Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau got hit with a $35,000 for suggesting that Lebron James flopped the other night after being shoved by Nazr Mohammed. Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m not a fan of traitor Lebron, but that claim is pretty ridiculous. Mohammed shoved Lebron out of the blue, and I’m not at all surprised that he naturally fell backwards. Thibodeau should have been fined.
That said, Thibodeau’s strategy versus Lebron is brilliant, even with some execution issues like Mohammed’s stupid shove. The idea is to get into Lebron’s head, and frankly Lebron had a bad game but was bailed out by his teammates. It may not lead to a Bulls win since they’re so overmatched, but with Lebron you have to challenge him physically and mentally as we’ve seen him wilt many times before both when he played for the Cavs and in 2011 with the Heat.
Of course, Lebron can also rise to the occasion and make you pay for it, but leaving him alone spells certain defeat for most teams. It’s playoff basketball and you have to challenge Lebron and hope he suffers a meltdown or at least starts altering his game.
It’s hard to imagine how the Chicago Bulls can give the Miami Heat a series, but it all starts with Joakim Noah, who frankly offers quite a contrast to Derrick Rose. Noah says the Heat series will be a “war” so don’t expect Chicago to back down. They’re going to need some of the waking wounded to return as we can’t expect Rose to suit up.
As we move into the second half of the NBA season, some unexpected teams are surging to the top of the ranks. Of course, nobody is surprised by the Miami Heat’s position at the top of the Eastern conference, but the wrong team from Los Angeles seems to be at the top, the Clippers. Many expected the Lakers to be the dominate team in the Western Conference, but they are not even in the picture right now. Here’s a quick look at where we stand as of right now:
1. Miami Heat
2. New York Knicks
3. Indiana Pacers
4. Atlanta Hawks
5. Chicago Bulls
6. Brooklyn Nets
7. Milwaukee Bucks
8. Boston Celtics
Biggest Surprises in the East
Probably the biggest surprise is the rivalry matchup sitting in the 2 and 3 seeds currently. Both Indiana and New York were expected to be in the playoff hunt, but not sitting right behind Miami with a legitimate chance to win the East. The Atlanta Hawks can also be thrown into this surprise group, as they are right behind the Pacers and not far behind the east leading Heat.
It’s going to be an exciting run to finish the season and snagging Indiana Pacers tickets for one of the final games, as they renew their historic rivalry with the Knicks, can lead to an exciting and memorable experience. All eight teams have winning records and the top four teams all have a real chance to win the conference.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Golden State Warriors
6. Houston Rockets
7. Denver Nuggets
8. Portland Trailblazers
Biggest Surprises in the West
The biggest surprise found in the western conference has to do with the team not in the playoff picture, as of right now. The 15-20 Los Angeles Lakers were picked to possibly win more games than any other NBA team in history, at the beginning of the season, but they currently sit 10 games back from the 8th and final playoff seed. Another huge surprise lurking even further back than the Lakers is the Dallas Mavericks.
Both of these teams have recently experienced quite a bit of success, but neither is even close to the playoff hunt right now. Without a long winning streak in the second half of the season, we may see the Lakers miss the playoffs for only the 6th time in franchise history and the first time since 2004-2005. We will most likely also see the playoffs played without Dallas for the first time since the 1999-2000 seasons.
With the two biggest surprises coming from the west, predicting the NBA finals teams isn’t all that easy. At the beginning of the year, many experts picked Miami and Los Angeles Lakers to make the finals. However, it’s necessary to re-evaluate the picture now and it’s very likely a team, such as the Indiana Pacers or the New York Knicks could build enough momentum to overtake Miami in the playoffs.
The west is all up for grabs and the most likely team to go to the finals is the San Antonio Spurs, simply because they know how to get there. Another team to look out for is the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they are young and capable of making a playoff run.
Whichever teams end up in the playoffs and the finals, this season has created quite a bit of excitement. The top teams in both conferences are only a few games apart from each other and nobody is running away with the conference titles. It will be exciting to watch and fun to see how it all shakes out.
The issues chasing Ray Allen out of the Boston Celtics and into the arms of their most despised opponent stacked higher and higher, and suddenly everything crystallized in the hours basketball’s most persuasive recruiter, Pat Riley, captivated him. The emperor of the Miami Heat sold Allen on never hearing his name in trade talks and a run of championships awaiting him. After all these years, Allen needed to feel wanted again, needed the recruiting, and Riles had such a willing soul sitting with him in the breeze blowing over Biscayne Bay.
“He felt he was getting respect that he hadn’t gotten from [Celtics president] Danny [Ainge] and [coach] Doc [Rivers] anymore,” a source close to him said Friday night. “…The presentation was incredible.”
Respect comes in different ways, but make no mistake: The Celtics had offered two years and $12 million – respect for someone’s who’s 37 and coming off ankle surgery – and it didn’t matter to Allen. He hated the way Ainge dangled him in trade talks, hated that the Celtics told him he was on his way to Memphis in a deal at the March deadline only to have Rivers later tell him the trade was dead. Allen hated that Rivers didn’t give him his starting job back after he returned from a late-season ankle injury, and hated that it always felt like he was the Celtics star made to sacrifice above the rest.
Adrian Wojnarowski goes on to detail Allen difficult relationship with Rajon Rondo and how that must have contributed to this decision as well.
Boston fans will be livid, and it will be interesting to see how this drama affects Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Allen fits in well with what Miami is doing, assuming Lebron continues to play in the paint like he finally decided to do last season.
Meanwhile, I wonder whether Boston will miss him much. Allen could alter a game, but he did so much less frequently over the past couple of seasons. Jason Terry might be a better fit with this Boston team that may have improved considerably with the additions of Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo in the draft.
After Miami came back against the Pacers, we had to be ready for a possible comeback in game 6 against the Celtics. This team has played well with their backs against the wall. But this really wasn’t about the Heat. I’ve watched Lebron James enough in Cleveland and last season to noticed when he’s about to flake during a game, but he was locked in from the beginning last night. He wasn’t playful. He wasn’t emotional. He was just locked in and focused on basketball. All the talk about his supporting cast, Bosh’s injury or Wade’s play isn’t really relevant. The main variable in the potential success of the Heat has to do with Lebron’s head. If Lebron doesn’t flake out, the Heat easily win last year, and Lebron also could have won a championship with the Cavs. It all comes down on him.
Last night was a big night for Lebron, but he’s had a lot of big nights in the regular season and in the playoffs. None of this matters unless he also leads Miami to a win in game 7, and then plays well in the Finals. Also, his outside shot was falling last night, and we all know that Lebron is pretty much unstoppable when he can hit his outside shot. But when he cools off he sometimes goes into a funk.
The problem this year is that Lebron and the Heat will be running up against a team in the Oklahoma City Thunder that just may be better than the Heat, even if Lebron plays up to his ability and doesn’t flake out. Kevin Durant is a superstar, and he’s surrounded by a gang of young studs that can match up with the Heat when it comes to athleticism. Also, Durant doesn’t need a sports psychologist to get him through the Finals.
So there won’t be much room for error for Lebron if he makes it to the Finals. Don’t crown him king just yet.