Tag Archives: Dwyane Wade

Now we can talk “Best Team Ever” – Durant signing unites MVPs for the 2nd time in NBA history (no, the 1st time did not involve Lebron)

The only available precedent says that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry’s Warriors will win the 2017 title – going away.

When I saw the text that said Kevin Durant had made the big decision and was leaving his OKC Thunder to sign with Golden State — the team he couldn’t beat in the Western Conference Finals — my immediate response was two words: “Not Fair”.  As the week progressed and I read and heard the mountain of spin piling up about Durant’s move, it doesn’t strike me any differently. It’s simply not fair competition for two NBA Most Valuable Players — in the prime of their careers — to join forces on an NBA Finals team.

The last and only time this happened, the impact on the psyche of the league was devastating. Most teams rolled over in submission, with the notable exceptions of one team that became the Super Team’s nemesis and another that put up a good fight in the playoffs but still lost their series 4 games to one. It was the only loss the Super Team suffered in the playoffs.

The team in question is the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who after losing in the 1982 NBA Finals were able to bring together free agent center Moses Malone, the Chairman of the Boards, at age 27 the baddest player in the league and the reigning MVP, and Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who had won the MVP one season prior (1981). Until this week’s uniting of Durant, the 2014 MVP, with Stephen Curry, the reigning MVP for two seasons, the Moses and Dr. J pairing was the only time in NBA history that a team had been able to suit up two concurrent MVPs to lay waste to the rest of the league.

The late Malone (who passed away last fall at age 60) in 1982 was the first reigning MVP to leave his team in free agency; Lebron James in 2010 was the second. Though NBA fandom and the media are wired to talk about Lebron (the Lebron context being where the league lived until Durant signed with the Warriors), the similarities between the Lebron signing and the Durant signing don’t go very far. When Lebron joined the Heat, Dwyane Wade was in his prime, had made 1st team All-Pro for the 2nd year in a row, and had been in the running for 2009 MVP (Lebron won that one, too) — but Wade’s Heat were nothing resembling title contenders until Lebron came along. And there’s the rub. The Warriors were within a Kyrie Irving 3-pointer of winning a 2nd title last month. One shot. And now they have Durant.

Indeed, let’s set aside the analytics and graphs and charts and apples to oranges comparisons and take a look at what happened the first time two concurrent MVPs suited up on the same team.

Moses leads the Sixers to the Promised Land

Moses Malone and Dr. J at the outset of the 1982-83 season.

The Sixers in the early 1980s had in many ways adopted the cool intellectualism and quiet intensity of their star, Dr. J. The ball moved freely on offense, the shot selection was smart, the Philly fast break was a work of art featuring the graceful glide of the Doctor in mid-air, and the Sixers took pride in their plus 50% shooting, which in 1982 was 2nd best in the league behind the run-and-gun Denver Nuggets. If Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins had seemed out of place as the Sixers starting center, it’s because he was. Dawkins was traded to New Jersey in the days before the Sixers signed Malone. Moses was the ultimate fit for the team’s biggest needs: Better inside scoring and rebounding, the boards having been the Sixers trouble spot for years. Moses, one of the most prolific rebounders in NBA history, quickly put an end to that problem. He also had the feet of a ballet dancer, as Bucks radio voice Eddie Doucette described them, and a dump truck-full of quick moves around the basket. Erving wisely and tacitly agreed to allow the natural flow of the offense through Malone, and the Sixers quickly found their new chemistry.

Philly won 9 of their first 10 games, then put together win streaks of 14 and 10 games, powering their way to a 50-7 record and a big lead over Larry Bird‘s Celtics in the Atlantic Division, and an even bigger lead over the Central Division champs, the Bucks. When the Sixers record reached 49-7, coach Billy Cunningham began resting his stars, beginning with All-Star, All-Defensive forward Bobby Jones and 33-year-old Dr. J, who sat out ten games during the season. While taking it easy down the stretch, the Sixers went 16-10 to finish 65-17.

At season’s end, with his team healthy and well-rested, Moses laid down his famous “Fo’ Fo’ Fo'” declaration — meaning the Sixers would sweep all three of their playoff series’ and become the only team in NBA history to romp undefeated through the playoffs. Malone wasn’t bragging when he said it, and his team came oh-so-close to accomplishing Fo’ Fo’ Fo. They went 12-1 in the playoffs, the lone loss coming in the East finals to a Milwaukee Bucks team flying high and pushing the pace after sweeping Bird’s Celtics in the semis (and making it look easy).

The Marques Johnson-led Bucks had put up a terrific fight, losing game 1 in overtime and dropping Game 2 in the final minute.  Every game in the series but Game 5 was close, every minute a bitter contest. The Finals against the “Showtime” Lakers were a different story: Moses dominated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in the paint (the Lakers defensive plan relied on Magic dropping down to help on Malone), averaging 26 pts and 18 rebs a game in the series. The Sixers blew the Lakers out in Game 3, the first game played in LA,  and the sweep was on. Fo’ Fi’ Fo’.

Moses won the 1983 MVP, his 3rd in five years, and his 4th rebounding title in 5 years. Moses and Dr. J were named 1st Team All-Pro. Malone, Jones and point guard Maurice Cheeks, one of the great thieves of NBA history (No. 5 all-time steals) were voted 1st Team All-Defense.  Jones won the 6th Man of the Year award. Four Sixers — Moses, the Doctor, Cheeks and shooting guard Andrew Toney — made the 1983 All-Star team. There was no room for Jones, apparently, who had made the All-Star teams of 1981 and ’82.

Did I mention that the Sixers swept the “Showtime” Lakers in the NBA Finals? The Lakers featured four Hall of Famers (Kareem, Magic, Wilkes and McAdoo), all-star guard Norm Nixon and the great defender, Michael Cooper.

Malone shoots over Alton Lister in the 1983 Eastern Conference finals as the Bucks move in to triple-team him.

The 1983 Sixers were declared the best team in history by nearly everyone who saw them play with the exception of Celtics and Lakers fans whose DNA is engineered to deny the glory of others; and, ironically, their coach, who thought his 1967 Sixers team was better and even wrote a book about it (Season of the 76ers,  2002). The Moses – Dr. J – Bobby Jones – Cheeks – Toney five was, for one dominant season, the best five to play together since the days of the battles between Bill Russell‘s Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain‘s Sixers (1966-68).  That homage to the 1960s Glory Days said, the brilliance of the players and the rising fortunes of the league during “the renaissance” of the 1980s — yes, even before Jordan and Barkley — should not be underappreciated. The game had evolved for the better and entered its Golden Age.

The Warriors of today have a lot in common with that Sixer team. No, they don’t have Moses Malone in the prime of his career — but there’s more than enough to suggest that the extreme success of the 1983 Sixers gives NBA fans a pretty good indication of what’s in store for the league in 2016-17. The Warriors, not the champs in Cleveland, are now the team to beat.

The obvious and irresistible parallels

They seem very happy. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Durant and GM Bob Myers. 7/07/2016

Both the 1982 Sixers and the 2016 Warriors made the NBA Finals and lost. In both instances, the losing team was coming off of an intense 7-game struggle in the conference finals, while the winner of the championship series had strolled through their conference playoffs unmolested.

A tired, beat-up Sixers team faced a Lakers team that hadn’t lost a game in the West playoffs and waited an unprecedented 12 days for their opponent (still the record for longest Finals layoff). Like the 2016 Warriors, the 1982 Sixers had barely made it out of their conference playoffs. In the semi-finals they were pushed to six games by a short-handed but star-studded Bucks team. In the conference finals, the Sixers became the first team to win a Game 7 on the parquet floor of Boston Garden.

After beating the Celtics, the 1982 Finals were “anti-climactic”, Dr. J would write in his autobiography years later. In Game 1 the well-rested Lakers played just seven players and stole home court advantage from the Sixers, then ran away with the title in six games. The weary, beaten Sixers were satisfied to have had their revenge in Boston (they lost the 1981 East finals in a Game 7 in the Garden) but knew they had to make a change if Dr. J (and Bobby Jones) were ever going to win the NBA Championship that had eluded him since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Doc was running out of time, and there was an even chance the Bucks or Celtics might prevent the Sixers from reaching the Finals again. Enter Moses Malone.

It can’t be said that the 2016 NBA Finals were anti-climactic for the Warriors, but they were battered and bruised after coming back from a 3 to 1 deficit to beat Durant’s OKC Thunder in a 7-game West finals series. Riding on the energy from that series, the Warriors ran out to a 3-1 series lead against Lebron’s Cavs, which meant they had won six of seven games against the Thunder and Cavs.  A great achievement, but they were running on fumes, and it showed in games 5, 6 and 7, especially in the play of Steph Curry. Lebron James played a Finals for the ages, the Cavs swept the last three games and the title was theirs. Enter Kevin Durant.

The 4 All-Pro starting lineup

Kevin Durant isn’t Moses Malone — he’s not a player on quite that transformative Moses level.  But as some of the spin has spun this week — with an eye toward making a case that competition has not been compromised by Durant’s move — KD’s already historic achievements have been somewhat downplayed.

Durant is just the 4th small forward in the 61-year history of the MVP award to win the award. The other three are Dr. J, Larry Bird and Lebron James.

Durant in 2014 swiped the MVP crown Lebron James had worn for four out of five seasons. Steph Curry won the next two MVPs, so today’s Warriors players have held the crown three straight seasons.

Durant’s career impact and efficiency (BIER) numbers, while not as phenomenal as Bird or Lebron’s, are comparable to Dr. J’s NBA stats, and to the numbers put up by Marques Johnson, the sadly under-recognized forward who led the Bucks against the Sixers in the early 1980s. In this top shelf “box score impact” statistical context, the sixth small forward in league history worth mentioning is 1980s scoring machine Adrian Dantley. There are many others with legendary reputations and Hall of Fame recognition, but they didn’t have the statistical impact, or, (in Kawhi Leonard’s case) haven’t yet played long enough.

Kevin Durant after nine seasons in the NBA is simply one of the best small forwards ever to play the game. KD’s already accomplished Hall of Fame-worthy honors and stats. He’s got an MVP award; and he’s going to Golden State at age 27, in the prime of his career. The irresistible parallel here is that Moses Malone was 27 when he signed with the Sixers.

Durant joins Curry, the MVP, and two All-Pro teammates, big forward Draymond Green (2nd Team All-Pro) and shooting guard Klay Thompson (3rd Team). Since the ABA-NBA merger, no team has had three All-Pros in one season, so what Curry, Green and Thompson accomplished last season was unprecedented — and let’s not forget the 73 regular season wins.

Durant was 2nd Team All-Pro last season, behind Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard at forward. Green was the other forward honored on the 2nd Team. Let’s pause there.

3rd Team All-Pro honors didn’t exist until 1989, so for 40 seasons the NBA honored ten guys, which made sense when there were only 8 to 10 teams in the 1950s up through 1967. The NBA merged with the ABA in 1976, so for 31 years (1976-2016), no team has boasted 3 of the first 10 honored All-Pros. The 2016-17 Warriors will be the first.

No, it’s not fair

Lebron, Wade and Chris Bosh were All-Pros in the same year only once – in 2007, when Lebron was in Cleveland, Wade in Miami and Bosh in Toronto. Bosh was never an All-Pro during the Heat’s four-year run.

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were never All-Pros in the same season, though they would have been in 1995 had Jordan played the full season. Rodman was still a San Antonio Spur at that point. The 1996 Bulls, the 72-win team, best team ever?  The dilution of the talent due to expansion and the lack of great competition in the mid-1990s makes it impossible to say. Jordan’s Bulls were undoubtedly the NBC Network’s greatest champion.

Both the Celtics and Sixers started four All-Star players during the Bill RussellWilt Chamberlain battles 1966-1968, but because both teams played in the Eastern Conference, neither team ever got four All-Star spots in a season. Combined, there were five players from “The Great Rivalry” voted to the 1967 All-Pro team.

Bird and Magic.

3rd Team All-Pro honors did not yet exist when the 1980s Super Teams battled for supremacy, so the All-Pro teams are a poor measuring stick for the greatness of the Sixers, Lakers and Celtics teams of the Golden Age. It gets messy. No team had three in one year. Only the Sixers and Lakers had two. From 1983-1986, Larry Bird was the only Celtic to be named All-Pro (he won three MVPs in that time, and the Celtics won two titles).  But the Celtics had four All-Stars who were All-Pro at one time or another, and a former MVP – future Hall of Famer (Bill Walton) coming off the bench in 1986. The “Showtime” Lakers had similar talent — four players who made All-Star teams from 1980 through 1985, and a former MVP – future Hall of Famer (Bob McAdoo) coming off the bench.

And now we’re back to the 1983 Sixers and their four All-Stars, plus 1982 All-Star Bobby Jones, the 1983 6th Man of the Year — the team that swept the Showtime Lakers in the Finals. That’s good enough to settle the Best Team Ever debate, especially in light of Moses’ domination of Kareem and Magic in the Finals, and of the entire NBA that season.

Those Super Teams were loaded with talent almost beyond comprehension in today’s NBA — until this week. The Warriors bringing three current All-Pros together is unprecedented. Now add to the mix 3rd Team All-Pro All-Star and Olympian Klay Thompson, and veteran Sixth Man Andre Iguodala — an All-Star in 2012, All-Defensive in 2014 and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP …

As currently constructed, the Warriors are as close as the Super Teams of the 1980s were to the Sixers five-star team. It’s just not fair to the rest of the league; and It’s very small solace for the opposition that, at age 32, Iguodala’s All-Star days seem to be behind him, or that the Warriors had to let go of all four of their big men to sign Durant. They’ve already replaced two of them, and this seems like a good time to point out that Durant is listed at 6’9″ but is taller than that, and rebounds on the defensive end like the average NBA center.

And here’s the kicker: As we look to the Super Teams of the 1980s for proper perspective and precedent for the 2017 Warriors, we find that there is no record of failure in that precedence — all three of the 1980s Super Teams won the championships they set out to win, with the 1983 Sixers being the team most dominant and decorated, but sometimes forgotten in the shadow of the Magic and Bird story.

No record of failure. It wasn’t fair in 1983 when the Sixers signed Moses to win a title with 33-year-old Dr. J. It’s not fair now. Kevin Durant is just 27 years old, and signed on with the Warriors for two years. Steph Curry is 27. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are 25, and under contract for four and three years respectively. The 1983 Sixers slowed down due to age after winning the title. The 2017 Warriors won’t be slowing down any time soon.

Think about that.  It’s not fair, but enjoy this team while it lasts.

Dwyane Wade is freezing and Ray Allen is shooting

Twitter highlights from the Miami Heat’s visit to Milwaukee for tonights game:

This from Dwyane Wade:

Back in Milwaukee. I can’t believe it’s been 10yrs since my days playing here. WoW..it’s still freezing tho. http://instagr.am/p/T1nNrglCFO/ 

 

And it appears that Heat gunner James Jones is now joining Ray Allen’s pregame shooting rituals.  This cannot be good for the Bucks tonight, or the rest of the NBA.   A tweet from Bucks p.r. …

Ray Allen and James Jones warm up before#MILvMIA @ BMO Harris Bradley Centerhttp://instagr.am/p/T1tbwnDdcf/

 

Shaq retires … for now, and with him goes the good humor he brought to the humorless, post-Jordan days of the NBA

It’s really true, and as a part-time Celtics fan I can’t help but be disappointed.  Shaquille O’Neal, when healthy (which wasn’t often this season) made the Celtics better, more formidable in the paint.

The Celtics were surprised by Shaq’s Twitter announcement and maybe we should be, too.

More than anything, Shaq changed the C’s demeanor.  No more were they the team of Kendrick Perkins‘ scowl and Kevin Garnett‘s gesticulations.  They were big as a Diesel, no doubt about it, and the Diesel delivered on the court — leading the Celtics in defensive impact (a 2.84 ezPM score) while snatching 4.8 rebs per game and scoring 9.2 points per game in just 20 minutes.

And he may return once the league’s labor dispute is settled, when the race for the 2012 playoffs is on — when we most need an old star to tweak Lebron James’ all-business, all-defense, “all-me”-this-ain’t-funny-even-if-we-win, facade.  Shaq’s got some game in him left, and a little Brett Favre in him, too — evidenced by this Twitter announcement during the NBA Finals, moments that belong to Lebron and Dirk, and that’s not a criticism of Favre or Shaq.  Jordan or Bird or Magic might have done something similar.

Shaq’s NBA in the post-Jordan dark days was not as competitive as the current league, and the Lakers three-pete (2000-2002) was often controversial and marred by questionable refereeing — yet Shaq was the face that managed to win over new converts even as so many fouled on it all.

No, Shaq’s era was not filled with the league’s finer moments, and if there were fine moments, those belonged to Jordan or Hakeem or Duncan and Robinson, even Sam Cassell (with the Rockets, Bucks and T-Wolves).  Through it all, however, the largess of Shaq and his steadily improving post game remained the point of departure for many fans.  Like it, be awed by it, shrug it off as freak of nature performance that made NBA hardwoods less than level, even the casual NBA fan had to consider all that was Shaq as he joked his way through press conferences.

Shaq’s Lakers set the NBA mark for best record in the playoffs (15-1) but, due to one of the most crookedly refereed series’ in NBA history (Sixers-Bucks 2001), they never had to face in the Finals the team they couldn’t beat that season:  The Sam Cassell, Glen “Big Dog” Robinson, Ray Allen “Big Three” Bucks coached by George Karl.

The following season, the 2002 seven-game Western conference Final between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings was nearly as crooked as the 2001 Bucks-Sixers series, only more of the public was watching.  The smugness of Kobe Bryant and Lakers coach Phil Jackson emerged as sorry emblems for a league that seemed to have lost its way under the influence of its Emperor Palpatine-like commissioner, David Stern.  They let the big fella down.  So the big fella walked away.

(Edit addition:  In his new book, Shaq Uncut: My Story, Shaq divulges some detail behind his longstanding fued with Kobe. Deadspin has some excerpts.)

Shaq’s rebellion won over many of us NBA fans in flyover midlands country, and as he turned his back on them, he nagged Kobe’s self-centered game, defying Jackson and Stern, foiling the L.A. dynasty.  The  championship he won in 2006 with Dwyane Wade and Alonzo Mourning stands as Shaq’s emphatic signature on a Hall of Fame career — four-time champion, MVP, good teammate, joker, prankster, plentiful tipper of bellhops, barmaids, waitresses and food delivery workers all over America

We the people liked him for it in the end, a difficult and unlikely achievement considering the general bad mood of the casual NBA fan.

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For Bucks fans, Shaq and his Lakers will primarily be a “what if” — an opportunity and great NBA Finals series denied in 2001.  But there is another connection (which was the original intent of this post about a thousand words ago) that involves one of Shaq’s favorite teammates and longtime friend, Bucks coach Scott Skiles; and Skiles’ longtime friend, former Orlando Magic teammate and former Bucks head coach Larry Krystkowiak.

Yes, this is the fight documentary, one of the better NBA practice brawl stories you’ll ever hear, involving two scrappy old-school player wanna-bes and their young superstar.  Yes, the best Shaq stories were told before Twitter and Youtube and Facebook …

The year: 1994

The stage: Magic practice floor on the road in Los Angeles.

Our narrator: Larry Krystkowiak, Magic reserve power forward.

The combatants: A young Shaquille O’Neal, Magic center; Krsytkowiak; Scott Skiles, Magic point guard.

The action: “Haymakers” thrown, Skiles “sorta” in a headlock, wrapped around Shaq, mayhem.

The instigator: Scott Skiles, of course.

The result: One of the wildest NBA practice fights on record, and mutual admiration society between Skiles and Shaq.  Continued friendship between Skiles and Krystkowiak. Shaq and Krystkowiak?  No hard feelings, respect. The Magic went on to win 50 games that season, Shaq’s second in the NBA.

Krystkowiak tells it far better than anybody. Here’s the LINK to Krystkowiak’s account, by ESPN writer Chris Sheridan.

Imagine Krystkowiak’s surprise when, in the 2007-08 season, Bucks power forward Charlie Villanueva backed down from a fight challenge — from Krystkowiak — during a Bucks practice.  The NBA had changed.  Yet it’s a better game today because players like Shaq and Skiles and Krystkowiak simply never bothered to.

Strength of Schedule II: Dwight Howard vs. Andrew Bogut

For three quarters, the Bucks went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat, then folded under a hale of referee whistles and bad offense and generally poor shooting.  The missed Bucks layups that might have made this a game down to the final buzzer had already been missed, five of them in the third quarter when it was still a game and the Heat erased the Bucks 4-point halftime lead.

Andrew Bogut (16 pts, 8 rebs) and John Salmons (18 pts, 6 assists) led the Bucks, but they weren’t good enough, efficient enough offensively and in the end didn’t have enough help to keep up with the Heat.  Wade led all scorers with 34 pts while LeBron and Bosh chipped in a combined 44.  Here’s the box score.

In all, the Bucks put up a fairly decent fight, which ought to make tonight’s matchup with the Orlando Magic all the more interesting, considering that there’s no D-Wade or LeBron on hand to make winning a game an insurmountable task.  The centers — the Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Bucks’ Andrew Bogut are the best players in the building.

They oughta be in any case, which is to say that Bogut’s All-Star qualifications are on trial tonight in Orlando.

Bogut leads the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.8) but has struggled with his offense since missing five games in Nov. and early December with a lower back strain.  How much is the broken hand/mangled arm Bogut suffered at the end of last season affecting him?

He’s 94 out of 185 (50.8%) from the floor in the 14 games since he returned Dec. 4 against the Magic, a game that Howard missed due to a team-wide stomach virus that streaked through Orlando.   Bogut dominated the game with 31 points, setting up tonight’s game as a chance for Howard to erase that glitch on the Magic schedule.  Howard’s 3rd in blocks (2.4 per game) and hauls down 13.2 rebounds a game, which would probably lead the league if Kevin Love’s teammates in Minnesota were more interested in helping him on the glass.

Fifty percent shooting is not bad — but hardly great for a center who rarely strays more than 10 feet from the basket; and his free throw shooting continues to be an indescribable adventure (26 of 63 for 41.3%).  15.3 pts per game is slightly above his average from last season, but the Bucks need more out of Bogut this season, especially now with point guard Brandon Jennings out for another two weeks with a bone fracture in his foot.

Bogut’s had some monstrous rebounding games and has averaged 11.6 per game since the back injury.  The rebounding is always there.  The defense, too.  But right now, the Bucks need more.

Strength of Schedule: The good news for the Bucks is that their strength of schedule continues to go through the roof.  The bad news is that the Knicks beat the Spurs last night in New York, yet another indication that — all hype aside — the Knicks may be tough to catch once the schedules begin to even out.  The Bucks (13-19) fell to six games behind the Knicks (20-14) in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Bucks have easily played the most difficult schedule in the league based on opponent record, with a +1.24 rating.  The Knicks have played a relatively soft schedule (-0.59).  It should be noted that the 23-and-14 Hawks (-1.07) have played the softest schedule in the East.   This stuff bears repeating if only to keep Bucks fans from freaking out about the team’s lousy record.

Bucks release Skinner: There are now more 2010 Bucks (Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute and John Salmons) on Scott Skiles’ available roster than 2001 Los Angeles Clippers (Corey Maggette, Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins).

The Bucks released little used big forward Brian Skinner today, a nod to the fact that coach Skiles wasn’t likely to use him in Orlando tonight and an indication that the plantar fasciitis in Drew Gooden’s left foot has cleared up enough for the Bucks to try once again to integrate him into the rotation.  They might’ve waited a few days, as Skinner’s contract for the remainder of the season didn’t become guaranteed until Monday, but, obviously, no reason to continue practicing with Skinner if he wasn’t going to play or be around next week.

The Bucks signed Skinner after Gooden went down with the foot problem while Andrew Bogut was still recovering from a lower back strain.  Skinner was in the Bucks training camp in September but didn’t make the final roster.

Feeling sorry for the Knicks because … they’re still the Knicks

I’m watching the Heat destroy the Knicks in New York in the second half and find myself feeling sorry for the Knicks.  This game was tied at 59 in the 3rd quarter.  A few minutes later it was a blowout as the Heat clamped down and the Knicks offered little more than token defensive resistance to Lebron, D-Wade, Bosh and Arroyo.  Even Joel Anthony got into the act as the Heat outscored the Knicks 54-32 from the 3rd quarter tie on.

Why feel sorry for Amar’e Stoudemire and his coach, Mike D’Antoni, who came into the game with a 16-10 record, 5th in the East, just a half game behind the 4th place Magic?

Because the Knicks just made it too easy for the Heat — something the Bucks refused to do two weeks ago at the Bradley Center, the last time I saw the Bucks play live.   Where the Bucks clawed at Lebron every time he touched the ball, the Knicks gave him a yard to survey the floor and decide how he was going to make them pay for it.  Where the Bucks scrambled for loose balls, the Knicks lost the 50-50 battles every time.  Where the Bucks made D-Wade fight for his game-leading 25 points, the Knicks let him waltz through their defense unattended.

After one long Knicks miss, Lebron broke out leading a three-on-three break and Chris Bosh cut to the basket, open for an instant but with two Knick defenders in the vicinity.  Lebron held the dribble top right, looked away, paused … and fired a no-look bullet pass to Bosh for a layup.  Bosh hadn’t moved from his spot — yet none of the Knicks near the hoop had bothered to pick him up. (Thinking back, James’ look-away fake seems gracious – he assumed — wrongly — that the Knicks were interested in defending Bosh.)

I felt sorry for the Knicks because, despite their 16-11 record, they’re still hapless and there’s little they’ll be able to do about it.  They can’t win in the East playing the porous, disinterested D that D’Antoni seems to encourage.  Oh, they’ll score alright, especially against the lesser teams.  But the top 5 defensive teams in the NBA are the competition in the East, and they rebound the basketball, too.  The Knicks don’t play D, and they don’t box out well either.

Where the Bucks were able to challenge the Heat and hold Lebron to 14 pts, he disgraced the Knicks with a triple double – 32 pts, 11 rebs and 10 assists and left the Knicks in his wake as though they were the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ patsy.

Where the Bucks are 10-14 and playing the toughest schedule in the league, the Knicks have played a soft one.   Despite their record, the Knicks have a negative SRS number (a complicated thingy that ranks teams success against their schedule).  (After losing in Cleveland on Saturday, the 16-12 Knicks are actually BEHIND the 10-15 Bucks, who took a tough loss to the Jazz at home, in SRS ranking.  The Bucks schedule has been that tough, the Knicks schedule that weak.)

I felt sorry for the Knicks because there no amount of hype can make them more competitive than a slow-starting, injury plagued 10-and-14 team from Milwaukee.  I felt sorry for the Knicks because, despite the Amar’e highlights, they’re still the Knicks and they can’t help it.

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Bogut since his return against the Magic Dec. 419.8 pts – 14.2 rebs – 4 blks – 1 steal – 2.3 assists per game.

Add in the possessions that he turns over by taking charges and the result is a center playing better now than Dwight Howard.  Overall, Bogut leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.1) and has the 3rd-best defensive rating in the league (96.5 pts allowed per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) behind Kevin Garnett and Howard.  That’s the sort of company AB keeps these days.

If Bogut keeps it up and continues hitting 55% of his shots (50 of 89 since tipping it off against the Magic), the Bucks should weather the current scheduling nightmare (and AB’s horrendous free throw shooting) by earning a few tough road wins in the West — and be right on the Bulls’ tails by late January.

The Bulls, it should be noted, won’t have their center for 8-10 weeks.  I don’t, however, feel sorry for the Bulls.  This, I suppose, is just one more reason to feel sorry for the Knicks.

Note: The Knicks on Saturday lost to Cleveland in OT, 109-102, in the kind of game Mo Williams loves — No defense required. Mo led all scorers with 23.  New York fell to 16-12.

All Star Voting: The four Celtics and Dwight Howard blog

I’ll get back to Ray and D-Wade and the Heat … First …

The beleaguered-yet-determined Bucks — what’s left of them — are out west, headed for Denver where who-does-what-now should decide how the lineup shakes up when Bogut is ready to come back to work.   The early returns suggest that Ersan Ilyasova has taken Drew Gooden’s starting power forward job and John Salmons may end up taking a seat soon so that he and the Bucks can figure out what ails him.

The better-than-expected arrival of Chris Douglas-Roberts Saturday and the pending return of Corey Maggette gives the Bucks some options with the Fish, who’s sluggish game thus far has made me miss Charlie Bell.  CD-R in two games has been just what the Bucks have needed — an NBA guard who can hit a shot.   (15 pts per game on excellent 61.1% eff-shooting.)

Ersan Ilyasova in Utah (18 pts on 10 shots, six tough-to-get-in-Utah rebs and three steals) continued to show that when he gets minutes, he produces.  In the 7 games that Ersan has played 25+ minutes, he’s averaging 14.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg, shooting an e-fg rate of 53.2% — that’ll win a few games for the Bucks if he keeps it up. He’s also managed 13 steals, pretty impressive for a power forward.

And no, Ersan’s not riding a six steal game or getting a bump from a 27 pt break-out — he has consistently scored and wreaked havoc on opposing offenses in each of the seven games that Skiles has given him 25+ the minutes.   All evidence suggests that Ersan has recovered from leading Turkey to a silver medal at the 2010 World Championships, and has likewise recovered from the early season benching-by-Skiles that his Turkish heroics earned him back in Milwaukee.

ALL STAR VOTING: This apparent rebooting of the Bucks has given me time to think about the All-Star ballot and mull over what’s been what in the first one-fifth of the season.  Have Lebron and D-Wade really earned a trip to the All-Star game?   Why do the Spurs and Lakers refuse to allow their centers to be listed as centers?   And who’s to stop me from voting four Celtics as the East starters?

On this last question: Nobody.  So I did.  And I probably will again until Lebron James does something truly impressive, like listen to his coach, Erik Spoelstra.  Rajon Rondo is an obvious choice to be the east starter at point guard.  I’ve seen enough Paul Pierce this season to know that he’s still knocking ’em down with clockwork regularity and leading the Celtics in scoring.  Those two selections were easy.

At power forward I would consider voting for Lebron, because the Heat don’t have one now that Udonis Haslem is hurt (note: this wasn’t intended as a knock on Chris Bosh but the word “power” just doesn’t connote the word “Bosh” in my mind.)  And I would consider voting for the Hawks Al Horford if only he were not listed as a center. Anybody who saw Dwight Howard and the Magic pummel the Hawks in four straight in the East semi-finals knows that Al Horford is not a center.  Anybody who watched the Bucks take the Hawks apart earlier this season knows the same — the Hawks don’t let Horford guard Andrew Bogut, instead starting Jason Collins at center against the Bucks.  Horford’s not big enough to tangle with Bogut, Howard, Noah, Lopez, the real centers of the East.

Dwight Howard is the All-Star starter at center, and it’s too bad Bogut hasn’t given Bucks fans a reason to vote for him … yet.  Let’s hope that changes.  Right now, Joakim Noah has the edge to be the backup center to Howard.

That leaves me with Kevin Garnett at power forward.  Sure, he backs away when confronted by guys like Bogut, but he’s still KG — love him, loathe him, he’s at least that — and his Celtics are still the team to beat in the East.  Done.  That’s three Celtics and a maybe for Lebron.  Maybe, but not now.  Did I forget Amar’e Stoudemire?  I forgot Amar””e, though he may be listed as a center, which makes him not only forgettable but irrelevant here.  I seem to have forgotten Chris Bosh, too.  Imagine that.  Bosh has not played like an All-Star in 2010, going back to last season.  (If you watched him in Toronto at the end of last season, you’d have wondered who was leading the Raptors in their bid for the playoffs.)

My shooting guard should be Dwyane Wade, shouldn’t it?  This is usually automatic.  But after two losses to the Celtics in which Ray Allen scored 55 points on him and shot 20 for 36 — see highlight reel above — it’s time to reconsider.  On the season, Ray’s shooting better than any long range gunner has a right to — 56.8% effectively, which takes into account his 44% shooting from Downtown.  Ray’s a weapon, pure and simple.  D-Wade is scoring 21.3 pts per game but it’s been a struggle to get those, and with the weapons the Heat have, his assists shouldn’t be down.  In Atlanta, Joe Jonson has also struggled to be the triple-threat that he was last season.  In Boston, Ray just lets the game come to him.  Easy, nothing but net.

One-fifth of the season done, the Celtics and Magic are leading the East at 12-4.  Punch it in: Four Celtics and Dwight to the 2011 All-Star game.

THE WEST: This is much tougher since I don’t watch the West as much as the East.  But these teams/the NBA (whoever makes the call on the ballot) don’t make it easy to pick a forward, do they?  Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan — two big men who mostly play center — are listed as forwards.  Dirk, West, Carmelo Anthony, what’s the voting fan to do?   At this point in the season, I’m punching in Gasol and New Orleans Bucks-assassin David West but that could change.  Dirk, carrying the Mavs and dropping the occasional 4o — deserve a vote.

The West guards: Kobe, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant … After Deron Williams‘ shredding of the Bucks last night, I went with Deron.  This brought to mind CP3’s expert game management in the Hornets two wins over the Bucks, so I gave the nod to Chris Paul, in recognition that the NBA is a better place with CP3 in it.   I then immediately thought of Kobe’s 30-point game in Milwaukee and how Brandon Roy’s Blazers handed the Bucks arses to them, also in Milwaukee.  Good thing Durant missed his game in Brewtown.  I may have to vote again.

Yao doesn’t need my vote at center, but he’s the only center on the ballot for the West.  There’s Haywood in Dallas, but he doesn’t start.  Tyson Chandler anyone?  Didn’t see him on the ballot.  Yao, even in his part time role, is out indefinitely with a bone spur.  Nene Hilario?

C’mon. Don’t make me vote for Chris Kaman.  At last check, Kaman says he doesn’t want “to be a hindrance” to the young Clippers. The West has not All-Star worthy center on the ballot, so I picked Yao, figuring it was the fair thing to do because he won’t play anyway and that’ll open up a spot for a deserving forward who plays center  — which will then open up a forward spot, which will help ensure that somebody like David West isn’t snubbed.  See how this works — or does it?

I’ll probably have to vote again tomorrow to see how all this settles.

Waiting for those pre-season browwnz to clear

Years ago, in what seems now like another lifetime, I was sitting on the steps of my neighbors porch on Thalia Street in New Orleans, eating a plateful of beans and rice, when my neighbor let out a sigh and looked wistfully at some point of nowhere and away, down toward St. Charles. “What’s the matter,” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know … nothin’ really,” she said, and maybe sighed again (she probably did but, remember, this was so long ago that it may never have happened at all). “I just got a case of the browns.”

I got the feeling she wasn’t talking about the beans and rice. “The browns? What are those?”

“They’re kinda like the blues but, no, not so bad as the blues. They’re, you know, just … the browwnz.”

I haven’t found since better words to describe what the browns are than those: “just … the browwnz.”  The browwnz can be difficult to pin down, I do know that. And I’ve also come to know when I’ve got ’em.

I’ve got em now, thanks to an NBA pre-season that has seemed without end, the Bucks not healthy enough to field their starting roster even once.  The Bucks aren’t healthy yet, 27 hours before their season opener in the very place where the browwnz were identified — New Orleans.  And, no, at last check of the clock, the NBA pre-season hasn’t ended.

The Celtics and Heat tip the 2010-11 season off tonight at 6:35 pm, give or take a minute or two (yes, I’m counting the minutes).  I’m expecting Lebron to find KG, Rondo, Ray and #34 just as smart and clutch-and-grab aggressive as they were in dominating last season’s eastern conference playoffs.  For now, KG is healthy. NBA fans should know by now, after three seasons in Boston, that (sorry D-Wade and Bosh, and Dwight) a healthy KG is the most valuable asset in the conference.

It’s also worth noting that the Celtics have Lebron’s second most valuable Cavs asset, Delonte West, coming off the bench behind Ray Allen (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mr. Cav, being Lebron’s most valuable teammate in Cleveland). The addition of West (loaded guns aside) to play with Ray, Rajon Rondo and Nate “the gnat” Robinson gives the Celtics, hands down, the best guard rotation on the planet.  Inside, KG, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq are more than Bosh and Big Z (and Anthony) can handle, whether the Heat jell or not.   If this game is an early season sneak preview of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, no complaints here, unless the Bucks fail to give one of these top two in the East some playoff hell.

The Bucks and Hornets get going at 7:05 pm Wednesday. Brandon Jennings vs. Chris Paul, CP3 finally healthy after missing half of last season … that’s plenty of fun to watch in a season opener, and Andrew Bogut seems to be doing fine, though he’s not yet in 35-minute playing shape.   John Salmons will play — but beyond that, most everything else to do with the Bucks is open to question, given that the rotation hasn’t played together in a game.  Hence, the browwnz, and a preseason that has seemed without end.

And I know enough about the browwnz to realize that trying to answer those many Bucks questions now is hubris.

We don’t know how or whether Skiles will be able to manage his wing rotation with Fish, Carlos Delfino, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Corey Maggette all vying for PT. (This just in: Chris Douglas-Roberts is reporting on his twitter that he had eye surgery today and can’t play ball for a month.)

We don’t know whether Maggette can play tough enough D to warrant solid PT.  We don’t know whether Drew Gooden, Luc Mbah a Moute (hobbled by an ankle sprain) or Ersan Ilyasova will start at power forward. We don’t whether or not Keyon Dooling will be as effective as Luke Ridnour was backing up Jennings. We’ll have to wait and see.

We do know that this is the first season in ten years that the Bucks will go into the season without Michael Redd in a Bucks uniform.  Redd’s nowhere to be found in Bucks camp, and likely will not join his team on the bench in street clothes while GM John Hammond searches for a deal to unload Redd and his ridiculously absurd $18.3 million contract.

And knowing this with the tip-off of the Bucks season 27 hours away, I can feel those NBA pre-season browwnz beginning to clear away.

Dog DaZe in Milwaukee summer… The Fish has been landed

Is there a more slumbering time to be a basketball junkie than the dog days of summer, when it’s so dam hot you can’t get a game on without melting the soles of your shoes?   Last year I broke the tedium by posting video of stripper babes dancing in a hot tub at a Las Vegas nightclub (the post had something to do with NBA summer league in Vegas) but that was when The Jinx was still on the Journal Sentinel sports server — my dancing stripper babes in their Vegas hot tub had to come down.

This summer, I’m too swamped with various get-rich-in-the-slowest-way-I-can-possibly-come-up-with-next schemes to even blog about “The Decision,” which I didn’t bother watching because ESPN’s basketball coverage tends to be nauseatingly bad no matter what the subject matter is.

Lebron James as prima donna with Michael Wilbon’s nose in his keester for an hour is excruciating to think about, much less envision as watchable TV programming.   But ESPN couldn’t help itself and neither could Lebron.  One would think a guy who shares a hometown with avant-punk marketing geniuses Devo (“Are We Not Men?”) would know better.  Or maybe being from Akron, Ohio, is like, well, being from Akron. (What was I trying to say here?)

Lebron might have saved himself a lot of criticism (and the world would undoubtedly be a better place today) had he simply taken the story to the better basketball broadcaster, TNT, where he could have taken his knocks from the Round Mound, Kenny the Jet, McHale and Weber like any ballplayer should.  It might even have been interesting.

Two things to be thankful for:

1. Lebron’s not a Chicago Bull, good on many levels for the Bucks (who get a more balanced rivalry) and it’s not all bad for the Bulls, either. They’ll have to gut it out Lebron-less with guys like Rose and Noah who are growing into bigtime stars (and headaches) just fine in their own right. Bogut-Jennings vs. Noah-Rose didn’t need Lebron in the mix to distort their emerging rivalry.

2. Now that he’s playing on Dwyane Wade‘s team, The Nickname “The King” will die the mercy killing it deserves.

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Bucks note: A lot of moves by  Bucks GM John Hammond this summer, my favorite one the resigning of guard John Salmons to be Brandon Jennings’ backcourt running mate for the next few years.  Great job by Hammond defining the Bucks needs and the value of Salmons to the team for themselves rather than allowing the market to determine those things.

The Bucks have guaranteed 30-year-old Salmons about $36 million over four years, which is right about what Salmons was worth in light of other starting shooting guard salaries (Ben Gordon’s to name one).

There are plenty of Bucks fans who think four years is far too long-term for a 30-year-old guard, but wait — there’s a fifth year too, which the Bucks can buy out of if Salmons is shot at 35.  Yes, the Bucks wanted The Fish that bad, and they landed him.

Good work by Hammond, enuff said.  I don’t want to think about Corey Maggette just now.  Or Drew Gooden.

And Hammond isn’t finished shaping the 2010-11 roster.  Not yet.

********

What’s this link? … which I found laying around on the site.

“This is no time to quibble about details.

“Outside of the Milwaukee Bucks’ overpowering run to the 1971 NBA championship, the 4-minute finish Wednesday night was, without question, the greatest stretch in franchise history.  Are you kidding?”

That was Journal Sentinel Bucks columnist Michael Hunt writing at the height of Bucks excitement, just moments after Ersan “Bobby Jones” Ilyasova stunned the Hawks by stealing Game 5 right from under their uninspired noses.

Is he kidding?  Apparently not. Where was the Milwaukee daily newspaper’s Bucks columnist during the Nellie years? …

…. When in 1983 the Marques-and-Sidney Milwaukee Bucks swept the Bird-McHale-Parrish Boston Celtics out of the playoffs.

Sure, Game 5 against the Hawks was thrilling.  But the Bucks didn’t win the series. And they were only playing the Hawks.

Sweeping Larry Bird’s Celtics was the unthinkable impossible.  The 1983 Milwaukee Bucks, to this day one of the best teams in NBA history to not win the title, swept Larry Bird’s Celtics. How quickly we forget.

How it is that the Milwaukee daily sports guy has apparently forgotten Nellie and even been dismissive of the Nellie era lately (this isn’t the only recent bout of Nellie forgetfulness by Hunt) is a mystery, one I don’t have time to solve at the moment.   For now, let’s say that the hangover from the Michael Redd era will be with Bucks fans for a while, and it has many strange side-effects.

I’d better get to work on a few more of those fish tie blogs.

Bucks-Hawks Game 5: Brandon Jennings… Hawks frontline shrinking down to size… D-Wade and the Heat… and other playoff notes

THE MAGNIFICENT DAMAGE that Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings inflicted on the Hawks porous D Monday in Game 4 has a lot of people rethinking the Bucks-Hawks series now that it’s tied 2-2.  Jennings’ bout with playoff inexperience (Game 2) is behind him, and the 20-year-old point guard is on the attack, his confidence and aggressiveness growing as the series progresses. The Hawks don’t have a defender who can stay in front of the young Buck.

Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson was asked whether the Hawks needed to make any adjustments. He said no, that his team needed “more energy, more passion and heart. “

In other words, there are no adjustments the Hawks can make for Jennings.  There’s no Kobe Bryant on the roster to assign himself the responsibility, as Kobe did against Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook in their Game 5.  If the task is left to Al Horford and Josh Smith, switching onto Young Buck on high screens, Jennings’ teammates have plenty more unchallenged layups coming their way. If point guard Mike Bibby switches to allow Marvin Williams or Johnson a turn on Jennings, John Salmons and Carlos Delfino have the field days they had Monday (44 pts combined). The Hawks are an average defensive team (15th in the league) with very below average perimeter defenders. At this point, they have no choice but to live with it.

As for heart, passion, energy and determination, Jennings brings it almost every night, and so do most of his teammates. The Bucks were the wrong team for the Hawks to give any kind of foothold to.

The HAWKS are in the NBA news quite a bit today: Rumors have Hawks management planning to lowball Woodson (I think they’re just going to fire him), offer Joe Johnson a max contract and possible sell their first round draft pick for $3 mill.  Peachtree Hoops wonders if the Hawks are still in the playoffs.  Less and less, Hawks fans.

A PET PEEVE: The disparity between the perception of the Hawks’ front court and the reality of the Hawks front court is almost a national phenomenon. Let’s set the record straight and see if anybody’s paying attention:

Josh Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia do not have a size advantage over the Bucks’ Luc Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric. This is plain for the eye to see yet everybody continues to report, write, comment that the Hawks are failing to exploit “a size advantage.”

Horford is an undersized center, and that’s not good enough in the playoffs. At age 23, even journeyman NBA centers are going to be,

1) Bigger and stronger;

2) More skilled in at least a facet or two of the game; and,

3) A lot more experienced.

Andrew Bogut’s two-headed center in relief (Thomas and Gadzuric) are any one (or all) of those three things and it shows. Even Gadzuric, who was hardly active all season, has been around long enough to control the glass and play good D. Gadz has played Horford strong and outplayed Pachulia in his 18 minutes in Game 4 and the first half of the Game 3 blowout.

Smith does give the Hawks some advantages at power forward — experience, upper body strength and ups.  But now that he’s battling Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova instead of Carlos Delfino and Ilyasova, the Bucks have matched Smith up. Let’s be real, NBA faithful — some of that heft Smith is carrying around isn’t muscle, and it shows when he’s up against the quicker Mbah a Moute.  …  “The Prince” and Ersan are both taller than Smith and long-armed, too.  They’ve also outproduced Josh in this series.

Sixth Man of the Year: The Hawks Jamal Crawford won it, but before it was announced Journal Sentinel scribe Tom Enlund asked Crawford what it was like playing for Scott Skiles on the 2003-04 Chicago Bulls.  Let’s just say Enlund left out some important details in this blurb — like Crawford’s nonexistent D and the fact that the Bulls shipped him out of Chi-town after Skiles’ first season.

Crawford is a good shooter and averaged 18 off the bench for the Hawks this season.  He shot well in Game 1 but looked awfully lost on the court in the first playoff series of is career — until  Game 4.  Now that he’s “back to normal” as he put it, it’s probably a good idea to stay at home on him. Luke Ridnour and Brandon Jennings draw the Crawford assignment more often than not.

Hawks Coach Mike Woodson: His contract’s up, the Hawks won’t talk to him about it, and he’ll be gone after the playoffs — the Bucks have assured that.  Vinnie Del Negro’s job in Chicago is probably more secure than Woodson’s, though at this point Woodson probably wouldn’t mind parting ways with the Hawks’ brass.   “Sources say” the Bulls won’t decide on Del Negro’s fate until sometime this weekend, but that was an ESPN story so … wait for the Chicago papers before telling your friends and neighbors or that stranger in the bar stool next to you. The Bulls put up a great fight to get into the playoffs and an even better one against the Cavs. Del Negro doesn’t deserve the axe.

The Miami Heat are impressive.  Overmatched and down 0-3 to the Celtics, Dwyane Wade pulled them to 1-3 on Sunday.  Then in Game 5 Tuesday in Boston, the Heat withstood a textbook Celtics offensive game and were hanging in there, down seven, staying well within D-Wade striking distance. …

I’m a Celtics/Ray Allen fan, not a surprising revelation from a Bucks blogger. And I’ve always liked KG’s game. How quickly so many have forgetten that Garnett was hands down the best player in the NBA circa 2003-05 when Shaq-Kobe malfunctioned in L.A.   The thing I’ve had to get over in following the Celtics is Paul Pierce and the ill will that I had toward the Pierce-Antoine Walker teams of the late 1990’s-2003.  Walker and his sluggish ball-hoggery were the source of those feelings, to be sure, but Pierce bears some responsibility in his role as Walker’s better half.  But I got over it and make it a point to watch the Celtics whenever I can, adopting them as “my team” for the playoffs in the absence of the Bucks in 2008 and ’09.

I can say with fandom authority that the Celtics don’t play much better than they did Tuesday in Game 5, and when the Celtics are good, they’re as good as anybody in the NBA.  Yet the Heat refused to go away until the final 1:30 of the game.  Sure, being led by the 2nd best player in the NBA (sorry Dwight) goes a long way — of course it does. But what’s really impressive is how unifed and indomnable the team behind him is.  At times they even seem like an organic extension of Wade on both ends of the court.  This is a credit to Erik Spoelstra, one of the more underrated coaches in the NBA, and says a lot about Wade as a leader.

The organic effect, visually speaking, is aided by Michael Beasley, such a natural ball player (even when he’s being benched in Game 5), but it comes through in everything the Heat do on the court. Their ball movement and spacing is always good, their shot selection just as good; and Spoelstra has them playing tough, sticky, ball pressure defense that rotates as well as the Top 4 Eastern conference defenses (Charlotte, Orlando, Milwaukee and Boston). In Toronto, Jermaine O’Neal seemed out of place and on his last legs. In Miami he’s a defensive presence, a legitimate and effective center.

The Celtics prevailed 96-86 (24 pts and 5 threes from Ray) and the Heat have “gone fishing,” to quote Kenny and Charles. A retooling is ahead in the offseason with most of the Heat roster in free agency and cap space to land an All-Star.  I don’t see Wade leaving Miami/Spoelstra (neither does he, it seems) nor do I see Heat GM Pat Riley failing to bring in the right big man (Bosh, Boozer, maybe David Lee?). Riley will let others make the Ama’re Stoudemire mistake.

A DIFFERENT BREED (Tyreke Evans not included).  Sekou Smith tracked down Bucks guard John Salmons this week for his “Hang Time” blog at NBA.com. The reason?  Salmons has had the unique experience of sharing backcourts this season with Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings. How are Rose and Jennings able to be so good so young?

“They’re just a different breed,” Salmons concludes. Writer Smith names Jennings, Rose, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in his context.  He’d like to include Rookie of the Year favorite Tyreke Evans in the mix, but it doesn’t sound as though Salmons and Jennings are willing to play ball r.e. the Kings rookie. Here’s what Jennings had to say:

“I think it really depends on the person and how he approaches the games. Kevin Durant is a winner. Derrick Rose is a winner. Of course, I like to win. I’ve been saying that from the first day I got here. Winning is everything to me. So it just depends on the type person you are, the player you are.” — Brandon Jennings.

20-5-5? Don’t get me started about the historical irrelevance of this thing. Five rebounds from the guard position is tough in any day and NBA era and it’s great that Evans has a nose for the ball and a drive for the glass. But as the #1 scorer on the ping-counting Kings, Evans and his team would have been better served in the long run had he focused less on passing and more on his shooting/scoring  That’s what Jerry West did in his first few years in the league, and West didn’t hit the 5 assists mark (per 36) minutes until his 3rd year in the NBA.  He was too busy putting the ball in the hole.  Not to put Evans in the company of West, who played before my time, nor to say that 5 assists is anything to be aimed for … don’t get me started on 20-5-5.

Sactown Royalty has learned that Evans has won Rookie of the Year, which will be annonced later this week.  Jennings has accomplished more this season, leading a team still very much in transition — and making personnel changes on the go — into the playoffs.  It wouldn’t have happened had Jennings cared less about winning.

“Scott Skiles: More than a tough guy.” You gotta love the guys at Celticsblog.com. After the last regular season game, blogger tenaciousT eschewed the usual press conference mumbo jumbo and decided to spend his time in the Bucks locker room interviewing Bucks players about what makes their coach tick.

Scott Skiles, writes tenaciousT, is intriguing because, well, “coaching styles, personalities and results” are intriguing.  TenaciousT is like a lot of Celtics fans who appreciate defense, so he wanted to know how one of the NBA’s top defensive coaches makes it all work.

Tenacious interviews Skiles and the veterans: Kurt Thomas, Charlie Bell, John Salmons and Jerry Stackhouse. There are comments from Skiles on whether his Chicago Bulls “stopped listening” to him.  The comments from Salmons, the fish who saves but can opt out and leave, are worth a read. Most candid was Charlie Bell, tenacious says, and pay no attention to the elephant in the room during his interview with Charlie.

Bango is nuts! This was at Game 4.  What does he have planned for Game 6?

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Bucks making it easy for the Hawks

Bucks coach Scott Skiles was runner up in the coach of the year voting, but right now he's looking for hair to pull out over his Bucks' play against the Hawks.Two games into this playoffs series, just about the last thing I expected to write was this:   The Bucks aren’t challenging the Hawks’ shots and they’re lacking focus. They’ve hardly resembled the defensive Bucks team the NBA is used to.

Scott Skiles’ constant pressure defense has a few basic principles. Constant pressure on the ball, no switching on picks (the fight-through pick rule) and show help/don’t leave your man. The intended result of these activities is a sticky defensive stew in which the Bucks should be in position to tightly contest shooters. The consequence of not contesting shots is usually a seat on the bench.

The Hawks have generally been a lot more open than Bucks opponents usually are, and Skiles is not happy about it. Milwaukee Journal NBA beat reporter, Tom Enlund, is back in action for the playoffs, and Enlund reports that Skiles’ shot challenge charts from Games 1 and 2 are looking rather bare.

“We need to have a minimum of about 75% contested shots and we’re well below that right now,” said Skiles.

[Edit: Whether or not center Andrew Bogut is in the lineup shouldn’t impact whether or not (searching for the right example here) … John Salmons is sluggish on defense.]

In other news from Skiles:  “Our focus hasn’t been where it normally is.”

The Bucks have one shot to find theire focus and get it back to normal. If they lose Game 3 Saturday, they fall down 0-3 to the Hawks. Nobody’s ever come back from O-3 to win an NBA playoff series.

Coach of the Year:  While the Bucks were busy making the Hawks look like the Lakers, the NBA was preparing to release it’s Coach of the Year voting results. And the winner is:  Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks, down 0-2 to the actual Lakers.  The Thunder went from the lottery and 22-47 record in Brooks’  “interim” last year to 50 wins and the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Maybe they did it by surprising a lot of teams but Brooks’ Thunder play some D.  They finished in the league’s top 10 in defensive rating, in that 2nd hextile the Cavs fell to this season. It’s not a bad place to be — the Spurs, Jazz and D-Wade’s Heat are in the 2nd tier, too.

Brooks won 58% of the first place votes on the 123 NBA media ballots, a landslide. Skiles finished a strong enough second for people who tend to dribble around in cyberspace about the NBA to conclude this was a race of two Scotts. That’s fine. The lackluster play of the Bucks on Tuesday does, however, lead me to believe that the voters probably chose the right Scott.