Posts Tagged ‘Wilt Chamberlain’

The Big O(verlooked) No More …





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When the elders speak the rest of us need to listen.

Don’t always assume that what they are saying is lecturing rather than enlightening. Sometimes they are just trying to school us, as best they know how, on the things we might have missed or may not completely understand.

So when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a man whose list of accomplishments in basketball from adolescence to the highest level rank at the very top (right alongside Bill Russell‘s as far as I’m concerned), insists that Oscar Robertson is being overlooked, it’s worth investigating.

Kareem went all-in for his former teammate — they won a title together in Milwaukee — ranking him right up there with Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the greatest players the pro game has seen (courtesy of ESPN’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd and Lakersnation.com):

“LeBron is awesome, MJ was awesome — but I think Oscar Robinson would have kicked them both in the behind,” said Abdul-Jabbar when asked about James and Jordan. “Absolutely. Oscar was awesome. He had brains. [...] He had all the skills.

“He could rebound and box out guys four and six inches taller than him. He was ruggedly built. He had fluid, quickness, and just understood the game. No flair, he just got the job done every night. Who’s going to average double figures in points, assists and rebounds?”

I placed a call to one my most trusted sources, a man who has watched and studied the game since the 1950s and has a keen eye for the evolution of the game throughout the ages. And he concurred with what Kareem said on the television and radio airwaves Thursday. The Big O has long been overlooked, overshadowed even by guys like Kareem, Russell and Wilt Chamberlain during that era. Never mind that he was ahead of his time in every way.

“All things considered, the Big O was a 6-foot-5 guard that changed the game,” my source said. “I don’t go along with that, ‘Who is the greatest?’ conversation and all of that sort of stuff, but he helped change the game. The Big O was the man, but like anything you have to take every guy in his time and place him in the proper context. You can’t deny what anyone has done but the Big O was the Jordan and LeBron of his time.”

An oversized point guard or undersized power forward, and perhaps just a cosmic blend of two of the greatest players we’ve ever seen …, a walking triple double (during the 1961-62 season and almost did it four other times during his Hall of Fame career)!

Iverson: The Uncomfortable Answer

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HANG TIME, Texas – He stood there at mid-court cradling the Most Valuable Player trophy and the transformation was complete.

Not quite a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, because Allen Iverson never would be described as something so light and delicate. But just as dramatic and, maybe, just as natural.

It was as jarring a sight that night at the 2001 NBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., perhaps, as seeing Mike Tyson in a set of tights with the Bolshoi Ballet or having the chiseled visage of Richard Nixon join the great ones high up on Mt. Rushmore.

Yet this was the way it had to be if his game, his league, his sport was to have continued hope to grow and flourish. For 14 seasons, people said Iverson was the changing face of the league — and that was not always meant in a good way.

But tattoos are only skin deep. Hairstyles change and grow, just like people.

The recent news that Iverson planned to announce his official retirement brought back a sudden rush of so many memories of the will-o’-the-wisp guard who broke ankles, broke protocol and broke the mold of what a little man could do.

He was Rookie of the Year (1997), MVP (2001), a four-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, three-time All-NBA First Team member and twice was given the top prize at the All-Star Game. The first time, the award came for his performance in the nation’s capital when Iverson showed that behind the hip-hop persona of a modern player was an old-fashioned pro who simply lived and loved to compete.

The player whose reputation would a year later become eternally stamped by a rant about “Practice!?” was the ultimate gamer who brought the Eastern Conference from 21 points down in the fourth quarter of an exhibition game because, well, if you’re gonna play, you might as well try to win.

Iverson’s style was always far less an artistic display and much more a competitive exercise, as if there was something to prove. And there was. The guy who had been called “Me-Myself-and-Iverson” spent much of his career, as he’s spent most of his troubled life, listening to people doubt not only his motives, but what’s inside his heart.

He came into the league wearing tattoos and cornrows and bandanas and traveling with his posse. He put himself into the center of a storm with his caught-on-national-TV microphones slur about sexual preference to a heckling fan in Indiana.

Iverson was as far removed image-wise as one could get and still live on the same planet as two of the three players who preceded him in winning his first All-Star MVP trophy — the quietly purposeful Tim Duncan and the regal Michael Jordan.

He was the foam on the front of the new wave.

“I’m one of them,” Iverson said, “but I’m also me.”

For just over a decade that’s who the demanding, discriminating Philadelphia fans got to see: the fearless competitor, the tough nut that wouldn’t crack, the lump of coal that used the intense pressure to transform himself into a diamond.

A few months later, Iverson would willfully, sometimes it seemed singlehandedly, drag the Sixers to the NBA Finals and earn his due respect from the public at large. However, it was that game amid other All-Stars when he demonstrated to the masses what, behind the perception, was his reality.

In those flashing, brilliant final minutes when Iverson was everywhere on the floor, making steals, setting up fast breaks, scoring on twisting, jack-knifing drives, he could have been a player from any era, no different from Bob Cousy, Bob Pettit, Julius Erving, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the other greats who had been introduced to the crowd at halftime.

He looked and acted different, this new kid, like new kids always have. They make us uncomfortable, force us to look at things from a different perspective. But what it was about that day was showing that many things never change on the inside, no matter how they’re packaged. Competitors compete.

Sometimes the torch is passed and sometimes it is a wild spark that burns down the forest to make room for new growth.

He was never going to be Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell. You were asking too much to replace that. They laid the foundation, established the game in the consciousness of a worldwide audience. They made it possible for the next generation to follow in their footsteps even if it meant never wearing their shoes.

The question, of course, is always: What comes next?

Allen Iverson was always The Answer, even when we didn’t know it yet.

Who Makes Your All-Time Top 3?




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – LeBron James offered up his three greatest players in NBA history and before he finished talking he had to know that he was going to start debates all over the basketball world with his answers.

The Miami Heat star named Dr. J (Julius Erving), Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as his top three to Fox Sports, choosing those well-deserving Hall of Famers over the likes of say Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain, just to name three more worthy candidates.

It is perhaps the most difficult list to craft in sports, the three best NBA (or even basketball in general) players of all time. It’s a question that elicits nothing but subjective answers. So much depends on your perspective, what era you grew up in and your personal preferences and sensibilities about the game itself.

Football and baseball are games where you could argue for two weeks about the top three players at each position on offense and defense and never come to a consensus. But basketball is even tougher because you can throw out the positions and just judge players on their individual skills and the impact they had on the game during the primes or even the entire scope of their respective careers.

The choices that have to be made are extremely difficult. How do you put Magic or Bird on your list and not both, when their careers were so intertwined? And when judging the all-time best big man, how do you separate Kareem and Wilt from Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon?

My top three? Magic, Jordan and Kareem, with Wilt missing out on that third spot by a whisker. I don’t understand how anyone, even an astute hoops historian like LeBron, could keep Magic out of his top three. Magic and Jordan would seem to be locks on every list. But again, this is a totally subjective exercise and one’s perspective is everything when you are crafting an all-time list of any sort.

There will be a time when LeBron, Kobe Bryant and some other current player has a legitimate case for a top-three spot. But if we put you on the spot and demand your top three of all-time as of this moment, what say you?

Let the debate rage on.

Your top three of all time …

Summer Dreaming: Most Valuable Player

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HANG TIME, Texas – We’ve been to the beach to soak up the rays and the scenery. We’ve dove into a cool mountain lake at the end of an invigorating hike. We’ve got the adrenaline pumping with a whitewater kayak ride through rapids. We’ve taken our inner tubes down the river for a long afternoon float.

What else is left to do on these sultry summer days for relaxation except to lie back in a hammock and dream of MVPs who’ll heat things up on all those chilly winter nights?

While it’s still months away from the season openers, we’re taking off from the free throw line in our lazy naps and soaring all the way to April for the top five contenders on my ballot.

LeBron James, Heat – This is when the big fun and the vegetable throwing really starts as LeBron’s resume begins to more closely resemble that of Michael Jordan, which only means the worshippers at the Church Of His Airness will scream heresy, among other more unpleasant things. He’s averaging 27.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 6.9 apg through his first 10 NBA seasons and as he turns 29, only seems to be getting more comfortable in his own skin. When James again leads the Heat to the best regular-season record on the way to a three-peat as NBA champs, he’ll be moving into lofty air. Three consecutive MVPs will put him in a class with MJ, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. A fifth MVP overall will tie him with Jordan and leave trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six). To think that he could be just getting into the meat of his career.

Kevin Durant, Thunder – As long as LeBron is upright, healthy and not getting bored of steamrolling everything in his path, KD just might have to get accustomed to a career as a great second banana when it comes to the MVP. Well, it did work out OK for Robin, Dr. Watson, Paul Shaffer and Chewbacca. There isn’t a thing anybody can throw out there to knock Durant, the most prolific scoring machine of this age. No shot is out of his range and he makes every shot look oh-so-easy. He’ll either win his fourth scoring title in five years or finish a couple of tenths behind Carmelo Anthony again. Unless Durant really elevates his OKC teammates above an strong Western Conference class of contenders, he’ll simply have to deal with being born at the same time as LeBron. But remember, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were annually overlooked at MVP voting time, winning just one apiece. KD would likely be quite satisfied if he could get just a fraction of their nine combined championships.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – This is how he gets back at the Lakers and all those mean things they said about him. This is how he proves to everybody that he made the right choice by emulating Davy Crockett and settling down in Texas. Howard has already been spending time in the practice gym with his two Houston mentors, Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon. If just half of their knowledge and fundamentals of the game rubs off on him, the Dwightmare will be over. After two seasons of indecision that also included back surgery and a shoulder injury, Howard will go back to being fit and happy on the court. That should produce another season of leading the league in rebounding, putting a chokehold on another Defensive Player of the Year Award and upping his scoring average off the pick and roll with James Harden and Jeremy Lin. There will be a lot of voters with long memories that won’t want to forget his past childish acts. But if Howard lifts the Rockets to 55 or more wins and has them looking like true contenders by April, he’s in the MVP hunt.

Derrick Rose, Bulls – After 1 1/2 years, The Return will finally be more than just a TV commercial for Adidas. No more worries about juking this way or that on a surgically repaired ACL. No more wondering about whether he can jump off his left foot and dunk. No more having to listen to all the imbeciles who wanted him to risk perhaps the next 10 years of an All-Star career by getting out on the floor for a few games at the end of last season to prove his manhood. The Rose who returns will have questions to answer to his fans and to himself, but at 24 he’s young enough to come back even stronger and better than he was. Keep in mind this is a guy who already has an MVP trophy (2011) on his mantle. A lot has changed in the landscape since Rose collapsed to the floor in the 2012 playoffs. The Heat have won two titles and have found their identity. The Pacers proved they’re for real. The Nets are reconfigured and loaded. The East will be a beast, but don’t be surprised if Rose comes back with a roar.

Chris Paul, Clippers – You figure that maybe Paul deserves to be given a truckload of MVP trophies just for transforming the laughingstock Clippers franchise into not just the best in the Staples Center, but a real contender. Everybody knows his on-court talent — great handle, penetrating to pass, hits the jumper, steals your lunch with ballhawking defense — but it’s his fierce competitiveness and overall attitude that have lifted the Clippers. The Western Conference will be even tougher next season with Dwight Howard in Houston and Andre Iguodala boosting Golden State. But you figure that new coach Doc Rivers will grab the Clippers attention and make them more than just the Lob City sideshow. That means he’ll ask even more from CP3 and there’s little doubt that the little guy can deliver. They made not improve on last season’s 56 wins, but should shoehorn their way into another top-four seeding by winning the Pacific Division. Now that Paul has re-signed and committed to the Clippers, the real good stuff has likely just begun.

PREVIOUSLY: Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Malone Has MJ, Magic Out Of His Top Five



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MIAMI – Karl Malone is no stranger to controversy.

He courted plenty of it during his Hall of Fame career with the Utah Jazz.

But his revisionist history in regards to his top five players of all-time, shared on The Dan Patrick Show,” is sure to stir things up a bit. Malone left both Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson off of his fave five in favor of Oscar Robertson and his Jazz running mate John Stockton, respectively. Malone had Wilt Chamberlain at center on his top five along with LeBron James at power forward and Scottie Pippen at small forward.

That’s bold stuff, considering Jordan and Magic were the greatest winners and players of Malone’s era. Pippen played alongside Jordan, making Malone’s snub of MJ even more of a head-scratcher.

“I’m gonna shock the world. I have to put Scottie Pippen at the 3,” Malone told Patrick. “Scottie Pippen led the [Bulls] in every statistical category when he was there without Jordan.”

I can’t come up with a top five of all-time that doesn’t start with MJ and Magic. So for Malone to craft his without either one of them is extremely troubling for me. Obviously, it’s just his opinion. But Malone doesn’t talk for shock value. He must truly believe what he says when excludes two players universally regarded as the best at their positions in the history of the game off of his list.

Come on, Mailman, you don’t really believe the words that came out of your mouth … do you?

UPDATE: In an interview with ESPN’s ‘Carmen & Jurko’ show in Chicago, Malone recanted his statements about Jordan on the interview and via Twitter, where he tweeted the following:

Riley: LeBron The Best Of … Them All?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Sometimes you have to let the words marinate for a bit, take your glasses off, rub your eyes and breathe in the gravity of a statement before you react to it.

I watched LeBron James smile his way through another (well deserved) Kia Most Valuable Player Award ceremony Sunday, his fourth in five seasons. I watched every second and listened intently to every word spoken. James won the award months ago, when he pushed the Heat into overdrive and set them on a course for a record season that included that wicked 27-game win streak and more highlights than basketball law allows.

James earned the right to do and say whatever he wanted. But it wasn’t his words that stopped me in my tracks. It was Heat president Pat Riley who forced me to pause when he uttered these words:

“Over these 46 years, I’ve had an opportunity to see some great players — and all the ones I’ve observed, watched and have seen, they’ve always gotten better. In my humble opinion, I believe the man right here is the best of them all.”

The best of them all?

Wow!

Let that sink in for a minute. Roll that statement around in your head and consider what Riley has seen, who he has coached and who he has coached against, and then say it out loud again.

“The best of them all.”

That’s a mouthful coming from a man who has seen and done what Riley has throughout his nearly half century in the game. He’s been immersed in the league longer than I’ve been alive, so I’m not here to refute his humble opinion or even to debate whether or not we should wrap our heads around the fact that LeBron has evolved — in a decade, mind you — into a player worthy of such high praise.

I’m here strictly to examine Riley’s words, to see if there is any way to scan the past four-plus decades of the league and rank LeBron ahead of the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and so many others.

This is a man who played on the Lakers’ 1972 championship team alongside Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. So his humble opinion comes from a very particular place (player, coach and executive who has won championships), one where few men in the history of the game can draw from.

And yet I still needed time to digest his high praise of LeBron.

Riley was an assistant with the Lakers when a 20-year-old Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out seven assists in Game 6 of The Finals his rookie year to secure a championship while playing in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was the Lakers’ coach for the four other titles they won during Magic’s tenure as the leader and maestro of the Showtime Lakers.

He watched Magic revolutionize the game, from the inside.

And Sunday he called LeBron the “best of them all.”

Riley’s Lakers teams battled Larry Bird and the Celtics and, later, he took on Jordan. When Riley coached the New York Knicks, his teams battled Jordan’s Bulls when Jordan was at his zenith. Anyone involved with the league during Jordan’s glory years, teammates and foes alike, tends to show him the proper respect and admit that he’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen.

Riley retired Jordan’s No. 23 in Miami for Naismith’s sake. And Sunday, he called LeBron the “best of them all.”

Riley came down from the front office to coach the Shaq and Dwyane Wade-led Heat to a title in 2006. And on Sunday, after three full seasons with LeBron, he called the current king of the league the “best of them all.”

The same declaration from almost any other man would mean little to most. Everyone has opinions about who the true G.O.A.T is and most of them are framed by a generational bias that is hard to shake. But when a man with a breadth of experience that travels through time, or at least the past 46 years, points a finger at someone, it wakes you up.

Now, there will be cynics who insist that Riley is simply doing his duty as the Heat’s boss and making sure to dollop the proper praise on his star. After all, Riley is going to need LeBron’s signature on an extension soon to keep the Heat’s current run going.

But Riley doesn’t waste his words. And he certainly doesn’t seem like the type who will pander to a superstar’s ego in that way or on that stage, not just for soundbite’s sake.

Riley has competed with or against and coached or coached against many of the players who make onto the short list we all use when discussing the “best of them all.” For 46 years, he’s been in the middle of the mix in one way or another, well before anyone even knew what analytics were and the advanced-stats craze reshaped the game.

So when he speaks on a topic like this, one that crosses all of the generational lines most people avoid during these discussions, it’s hard not to take his words to heart.

And even if LeBron still trails Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Shaq and many others in the championship rings race, is it so far-fetched to believe that he really does rank at the very top as a truly unique and once-in-a-lifetime basketball talent?

Riley says no.

What say you?

Can Dwight Make Lakers House A Home?

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SAN ANTONIO — Long before they ever squared off down in the paint, exchanged pushes and shoves, elbows and hips and knees in the frenzy of a playoff game, Dwight Howard knew all about the Spurs’ No. 21.

“I literally grew up watching Tim Duncan,” said the Lakers center as he unlaced his sneakers following practice.

Howard was only 11 when Duncan was drafted No. 1 overall by San Antonio in 1997 and Duncan had already won two NBA titles by the time Howard entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2004.

“He’s a big guy who handled the ball, shot the ball well, had a lot of moves on the block and made it tough for guys to guard.  I loved watching that.”

But Howard never tried to imitate that. The truth is, his angular body and his offensive moves that are less-than fluid did always resemble those of another famous Spur, David Robinson. Those two have become friends, occasionally chatting by phone.

Yet when it came time for hero worship, Howard cast his gaze in the direction of, perhaps, the most famous big man of all time.

“My childhood idol was Wilt Chamberlain,” Howard said.

But it wasn’t grainy old videotapes that piqued his interest. The 1980′s-era Alphie the Robot, a one-foot tall toy that asked questions and dispensed bits of trivia to young minds, first told Howard about Chamberlain.

“He used to say: ‘Wilt Chamberlain scored a hundred points,’ ” Howard recalled.  “I was intrigued by Wilt Chamberlain from that moment on.  I wanted to meet him, but he died before I got a chance to get to the NBA.  He was my childhood idol.”

A six-year-old quickly began to research and learn about Chamberlain.

“He liked to have fun,” Howard said.

It’s funny how things turn out. Now Howard wears the Lakers jersey that Chamberlain once wore, lives just up the street from Wilt’s former Bel-Air palace in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“If you came out the back of his house and looked up to the right, my house is right there,” Howard said. “Mariah Carey lives right by me. You can see the ocean from my rooftop, downtown and the Staples Center from the back.

“And I’ve got a telescope just like Wilt had. The roof of his bedroom used to open and he’d look at the sky. Now I’m looking up at all the same stars.”

Along with a slice of the sky, it seems they also share struggles at the free throw line and a few personality traits, including a persecution complex. (more…)

As Mavericks Flounder, Cuban Talks Of Drafting Baylor’s Griner?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Go ahead Dirk. Shave it off.

As Vince Carter said last week after the Dallas Mavericks’ first failed attempt to get back to .500, the beard brigade served its purpose, bringing this group of mostly one-year rentals closer and focused on making a run. To their credit they did. But now, as Carter also said, the hubbub surrounding their quest to finally shave after two months of battling to break even is — ahem — growing out of control.

To the point that the Indiana Pacers used Dallas’ planned post-game shave party with the now-famous Omar the Barber as motivation for their 25-point pounding of the Mavs last Thursday.

Still, Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’ career lone superstar — looking half uni-bomber, half-Bill Walton ’77 — promised to abide by the non-shaving pact initiated by O.J. Mayo back in late January.

“We only have 10 games left,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not going to shave now.”

Now, with eight to go, it’s time. After Tuesday’s second failed attempt for .500, a 20-point road drubbing by the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas is 36-38 and essentially out of the chase for eighth, now a two-team race between the Lakers and Utah Jazz. Nowitzki, who had 33 points in an overtime win against the Clippers last Tuesday and 35 in Saturday’s miraculous comeback to beat the Bulls, fizzled in L.A. with just 11 points, appearing as old as the 45 years his mother said that beard makes him look.

There is no shame in the longtime face of the franchise opting for a shave. It will be refreshing, perhaps even a bit rejuvenating to see your still-youthful face again and finish out this lost season on a positive note.

Nowitzki’s 11-year All-Star run came to an end this season and he could suffer his first sub-.500 season since the turn of the century. Plus, he’s on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time in 13 seasons, a remarkable run that only the Spurs can outdo, recently cinching a 16th consecutive playoff appearance.

The offseason promises to be a long one for Nowitzki, who turns 35 in June and who will wait and see how owner Mark Cuban again reshuffles the deck entering the final year of his contract.

Since winning the NBA title in 2011, the Mavs are 72-68 with a first-round sweep. He has grown weary of a makeshift roster and even questioned Cuban’s strategy earlier this season.

Surely Nowitzki didn’t take solace in Cuban’s comments Tuesday in Los Angeles that got him trending on Twitter. Cuban said he’d consider drafting giant of the women’s game, 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner.

It’s doubtful this is the star Nowitzki had in mind to join him for his twilight seasons.

Back in star-studded L.A., where he was filming the TV show “Shark Tank” last July when Deron Williams wondered why he wasn’t in his Manhattan living room, Cuban told reporters regarding Griner:

“Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it.”

Perhaps Cuban saw the inevitable to come Tuesday night and figured he’d preempt Shaq’s big night and this beat-up, sub-standard Lakers team eventually demolishing of his Mavs by going headline hunting.

For one, Cuban has often talked about the heightened importance of the draft under the new collective bargaining agreement. Those more rigid, financially punishing set of rules convinced him to dismantle the 2011 title team, particularly by not re-signing Tyson Chandler and choosing to rebuild a contender through cap space and draft picks.

Dallas hasn’t hit on a draft pick since Josh Howard in 2003. Last June’s second-round pick, Jae Crowder, is the closest yet to becoming a contributing rotation player. Fellow second-round pick, 6-foot-10 former Air Force staff sergeant Bernard James, might tell Griner this gig isn’t so easy. First-round pick Jared Cunningham, a combo guard, has played a total of 26 minutes in a season the Mavs brought in Derek Fisher and then Mike James.

With free-agent star power this summer expected to stay where it is, and Dallas light on trade assets to acquire a rising impact player, the Mavs must find success in the draft — be it in the first round or the too-easily dismissed second round.

The Mavs need contributors, not marketing gimmicks. And that’s no shot at Griner, who dominated the women’s game and was recently described probably quite accurately by one Dallas radio commentator as the Wilt Chamberlain of women’s basketball.

But Griner can’t play in the NBA, and for Cuban to even suggest that he’d consider selecting her with a draft pick should only make the still-bearded, still-committed Nowitzki roll his eyes.

Heat vs. Spurs: This Time It’s For Real

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SAN ANTONIO — To most Americans “Remember the Alamo” is a famous battle cry they learned in middle school.

For the Heat, it might simply be something they’re trying to do.

With the shortened lockout schedule wiping out their trip to San Antonio last season and coach Gregg Popovich letting the air out of a marquee showdown four months ago, tonight’s game (NBA TV, pregame 6:30 p.m.) at the AT&T Center will be the first meeting between the key players of the NBA’s top two teams in more than 14 months and the first trip to the Alamo City by Miami’s Big Three since March 4, 2011.

Manu Ginobili is already a scratch from the Spurs’ lineup after suffering a hamstring injury in the first quarter of Friday night’s win over the Clippers.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has indicated that since his team’s 27-game win streak has been snapped, he’ll be looking to get some rest for his key players before the playoffs begin in three weeks. He sat out starting point guard Mario Chalmers on Friday night against the Hornets.

But first, it’s likely that a pair of No. 1 seeds in each conference — clearly the two best teams in the league this season — will have most of their frontline stars on the court to circle, jab and try to deliver the kind of meaningful blow that might still be felt if the Spurs and Heat meet up again in the NBA Finals.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh vs. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, minus Ginobili still carries the knockout punch feel of a heavyweight fight in the most anticipated regular season game in San Antonio in years.

“We haven’t played each other a lot,” Wade told reporters after Friday night’s win in New Orleans. “And that’s the Eastern and Western Conference, you don’t get a chance to see each other a lot until hopefully you meet at the end of June.”

“They play with a higher pace and a higher energy level at home,” said forward Shane Battier. “It’s a tough place. But it’ll be a good challenge for us.”

What’s at stake officially is still the race for the overall best record in the league and home-court advantage all the way through the playoffs. Miami’s 57-15 record is two games better than San Antonio, but a Spurs win would slice that in half, give them a 1-1 split of the season series and the tie-breaker (record against the opposite conference) should they eventually meet up with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line.

“You play all year trying to get home-court advantage,” said Popovich, “because that’s where you always feel most comfortable. But having said that, you don’t win championships without being able to win on the road.”

You’d be lucky to get the stoic Spurs, always a reflection of their never-let-them-see-you-sweat coach, to even admit they knew the Heat were next up on the schedule.

It’s the approach taken by second-year forward Kawhi Leonard, who’ll draw the main assignment of guarding James, who is likely on his way to a fourth MVP award, which would put him in the select company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four).

“I don’t think nothing of it, really,” said the 21-year-old Leonard. “It’s how I’ve been playing my whole life, guarding the best player on the other team.”

Of course, the first Heat-Spurs stirred up more than its share of controversy, debate and repercussion back on Nov. 29 when Popovich showed his disdain for the NBA schedule-maker by having Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Danny Green fly straight home from Orlando and miss the last stop (and a back-to-back) at the end of a six-game road trip at Miami. It had been a much anticipated and highly promoted national TV game on TNT. The club was fined $250,000 and reprimanded by commissioner David Stern for the stunt and yet a collection of Spurs understudies pushed the Heat stars to the limit in a 105-100 loss.

“People say, ‘Oh, he’s resting them,’ but it’s not about rest,” said Popovich. “It’s about being as healthy as possible at the end of the year.

“Not playing that fourth game in five nights, if you’ve got Tim Duncan’s knee and you’re at his age, might make him more ready to go at the end of the year. At lot of guys play 40-plus minutes to win now. We’re more concerned with later.”

While Miami is 2-22 all-time at the AT&T Center and took a 125-95 beating on Mar. 4, 2011 in the only other visit to San Antonio since the James-Wade-Bosh trinity was formed, it is more curiosity and honing their own game that is on the minds of the Heat.

“It’s always good to play the best and play against the best,” James said. “It’ll be an opportunity for us. We just want to get better. The game Sunday doesn’t define our season or how we go from there. We just want to continue to move forward.”

Perhaps to a historic June rematch that would be as memorable as the Alamo.

The Time Is Now To Beat The Heat


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Can’t you picture the Hornets, Spurs, Knicks, Bobcats and Sixers salivating already?

It’s time to jump on the Heat while they’re down, exhausted, spent after a 27-game winning streak that lasted nearly two full months.

Despite what the Miami players have been saying, that kind of long period of excellence takes a toll, mentally and physically.

Who says?

History.

After the 1969-70 Knicks of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley had what was then an NBA record 18-game win streak snapped by Detroit, they bounced back to take three straight, but then lost four out of five to add up to a 4-5 stretch over a period of 17 days.

  • Nov. 29 vs. Pistons, lost 110-98.
  • Dec. 2 vs. Sonics, won 129-109.
  • Dec. 5 at Baltimore, won 116-107.
  • Dec. 6,vs. Bucks, won 124-99.
  • Dec. 9 at Cincinnati, lost 103-101.
  • Dec. 10 at Milwaukee, lost 96-95.
  • Dec. 11 at Seattle, lost 112-105.
  • Dec. 13 vs. Sixers, lost 100-93.
  • Dec. 16 at Atlanta, lost 125-124.

The very next year when the Bucks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson set a new record with 20 consecutive wins, their streak ended with a double-overtime loss at Chicago and they lost three straight and five of the last six games to close out the regular season.

  • Mar. 9 at Chicago, lost 110-103 (2 OT).
  • Mar. 13 at New York, lost 108-103.
  • Mar. 14 vs. Suns, lost 125-113.
  • Mar. 16 at Phoenix, won 119-111.
  • Mar. 18 at Seattle, lost 122-121.
  • Mar.19 at San Diego, lost 111-99.

The legendary 1971-72 Lakers of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich came along the very next season to hang the record so far out there at 33 in a row that it still eluded the Heat 41 years later. But even that Hall of Fame trio couldn’t avoid a letdown. After the streak was ended by Kareem and the Bucks, the Lakers lost three of their next five.

  • Jan. 9 at Milwaukee, lost 120-104.
  • Jan. 11 at Detroit, won 123-103.
  • Jan. 12 at Cincinnati, lost 108-107.
  • Jan. 14 at Philadelphia, won 135-121.
  • Jan. 21 vs. Knicks, lost 104-101.
  • Jan. 22 at Phoenix, lost 116-102.

It took another 36 years until the 2007-08 Rockets tried to make a run at the record. But their fate was no different. After their 22-game win streak was smashed by Boston, Tracy McGrady and the Rockets were hammered the next night by the Hornets as they went on to lose four of their next seven.

  • Mar. 18 vs. Celtics, lost 94-74.
  • Mar. 19 at New Orleans, lost 90-69.
  • Mar. 21 at Golden State, won 109-106.
  • Mar. 22 at Phoenix, lost 122-113.
  • Mar. 24 vs. Kings, won 108-100.
  • Mar. 26 vs. Timberwolves, won 97-86.
  • Mar. 30 at San Antonio, lost 109-88.
  • Apr. 1 at Sacramento, lost 99-98.

Of course, the good news for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the gang is that all of those teams except the Rockets gathered themselves in time for the playoffs and went on to win the NBA championship and the Heat will still be the heavy favorites to do that in June.

But for now, history says it’s time to watch for a case of the Post-Streak Blues.

And for every team coming up on the schedule to pounce.