Posts Tagged ‘Basketball’

As expected, neither side of the NBA’s power structure, the acts or the management could come to an agreement yesterday and they became the second major pro sport to “lockout” its talent. With that said, the issues that are separating the NBA are much more radical than the one’s facing the NFL. The NBA has essentially become the most segregated (financial) league in the game, even with a salary cap in place. And whenever dollars being discussed, sense goes out the window, and pushing every single issue as far as it can be shoved in order for every side to have their grievances aired is the order of the day….or month….or year.

Essentially the NBA has closed ranks on everything around it and won’t even be beginning discussions for weeks. When they do start they will be essentially be wiping the structure of the League clean and reformatting it. This could, and will, take a long time to sort out, and an abbreviated season is guaranteed. Even when they locked out for lesser issues in 1998-99 they still only played 50 games and by many accounts this one will be much tougher to sort out.

So what if it’s off the board completely? David Stern is going to be highest paid custodian in America trying to clean up the mess his league is headed into. No NBA for the next 12 months…what issues on the court get altered? How do some careers take the fall with lost time on the court…but increased age picked up in the process? Does the very direction of the League itself get altered due to what is decided in the indefinite amount of meetings that are on deck? While it’s too early to say how exactly it shakes loose, here are 10 issues and scenarios that could come to play out if the NBA debates win out over the game itself.

10. Big men rest big injuries for longer: Greg Oden and Yao Ming have been two of the biggest shadows looming over the NBA for the last few years, but haven’t given anything back at all. Combined they have played a total of 91 minutes across 5 games last year (belonging to Yao). However, height is the one thing you don’t give up on (unless it’s Eddy Curry), so both of these former #1 overall picks still have some value (and apparently its $8.8 million for Oden already). Both are due to see freedom of the restricted variety soon, and with some extra time to heal up they could manage to glue their potential back together.

With some extra time to heal, perhaps it won't be too late for Oden to deliver on promise (no guarantees though).

9. Study Abroad: Could there be more instances of Josh Childress-like moves across seas from free agent NBAers? It’s not completely likely due to the fact that it all could get resolved sometime mid contract for anybody that goes across seas, but it wouldn’t be completely unlikely to see a few guys in need of a payday head across the pond.

8. The Raptors get their guy earlier: The Raptors draft Jonas Valanciunas with the intent on waiting for him to fulfill his contract in Lithuania and join them in 2012. Well now with the NBA potentially not even starting up until 2012 itself, he could have been the steal of the Draft as he could be right on time showing up now. This could be a stroke of drafting genius, as landing a 7 footer with athleticism and the ability to stop the ball at the rim is always a benefit in today’s NBA where that is becoming more and more rare.

7. The end of the Tim Duncan: If somehow a shortened season happens, then forget all of this about him. He’ll be ready to go next year and in a leading fashion unlike he has served in the last few years most likely, due to not having to save himself for as many games. However, if this lasts over a full season, then what’s left of Timmy could be lost in time, as he definitely has a very short leash left in his reserves.

With a prolonged lockout, the chances of more Duncan become slimmer and slimmer.

6. Boost to the College Game…at the right time: Basketball fans are going to get hungry for the game. And while there are some hardcore NBA fans who could care less about the college game at all, by the time February comes around and there is no All-Star game, they thirst for some kind of basketball will be overwhelming, and the turn will go back to the college courts. With more talent returning to school this season than in any other recent season (largely because this now real lockout was looming), the college game should be better than it has been in many years.

Teams like North Carolina are returning extra talent this year, and could be the stars of the basketball universe next year.

5. Double the kids: Speaking of the youth, there could be a double dose of that hitting the league at once if this lasts into next summer. Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis or Perry Jones could be joining Kyrie Irving as a double debuting #1 pick next year. Take the NHL for example: when their season was missed in 2004-05 they had a totally open Lottery with position based on most frequent times choosing #1 and Playoff appearances over the last three years. This would be really bad for the Cavs, but could spell money for the Clippers, Wizards and Timberwolves of the world. At any rate, that could raise the comp for Rookie of the Year to an epic level…whenever it may be competed for.

4. Kobe’s run up the record books: He reaching rarefied air in the NBA record books, but he’s also 14 years in and at over 48,000 minutes played at the demanding guard position. So while time isn’t over yet, it’s definitely nowhere near endless anymore. He just had plasma therapy done on his knee and it is the third procedure within the last year to ease what has become a constant issue for him. #24 would be best served by not having any of his time wasted away from being on the court. Plus, he’ll be charged with rallying what will be a much different Laker club around himself, and having the certainty of when he’ll need to take to that task would definitely help.

3. The balance of power in the East: The East will look really different in one way or another when this is all resolved, and either way it won’t end up like it was projected to before the books were opened and revised. The Knicks attempt at following the Heat’s talent stocking model will probably be capped (no pun intended) at Carmelo and Amare. The Heat themselves may even have to drop one of their marquee names (bye Bosh). The Celtics will feel the burn of the sands of time more than any other club that isn’t based out of San Antonio. They were biding their time already with the Big Three, and they are the only contender in the division that is pushing for the title with a completely past their prime core. Either way, the future is looking good for teams that are already set.

2. The Biggest Olympics since ’92: If no basketball happens until the Olympic tip-off in July 2012, it will be the most anticipated moment in U.S. basketball in a long time. It will be a matter of national pride on the biggest stage and the return of NBA ballers of the highest caliber. It won’t be Jordan, Magic and Bird linking up for the first time and they definitely won’t be destroying the opponents 40 points, but it will definitely be Heaven on Basketball Earth to say the least.

These guys won't be back when the Olympics tips off, but it could feel like it.

1. What really changes what would have been: The communist v. proletariat way the NBA was headed in is over. This could lead to a lot of “What if” scenarios along those lines to not happen, simply because how funds (and how much will be available) is simply an unknown. One thing that is for certain is the majority of NBA owners are going to do everything in their power to spread money out more even to ensure they don’t continue to lose on their investment (only seven teams made money a year ago). Also, the small market owners are going to see to it that it’s much, much harder for their franchise saviors to jump ship to more attractive teams and larger markets.

The post-lockout Chris Paul race could look much different than how it was looking beforehand.

The value of the dollar is going to be reshaped tremendously, and will likely favor keeping teams intact. So Dwight Howard to LA could get considerably tougher without the Lakers moving out nearly everything. The Knicks extra piece may not be Chris Paul or Deron Williams, and speaking of Williams, this could mean a definite stay in Jersey. Looking ahead at other guys not on contenders that could be looking to jump into future mixes such as Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, it won’t be as easy to go from the cellar to the penthouse, and a promotion up the ladder of success may stop with the Orlandos, Indianas and Houstons of the world.

Overall, the times are changing, both the past is very subject to the future.

If you’re a fan of big names and surefire superstars running out their first blocks in the NBA, this draft isn’t for you. However, if following the most wide open NBA debut night in many, many years intrigues you, this is a great year. The talent pool for tonight’s NBA Draft is devoid of any John Wall, Blake Griffin or Derrick Rose type of definite impact debuts, but there is a ton of movement around a group of well known college stars that makes this one of the NBA’s best soap opera nights in sometime.

From the Cavaliers having to make not one, but two, tough calls in rebuilding their team early in the night, to mixture of “known”, by name only, college ballers being evaluated nearly equally with international guys, theres a lot of everything here. So before passing judgement or being disappointed by no one player that is already a superstar in a league he hasn’t played in yet, take time and look around what may be one of the purest drafts of all-time.

Irving brings a short resume to a spot with long expectations if his name leads off this draft.

No player has ever earned any top billing in the NBA before they step foot on it’s court. And at least with this year’s class, their image can only go up. Here is my take on what goes best for each club,  with a mixture of what fits, what’s the rumors and where their talent says they should land.

 

1. CAVS: Kyrie Irving-PG-Duke

In today’s NBA, a point guard is the quickest route to turning a franchise’s fortune, outside of a once in a generation-type talent to build around. Well since they lost one of those, and felt the immediate effects, they’ll go around the safest way to build up a franchise otherwise. Forget the Baron Davis is already there talk, if he was so good the Clippers wouldn’t have traded him (and this pick) just to move him out. Having a definite floor leader to influence the game and build around is a solid way to head back up the road to respectability, and Irving is the most balanced option in this year’s pool.

2. T-WOLVES: Derrick Williams-PF-Arizona

Williams is a great talent that can contribute in multiple ways from day one. However, exactly how (and where) he does that is uncertain. What is certain is that he puts the Wolves in a tight spot of needing to add the most talent possible, but having that talent be at a position they are relatively set at already. He could be an insurance item in the case of Kevin Love leaving town, or this year’s Derrick Favors (a high talent selection held on until the right deal presents itself…either tonight or after the season starts).

Whether it is about his position or even his city after being drafted, where he fits has been Williams' biggest question mark.

3. Jazz: Enes Kanter-C-Turkey

More than just a few guys help the Jazz here, as they could use a point guard and some help on the wing. However, taking Kanter gives them something that won’t be available when they pick again at number 12: a solid middle piece to an impressive collection of front court talent.

4. CAVS: Tristan Thompson-PF-Texas

Toughest call yet, and the first true wild card of the draft. Evidently the Cavs love seven footer Jonas Valanciunas here, but he won’t be available to play next year in the NBA, and the Cavs need as much immediate help as possible. They worked on Thompson again recently and liked what they saw, so the move to add another long, athletic talent around the rim could land on him. Since they have said they’ll be staying here, the options could be limited just to him at this point. A few other guys make a bit more sense to go with what they want to build around already though.

5. RAPTORS: Brandon Knight-PG-Kentucky

This a major find here for Toronto. He is a legit play creator that can function in both positions in the back court and would give them an impressive young, athletic backcourt along with Demar DeRozan. They need a body in the post that’s inclined to improve their terrible defense, but passing on Knight’s talent isn’t an option here.

Knight looks to follow in the footsteps of his Kentucky PG predecessor John Wall as a quick impact NBAer.

6. WIZARDS: Jan Vesely-SF-Czech Republic

Vesley gives them a long athletic finisher that can run the floor and continue to better that fast break approach the Wizards have committed to building around John Wall. They need help under the rim, but waiting on Valanciunas isn’t an option here and they love what Vesley brings to the table on potential as a perimeter defender as well.

7. KINGS: Kwahi Leonard-SF-San Diego St.

Tough call here, as they are in need of a point guard since Tyreke Evans is moving off the ball next season and there are several talented ones on the board still. However, Leonard brings an athletic, versatile forward that adds another running mate with Evans in their attack and has the skill to become one of the better shot blocking wings in the League. Management loves Jimmer though, and that could overrule here.

8. PISTONS: Jonas Valanciunas-C-Lithuania

A top-3 talent with plenty of strings attached. No team wants to go through a Rubio situation and while Valanciunas’ debut is guaranteed to only last a year, all of these teams need help yesterday. The Pistons are looking for a defensive talent to pair with Greg Monroe around the rim, and Valanciunas’ promise may be worth the wait. This could be a hold pick for the Rockets as well, as they are in love with the Lithuanian big man and are willing to give up several picks to select him.

The impact won't be immediate, but Valanciunas is out to prove he is worth the wait.

9. BOBCATS: Chris Singleton-SF-Florida St.

The Bobcats need everything they lost when Gerald Wallace was shipped away, and Singleton brings many of those same tools to the table. He isn’t the freakish athlete Wallace is, but he is the best defender in the draft and is also quite familiar with coach Leonard Hamilton from college.

10. BUCKS: Alec Burks-SG-Colorado

The Bucks need another attacker on the wing, and Burks is the most aggressive scorer in a weak shooting guard class this year. His shot needs to come a long way, but he can flat score and gets to the rim and free throw line. Instant offense.

11. WARRIORS: Klay Thompson-SG-Washington State

Jerry West likes smart players, and Thompson is that. He is capable of playing anywhere from the 3 to the 1, and gives the Warriors options as they reshape and balance out their roster under their new regime. An athletic big man could also be in play here.

12. JAZZ: Jimmer Fredette-PG-BYU

This is part need pick and part fan pick. Jimmer is a legend in Utah and he is also instant offense for a team that needs to get more off it’s bench. Being paired with Devin Harris for now at the one gives him time to grow, and gives Jazz fans a reason to get excited.

13. SUNS: Marcus Morris-PF-Kansas

The Suns brought nothing under the rim that could provide any sort of threat around the rim after Amare Stoudemire left for New York, and they suffered last year because of it. Morris is a solid big that does some of everything, and while he’ll never be the All-Star athlete that preceded him, he does give the Suns a much need boost in the toughness department.

14. ROCKETS: Nikola Vucevic-C-USC

The Rockets need size around the rim and Vucevic is the last of the legit true centers in this draft. There’s more talent available, but this is a pick to fit and the Rockets learned how small they are last year with Yao out the mix. He’d be one of the quicker to start players in the Draft landing here.

15. PACERS: Kemba Walker-PG-UConn

And the slide ends here. Kemba could take a major hit if the Kings pass on him or another team doesn’t stray far from their needs to snatch him before he gets here. The Pacers made the move to solidify their PG situation with Darren Collison last year, but landing Kemba gives them another offensive threat from the point, which they lacked for a long time.

Walker brings a big name to the Draft, but could he be in for a big slide too?

16. SIXERS: Bismark Biyombo-PF-Congo

The biggest unknown in the field and will be tempting to a number of teams long before this point, starting with the Raptors at 5. However, with so little for sure talent in this year’s pool, some teams may pass on him due to concerns about him having any offensive potential at all. However, he can bang under the rim and he will add a body, which is exactly what the Sixer need to mix in.

17. KNICKS: Kenneth Faried-PF-Morehead St.

The Knicks need defense anyway they can get it, and Faried is exactly the type of guy they need. He can match up with either forward position and has a strong motor around the rim and blocking shots. He is exactly the type of defensively inspired player they need.

18. WIZARDS: Jordan Hamilton-SF-Texas

A long, rangy shooter that can step into the shoes of Rashard Lewis. Hamilton gives the Wizards the ability to stretch the court more and could live on kick outs from Wall alone.

19. BOBCATS: Markieff Morris-PF-Kansas

The Bobcats need more presence around the rim and guys that are able to rebound. The other Morris twin gives them that and is experienced and ready to go now.

20. TIMBERWOLVES: Iman Shumpert-SG-Georgia Tech

A hot rising name in the last few days before the Draft, and there are a number of teams that are interested in him before this point. If he lasts this long he makes great sense for the Timberwolves, who have an abundance of young offensive-minded talent, but need a defense first grinder as well. Shumpert is that guy, and can guard either position in the backcourt.

21. BLAZERS: Tobias Harris-PF-Tennessee

The Blazers need more help on defense around the rim, but passing on Harris may be too hard to do. He can play either forward position and gives the Blazers another tall forward that can stretch the floor with his jumper. Taking a combo guard could be the order of the day here too.

22. Nuggets: Marshon Brooks-SG-Providence

Brooks is a multi-talented guard that can slide between shooting and point guard with little effort. Since J.R. Smith most likely will not be returning and Raymond Felton could be on the move, he fits in in a number of ways here.

23. ROCKETS: Dontas Motiejunas-PF-Lithuania

Once again, more size for a team that needs it, but this time with an offensive touch. While the Rockets could be packaging this pick to move up for his countryman Jonas Valanciunas, if they don’t make that move they don’t lose out completely landing this 19 year old with definite offensive skill to be developed.

24. THUNDER: Kyle Singler-SF-Duke

Singler is just a solid, do everything needed type and fits in well with the Thunder, who don’t have one glaring need. They are said to be in love with his work ethic and ability to do what is needed between the lines. We’ve seen his kind before, and if given a manageable role, he’ll be a good asset.

25. CELTICS: Tyler Honeycutt-SF-UCLA

The Celtics are building up their bench for the soon-t0-come roster turnover due to the age of their stars, and having Honeycutt on staff helps them out at either the SF or SG spot down the road. It’s all about versatility here.

26. MAVERICKS: Reggie Jackson-PG-Boston College

Jackson hasn’t worked out once due to a knee injury suffered just before Draft camps and workouts began, but for a team that can afford to take a risk to get back a sure fire contributer, he’s a good pick. The Mavs have the depth in the backcourt to support such a pick and he makes some of their impending free agent decisions a bit easier to confront.

27. NETS: Jimmy Butler-SF-Marquette

The Nets are weak on the wings, and need a solid overall player that can step in and help immediately. Butler is that guy and can knock down the long range shot at a plus rate as well.

28. BULLS: Jajuan Johnson-PF-Purdue

Another body never hurts, and Johnson is an experience veteran that is committed to defense around the rim and is an athletic finisher to boot. He fits in perfectly with what the Bulls emphasize.

29. SPURS: Nikola Mirotic-SF-Serbia

The Spurs collapse at the end of the season and rapidly aged roster says on the surface that they need to get an immediate youth boost with this pick, but if they are anything as a franchise it’s patient and Mirotic is an investment in that philosophy. He won’t be available to come to the NBA for at least two years, but could be well worth the wait (he’d be approaching Lottery consideration if he was free to play next year) and would give the Spurs yet another international first round theft.

30. BULLS: Nolan Smith-PG-Duke

Smith is a polished contributor and ACC Player of the Year that proved over the course of his career at Duke that he was capable of filling any role needed, including defense first guard, to off ball shooter to offensive center piece. He is perfect for a Chicago team that needs help at both guard spots off the bench and needs a steady ball handler behind Derrick Rose.

The word following up the NBA Finals hasn’t been in the spirit of celebrating the victors; rather it has been towards the promise unfilled by one LeBron James of southern Florida fame. There has been a world of talk and example made about his shortcomings, and I’ve already addressed that here, so I wont’ go any further into that. Rather lets take a look back at some the fails that took place over the course of the entire season here.

Jennings couldn't recapture his rookie magic, and the Bucks couldn't continue to grow either.

From the a much discussed free agent carnival in the summer of ’10, all the way through a quite unpredictable season on the court, the 2010-11 NBA was full of all sorts of highs and lows, deliveries on promise and M.I.A. missions as well. While there were a few teams and players that came up short on what was called for them this year (the Bucks, Rockets, David Lee and Deron Williams/Jerry Sloan to mention a few), below are what I see as being the biggest “WTF?” moments and performances of the season. On Monday, we’ll take a look at the biggest surprises and overachievers from the year past as CSP moves into NBA Draft week….and perhaps some off court struggles that could be the #1 moment on this list next year.

 

5. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers seemed like they were on cruise control all season and never really showed the flare to have the push that everybody was waiting to see out of them. Even Kobe kind of seem to go through the motions this year (which still lead to him being a top 5 MVP finalist). In the end, they caught a sweep in the Western Semifinals, and ended it in a classless manner that proved they were only the team they had been the previous two seasons in appearance only.

In the end, even Bryant couldn't will his Lakers to finding their stride for long this year.

4. Milwaukee Bucks: This was a team a year ago that made a surprisingly strong push behind Brandon Jennings major debut, and even touched the playoffs after some good trade deadline moves around John Salmons. However, a year later after adding to that core and getting a monster year out of Andrew Bogut around the rim, they got worse in a division that got much worse too…very strange.

3. Carlos Boozer: He was brought in to give the Bulls a front court scoring threat for the first time since Elton Brand was jettisoned, but often was more obstacle that asset. Running in the pick and roll based attack Jerry Sloan deployed in Utah, his jump shot based offense was perfect, but he was asked to create more of his own offense this year and struggled to do so against the variety of athletic forwards in the East. Either the Bulls have to tweak their attack or Boozer has to find a way to get new openings because he wasn’t brought over for 17 points and 9 rebounds a night.

2. San Antonio Spurs: It’s rare that you see a veteran team just absolutely lose their way like the Spurs did down the stretch; let alone one that has the championship pedigree this squad does. The Spurs raced out to what remained an insurmountable start to be the best club in the West all season. They lost 21 games on the season, but 10 of them came after March 1. By March that was just by record as they began a collapse that followed them into the Playoffs and showed them an early door. What’s more alarming, yet shouldn’t be surprising, is that the young Grizzlies pushed them to several clutch moments in their first round matchup that should have favored the Spurs, but they couldn’t capitalize on them and became the third #1 seed to lose in the first round ever. Never has a team began to look it’s age so quickly over the course of a season.

1. The 2010 Draft Class: Blake Griffin’s success in his debut masked the fact that his fellow rookies (that he wasn’t even drafted with mind you) did little to nothing. John Wall had a solid debut and shows exactly what he can be for the Wizards, but the rest of the group? It was nothing to write home about if you like to give good news. Of the All-Rookie team, Gary Neal was a free agent signing and Landry Fields was a second rounder. Of all Draft picks from last April, only Wall and DeMarcus Cousins managed to average double figures. While it’s still early to doom them to complete Bustville, they could be the first leg to the worst back to back years of new talent in NBA History. Stay tuned.

Wall showed up all season in D.C., but the rest of his fellow true rooks didn't have the best attendance.

 

 

Don’t see the biggest failure of the season from your seat here? Somebody taking an extra amount of heat they don’t need here? Comment and let me know. Also follow-up over on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan AND @STLSport360

The most common prediction for this series I ran across was Heat in six. The way the Mavericks played last night, that may be the right prediction, with the wrong team attached. Coming into this series, no total team had played better in the Playoffs than Dallas, yet that form hadn’t found them in the Finals until last night. Every single element of the Mavs was clicking and when combined with Dirk Nowitzki continuing his tear through the nets, it buried the Heat consistently all night.

However, the biggest story line was the rebound of LeBron James from his drought the previous game. He did bounce back in an impressive overall fashion, however in the end he still wasn’t there to fend off the onslaught the Mavericks closed out with to put them ahead going into the final phase of these amazing Finals. Today in 3 Truths, what happened to revive the Mavericks and put them in place to pull off one of the most impressive team runs in NBA history, and why once again the Heat are left with way more unanswered questions than should even be able to be asked.

 

TRUTH #1-SOAP OPERA STARS: For as great of a series as this has been on the court, it’s been just as petty off the court. A very definition of a role player, DeShawn Stevenson, has been the biggest mouth in the series, discussing the actions of players that are at least three levels above whatever it is he stands for in the NBA. That never sets right with me, because it’s like children getting involved in grown folks business. Go sit in the other room and wait for Dirk to call you for dinner; you aren’t even capable of feeding yourself, so get out the kitchen.

Instead of doing the mocking, Wade and James are one game short of being on the receiving end now.

On the other hand, the exact opposite is happening on the other bench. The leaders of the Heat, in LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, are as focused on making a mockery of Dirk Nowitzki’s injury and the coverage it has received. Is this what they should really be focused on, while Wade is giving 1000% yet still barely winning when he does and LeBron coming off a tragically impotent performance? Also, yet again rumors of LeBron’s womenfolk going under (literally perhaps) and taking him along with it? All the Heat has in the end are these two, and since they already can’t get it together on the floor, making fun of a guy that’s having one of the greatest Playoff runs ever shouldn’t be on their list of things to do. Maybe one of them should step up like Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem has in the final 20 seconds and to attempt to stop him. That would be a role more fitting of who they fancy themselves as instead of being court jesters…that are a win away from being the laughingstock of the NBA themselves.

 

TRUTH #2-ALL TOGETHER NOW: On the floor, something that was no laughing matter in Miami happened: Dallas owned every area of the floor. The Mavericks played their game completely for the first time in the series, and the results were clear. They walked away with the biggest win of any game thus far in the series, with every element of the team coming together. Dirk led the way as usual, but this time the scoring load was from just his responsibility. Jason Terry hit 20 points for the first time, but most importantly, his accuracy improved, especially from deep.

Terry's revival capped the Mavericks getting back to the form that landed them here.

Overall, 5 Mavs hit double figures, with Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea finally breaking out of a series long slump and regaining the form that made him a major x-factor in the Thunder series. This led the top scoring performance of the series, and when combined with superb defense all night, the Mavs played the best game either team has mustered the entire series. They used their last home game of the season as best as they possibly could and gained much needed momentum as they attempt to finish the series on the road.

 

TRUTH #3-DO FOR SELF: LeBron got numbers, as a triple-double is a triple-double, either way you slice it. But what still didn’t return was his assertiveness in getting them, especially while Dwyane Wade spent much of the second and third quarter in the locker room. The Heat needed him in attack mode, going after the rim like a pit bull after a crippled mailman. It never came; not when Wade was out, nor in during the fourth quarter where he was still but a “Witness” to the action himself.

LeBron's overall numbers improved, yet the song remains the same when the spotlight was at its brightest.

His great talent has always been that he can impact virtually every aspect of the game, however what is needed now is his to narrow that focus and put up serious points. Not on three pointers and fade aways, rather flying at the rim and getting to the emphasis points and/or free throws. He seems to think the flow of the series will come to him over time and he’ll find his way. Well in the course of waiting for that to find him, the Mavericks have taken control of it for themselves and now are on the verge of keeping it. LeBron would be best served by thinking of the “I” if he really wants to help the team…before it’s too late.

(LeBron got numbers…but they came on the outskirts…Wade came back…but it was awkward and too late….the Heat need LeBron to go against his focus on enabling some and going for the rim….Wade’s health needs it, he’s not that guy anymore)

When you look back at this series in a few years, or maybe even next week, Game 4 will stand out as the defining game of the series, one way or another. From a team perspective, if Dallas doesn’t win you can chalk it up. If Miami wins, they show their fortitude by coming into Dallas snatching two quick road wins. On the other hand, there are the performances of the top billed stars. Dwyane Wade keeps hammering the Mavs like a hurricane, but fumbles away his chance at a historic closing chance. Dirk Nowitzki’s heroics now beat the clock…and illness. Chris Bosh keep reasserting himself. And LeBron James has a funeral in the middle of the game…for himself (but I’m not even sure if he showed up for that).

That last part is major and tells the whole story of everything else that went on, has been debated and will paint the picture of everything going forward. But for now it frames why this series is tied up and is headed to what could be a race to the finish. Will the Heat’s co-star regain top billing, or did he doe irreparable damage to his standing (and legacy)? Has the Mavericks confidence and home support been repaired to the point that, as a unit, they now know they can win this thing again? There’s a lot that Game 4 told…and opens up a Pandora’s Box of scenarios. Today in 3 TRUTHS I’m taking on all of the major plot lines that showed their faces, varying from ugly to promising to downright horrible on Tuesday.

TRUTH #1-LeLOST: Where do you start? The numbers are clear and were already beaten Washington Generals-level dead before the game even ended, so let’s go beyond that. I’m going at exactly how it happened. LeBron stood around at the top of the key and dribbled back and forth non-stop, and was often hard to spot in the flow of the game. Now stop, that’s what stands out to me the most: just how much he didn’t stand out. He was timid. Even in the light of the larger than life effort by Dwyane Wade, it was still the loudest silence I’ve heard in long time. Matter of fact he disappeared, and when he resurfaced the results show one of the absolute worst performances for a leading man in Finals history.

Even in November that would’ve been unacceptable performance, but now it’s magnified to a major level. LeBron is no stranger to the spotlight, but the effort he put up on Tuesday was the first time I ever saw him basically drop back from it. He’s not the first major superstar to have a game like this in the Finals, as once again, the Jordan comparisons are inappropriate (a look at Magic Johnson’s clutch failings early on paint nearly the exact picture as LBJ currently). The main difference: Magic proved he could win already, he had climbed the mountain that LeBron looks like he’s on the edge of falling off right now. However, he put himself in a unique position that breeds unparalleled expectation. This is the position he forced himself to get to from the moment from the second he aligned himself with the Heat and immediately made them the spectacle they are. So to get here, and continually decrease your profile in the Finals to the point where you nearly have to get out a flashlight and search and rescue dogs just find out if he even played? Nah, this is plain unacceptable. 25-year-old ex-MVPs cannot become zombies in the Finals. No exceptions. While it’s far too early to look at this as a deciding point in his career, it is a mark that he must overcome now, once again, in a similar fashion that Magic did in route to re-establishing himself.

LeBron can't hide from how bad that performance looked...and his legacy may not be able to either

In the end, the issue is that great players are expected to step up and be undeniable forces in close games, especially in during the pinnacle series of the season. However, so far LeBron has managed nine points in 48 minutes of fourth quarter basketball in the Finals. And like it or not, that is the only reason the NBA season is still going on right now. You got to carry that weight LeBron, because you asked for it.

TRUTH #2 – MORE FOR LESS: This series is playing closer than any Finals series in history, so the first 40 minutes have become basically nothing more than the undercard to what is on deck in the end: how far ahead can the Heat get before Dirk inevitably starts his Blitzkrieg (I’d been want to work that reference in all series, I’m relieved now).  In a complete opposite take on what was just relayed about the life and times of LeBron in the last 48 minutes, Dirk has total 44 points in the fourth quarter thus far. That’s right, nearly a point a minute ridiculously efficient output. And the biggest issue may have become in this series for the Heat may have become not stopping Dirk, but how far ahead can they get before the inevitable charge he leads comes. They may just have accept the fact they can’t stop him from getting his late, and just do everything humanly possible to try to limit it instead.

At this point, even King Koopa probably can't slow Dirk up down the stretch. He should just wear this fit tonight instead.

By limiting it, I don’t mean trying to play tougher defense against him, because clearly that’s not possible anymore (seriously, he’s playing like he gets the invincible star from Mario to start every fourth quarter now). By limiting him, they’ll have to get ahead by so many that even Dirk can’t bring them back. But for that to be, it all comes back to LeBron once again and if he can find a way to play with D. Wade and share the clutch minutes as much has he does headlines. The only game they successfully “Dirk-proofed” was Game 1, when they turned the last two minutes into an 2-on-8 fast break show and pulled off the biggest margin of victory of the series yet. So even saving them from Dirk is all in LeBron’s hands, which right now, is a scary proposition.

TRUTH #3 – ALMOST FAMOUS:  Despite the big name successes and failures ringing out the loudest after Game 4, for the majority of Tuesday the biggest noise in Dallas was made by the supporting cast that was coming to play finally. Other than Dirk, team depth was a great strength for Dallas coming into the series, but it had not shown itself at all yet and they had labored along due to it for much of the first three games. However, with Nowitzki struggling from a high fever most of the game, it was a must that the rest of the Mavs finally step up and shoulder some of the burden, collectively. Shawn Marion has been putting in work each game, but has often been the only supporting member of the deep Mavs squad to show up. Tyson Chandler inserted himself on the glass finally, and his 16 rebounds were the first time he completely dominated the glass in the series. His presence shifted what had been a great advantage for the Heat: control of the glass on both ends of the floor.

If Chandler's rebirth can spark the rest of the supporting Mavs, they may be about to take series control.

Chandler’s reemergence was just the first step in Dallas being able to make a legit run at taking the two of the next three games in this tied up and restarted series. Jason Terry has to get more shots falling earlier on so the Mavs can establish real leads to protect. But most critical is Jason Kidd has to find a way to get the ball to everyone in smarter places. Dirk is the only player capable of creating his own shot, so the rest of the Mavericks are waiting on Kidd find his self, and find them. The outcome of the next three games (and I’m calling a seven games now), may hinge on it.

While the series shifted from one American Airlines supported venue to another (Center to Arena) and to Dallas, it was nearly a complete repeat of the previous game in Miami. The Heat break out early, have a dunk contest and get way ahead. Then Dallas chips away at that lead, and finally gives it to only Nowitzki to close it out.

The only difference came this time in that Chris Bosh was given shooting the last shot duty, as opposed to defending it, and Dirk didn’t make his last second suspense-filled jumper to bring the Mavs back, and the Heat survived to pull ahead 2-1. But what’s really going on? Game 3 was so similar to Game 2 because there are some definite factors and identities that have been developed between these two teams that are pushing it in down the same avenues over and over again. Who do they favor? Can the Mavs continue to live inch by inch and do the Heat have what it takes to drive the stake into them and keep them down?

Here’s my 3 TRUTHS on those issues and a few more.

 

TRUTH #1 – GAME OF INCHES: So far this series has been remarkably close, with no game not being decided in the last two minutes. Games 2 and 3 were nearly twins, with just a style. The type of affair where you’d think your DVR messed up if not for the last 30 seconds. However, there’s a lot more to it than just the game of tag it has appeared to be so far. Game 3 established one major consistency that does not bode well for the Mavericks winning three more games this year: they cannot build on their leads.

Bosh looked much better taking the last shot instead of defending it, and it made the difference in the game.

Dallas has been playing catch up all series and are keeping it just close enough for Dirk’s one man show to pull them back into it (he scored 9 consecutive to end Game 2 and went on a 12 point spree to pull Game 3 even). That’s not the way to get a championship run done; just ask the Indiana Pacers of the 90’s. The Heat have been able to play for too comfortably for too long and that’s why it seems like they are always up by a million regardless of what is on the scoreboard. Somehow, Dallas has to play like the last two minutes starting in the first two, and no time better than the present to make it happen, at home with the fan motivation. But…..

 

TRUTH #2 – MOTIVATION: The Mavs are falling behind because they are a mixture of flat (basically anybody not

Cuban changing approach could be the spark the Mavs need.

named Dirk or Marion), confused (Rick Carlisle) or sedated (surprisingly, Mark Cuban). However, while it led to their downfall once, the Heat have been fired up the whole series, and their style of play as shown it. I’m going to take this one off the floor and say the biggest catalyst they could use is a fired up, intense Mark Cuban. Make your boys sweat out there Mark, you’re the biggest sideline presence in the game. Like vintage Spike Lee, only with the power to actually get under the refs skin and put the fear of leaving the luxurious lands of the Dallas Mavericks locker room in your players. At this point something has to give, and if the page is going to turn on this series it’s going to have to come from a spot on the bench that isn’t required to shoot or defend, just yell and write checks.

 

TRUTH #3 – THE DAGGER: So far LeBron has been doing the in-between work, playing a much lower profile game than usual (aside from a truly disrespectful dunk every quarter or so. I wonder if anybody has reclaimed Ian Mahinmi’s soul yet after Bron Shang Tsung’ed it with that dunk on Sunday). He’s played a game where he’s embraced the Scottie Pippen-type of role: making the assist, playing masterful defense and second hand scorer (an a step back from his role as the 2nd leading scorer in the League this year and Chicago Bull killer). His handling of the details has played a major role in Dwyane Wade being able to focus on being an outright carnivore against each severe mismatch that keeps get fed to him by the Mavs.

LeBron making more impacts like he did over Mahinmi could be what finally breaks Dallas' spirits.

However, coming out of Game 3 and looking forward, a visit from the Bulls series version of LeBron could break the Mavericks spirits. No player in the league finishes at the rim with the style he does, and if it can be found in the flow of the game (and still secondary to Wade’s all-out onslaught thus far), it could be the dagger in Dallas’ spirits. LeBron did a great job of constructing and playing within the best overall team performance of the series from Miami in Game 3, but now that they have the lead again, he’s got to go for the throat. Dallas will have to adjust their focus to be heavy on Wade in Game 4, he’s just doing way too much damage to them the way they are approaching him now. This equals more openings for LeBron in getting looks at the rim, and that’s the poison of playing the Heat: you have to give up a lot to stop a lot. If LeBron focuses this into attacking like Juggernaut for 4 quarters tonight, Game 5 may just be a formality.

 

For more on this, in-game rants and outtakes for Game 4, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

I usually reserve the 3 Truths tag for when something of controversy or major split opinion sporting news takes place, but there was just too much that happened in the game last night that made a really strong statement for me to pass on breaking it out today. So, I’m not even going to delay with the setup here (cause the Heat definitely didn’t), let’s get into it.

 

TRUTH #1-THE HEAT OWNED THE PAINT: The Mavericks aren’t a good rebounding team, mostly due to the fact that much of their advantage comes from the bevy of outside shooters they bring at you. However, if they want to stay in this thing, they have to get more from Tyson Chandler (4 rebounds in 34 minutes). Even if it just means keeping Chris Bosh honest around the rim. Overall, three Heat players totaled nine boards or better, while only Shawn Marion hit double figures on the other side. The most telling stat is the 16 offensive boards the Heat grabbed, while only surrendering 6 (one of which Brendan Haywood almost broke his arm trying to dunk back but getting severely hung…like, dude, you’re seven feet tall. Really?). If the Heat can own the area around the rim and live on put backs like the Mavs let them yesterday, this series won’t make it too far into next week.

Wade owned the glass for six more boards than Tyson Chandler. That can't happen again for the Mavs to make it.

TRUTH #2-WHERE WERE THE REST OF THE MAVS? The greatest advantage the Mavs have is their depth, as I discussed yesterday, their ability to deploy many different matchups and overall depth at is the best thing they have going. Well, they didn’t subscribe to that idea yesterday, as they only got 5 points from their non-Jason Terry bench. Peja Stojakovic, JJ Barea and Brendan Haywood combined to go 1 for 12 from the field, with nothing from behind the arc. Even Terry had a tough go at it, as he was surprisingly guarded by LeBron James much of the time and worked overtime hard to end up with the 12 points he did, going 3 for 10 from the field against his physically superior matchup.

If the other Mavs don't fill in their roles soon, Dirk could average 30 a game and it wouldn't be enough to pull it out.

The good news is that this most likely will not happen again, as they are too experienced to not adjust and find a way to impose themselves in the next few games, but the Heat did a masterful job of playing team defense and contesting the Mavericks all over the court.

TRUTH #3-DID THEY GIVE IT ALL THEY HAD? This game was close throughout, with the Heat only pulling away at the end; however that raised the biggest question of them all for me: could this just be the warm up for Miami? The Heat are closing games out as aggressive as any team I’ve seen in a while right now. In the last two minutes, LeBron and Dwyane Wade basically shredded the entire Mavericks team by themselves, concluding with a ridiculous NBA Jam-style oop that drove the dagger not just into Dallas chest, but through their back too. However, when I look at James (24 points on 9 of 16 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists) and Wade’s (22 points on 9 of 19 shooting, 10 rebounds and seven assists) stat lines, I just know they have even stronger efforts to turn in.

Despite a convincing 8-point win, could the Heat still be in route to widening that margin in game 2?

They did the majority of that damage in the second half, after a bit of a slow start from both clubs. However, there was nothing that Dallas was presenting that seemed to challenge them very much, even before they switched into fourth quarter overdrive. And this is all without mentioning how easily Chris Bosh asserted himself deep under the rim, which is definitely not his game.

I bring up all of that to lead to this: this isn’t the best effort they have in them on the offensive side. If the Big Three asserts itself in its fourth quarter fashion a bit early, continues to play stellar all around offense and the Mavericks don’t find some way to get those shots outside falling AND to throw their bodies around more underneath, this could be the shortest Finals since 2007….with a certain controversial Heat forward on the other end of the deal this time.