[Editor's Note: Please welcome Tommy King - brother of Jay King - who will be writing about the NBA in general on a weekly basis]
We can snicker at the Heat no longer. "Like a Bosh" isn't so funny anymore. Snarky Heat jokes just don't have the same zing to them.
The Miami Heat have rattled off eight consecutive wins, all of them by at least 10 points, including the last four on the road. Wade has found a comfort-zone, LeBron is being LeBron, and Chris Bosh is starting to rebound. The Heat are winning and they're making it look easy--kind of like what we expected from them at the beginning of the season.
Two weeks ago, Erik Spoelstra was on the hot seat, there were rumors that LeBron wanted him gone, and everyone was making jokes about the return of Pat Riley to the bench. What changed so quickly?
The change has been quite simple, really. Miami has finally accepted its destiny as a fast breaking team, pushing the ball at every opportunity and relying on the incredibly finishing abilities of LeBron and Wade. According to Tom Haberstroh of the TrueHoop Heat Index, Miami has a transition rate (percentage of plays in transition) of 13.4 on the season. Over the eight-game win streak, that number has increased to 16.5. So far, the results have been very positive.
Really, it shouldn't have taken Spoelstra and the Heat this long to figure out that his team would be better served in the open court. LeBron and Wade are two of the best athletes in the world and Bosh is one of the faster, more agile power forwards in the league. Because of their relatively poor outside shooting, teams can load up the paint in the half court and force the Terrific Two to either pass, or take a contested shot in the lane. In the open court, all bets are off.
Earlier in the season, Spoelstra and some of the Heat player scoffed at questions wondering if the Heat would be a run-and-gun team. Spoelstra said that's not how they wanted to play. It seemed that Spoelstra equated run-and-gun with not playing any defense, a la D'Antoni ball. Maybe now he's finding out that you can play good defense and still get out in transition. In fact, good defense helps a team get out in transition. It's much easier to get a fast break started after an opponent's miss, so the more misses you can force, the better you can run.
Over the past eight games, this formula has worked for the Heat. Miami has played great defense all season, ranking second behind only the Boston Celtics in Hollinger's defensive efficiency. Before, however, the Heat would get a stop and LeBron would walk the ball up the court into a stagnant half court set. Now, the Heat are busting up the floor, attacking a retreating defense with LeBron and Wade barreling down the wings like an angry Bulldozer from the X-Men comics.
I've been indifferent to the Heat all season, thinking all along that they'd need at least a season to gel into championship form. Champions aren't just thrown together like a fantasy team, they need time to mold into a cohesive unit. The 2007 Celtics were the exception to the rule.
Seeing LeBron and Wade fly down the sideline, soaring past their recent opponents, has made me rethink my stance. The Miami Heat are still a flawed team (see: Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers), but no team can come close to matching the athleticism of Bron, Wade, and Bosh. If Miami continues to channel its inner Showtime, the Heat may just run their way to a championship.
Highlight of the Week
- Wake up, Kevin: Without watching Durant much this season, it's easy to assume he's playing at the MVP-level he approached last season. He's leading the league with 27.5 ppg while pulling down seven rebounds per game. Those are good looking numbers. In reality, Durantula is arguably having his worst season since his rookie year. Durant is still scoring a ton, but he's shooting poorly and standing in the way of an emerging Russell Westbrook. I'm not sure what the reason-- perhaps he's becoming complacent or has gotten a big head from his international success-- but Durant is driving less and settling for more outside shots. According to Hoopdata, Durant is taking a full shot less per game at the rim, and a full shot more from behind the arc. That may not seem like much, but its caused Durant's field goal percentage to fall from 47.6% last season to 42.3% this season. Durant is shooting more than five three-pointers per game, but making just 28% of them. Much was expected of the Thunder after last season's playoff run, but, so far, the Thunder have fallen well short of those expectations. Most of the blame has fallen on the team's youth and its lack of activity in the offseason. It's about time some of that blame fell on the golden boy himself, Kevin Durant.
- Blake Griffin Hype Train: I know, I know, Blake Griffin is great. He's putting up otherworldly numbers for a rookie and taking the league by storm. The NBA can't print posters fast enough to keep up with Griffin's astonishing dunks. I get all that. Yet still, I worry about Griffin. I think playing for the league's biggest loser (the Clippers) has taught Griffin some bad habits. Too many times, I see Griffin jogging back on defense, the last man back on defense. Heck, sometimes he's not even in the screen when the other team inevitably scores at the other end. Defensively, he's a train-wreck. He plays post defense like I did in fifth grade: stand in front of your man with your hands straight up and hope the guy misses. That defense worked fine for me in fifth grade when my opponents shot layups like a drunk Nate Robinson, but its definitely not going to work against Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. I'm not trying to hate on Griffin, I just think most people have gone overboard in praising him. He's great, but he's still a flawed rookie, making rookie mistakes.
- Tread Carefully, Mr. Stern- I'm extremely wary of the NBA now owning the New Orleans Hornets. I hope they find a buyer ASAP. I'm happy to rid the league of Shinn, but I see a potential firestorm for the league if they continue to own the Hornets for the rest of the season. Can't you envision a Game 7 between the Hornets and the Mavericks--reffed by Bennett Salvatore, Joey Crawford, and Tim Donaghy (I'm kidding, I'm kidding, relax)--in which Chris Paul goes to the line 14 times, Dirk Nowitzki fouls out, the Hornets win by two, and the conspiracy theorists come out in full force? I am in no way saying David Stern would try to affect the outcome of a playoff series to his advantage (okay, you're right, maybe he would), but the NBA's ownership of the Hornets could cause some sticky situations. Let's hope Lil Wayne and his Young Money cohorts purchase the franchise. Look out, the Birdman coming.
Pick & Roll: Who'd you rather?
Russell Westbrook, or Derrick Rose?
Point Guard, Tom King (my vision is unmatched in any league, in any country. I couldn't move any faster than Zydrunas Illgauskas in cement shoes, but boy could I pass.):
I'm going to go against the grain and surprise some of you by taking Russell Westbrook. It's not because he's a better passer than Rose (which he is), or that he's more unselfish and a purer point guard than Rose (which he is), but because he's an infinitely better defender than Rose. Westbrook is averaging 2.1 spg, compared to just one for Rose. Westbrook takes pride in his defense and always gives a full effort on defense. Rose, meanwhile, treats defense like dog poo on the sidewalk--he avoids it. Rose may be a slightly better scorer (though I'd argue he scores more because he doesn't play with Durant), but Westbrook's defensive superiority wins the day. Now, let me throw a no-look left-handed bounce pass through the trees to my power forward for the easy finish...
Power Forward, Jay King (yes, Jay was once a guard, until he became a blogger, sat at his computer all day, and ballooned 30 pounds. Jay will tell you he's a PF because of his deft post-moves, but don't be fooled.):
Firstly, I have to disagree with Tommy's contention that his vision is unmatched in any league, in any country. He was a decent passer, at best. His "no-look left-handed bounce pass" was probably intercepted for a turnover. Secondly, "ballooned 30 pounds" is a euphemism for "ballooned 45 pounds." And finally, on to the question at hand: who would I prefer, Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose?
In a photo finish, it's Rose. You can discuss Westbrook's good defense until Scal wins a Slam Dunk Contest, but that doesn't make it true. Opposing PGs are averaging a 22.0 PER against Westbrook so far this season, which is the equivalent of every Westbrook opponent playing more efficiently than Rajon Rondo. If I had to guess, I'd say Westbrook is aided by the age-old perception problem: if a players succeeds offensively largely because of grit, he must play great defense.
Or not. But he's been great so far, I agree. Phenomenal, in fact, and deserving of MVP consideration at this point. I would even agree he's been more productive than Rose this season. That doesn't mean I'd rather have him, at least for the long run.
Rose is a more polished player. His handle is more advanced, and his moves more impressive. Where Westbrook moves mostly in straight lines, Rose possesses the rounded ability to dance around defenders, over them, or just blow by them. Westbrook's style is more conducive to drawing fouls, but, come playoff time, I want my point guard to have every trick in his repertoire. Think about Kobe Bryant: it's almost impossible to defend him, because he does so many things so well. It's much easier to defend a one-trick pony.
I'm not saying Westbrook is a one-trick pony (he fills up a box score like it's nobody's business), and I'm not comparing Derrick Rose to Kobe Bryant. Not by any means. But in such a neck-to-neck race, I believe, the more diversified game wins out. Game, set, match, Derrick Rose.
(Author's Note: What a horrible brother. It's my first story for CelticsBlog and Jay just dominated this debate like Will Ferrell in Old School. That was a perfect response, I have no rebuttal. Opposing PG's PER not withstanding, I still take Westbrook. I'm stubborn like that.)
Love 'Em Like Larry
- George Karl- Karl earned his 1,000th win Friday night when the Denver Nuggets beat the Toronto Raptors 123-116. Karl is doing a really great coaching job this season. He has the Nuggets at 14-8 despite the circus surrounding Carmelo Anthony and some early season injury problems. Karl has even (somewhat) tamed the always wild, always erratic J.R. Smith. Beating cancer was probably easier than getting through to Smith.
- Andrew Bogut- Bogut posted a 31 and 18 last Saturday against the Dwight Howard-less Magic, then followed that up with 24 points and 22 rebounds Friday against Houston. Bogut is arguably the best low-post player in the NBA, yet he somehow flies under the radar. Kendrick Perkins and Boston Celtics fans know all too well about Bogut, but your average NBA fan doesn't appreciate his standing as one of the game's top centers.
- Amare Stoudemire-We all knew the man could score. 30+ in seven straight games for Amare hardly surprises me. What does surprise me is that the Knicks have won all seven of those games and 11 of their last 12. Perhaps LeBron should have headed to New York to team up with Stoudemire instead of Chris Bosh. Can you imagine the near unstopability (add that word to your vocabulary) of a Lebron James-Amare Stoudemire pick-and-roll? Scary thought. Amare has taken a lot of heat for not being a winner and not rebounding, but I've got to give him some props for how he's leading the Knicks right now. Congratulations, Amare. Keep up the good work. Shalom.
Trade 'Em Like Tony (Allen, that is)
- Orlando Magic-The Magic have lost four straight games and looked listless in the process. On Thursday, the Magic lost by 14 points to the reeling Portland Trailblazers, despite 39 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks from Howard. I've said since the beginning of the season that the Magic are not true title contenders, and their play this week has made me look like a smart man--and that's tough to do.
- Brook Lopez/Devin Harris-The Nets have lost six straight, but this is all about the stink bomb these guys put up in the 25-point blowout loss to the Celtics. Lopez and Harris are supposed to be team leaders, yet they led one of the worst team efforts in my recent memory. Lopez scored only five points, while Harris had 7 points and 4 turnovers. Their defensive effort was equally atrocious. I know your team stinks, but show some pride, fellas. You do get paid millions of dollars to play basketball.
- Team announcers-Until I got NBA league pass, I thought Tommy Heinsohn was the only horrible, homer announcer. Look, I love Tommy for all the same reasons you do, but, you have to admit, he's not a great announcer and only talks about Tommy Points, Semih Erden or the awful officiating. Heinsohn is not alone, however. Not to name names or anything (Dominique Wilkins), but the majority of team announcers are just as bad as Tommy. They say asinine things, root for their team unabashedly, and generally provide no analysis. It makes me miss Mark Jackson's "Mama there goes that man!" Heck, I'd prefer Bill Simmons, even though he sounds like he's perpetually stuck in puberty with that high, squeaky voice.
Next week's DVR Queue:
- Monday- Hornets @ Heat, 7:30 PM
- Tuesday- Magic @ Nuggets, 9:00 PM
- Wednesday- Celtics @ Knicks 7:00 PM, Cavs @ Heat, 7:30 PM
- Thursday- Spurs @ Nuggets, 10:30 PM
- Friday- Suns @ Mavericks, 9:30 PM
- Saturday- You're watching too much basketball, take a night off, have a social life.
- Sunday- Suns @ Thunder, 7:00 PM