. 3. Hires a coach who many think can’t win the big one. 4. Meanwhile, big bad rival gets, well, even bigger and badder. 5. On the brink of failure, everyone begins to wonder if the team has missed its chance; team is written off. 6. Miraculously, team bands together in playoffs to knock off one opponent after another, often in absurd and increasingly unbelievable scenarios. 7. Climax: Heroes topple the hated villains, showing that in the end good always triumphs over evil.
I choose to believe that real life will imitate art this year, and the Mavericks will beat the Heat in six games (though surely it’ll go seven in the Disney version).
Scott Howard-Cooper:Heat in 7. Dirk Nowitzki is the MVP of the playoffs so far and, more to the moment, as impossible a matchup as exists. But Miami has more unstoppable offensive options, plays better defense and has homecourt advantage. In other words, it is the team everyone worried about since last summer, no matter how many people foolishly tried to dismiss early in the season.
Shaun Powell: How could you not like Dallas? The Mavericks gave the defending champion Lakers a beatdown, then told the snotty young kids from Oklahoma City to wait their turn. We saw marvelous play by Dirk, the best German import without four wheels. And saw Tyson Chandler puff out his chest. And Barera constantly finds a way to drive inside, even though he doesn’t look old enough to hold a license.
But: Miami is taking this. In six, max. LeBron is on a rampage. And just to be safe, his right-hand man will change his first name from “Maverick” just so he won’t get caught in the crossfire.
John Schuhmann: After three rounds of terrific basketball, I couldn’t be more excited for this series. One team has been playing lights-out offensively and the other has been locking down defensively. And both have been at their best in the clutch.
How scary would it be if the Heat win a championship in their first year together, with a flawed supporting cast and LeBron James just 26 years old? The Mavs’ obviously have more urgency. Since the Lakers in ’04, there hasn’t been a team more unlikely to return to The Finals the following year.
Dallas has the urgency-factor, for sure. But I doubt that’s enough to overcome Miami’s home-court advantage and superior defense. Heat in 6.
Sekou Smith: No team in these playoffs has diagnosed and exploited weaknesses better than the Mavericks did on their march through the Western Conference field, and that includes draining 66 more 3-pointers (a 198-point edge) than the opposition. And no team has locked down and pressed the life out of opponents defensively the way the Heat did while steamrolling the competition in the Eastern Conference field, they broke the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics in the conference semifinals and knocked out Chicago’s reigning hoops trinity of league MVP Derrick Rose, Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau and Executive of the Year Gar Forman in the conference finals.
Yet for all of the time you’re going to waste analyzing the metrics, matchups, trends and styles, this series, as it always does, comes down to the superstars. The Heat boast two and potentially one more to the Mavericks’ one.
DALLAS –Shawn Marion doesn’t need any help getting amped up for The Finals. It is, after all, his first trip to the NBA’s big show after getting as close as the Western Conference finals previously.
Just don’t talk to him about LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or the rest of the Miami Heat. Because he’s not interested in waxing poetic about the Dallas Mavericks’ opponent. Instead, he’s focused solely on the Mavericks and their journey to the final days of this season.
“It’s not really about them or anything they are doing,” Marion said after fielding repeated questions about the Heat after practice Friday at American Airlines Center. “It’s about the Dallas Mavericks right now and what we’re going to play for and what we’re about to do.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (DALLAS OFFICE) – I don’t know what it looked like from the floor in Chicago, from South Beach or wherever you watched Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
What I do know is that from my seat at a local establishment just blocks from the Dallas Mavericks’ American Airlines Center, watching the Miami Heat storm back to defeat the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 Thursday night, is it looked a lot like the work the Mavericks did in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference finals.
I believe the appropriate term is “Clutch.”
The Mavericks have it in excess, as they have shown throughout the course of these playoffs. The Heat appears to possess plenty of it as well, which sets up as intriguing a NBA Finals as I can remember in years.
Sure, we had the classic Lakers-Celtics matchup last year. And that rivalry always presents a specific dramatic platform that we can all enjoy. But this rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals between the Mavericks and Heat has us riveted just thinking about the possibilities.
Dirk Nowitzki (no offense to Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion, but this is all about Dirk) and his legacy on one side. LeBron James (no offense to Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh, but this is all about James) and his legacy on the other.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With the trade deadline behind us now and the winners and losers being debated around the globe, we have a chance to sit back and survey the landscape here at the hideout.
Whatever certainty we had about a Lakers-Celtics rematch in the NBA Finals faded when the Celtics shipped off Kendrick Perkins, and even Nate Robinson, to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. In fact, the Celtics and all the other trade-happy teams have created a whole new world in the NBA for the rest of this season.
It dawned on us last night, as we were watching the Bulls’ comeback win over Miami (above). And as crazy as it might have sounded before the trade deadline, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think we could see a Bulls-Thunder NBA Finals this season (as opposed to 2013 or 2014). We’re not guaranteeing it or even predicting it. All we’re saying is it is within the realm of possibility.
Night after night, the Bulls are making it clear that they do not fear the Heat, Celtics or anyone else (you remember the way they handled the Spurs before the All-Star break).
Ask most anyone about the Bulls and Thunder before the trade deadline and they’d have told you that they were both poised to be the next teams in line to contend for titles, considering the way they’ve been built. But there’s no sense waiting in line or trying to be next when you can be right now.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Boston Celtics don’t have to search hard for motivation this season.
They came into training camp with all that they needed.
Pop on the tape (if that’s even an appropriate phrase anymore) from Game 7 of the NBA Finals and it’s staring them in the face.
They were minutes away from securing their second title in three years and No. 18 for the franchise.
It never happened, of course, the Lakers stormed back in the fourth quarter to win their second straight title, denying the Celtics the joy of winning No. 18 on the Lakers’ floor.
But that loss set off a chain of events that has energized the Celtics at the start of the season in ways we haven’t seen since the original Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen was formed in the summer of 2007.
There’s no guarantee things work out this year, or any year for that matter. A motivated team stocked with veterans eager to add to their own legacies, however, is always a great place to start.
How long does it take a competitive person like you to get over a seventh-game loss in the NBA (finals)? A week? A month? Ever?
“I still haven’t gotten over it. It’s tough. Because you envision back, and say, ‘if we could have done this different, that different in the game, it would have been a different outcome.’ So, it’s hard. You think about the what ifs and all of that. I don’t think you ever forget it.”
What’s the process? Do you go in your bedroom for a couple of days and sleep, and then don’t shave for a while, or don’t bathe, and then finally come out of the shell?
“I didn’t talk to people for a long time. I didn’t watch any basketball for a long time. I sort of kind of did go into a shell. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t even want to go out and eat for a while, because you just felt that bad about the loss. But then as I got back into the gym and working out, I just used it for motivation and just sort of loosened up from there.”
Did you feel like last season was the final run this team was going to have? And are you surprised to look around and see the same crew back together, indeed with more big, old guys like Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal?
“No, I wasn’t surprised at the run. We struggled a bit during the regular season at home. When I looked at our team from the beginning, I told people that we were more built for the playoffs than the regular season, because we didn’t have the up-and-down athletes, high-flyers that a lot of teams in the NBA have that can beat you in one game, on any given night. When you have to break down a team and really scout them and put us in the playoffs, then I knew that we could be successful. As far as our team this year, I’m glad that we had a chance to pick up the guys that we did and just kind of reload. Just seeing these guys back for another year, Ray (Allen), getting him back was huge, Kevin (Garnett) getting healthy, and adding Shaq and Jermaine was huge for us.”
I can’t remember the last time I saw a team use the agony of defeat as well as the Celtics have to reconstitute themselves and spur their quest for 18.
This is the sort of knock-me-down-I’m-getting-back-up psychology that was used routinely in the 1980s and even the 1990s, when the Lakers and Celtics battled regularly in the NBA Finals and the Eastern Conference champion always faced a gauntlet to get to the top (Boston ceded the throne to upstarts in Detroit who ultimately were dethroned by Chicago).
It probably seems extreme to some people for the Celtics to carry on the way they have about that Game 7 loss. But not here at the hideout.
We love it.
There’s no motivation as pure or pungent as vengeance. It’s worked for centuries.