Some quick takes on the happenings around the NBA …
The Old Men and the Cs: If this is the end, and indications are that it is, viewed through the standings or the honesty of Danny Ainge in admitting a willingness to break up the Big Three, then there should be no regrets. It was a short run for the Celtics but a great one, three full seasons of one title and another push deep into the fourth quarter of Game 7 of The Finals in 2010 before falling short. Quickly going from contender to geriatric was always part of the deal. The initial investment from summer 2007 – acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and spending big on a KG extension rather than building with Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson and lottery picks – is a no-brainer in retrospect.
The Celtics aren’t necessarily road kill, by the way. While not in the same class as the Heat, Bulls or 76ers in the East, and maybe the Hawks, there is still time to find the rip cord and reach the playoffs if the roster stays together and they can delay rebuilding until the summer. Anyone sure about the Magic in the playoffs if Dwight Howard is traded? The Pacers, the team that just gagged on a 16-point lead and lost to the Kings as Sacramento shot 30.1 percent from the field and 68.3 from the line? The Knicks? Boston won’t be champions, but it can still be respectable. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With The Finals in the books (and in case you missed anything, check out our nifty recap above), it’s never too soon to start analyzing the participants. We’re not ones to wait, so here’s our quick post-Finals take on the state of the Heat and Mavs and what’s next for each of them. Up first are the Eastern Conference champs and Finals runner-up.
A quick look back: The most anticipated combination since beer and pizza, the debut of the Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Chris Bosh Era left a bad taste in the mouth when the Heat lost at Boston on opening night and delivered the message that this was going to be a process.
The meeting led to sizzling stretch of 21-1 from Nov. 29 through Jan. 9 where the only loss was — in perhaps another hint at the future — at home to Dallas.
A four-game losing streak in January and a five-game losing streak in early March set the alarm bells ringing again. But the Heat closed the regular season on a run of 14-3 to complete a 58-24 record that was good enough for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and they cruised through the playoffs with a swagger that never stopped until they ran into the Mavs again.
CHICAGO — Alonzo Mourning‘s tougher and better and would scare the Bulls more than any big man in a Heat uniform. Like, right now, at age 41.
‘Zo currently cuts a dignified presence in the Heat front office, the scowl replaced by a compassionate heart that reaches deep into the community, the Popeye forearms hidden by a tailored Brioni suit. But you could forgive the Heat for wondering if ‘Zo could find some sneakers and some shorts right now, 24 hours after Miami was bloodied on the boards by Joakim Noah and crew.
The Bulls own a huge advantage over the Heat from a big man’s perspective, and that won’t change in this series. It’s a fixed advantage for Chicago, meaning there’s nothing the Heat can do about it. Not only does Miami have the weakest collection of bigs of any team left in the playoffs, you’d be hard-pressed to recall another team that advanced this far in the post-season with a weaker group.
Remember those howls heard in Chicago when the Bulls trotted out Luc Longley and Bill Cartwright and Will Purdue? The Heat would kill for any of those guys right now.
Put it this way: The centers (Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas) who started 73 of the 82 regular-season games sat in suits for Game 1 because they couldn’t be trusted.
CHICAGO – If the Miami Heat hope to rebound in Game 2 from their 103-82 pasting Sunday by the Chicago Bulls in the opener of the East finals, they will need to do just that: Rebound.
Rebound as they did at times in previous playoff games (52 vs. Philadelphia back on April 16). Rebound like Spider-Man working the glass. Rebound as if their postseason lives depend on it. Which they might.
Choose whichever you want, the Heat got beat on the boards. They managed to grab only six offensive rebounds (one more than their 2011 playoff low). That limited them to just eight second-chance points and worse, only 68 field-goal attempts. That matched their previous low in these playoffs.
So it did Miami little good to shoot at a higher percentage than Chicago; to match the Bulls’ 38 field goals while taking only 68 shots, the Heat would have had to shoot 55.8 percent. And no one shoots 55.8 percent against a Tom Thibodeau-coached defense in the postseason.
At the other end, the Heat grabbed 27 defensive rebounds but allowed Chicago to take back 19 of their misses. That fueled the Bulls’ bounty of 31 second-chance points. That’s deflating in its own sense but it really hurt because Miami did not make Chicago pay for its aggressiveness on the offensive glass. The Bulls still managed to get defenders back to close off Miami’s fast-break opportunities, even as Joakim Noah was grabbing eight offensive rebounds Carlos Boozer was getting four and Taj Gibson managed three off the bench.
“[The] Heat have had their best success these playoffs with a small ball lineup. Meaning the 6-foot-9 Joel Anthony at center. The 76ers couldn’t expose the Heat for that, and the Celtics by design don’t try to grab offensive rebounds. But the Bulls do and just destroyed the Heat so severely it made Erik Spoelstra go to Jamal Magloire for 10 minutes to see if that would help. If the Heat have to go away from the Anthony lineup, they could suffer in other ways.”
Yeah, when your options in the middle are Anthony, Magloire or Juwan Howard – Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier were inactive Sunday – that can happen.
But the Bulls deserve credit too for tiptoeing that fine line between going after their missed shots vs. heading off Miami’s transition game. Thibodeau had said Saturday, after his team’s final practice before the series, that he wanted his guys to do exactly what they had done all season, boards-wise.
“Our smalls have a responsibility of getting back to protect,” the Bulls coach said. “Our bigs, if they’re inside, go to the offensive glass. If a big is on the perimeter, he gets back. I don’t want to change what we do in terms of responsibility. But you are concerned about giving them easy baskets, so if it does mean you get everyone back, you get everyone back.”
Don’t overlook the Bulls’ accuracy from 3-point range (47.6 percent) and their care in not hoisting reckless long jumpers from out front, the ones most likely to kick back as breakout chances. It all conspired to beat the Heat on this particular night.
“When they started to overwhelm us on the glass,” Spoelstra said, “I think we started to lose our focus on the other end of the court. And it affected us.”
The bracket filled itself out overnight. The Bulls and Pacers will square in the No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup, Heat-Sixers in the 2-7, Celtics-Knicks in the 3-6 and Magic-Hawks in the 4-5.
While it would be a bit foolish to try to offer up any predictions right now (those are coming Thursday, when the entire field is set), there is no shortage of storylines surrounding each series as we wait for things to kick off this weekend.
Your friends here at the hideout wanted to make sure you were well equipped to tackles each series. So we’ve cooked up a few items for your Tuesday morning reading pleasure, with a huge assist from the Prime Minster.
No. 1 BULLS vs No. 8 PACERS
The Skinny: We’d like to thank Pacers swingman Danny Granger for doing his best to start a small fire in a series that, minus Joakim Noah, is short on eccentric personalities. When asked which team he’d rather face between Boston and Chicago, Granger offered up this salvo to Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com:
“Boston’s a different monster,” he said. “They don’t have the best record in the East, but they won championships; they know how to do it. They have four, five guys you have to worry about. Chicago, they go as Derrick Rose goes. If you make a concerted effort to stop Derrick Rose, you have a better chance of beating them.”
That sounds great in theory, Danny — except for the part where the Bulls handled you three times this season and have no reason to fear anything the Pacers bring to the playoff party. Granted, these Pacers and this Bulls crew have the same number of playoff series wins (none) going in. But there’s a reason the Bulls are the No. 1 seed and the Pacers had to squeeze their way into the postseason.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We pounded on him for three days, a merciless beating that surely crossed the line a time or two, questioning everything about his very existence in Miami.
This morning is the flip side for Chris Bosh here at the hideout. He did his job against the Lakers last night, delivering on his promise to play bigger, be more aggressive and demand the ball in his sweet spot so he could give the Heat the post presence that was missing during their five-game losing streak.
Dwyane Wade took care of business at crunch time, delivering the plays the Heat needed to finally win one of these close games. He took the proverbial heat off everyone in Miami, especially coach Erik Spoelstra. LeBron James provided his usual dazzling-at-times play and the all-around game that is his trademark.
The man who set the tone, though, was Bosh. Just as he said he would, Bosh got started early and made a sincere effort to force the issue on the Lakers’ big men.
“We need big-time contributions from Chris so we tried to work him in some different areas,” Spoelstra said. “He had a terrific mindset in shootaround and set the tone for everybody. He was dead-[expletive] serious. It really was contagious.”
Bosh’s team-leading 24 points and nine rebounds weren’t just symbolic. Bosh proved his point — when he is a factor, the Heat have a better chance to deal with the other members of the league’s elite (granted, their two wins over the NBA’s big boys have come against the Lakers).
He was 10-for-17 from the floor, but the most important thing Bosh did was show up with the energy that had been missing from his game in recent days. “This was a very big game, and we had everything riding on it,” he said. “I put everything I have into it. When it’s time to play, the way I know I can play, I just go out there and let it happen. I know I can help this team in a different way. I wasn’t playing around.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –LeBron James is 2-for-2 this summer in public relations disasters.
The ill-conceived and horribly executed “The Decision” was first, enraging an entire fan base and region of Ohio while also uniting fans of 29 other NBA teams against the Miami Heat and their new trio of superstars.
“For all my life, I have lived in Akron — and for that, I am truly a lucky man.
“It was here where I first learned how to play basketball, and where I met the people who would become my lifelong friends and mentors. Their guidance, encouragement and support will always be with me.
“Akron is my home, and the central focus of my life. It’s where I started, and it’s where I will always come back to. You can be sure that I will continue to do everything I can for this city, which is so important to my family and me. Thank you for your love and support. You mean everything to me.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Not everyone in South Florida is ready to roll out the red carpet for LeBron James and serve as the subjects of his new kingdom.
There is at least one voice, drowned out by a sea of others still giddy over the arrival of James (along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, of course), begging for folks in and around Miami to ease up on the love affair with James.
As exciting and promising as it is to have The Big Three in Miami, it might be wise to dial back the adoration a bit on The Chosen One. He craves it a little too much. He practically screamed it with a self-indulgent ESPN special centered on his choice of NBA suitors, a TV special that would have turned stomachs in South Florida for its pretentiousness if James had said anything other than “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.”
Instead, it was sweet music, a majestic pronouncement, something on the order of Michelangelo saying “I’m going to take my talents to the Sistine Chapel.” LeBron, the modern master, could have done the whole thing simpler, but simple doesn’t suit him.
So far we’ve seen him handpicking teammates on the Heat, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas secured, Mike Miller apparently on the way and maybe more to come. We’ve heard him elicit an ear-splitting Beatles concert reaction, too, by telling an AmericanAirlines Arena crowd that he didn’t come to Miami to win one NBA title, but five, six, seven, however many it takes to keep everybody happy.
If not for Dwyane Wade, who on Wednesday acknowledged the Lakers as the favorites to repeat in 2011, I would be worried, but even Wade is going to have to work hard to keep this Heat circus on schedule all the way to the NBA Finals.
Should there be a problem with who gets the last shot in a close game, it likely will be LeBron who gets his feelings hurt and Dwayne who will smooth things over. Wade, remember, came off the bench for the 2008 Olympic Redeem Team and led the U.S. in scoring despite playing just 18 minutes per game.
If there is grumbling over the inexperience or the ineptitude of Miami’s head coach, it will be LeBron who does it. He never even spoke to Tom Izzo during the Cavs’ lengthy courtship with the Michigan State icon. Wade, on the other hand, is perfectly comfortable with Erik Spoelstra and can be counted upon to mediate all grievances.
And if LeBron needs to learn about deferring to Dwyane in some situations, and vice versa, forget about Pat Riley coming to the rescue. That’s something the two stars will have to work out between themselves when the team hits an occasional bumpy patch.
Wade, who signed for less money than LeBron or Chris Bosh, has shown he can compromise in return for a championship. He also has proven the ability to take charge and personally make a championship happen when all else fails. With LeBron, we still have to see on that.
George raise some great points about this new partnership in Miami.
Everyone has been so caught up in the move itself that few people have raised critical questions about the dynamics of it all and who will make it work.
While we’re not nearly as worried about James and his ability to check his ego on the boat dock, it’s a conversation worth having, especially for the folks in Miami.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You figured a week later all this hype and hoopla about Miami’s Big 3 would have waned a little bit, right?
There is other stuff going on, summer league, other free agent news, etc.
But the fervor hasn’t let up one bit for what’s going on with the Miami Heat. Almost every player transaction that happens elicits a mention of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh and their joining forces on a Heat team that continues to take shape by the day.
“Definitely, there was a lot of consideration. I have a lot of respect,” said Richardson, who played 76 games for the Heat last season, starting all but one.
“It came down to me considering them heavily. I felt this was the best situation for me and I feel like we have just as good a chance as they do to win a championship.”
Richardson said that Wade — his sometime work-out partner — was in his ear ever since the Heat pulled off the Triple Play last Thursday.
“I definitely heard from D-Wade,” he said. “D-Wade is one of my good buddies. He was disappointed to see me walk away. He knows me. Everytime I go out there, it’s going to be like a war. I told him that and he told me, ‘The intrastate rivalry is on.’”
Richardson said he had a few other offers. There was one other factor in his choosing Orlando — a big factor: All-star center Dwight Howard.
Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of the hottest crew in basketball.
All it took was a recruiting pitch from James to convince Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a Cavalier his entire NBA career, to flip and sign with the Heat for the league minimum.
This is the same man who spurned more lucrative offers elsewhere last season, after being traded by the Cavs to facilitate the deal for Antawn Jamison, to re-sign with the Cavaliers for a playoff run that came up woefully short of the championship folks in the organization were expecting.
Have you watched the gravitational pull of greatness help the Heat the past few days?
It didn’t just lure season-ticket buyers overnight. It isn’t just bringing a worldwide media buzz to the point that exhibition games are being mentioned in Europe and Asia.
It goes beyond how this team instantly became an easy team to love in South Florida and hate in any other NBA city.
It’s the players lining up outside the arena. The veteran players. The role players basketball analysts said would be hard to find. The thirtysomethings who want to rub against greatness just once in their careers.
None of these are great players. Each comes with legitimate questions. Each also can be accused of piggybacking on excellence in the hopes of gaining a ring. But can’t they be praised for that more?
Don’t fans always ask players to value winning above all else?
Don’t media always ask players to fit egos into the bigger team?
So much of sports is about fitting players into proper roles. So if these players aren’t great talents — or even good anymore by NBA standards, in some cases — they can be slotted into a definitive role that makes their game valuable on this roster.
Their first Sports Illustrated cover is already set (below). Surely, it won’t be their last.
This is the first of many magazine covers for the Miami Heat's Big 3!
We’re not pointing fingers around here. We’ve been caught up in the Miami Matrix as well. We can’t get enough of this story either, even when we know we should try to move on to something else.
Two HT faves, Al Harrington and Josh Childress, have found new homes and we’re yet to connect with either one of them to talk details (though, we are in the process of tracking them both down). And the Jazz pulled off one of our favorite moves of the summer, replacing Carlos Boozer with Al Jefferson after Minnesota GM David Kahn made good on his promise to move Jefferson so he could make room for the feared Darko Milicic/Kevin Love/Michael Beasley frontline.
You can probably guess who we think made out best in that deal. And it’s not about our continued ribbing of Kahn or the Timberwolves, a team we are considering for inclusion in HT’s Adopt-A-Team program (it worked for the Grizzlies last year didn’t it?) this season.
With the Western Conference ranks thinning a bit, what with all the concentration of star power in the Eastern Conference during free agency, the move to secure Jefferson by the Jazz keeps them in the mix among the elite. That’s always a good thing.
Given the departures of Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver in free agency, Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor wasn’t about to describe the acquisition of Al Jefferson as the second coming of the trade that delivered Pau Gasol to the Lakers in 2008.
At the same time, O’Connor couldn’t help but herald the arrival of a player in Jefferson who he billed as one of the best low-post players in basketball, following a trade in which the Jazz seemingly gave up remarkably little in return.
The Jazz completed their deal for Jefferson on Tuesday, sending two future first-round draft picks and center Kosta Koufos to Minnesota while absorbing Jefferson’s $13 million salary thanks to the trade exception they acquired last week for Boozer.
“What we feel like is that we really added a premium player to our team,” O’Connor said, adding, “If you had put him in free agency this year with that crop that they had out there even yet, I think he’d be pretty highly rated, and that’s how we look at him.”
The 6-foot-10, 265-pound Jefferson averaged 20.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in three seasons with the Timberwolves. O’Connor noted that at 25, after six seasons in the NBA, Jefferson should be entering the best years of his career.
Minnesota general manager David Kahn seemed to echo those sentiments. “Al is motivated to have a career-defining season, and I recognize the Jazz will be the recipients of that, not us. I expect him to help Utah immensely,” Kahn said in a statement.
Who knows, maybe Kahn will give us his take on Miami’s Big 3?
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Hey, Juan Ponce de Leon, eat your heart out!
You spent all that time searching for the Fountain of Youth and came up empty. Centuries later Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd, the ageless wonder, has apparently been sipping that magic water for years.
How else do you explain Kidd playing better at 37 than most players dreamed they could play at 17 or 27?
He rescued the Mavericks on his birthday, supplying everything his team needed after Dirk Nowitzki was ejected in a comeback win over the Clippers.
Truth be told, Kidd is and always has been the best point guard of his generation (I know Steve Nash Nation won’t take this news without staging some sort of protest, and we love Nash, too, but we’re here to praise the birthday man, not to make a case for him against Nash), a transcendent talent the likes of which has not entered the league since when you factor in his size, athleticism, basketball acumen, level of sustained excellence and track record of being at the epicenter of his team’s success.
This man did lead the Nets to back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals. THE NETS!
Kidd has led the point guard pack since the mid-90s. Yet he’s shooting better than he ever has from beyond the 3-point line (.426), piling up his usual assist totals (9.2 average this season) and has his team in the thick of the Western Conference title chase.
The work he put in Tuesday night — a season-high 26 points, 12 assists and six rebounds — is proof that Kidd has been drinking, swimming, brushing his teeth with and bathing in that powerful water the Spanish explorer was searching for all those years ago.
Few players have the juice to interrupt the Hump Day Hoops Roundup, but for Kidd, we’ll make the adjustment. He’s that special a player around here and in the history of the league and the game.
FAN NIGHT WRAP UP
Tuesday night’s game schedule was light, just four games, which always means the leftovers are slim.
But a light night usually gives way to a monster night to follow, and there are plenty of storylines that await us today and into this evening’s 11-game stroll.
HUMP DAY GAME(S) OF THE NIGHT
With so many matchups to choose from, we had to be very selective in terms of which games need to be viewed with 3-D glasses (we couldn’t find enough BluBlockers for everyone so we’re going with 3-D).
1) Magic at Hawks, 7 p.m. ET — A win tonight all but eliminates the Hawks from the Southeast Division chase. Even more important for the Magic is the chance to sweep the season series against a Hawks team that has attempted to measure itself against the defending Eastern Conference champs all season. The Magic admit to seeing a bit of themselves in the upstart Hawks, but they’re still built to compete for a title right now while the Hawks are still trying to get there. The Hang Time crew will be in attendance for this one. And we will be interested to see if the Hawks have come up with any better way of dealing with the Magic’s dual threat offense (Dwight Howard inside and all those shooters outside) than they have previously.
2) Lakers at Spurs, 9:30 ET on ESPN — This matchup never gets old, no matter how much older the participants might be. Like Kidd, Manu Ginobili seems to have dialed back the clock on his career, playing like the frisky slasher he was four or five years ago. The Spurs, coincidentally, continue the toughest stretch of their season against what is easily their greatest rival during the Tim Duncan era. This current stretch hasn’t been much easier on the Lakers, whose fans and observers continue to raise questions about the fit of newcomer Ron Artest in their championship picture. That’s what makes tonight’s game must-see-TV!
LEAST SURPRISING MOVE OF THE SEASON
And the winner is … Zydrunas Ilgauskas find his way back to Cleveland just in time for the Cavaliers’ title chase.
Few people expected this turn out any other way when the Cavs traded Ilgauskas to Washington last month to get Antawn Jamison. Not only that, we knew it would take this long for Big Z to get back to Cleveland.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas said he had some unfinished business in Cleveland. “I just wanted to get the deal done, finish the season here and win this damn thing,” he said, referring to an NBA championship. “We’ve been waiting long enough.”
So Ilgauskas, the team’s beloved center who was traded to the Washington Wizards on Feb. 17 and later released, signed a one-year deal to rejoin the Cavs on Tuesday after the team cut forward Darnell Jackson. Ilgauskas flew with the Cavs to New Orleans, where coach Mike Brown intends to play him tonight against the Hornets.
That will end his 34-day exile — and not a minute too soon for Ilgauskas, his coaches, his teammates and his legion of fans.
“I just want to thank them,” Ilgauskas said of the fans. “Their support has been unbelievable. They’re one of the main reasons why I chose to come back here. The way people have treated me — not only after the trade, but throughout the years I’ve been here — they made me feel part of this community.
“I’m from Lithuania, and I will always be proud of it, but I always say this has become like a home to me. It has been really a humbling experience in a good way to see how people reacted. I really appreciate that, and that was one of the big reasons I chose to come back.”
GALLINARI THRILLS GARDEN CROWD
The summer can’t come fast enough for Knicks fans, we get that.
But if you have to wait, you might as well have some fun while doing it. And if you don’t enjoy watching Danilo Gallinari play, we have to wonder just how much you love good basketball.
Gallinari and Nuggets All-Star Carmelo Anthony put on a show last night. The Knicks winning the game was just icing on the cake, for Knicks fans.
The words Carmelo Anthony was directing toward Danilo Gallinari Tuesday night were, according to the Knicks’ Italian-born forward, “slang…English.”
“I was talking slang, too,” Gallinari added.
It was a cocksure Gallinari who volunteered to defend Anthony and then took it upon himself in the third quarter to engage the Nuggets’ All-Star forward in a game of I-can-top-that mixed in with a little friendly trash talk. And while Anthony was clearly the most dominant player on the floor, Gallinari’s refusal to back down resonated with his teammates and changed the game. “He was taking the challenge and I took the challenge,” Gallinari said following the Knicks’ emotionally charged 109-104 victory. “We played a great game. He played a great game but we won.”
Anthony scored a game-high 36 points but missed his final three shots while Gallinari scored 17 of his 28 points during the decisive third quarter when the Knicks erased a six-point deficit and went ahead 83-74. Gallinari hit four 3-pointers in the period, made 5 of 7 shots and scored his 17 points in the last 8:40 of the third. “That’s the moment you play basketball for,” he said. “Those are great moments and for me. It was a lot of fun.”
The sold-out crowd immediately picked up he back-and-forth between Anthony and Gallinari, and the building was as alive as it has been all season. At one point, Gallinari turned to the crowd and let out a primal scream after hitting a three. Anthony, who could be seen telling point guard Chauncey Billups to get him the ball, scored 12 in the third quarter and tried to unnerve Gallinari by talking to him.
Asked if he understood what Anthony was saying, Gallinari replied: “Hell yeah.”
“That’s basketball,” Gallinari said. “Talking is a great part of basketball. If you don’t talk in basketball you cannot play basketball. You’ve got to talk.”