Posts Tagged ‘Packers’

It’s Still Heat And Everyone Else

VIDEO: Chris Bosh’s game-winning 3-pointer sinks the Blazers

Dwyane Wade flips a behind-the-back pass with a move that is slicker than anything on a South Beach dance floor and Chris Bosh lets fly a 3-pointer that would have sailed over the top of a palm tree.

Bosh’s game-winner did not just serve as the deciding margin in the most entertaining NBA game of the season to date, but as another difference between the two-time defending champs and everybody else.

The Heat have it figured out.

Even with the Trail Blazers rising to the challenge against a full-throated home crowd. Even with LaMarcus Aldridge showing why he belongs in the MVP conversation. Even with Wesley Matthews lighting it up. Even with LeBron James left to only play the role of world’s roughest, toughest cheerleader.

As we prepare to flip the pages another calendar year, the one thing that doesn’t change is Miami’s ability to survive and thrive. Is it myopia or jealousy or sheer boredom that keeps running new contenders up the flagpole and ignoring the resolve and sheer talent of the Heat’s Big Three?

This is, after all, why Pat Riley went to such great lengths to put them in the same uniforms, so that they wouldn’t ever be forced to rely on just one of them?

Here was yet another season that began with yet another set of questions about Wade’s knees and Bosh’s guts and whether James was already peeking ahead to next summer and a chance to return to the Cleveland. And here they are looking like anything but a trio that is ready to surrender its championship grip or prevailing aura.

The standings may show the Heat currently with the fourth-best record in the league, behind the Pacers, Thunder and Blazers and yet you can have the entire field of 29 teams as long as I get to keep Miami.

The Pacers are a fierce and committed blend of burgeoning youth and smart veterans who have made it their goal to finish with the best regular season record and grab home-court advantage all the way through the playoffs into late June. Paul George is an MVP-in-waiting, only the year(s) in question, Roy Hibbert brings the inside bulk and power of a road grader and the rest of the Pacers lineup is filled with weapons.

Yet after beating Miami in Indy on Dec. 10, they let a 15-point lead slip away eight nights later in a rematch, even on a night when James and Mario Chalmers were jawing at each other on the sidelines.

The Thunder were in the spring of 2012, and are still, supposed to be rising young challengers whose games swell with growth and confidence each season. But it’s that swelling in Russell Westbrook’s right knee that has now once more required surgery and could stop OKC from ever reaching its full potential. With James Harden in Houston, they don’t have the three-way luxury of the Heat lineup, and the 2013 playoffs demonstrated that as good as he is, Kevin Durant likely can’t finish the job himself.

The explosive rise of the Blazers behind Aldridge and Damian Lillard and Nic Batum has been as fun and exciting a story as any in the league this season. Yet even on a night when they drop in 11 3-pointers and out-rebound the Heat, they couldn’t close the deal.

The Spurs are still piling up wins against the lesser lights in the league, but may have permanently lost their grip on any chance for a fifth franchise championship in those fateful 28 seconds of Game 6 in The Finals.

The fretting over or knocking of Miami arises any time the Heat lose two straight games, a leftover product of the hype and expectation that greeted their coming together. But if the past three seasons should have taught anything, it is that James, Wade and Bosh are the ones who have assumed nothing and put themselves to the task.

While the Pacers, Thunder, Blazers and the rest are trying to figure it all out, the Heat have amassed what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls “the corporate knowledge” of what it takes to play with each other, trust each other and get the very most out of each other.

The result is an offense that is second-best in efficiency this season and a defense, rated eighth, that can close like a fist around a windpipe and choke off opponents when it’s time.

There is no doubt that, at 32, Wade’s knees require the delicate care of hothouse orchids, yet he can still bloom and take your breath away. Bosh continues to have his inner strength and his consistency questioned, but explodes for 37 points and leaves nothing untapped in Portland. James, well, simply plays the game on a planet where he is the only inhabitant.

So while everyone else around them in the NBA is wondering how Riley and team owner Micky Arison can — and whether they want to — keep the band together after next summer, the Heat keep knocking out hits and asking the only question that matters: Why not?

Five Coaches Who Are Getting It Done

There is a healthy Kevin Love back to hanging up double-doubles for the Timberwolves, Russell Westbrook repaired and reloaded again in the Thunder lineup, Paul George planting his flag firmly into the elite class and LeBron James — ho-hum — routinely churning out more MVP numbers.

The focus, of course, is usually on the players. But unlike those tiny delivery drones that might one day have dropping books and blenders out of the sky onto our doorsteps and heads, most NBA teams don’t fly themselves. So as we creep up on the quarter pole in the 2013-14 season, here are five coaches who have steered into early consideration for Coach of the Year:

VIDEO: Terry Stotts discusses Blazers’ big win over the Pacers

Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers — It’s always risky to make too much of a fast start. Just think back to a year ago at this time when so many gullible folks were lining up to buy tickets on the Knicks’ Fantasy Express. But the Blazers, while shooting 3s almost as much as those Knicks, could be in the mix more for the long haul because Stotts has them sharing the ball with an offensive style led by LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum that is a joy to watch at the same time that they’re paying more attention on defense. There are still miles to cover before they become stoppers. However, the defense that has been upgraded and anchored by Robin Lopez in the middle does a good job of guarding against the pick and roll while continuing to close out on long range shooters. A team that missed the playoffs the past two years and seemed to be in turmoil over the summer with rumors that Aldridge was looking to get out is suddenly the wildest of wild cards in the Western Conference race, sitting atop the list of heavy hitters as the No. 1 seed.

VIDEO: Frank Vogel talks about playing hungry and staying on course

Frank Vogel, Indiana — There have been all the knocks on the Pacers’ schedule through the first five weeks. Sunday’s opener of a five-game road trip against the Clippers was their first of the season against a team that currently has a winning record. Even with a loss at Portland, 16-2 is still 16-2. Vogel has not only forged an identity for his team as the league’s top and most rugged defensive club, but has driven home the point that every night and every game counts. The Pacers don’t want to play Game 7 of any playoff series on the road next spring and that means maintaining focus and consistency through the long regular season. Vogel’s got them giving up the lowest field goal percentage in the NBA to opponents, the fewest assists and are ranked second-best in 3-pointers attempted in a league that has become behind-the-arc crazy. The Jersey Boy has established a blue collar contender out of a black-and-blue style that is built to last.

VIDEO: Mike D’Antoni talks about the Lakers’ Dec. 1 loss to the Blazers

Mike D’Antoni, Lakers — What? We want to give recognition to a guy whose team ranks a thoroughly mediocre 16th in offense and 19th in defense and checks in with a smack-in-the-middle record of 9-9? You bet. Have you looked at the purple and gold roster and the way the favorite whipping boy of Laker lovers and haters has pushed and cajoled this team to keep its head above water while giving Kobe Bryant’s Achilles’ tendon a chance to recover? While the countdown clock is still ticking on the return of the Black Mamba to the lineup, it was not out of the question before the season began that the Lakers could have already been flattened and finished by now. Remember how ESPN ranked the Lakers 12th overall in the West? That was before Steve Nash went hobbling off again with back problems, before Jordan Farmar was sidelined. D’Antoni is getting it done by shuffling lineups with a leading scorer (Pau Gasol) averaging just 14.3 points a game, nine different players scoring at least eight and with the indiscriminate shooter Nick Young looking like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

VIDEO: Steve Clifford comments on the Bobcats’ Nov. 29 win over the Bucks

Steve Clifford, Bobcats — What are we calling it for Michael Jordan — third time’s the charm? Or fourth? Or fifth? Can we finally stop counting the carcasses of Bobcats coaches now that Clifford has put a sense of organization, direction and purpose into the league’s perennial doormat? Did anybody think that five weeks into the season the Bobcats (8) would have as many wins as the Nets (5) and Knicks (3) combined? The long-time assistant coach waited almost forever to finally get his chance in the big chair and is relying on his two big guns inside and out in Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker at the offensive end, but making his mark with a no-nonsense approach that has Charlotte with the No. 4 ranked defense in the league.

VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra speaks with the media after Dec. 2 Heat practice

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — It’s just not as easy as it looks getting a team that has won back-to-back championships and made three straight trips to The Finals to come out with the hot fire and the right attitude every time out. That’s especially true when you’ve got to keep the condition of Dwyane Wade’s knees in the back of your mind at all times. But Spoelstra has this machine humming as the No. 1 rated offense that usually gets the shots that it wants, also leading the league in effective field goal percentage. The defensive bite is always there, creating mistakes, forcing turnovers and thriving in transition. He’s learned to live in the shadow of Wade, James and Chris Bosh and be the rudder that keeps guiding the Heat ahead as a quiet roaring force, if you will, and still the team to beat.