The Chris Bosh Disappearing Act

“We can state the obvious: They’re [Bosh and Wade] both struggling,” LeBron James said prior to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

While the Heat have since gone on to the NBA Finals, so, too, have the struggles of James’ sidekicks.

In Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals against the well-rested San Antonio Spurs, the Heat’s heat flamed out in the fourth quarter as they were outscored 23-16 by a methodical Popovich team that kept plugging away one critical possession at a time, tying their own NBA record for fewest turnovers in a Finals game.

If the Heat don’t raise the red flag and put an end to Bosh’s continued reliance and belief in the three point shot, they will be raising the white flag of surrender as they get steamrolled out of the Finals.

Standing at 6’11″, Chris Bosh has always been a finesse player. But he has also been a head smart, savvy talent, too, that has known when to mix it up. Since joining the Miami Heat, Bosh has taken off the hat of a team’s superstar and settled, taking shot after shot miles from the rim that he would not have dared launching when with the Raptors.

Nevermind Chris Bosh’s decline in points per game. That’s a given when you join up with two other superstars of Wade and LeBron’s caliber, the latter arguably the most dominant player the NBA has seen since Shaquille O’Neal wore purple and gold.

It’s his shot selection.

Let us compare the numbers. In Bosh’s first three seasons with the Raptors (2003-06), he attempted a total of 37 three pointers. Fast forward to 2012-13 with Miami. Chris Bosh launches 74 from downtown with 21 falling through the net (28%, not exactly a high percentage shot from your 6’11″ anchor).

The more movement away from the paint, the less opportunity you have to help your team on the boards — and a pretty good reason the Heat are THE worst rebounding team in the NBA this year.

It is as if they take pride in it.

In a December 19 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in which the Miami Heat were outrebounded by a 2-to-1 margin (53 to 24), Erick Spoelstra had this to say.

“Rebounding helps, but there are a lot of other factors for rebounding. If you go through the statistics in the playoffs and ranked them, that isn’t necessarily the biggest key.”

Which is why the Heat were about this close to watching the Hoosier state punch their tickets for this year’s NBA Finals while they took their rods and reels and Nike’s and went fishing down in South Beach.

In just three years, Bosh’s career rebounding average has declined from 10.8 RPG his last year in Toronto to an abysmal 6.8 RPG this year with Miami.

What’s even more alarming is the further declining rebounding rate we have witnessed from Bosh since being pushed around by Roy Hibbert and David West in the Indiana series (4.3 RPG). Then in Game 1 against the lengthy Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Bosh snags a mere five rebounds. While Miami won the battle of the boards (46 to 37) against the Spurs in a 92-88 Game 1 loss, their big (Bosh) was out in no man’s land calling for the rock when he should have been vying for position on the block.

“Look,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following the Game 1 loss, “We’re not going to overreact to those misses. He [Bosh] was open. He hit some big ones already.”

He was open for a reason Spoelstra. It’s because he is 6’11″ and shoots 28% from downtown. Better out there than grabbing a putback dunk off a James penetration.

The three-point stripe and European influence have long been whispering to NBA bigs for quite some time to “step on back here and jack one up.”

And Bosh has welcomed it much to the detriment of his team and to his own game.

If the Heat plan to make this a series and win not one, not two, not three but seven rings (and one up Jordan and Pippen — good luck), Bosh better park his behind in the paint and play like Pat Riley will send him back up north across the border if he doesn’t.

And Dwyane Wade? Well, let’s just say a scoreless fourth quarter is its own story.

A Phoenix Sun Soon to Rise

Although the Phoenix Suns management and coaching staff have yet to piece together a championship caliber team that can gut it out past 82 games, there is one area you cannot fault them, and that’s finding the perfect point guard.

In 1996 with the 15th overall selection in the NBA Draft, the Suns picked up a little fellow out of Santa Clara University by the name of Steve Nash. This all while securing Jason Kidd from the Mavericks to command the driver’s seat while Nash waited in study. After losing both Nash and Kidd to the trade block, they signed Nash again in 2004, who went on to win multiple MVPs while carrying the franchise to the top of the Pacific Division from 2004-07.

Out goes Steve Nash in the 2012 offseason to quarterback it in Los Angeles alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. In comes Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), recipient of the 2012 Bob Cousy Award.

Are you seeing a pattern? I’m seeing a pattern – and it has nothing to do with the bad astigmatism in my left eye.

For those of us lucky enough to live in ACC country, we become privy to the extraordinary in college basketball. And Kendall Marshall is extraordinary, crushing the all-time ACC record in assists in a single season. This all while being a sophomore. Yes, you read that sentence correctly and you are welcome to read it again. As a sophomore.

Here’s the thing about Kendall Marshall: when UNCs starting point, Larry Drew II, abruptly quit in February of 2011 – and I do mean quit (leaving it up to his dad to call Roy Williams to deliver the news) – on his team following a 106-74 victory over Boston College, Marshall’s star immediately went on the rise, relishing his new unshared role as North Carolina’s floor general. The turnover-prone Tar Heels went on a tear, finishing the season at 29-8 with a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite 8.

Compare this to their previous year when they finished 20-17 and failed to reach the NCAA Tournament, which is about as close to blasphemy (“failed to reach the NCAA Tournament”) as you can get on Tobacco Road.

In the 2011-12 season in which the North Carolina Tar Heels went 32-6 (losing Marshall to a fractured wrist in their win against Creighton), Marshall racked up an astonishing 351 assists to 101 turnovers (3.48 ratio). As Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated points out: Marshall was only thieved of the ball seven times, or 0.4 percent of total possessions played. What’s even more mind boggling is that the Tar Heel point guard was never called for a single traveling or carrying violation. Talk about efficiency and protecting the ball. I can picture Bob Cousy dribbling around in circles in his grave with a smile on his face, proud of his modern day heir.

So here I am, June 28, watching the 2012 NBA Draft live on television. About to scream at my television to be precise. Sure, it is early on but I am viewing team after team pass on Marshall. Then comes the lucky number 13 pick by the Phoenix Suns. Finally, management with a little sense.

You want to know who is a sure thing? Kendall Marshall, barring injury of course.

The NBA is point guard rich these days; or, I should say small guard rich. You have Russell Westbrook and Pistol Pete’s Spanish doppelganger, Ricky Rubio. You’ve got Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and Rajon Rondo.

In that list, only Rondo, Paul, and Rubio are true points. Let’s call the other guys what they are: scoring guards. Too small to be a shooting guard and too trigger-happy to be a point.

But Kendall Marshall, he’s a point guard. A true point guard. And he’s the future, sure enough, for not only the Phoenix Suns but the NBA.

Goran Dragic isn’t a slouch. Give the man credit and give the Suns credit for knowing this too, which is why they signed the unrestricted free agent to a four-year/$34 million deal in the offseason. With that said, it’s only a matter of time before Marshall gets his chance and Dragic’s sun sets and a new sun rises. Let’s just hope the Phoenix Suns don’t make the same mistake twice by letting one slip out the door, as they did with Steve Nash in 1998. They were lucky to land Nash again in 2004 after letting him walk the first time. They might not be that lucky with Marshall; but like he showed us on Tobacco Road with Larry Drew II’s departure, a freshman can step up and a sophomore season can make for quite the stellar performance.

Don’t be foolish and overlook this kid. He has an off-the-charts basketball IQ and a knack for the game the NBA only sees once or twice in a decade.

Sometimes the number 13 ain’t such a bad number after all.

Kevin Love: The New Big Fundamental

When Kevin Love declared for the NBA Draft in April 2008, I shook my head. Like Tyler Hansbrough, who was dominating college basketball at the time, I thought of Love as only a college player. He didn’t have what it would take to muster a valid career in the NBA. He would average 10 and 5 for a few years, find himself caught in the middle of a packaged three team deal, then slink to the end of the bench on a non-contender and disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

Too pudgy. Lacks athleticism and lateral quickness. Plays below the rim. Can’t get up and down the court.

Justified by watching tape of the UCLA Bruins, these were all legitimate knocks on Love’s game.

Sure, he had plenty of strengths to match: great hands, developed post moves and footwork, nice passer, uncanny rebounder, and can step behind the arc and knock down some treys, etc.; but these strengths would be overshadowed and could not compensate for the obvious holes in his game.

Never mind that Love scored in double figures in all 39 games he played as a frosh at UCLA, and that 23 of those games consisted of notching a double-double.

The NBA is fast and Love is slow.

Bust.

But I was wrong. Kevin Love just plays basketball. That’s what he does. He plays the game. He knows the game. Fundamentals may be missing in much of today’s NBA players, but not in Kevin Love; and, while I’m not equating Love with Larry Bird—he’s no Larry Bird by any stretch of the imagination—the supposed weaknesses and what the critics said about the Indiana St. Sycamore in 1978 parallel.

Despite carrying 10 lbs. of concrete in each Converse, Larry Bird still figured out how to get from Point A to Point B in the same amount of time as James Worthy; so, too, has Love honed his craft to not only recompense for his weaknesses, but to mask them almost entirely with his ridiculously high basketball IQ.

“Plays below the rim,” says the critics. With 90% of rebounds snatched below the iron anyway, who needs hops when you have position? Not last year’s rebounding leader with 15.2 per game.

I doubted Love’s ability in much the way Stephen A. Smith doubted Tim Tebow all season long. Although I was watching an elite athlete do his thing before my very eyes, I still couldn’t believe it. Has to be a fluke. Must be a fluke.

Then, on November 12, 2010, Love became the 19th player in NBA history—the first since 1982 (Moses Malone)—to record a “30-30” game, pulling down 31 rebounds to match his 31 points. Then there was that whole double-double streak of 53 consecutive games, the longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger of ’76.

‘Tis no fluke.

Said Kevin Love during an interview with ESPN this January: “I believe I’m the best ’4? in the league. I think you have to believe that you’re the best. I think Mohammad Ali even said, ‘I was the greatest before I knew I was.’ I think everybody needs to have that mindset. That’s part of winning the mind game from the very start. You have to believe it. You have to hold yourself accountable.”

While it’s debatable that Love is the best PF in the Association (I have to go with Nowitzki myself), what we’re seeing is a bonafide freak of nature in the making—a young man with a chip on his shoulder who is just scratching the surface thus far in his career.

Part of being the best is believing you are and Love, as he quotes Ali, already has this. From the very start, before he ever laced up his shoes and stepped foot on an NBA floor, Love had one-upped his critics.

As the malapropic Yogi Berra once said, “[Sport] is 90% mental, the other half physical.”

Therefore, when a story breaks with the headline “Love’s Buzzer Beater Lifts Wolves,” I am no longer surprised. It’s to be expected. I would be more surprised if it said he missed. Now, the real story of Friday’s game wasn’t that Love hit a game-winning three in the final seconds; it’s that Darko Milicic had 22 points and 7 rebounds.

Don’t make me eat another hat Darko. Don’t make me eat another hat.

Series Preview: Lakers – Mavericks

The last time these two teams squared off against one another, four players were ejected.

With the Lakers holding a comfortable 90-73 lead in the fourth quarter, Steve Blake drove to the basket, past the cement-shoed Jason Terry, who, being beat, pushed Blake in the back to the hardwood.

Tempers flared, testosterone levels quickly rose, and a chest-bumping match quickly ensued between Blake and Terry.

As Jack Nicholson looked on through purple lenses, the confrontation escalated. Skinny Artest, also known as Matt Barnes, came to Blake’s aid, charging after Terry like a pissed off Spanish bull, nostrils flaring. Brendan Haywood met Barnes, pointing his finger at him as Barnes walked the sidelines of the Mavericks bench when Mavericks assistant coach, Terry Stotts, attempted to calm Barnes, and was slung to the ground. An oval mouthed Mark Cuban cried all the while in the background behind the Mavericks bench.

Off to the locker room went Blake, Barnes, Terry, and Haywood. That was March 31.

On May 2, the two will meet again in the Western Conference semifinals. But let us not confuse the Mavericks’ late game demeanor on March 31 with toughness. Terry’s cheap shot was out of frustration. Dallas would go on to lose by 28 points, 110-82, shooting just 36.1% from the floor (6-26 from three). It seemed the only area of the game they were efficient in was committing fouls, 27, allowing the Lake Show 39 chances at freebies.

If the March 31 contest can serve as the shape of things to come, let us rub this crystal ball and garner it for all she’s worth.

POINT GUARD
Jason Kidd vs. Derek Fisher

Neither can move the way they did ten years ago but both Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher are savvy veterans who pick their spots and pick them well. With that said, Kidd has the upper hand in that he impacts the outcome of a Mavericks win or loss in a much greater way than does Fish for the Lakers.

Kidd’s improved outside shooting makes him dangerous for a defender to lag off of, but he’s also a very streaky shooter. Fisher, on the other hand, doesn’t shoot often but when he does, it’s never ill-advised – and I think we all know about his clutch performances. Other than Robert Horry and Jerry West, can you name anyone other than Derek Fisher you’d rather have the ball with under three seconds to go and zero timeouts and a full court to sprint down? Your thoughts Jameer Nelson? Manu Ginobli?

Still, the Mavericks don’t win without a big contribution from Kidd. He’ll notch a triple-double or near close to one in at least two games. Fisher serves a different purpose; and although his role is just as vital, it has more to do with his leadership in the locker room and on the court than how many points, assists, and steals he racks up.

ADVANTAGE: Dallas Mavericks

SHOOTING GUARD
DeShawn Stevenson vs. Kobe Bryant

Do I even need to waste my breath?

No.

I will anyway.

I can’t even get DeShawn Stevenson to drop more than three points in practice mode on NBA 2K11 for Playstation 3, so don’t expect for the 6’5” wing to go bananas starting Monday night. Then again, the tattoo of our nation’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, on Stevenson’s neck explains it all. Ole Abe is worth five and so is Stevenson’s offensive output, unleashing 5.2 ppg. for the 2010-11 season.

But let’s be real: Stevenson isn’t in town for his offense. He gets the defensive assignment, and that assignment is you know who.

Kobe. Well, The Black Mamba’s a different story altogether. In my magic crystal ball, I’m foreseeing at least one vintage Kobe output in this series. Don’t be surprised if #24 goes for 52 or 53 one night. Sure, it’s not 2007 and we’re unlikely to see him drop 62 through three quarters but just as he went soaring through the air for a thunderous jam against Emeka Okafor in Round 1 against the New Orleans Hornets, to think there’s not a little bit of mustard left in his game is to be mistaken.

Badly mistaken.

Sure, Kobe put up some stinkers against the Mavs this year (6-20 FG in 33 min and 8-21 FG in 30 min) but both were in wins: the former a 96-91 win at Dallas and the latter in a 110-82 routing in Los Angeles. That tells you something: that the Lakers are balanced enough for Kobe to stink it up and still get the W.

Let Dirk Nowitzki drop sulfur bombs and the Mavs lose. They don’t have the same balanced attack. Take, for example, their two losses in which The Big German goes for 25 pts (10-19 FG) and 27 pts (10-20 FG). The Mavericks leave with their tail between their legs.

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers

SMALL FORWARD
Shawn Marion vs. Ron Artest

Marion played reluctant in the first three games of the Portland series, averaging 7.0 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Redeeming himself in the final three games, he averaged 14.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg. For the Mavericks to stand a fighting chance against the Lakers, Marion will need to mirror his last three games against Portland or better. Considering Marion is averaging 18.7 ppg (at nearly 60% shooting) and 6.7 rpg against the Lakers this year, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Where he’ll need to excel, however, is on defense.

Expect Carlisle to place Marion on Bryant at times as well as Odom. His length and athleticism should pose a problem for Bryant, whereas against Odom, the advantage is neutralized.

Say Artest and you instantly think defense (or crazy or The Malice at the Palace). He’ll kiss his guns a couple of times in this series, most likely after manhandling Peja Stojakovic on a key fourth quarter possession. Artest is a pesky defender with quick hands and Stojakovic saves his best choke jobs for the playoffs. The only hope for Peja is if he can literally get Artest to wrap his hands around his neck and choke Peja all the way to a two-game suspension. But I don’t see it happening. That’s in the past for Artest who is fresh off winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles, for the sole reason that defense runs the show in the playoffs. Even with the extra miles on his boots, Artest still has enough in his tank to get under the skin of multiple players at multiple positions (PG, SG, SF, PF), including Nowitzki.

POWER FORWARD
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Pau Gasol

Both are routinely criticized for “playing soft.” It’s a European thing. Like listening to the music of David Hasselhoff or still wearing Zubaz zebra-striped workout pants with the elastic ankle ban at the gym.

Seriously, I once saw a film clip of Nowitzki wearing Zubaz pants working out.

The reality is Gasol’s a long string bean, so unless he gains 40 lbs. of muscle, that perception isn’t changing. It has more to do with how he looks than how he plays. The Big German, on the other hand, simply isn’t a true post player – not that he can’t do some damage on the block. Would you believe his basketball idol growing up was none other than Scottie Pippen. ‘Tis true.

And what’s so bad about not being a post player if you’re 7’0” tall and can stroke it from the perimeter with 40% accuracy? Yeah, it kills you on the glass in one regard but it also helps you on the glass in the other regard, pulling the opposing team’s big man out there with you.

Gasol wins the battle in the paint. Nowitzki wins it on the perimeter. And the last time I checked, three points is worth more than two. But the again, I have dyscalculia so what do I know?

ADVANTAGE: Dallas Mavericks — but only by a hair.

CENTER
Tyson Chandler vs. Andrew Bynum

This, my friends, is the key matchup. Since the All-Star break, Bynum has been a stone cold killer. Think Clint Eastwood, only taller. Wearing shorts. Who somewhat resembles Tracy Morgan. Bynum seems to save his best games for Dallas, averaging 16.7 ppg and 11.7 rpg, shooting a ridiculous 70.4% from the field.

Ridiculous.

I love Chandler to death, I really do. I take that back. I love my wife, daughter, and dog. But Chandler, as good as he is on the defensive end, cannot match up with Bynum. Bynum was the Lakers’ MVP in their series against New Orleans and might as well be their MVP in this one. Quit your jawing Colin Cowherd.

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers

SUPPORTING CAST
As good as Jason Terry is, Lamar Odom is better. He’s big. He’s long. He’s athletic. He can rebound. He can get out and run it as well as any point guard in the league – at 6’10”. Odom is the perfect fit for the Lakers triangle offense off the bench. Coming off the Sixth Man of the Year Award, look for Odom to continue the Lakers run to their third straight championship.

Best of the rest: Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, and Matt Barnes give the Lakers added depth, primarily so from a defensive standpoint. Sure, Dallas has some nice talent coming off their bench as well with JJ Barea and Peja Stojakovic, in addition to Terry, but like I said before, defense runs the show in the playoffs and none of these guys can match the Lake Show in that department.

But hell, who doesn’t like seeing Barea zip around like a little fruit fly out there?

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers

COACHING
Rick Carlisle vs. Phil Jackson

Sorry Rick, but The Zen Master only wins in threes and well, you’re sort of in his way. As the Buddha once said, “I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.” And what remains for Jackson to do is win his twelfth championship ring as a head coach.

P.S. If this matchup were Red Auerbach vs. Phil Jackson, I’d still pick The Zen Master. That’s right. I said it.

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers

SERIES PREDICTION: Lakers in six: 4-2. Go ahead and call up Jack Nicholson and have him teach Mark Cuban the ropes in his role as the resurrected Randall P. McMurphy for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: The Sequel. The Lakers are going to drive Cuban to the looney-bin.

The Secret To Butler’s Success

Butler’s success doesn’t rest on the shoulders of one man, not Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, or even coach Brad Stevens. The Bulldogs are the quintessential team with their defense leading the way. On each possession, they play hard-nosed, physical defense. They show at the right time and rotate to leave no man unguarded.

It isn’t about controlling the tempo as much as it is, as Brad Stevens says, “prioritizing what is important” and being the aggressor.

Many an NBA analyst will argue there are no surefire NBA studs on this Bulldogs roster; I would disagree.

If a team can honestly believe Sebastian Telfair had what it takes to be selected in the first round, don’t tell me Shelvin Mack isn’t worth putting on the board.

With the right team, Mack’s quarterbacking at the point guard position can, and I believe will, translate at the next level. He has the right size (6’3″) and body build (a solid 215 lbs.), and a composure only matched by UConn’s Kemba Walker during this year’s NCAA tournament.

Mack plays physical, knowing when to bump his man off balance to get his shot (like he did VCU’s undersized Rodriquez). His decision-making is unparalleled. If a “star” can be pointed to on this Butler team, it would be Mack. But unlike most stars, there aren’t stretches within a game where he jacks up two or three bad shots; and in the close games, such as what Butler has played through March and now April, two or three bad shots would have already ended their second straight Cinderella run through the tourney.

That’s where Mack stands out. He doesn’t get rattled. The closer a game comes down to the wire, the looser he plays. Not that there aren’t exceptions: i.e. the poor foul he committed as the seconds waned down against Pittsburgh.

Nevertheless, Mack isn’t a one-man team. Neither is UConn. One man teams don’t make it to the championship – in the case of Butler, two years in a row; for UConn, two of the last three years.

Basketball writers, like anyone putting a pen to paper, want to make the tournament about a star.

Does FedEx employee Chuck Noland get off the island in Cast Away without Wilson? What if Forrest Gump leaves Lt. Dan behind in the jungles of Vietnam? Do we find him as endearing? What if Woody’s jealousy erupts to the point where he pushes Andy’s new space-ranger toy, Buzz Lightyear, out of the window? Okay, bad example. And enough with the Tom Hanks references.

The point is Butler knows The Secret, as Bill Simmons likes to put it. And that secret is sacrifice. With Butler, it really is about the name on the front of the jersey and not the back.

The Butler Bulldogs aren’t about one player and they know it (unlike BYU). They are about the pieces that make the whole. If Matt Howard doesn’t grab the rebound and attempt a desperation full-court shot against Pittsburgh, he doesn’t get fouled. Butler goes home. The end.

If Zach Hahn doesn’t go on an 8-0 scoring spurt against VCU, Butler goes home. The end.

If Ronald Nored doesn’t lock down just about every opposing player he’s matched up against (and we’ll probably see him checking Kemba), Butler probably doesn’t even make the tournament at all.

They know this. Brad Stevens knows this.

Not to say UConn doesn’t.

I just happen to believe this year the shot does fall for Butler and they leave the 2011 NCAA Champions.

What could be better than a true Cinderella, a mid-major school that enrolls just over 5,000 people, putting on her glass slipper and dancing – really, truly dancing?

Butler, to quote Lee Ann Womack, “I hope you dance.”