Monday Mailbag (On a Tuesday…)

Having celebrated both Memorial Day and a Miami Heat win yesterday, I am technically a day behind on mailbag questions (which I usually like to get to on Mondays). However, as the saying goes, better late than never…

Is there anything LeBron James still needs to improve on, moving forward?

Honestly, not really (you had to have known that was coming…) James has been consistently playing good basketball not only during this series (especially Game 4), but throughout the postseason in general. However, if I have to give an answer, I would touch upon three things. First, he needs to be aggressive from the beginning. Miami fell victim to slow starts in the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, making it hard for them to be as effective as they have the potential to be. Like I said, James has been a strong contender in every game so far but life becomes harder on not just him, but his entire team, when he has to play catch-up due to an inefficient start. Second, he may consider improving his free-throws. This has not actually been a problem for James this season or postseason, but if you concentrate on numbers alone (and we all know, numbers do not lie), he is currently shooting at 75 percent, while the league average is 75.6 percent. And third, he must make sure he is consistent on the defensive end. James is a great defender, there is no doubt about that, but recently he seems more focused on scoring points than he does making sure his opponents do not. I have used this cliche many times before but at the end of the day, defense really does win games, so staying on top of that as well as being a lights out shooter creates the perfect balance for success.

Who should the Heat prefer to face in the finals, should they make it…the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder?

Personally I feel as though it may be a little too early to make this call. On top of this, I must admit I have not been paying as close attention to the Western Conference Finals as I have to the Eastern (for obvious reasons). But those two things aside, I think Miami would have a better chance of winning if they played against the Oklahoma City Thunder, than the San Antonio Spurs. Besides the fact that this would be the match-up I would prefer to watch, I make this statement for two reasons. First, although the Spurs may play a slower, more basic game of basketball, they are effective. They know the in’s and out’s of their X’s and O’s, trust each other and know what it takes to win. This actually takes me to my second point; the Spurs have experience. They have four championships under their belts (1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007) compared to the Thunder’s one and only (1979) and are stacked with veteran talent. My answer may change in a few days but for now, my fingers are crossed for a Heat/Thunder finals.

What can Miami do to secure their win tomorrow night?

If the Heat win Wednesday night, they are officially a part of the finals. Although that fact breeds excitement, it can also bring about nerves, especially given their goal of a three-peat. Therefore, it cannot be stressed enough that Miami needs to stay focused. Beyond this, Chris Bosh needs to return from his slump for good. He had a terrific run Monday night, but I am hoping that was not a fluke. His scoring, defensive plays and overall energy helped his team out tremendously, all of which will be of big help again come Game 5. Also, as I said above, the Heat (not just James) need to leave slow starts in the past. I believe a huge reason that they ran away with it Monday night was because of how well they performed in the first quarter. Miami no longer had to worry about catching up (and along the same lines, setting the tone of the game), but instead could focus on their strategies. It would probably also benefit the Heat to have a third-player (or perhaps now fourth, since Bosh has hopefully resolved his issues for good) to count on for big numbers offensively. Ray Allen and Norris Cole first come to mind, but since Allen is questionable for Game 5, my money is on Cole.

Keep the questions coming everyone! Remember, you can also reach me at www.twitter.com/ChitownHeiress as well.

 

Slow Starts No More: Eastern Conference Finals Game 4 Reaction

(Photo Credit: www.rollingout.com)

The Miami Heat held a lead after the first quarter for the first time in this series, taking the win 102-90 over the Indiana Pacers. For a team that struggled with slow starts for three out of the last four games, Miami certainly showed no signs of that habit on Monday night.

In fact, the Heat never trailed. Chris Bosh came out strong, scoring the team’s first eight points, after having totaled only nine points for each game of the Eastern Conference Finals previously.

“I wanted to be aggressive tonight, and I wanted to play good basketball. Sometimes it’s always difficult in my situation to kind of do that, but tonight was a good night,” Bosh explained after the game. 

What his “situation” is, is unclear, but his teammates and fans alike are undoubtedly glad he once again found his way. Bosh finished Game 4 with 25 points and 6 rebounds.

“I told him he was going to have a great game,” LeBron James said during the postgame news conference. “We got off to a fast start because of him.”

Bosh’s less than dazzling performances during the first three games of this series did not necessarily derail the series for the entire team, but his contributions certainly would have been nice.  Without his presence on the defensive end and his scoring abilities, his teammates had to pick up the slack. However, it was more than this fact that led Dwyane Wade to pop in unannounced on Bosh’s late dinner, Saturday night.

“The one cool thing about it was that his teammates were real aggressive to try to get him going,” stated head coach Erik Spoelstra when asked about Bosh’s surge, after Game 4. “That’s nice to see when your brothers are wanting you to be aggressive to get you opportunities.”

Wade did not want to scold Bosh for his shortcomings. Nor did he want to showcase how the rest of the team had been forced to compensate. He simply wanted to let Bosh know that regardless of what happened going forward, they had his back.

“How you can make a guy feel … that can change everything,” commented Wade, on trying to cheer up a frustrated Bosh.

And it worked. Game 4 belonged to Bosh, allowing slow starts for the Heat to become a thing of the past.

But Bosh was not the only one to play phenomenal basketball; James had quite a night himself.

Recording 32 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, James surpassed Michael Jordan for the most playoffs games (74) in which he scored 25 points or more. He was much more aggressive right off the bat on both ends of the court, made sure he got the looks he wanted, and helped set the pace of the match-up. Although James has been consistently strong during this postseason, he showed a whole new level of intensity and desire on Monday night. This is the James that needs to be present from here on out if Miami plans to three-peat.

Lance Stephenson may credit himself for the game the superstar had, claiming that he thought James’ trash-talk was “a sign of weakness” after Game 3, which motivated him to get back at the Pacers. However, James says otherwise.

“I don’t need any motivation, I’m motivated enough trying to get back to the Finals,” James said when asked about Stephenson after Game 4. “That’s motivating enough. Being one of the leaders of this team, I have to do my job and do my part to help us win. That’s what it’s all about.”

James may have enjoyed shutting Stephenson up by showing him what he is made of, but to say that he is more motivated by a competitor speaking out of turn than by the chance to win another championship, is highly unlikely. James has never been one to let another person get inside his head, and I doubt that will become the case anytime soon.

Game 5 is taking place Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. CT on ESPN. Up 3-1, Miami is potentially only one game away from moving onto the finals.

Eastern Conference Finals Game 4: Twitter Recap

The Miami Heat have finally left slow starts behind, playing a strong game for 48 minutes. They now lead the series 3-1 after defeating the Indiana Pacers tonight, 102-90.

 

Eastern Conference Finals Game 4: Halftime Notes

The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are back in action right now for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami currently leads the series 2-1, and if things continue the way they have started tonight, it will soon be 3-1.

Things to Note:

*Chris Andersen is out due to a thigh contusion he sustained late in Game 3.

*Rashard Lewis started in place of Udonis Haslem.

*Chris Bosh finally found his rhythm, starting the game with eight straight points.

*The Heat had zero turnovers in the first quarter.

*This is the first time Miami has led in the first quarter.

*The Big Three have combined for 38 in the first half.

*At the end of two, the Heat are ahead 49-44, despite shooting 47 percent as compared to the Pacers’ 51 percent.

*Roy Hibbert is scoreless after two quarters.

Players to Watch:

*This is certainly Bosh’s game. After a combined 27 points in the first three games, he came out with 17 in the first half of this one. His energy is back, his shot selection is smart, and he is clearly confident; to say it is about time, would be an understatement.

*I am expecting Dwyane Wade to come out stronger during the second half, as right now he has six points, one rebound, and one assist. He has been playing killer basketball lately so it would make sense for him to be fatigued, but I still see some impressive plays (especially with LeBron James) coming our way.

Keys to Success:

*Turnovers need to be kept at a minimum. This will not only help by obviously allowing them to keep the ball, but will also let the Heat control the pace of the game, resulting in less forced shots.

*Bosh needs to keep doing what he is doing. I am not sure even he himself understands how much of a contribution he can make once he gets going, but Miami has certainly missed him.

*Tighten up the defense. Right now the half is once again low scoring but the second quarter was not as strong for the Heat as the first was. Making sure defense is always a priority is something that head coach Erik Spoelstra needs to drill into his players’ heads, regardless of how offensively solid they have been tonight.

Second half starts now.

The Journey Continues: Game 4 Eastern Conference Finals Preview

(Photo Credit: www.dolphintide.com)

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.

The Rebirth of Ray Allen

(Photo Credit: www.usatoday.com)

At 38 years old, Ray Allen is the second oldest player in the NBA. He is the oldest player on the Miami Heat, closer in age to head coach Erik Spoelstra than to his teammates. And yet, the fire within him is nowhere near being put out.

Along with LeBron James, Allen helped Miami rally past the Indiana Pacers and take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals Monday night. During the fourth quarter, a time that Allen himself calls “his playground,” he drained four quick three-pointers, after sitting scoreless for the first 36 minutes.

“This is my favorite time of year,” Allen said after Game 3’s victory. “This is when it’s the most fun.”

Allen has been in the league since 1996 when he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves as the fifth overall pick. Since then, he has played for four teams, made the All-Star team 10 times and won two championships. Many know him as “Jesus Shuttlesworth” from the film “He Got Game.”

When he decided to end his time in Boston with the Boston Celtics, many were up in arms. This only progressed when he announced he was signing with the Heat in 2012, rejecting a two-year, $12 million offer for a mid-level exception. Celtics fans felt betrayed, called him a sellout and vowed to never watch him play again.

For the most part, Miami fans were grateful to have such a legendary talent join an already stacked squad. However, some questioned whether or not the veteran still had any fuel left in his tank, wondering if it was not instead a better idea to retire. I am guessing that right now, those people no longer have any doubts regarding Allen.

Having played among athletes with nicknames like “The Truth,” “Big Ticket,” and “Big Baby,” Allen finally has one of his own: “The Committee.”

Being the oldest player on a team comes with jokes like “so, you played with Moses Malone?” but there is also something to be said for becoming a role model. At the end of the day, his teammates respect him; they respect his experience, his approach and his skill set.

“…they all respect me and ask me questions…if there is anything that needs to be resolved they say, ‘Committee, what’s your take on this?'”

The Heat are lucky to have Allen, and Allen is lucky to have them. To be playing professional basketball at the age of 38 is impressive, but to do so in such an effective manner is astounding. Allen truly appears to be ageless.

There is no question in my mind that Allen will continue to be a factor in Miami’s quest to three-peat, but the debate now begins: what is next for him?

“I love how my body feels,” Allen stated this past February.

And he is not the only one conscious of his physique.

“Ray takes impeccable care of his body,” commented Shane Battier, who is retiring after this postseason. “I don’t.”

If Allen keeps being as meticulous with his conditioning and training as he has been up until this point, and still loves the game as much as he did the day he got drafted, it seems as though he could easily have a few more years left in him.

Besides just raw ability, Allen is the type of player who even to this day, continuously learns about the game. He observes what his team needs out of his minutes, vocalizes it, and practices what he preaches. He shoots lights out from beyond the arc, runs his defender into the ground, spaces the floor accordingly and has unwavering faith in his teammates.

I hope to see Allen on the court next year, particularly the hardwood in the AmericanAirlines Arena. His time in Boston was one to remember, but it appears as though a rebirth is about to take place.

 

 

 

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

(Photo Credit: www.nba.com)

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.