See You Tonight, Cleveland Cavaliers

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Is it Christmas Eve? No? Well it sure feels like it given that the Miami Heat are taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight!

So the rivalry may not be as intense as it was last year, but trust me, this matchup will still be a blast to watch.

Last season the two teams split the series 2-2, after the Heat lost twice on the road. Hopefully tonight the boys from South Beach can start a new trend by beating LeBron James and company in their own house.

And with James’ back still acting up, and both Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert out, Miami has a very good chance of doing just that.

Coming off of an 104-94 win against the Charlotte Hornets, the Heat proved their naysayers wrong regarding the topic of both three-point shooting and ball movement.

Not only did the team shoot 60 percent from beyond-the-arc, but they totaled 26 assists across nine players.

Chris Bosh led the newly revamped squad with a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds, with Dwyane Wade ending the night with 20 points and 5 assists.

Gerald Green also started the year off with a bang; the newcomer scored 19 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting.

For Miami to be successful tonight, they need to do three things.

First, keep being confident in their game.

Obviously taking on an opponent such as the Hornets is a whole different story than going against the Cavaliers, but the Heat need to remember how much talent they truly have this time around.

This includes the likes of Hassan Whiteside, who had a terrible first game, shaking off the past and putting everything on the line.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra also needs to keep utilizing his plethora of rotations. Because it is still early in the season and lineups have yet to be finalized, Spoelstra needs to continue using various combinations in order to get the most out of his players.

Lastly, Miami needs to focus on a defensive mindset. Regardless of the season having only begun, it is clear to see this group of guys are an offensive powerhouse. However, neither the organization nor the players individually are really known for their defense. And when playing teams like Cleveland, that needs to change.

Who do you all have winning tonight?

Check out the competition at 7 PM (ET) on ESPN.

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Rematch: Game 1 of the 2014 Finals

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Come June 5, the NBA will hold it’s first playoff final rematch since 1998. Last year, the Miami Heat were victorious over the San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series, winning their second consecutive championship. Miami, gunning for a three-peat, hopes to once again come out on top.

The Heat, fresh off of a six-game series win over the Indiana Pacers, know that their overall performance must improve if they indeed wish to be successful against the Spurs. Slow start, streaky play and spotty defense cannot have any part of this matchup.

LeBron James, who struggled with his energy and finding his rhythm in the beginning of the Eastern Conference Finals, must leave that bad habit in the past, and start off strong. Miami always seems to do better when they get to set the pace. Likewise, key components such as Chris Bosh must be present. Bosh, who was ineffective on both ends of the floor for the first half of the series against the Pacers, must do everything in his power to keep up the groove he found himself in, in Game 4.  James and Dwyane Wade need the third wheel of their Big Three tricycle to maneuver their way past San Antonio.

With all that said however, defense will be the deciding factor. The Spurs, known for their depth and ball movement, will take it anything but easy on Miami. Left with a sour taste in their mouths, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the rest of the Texan-gang want their revenge. Although sticking to the fundamentals as usual, San Antonio has played stellar basketball this year. They came out of the regular season with the best record in the league, using a whopping 30 different lineups, lead by head coach Gregg Popovich who has guided the Spurs to six final appearances.

However, this is not to take anything away from the Heat, whose bench has outscored the opponents’ bench in 11 of 15 games during the postseason. Their record ties their best playoff start (from 2011) through 15 games in team history and head coach Erik Spoelstra is only the thirteenth NBA coach to win multiple titles.

Miami has tied 1-1 with San Antonio during the regular season and it is now time to see how they will fair during their postseason battle. Personally, my guess is the Heat in 7, but how do you all feel? Let me know via the poll, below!

 

 

The Journey Continues: Game 4 Eastern Conference Finals Preview

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After a shaky first half, the Miami Heat were able to come back and win Game 3,  99-87 over the Indiana Pacers. This puts the Heat up 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, and one step closer to their ultimate goal: a three-peat.

In fact, although the Heat have not made it out of this series yet, president Pat Riley has recently trademarked the term, as it will undoubtedly make its way onto Miami’s championship rings, and other such apparel; obviously, the entire organization only has one thing on it’s mind. And as far as motivation goes, it is as good, if not better, than any.

Unfortunately, in order for their dream to become a reality, the Heat will have to stop making slow starts a habit. Although they are known for their clutch shooting and ability to stay calm under pressure, consistent play is what they should be aiming for.

In order for the Heat to take Game 4, two things need to happen.

First, Miami must start off strong. The energy has to be right, egos must be put aside, plays must be calculated, and the tone must be set. As head coach Erik Spoelstra told his squad before Game 3, the Heat need to “impose [their] identity.” Great under duress or not, there is only so much that can be done if a team falls too far behind.

Second, a third power player needs to be identified. Chris Bosh has been stuck on only scoring nine points for all three games and his defensive contributions have not been much to brag about either. Miami fans already know that they can count on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but so far “third best” has been up for grabs, game by game. Norris Cole has been of great help so far in this series in general, and Chris Andersen impressed during Game 2; but it was Ray Allen who really made a difference in Game 3.

Down by 7, Miami had a terrible first quarter, only making their first basket with 10:22 on the clock. After some taunting from Lance Stephenson (who at that point had nine rebounds to match Miami’s 11 total), James finally got going, and teammates Wade and Cole followed suit: they combined for 23 and brought the game back within four at half time.

“…we had no choice but try to re-gather,” said Spoelstra about the matter, Saturday night.

And re-gather they did. By the third quarter, the Heat got their heads in the game. Both James and Wade made crucial three-pointers. Allen stepped up and scored 12 from beyond the arc. Cole and Rashard Lewis (a rare sight these days) held up the defensive end. And by the end of the half, the Pacers scored 45 points while James, Wade and Allen combined for 47.

The so-called “Miami Heat Basketball” played during the first and second half of Game 3 were as different as night and day. And although in this case it happened to be a positive thing, inconsistency is known for getting teams into trouble.

“We looked like we were stuck in the mud in the first quarter,” stated Spoelstra. “That is a big credit to how they dictated the game. We can’t play this series on their terms.”

Although James and Wade finished with impressive numbers, in the first half, turnovers became a problem, forced shots were missed, and the pace was totally out of their control.

Indiana is due for a win, and after collapsing halfway through Game 3, they are sure to come out guns blazing. If Miami does not start off on the right foot, there could be danger ahead. In order to secure a victory, a game must be fluid, start to finish. However, the Heat do deserve credit for not panicking, and a win is a win regardless.

Game 4 is tonight at 7:30 p.m. CT on ESPN.

Welcome to Miami: A Quick Look at the Eastern Conference Finals Game 3

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The Miami Heat are heading back to their tried and true stomping grounds, after tying the Eastern Conference Finals series 1-1. And while the Indiana Pacers have shown promise so far against Miami, no other team feeds off of a home crowd quite like the Heat.

Game 3 taking place in Miami should definitely give the Heat an advantage right from the get-go. They are also coming off of a win, which should be motivation in and of itself. Thanks to a fourth-quarter surge from LeBron James (who scored 12 of his 22 during that quarter) and Dwyane Wade (who scored 10, combining for 22), the Heat were able to pull ahead of the Pacers and finish off strong.

Things to Note:

After taking an accidental knee to the head from Dwyane Wade in Game 2, Paul George was diagnosed with a concussion late Tuesday night. However, it seems he will be ready to go Saturday night. George stated he “feels good, feels great” after a few days off to rest; but of course, whether this means he will play as many minutes and/or be as effective is another story.

Another player who is eager for some time on the hardwood is Greg Oden. Oden has played in only one game out of the last 22 for the Heat, due to pain from a reoccurring back injury. And according to Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra, Game 3 just may be Oden’s ticket back into the mix.

Players to Watch:

As has been the trend in the first two games, James and Wade are expected to lead their squad offensively. So far, they have combined for 52 and 45 points, respectively, and have especially come through at crucial parts of each matchup.

Hopefully Norris Cole will also once again find his rhythm, as he was a key contributor in Game 2. By now Spoelstra should trust his abilities enough to grant him ample minutes, not just as a replacement for a fatigued or frustrated Mario Chalmers. Cole can spread the floor, shoot consistently and stay calm under pressure.

Unfortunately Chris Bosh has not been much of a factor in the Eastern Conference Finals, something that the Heat better pray changes in Game 3 and onward. He has only scored 18 points total so far this series, and although he grabbed six rebounds on Tuesday night, this was an improvement from the two during Game 1.

Keys to Success:

In order for the Heat to make this series 2-1, three things must happen.

First, they cannot underestimate their opponent. Arguably, Miami wants to advance more, as they have a three-peat riding on the line. However, with that said, the Pacers were deemed the team to watch when the postseason first started. They want to prove that they were first in the East this season for a reason. And what better way to do that than to beat the reigning two-time champions?

Second, their defense must tighten and stay tight. Offensively, the Heat have been holding their own pretty well. The team is stacked with talented shooters, and it has been showing. But on the flip side, defensively they have been inconsistent. Whether Spoelstra sticks to having his players blitz Indiana, or he gives Chris Andersen more of a roll, is up to him. But one thing is for sure, a weak defensive strategy could lead to trouble.

Lastly, more players have to be involved. As I just said, Miami’s roster is filled with skill, but problems arise when only a few players show up when it is game time. James, Wade, Andersen and Cole have been great leaders in this series, but a team needs all it’s pieces to survive. Guys like Chalmers and Haslem have to start being more efficient, and not just regarding their individual play; making sure your team is cohesive as a group is also an integral part of being effective.

Game 3 tips off shortly on ESPN.

Tying It Up: Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals Preview

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The Miami Heat had a disastrous start to the Eastern Conference Finals but have already left Game 1 in the past, in pursuit of evening the score and ultimately winning another championship. Game 2 airs tonight at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

“We don’t really care about what’s happened in the past,” Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra said late Sunday afternoon. “We have to understand the urgency of the response for Game 2.”

Spoelstra certainly has the right idea. Typically, teams winning Game 1 of a seven game series, win 77 percent of the time. Teams that win Game 1 of Conference Finals by double digits have won 23 of 25 series since 1984.  However, a Game 1 loss for Miami means little to nothing as they are currently 16-2 after Game 1 losses in the Big Three era. Plus, of 38 teams that have taken a 1-0 lead in a seven game series against defending champions, only 19 have went on to win.

“Our overall disposition needs to be much stronger,” Spoelstra added. And LeBron James agreed. “They took care of business in Game 1, but we’ll figure it out for Game 2.”

Dwyane Wade also started to look ahead as soon as Game 1 ended.

They drew the first blood, and we got to come and figure it out. We are a confident team. We feel that we can win here.”

The Heat, never holding a lead, were 6-of-23 from beyond the arc this past Sunday afternoon. They also allowed the Indiana Pacers to shoot 51.5 percent from the field, and sent them to the line 37 times. Statistics like these have no place in the NBA Conference Finals, much less from back-to-back, two-time champions.

“A loss in the playoffs is always a wake-up call,” Chris Bosh stated.

Well, Miami fans sure hope so, especially in regards to Bosh.

Bosh may as well have been DNP-CD as he went 4-of-12 (0-of-5 in threes), for a total of nine points and only got to the free-throw line once. As if his lack of aggression and reliance on “easy shots” was not bad enough, Bosh also did close to nothing defensively.

In Game 2, three things need to happen.

First, Bosh needs to realize that people are leaving him open from the 3-point line for a reason. He is not Ray Allen, nor should he be. Bosh needs to rely on his mid-range jumper and not be afraid to go for a dunk on occasion, as well.

Second, the Heat’s defense has to tighten up. Although James and Wade seem to have been the only ones making a noticeable offensive dent, Miami still shot 51.3 percent from the field. All five starters from the Pacers were in double figures however, and CJ Watson finished with 11 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes of play.

Lastly, Spoelstra needs to stick with a bigger starting lineup (although for now, he refuses to even speak on the subject). Starting Shane Battier in Game 1 proved to be a bad decision, as Indiana has a noticeable size advantage. In order to start the match-up strong, Udonis Haslem must make an appearance, despite the limited minutes he has played this season and postseason so far.

Obviously on top of all this, James needs to keep doing what he has been doing.

“I think he’s going to be much more aggressive with the ball. I think he’s going to be looking to make more plays, looking to shoot more shots and really looking to get guys going,” said Paul George when asked about what he expects from James in Game 2.

He better believe it. Nothing is going to stop James from a three-peat, at least as long as he can help it.

An Ode to Norris Cole

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Flashback to 2011. I was fresh out of college, working with the University of Illinois-Chicago’s athletic department, at that time specifically in Sports Information. I attended every home game, sitting front and center at the media table, looking slightly ridiculous as my headset was too big for my head. Now zero in on Jan. 27 of that year. The UIC Flames were playing Cleveland State that evening, and that was the first time I was exposed to Norris Cole.

As the matchup began, I started learning a little about our opponents through the incessant chatter happening around me.

“It’s too bad he has such a temper,” whispered a mixture of voices next to me, about Cole. “He could have quite a career.”

I kept a close eye on Cole that night and what I saw, amazed me. He was unbelievably fast, put up numbers way beyond those of his teammates (or anyone on “my” team by far) and had a way about him, an innate drive, that was rarely found in a college athlete; especially one playing for a team part of a league as anonymous as the Horizon League. Cole averaged 22 points and six rebounds during his senior year at CSU and would soon become a part of the NBA. To this day I still find myself wondering, “Where is/was this horrible temper everyone spoke of?”

After being drafted and then passed up by the likes of the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves during the summer of 2011, Cole ended up with the Miami Heat, and would go on to win a championship during each of his first two years.

Today’s ode to Cole goes beyond just giving the young guy a nod. The Miami Heat need to start utilizing him more often, especially now that they are up against the Indiana Pacers. Last postseason he averaged six points per game, which may not seem like much, but it goes beyond straight numbers with him. When Cole is on the court, the pace of the game changes. The team becomes re-energized. Their ball movement increases tenfold. Their intensity gets dialed up a notch. Their formations fall better into place.

“I get more aggressive,” Cole told the South Florida Sun Sentinel about the playoffs, after Game 4 against the Charlotte Bobcats. “You take more chances. You still play within yourself and within the team concept and at the same time being aggressive. This is our time of year. This is what we’ve been waiting on. Me personally, this is what I’ve been waiting on.”

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I too have been waiting on this all season, and the only thing that would make it better is seeing a little more Cole-action on my television screen.

The Heat are not necessarily known for their depth so why not put a little more responsibility in the hands of a unique player like Cole?

Having faith in the high-top fade rocking guard especially makes sense when you look at the Pacers’ second-line. C.J. Watson is no stranger to the game, having been in the league for seven years (four postseason appearances), but it cannot be denied that Cole is quicker and creates more opportunities for those around him. Cole also seems more poised under pressure than Watson, always playing it cool regardless of the current score or situation of a series. Not to mention the fact that Cole could not ask for better mentors, as he is around talent like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

As the Heat come away with a loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, they might want to consider jumping aboard the Coletrain. Next stop? Hopefully, win city.

Miami Heat/Brooklyn Nets Game 3 Preview

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While Kevin Durant was busy snagging his first ever MVP award last Tuesday, LeBron James made headlines by becoming the youngest player in NBA history to reach 4,000 postseason points. However, James could only bask in his accomplishment for a brief moment as the Miami Heat took on the Brooklyn Nets for Game 1 of that series. Tonight, the 2-0 Heat are heading to New York to try and get one step closer to a championship three-peat.

Having won 94-82 on Thursday, the Heat are well on their way to another series victory. The Big Three had a combined 54 point game but also heavily relied on the likes of Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers. Of course, it did not hurt that Nets’ star Deron Williams went scoreless for the first time in his 60-game playoff career, or that Kevin Garnett made only two of eight from the field. The Heat looked energized, confident and motivated, and are expected to have the same demeanor coming off of yet another win.

All was not horrendous for the Nets, however. As a team, Brooklyn scored only two points less in the paint than Miami, won the rebound battle, and Mirza Teletovic set a Nets record for most three-pointers in a playoff game. 

Nets Coach Jason Kidd said “making free throws and rebounding” are the keys to winning Game 3, but it will take more than just that. Williams certainly needs to shake off his embarrassing performance and rally his team forward. This will include depending on Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson (who has been no problem for Shane Battier to defend) for scoring, and expecting more out of Garnett on both ends.

When all is said and done though, James is averaging 22 points on 58 percent shooting and the Heat have never lost when up 2-0, in the Big Three era. Miami has won it’s last six games (eight if you count the regular season), the longest streak since 2001 when the Los Angeles Lakers won 11 games in a row. To put it simply, the Heat seem to be in a whole different league right now.

Whether or not there is anything the Nets can really do to change their fate within this series is debatable, but here is hoping to at least a decently entertaining game 3.

(Game 3 of the Heat/Nets series is set to tip-off just after 7 p.m., central time, on ABC and ESPN3.)