The Heat fans A-Z guide of the playoffs

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Get up to speed on the 2014 NBA Playoffs with my handy guide covering every angle.

A is for Atlanta

They managed to overcome a late season injury involving their best shooter Kyle Korverand thanks to a stodgy New York Knicks, the Hawks find themselves facing the Indiana Pacers. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap have been in form entering the first round and this is a team that not only loves attempting 3-point shots but they generally make them too. Could have what it takes to rattle Pacers if they carry over their end of season inconsistency.

B is for Brooklyn Nets

The only team to sweep the Heat 4-0 this season probably still don’t get the respect they deserve due to the weak Eastern Conference. Knocked out by the Bulls in the first round last season, the Nets come into these playoffs with an improved Paul Pierce, a resurgentShaun Livingston, and wingman Kevin Garnett is always capable of being a force. Been there and done it before, they apparently want to meet Miami in the second round.

C is for Charlotte Bobcats

To most Heat fans, the Bobcats are an expected 4-0 victory but don’t go assuming this team is a walkover despite only entering the playoffs the second time in franchise history. They finished 6th overall in defense meaning they have the potential to interfere with Miami in the paint. They also led the NBA in fewest turnovers committed, which means fewer opportunities for the Heat to get easy transition baskets. Leading Charlotte scorerAl Jefferson and guard Kemba Walker are the ones to watch.

D is for Dallas Mavericks

I could have simply had “D is for Dirk Nowitzki” but that might’ve upset Monta Ellis. Dallas got the bad end of the coin toss and are set to face the best team in the league, theSan Antonio Spurs. This is set up to be a great series and if Nowitzki continuos his dagger throwing, we could perhaps see the number one team get knocked out in the first round. Stranger things have happened, and it’s actually happened to Dallas themselves.

E is for Experience

When it comes to making it to the Finals, this could be what gives the team who possess it most, the advantage. Miami, San Antonio and Dallas have this in bucket loads, even the relatively new Nets are brimming with big postseason experience. Could be what lands teams like the Bobcats and Atlanta in hot water.

F is for Fatigue

Week one of the playoffs hasn’t even begun, yet many teams have been citing fatigue. Since Miami’s woeful stint through March many have already expected them to run out of gas. The team who sidesteps injuries and battles through the grueling eight weeks ahead will be the one hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

G is for Golden State Warriors

Those out in the Bay recently took a hard hit losing defensive weapon Andrew Bogutbefore they’ve even gotten to Game 1. While some believe their match up against the L.A.Clippers will be a quick walk off the plank, they’ll be relying on go-to man, Steph Curry to carry the team as he’s done for the last two seasons. If he can be helped out by Klay Thompson and Jordan Crawford, they could find themselves defeating the odds.

H is for Houston Rockets

Where we once wondered if this team would come together, instead James Harden andDwight Howard have both been at the forefront of their respected positions this season. Their match up against the Portland Trail Blazers will be a doozie. If they come off with a win they could find themselves against the Spurs or Mavericks. A Western Conference Final contender however? Probably not.

I is for Indiana Pacers

The Pacers who clinched the East’s No. 1 seed now head into the playoffs feeling accomplished knowing how imperative it is to have the home court advantage if they meet Miami. However the Pacers still need to come together as a group. The Danny Granger trade has lead to questioning of leadership amongst the starters and if not corrected in time it could unravel their season’s effort.

J is for Jordan

You may have heard of him. Michael Jordan will be in town to oversee his team the Charlotte Bobcats. Now, I hardly expect LeBron to be playing quiet basketball with the man he is compared to very second of everyday, so on that premise I’m tipping James to have a dominate first round performance.

K is for Killer Instinct

It’s those moments in the final seconds. The clutch dagger. The game-winning block. A second where one individual can close out a win or a confirm defeat by relying on pure gut instinct. These are the moments that we as fans live for.

L is for Los Angeles Clippers

Nope, not Lakers this time, it’s the little brother of L.A making it to the playoffs another year running. While the jury is still out on the best point-guard in the league, Chris Paulcan change the ordinary to the extraordinary in the time it takes for one of his stellar passes. Combined with Blake Griffin, this is a team that most have been waiting on to make the Finals. While it probably wont’ be this season, they won’t let their season go lightly.

M is for Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies are back in the playoffs. Now home to ex-Heat gunner Mike Miller, the Grizzlies managed to sustain their place in the eight spot at the Phoenix Sunsexpense in what was a tight run to the finish line. A team with the ability to grind down any opponent, they have earned the right to cause and upset. Don’t be surprised if they make noise in the postseason, even in a crowded West.

N is for next season

For those teams who finished up the regular season, they’re already thinking about it. For Miami however, it can wait. While the LeBron free-agent rumors continue, he instead has his mind focused on the task at hand. Still, it won’t stop us wondering; will he stay or will he go?

O is for Oklahoma

While this team may not have the best player in the league they still have this season’s MVP. Whether you’re ready to accept it or not, Kevin Durant has been consistently on fire all season with the Thunder looking to be the most dangerous in the West. With potential to make this Finals, they have the youthful attack that could seriously cause Miami a real headache.

P is for Portland Trail Blazers

Portland finished 5th in the league in offensive rating in part thanks to All Star Damien Lillard and LeMarcus Aldridge. A team who will take advantage of their opponent’s sloppiness, Portland finished the regular season with a 21-win improvement upon last year and have a fun first round match up against the Rockets for their efforts.

Q is for Questions

Will Wade hold up injury free for the next two months? Is LeBron going to hang around? Will comeback story Greg Oden top off a year with a ring? With no clear answers just yet, Heat fans will have to have faith and believe in the three-peat bid.

R is for Rivalry – Bulls

Thankfully (at this stage), Miami have avoided the Chicago Bulls in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Bulls have always found a way to get up for Miami and with notably the best defensive player of the year in Joakim Noah, we could in fact find ourselves meeting them in the Eastern Conference Finals. They meet the Washington Wizards first and the chance to topple either the Pacers or the Hawks in the second round. A team we’d prefer not to waste our energy on.

S is for San Antonio Spurs

Tim Duncan. One shoe. Game 6. Yellow rope. If you still have last season’s Finals imbedded into your brain then you’ll already be aware of the West’s best who finished the No.1 seed. The Spurs have endured a relatively smooth season, they’re coached by the best and know what it takes to get the job done. Last season hurt, and they’ll be hungry to make up for it. Despite all this, the Thunder have the roster to stop them in their tracks should they meet in the Western Finals Conference.

T is for Toronto Raptors

The Raptors owe most of their success to Kyle Lowry. The point guard has offered the spark Toronto having been so patiently waiting for and alongside DeMar DeRozen, the Raptors have the offense to make it to the ECF. Lowry who recently spoke of his admiration for the way Shane Battier plays the game, will be the key to beating the pesky Nets.

U is for Udonis Haslem

In a season where “UD” has been on the bench more than on the court, he’s been brought in to the rotation right when the Heat needed him most – and he’s looked good. A certain starter over a wobbly Greg Oden, Haslem knows the route to the Finals all too well and will be looking to win his fourth ring with the Heat.

V is for Victory

16 wins. That’s all Miami needs, just 16 wins. When you look at it so simply, it seems awfully achievable doesn’t it? We know the road ahead is no easy feat but as a Heat fan you’d expect it to be achievable.

W is for Washington Wizards

It’s also for John Wall. The man can terrorize even the strongest defense and Chicago will be tested, but not for long. Coincidently Washington haven’t won a series since pulling out a win over the Bulls back in the first round in 2005. That likely won’t be repeated this time.

X is for X Factor

Like the season before us, a player’s X-Factor could be what separates a Finals berth from an early exit. Momentum can mean so much in basketball and it’s the likes of the Durants, Nowitzkis and the Pauls which can spearhead crucial playoff victories.

Y is for yesteryear

So we finished worst than previous season efforts. Does it mean it’s over before it’s begun for Miami’s and a possible fourth consecutive Finals appearance? Of course not! Just look back on all the extra games of basketball they’ve played since the 2010-11 Big 3 inauguration; they’re allowed to be tired! From here on in we will see a different Heat, an all or nothing mentally. It’s going to be okay.

Z is for Zzzzzz

Say goodbye to it. With the onslaught of nationally televised games often starting at 8:30 or 9:00 PM here in the East, kiss goodbye to a regular night’s sleep. Team No Sleep is about to resurrected. Bring on the caffeine.

Why the East needs a Heat Knicks series

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In a season that’s displayed both the finest NBA moments and the worst, you only have to look no further than the East to see varying results of what good basketball doesn’t look like.

Despite last year’s NBA champions currently the number one seed, the East is still the laughingstock of the league. However, while the West continues its winning streaks during the final battle for playoff positioning, the Eastern Conference’s possible first round matchup could make us forget how terrible the past six months have been.

With only six games remaining in their regular-season, the New York Knicks are tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Momentum in this game can be one of the most dangerous weapons a team can possess and right now it’s the Knicks who have what it takes to turn the East playoffs from a laughingstock into must-watch basketball.

The ongoing rivalry between the Knicks and Miami has been going on for almost two decades and while the Heat have played it cool since grabbing the top seed this week, the buzz amongst many fans is the potential for another Heat vs Knicks series has suddenly resurrected thanks in part to the recent improvement of New York’s Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and J.R Smith. Not since the 2012 playoffs have these two teams battled it out in the remaining eight, and with the recent surge in tickets sales for New York’s remaining games, fans will definitely be thrilled with a possible matchup against the current champions. More importantly for the East Coast, this could just be the series that helps erase the past six months of weak East Conference competitiveness.

Now I’m not writing off the Atlanta Hawks; they are very much in this chase for the 8th spot, but on the worldwide scale of entertainment for viewers and well, general interest, the Knicks command us to watch. In other words, we don’t want to watch them. It’s all right there in lights! All-Star Carmelo Anthony, former Heat’s own Tim Hardaway Sr watching his son in opposing colors. Phil Jackson across the court from former Knicks head coach Pat Riley? This stuff just writes itself!

How just a few short weeks in basketball can change huh? Only last week we were talking about the Heat meeting the Washington Wizards for the first round and now this. Still, since I’m choosing to continue with my Heat-Knicks fantasy matchup, join me for nostalgia’s sake as we cast our mind back to the 2012 series.
Game 1 was in Miami and it looked like LeBron James was taking no prisoners. With 32 points in 32 minutes, he made the world believe he was on his way to his first ring.

Here, the Heat were up 3-0 wins, a whitewash was predicted and it looked like Wade would sink the game winner until he didn’t. Oh, and Carmelo sunk 41 points.

Yes I know I may be getting ahead of myself with envisions of a dreamy playoff series. Obviously, it’s dependant on Miami retaining their place at number one except now, things are different. They didn’t want it in October, November, or December. January and February passed, they didn’t want it then either. We suffered through the madness of March, the panic passed and soon we were flipping the calendar to April. Then it happened. The Heat finally secured the elite seed when it was the right time; when they were ready.

Now with seven games remaining the Heat are met with a variety of competition. Tomorrow it’s the mediocre Minnesota Timberwolves, then Sunday fans will get a glimpse of what a possible 2014 Heat – Knicks series will look like, followed by a back to back against the Brooklyn Nets then Memphis Grizzlies. The last Friday of the regular season showcases another hype game – the Pacers are back in Miami in what could be another possible seed decider. Their last back-to-back will be against the Atlanta Hawks who will still be battling with New York for a playoff spot and then the Heat finish with the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia Sixers.

Now while we wait, anticipating the likes of another potential chapter in the Heat-Knicks rivalry, the Chicago Bulls and the Nets look the most certain to be Miami’s next hurdle. And while heading into the season it looked as though the East would fail in comparison to the stronger Western Conference, it could just be that the East are only now about to make up for it with their brand of postseason entertainment.

Don’t judge a bandwagon by it’s cover

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Supporting Miami can be rough and I’m not even talking about the past month, I’m talking about being a fan. Proclaiming you go for the Heat, let alone one from New Zealand can be a drag; I just can’t seem to avoid the dreaded “bandwagon” tag. I spend an inordinate amount of time explaining how I came to support Miami so here it is once and for all. May I never have to explain it again.

It usually goes something like “Do you go for the Heat?”. Yes, I’ll reply, waiting for the next exchange. “Well then who’s your favorite player?”. LeBron James, I’ll say, now waiting on the next lot of questions which include but are not limited to:

A) Did you used to follow Cleveland? Or, B) Oh, so since LeBron went to Miami (always snickering) or, C) People watch NBA in New Zealand?

No, no (well kind of) and definitely yes. Let us go back to a time when we didn’t hate How I Met Your Mother and MySpace was amazing. It was here in 2005 I became introduced to the one they call King James through my then Phoenix Suns loving boyfriend who infiltrated my sports equilibrium with NBA. Throughout our relationship he crossed over to the Heat (because of the Shawn Marion trade) then settled on the Boston Celtics. Me? I still never “had a team” so to speak but I did enjoy watching Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and naturally, James.

Fast forward to 2010 and my partner and I booked and paid for my first trip to the States to see the Heat play the Celtics here in Miami. The best of both worlds we figured, until months went by and we eventually broke up. Knowing he had loved NBA since forever, I forfeited my tickets telling him to enjoy the trip without me (which he did). The morning of that end of regular season game back in 2011, I sat watching the score on my phone knowing he’d be there in his Allen Celtics jersey. So, like any scorned ex-girlfriend I rooted for the Heat and they won 100-77. Justice I told myself. You know, girl stuff.

This was then followed by the Celtics and Heat meeting again in the playoffs and before you knew it, I’d cultivated this tale I now repeat of how I finally pledged my allegiance to team. Not by following LeBron anywhere, or chiming in because they were all the rage. I was just a newly single woman who still had access to my ex-boyfriend’s League Pass.

I’m on the bandwagon in the eyes of most and always will be and I get that, I don’t expect to be in the same category as original Miami born die-hards, but I’m still a fan nonetheless. They bring me elation, they piss me off. We are one in the same. Sometimes I even find myself admiring the die-hard Minnesota or Detroit fans; their loyalty of late would never get questioned. Flying 5,000 miles to watch Miami play live then followed by moving here to cover them always gets overlooked.

I do have a confession to make though in regards to Heat fans leaving early though. Remember the Pacers-Heat series in the Eastern Conference finals when James drove and made the game-winning basket with only 2.2 seconds left on the clock? I was midst walking through the foyer. Like I was leaving. Early.

“God dammit we are going to lose the series!” I panicked to myself like a mental patient. By that point I’d turned up to every playoff game at the arena, I was drained and emotional. I just wanted this horrid game to end. Only by the time I’d gotten up into foyer to flee and hide under the covers, fans started screaming and tearing through the arena. James had won us the game.

Instantly regret washed over me, I felt awful. I turned to my friend who I’d dragged out with me.

“We must never whisper a word of this to anyone, do you hear me? Never! We take this shame to our grave” I begged. Or, I could just confess my sin right here.

Will I ever walk out on my team again? Probably. I mean there’s bound to be one or two shockers where I lose my mind and want to stab myself in the face. But that’s passion! I love my team so much at times it’s physically hurts to sit through and suffer on-court carnage. It did however teach me never to dismiss a close game until the clock runs out. Lesson learned.

Fandom is what it is, judge me, mock me, continue your bandwagon tirades if it makes you feel better. Regardless, Miami are my team despite geographic’s or coincidental timing. And if you’re wondering who I’ll support when/if LeBron leaves? Miami of course. And I can’t wait.

 

Public pressure will be forever present

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Pressure point. Jabari Parker.

Funny old thing pressure. For me it leads to an abundance of crappy mood swings, carbohydrates and Mad Men marathons. And I’m not even a professional basketball player. But after the Philadelphia Sixers again made headlines after recording a stretch of 26 losses in a row, it’s only lead me to wonder about the psychological parts we as both fans and the media play in an athlete’s mentality. After enduring so much pressure and ridicule, Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams surprised most with his optimism after the game.

“During the game a couple of guys had long faces … and I found myself a little bit down. I just don’t want anyone in this locker room feeling bad for themselves … I think that’s really important that we don’t get down on ourselves and we just give up just because we have a certain amount of losses. I just felt like I needed to speak my piece and make sure that guys are upbeat every single day” said Carter-Williams.

Try as we may, we really can’t fathom how mentally taxing the recent months have been for this team and its fans. While it’s been a blast making fun of them, these are still individuals who trained to be competitive, only now it’s overshadowed by a public hype which is a more than a little harsh. I mean, aren’t WE the driving force behind all of this? Take the current NCAA tournament. I’m pretty certain Jabari Parker didn’t ask for the media barrage last week. We are in part to blame for putting players on a pedestal, sometimes with expectations placed so high they’re simply unreachable. Or has it now gotten to a point we’re so blind to view them as humans with feelings we simply don’t care? If true, is this the notion that’s lead us to forget what’s involved to get there; the effort, the sacrifice, the immense pressure?

See, pressure on oneself can hold a power over you like no other. At times it disguises itself in fear or doubt, sometimes even depression. Thankfully no one has ever put pressure on myself like I do and I wish like hell I could change that; it’s not an enjoyable way to live and I’m thankful I’ll never have the whole world watching. Could it be with our media obsession we have already hindered players in the long run? What if all our blogs and twitter induced rants are already stifling the mindset of Marcus Smart? Have we in fact already plagued Andrew Wiggins with self-doubt? We expect such great things from these athletes, we load all our expectations upon them to the point when they do fail, we become unreasonable. Have we scarred the future of the NBA before they’ve started?

The sad state of these college games is the number of teenagers who’ve endured pressure to the point they haven’t been able to take in a moment and appreciate the opportunity before them. Be it earning a NBA contract or not, they should be able to enjoy it at such a young age. I know, I know. They compete to win. Not to be knocked out in the second or third round so there’s always going to be despondency, both on their part and ours. If someone judges these college kids as failures, have they already started to believe it? You’d think the people surrounding them have already told them they don’t need our approval but there must be some who fall through the cracks. Their self-esteem shouldn’t ever be determined on one or two games or whether those in the media judge them as crap.

God only knows I judge myself enough, whether I’m beating myself up for not progressing in my career fast enough or feeling like an idiot because I chose to move to the other side of the world. Self-doubt on top of pressure is the devil at its purest form, do we really want to play a part in a young players looming pessimism when we have the means to evade it? Regardless, it’s still basketball and we love talking about it, we’ll continue to debate losses and celebrate great wins.

As we settle in to another weekend of March Madness, all I can hope for is one day we’ll find a balance between superstar admiration so it never disrupts a young man’s mentality moving forward.

Limited time to figure things out

NBA: Playoffs-Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat

Off the back of yet another lackluster loss, it’s now apparent this glitch that’s been hanging around the Miami Heat while en route to a promising three-peat has escalated to the “problem” variety.

Last night’s 101-96 loss in Boston cemented that things aren’t a hundred percent in camp Heat. After the worst run in franchise history since the coming together of the Big 3, Miami now look like a shadow of their former selves. They’ve played scrappy offense, dismal defense and lost games to teams that have no place in the calendar come May and June.

Coach Erik Spoelstra’s recent tinkering with the lineups in order to figure out what combinations work best, for the moment, don’t look to be doing Miami any favors. But then again, this is where we are reminded he’s a two-time championship coach, one who’s proven to know a thing or two about basketball. To some extent, Spoelstra is somewhat blessed; he has before him a dream roster that’s swamped in talent and riddled with Finals experience.

While it’s hardly the most pressing thought upon looking at what Spoelstra has to deal with, the path which lies before him is somewhat of a burden. That squad. These All Stars. That MVP. Jesus Shuttlesworth. Everything a coach could ask for, only limited starting spots. Don’t mess it up.

It’s the San Antonio Spurs now who exceed all; their recent 11th win in a row sees them at the top of the leader board, last year’s Finals runner-ups playing with a chemistry the Heat and Pacers could only wish to replicate right now. This season, Gregg Popovich has repeated the formula of his team that made the Finals. Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Tiago Spiltter have been the go-to rotation for the Spurs, a combo already used in 25 games this season alone (31 last year).

In contrast to Miami’s winning method last season which consisted of LeBron James, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh who were used 47 times and much throughout the 27-game winning streak and playoffs, has since been shuffled with the inclusion of Shane Battier over Haslem. Many fans prefer to think of this as tampering and aren’t too pleased with the continued usage of Battier, the most notable being his shooting percentage is down by 9.5% compared to last season’s 43%. Now while this doesn’t exactly scream for Haslem to be thrown in or even Michael Beasley, you have to question why Spoelstra insists on not giving the former lineup another shot.

Although Haslem’s efforts against the Celtics had everyone screaming for more game-time, (14 points, 3 assists), one good game does not make a starter. However it still leads to wondering if we will see Haslem out on the court Friday against the West’s seventh seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

Or, could perhaps Spoelstra throw another monkey wrench into the works and test out Justin Hamilton? While you’d assume if Spoelstra was ever going to send Hamilton out onto the floor it would be against the New Orleans Pelicans the following away game, but who knows? The clock is running and the coach needs his lineup answers sooner than later.

Greg Oden who proved his worth against the Cavaliers with 6 points and his longest stint of 14 minutes looks likely to be in the starting mix against the Grizzlies after having sat out last night. Again, while he did look at home in Cleveland, it was after all against a below-the-par team.

With a little over four weeks from from the playoffs could this late surge of tinkering be the beginning to the end for Miami? With all the adversity they’ve been through and the ability to switch on when it’s needed, you can argue no — but has the damage already been done? Has the inconsistency, god forbid, already infiltrated the team’s confidence to the point of no return this season?

Next week onwards one would expect (or hope) Spoelstra will begin to roll out a consistent starting pack just in time to get back the offensive chemistry that’s depleted the team of late. We know what this team is capable of, we’ve seen it time and time again, amazed at all those fourth quarter reprises. Still, in the back of some minds is the knowledge that with every championship team there comes a time where the reign slowly comes to an end.

With only a month to resolve the current drawback, let’s hope this isn’t the case.

What can we expect of Greg Oden now?

NBA: Miami Heat at Utah Jazz

It’s been a rough few weeks for the Heat and when you’re the current champions in somewhat of a losing funk? Well, you’re going to get slammed. Not wanting to further add to the media onslaught of late, the Heat pulled off the win against the Houston Rockets on Sunday but not before surprising us all with the decision to startGreg Oden.

We’ve come a long way from last October when the basketball world was struck alight with Oden’s first dunk back after four years out of the game. The emotion and optimism poured out onto the pages of hundreds of articles on premise we may just see some Oden magic after all.

Even after that preseason dunk, Oden starting in a Heat uniform seemed near impossible. However, he pushed through and came out the other end a regular fixture, all while on route to the playoffs. Still, it was obvious on Sunday that Oden is far from being the game-changer we’d all love to witness. While struggling to keep up with the agility and pace of Dwight Howard, Oden was exposed under the rim when Howard blocked an easy two-points for Oden. He did manage six rebounds but they were overshadowed by his four fouls and his poor offense.

Miami has used Oden sparingly this season. They’ve sprinkled him in throughout games in small doses, keeping his minutes down and never over-exerting him on a rare back-to-back. No doubt Oden’s fitness has progressed but in today’s era, one of pace and sheer brutal vigor, at times he’s still looked lost against the games’ top opponents.

Passing over the opportunity to sign Andrew Bynum showed the amount of faith the Heat camp have of their roster and Oden. While Bynum has already packed a punch with a squad consisting of Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola, the methodical process continues with Oden means we likely won’t see too much of him in the postseason, at least not this year.

You can sugar coat it all you like but Oden simply doesn’t match powerhouse Hibbert, Howard or Joakim Noah, not at the moment anyway. And that right there is how these questions come to the surface. In time, does Oden have the ability to continually hinder his opponents? We know in small blasts he’s capable but with only 5 weeks until the playoffs only a miracle could seem him progress to the tempo of the NBA’s biggest defenders.

Now I’m not ignorant. I understand Oden’s past battles with depression and the extensive rehab but how much longer are we going to keep saying how great he’s progressing and start expecting a bit more? Are we still going to still be making excuses for his pace next season? The one after?

Chris Andersen, however, has been playing like a beast and beasts will always be favored when chasing a championship. Like his teammate Chris Bosh, the Heat’s defensive rating suffers when Andersen is off the court. For Oden, it’s the opposite.

With Andersen turning 36 this year, it’s thought the Heat will be on the lookout for a big man, preferably one they can add to the rotation, just like they’re now doing with Oden. The Heat will never turn back on their decision to not look into Bynum but it won’t stop the “what if’s”. While I’ve stated before that it’s going to be such a good, tough series against the Pacers should they both meet, the Pacers now have the option to bring in Bynum when Hibbert is off. While the Heat should close out the series, this in turn could make things a lot harder than originally thought, especially if Miami’s offense suffers the similar way we have seen as of late.

 Be it Oden or an inconsistent LeBron James at the rim, come playoffs, these faults will be expected to be ironed out, lineups finalized, and the mental fatigue gone. And to quote a fan leaving the arena yesterday, “Despite all the crap, they’re still the Miami Heat”.

Is Ray Allen helping or hurting the Heat?

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat

People aren’t used to the Miami Heat losing. When the Heat lose, everyone has a theory as to why it’s happening.

While falling short to Brooklyn proved not to be bad individually for the Big 3, it was the performance of the team as a whole which has again lead to a flurry of pressing questions from basketball fans.

Why did Mario Chalmers dribble out the clock at halftime? Did they really just butcher that potential game winning layup? Is Udonis Haslem a thing of the past?

From the Heat’s lapses in defense, to the questioning of whether or not they’re motivated, from here on out, we are in an interim until late April — a playoffs preseason if you will, just with a few more million viewers.

One of the concerns, which stood out, was questioning Ray Allen’s minutes on court. Could the man who helped secure the Finals and save the Heat’s season only nine months ago really be a hindrance to the Heat this season? The general consensus is it will be a healthy Dwyane Wadethat cements a three-peat. Fans still concerned Wade won’t go the distance have looked straight to Allen as a possible problem.

No one however was questioning in 2013 if Allen’s minutes were hurting the Heat defensively; in fact his defensive rating was worse than it is now, 6.5 points per 100 possessions worse to be exact. When Allen was off the court last season, the team’s rating was 97.2 and 103.7 when on. Now? The Heat give up 102.9 points per 100 possessions whether he’s on or off the court, shutting down the myth the Heat play worse defense with him.

It’s Allen’s 3-point shooting percentage, however which most are targeting at the moment. Down from last season’s performance of 41.9%, he is currently sinking 36.1% while averaging 26.2 minutes. He’s almost a half-minute up on last year’s average of 25.8 minutes. He shot 38.1% in the playoffs over a 24.9-minute average.

His offensive rating is not drastically down, nearly a point fewer with 108.5 compared to 109.2. While this hardly calls for him to stay on the bench, for some though, it’s relevant.

Except there’s a method to this madness. More Allen means less Wade and less Wade means more rest.

When Wades’ minutes are down (like the 2011-12 season) and his usage is down (keeping the wear and tear on his body down), Wade should play the kind of playoff basketball, which is required of him. It’s natural to question Miami when we look at the way the season started. Wade was sitting out every other game and we all wondered if his knee would hold out.

In Sunday’s loss to the Bulls, Wade played 40 minutes, the most he has this season. Wednesday night he racked up 37 minutes. In the last five games, the Heat have secured only one win and Wade hasn’t played fewer than 33 minutes in all five contests.

Wade, along with Erik Spoelstra, has appeared to have found the much needed balance going into the playoffs and you’d expect to see Wade start dropping a few more games in order rest and recoup.

Considering the outlook for Wade back in October, right now the Heat should be pleased. While the recent run of losses exposed a few minor combination glitches offensively, the intensity appears up within the team again.

Be it the performance of Ray Allen or Dwyane Wade, this team is dripping with playoff experience and they’re not concerned with what you or I say. Oh and these recent weeks? Nothing more than a lull, soon to be forgotten.

Just in time for the right memories to be made.

When defense makes no sense

paul-george-pacers

Last week I dove into the correlation between 3-point shooting and whether it crosses over into our top offensive teams. While the numbers spoke for themselves (the overall result was yes, 3-pointers now play a massive part in a team’s offensive rating), my findings only brought about further questioning, this time from the defensive angle.

While the majority of the top 15 offensive teams were spread right across the top end of both conferences, it was the constant omission of the Indiana Pacers in offensive stats that makes you wonder if the Pacers have any real hope at a title.

Basic strategy would assume to win the title requires a team to be good at offense, defense or more importantly both, except in the game of basketball, strategy gets buried.

The Pacers are simply nowhere to be seen when it comes to attack. While they can hold their heads high sitting at number one in defensive rating, their offense could be what sees them ousted in another Finals race.

Sitting in at 102.4 in offense, the Pacers lie a whopping 20 places behind the Miami Heat, in at number one with 109.1. Miami finishing last season also in number one spot with 110.3 must be ringing alarm bells for Indiana.

Almost like clockwork, the Pacers also finished last year top of the table in defensive ratings only to no avail.

Coming off the back of three losses in a row certainly warrants some questioning of Indiana’s offense. I mean, if you’re playing your strongest hand of defense and still losing games you shouldn’t, isn’t it time to perhaps turn your attention to scoring more points?

While offense is restricted in the playoffs due to teams tightening defense, is the old adage of “Defense wins Championships”, nothing more than an old irrelevant cliché?

Not only did Friday’s 112-86 loss to Houston see the Pacers succumb to their worst defeat this season but Paul George’s comment of “We just got to find out who we are” is not particularly one fans want to be hearing in March.

Am I saying this is a sign of what is to come for the Pacers in the playoffs? Certainly not. However, when opponents are scoring from almost anywhere on the court, can a team win an NBA Championship in 2014 purely on defense alone?  There was though this one time at bandcamp where the Celtics won their 2008 Championship with a 96.2 rating, the Pacers currently sit higher at 95.3, however the optimism fades when the Pacers sit so far outside the top 15 in offense.

That is until we look back again at that Celtics win of course. Only two teams in the last 10 years have won a championship and held a top defensive rating (The 2004-2005 San Antonio Spurs did just this), the 2003-2004 winning Pistons were second in defense.

It’s all there in the numbers, across all of the past decade every single was in the Top 10 for offense excluding the 2004 Pistons and 2010 Lakers (Lakers sat 11th mind you), thus reaffirming the notion how important it is to score points (this is why teams like 2011 Mavericks and 2010 Lakers still won despite being crappy on defense).

So what does this mean for the Pacers on their run into the playoffs? Heavily dependent on George, the offense halts when he doesn’t play well, his numbers for the past two games are proof alone. While the support of David West and Lance Stephenson can ease George’s workload (if they step up), they’re no match for Durant/Westbrook offensively.

Even with Westbrook missing, together Durant and Westbrook have still managed to post an offensive rating of 109.8% over West and George’s effort of 105.6%.  LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sit at 110.4 after their own recent poor form.

Maybe this year is where top defense does again secure a Championship. The dawning of a new era, the demise of big game offense.

Except I don’t believe this for one second.

Is 3-point shooting the key to a top offense?

As we flip the calendar over to March and move even closer to next month’s NBA playoffs, it’s only natural we to start reflect on where we were this time last year.

The Miami Heat were on a monumental winning streak, Steph Curry was busy seducing us with his stunning 3-pointers and the Knicks weren’t a laughing stock in the East.

For the majority, the 3-point momentum continued where last season left off but when we delve into the efficiency of 3-pointers in offense, the outcomes vary.

Let’s start in Phoenix. The Suns, who’ve had a successful reprise into playoff contention, struggled last year from deep, finishing 2013 in 26th place in 3-pointers made (5.9 per game) and 28th in 3-point percentage (33.0%).

Arguably the most improved team partially due to the hiring of Jeff Hornacek, the Suns now sit third overall in 3-pointers made (9.4 per game). Hornacek, who established his own shooting career with stellar 3-point accuracy, has emphasized how worthwhile floor spacing and outside shooting can be on offense. They’ve gone 29th in offensive rating last year to eighth this season, with their improved 3-point shooting acting as a catalyst for their offensive improvement.

With the injured Eric Bledsoe out, Goran Dragic has stepped up to the task shooting 41.3% (that’s pretty much 10% higher than last year) and PJ Tucker also showing he was worth keeping around with 40% on 3-pointers.

The Raptors are also enjoying a playoff reprise partially due to their efficiency with the 3-pointer. Fortunately losing Rudy Gay in December didn’t appear to upset their offensive efficiency with the Raptors hitting a season high of 39.9% on 3-pointers only a month after Gay was traded and now shooting 36.3% on the season from downtown, good for 13th in the NBA.

The 3-point shot is a growing strategy for maximizing a team’s offensive efficiency. Collecting quick points in most cases cements a place high on the ladder; collecting a quick three can be the difference between a win and a loss.

Now when it comes to shooting threes and collectively having a great offense, Portland, Miami, Dallas and the Spurs are the most efficient. However, it’s the Knicks who despite sitting at 14th in offense, have managed to butcher their own edge over opponents.

Of the teams who find themselves in the top half of the league in 3-point percentage, 3-pointers made, and offensive rating, the Knicks are the only team who won’t make the playoffs.

So are teams with a better offensive rating more likely to be teams who take advantage of the 3-point shot?

The Portland Trailblazers who come in third in offensive rating with 108.7 lead the charge when it comes to shooting from downtown. They’re respectively sitting second on 3-pointers made at 9.5 per game and are shooting 37.8% from beyond the arc (tied for fourth).

Atlanta, who boast one of the best 3-point shooters in Kyle Korver, sit at the top in the 3-pointers made at 9.5 per game, are seventh in the NBA at 37.7%, and are 14th in offensive efficiency, despite major injuries this season.

When it comes to utilizing the 3-point shot best, Dallas, who are fourth in offensive rating, are shooting 37.8% from downtown (tied for fourth in the league) and make 8.5 threes per game (eighth in the NBA).

Dallas, in some respect are now better positioned offensively than their 2011 championship run when it comes to collecting efficient points. Now posting better numbers than the 2010-2011 season where they won a Championship (8th OffRtg, 7.9 3FGM and 36.5%), and despite their poorer defense, they’re getting wins off impactful shooting

Overall, teams who hold a high offensive rating combined with a great 3-point percentage seem to make up the teams bound for a playoff run. Are we now on the cusp of witnessing a Championship winning formula? Or is solid defense and safe shooting in the paint the answer?

While the importance of defense will always remain, 3-point shooting is now starting to become a regular fixture and one that we as basketball fans, keep hoping to enjoy.