May 31, 2011
Five years ago, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks led the series 2-0 and Game 3 by 13 with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter. That’s when Dwyane Wade took over the series and led the Heat to four straight wins.
If it was a movie script, the Mavericks would exorcise their 2006 finals collapse demons and defeat the villainous bully that looks unstoppable. Rocky did it multiple times. Hickory won the state championship in Hoosiers. However, in the real world, we don’t always get that storybook ending. John Elway finally got his Super Bowl ring. Greg Norman never got his Green Jacket.
In this case, I believe the Mavericks will have that happy ending.
Dirk Nowitzki is a man on a mission. He knows this could be his last good chance at an NBA championship. He has been the MVP of the playoffs so far. But Miami does have LeBron James. He left Cleveland to win “not four, not five, not six…..” titles. If he is going to get to title number eight, he’s got to win the first one. These two great players cancel each other out.
In 2006 if you happened to be flipping through the channels and stopped on any of the last four games of the NBA Finals, chances are you saw Dwayne Wade at the free throw line. He scored 42, 36, 43 and 36 in those four games. Don’t expect that constant parade to the line this time around. Perhaps more than any other, that series comes up in the discussion of outcomes affected by the officials. The powers that be don’t like that. They will make sure it doesn’t happen again. And this time Dallas has DeShawn Stevenson. In two meetings during the regular season, Stevenson held Wade to just two points in 30 minutes. Dallas will need Stevenson on the floor as much as possible because when he was on the bench Wade scored 42 points in 50 minutes.
Dallas has the advantage at the center position as well. Tyson Chandler has been a big part of the Mavericks’ improvement this year. He’s added defense and a toughness in the paint that they have lacked in the past. The matchup with Joel Anthony is probably a push defensively, but Chandler adds more offensively than Anthony.
Neither NBA team has an explosive point guard like Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, but Dallas does have a future hall-of-famer in Jason Kidd. Kidd is no longer the superstar he was earlier in his career but he has improved his shooting and has been playing great defense. He’s got a ton of experience and usually makes the right play. Bibby has led a team deep into the playoffs before as well but he hasn’t done much since coming to Miami.
Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic come off the Mavs bench and can score in bunches. Brendan Haywood is a quality big man. This group is more explosive and consistent than the Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and James Jones group of Miami reserves.
The Heat have two of the best players in the league who are headed to the Hall of Fame. They also have a third all-star in Chris Bosh. The Mavericks have one superstar and a group of veterans with playoff experience that is better and deeper than the rest of the Miami roster. The Heat have more talent. Dallas is a better team. And if it comes down to coaching, I’ll take Rick Carlisle over Coach Spo.
Prediction: Dallas in 6.
May 31, 2011
The recently retired Phil Jackson is considered one of the best coaches in NBA history. But the simple fact is that he should be clearly viewed at the top of that list. His most fierce competition for that top spot comes from former NBA team Boston Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach, so for the sake of argument, I’ll compare the two.
For starters, Phil simply won more. His eleven titles beat Auerbach’s nine and while that’s not the only thing that matters, it’s a great place to begin.
Now the talent – ah, yes. We hear it all the time from misguided fans – ‘Phil had MJ and Kobe – who wouldn’t win with those two?’ Well, Doug Collins, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Del Harris, actually. Seriously though, Phil’s detractors love to point out that he won his titles with four of the best NBA players in history – Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Scottie Pippen. While that’s true, it’s also important to point out that none of those players won titles under other coaches.
The amusing thing is that it’s not only arguable that Red Auerbach had more talent, it’s likely. In 1996, the NBA named its famous ’50 at 50’ – the top fifty NBA players in history. While this was a subjective list, it’s difficult to find many problems with the selections. Red won his 11 titles with six of those players on his rosters, while Phil had the aforementioned four.
A deeper look shows that Auerbach had an even greater advantage, though.
His championships were won with many of those NBA players on any given team. Auerbach never won a single championship with fewer than three top 50 players at one time – and many years, his teams boasted four such stars. Jackson, on the other hand, never had more than two on the same squad.
Further, Auerbach also had plenty of other talent outside of those top 50 players. During his championship seasons, Red coached many other Hall of Famers not on that list including Tommy Heinsohn (who should be, by the way), Frank Ramsey, Arnie Risen, K.C. Jones, and Clyde Lovellette. His 1962-63 NBA team featured eight Hall of Famers, for crying out loud. In 1960-61, seven of the Celtics eleven players were Hall of Famers. With that type of talent, it’s probably amazing they managed to lose as many games as they did.
Phil Jackson’s other Hall of Famers on championship teams other than his duos of Jordan/Pippen and Kobe/Shaq? Maybe Dennis Rodman, who helped the Bulls win three – that’s it. Glen Rice, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, A.C. Green, and Horace Grant were all fine supplementary players, but not Hall of Fame worthy.
In other words, Phil managed to win his titles with talent that was significantly more diluted.
Sure, the obvious thing to point out is that the league, as a whole, had stronger teams in the 1950s and 1960s because there were fewer of them. Thus, more stars ended up on each team as a result. Still (and with all due respect to the 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles Lakers), no franchise has boasted such talent over such a prolonged period of time. Auerbach was playing with a stacked deck and while winning nine championships with anybody is flat out unbelievable, it’s clear he had more aces than Phil.
So Phil won more titles with less overall talent than Red. But there’s more.
Jackson won his titles with two different franchises, proving that he could take completely different collections of players to the pinnacle. Not only did he help Jordan get over the top, he took an immature Bryant and turned him into the best thing since, well, Jordan.
Then there’s the ‘what if’ factor. What if MJ had the hindsight to realize hitting minor-league curveballs wasn’t as easy as he thought and played full seasons in 1994-95 and 1995-96? What if Kobe and Shaq did their best Oscar and Felix impersonations and coexisted as an odd couple for several more years? What if the Bulls’ management didn’t take winning for granted and brought Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson back for more runs? It’s conceivable that Phil walks away with 15 titles … or more.
Lastly, consider the fact that today’s players make much more money and are far more difficult to control. Auerbach had it a lot easier with less media attention, fewer egos to deal with, less agents causing a stir, and generally, less headaches. In all, the pressure to win was not as great with far less money to be made.
When you add it all up, not only was Phil a better coach, it’s not all that close.
May 27, 2011
The verdict is in. Kobe Bryant has reclaimed his spot as the top Fathead seller of the week. And, similar to last night’s NBA playoff game, Derrick Rose came in at a close second.
Coming in at number five is the new Kevin Durant Dunk Mural, which we quickly produced at the request of our Twitter followers. Unfortunately for him, Kevin Durant won’t be doing any more dunking until next season.
The top ten selling Fatheads of the last week (5/20 to 5/26):
1. Kobe Bryant
2. Derrick Rose
3. Kevin Durant
6. Rajon Rondo
10. Derek Jeter
May 25, 2011
Two days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had a commanding 15 point lead with five minutes left in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Kevin Durant had just nailed a seemingly dagger-three, consequently celebrating by turning to the OKC bench and miming a wrestling championship belt around his waist. But the gesture was premature, as the Thunder fell victim to a Dirk Nowitzki led comeback by the Dallas Mavericks in one of the most epic collapses in recent history of NBA playoffs.
To be fair, the Dallas comeback was both highly improbable and astonishing. No one expected them to make a run to get back into the game, let alone win, especially in the fashion they did – Dirk hitting ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot. At one point, Nowitzki pump faked to draw contact, which he clearly did, severely altering his shot, but didn’t get the foul call. But it didn’t matter. He nailed the jumper. Just Dirk being Dirk.
Even more improbable than Dallas’s Game 4 comeback is OKC coming back to win this series. That’s a tall order, especially for a young team with little NBA playoff experience. The series will likely end, in my opinion, tonight in Dallas. But Oklahoma City, team and fans, shouldn’t look on the outcome as a complete loss. For young teams, unfavorable NBA playoff losses and crushing disappointment often serve as building blocks for perennial championship contenders. The heartbreak Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka felt after Game 4 and (most likely) the end of the series will fuel their offseason routines have them more than ready for next year.
That’s part of the beauty of what OKC General Manager Sam Presti has built – a young team that’s molded together who, along with their coach, Scott Brooks, have a single goal in mind. Not fame or fortune, but a championship. Every indication coming from the NBA players leads us to believe they are in it to win it – together – for the long run.
Durant, the humble 22 year old superstar, leads the team on and off the court. During last summer’s free agent extravaganza, while NBA players LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee were being wined and dined by teams in need of superstars, holding egotistic press conferences and premature celebrations, Durant signed a five year contract extension with the small town team who drafted him. How did the public find out? He tweeted it.
The remaining young core exemplifies the same modesty, as well. Russell Westbook, Durant’s Robin to his Batman, was recently benched for the entire fourth quarter of a pivotal NBA playoff game. Most 22 year old budding stars would have been visibly upset, taking their issues to the media. But Westbrook handled it well, maintaining something along the lines of “as long as we win, it doesn’t matter.”
James Harden and Serge Ibaka, both 21 years old, have seen highs and lows in their sophomore seasons. Harden, a potential offensive powerhouse, and Ibaka, a block machine, have been benched and lost playing time for extended times this season, largely due to match ups with opposing teams. But they’ve both taken the reduced minutes in stride, as each has received more playing time since the trade of Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics. But will still sit, if needed, for match up sake.
Beyond the young core is a set of blue collar role players. Kendrick Perkins, the defensive minded center, provides toughness inside. Thabo Sefolosha starts at shooting guard, also as a defensive presence. Nick Collison spells Ibaka and Perkins when needed, providing solid rebounding, causing offensive fouls, and scoring back door layups. Eric Maynor, of Virginia Commonwealth fame, has developed into a more than capable point guard who can come in and hit shots and change the pace from Westbrook’s freight train style.
Together, the Thunder display the true meaning of the word team. They cooperate on the court, hang out off the court. Say the right things, do the right things. They’re everything that is right with sports and competition. Oklahoma City has developed a rare, but successful, organizational model that will be mimicked by other small market teams.
But even with all the right pieces in place, the Holy Grail isn’t a given. There is still work that needs to be done. OKC still has its weaknesses. Westbrook has a tendency to be a “black hole” and be less point guard, more scorer, sacrificing offensive plays and passes for kamikaze dives to the basket (good and bad, depending on the situation and outcome). Durant, while a gifted scorer, is not assertive enough with the team and lacks great defensive skills. Harden, also a capable scorer, is still very streaky and lacks a defensive presence. Sefolosha and Perkins, while strong defensive, are offensively inept. Perkins, too, has terrible knees, and often takes forever to get up and down the court (he also can’t really jump).
Clearly, they aren’t perfect. Presti and Brooks know this, as do the players. And they have the ability to improve and fix these issues, both internally through young player development, and externally, through flexibility available through draft picks and trades. As captain of the ship, Presti is more than capable of steering the Thunder even further in the right direction. So if my prediction is correct, Dallas defeats OKC in the NBA playoffs to reach the NBA finals, it’s not the end of the world (that’s scheduled for October now, right?). Unlike many teams, built for a 3-5 year run, the Thunder, assuming at least some of the team stays together, have the potential to be title contenders for the next ten years. As a Cleveland fan, I’m jealous, but also excited to see what the “good guys” can do.
May 24, 2011
The Bulls have to win tonight. If Chicago loses Game 4 in Miami and the Heat take a 3-1 lead in the series, the Bulls shot at reaching the NBA Finals will be about as good as the world ending when someone predicts it will. (The new date is October 21, 2011 for those of you scoring at home).
The Heat have taken control of the Eastern Conference Finals in the last two games. How can the Bulls take it back and even the series at 2-2?
Chris Bosh scored 30 in Game 1 and 34 in Game 3. He is shooting 65.9 percent in the series. The Bulls have to shut him down and shut him down early. They cannot let Bosh get off to a good start and get comfortable. Wade and LeBron are too good. They are going to score. If Bosh does too, consider the series over and the Heat closer to winning the NBA Finals.
Make that, the former Jazz. Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer played for the Utah Jazz last year. These three NBA players need to produce in Game 4. Boozer had 26 points and 17 rebounds in Game 3 and it wasn’t good enough because he was outplayed by Bosh. He has to play better defense.
Korver is supposed to be Chicago’s outside threat. This NBA player is one of the best shooters in the league. He needs to start knocking down shots in this series like he did in the previous rounds of the playoffs if the Bulls want to make it to the NBA Finals. He has scored just three points in each game against Miami. A couple long-range buckets from Korver would help spread the floor and take some pressure off of Derrick Rose.
Brewer has done a nice job of playing defense so far against Miami. He hasn’t done much else, scoring just 19 points total in the three games. His lack of offense has made things easier for the Miami defense. A double-digit offensive effort from Brewer would enable Tom Thibodeau to leave one of his best defenders in the game longer.
Derrick Rose is the league MVP and he needs to have an MVP performance. Miami has given him trouble in the last two fourth quarters. He will have to give Miami trouble in this fourth quarter. He needs to attack the double-teaming defense the Heat have been sending at him and make the defense pay for leaving an open man.
Derrick Rose and Luol Deng combined for 49 points. Chicago beat Miami 45-33 on the glass. They kept two of the big three in check. Udonis Haslem was not a factor. The Bulls wanted it more than the Heat and they played that way. A similar effort in Game 4 tonight should be enough to even the series and reclaim home-court advantage.