Perspective Is A Funny Thing

Perspective is a funny thing.

Basketball fans love to hate the Miami Heat because of their supposed arrogance. But, the reality is, all they did wrong was boast about winning NBA Championships a bit premature.

LeBron James didn’t endear himself to fans when he made a bad P.R. move and allowed ESPN to air The Decision. It instantly made him the most hated man in Cleveland and NBA fans sprained ankles jumping off of his bandwagon.

But none of Miami’s stars have run afoul with the law.

Heck, none of them have done anything off of the court that should taint their names or reputations.

Fans loathe players who show up only for a paycheck and don’t care about winning, yet James, Wade and Bosh all took pay cuts to ensure they would have the chance to battle for NBA Championships.

Instead of fans rallying around this selfless chase of championships, the Miami Heat have had a bull’s eye placed on their backs for the past two seasons. It’s baffling how two years later fans still haven’t been able to shake two relatively-small mistakes that can be chalked up to youthful folly.

Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics have been viewed as the good guys and they were the team most NBA fans cheered for in the Eastern Conference Finals this year.

Likewise, the Oklahoma City Thunder are fan favourites in the NBA Finals because they have produced their own talent through the draft while making a few shrewd trades along the way. In many ways, the Thunder are the ideal team for David Stern and the NBA to market and promote.

Basketball fans are quick to forget Oklahoma City’s owner, Clay Bennett, literally stole the franchise away from some die-hard fans in Seattle over some politics and the chance to make more money by moving the team.

That has to be worse than wanting to play with two buddies in South Beach or an ill-conceived TV special, right?

While the players on the Thunder have a squeaky-clean image, the same can’t be said about the Celtics. Kevin Garnett cusses non-stop during the course of games and has been known to bully younger and International players. Rajon Rondo was suspended a game for bumping an official in the first round of the playoffs. Earlier in his career, Pierce had some problems off the court and enjoyed his fair share of shenanigans.

It’s puzzling to me how fans are quick to turn a blind eye to some troubling aspects of the Thunder or Celtics, yet they continue to focus on some trivial things Miami has done off the court.

Plus, Boston started the whole “Big 3″ idea when Danny Ainge traded for Allen and Garnett in a flurry of summer moves that changed the entire landscape of the NBA. It’s not like the Heat started something new when three friends united to play for championships and live in Miami. And, if you’re being honest with yourself, wouldn’t you do the same? Personally, the idea of playing with two of my best friends and living in South Beach would be too tempting for me to pass up.

Somehow, fans are more than willing to turn a blind eye to all of this because they want to root for Boston or Oklahoma City. The reality of the situation is Boston and Oklahoma City both have their fair share of warts that could prevent fans from cheering against them. But, for whatever reason, fans are blinded to this in their hatred of Miami.

Hopefully you don’t fall into the trap of rooting against Miami because they are perceived as being the bad guys. Because, if you take a real close look at things, you’ll probably realize Miami isn’t really worth hating.

But, it all depends on your perspective, right?

Why I’m Cheering For Miami

If you’re looking for insightful projections into just what will happen once the NBA Finals kick off in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, you can find the two cents of many Hoops Addict correspondents here. This piece comes less from the perspective of an NBA analyst and more from a fan of the game, as well as its narrative.

The fundamental storyline of these Finals leans heavily in favor of the Thunder. Among the leading men of the two clubs, Miami’s LeBron James is the hated villain for a generation of fans unwilling to forget his painfully misguided “Decision”, while OKC’s Kevin Durant is the anti-LeBron – a down-to-Earth superstar that quietly re-upped with the franchise that drafted him while James and co. were doing this.

There are, however, two main issues with this overly simplistic outline of what will be a multi-layered series. Not only is it an outdated take that fails to account for James’ recent growth as both a player and a person (as well as the exceptionally unique pressure he faces), but it fails to acknowledge the rest of what are two diverse, varied rosters of interesting players.

But first, a few words on James. Much has changed since he turned the better part of the country against him and the Heat by taking his talents to South Beach. His tone-deaf demonstrations of self praise and premature celebration have been replaced by a hoodie-wearing symbol of support for Trayvon Martin in precisely the type of socially conscious display that superstars like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods have been famously loathe to engage in.

On the basketball side of things, he has been lauded as a great teammate who is leading by example in both selflessness and worth ethic. While LeBron critics may choose to focus in on his disappearing act during the 2010-11 postseason, his 2011-12 playoff stat line currently reads 30.8/9.6/5.1.

At the same time, while the public perception of the 27-year-old may not have changed much, there might be at least a partially enhanced understanding of just what it’s like to be in his shoes. A Newsday story from last week features the now-famous words of teammate Shane Battier explaining what life is like for LBJ:

“He sneezes and it’s a trending topic on Twitter. He is a fascinating study because he’s really the first and most seminal sports figure in the information age, where everything he does is reported and dissected and second-guessed many times over and he handles everything with an amazing grace and patience that I don’t know if other superstars from other areas would have been able to handle.”

James’ team-first approach may have been helped along by his inherently likable supporting cast. Dwyane Wade has officially ceded top dog duty his younger and more physically imposing teammate, but he retains far-reaching popularity that has pretty well remained untainted by anti-Heat backlash.

Chris Bosh, on the other hand, was maligned as the undeserving member of the “Big 3″ before finding success this season by growing comfortable in his third-option role and even serving as an emotional rallying point in his Conference Finals return.

Outside of the three dominant personalities of the Heat, several character guys round out a roster of players who seem to genuinely enjoy each other. Battier has lost a step, but continues to be a valuable glue guy and reigns as a much-respected veteran in the locker room. Ronny Turiaf and Juwan Howard aren’t getting consistent minutes, but they both offer visible support from the bench.

Meanwhile, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller have all learned how to best complement their superstar teammates while not being afraid to get their own looks (Chalmers, in particular, has no problem taking open shots in clutch situations).

No disrespect to the equally (if not more) likable Thunder, but this is LeBron’s time. Lost in the digital, 24-hour news cycle age is the pure simplicity of watching the greats win. Durant (and, to a lesser extent, Russell Westbrook) may well be among those greats, but he’s also just 23 with plenty of prime years ahead of him. With James turning 28 later this year, he is firmly within what should be his prime.

When he earns himself an NBA championship ring (even if he doesn’t win six, or seven, or eight…), we will have all been witnesses.

How Miami Can Avoid Elimination

If you watched Game 5 and the utter meltdown by the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, you’re probably thinking the same thing that I was after the final buzzer: this series is over.

I mean, come on. Kevin Garnett is playing like he is 25 years old and Paul Pierce has found a way to make big shots despite barely being mobile due to injury. Ray Allen is shooting like Ray Allen again and Mickael Pietrus is doing his best Steve Kerr impression on the offensive end and looks like Metta World Peace defensively, back when he was Ron Artest. Oh, and the Celtics have that Rajon Rondo fella’.

Game 6 in Boston, a Heat team on the ropes, and arguably the best coach in all of basketball – Doc Rivers – has to be enough to knock off the hated Heat, right?

Here’s the thing though: if there is any team that can win these two games under the current set of circumstances, it’s Miami. The question is whether or not they figure it all out in time for tipoff on Thursday night and are able to sustain it for 92 minutes.

Slow Down, but not too much

The first problem the Heat have to eliminate is the turnovers. Miami turned the ball over 15 times in Game 6, which was good for 13 Celtics points. The Heat are in a funk offensively, especially in the half court. Cutting down on the turnovers and avoiding giving Boston any easy baskets will help Miami control the flow of the game. This will be extra important in the TD Bank Garden.

With all of this in mind, it’s imperative for the Heat to get out in transition in Boston. The earlier the better because if the Celtics are able to dictate the pace of the game early, Miami may not be able to muster a large enough counter attack with the way they’ve been playing.

Setting up to succeed

Miami head coach Eric Spoelstra has to find a fire extinguisher and quick, because the hot seat has never been so scorching for the young Heat headman. Spoelstra has to step up and take control of this team. Just take a look in the Miami huddle next time it’s on the screen. These guys could care less what ‘Spo’ is talking about and he may have already lost the team.

The end of Game 4 was one of the worst sequences imaginable for Spoelstra. I don’t know how you draw up a play for Udonis Haslem when you have two of the most lethal scorers in the world. What’s even more troubling is that Spoelstra did nothing to improve his stock in Game 5. If anything he’s made himself out to be even more of the scapegoat should the Heat do the unthinkable and blow this series after an early 2-0 lead.

Chris Bosh must play 25-30 minutes at a minimum if the Heat are to have any chance. Garnett is destroying Miami offensively and he has utilized the lack of inside scoring by the Heat to coast defensively this entire series. Bosh changes all of that and forces the future Hall of Famer to be active on the defensive end, which will open up more driving opportunities for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

If you watched closely on Tuesday night – especially in the second half – Boston had the paint sealed up tighter than an extra strength zip lock bag. Every shot inside was contested and Miami was forced to settle for jumpers. Wade was visibly tired down the stretch because Boston made everything he did on the offensive end difficult. Several times you could clearly see the Celtics were able to score in transition because Miami guys weren’t getting back. On several occasions James was just standing in the corner with his hands on his knees, looking exhausted.

One of the keys to an effective offensive attack is movement, especially for Wade and James. The biggest difference in the Heat offensive attack this season has been the two stars’ improved ability to move without the basketball.

Part of setting up the team to succeed is putting the right players in the game at the right time. Joel Anthony has to be utilized at least for a couple of minutes. He can give the Heat energy off the bench and bringing in fresh guys to battle KG may be the only way to contain the ‘Big Ticket.’

The James Jones experiment has failed. There were two or three plays in Game 5 that made me wonder if this guy has an ounce of athletic ability in his body. I counted at least three plays where Jones’ blunders led to Boston points. He’s in the game for instant offense and he hasn’t been producing enough to warrant any playing time.

Get back to fundamentals

I know it sounds cliché and it is, but everything was rushed in Game 5. Miami’s passing has to be crisper, it has to get after loose balls, and it has to pick up the defensive intensity.

When this team is playing their best basketball they’re turning defense into offense. It’s easy to apply yourself on defense and it can galvanize the entire unit on the floor. It happened with Boston in Game 5. The way it hamstrung Miami throughout the game helped get them going offensively when most of the guys in green struggled throughout the game.

Miami has to start communicating out there and lose this whole lethargic body language that has been present throughout these playoffs. At times I’m wondering if a number of Heat players aren’t bored or something.

If that’s the case, Thursday night should provide the perfect wake up call.

The stars must shine

Everything – right or wrong – is on the line for LeBron James. If this team falls short of making the Finals in its second year the floodgates are really going to open up on James, and I wonder if he’ll be able to swim in those waters.

This is the time when the great players get the most out of their teammates and somehow find the collective will to win that’s been so obviously lacking for this Heat team.

The interesting storyline in all of this is how well James has played this postseason. It’s been one of the most staggering statistical onslaughts in memory and he has looked just straight unstoppable for most of these playoffs. He’s doing everything too. He’s setting up teammates, rebounding the ball, playing suffocating defense – but if the Heat lose before they’re able to win two in a row, it will all be for nothing.

That’s the world LeBron lives in and it’s one he helped create. He’s said that every decision and motivation throughout his career has been because of his desire to win. If that’s the case he can’t wait any longer to let his teammates know exactly where everything stands. He needs to remind them why they’re all there. Who they are and what they need to do in these next two games.

Many believe James isn’t capable of this sort of leadership, and maybe he isn’t. But one thing is for sure, Miami’s playoff hopes rest on his shoulders and if he can’t inspire 11 other men to help him pull off a miracle, it’ll be another summer full of questions, and I know one thing for sure: Pat Riley is going to want some answers.

LeBron James Steps Up For Miami

The knock on LeBron James so far during his NBA career has been that he wilts under pressure.

Too much of a spotlight in Cleveland? Bolt to South Beach to play with two of his buddies from the Olympics.

Too much attention during the fourth quarter of playoff games last season? Defer to his teammates and become a distributor instead of a lethal scorer.

But, with Chris Bosh out of action on Sunday due to an injury and Dwyane Wade playing through an injury of his own, James took the opportunity to put his stamp on Game 4.

Miami struggled to start the game and James scored his teams first points with an emphatic dunk. Indiana coasted to a 25-18 lead to end the first quarter, but King James did anything but coast. He went 4-9 from the field for a team-high nine points.

Throw in James’ three dimes in the opening quarter and his fingerprints were on seven of Miami’s first nine field goals.

When James wasn’t active looking for his shot, he was grabbing rebounds with one hand while holding off an Indiana defender with his other arm.

James finished the first half scoring 19 of Miami’s 46 points while going an efficient 8-14 from the field. His well-balanced game also included five rebounds and four assists.

What was impressive was James’ determination to attack Indian’s defense and either get easy points in the paint or draw fouls. In the second quarter James six of his seven shots came in the paint. This was just an extension of the first quarter where James was attacking the rim and attempted eight of his ten field goals in the paint.

James left the court at halftime with his shoulders dropping and a bewildered look on his face, almost asking, “What else can I do?”

Instead of forcing things in the third quarter or giving up in resignation, James allowed Wade to get some easy looks which got his teammates into a groove. Wade started the third quarter 3-3 from the field with all of those looks at the rim.

James, however, wasn’t a ghost during this stretch. He went 2-3 from the field and continued to be aggressive while helping Wade get into a groove.

Indiana called a timeout in an attempt to stop the bleeding and James answered with an emphatic dunk to pull Miami to within two points. On Miami’s next possession he attacked the rim and forced David West into fouling him and he made both free throws to tie the game at 61.

The play of Wade and James was huge in a 17-2 run that allowed Miami to secure a 68-63 advantage. James and Wade combined to score 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting in the third quarter.  This capped a run that started during the second quarter during which the duo combined 38 straight points for Miami.

Miami’s strong play culminated in a 30-16 advantage during the third quarter which helped move the heat from a seven point deficit at halftime to a six point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Just when Indiana appeared to be making a run in the fourth quarter, James dunked a miss by Anthony that hushed the crowd. This pushed Miami’s lead back to five and Indiana wouldn’t be able to get any closer the remainder of the game.

One of the main reasons why Indiana wasn’t able to make a run to get back in the game is because West and Roy Hibbert spent most of the second half on the bench in foul trouble. This was in large part due to James attacking the defense and taking the contact on drives to the bucket.

In short, James was focused on getting Miami the win they would need to even this series at two games a piece. His stat line of 40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks was nothing short of flawless.

It’s a shame that a large group of fans and members of the media will turn a blind eye to James being the reason why Miami was able to snatch a win from the jaws of defeat.

A Look At The MVP Candidates

Now that this compressed NBA season commenced, there are a plethora of players that deserve the regular season MVP. Theoretically, an MVP is defined as a player who has the most importance to his respective team. Players like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose can all win it this year, but just like the tag line to previous NBA playoffs has been, there can be only one.

Lebron James – Miami Heat

Based on his Player Efficiency Rating, he is having the best single season in NBA history. His season averages are 27. 1 PPG, 7.90 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and just under 1 block per game. His stats are not the biggest or best ever seen, but his efficiency is on course to be the best of any NBA player in any single season in history.

To put this in perspective, Wilt Chamberlain averaged a career high of 31.84 PER in the1962-63 season. Michael Jordan reached 31.8 in the 1987-88 season. Lebron is currently at 32.4 PER, and is well on track to surpassing probably the consensus top two players to ever play in the NBA.

To make this more unique, with the help of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, he has helped the Heat clinch the second best record in the Eastern Conference. On offense, James can post like a power forward on one possession and then handle the ball like a point guard on the next possession. On defense, he can guard four positions: the point guard, shooting guard, and both forward positions.  

These qualities are enough for Lebron to become a three-time MVP, but when he joined forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, two of the top-10 players at their positions, he automatically disqualified himself from the MVP discussion.

Kevin Durant –  OKC Thunder

Kevin Durant is one of the fastest rising Superstars in the NBA, and is on the cusp of becoming one of the greatest players of his generation. Durant, along with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, has turned the small market OKC Thunder into one of the hottest teams on the planet; and possibly the first dynasty of the 2010’s.

Durant has led the OKC Thunder to the second best record in the Western Conference with a 47-19 record. His season averages are 28.03 points, 7.98 rebounds, 3.50 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game.

This season, Kevin Durant averaged a career high, in rebounds, assists, and blocks. He is also the first three time scoring champion. This season, Durant has had grueling duels with fellow MVP candidate, Kobe Byrant .  These scoring duels have been reminiscent of Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins, or Isaiah Thomas and Bernard King.

One devalued aspect of Kevin Durant’s 2012 campaign is his ability to share the limelight and the shots with his All-Star teammate, Russell Westbrook. Throw in Durant’s bewildering ability to deliver in the clutch, something James has yet to do, all of these components make a very strong case for Durant to win this year’s MVP.

Chris Paul –  LA Clippers

Chris Paul is one of the top Point Guards in the NBA. This season’s turnaround in Clipper land is reminiscent of the impact Jason Kidd had on the Nets in the 2001-2002 season. Although the Clippers are seen as the JV team in LA, the gap has been considerably closed between Clippers fans and Lakers fans for basketball superiority in LA.

Since Paul’s arrival in the offseason, he has changed the culture of the Clippers from a perennial looser into a contender. 

Paul’s season averages are 19.8 points, 3.55 rebounds, 9.05 assists, and 2.5 steals; and his 26.82 Player Efficiency Rating is only second to Lebron James.  Paul’s contributions have been brilliant and his ball distribution has taken his teammates from marginal players to above average players.

For a guy who only stands 6-feet tall, he makes an impact on the defensive end of the ball as one of the league leaders in steals. His well-rounded game separates himself from past MVP’s at the point guard position, such as Steve Nash and Allen Iverson.

Kevin Love – Minnesota Timberwolves

What’s love got to do with it? Believe it or not, Kevin Love is making a strong case for MVP.

His improved play has given him the label as the best power forward in the league. He is putting up numbers not seen since the days of Moses Malone. When you look at his season averages you would think they came straight out of a video game. His season averages are 26.04 PPG and 13.36 rebounds. 26.06 PPG is a career high for Kevin Love; some season stand out games include a 42-point, 10-rebound game against the Spurs, and a 51-point game against the OKC Thunder. 

One of the factors that will affect Kevin Love’s MVP status in a negative way is his team record, as they are not in the playoff hunt. They made tremendous strides to improve their overall team record. For a franchise that has been dead in the water since they traded Kevin Garnett in 2007, they are on their way back to relevancy in the NBA due to the stellar play of Kevin Love.

Derrick Rose -  Chicago Bulls

The defending NBA MVP is having an impactful season just as he had last season. The Chicago Bulls are the number one team in the Eastern Conference for two consecutive years and this season Rose averaged 21.8 PPG, 7.87 assists, and 3.36 rebounds per game. His points are down by 3.16 from last season and he has played in fewer games this season due to injury but his impact on the team remains the same.  He is the team scoring and emotional leader, and without Rose, the Bulls are just a middle-of-the-road team.

Lamentably, there can be only one winner for this prestigious award. Only the truly great, and impact players have won this award.  For players to justify winning this award, they have to take their teams and level of play to a higher plateau, and most importantly win games.

As the late Al Davis famously said, “Just win, baby. Just win”.