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.

 

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!

Wright Coming Home

The Miami Heat just announced today that they have signed veteran forward Dorell Wright. Wright, who was drafted by the Heat in 2004 and played for them until 2010. He also played for the Warriors, 76ers, and Trailblazers before playing this season in China.

Wright is a 6’9 wing player with very long arms and is also very athletic. His best attribute is his perimeter defense, which will be key against their playoff opponents. He is also a very good three-point shooter, which will help to spread the floor for guys like Wade and Dragic to drive to the basket. I think this is a very good signing for the Heat because Justise Winslow recently hurt his ankle against the Magic, so he could also fill in that void if Winslow’s injury persists.

So here is the possible playoff rotation:

PG: Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Briante Weber

SG: Dwyane Wade, Josh Richardson, Gerald Green

SF: Joe Johnson, Jusitse Winslow, Dorell Wright

PF: Luol Deng, Dorell Wright, Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem

C: Hassan Whiteside, Amar’e Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem

That is a solid rotation with a lot of depth and mixture of young talent and playoff experience. Wade, Haslem, and Wright have rings while Deng, Stoudemire, and Green have been to the conference finals before. Should be exciting.

GO HEAT!

 

 

Mr. Rook 2

Congratulations to Heat rookie, Josh Richardson, for being named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month! The 2nd-round pick out of Tennessee burst onto  the scene for a Heat team that went through a major offensive overhaul.

Richardson ended the month averaging 12 points, which ranked second among rookies in the East. The stat that really jumps out is the 59% he shot from behind the arc! He, along with Justise Winslow, have given the Heat a very bright future. Richardson has proven that, with energy and effort, a rookie can go from a D-League project to a solid rotation player for a playoff team.

I did not write for this yesterday because I wanted to see how the Rookie of the Month did in Miami’s game against Detroit. He did not disappoint with 16 points and another great game from behind the arc, hitting four out of his five attempts.

He is only one of three Heat rookies to ever win the award, with the other two being Michael Beasley in 2009 and Caron Butler in 2003.

Congratulations again Josh!

Heat Update

I apologize for not posting a recap of the Heat’s game against Portland. I was travelling and had no internet access. On a quick note, though, the Heat did not sustain the level they played with in the first quarter and could not match Portland’s point production. Yes, I think Wade not being their to pressure McCollum with his offense was a factor, but it was an overall poor performance from the Heat in the 110-93 loss.

As the Heat race to what should be a furious finish in the eastern conference race, here is where they are right now. They currently sit in 5th place behind Boston and Atlanta, although they are only half a game behind both squads. They are ahead of Charlotte due to the superior division record and are clear of both Indiana and Detroit at this point. They could face either of those three teams, which would make for some great games no doubt.

The Chris Bosh situation has not changed. He is still on blood thinners, but is seeking opinions from other doctors. A bright spot has been his return to the sidelines and his return to working out and watching film with the younger players. His addition to the rotation and the new style of offense would make the Heat an eastern contender right away due to his versatility on both ends of the floor.

Dwyane Wade is feeling much better from his neck and back soreness that held him out in Sacramento and Portland, so he should be ready to go against Detroit on Tuesday. He will need to be very healthy going into the postseason, because his game and style of play are best suited for the more possession-based playoff atmosphere. He has also played in more big games than I can count, therefore, that experience will give him an edge.

So who would be the best matchup for Miami in the playoffs. Obviously, they want the 3 or 4 seed. Being the 3 seed would have them playing Toronto if both teams won in the first round, while being the 4 seed sets up a date with Cleveland. In my opinion, I think Miami matches up better with Cleveland in that scenario. In terms of first round opponents, thee Heat will most likely play Atlanta, Boston, or Charlotte. They are 3-1 against Atlanta, 0-2 against Boston, and 2-2 against Charlotte. In my eyes, I would not want to play Boston because they are a very dangerous team and their scrappy style of play is perfectly-suited for playoff basketball. A series with Atlanta would most likely go 6-7 games, and Atlanta matches up well in terms of size and mobility down low. A matchup with Charlotte would be the best bet, because Charlotte’s game is more suited for running up and down, but in a slower-paced playoff battle, they may struggle, while Miami has guys like Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson who can both score in the half-court at will.

All of these questions and concerns will be answered in just over a week as our season draws to a close. I hope to see some great playoff series not just from Miami, but from everyone who makes it.

GO HEAT!

Happy Birthday Justise Winslow

It may be a day late, but the High Flyers would like to wish Heat rookie, Justise Winslow, a happy 20th birthday!

The 6’7 forward out of Duke has had a pretty stellar rookie season so far. After being drafted 10th overall by Miami, experts said that he may not be able to make an impact due to his lack of range on his shot. However, he quickly showed that he did not need to be an offensive threat to make a name for himself. Over the course of this year, Winslow has carved a niche for himself as a perimeter defender and consistent rebounder for the Heat. His muscular frame allows him to guard bigger players and contend for rebounds, while his athleticism gives him the ability to guard smaller guards. He is currently averaging 6 points this year, but his rebounding numbers (about 5 per game) are better then most guys who play his position. He does not need to be a scorer yet, and besides, he is only 20, so he has plenty of time to  develop his scoring.

Defense is something that s very hard to teach. It is more than just quickness. It is an instinct and intelligence that makes a great defender. Winslow has shown signns of being a great defender, and playing for a team like Miami that is built on defense is a great place to be for him. I like forward to seeing how he develops in the future.

GO HEAT!

Two Miami Greats

This weekend featured two big events for the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade surpassed 20,000 career points and President and former Head Coach Pat Riley celebrated his 71st birthday. Two of the greatest members of the Heat organization celebrated to huge events, and of course it would happen the same weekend.

Pat Riley can be credited to bringing the Heat out of the cellars of the league and into prominence when he took over just before the 1995-96 season. He immediately changed the culture to his tough and rugged style he used in New York. He got a cornerstone for that style when he made the move to bring in Alonzo Mourning as the anchor for the up and coming defensive-minded team. In January of ’96, he traded for Tim Hardaway, and BAM, they were off and running. The next few years, they contended for titles with the best of them, but just had some bad luck in the process. After some down years in the early 2000’s, Riley made the move from the sideline to the front office, and and a bold move by drafting Dwyane Wade in the 2003 Draft, and Wade immediately became the new building block for the franchise. A year later, he made one of the biggest trades in NBA history by acquiring Shaquille O’Neal from the Lakers. Again, the Heat were contenders, but a few more moves had to be made to get them over the hump. One month into the 2006 season, then coach Stan Van Gundy stepped down, and of course, Riley came to the rescue and led the Heat to their first ever title in 2006. He will always be remembered as the architect for the Heat who brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh against all odds and constantly putting together winning teams.

Wade can be thought of as the Heat’s favorite son along with Udonis Haslem and Alonzo Mourning. Playing in Miami his whole career so far, Wade has been through everything the Heat have. From their title win in 2006, to the 15-win season in 2008, to the four straight finals trips, and now to the rebuilding after Lebron’s departure. He has carried the team before (look at their roster from 2008-2010, it was pretty sad) and has been the secondary man to both Shaq and Lebron. But through all those things, Wade has been a perennial all-star, one of the best slashing guards, the best shot-blocking guard, and one of the best scorers in the league. Let’s also not forget that he led the league in scoring in 2008-2009 and he only made 88 threes (would love to see guys like Curry and Harden try to do that today). Today, Wade is the old veteran on his team that relies on ball fakes and intelligence to score from the perimeter and paint. He still does not take many threes, but he doesn’t need to. He will without a doubt have his jersey in the rafters of the AAA when he retires and is pretty much a lock for the Hall of Fame.

So on behalf of the High Flyers and all Heat fans, I would like to wish the great Pat Riley a happy birthday and congratulations to Dwyane Wade on 20,000 career points!

GO HEAT!

Forever a Favorite Son

The Sun Sentinel recently did an article about Heat tri-captain Udonis Haslem and hos his new role with the team is as more of a mentor than as a member of the rotation. He has taken it upon himself to guide the team’s group of young players who represent the next generation of the franchise.

Haslem was undrafted and signed by the Heat jut prior to the 2003-2004 season. He immediately became a member of the rotation and became a starter the next year as the complement to the newly acquired Shaquille O’Neal. Haslem was a perennial starter at the power forward spot from 2004-2009, when he moved to sixth man in favor of Michael Beasley. After the Big Three were formed, Haslem continued his role as the sixth man and helped the Heat win back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. Nowadays, he mostly sits the bench, but his impact is still great as a mentor. Let us also not forget that UD is from none other than Miami an went to the University of Florida.

Haslem does not get a lot of credit for how much he did for Heat. He, along with Wade, has been there his whole career and is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen. He is one of my all-time favorite players because he’s like a work horse. He was a great defender, terrific rebounder, and a deadly mid-range jumpshooter (with that well-known “beside the head” lift shot). He will always be remembered for his time with the Heat and I will not be surprised if his jersey is hanging in the rafters of the AAA in the future.

When he retires, he will leave the Heat as the franchise leader in rebounds, second in games played, and seventh in total points. Truly an all-time great in South Florida. He will be missed, but there is no one better I would want to see as a mentor/advisor for the young guns.

 

Rook 1 and Rook 2

When the Heat got the #10 pick in the draft this past summer, I had some high hopes. I mean this past draft class was STACKED with “ready-now” talent. The Heat were able to select Justise Winslow, a well-built forward out of Duke. Having just won a national title, Winslow was somewhat unknown until he dazzled in the NCAA Tournament. Winslow was not known as a shooter, but was heralded as a good defender and rebounder.  With the 40th pick, Miami selected Josh Richardson out of Tennessee. Like Winslow, there were doubts about his shooting ability, but he too was applauded for his defensive ability.

Winslow started the year as a rotation player, but didn’t see a great deal of minutes. A few weeks in, Coach Spo saw that he had one tough defender in Winslow, which led to more minutes on the floor for the young man. Winslow now acts as the 6th man and starts for Wade when he misses a game. Richardson began the season on the bench and mostly went back and forth between the NBA and the D-league. Over the past few months, as injuries to Beno Udrih and Tyler Johnson hampered the guard rotation, Richardson’s number was called and he delivered both as a now much-improved shooter and as a scrappy defender.

Rook 1 (Winslow) and Rook 2 (Richardson), as tri-captain Dwyane Wade calls them, have become a huge part of Miami’s improvement over the past month. They both play over 30 minutes per game and fit right in to the team’s new offensive strategy that revolves around pushing the ball and running more. Winslow’s contributions don’t show up in the box score, but he did have a season-high 20 points in Monday’s win over the Nuggets. He is widely-known in Miami now as the team’s glue guy and bruising perimeter player, which is the kind that Pat Riley used to crave for his squads. Richardson, on the other hand, is averaging just under 14 points over his last five games, while also pouring it in from downtown (13-18 over the past 5 games).

The Heat’s front office did a great job with choosing these guys. They are probably the two biggest steals of the draft. It just goes to show that if you can play solid defense, you’ll get minutes. Both of them can do that and that is why they are rotation player on a playoff team.