Western Conference Finals

The OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors are playing in one of the most hyped up playoff series in recent memory. It is filled with a lot of drama and excitement since these two teams played two extremely entertaining games in the regular season, which both ended in Warrior wins. Now, though, I think OKC may be doing something that few other  teams were able to do, and that is figuring a way to beat the Warriors.

With last night’s blowout OKC victory that saw Durant and Westbrook both on the bench in the fourth quarter, the Thunder are two wins away from perhaps the biggest upset in NBA history. It would be a big upset for OKC and a huge disappointment for the Warriors. I am not going to count them out though. They have the MVP and one of the best supporting casts I have seen in my time. So by no means are the Thunder in the clear yet. Do they have a little bit of momentum? Yes. Do the Warriors have what it takes to win game 4? Yes. What this means is that game 4 will be vitally important to the Thunder because winning will put the pressure on Golden State at home and then they will have the opportunity to close it out at home, given they lose game 5. Golden State can steal back home-court with a win on the road and then put the pressure on OKC in game 6.

So  how did the Thunder “figure out” the Warriors game plan? First off, the Warriors pack the paint on defense. They put Bogut on Andre Roberson, who is a defensive specialist and not a shooting threat. Draymond Green guards Adams, who is not a scoring threat unless underneath the basket. Klay Thompson guards Ibaka, who can shoot, but is better than having Durant and Westbrook shoot. Stephen Curry chases Westbrook around with Bogut acting as a zone defender for him. They do the same thing with Durant, but Thompson acts as the second defender to help out Barnes. Last night, the Thunder were able to punish the Warriors down low and take advantage of them in transition. The Warriors did miss a lot of shots, but that can only be an excuse for so long.

Steve Kerr’s bench also did not help. The famous small-ball lineup (Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes, and Green) got destroyed by the OKC lineup (Westbrook, Waiters, Roberson, Durant, Ibaka). The Thunder’s ability to rebound defensively opened up numerous fastbreak opportunities. All in all, the Thunder beat Golden State at their own game.

Now with the series at 2-1, I am putting the pressure on Golden State to win game 4. If they do not, I don’t see OKC losing at home when a chance to close out is on the line.

 

All-time Teams: Miami Heat

Today begins a series where I will focus on a particular team and name my all-time team for that franchise. I will have a starting 5, a sixth man, a coach, a logo, and also a set of uniforms. I will begin with none other than the Miami Heat.

Starting 5:

PG: Tim Hardaway – The trade made for Hardaway in the winter of 1996 was a move that propelled the Heat from a middle-of-the-pack team to a title contender. He was in the middle of his prime and paired very well with the Heat’s Alonzo Mourning to form one of the more deadly duos in the league.

SG: Dwyane Wade – I mean this is a no-brainer. Without a doubt the best player in franchise history, Wade has been the face of the team since he was drafted in 2003. He has brought all three titles to South Beach and has delivered many magnificent performances.

SF: Eddie Jones – Jones came to Miami in the summer of 2000 and instantly brought his stingy defense and deadeye shooting to a Heat team that was known for both. He helped the Heat go from bottom-feeder in 2003 to title contender in 2005 as the team’s “glue guy”.

PF: Udonis Haslem – Having just set the record for most playoff games by an undrafted player, it is only fitting that UD makes this list. He is also one of Miami’s favorite sons and became that through his workhorse mentality and a toughness that has been matched by very few. He has been a constant presence with the Heat through both ups and downs.

C: Alonzo Mourning – The Heat’s first superstar. Mourning came to the Heat just before the start of the 1995-96 season and he instantly became the Heat’s go-to guy. His intensity and defensive prowess jump-started Miami’s reputation as the tough and physical team that they were in the late 90’s. He retired as the Heat’s all-time leading scorer.

Sixth Man: Glen Rice – Although most of his success came in Charlotte, Rice began his career in Miami and was their best player until he was traded for Alonzo Mourning.

Coach: Pat Riley

Logo: 1989-1999

Uniforms: Current

 

 

Game 7 Review and Update

Game 7 between the Heat and the Raptors was not was most Heat fans were expecting. Not a lot of people expected to see the 116-89 butt-kicking that Toronto dished out. No one expected a wave of momentum from a game 6 win to crash and burn so suddenly and severely. There are many questions being asked about why the Heat could not at least make the game a little more competitive. The answer is simple: They just ran out of steam.

Miami did not have 2 of their starters (Whiteside and Bosh), Deng was dealing with a wrist injury, and then the trio of Wade/Dragic/Johnson was gassed. Miami literally threw all of their limited resources into the series and did about all they could. But kudos to the Raptors for sustaining and being patient until Lowry and DeRozan caught fire. To be completely honest, had Miami held on in game 2 and taken advantage of Valanciunas going down in game 3, we would be talking about the Heat and Cavs right now. However, that is not how it played out and the Heat are now facing new issues in the offseason. I will say that it was a fantastic season for the Heat and I feel they surpassed many people’s expectations, especially after Bosh went down.

Miami has to face its inner problems now. Whiteside, Wade, Deng, and Johnson are all free agents and Pat Riley would love to bring them all back. But as of now, Whiteside is going to be commanding a near-max salary, Wade is going to want to be compensated for his remarkable playoff showing, Deng and Johnson are both valuable assets, and there is the big free agent class that provides a stage where Riley shines in the recruitment category. The other question is the looming shadow of a possible health-induced retirement for Chris Bosh. I think that given time and proper rest, Bosh will be able to play again. I do think that he will have to start out on some sort of minutes limit or not playing both games of a back-to-back, which would give him rest while also saving him for the playoffs.

A summer full of questions, but also some high points. Winslow and Richardson have very bright futures ahead and will both vital pieces going forward. Tyler Johnson came back and had some quality minutes, which bodes well him. I think Briante Weber is a solid defender who could really provide a spark. If Whiteside were to return as many say he will, he will have improved as an offensive player and 1-on-1 defender given that he puts in the work (which he probably will).

I see a bright future ahead for Miami so no need to worry Heat fans, I see a conference finals appearance coming again soon!

GO HEAT!

Game 6 Recap

When I think center, I think of a big guy around the 7-foot height range with big broad shoulders and long arms. Last night, the center I saw was 6’7, but had the broad shoulders to go with the smaller frame. Obviously  I am describing Justise Winslow, the Heat rookie who had been a wing player the entire season.It was a bold move by Spoelstra, but having Winslow at center may have finally solved the Raptors defense.

Let’s start with some stats though. Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade combined for 52 points and both were getting to the rim at will all night. Dragic had perhaps his best game as a pro and was matching Kyle Lowry shot-for-shot throughout en route to a playoff career-high 30. Wade was the closer yet again with 8 points in the fourth quarter including an elbow jumper to put the Heat up by 8 with a few minutes to go. Josh McRoberts chipped in with 10 points and Joe Johnson had 13. Luol Deng had only 2 points, but played some great defense on Demar DeRozan throughout the game.

So why was the Winslow move so crucial? The Raptors had made it a priority to keep Miami out of the paint. They did so by defending Miami’s pick & roll game with a hard hedge on the ball handler to force a pass rather than a drive. To make things even harder, they would force the pass back to the top of the key rather than to the wing. If any Heat player got around the hedge, there was a Raptor big waiting in the paint for them. Spoelstra countered this by putting the versatile Winslow down low to help space the floor. This now gave heat ball-handlers 1-on-1 matchups that they have been craving all series. With Winslow a threat to cut underneath, Bismack Biyombo was somewhat neutralized as a shot-blocker and the Heat’s move away from a pick & roll for every play, the Raptors hedging plan went out the window.

It was an all-around great game from Miami, which was also highlighted by the Heat taking care of the ball and having only 7 turnovers. Toronto had forced almost 15 per game in the first five games, but the Heat’s ability to squeeze the orange took away a lot of transition hoops for the Raptors.

Game 7 will be tomorrow afternoon in Toronto to decide who goes on to the Eastern Conference Finals!

GO HEAT!

Game 6 Preview

It is desperation time for the Miami Heat. No doubt about it. Miami is down 3-2 to the Raptors and is facing elimination once again in the playoffs. They fought off Charlotte, but this is a different monster in Toronto that may have just a little bit more than the Heat at this point.

What is it going to take for the Heat to stave off elimination again? BIG performances from Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, and Goran Dragic. Can they do it? So far, they have been unsuccessful. The Heat were beaten up early in game 6 and were not able to fully recover from their early 20-point deficit. They were able to get within 1 in the 4th quarter, but the slow start really hurt them. The Raptors on the other hand, had their first game in which Lowry and DeRozan both played well, which bodes well for the team should they advance.

This series has been a slug fest with both teams losing their starting centers and now each team’s best perimeter defender is hampered by a wrist injury, although Deng and Carroll both hope to play tonight. Let’s keep our fingers crossed in hopes that no one else goes down for either team.

The key for Miami to win tonight is to keep Biyombo and Patterson off the glass, get some offense from someone not name Wade, and move the damn ball. In the last series, the Heat moved the ball and missed shots/turned the ball over. In this series, the Heat don’t move the ball and turn the ball over even more. Oh yes, and they miss shots because they can’t get good ones due to said lack of ball movement. Moving the ball will help the Heat to put more pressure on the Raptors while also avoiding the strong hedges that Toronto is using on the pick & roll. Speaking of which, Miami’s pick and rolls are not working at all because the Raptors are going under screens and then hedging hard to protect against the drive. Miami needs to get players moving along with the ball, which will open up driving lanes without having to set picks.

Miami could have won the last game had they kept Biyombo off the glass. He drew so many loose ball fouls and shooting fouls because of the Heat’s lack of physicality underneath. The only guy I can see matching him with strength is Udonis Haslem, who should get a lot of minutes tonight instead of McRoberts in my opinion. The Heat need to also keep Patterson of the glass, but that will be a little easier than Biyombo.

Wade was the Heat’s leading scorer last game, but most of his points came in the fourth quarter. We all know he can make plays late, but that does not mean that Miami should just grind it out until that point. They need Dragic and Johnson to produce! Johnson can score inside on whoever Toronto puts on him and Dragic is going to have to start attacking again or find a way to get around those screen hedges. My suggestion is to go around the pick and move the ball to the wing, therefore eliminating the hedger from the play. Quick ball movement should create a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 opportunity inside.

It is a tall order, but I believe the Heat can still pull this one out. GO HEAT!

Game 3 Preview: Heat/Raptors

Let’s start with Game 2. The Heat, frankly, should have a 2-0 lead in this series. No excuses. But I will, however, give credit to Toronto for not giving up and taking advantage if the Heat turning the ball over 21 times. It was a tough game to see, especially since the Heat were given every opportunity to take control.

There are some high points though. The Heat have played pretty poorly thus far in this series, but it was a couple of key play at the end of game 1 that gave them the advantage. What that means to me is that the Heat have the ability to take control of this series. The Raptors forced over 20 turnovers in the first two games, but still had to really fight for that second win. I’m telling you guys, the Heat have a golden opportunity to steal this next game and do it in dominating fashion.

Why am I making this prediction? Because the Heat, I think, have figured out the Raptors. It’s not that hard. They rely on creating offense from their defense and then getting to the foul line. That works very well most of the time. But what if they face a team that squeezes the orange and tries not to foul? Ding ding ding, there you go Miami. All you need to do is take care of the ball better and the Raptors big calling card will be shot. Let’s remember, that after DeRozan, Lowry, and Valanciunas, the Raptors have no one (Terrence Ross is far too inconsistent) that can create offense. That means Wade, Johnson, and Dragic, the primary ball-handlers, will need to be careful and play smart while still putting pressure on defenders.

If the Raptors struggle as much as they did back home to pull one win out combined with Miami’s dominance in South Beach, then they have a ton of pressure on them. With that said, they will be playing to try and steal one, which means the Heat need to be focused and ready to come out and end it early. That’s the key, don’t let them get back in the game.

GO HEAT!

 

Heat/Raptors: Game 2 Preview

Hey everyone, I am currently in a public place, so I do not think they would appreciate me yelling into a computer. So I’ll just type out my thoughts.

The Heat and Raptors will resume their playoff series tonight at the Air Canada Center in Toronto for Game 2! After a rough performance from both teams in game 1, Miami was able to pull out the victory 102-96 in overtime. It was a physical games that featured runs from both teams throughout. Let’s start, though, with Toronto.

Their half-court offense was pretty bad in game 1. There was not a lot of player movement and only a few passes were made during offensive possessions. It was difficult to watch sometimes. They were their best, however, in transition and got a lot of easy baskets by moving down the floor quickly and then making a good number of passes for shots. THat was all I was impressed with. Demar DeRozan had an OK game, but missed a lot of shots. Valanciunas played very well, but the big “uh-oh” for the Raptors was Kyle Lowry scoring only 7 points on 3-13 shooting. He HAS to be better for them even to have a chance. If not, then I don’t see them winning more than one game in this series. Coach Casey will have to have him on a short leash and be ready to put Cory Joseph in if Lowry continues to have shooting woes.

For Heat, it was in no way their best performance. They had 20 turnovers and missed some key free throws down the stretch, which allowed Toronto back in the game. Luol Deng and Joe Johnson has decent games, but both can be a lot better. The bright spots for the Heat were: Dragic widely outplaying Lowry, Wade making big plays throughout, and Whiteside grabbing 17 big boards. I did hold my breath when he came down on his knee, but it is only a sprain, so he should be just fine for tonight’s game. I do want to see some more from the Heat bench. Richardson had 11 points, but the Heat need more from the guys who come off the bench. The Heat should also consider slowing down the game to make the Raptors play in the half-court. Miami is by far the better half-court team, so why not take advantage?

GO HEAT!