LeBron James Forgets What Team He Is On, Accidentally Sets Pick For Norris Cole

(Photo Credit: www.foxnews.com)

Apparently Miami Heat fans are not the only ones still in shock over LeBron James’ decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. With preseason going strong, the two teams met in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night, each hoping to prove something to the other. Unfortunately for the Heat, they failed 122-119, currently falling 0-3. However, this is not to say that Cleveland played a perfect game; in an apparent moment of confusion, James set a screen for former teammate Norris Cole.

Fortunately for us, cjzero was able to capture the mistake, giving an ever-so-slight silver lining to Miami’s most recent loss. I cannot wait to see these two go against one another again! Talk about the perfect Christmas present.

The Heat will take on the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night, hoping to finally get  a preseason win. This season may be a taxing one for our South Beach residents, but James or not, I continue to have faith in the organization and the raw talent at hand.

Miami Heat: By The Numbers

(Photo Credit: www.msn.foxsportsnews.com)

With their season having ended this past Sunday night, the Miami Heat cannot relax just yet. Between the NBA draft happening June 26 and free agent negotiations starting on July 1, the Heat have a lot to consider moving into this next year.

There has been a lot of speculation regarding what the team will look like a few months from now, based on everything from mere logic to reading between the lines of what players themselves have stated. However, right now, all that we can be sure of are the numbers. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh all currently have early termination clauses on their contracts. With this said, if James and Bosh were to opt in, they will make $20.16 million next year and $22.1 million during the follow one. Similarly, Wade would rake in $20.16 million this upcoming season and $21.7 million during the next.

As for Udonis Haslem, he is projected to make $4.62 million next year but also has an opt-out clause. Chris Andersen has a player option set for $1.45 million, but is expected to bypass this in order to become a free agent. Assuming this is the case, joining him in free agency are Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas, James Jones, Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. Rashard Lewis is currently also on the market however, along with Ray Allen, he is not sure he will take his NBA career any further. And of course, there is Shane Battier, who has already announced his retirement.

On the other hand though, Norris Cole is sticking around for slightly over $2 million and Justin Hamilton has a non-guaranteed deal of roughly $816, 482. As it is hopefully becoming clearer now, there are a lot of things up in the air currently concerning the state of this organization. The NBA’s salary cap for the 2014-2015 season is said to be set at $63.2 million, with a tax level of $77 million. The Heat have paid tax for three out of the last four seasons. Let us pretend that each of the members of the Big Three opt in. This will once again bring Miami above the cap, to an approximate value of $3.3 million in terms of a taxpayer mid-level exception; therefore limiting their veteran minimum to $1.4 million.

In this case, they can probably forget about bringing in coveted free agents such as Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, or  Kyle Lowry. However, if the Big Three opt out of their current contracts, Wade would be earning about $87.2 million over four years and James and Bosh are likely to gain $115.1 million over five years; all of which are obviously outrageous figures, especially regarding Wade and Bosh. Therefore, the team’s best bet would be for Wade, James and Bosh to opt out and return for less money, the same going for Haslem. Of course, there is also the possibility that one of the Big Three will decide to leave, in which case the Heat would probably extend their cap to the minimum. Although personally I see the three of them continuing to work towards at least another championship together, there is no denying that something about this season felt different, if not off.

“I don’t think anybody really enjoyed this season like in years past,” Bosh told The Associated Press. “There was no, like, genuine joy all the time. It seemed like work. It was a job the whole year.”

Heat president Pat Riley and the rest of the front office have a lot to figure out over the next couple of months, starting with making sure their star players are happy. It seems as though not just free agents but also certain Miami players will have to be wooed all over again, to make sure next season’s team is up to par.

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.

 

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 Grades Are In

With the Eastern Conference Finals well on their way, I thought it might be fun to switch things up a bit.  There have been standouts, letdowns and the in-betweens so far this series, so let us see how each Miami Heat player ranks.

LeBron James: James has not been perfect thus far, mainly due to slow starts, but I would still give him an A-. He has been putting up consistent numbers, being aggressive and motivating his teammates. Besides starting off on a stronger foot, what I personally would like to see from him is more urgency. Yes, he is currently the best in the league. And yes, the Heat stand a pretty good chance at a three-peat. But in this league you really never know, so being complacent is not an option. Plus, with James being James, I expect the world from him and more. He is doing great without a doubt, but being as gifted as he is, there is always room for improvement.

Dwyane Wade: Although I will admit that James is my favorite player, Wade has impressed me tremendously as of late. He was the lead scorer in Game 1 and Game 2, has been moving the ball well and gives no sign of being plagued with knee injuries. At this point, I give him an and hope he keeps up the good work.

Chris Bosh: I have probably said this ad nauseam already but Bosh has been a major disappointment thus far against the Indiana Pacers. He has scored nine points in each matchup, and was only really effective defensively in Game 2; because of this, I have to hit him with a C+. Whether Bosh is tired, overwhelmed or frightened, I cannot say, but at this point I am sick of complaining about him.

Udonis Haslem: Truthfully, Haslem has not gotten enough of a chance during the Eastern Conference Finals for me to fairly judge him. He has only played an average of 15.4 minutes but based off of what he has brought to the table defensively, and the energy he has displayed, I think he deserves a B-. As a starter for the last two games, I did expect a little more out of him, but he more or less held his own.

Mario Chalmers: Strangely enough, Chalmers (like Bosh) also scored the same number of points (six to be exact) each game. Although scoring has not been his strong suit in this series, he has been creating opportunities for other players. It is also clear to me how bad he wants to advance, which for the most part is a positive thing; however, at times he has let his emotions get the best of him. I think right now, a C+ would be appropriate.

Norris Cole: I have been riding with Cole since before he even got signed by the Heat so I may be a little bias, but I am giving Cole an A. Cole has pretty much done it all so far for Miami, and I only expect his stellar performance to continue. He is great under pressure. He both shoots lights out and creates open looks for his teammates; he is even effective defensively. What more could you want?

Chris Andersen: Andersen is another fellow I have been fond of for a while, but is now competing at an entirely different level. Whether it is the number of years under his belt, the fact that he has been given a second chance, or simply being around superstar talent, Andersen has been quite a pleasure to watch recently. He was a huge help offensively in Game 1, and then conversely defensively in Game 2, when he played more minutes than everyone except James and Wade. All in all, Andersen receives an A from me.

Ray Allen: Allen is playing better at his age than a lot of young athletes currently in the league are. Some nights he is stronger offensively, and others his talent comes out through defense, but regardless he is a solid second-string choice for the Heat. His late Game 3 performance was incredible, and I am amazed at the level of intensity he possesses. The veteran certainly gets an A in my book.

Shane Battier: Just like Bosh and Chalmers, Battier had identical statistics in terms of points in all three games. Battier only scored three points each time and was not strong on the other end of the court either. I could not imagine him not wanting to retire with another ring but as of now, I just do not see the necessary effort: B-.

James Jones: Jones has been a non-factor during this series but I blame that on head coach Erik Spoelstra. Obviously Jones is not a starting lineup type of player, nor does he deserve to play more than someone like Cole, but I do think he is underestimated. When he gets going, Jones has the ability to drain some quick shots, so on his potential performance, I will award him a B.

Rashard Lewis: I know that most people laugh at the fact that Lewis is on the Heat, but not me. I was a fan of his during his time with the Orlando Magic, and for good reason. He has defensive chops, and used to put up big numbers between 2000-2011. He has a beautiful stroke and in terms of this series, helped close out Game 3. Like Jones, I think given the opportunity, he could bring a little something extra to the squad, so I leave him with a B.

Greg Oden: NA.

Toney Douglas: As long as I am laying all my cards out on the table, I did not even know that Douglas was in for even a second, let alone almost a minute in Game 1 and Game 3. Therefore, I would say grading him would be unfair. He too will be placed in the NA category.

Michael Beasley: NA.

Justin Hamilton: NA.

And there you have it. How do you feel about my grades? And what do you think they will look like when all is said and done in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Slow Starts and Furious Finishes: Halftime in Game 3

It is currently halftime in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and I can only imagine what is being said in the Miami Heat locker room. Down by four as the Indiana Pacers lead 42-38, the Heat had a rough start to the matchup, only really finding their footing towards the end of each quarter.

The Heat went on 9-2 and 16-5 runs as the first and second quarters closed out, once again proving that their “clutch” label is there for a reason. However, relying on strong final minutes is not necessarily the best strategy. If Miami find themselves down by more than a handful, waiting until the last minute to really give it their all, will not be enough.

It took two minutes for anything to drop for the Heat, and they never held a lead. The closest they got was being tied, 2-2, with 10:22 left on the clock in the first quarter. To say it was a slow start, would be an understatement.

And frustration definitely showed; CJ Watson and Norris Cole got into it with a little over a minute left in the first, and received double-technicals for their poor behavior.

But after some back and forth aggression between LeBron James and Lance Stephenson, James finally got started, motivating teammates Dwyane Wade and Norris Cole to also kick into high-gear, combining for 23 points and a healthy amount of ball movement.

In order for the Heat to get this series to 2-1, the second half needs to consist of a faster start, better defense, and less confrontation.

Closing out quarters is a valuable skill, even a necessity. However, nothing compares to consistent play, through and through. Slow starts cannot become a habit for the Heat, if they wish to not only make it out of this round, but win a third championship.

Defensively (and otherwise), the Pacers need to be stopped, period. Roy Hibbert is showing nothing but offensive aggression so far tonight, with 10 points at the half. Meanwhile, Lance Stephenson has taken care of the other end with nine rebounds (comparing to the 11 total that the Heat currently possess).

It is no secret that these two teams do not get along. And Stephenson’s comment on his desire to reinjure Wade’s knee is probably just the tip of the iceberg. But winning a championship should be more important than mouthing off to an opponent. Both Miami and Indiana need to focus on the journey ahead and stop letting emotions (and nerves) get the best of them.

One half left. Time to start strong and finish stronger.

 

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.