LeBron's Legacy Aloft

by Jeff Fogle 27. May 2011 00:19

A trey from LeBron James with 2:06 left cut the Miami Heat's Game Five deficit to 77-72. A trey with 1:00 left knotted the score at 79. A 21-foot jumper with 0:29 put Miami on top of the Chicago Bulls for the first time since the first quarter. Moments later, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were taking their talents back to South Beach...ready to host Game One of the NBA Championships...

Nobody's talking about quitting on Cleveland. Nobody's talking about an inability to make big shots when everything is on the line. Nobody's even talking any more about Derrick Rose being the more valuable player. The question now is...will LeBron win his first championship this year, as he tries to take the first huge step in chasing down the legendary Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever.

We'll talk more about that over the next two weeks. First things first...

2-point pct: Miami 39%, Chicago 37%
3-pointers: Miami 6/15, Chicago 7/21
Free Throws: Miami 25/33, Chicago 15/21
Turnovers: Miami 15, Chicago 10
1's and 2's: Miami 65, Chicago 59

Given the dramatic rally from a dozen down with under four minutes to go, the most obvious comparison is to Dallas/Oklahoma City in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals.

*Both games saw the ROAD team rally to beat the home team(!).

*Dallas went on a 17-2 run to finish regulation, Miami on a 19-4 run.

*Both games saw the home team continue to make miscues and misfires because an inexperienced point guard didn't know what to do againt a brick wall defense set up to disrupt his plans.

*Both games saw superstars lead their team back with clutch bucket after clutch bucket. We have to throw Dwyane Wade into that mix as well. Wade caught fire after a few-game walkabout that looks to be related to an injury the Heat won't discuss. D-Wade had a huge 4-point play that knocked the breath out of Bulls nation. That's the breath they couldn't find when they needed a last gasp.

*And, obviously, both games were won by teams who will be now be battling in the NBA Championships that begin Tuesday in Miami.

Let's wrap up the threads we've been monitoring throughout the Miami-Chicago matchup, starting with Miami shutting down Derrick Rose because it turned out to be most important theme of the series...

Rose This Series:
Game One: 10 of 22 for 28 points (Chicago's win)
Game Two: 7 of 23 for 21 points
Game Three: 8 of 19 for 20 points
Game Four: 8 of 26 for 23 points in regulation
Game Five: 9 of 28 for 25 points

Before Game Four, Rose talked about getting more aggressive. That just led to more missed shots and more turnovers. He was 32 of 96 in regulation in the Bulls' four losses, exactly 33% from the field.

Tonight's clampdown inside the arc vs. Rose and his cohorts was the most restrictive yet.

Chicago Scoring on 1's and 2's:
Game One: 73 points
Game Two: 66 points
Game Three: 70 points
Game Four: 72 points in regulation
Game Five: 59 points

When Chicago led by 12 with just under four minutes to go, I was planning to write up some notes on how they "bounced back" to get a win despite not doing anything better on offense. They were still struggling. They just happened to be holding Miami to a very low total. A recurring lesson, don't plan your lead paragraph until the game is actually over! Not even late double digit leads are safe in the 2011 playoffs. Especially if your offense can't break 85 points.

Another theme was going to be about how Chicago had continued to hold its own against the James/Wade combo with Rose and Luol Deng even though Rose wasn't playing to regular season levels. That was until the 17-3 finish for the tag team champs.

Big Two:
James and Wade: 49 points
Rose and Deng: 43 points

Big Three:
James, Wade, and Bosh: 69 points
Rose, Deng, and Boozer: 48 points

Carlos Boozer disappeared tonight, scoring just five points on 1 of 6 shooting in 26 minutes.

As we saw in Dallas-Oklahoma City, this was a 4-1 series that was much more evenly matched than a five-game elimination would suggest. Chicago was in position to win Game Four on two late possessions, then needed an epic offensive meltdown here to blow a late lead in Game Five. Both series losers were a few plays away from being up 3-2. Experience matters. Having a real plan of attack matters late in close games. I'm still not that fond of asking LeBron to make guarded treys over and over again. But, they keep falling so who's to argue? (Me, the next time it fails!). Ultimately, BOTH Dallas and Miami aren't playing quite as well as 4-1 would suggest, so it cancels out.

I'm planning to have an expanded preview up Monday night just before the Finals start. For now, let's match what we did last night and make a list of what Miami is doing well at the moment.

*Defense inside the arc has been stellar. James and Wade were already known for their defense, as was this team as a whole. The return of Udonis Haslem made the brick wall even tougher to deal with. On two's through the series, Chicago shot 42%, 40%, 42%, 46%, and 37%.

*Defense outside the arc was great after the first game. Chicago won the opener with a big boost from a 10 of 21 performance on treys. Miami didn't let that happen again, and Chicago didn't win again. In the last four games, Chicago was 3/20, 5/12, 6/24, and 7/21 on treys. That's a combined 21 of 77 from long range for just 27%. The two-point equivalent is 40.9%...even worse than the norms from inside the arc.

*And, Miami wasn't sending Chicago to the free throw line! That's all there is...1's, 2's, and 3's. The Bulls only made 17, 16, 16, 17, and 15 free throws in order over the five games. Miami was attacking the basket more succesfully. It paid off with a line of 15, 18, 25, 32, and 25 makes.

You heard the Heat players emphasizing defense in their interviews. This is what they were talking about. This wasn't a series where they had to sacrifice one thing to focus on something else. They had all the relevant bases covered because Chicago didn't have enough weaponry to spread everyone out. That will change in the Finals.

*Chris Bosh became a more consistent big game scoring threat. There were doubts in some circles that he would thrive under the playoff spotlight. In an awkward, sluggish series known for long dry spells, Bosh's soft touch was a sight for sore eyes. It's easy to overlook the fact that Bosh scored 30 of the team's 82 points in the series opener, 34 of the team's 96 points in their home opener, and 20 of 83 points in tonight's clincher. He averaged 23.2 per game for a team that was only averaging 89.4 per game.

Enjoy the weekend. Back with you Monday night with an expanded look at the NBA Championships featuring the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat...

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Miami Ends Telethon

by Jeff Fogle 11. March 2011 00:51

It wasn't pretty. But, the Miami Heat ended their recent slide with an important 94-88 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers thanks to improved play from their bench and four crunch time baskets from Dwyane Wade.

Frankly, it's kind of hard to divvy up credit for the victory. If you watched the game, you know that Wade took over in the final five minutes. Among the highlights...

80-all tie with 5:30 left
4:56: Wade makes driving layup
4:26: Wade makes driving layup
2:54: Wade grabs offensive rebound off his own miss
2:49: Wade makes short basket off LeBron assist
1:29: Wade steals ball from Kobe, feeds LeBron for dunk
0:46: Wade makes driving layup
0:00: Group hug
-2:00: Wade talks to Craig Sager about dominant finish, hoping bright sport jacket doesn't trigger migraine

That's having a presence!

If you didn't watch the game, and checked the boxscore afterward. You saw this:

Miami Starters' Plus/Minus
LeBron James: +8
Dwyane Wade: -2
Chris Bosh: -2
Mario Chalmers: -9
Erick Dampier -10

Miami Bench's Plus/Minus
Zydrunas Ilgauskas: +16
Mike Miller: +12
Mike Bibby: +9
Juwan Howard: +8

So, YOU write the lead! Wade certainly owned the final five minutes. Numerically, that was making up for a bad game where he had helped dig a hole.

Before the crunch time stretch, Wade was only 5 of 18 from the field. Ironically, that strong finish helped cinch the "Miami has to get good games from all three musketeers to beat quality opposition" meme for another night. They were on the verge of losing because Wade was taking his turn to slump. He rallied late in dramatic fashion, and the threesome (including Chris Bosh of course) finished 26 of 57 from the floor against a good defense that was in playoff mode.

Highlights from the bench:

*Mike Miller only played 16 minutes, but he was a man possessed for those 16 minutes. Somebody got tired of reading negative press! Miller was 4 of 6 shooting, including 2 of 3 from long range. He had 7 rebounds. Most importantly, you knew he was there!

*Mike Bibby was 2 of 3 on three-pointers at a time when those shots energized the crowd. The Heat still expect more from him. But, you got the sense from watching that he's earning the trust of his teammates as a guy who can hit a bomb on a kickout. Bibby and Miller were 6 of 9 on treys combined. Miami will take that in a heartbeat.

*Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a presence at least for 25 minutes. He's not an impact player at this point in his career. It's hard to explain how a big can productively take up space while only taking five shots and grabbing 3 boards. He had 2 steals. He had a blocked shot. LeBron is very comfortable with him on the floor because of their days together in Cleveland. We can't give Ilgauskas too much credit for the +16 in plus/minus. It's not fair to call him an innocent bystander either.

Causes for concern:

*There was still a good first half followed by a bad second half. Miami had 55 at the break, but only 39 afterward. They won the game, but it wasn't exactly a productive second half in the big picture.

*Late play calling was still about Wade or James trying to create something as opposed to more of the team game critics have been calling for. Wade attacked the basket and scored. Would he do that four times in a best of seven series...three or four rounds in a row...vs. playoff caliber defenses...in front of refs swallowing their whistles? Maybe, maybe not. 

*Chris Bosh is still a liability defensively. He had no steals or blocks despite the Lakers being active in the paint. He suffered four turnovers on offense. The nutshell stats of 24 points and 9 rebounds might make a wire service paragraph. The Heat lost by 2 in his 38 minutes on the floor, and won by 8 in the 10 minutes he sat out. It may be telling that he can have a "bounce back" game without it creating a truly positive impact.  

The telethon may be over for now. Tough opponents are still on the immediate agenda though. Miami hosts Memphis Saturday, San Antonio Monday, and Oklahoma City Wednesday, before a back-to-back next weekend at Atlanta and home vs. Denver.

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Make it 312 Hours Miami Would Like to Forget!

by Jeff Fogle 9. March 2011 00:41

Last year at the 64-game mark, LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers were 49-15. This year, his Miami Heat are 43-21 after dropping their fifth straight and sixth of seven in a 105-96 loss to the Portland Trailblazers.

The win was over a very poor Washington team, so it's basically six straight losses in games that matter. We've documented many of their big game woes on these very pages. Worth noting in Tuesday's loss:

*Chris Bosh had another poor outing (3-11 shooting, 4 rebounds, 0 assists, in 40 minutes). Once again, it takes big games from ALL THREE musketeers to beat a top opponent. Critics of Bosh as a "stat accumulator" with a poor Toronto team are being vindicated more often than not now that he's failing to shine under the spotlight. 

*James and Dwyane Wade had fantastic offensive games (38 points for Wade on 13-21 shooting, and 31 points for James on 14-20 shooting). So, it's hard to say they're showing signs of wear and tear from carrying such a heavy load. But, it's a bit easier to see the impact on defense. Miami allowed 105 points tonight in a slow game (fewer than 90 possessions). If you watched the telecast on the NBA Network, or the highlight package, you know that James, Wade, and seemingly EVERYBODY were constantly a step slow on Portland's cuts to the basket, or when trying to get a hand in the face of a three-point shooter.

Portland was:
7 of 17 on treys, and 41% converts to 62% as a two-point equivalent
33 of 62 on deuces, which is 53%

The Blazers only suffered 9 turnovers too, and had 12 offensive rebounds for a strong offensive rebound rate of 32.4.

*Miami had another poor second half. Though, this time it didn't come after a good first half! When the game is on the line vs. quality, the Heat just don't have a response beyond hoping James or Wade makes every shot down the stretch.

*Mike Miller continues to be a non-entity. He was 1-7 from the field. Coach Erik Spoelstra said during the post-game press conference that Miller was "gassed." That was in only 24 minutes of action.

*The center position may be devolving into a black hole. Erick Dampier played only 13 minutes Tuesday. Zydrunas Ilgauskas played only three.

*Newly acquired point guard Mike Bibby has yet to have much of an impact. He was 2-4 on treys tonight, but had 0 assists in 21 minutes. He also committed 3 fouls while not defending particularly well.

*Another trend that continued tonight involved the plus/minus for James and Wade. Even though both had great offensive numbers...

James: -2 in plus/minus
Wade: -12 in plus/minus

They're often on the floor at the same time of course. This was a 9-point full game loss. The team was better with James on the floor but Wade off it, then worse with Wade on the floor and James off it.

Plus/Minus in Miami's six recent losses vs. quality teams:
at Chicago: James +3, Wade -4
vs. New York: James -3, Wade even
vs.Orlando: James even, Wade -9
at San Antonio: James -16, Wade -24
vs. Chicago: James -4, Wade -2
vs. Portland: James -2, Wade -12

Total: James -22, Wade -51

There's some debate about who the more important player is. In these recent key games vs. quality, Wade is taking the worst of it. It's a small sample size though, and could also be related to other subsitutions. Interesting that Wade could have a monster game offensively Tuesday yet still be -12 in plus/minus. Maybe the defense really suffers when James is resting.

Bottom line in terms of the Portland game...this wasn't a loss to one of the two best teams in the East...or the best team in the West when you're on night two of a back-to-back...or a case of the other team shooting way over their heads on treys. In what may have been their biggest gut-check game of the season given the media explosion regarding locker room tears, Miami...at home...led for only 3 minutes against the fifth best team in the West, who was playing on night two of a back-to-back themselves. THIS is the game you cry after!

The 12-game gauntlet continues Thursday night at home against the suddenly surging LA Lakers, who will be looking to avenge a Chrismtas Day loss.

Transition Points

*Time to reverse "Flunking Artest" to "Passing Artest," as the recent Lakers hot streak since the All-Star Break corresponds to increased impact from mercurial Ron Artest.

That headline ran the night of the Lakers embarrasing loss in Cleveland, when Artest took one shot in 18 minutes and was otherwise invisible. That non-performance finished off a 16-51 shooting spell before the All-Star Break that saw Artest's minutes trending downward because of reported "frustrations" the team was having with him on both sides of the court.

Since the Break, he's 22-45 on two-point shots for 49%, and 8-26 on treys which equates to 46% as a two-point equivalent. He's been defending with a passion. The Lakers are 8-0, with wins over San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Portland, and Atlanta (twice).

It's probably overdramatizing it to say "as Artest goes, so go the Lakers." But, they do look a lot more like champions when he's on the floor wreaking havoc. They've certainly been playing like champions since the ASB.

*Indiana has become the latest example of "running all the time wears out your own defense."

There was an initial surge of excitement when Frank Vogel took over for the Pacers. But, the team has now lost 8 of its last 11 with a 110-100 setback at home against the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night.

Indiana's defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) was near 102.0 for the season before that bad stretch. It's been around 106 during the fade. That's basically the difference between a top third defense and a bottom third defense.

Pace factors in the 10 games prior to tonight: 101-96-112-94-93-107-100-103-99-104.

Indiana is 27-36 for the season, but still holds onto the 8th playoff spot in the East because Charlotte traded key talent at the deadline to focus on the future rather than the present.

If Indiana continues this recent downward trend...the difference between the #1 seed and the next two in the Eastern brackets will be even greater. Seeds #6 and #7 (New York and Philadelphia) are playing some of their best ball of the whole season. Seeds #2 and #3 will have to beat them just for the right to play each other...THEN face the #1 seed barring upsets.

*Maybe Houston can go on the same list. After playing to 98-100-98 possessions vs. the Clippers, Pacers, and Kings, Houston had a dismal defensive effort Tuesday in a 113-110 loss at Phoenix.

14-19 for Hakim Warrick of the Suns
13-17 for Vince Carter of the Suns
37-54 for all Suns starters (69%)

Phoenix now holds a two game lead over Houston in the playoff race. And, neither is in the playoffs yet! Phoenix sits in the #9 spot out West, 1.5 games behind Memphis. Houston is in 11th spot, but will have six additional home games the rest of the way (11 at home, just 5 on the road from this point forward).

*Big games Wednesday include Oklahoma City/Philadelphia, Dallas/New Orleans, and New York/Memphis. Back before midnight with numbers and notes...

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Keys to the Loss: Heat vs Celtics

by 27. October 2010 11:24

While the Miami Heat managed to make the final score a respectable 80-88 against the Boston Celtics in their opening night matchup, the game was not very competitive for most of the night, with the Heat playing far below the expectations many set for them. The Heat finished the game with just an 87.9 Offensive Efficiency, and the offensive problems were far more severe than a problem of mere chemistry or unfamiliarity. Here are some of the key themes to why things went so wrong:

Link to Advanced Box Score

The Problem with Joel Anthony

Joel Anthony is a solid rotation player in the NBA, a great athlete capable of making contributions on defense and the boards, and theoretically he is exactly the kind of hustle player you’d expect to fit in well with a trio of All-Stars. This isn’t your every day trio of All-Stars, however, and there are a few reasons why he is not such an ideal fit.

From an offensive perspective, all of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade are players who operate predominantly inside the three-point line, all being players who get to the rim very frequently. Because of this, putting a player with Joel Anthony’s lack of perimeter game on the floor with them can make things very crowded, severely hurting floor spacing and allowing top-tier defensive teams like the Celtics the ability to seriously take advantage of aggressive help defense. It also clogs up the pick-and-roll game, as it allows the opposition to double hard off Anthony onto the ball-handler, while Anthony isn’t much of a threat to do anything if he receives the pass.

From a defensive perspective, you’d think Anthony’s abilities would be a big-time help to a trio of stars, many of whom don’t have a reputation for applying themselves equally on both sides of the ball, but again, these are not your typical All-Stars, as all of them are well above average, if not elite, defenders in this league. While the roster is largely different, it’s important to remember that the Heat actually ranked third in the league in Defensive Efficiency last year, and their coach clearly knows what he’s doing on this end of the floor. Combine all of those things together and Anthony’s contributions here are largely negligible, a big problem when his presence on offense can throw such a wrench into everything.

We Want Z!

On the contrary to Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a player who has the perfect offensive skill-set to complement the big three, being a highly intelligent player with the perimeter jumper and passing game to really open things up for the team. It’s no surprise that Ilgauskas posted a +17 +/- on the night in just 11 minutes (while everyone other than James was in the negative on the game), playing almost all of those minutes in the third quarter alongside James, where the Heat outscored the Celtics 27-18.

Ilgauskas’ benefits to the offense are multi-fold, first in terms of general floor spacing by being a potent catch-and-shoot option with three-point range and second by being the best pick-and-pop big man on the team outside of Bosh, a critical skill to have when playing alongside Wade and James.  Beyond that, it’s readily apparent he puts James a lot more at ease when they’re playing together, something the Heat really need from their primary ball-handler and scorer.

Defensively, Ilgauskas is underrated as a positional defender, though he clearly is a liability in the pick-and-roll game at this point of his career. Still, with three players who have the elite size, length, and athleticism like the Heat’s do, this is something that can be covered up, especially relative to the problems Joel Anthony brings on the offensive end. As strange as it sounds, the Heat’s role players around the big three are better served helping on offense than defense when you consider the coach’s strong points and the elite abilities of their stars.

Mis-Utilization of Chris Bosh

Chris Bosh had a terrible game offensively, largely in part to excellent team defense by the Celtics, excellent individual defense by Kevin Garnett, and very poor play by himself, but seeing where he was getting the ball in Miami’s offense is extremely concerning, especially considering what the Raptors’ offense was able to do for him.

Despite Steve Kerr’s repeated cries during the broadcast that Chris Bosh can’t post up, Bosh is actually one of the best post-up players in the entire NBA, ranking in the 90th percentile in post efficiency according to Synergy last season, scoring 1.09 PPP on a ridiculous 549 possessions in 70 games played. Only seven players in the entire NBA posted up for more possessions than Bosh last year (despite Bosh missing 12 games), and the closest to him in efficiency was Tim Duncan at 1.04 PPP!

So what went wrong against the Celtics? For one, nearly all of Bosh’s post-up opportunities saw him catching the ball 10 feet or more away from the basket, while the help defense the Celtics sent off Joel Anthony certainly didn’t help matters either. Pairing Bosh with a more threatening big man and using more off ball action in terms of screens and movement to free him down low will be critical to the Heat this year, and they’ll need to show a lot more creativity in getting him the ball this way in the future, as there was virtually none of it last night.

The Problem with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James

This may be the most concerning and critical factor of all in the quest for a championship, as even if the Heat sort out their rotation, floor spacing, and utilization of other players, it won’t be enough to save them from errant decision-making from their stars, not in series against the Magic, Celtics, and Lakers.

Too often last night it seemed to be decided with more than half the shot clock remaining that the best option for the Heat was for James or Wade to isolate their man and pull up for a 20-foot contested jumper, which worked about as well as you’d expect it to work. Having players with elite shot creating abilities like this is a massive luxury when the shot clock is running down or your team is down and you need someone to take over, both of which we saw on many occasions last night. But on the other hand, it is very much a double-edged sword if you allow it to bog down your normal halfcourt offense, and this it will be very important for James and Wade to tone down these tendencies, if not for the regular season (where they can get away with it against 75% of the league) then for inevitable postseason matchups against other elite teams. 

The other question here is will Erik Spoelstra have the willingness to really come down hard on his stars when they derail the offense (and likewise will the stars have the respect for him to listen). The silver lining here is all three of the Heat’s stars are highly competitive and want to win, plus with expectations so high they shouldn’t be content with letting things go sour for too long. Still, Pat Riley is obviously lurking in the wings, and the more performances we see like last night’s, the more the public will speculate about Riley descending from the front office to the sidelines once again.

Looking Forward

It’s easy to overreact about things based on one game, and the fact that the Heat only lost by eight and were within one possession with a minute to go last night despite playing so poorly puts in perspective how dangerous this team can be when they get things in full gear. Still, many of their problems won’t go away without adjustments, and it will be interesting to see how creative the coaching staff is in making them. The return of Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers to the lineup in the future will certainly help things from a floor spacing perspective, but it’s easy to see the Joel Anthony problem becoming a recurring issue against elite defenses should they keep their frontcourt rotation the same. Luckily for us fans, we only have to wait ‘til Friday’s game against the Magic to see another such match-up, where the Heat will obviously be looking to make a statement given how poorly their debut went against the Celtics.

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