Gameday Dish

Miami Heat v New York KnicksAfter 35 games the 14-21 Brooklyn Nets are currently slotted in the 8th spot in the tortuous Eastern Conference.

While this record may not seem playoff-worthy, it looks a lot better after a season-high, four-game winning streak, which coach Jason Kidd’s guys hope to extend tonight at home against the 27-9 Miami Heat.

LeBron and company played the other New York City league affiliate last night in Manhattan. Surprisingly they came out on the losing side to the 13-22 Knicks by a score of 102-92.

The Heat were without PG Mario Chalmers, who missed the last two games with a right Achilles strain. League MVP James led his team with 32 points, and Wade chipped in 23.

Both sides shot around 54% from the field. However, NY pounded the Heat on the offensive glass, which led to 14 more field goal attempts. Miami’s 52.4% shooting from the charity stripe was also a factor, and Flash was chippy after the 48 when asked about his 0-6 free throw struggles.

Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesBrooklyn kicked off their recent win streak with their best coup of the season on January 2nd at OKC.

The Nets have since dispatched Cleveland, Atlanta and Golden State at Barclays. In fact, in their impressive take-down of the Warriors on Wednesday night, the Nets ended the Dubs’ 10-game winning streak.

Playing without C Brook Lopez and PG Deron Williams, Brooklyn’s 102-98 victory was helped by having five players in double figures, led by Joe Johnson’s 27. In addition, C Andray Blatche contributed 17 points off the bench.

Tonight’s game will be the second of four meetings between these squads this season. The first, also in the borough, was on November 1st. That night the Nets prevailed 101-100 with both Lopez and Williams in the lineup. Coach Kidd relied on 11 players’ contributions in the true team win.

Tune in to tonight’s “nickname game” on YES at 8PM ET to see if Brooklyn can continue their winning ways against the scary, 2X defending NBA Champs.

Gameday Dish: Heat vs. Blazers

Portlandians will get a dose of South Beach sunshine when the Heat pay a visit to Stumptown this evening.

Though the 23-10 reigning champs boast the best record in the Eastern Conference, they are not shining brightly of late.

The Heatles dropped 4 of their last 7 games. Two of Miami’s three victories over this stretch were overtime grinders, and the other was against the hapless Wizards.

Coach Erik Spoelstra’s guys continue to get manhandled on the glass. They rank 29th in the association in rebounding and are last in the East in second chance points allowed at 15.4 per game.

Also, Miami is just 7-7 away from SoBe this season. It’s easier for a team to straighten out its problems at home with a lot of practice time, but the Heat will have to figure things out on the road during a 5-game West Coast swing.

On the other bench, the 19-15 Blazers have won eight games in a row at home and are 11-3 in their past 14 contests. They have a solid home record of 12-4.

Portland is led by 7th-year, 6’11” PF LaMarcus Aldridge. The team captain is the highest scoring 4-man in the league at 20.6 ppg, and he’s just one of four players in the NBA who average at least 20 points and 8 boards per game.

Also leading this surprising Portland squad is ROY frontrunner PG Damian Lillard. The 6’3” Oakland native was taken 6th overall in last spring’s draft and is putting up 18.2 ppg, 6.5 apg and 3.4 rpg. Importantly, each of the Trail Blazers starters is averaging double figures in points.

Portland last played on Monday at home beating the Orlando Magic 125-119 in OT. Aldridge had 27 points, 10 boards and 5 dimes while center J. J. Hickson went for 20 points and 15 boards. Amazingly, coach Terry Stotts’ team has gone 5-0 this season in games that boiled down to the five-minute bonus period.

On Tuesday, the struggling Heat lost at Indiana 87-77. The 77 points represent a season-low for Miami. The Big 3 scored 66, and the rest of the roster could only muster 11 points. As a team they shot a lousy 41.2 % and were outrebounded 55-36.

Tune in to TNT tonight at 10:30 PM ET to see if Miami can reverse their recent course and earn a road W.

Gameday Dish: Heat vs. Mavericks

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
The 12-13 Dallas Mavericks welcome the 16-6 defending champion Miami Heat to the Lone Star State tonight.

With 11X All-Star Dirk Nowitzki still recovering from an off-season knee surgery, the Mavs have struggled to find a team identity and consistent production.

Coach Rick Carlisle has tinkered with his player rotations as well as his starting five, inserting 11 different guys from his roster in this first third of the schedule.

Dallas is searching for an effective formula on both offense and defense. They currently rank 27th in the NBA in points allowed at 101.5 per game.

On the other bench, the Heat have played well so far, notwithstanding a few baffling losses. They hit the road after playing 10 of their last 11 games at home.

King James leads the team in points, boards and dimes with 25.2, 8.5 and 6.9 respectively. The 3X league MVP has scored at least 20 points in each of Miami’s 22 games, the first player to do so since Karl Malone in the 1989-90 season.
Copyright NBAE 2012 (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe rest of the Heat’s Big 3, D-Wade and Chris Bosh, are still competing at All-Star levels. With the off-season addition of the all-time 3-point champ Ray Allen coming off the bench, many hoops commentators predicted a possible 70-win season for coach Erik Spoelstra’s squad.

Miami is up there at 4th in the league in scoring with 103.1 ppg. But they are getting crushed on the boards, ranking second to last in the league at 38.3 rpg.

The Heat last played on Tuesday night in South Beach where they beat Minnesota 103-92 behind LeBron’s 22 points, 11 assists, 6 boards and 4 blocks. The Mav’s most recent 48 was Tuesday in Big D as they bested the 76ers 107-100.

First-year Maverick guard O.J. Mayo led the team with 26 points, 8 assists and 3 steals. With Dirk out, Mayo has assumed the alpha scorer role, averaging 20.6 ppg, and has started all 25 games.

Tune in to TNT tonight at 9:30 PM ET to watch the last two NBA champions and 2011 Finals combatants do battle deep in the heart of Texas.

Czar’s Finals Preview: Mavericks vs. Heat Game 6

Like nearly every game in this riveting series, Game 5 went down to the wire. And as we’ve seen Dallas do so often in the postseason, they rallied from behind in the fourth quarter and went on a 17-4 run to route Miami 112-103 and take a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals. Now the Mavericks are just one win away from the ultimate prize.

The stage has been set for another epic battle in Game 6. What could be more exciting and dramatic than this story line? The team America (outside of Miami) loves to hate has their backs against the wall, while Dallas has their best opportunity in franchise history to win a championship. Their only other legitimate chance to win an NBA Title was back in 2006, when they were beaten by Miami on their home court.

Everyone is anxious to see if LeBron James will rise to the occasion and if Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can continue to deliver. Dirk Nowitzki will have to overcome Miami’s outstanding defense and come through as he’s done throughout the playoffs. Last game J.J. Barea (17 pts.) and ‘the Jet’ Jason Terry (21 pts.) gave their team the extra firepower they needed to take Game 5. The Mavs are going to need them to hit big shots again tonight if they hope to close out this series in six games.

Basketball fans around the world will tune in at 8:00 PM ET to see whether Miami will make a comeback and force a Game 7, or if the Mavericks will finish the job and win a championship before the aging Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd’s careers come to a close. The Heat danced and celebrated on the Maverick’s court when they took their first NBA Title in Game 6 five years ago. Tonight Dallas has the same opportunity to celebrate their first NBA Championship in Miami.

Fired Up: LeBron James

The seemingly endless criticism of LeBron James from the national media (and no doubt shared by many fans outside of Miami) feels more personal in nature rather than objective journalism. By all accounts, James committed a big error in judgment last offseason in the way he left Cleveland – i.e., “The Decision” and not informing Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. However, people are very quick to forget that many athletes, including the legendary Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, have run-ins with management/coaches that they do not handle well from a PR perspective.

The bottom line is that young, talented and ambitious athletes under endless scrutiny are prone to make mistakes; and LeBron is no different. The other reality is that no athlete other than Tiger Woods has come into a sport with the fanfare and expectations that LeBron did, a fact that is particularly important to remember in today’s social media age where no stone is left unturned.

LeBron has also been vilified because he chose to team up with other stars in Miami rather than go-it-alone in Cleveland like stars of the past. Conveniently lost in the shuffle is the fact that parity is much greater in the NBA today than it was in the past. In the 80’s, the league’s best players were concentrated on a handful of teams. The overall talent pool from top to bottom was not nearly as deep as it is today – this is why it seemed as though the Celtics, Lakers and Sixers were contending for the title every year. In today’s game, star players are present throughout the league on many teams. Recent Celtics and Lakers teams have shown that one player, even Kobe Bryant, cannot get you over the top. Dirk Nowitzki may be the latest example of this, even though he has a much better supporting cast than LeBron ever had in Cleveland. The fact that LeBron joined Miami through free agency rather than a trade merely reflects the economic reality of today’s NBA, but does not change the underlying formula required to win.

Another major criticism of LeBron is that he’s not the last second(s) “closer” that Jordan and Larry Bird were, or that Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and even Nowitzki are today. But he is a legitimate closer to the extent that his team wants to get the ball in his hands at the end of a close game because they trust him to make the right decision, whether that be to shoot the ball or pass it. To be a closer by the narrow definition of executing the winning shot every time requires one to not only be a perimeter player, but also to be a natural shooter/scorer, effectively eliminating both the great low post players of the game due to the ease with which they can be double-teamed and also the pure playmakers of the game as scoring is not their primary responsibility. Herein lies the fundamental disconnect between what LeBron actually is and how he is analyzed. While LeBron may not average the rebounds, assists and points of Barkley, Magic and Jordan respectively, LeBron possesses a combination of rebounding, passing and shooting skills that may be unparalleled in the history of the game. He balances his contributions in these areas according to what he must deliver in order for his team to win. To compare King James to any individual player of the past reflects a lack of understanding of what his true value as a player is. In any event, it is a debate best suited to the end of his career when we have seen his entire body of work.

As LeBron’s career unfolds there may be situations where he needs to focus on one of these skill sets more than the others; only time will tell. For now, he is taking full advantage of playing with Wade and focusing on his all-around game (including lock-down defense). Emotions aside, no one would dispute that a player maximizes his value to a team by doing whatever it takes to win, even if that means deferring to a teammate at times. The funny thing is that LeBron seems to be one of the few people out there who genuinely understands this.