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.

Haslem, Anderson Huge For Miami In Game 3

LeBron James has been dominant in the Eastern Conference Finals and has managed to make life miserable for Paul George and the rest of the Indiana Pacers. The four-time MVP is averaging 29.3, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and a couple of broken hearts during the series and is living up his lofty resume.

Things are so easy for James that he joked after Game 3 that he might start using his right hand to shoot instead of his left.

“I think they might try to take away my left hand in Game 4,” James joked with the media. “So I will shoot it with my right.”

All joking aside, it’s the shooting of Udonis Haslem and Chris Anderson that has been the difference in this series. Sure, Dwyane Wade’s 18 points in Game 3 were big. You can also argue that Chris Bosh sticking three 3-pointers had a big impact on the game due to the spacing it provided James and other players to work with in the paint. But those two players are given big contracts with the expectation of impacting games. Anderson wasn’t even in Miami’s training camp last Fall and Haslem just cracked the starting line-up late in the season.

Roy Hibbert has loomed large for most of this series. He scored a career playoff-high 29 points in Game 2, snagged 10 rebounds and got into the head of James and forced him into two costly turnovers at the end of the game.

The ironic thing is it was Anderson and Haslem who managed to get Hibbert out of Game 3.

Hibbert was doing an odd two-step dance move during most of Game 3 as he struggled to decide if he should stay in the paint where he’s comfortable or follow the man he was guarding out near the 3-point line. Haslem was routinely given open looks from outside the paint and he went 6-6 from the field in the first half. He finished with 17 points while going 8-9 from the field.

The other player Hibbert had to guard at times, Anderson, has now made his last 16 field goal attempts and has made every field goal he has attempted in this series.

“Just [Haslem] hitting those shots really made us have to think on defense, ‘Who do we guard?'” Roy Hibbert confessed after Game 3. “Do we guard the paint or do we have to go out to the shooters in the corner?”

A big reason why things are opening up for Haslem and Anderson is because James is either cutting through the paint or sticking to the perimeter. He’s either dragging another defender with him or he’s giving Hibbert pause on if he should leave the paint to guard his man or stay to possibly help.

“I made a conscious effort to get down in the post tonight, to put pressure on their defense,” James said. “The coaching staff wanted me to be down there tonight, and my teammates allowed me to do that.”

You can count this utilization of James as one of the many brilliant coaching moves that Erik Spoelstra has made so far in this series.

“It was something we wanted to get to just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack,” Spoelstra explained. “We wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. LeBron was very committed and focused not to settle.”

This small tweak allowed Miami to outscore Indiana 56-32 in the paint. It also allowed the Heat to shoot 54.5 percent against a Pacers defense that held opponents to a stingy and league-leading 42% from the field during the regular season.

Miami matched the highest scoring output in a quarter during this season’s playoffs with 34, broke the franchise playoff record for points in a half (70) and fell one point short of tying the third-highest point total in a playoff game in franchise history.

Miami prevented Indiana from playing their brand of smashmouth basketball and instead smashed them in their mouths on their home court.

“I think we have to do a better job of helping Paul [George] out,” Hibbert conceded after the loss. “LeBron (James) can’t get five or six dribbles to get a post move. … We have to make adjustments. He’s obviously a low-post threat, but we have to make adjustments.”

“If you’re not perfect guarding them, they’ll do what they did to us tonight,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel added. “Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverages, they still find a way to make baskets. But we didn’t have a great defensive night.”

The Pacers were hardly perfect in their coverages as they were slow rotating to Haslem, Anderson and Bosh on the perimeter. They also were slow rotating back into the paint when James or other players cut into it.

But, even with that being said, you still have to stick your shots when you’re open. Kudos to Haslem and Anderson for rising to the occasion and making their shots which helped to put Indiana’s defense in a rough spot.

If Miami’s relatively unknown duo of Haslem and Anderson are able to keep their hot shooting going then Miami will be able to advance to the NBA Finals with relative ease.

2012-13 NBA Season Storylines To Watch

With the NBA kicking of this week, it’s the perfect time to take a look at all the key storylines fans will be following this season.

Buckle up, because it looks to be one heck of a season.

No Fuel For LeBron’s Haters
LeBron James was cast as a villain for the majority of the past two NBA seasons after his bold and cocky “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach. However, after winning an NBA Championship and putting on one of the more incredible individual performances in recent memory during the playoffs last spring, it appears the stink from two summers ago is finally off LeBron. He is only 27-years-old and it’s clear he still hasn’t reached his peak as a player. Now what can the haters cling to? Lame jokes about his receding hairline? Here’s to hoping to basketball fans have finally moved past his bad decisions two summers ago and they start to enjoy one of the better talents the game of basketball has ever witnessed.

Ray Allen Against The Celtics
Wow, things got nasty between Ray Allen and the Boston Celtics in a hurry. Within weeks of Allen bolting Beantown for South Beach, the haters came out of the woodwork in a hurry. Kevin Garnett claimed to no longer have Ray Allen’s phone number. Doc Rivers lamented to the Boston media how hurt he was by Allen’s decision. And Celtics fans? Look for them to be loud and passionate in booing Allen when he returns to Boston on January 27, 2013.

Allen, who normally doesn’t talk with the media about drama, gave interviews to a couple Miami outlets this month to clear the air and share his side of the story.

Personally, I find it entertaining how much drama a role player who will only get 20-25 minutes per game is generating.

Will There Be Drama In Los Angeles?
On paper, the Los Angeles Lakers should roll to the NBA Finals. However, as the old adage goes, there’s a reason why they play the games. It will be interesting to see how the egos of Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant mesh. Plus, Steve Nash has been winning the battle against Father Time thanks to the amazing work the Phoenix Suns’ training staff has done with his body. It will be interesting to see how the grizzled vet handles the rigors of an 82-game schedule without the safety blanket of the Suns training staff and with Steve Blake being his backup.

How Will Pacers Handle Expectations?
So far, not so good. Real games haven’t even started and already Danny Granger is complaining about his knee. It was looked at by doctors and they assume he can play through some pain, but Granger is complaining about not being able to gut it out. I’m planning on writing a story this week about how the Pacers are dealing with the burden of expectations after talking with the players and Frank Vogul when they are in Toronto on Wednesday. Stay tuned to Sportsnet for that column later this week.

The Brooklyn Nets Will Fail To Meet Expectations
Speaking of failing to meet expectations, look for the Brooklyn Nets to give the New York tabloids plenty of fodder this season as they will struggle to become one of the elite teams in their own division, let alone the Eastern Conference. Sure, the roster looks splashy with names like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, but who on that roster is known for playing gritty defence? Look for the Nets to get killed off dribble penetration and for their bigs to get posterized on a regular basis. If this Nets team doesn’t figure out a way to play effective defence their season will be a resounding disappointment.

Are The Spurs Too Old?
Last season one of the more comical moments came when Gregg Popovich gave Tim Duncan the night off and the box score said it was because Duncan was old. While funny, the reality is Duncan has played 1,111 regular season NBA games and 190 playoff games. The treads on the tires has to be running pretty low at this point. Throw in the fact the rest of their core – Tony Parker (958) and Manu Ginobili (803) – have played a combined 1,761 games in the NBA on top of busy summers playing for their national teams. It will be interesting to see what Popovich can do to ensure his veteran team is fresh for a deep run in the playoffs. But, if last season is any indication, it just means the team’s younger players will get extended minutes during the regular season to help with their development.

Is The Jeremy Lin Fairy Tale Over?
Jeremy Lin became an instant internet and global hit within the matter of weeks and the New York Knicks weren’t sure he could sustain that so they let him sign with the Houston Rockets this summer. Through his first six preseason games Lin has averaged 30.2 minutes per game but he is shooting 13-46 (28%) from the field. Yuck. Hopefully it’s just a matter of rust and once the games start to count he is able to elevate his game.

Can Chicago Stay Afloat Until Rose Returns?
Derrick Rose is scheduled to return from offseason knee surgery in February, but it’s likely the Bulls season could be toast by then. The Bulls are using a backcourt rotation of Kirk Hinrich, Marco Bellinelli, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Rip Hamilton. Yuck. In my humble opinion, that’s the worst backcourt in the NBA, and the team will struggle mightily until Rose returns.