Heat vs. Bulls
So we thought LeBron James was hurt. Really hurt. It was just after the Heat had rallied late in the fourth quarter to eliminate the Celtics in game five of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Cameras found James lying motionless, face down on the court. Oh no! Pulled hammy was our guess. Bummer, what a damper this will put on the Eastern conference finals. But wait…LeBron is getting up on his own power. Now he is running towards D. Wade and hugs him. Oh my god he is hugging everybody! Oh the joy!! LeBron and the Heat did it, he finally did it!!! Hold on. What just happened here? For those of you who missed LeBron’s Gandhi like moment face down on the court followed by a Jim Valvano like sprint seeking out friendly faces to hug…well, ya would have thought he had finally won his first NBA Championship. Geez Louise!
Okay, we are done mocking LeBron, his talents and South Beach. At least for now. So congratulations to Pat Riley, the Big 3 and the Heat organization for slaying some demons in defeating the Boston Celtics and advancing to the conference finals. Also kudos to the Chicago Bulls for taking care of business and reaching the conference finals for the first time since the Jordan era. There is no doubt these were the two best teams in the East and, in our opinion, the two best defensive teams in the NBA. Now the question is…who prevails?
The Heat have certainly seemed to have come a long way since our post “Cry, Cry , Cry” during their five game losing streak. Center Joel Anthony becoming a fixture in their lineup has fortified their team defense and rebounding. James Jones has emerged to become the three point threat they expected Mike Miller to be. Most importantly LeBron James’ three pointer to break a tie game with the Celtics in game five could just be the confidence catalyst he and this team need. Inexplicably, it was James’ first heroics in crunch time since joining the Heat. LeBron went on to score the last ten points to close out the game and the Celtics. Wade was great throughout the entire series against Boston. It looks as though the two are finally ready to become the NBA’S most lethal tandem since Kobe and Shaq were causing mayhem in the early 2000’s.
Vegas must be really impressed with the James/Wade tandem. The Heat enter the series as two to one favorites to defeat a Chicago team that posted the NBA’s best regular season record. Chicago had been less than impressive in struggling to defeat a 37 win Indiana team and then being tested by Atlanta. We agreed with the critics saying Derrick Rose was trying to do too much. The Bulls’ defense seemed vulnerable in round two when backup point guard Jeff Teague seemed to be scoring with ease throughout most of the series. Ah, but then came game six at Atlanta. Perhaps the Bulls felt some urgency watching the Heat wrap up their series in five. For the first time in the playoffs, we saw the suffocating Chicago defense that propelled them to those 62 wins. Atlanta has plenty of talented one-on-one guys, but the Bulls team oriented D made all of their efforts look silly. Game six was a reminder to everyone that Carlos Boozer has plenty offensive game left (you may want to stop booing him Chicagoans!). The Chicago Bulls were the NBA’s best team not just because of MVP Derrick Rose. The Bulls won the most games because their rotation was often 11 men deep and they all played with the same tenacity. We will take 11 over 3 all day long.
Bulls in seven.
Thunder vs. Mavs
Oh, how meekly they went out. Everyone saw the chinks in the LA Laker’s armor even while winning back to back titles. But it’s one thing to know how to defeat a championship team; it’s another thing to make it happen. Congrats to Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle, Dirk and the Mavs for pulling a Magua on Kobe and his Lakers. (Magua of course was the villain in the Last of the Mohicans. Magua would rip a man’s heart out of his chest before killing him. Nice huh?) Dirk’s clutch play following another mistake by the listless Pau Gasol gave the Mavs a 1-0 lead in the series. Who knew Dirk’s winning free throws in game one would begin the unraveling of this Laker mini-dynasty and write the final chapter to Phil Jackson’s amazing career.
This series was about the Dallas Mavericks’ triumph, not the failure of the Lakers. The Mavs played great and Carlisle outcoached the Zen Master. The Mavs showed their guile down eight points late in game three to come back and win that game. Carlisle showed his own guile by playing Peja Stojakovic important minutes throughout the series. Peja hadn’t been a factor in the NBA in over three years. At this point all he can do is catch and shoot. Defensively he struggles and often was matched up against the Lakers versatile Lamar Odom. But, Carlisle knew Peja gave them that additional shooter needed to space the court and make it impossible for the long but lumbering Lakers to defend the 3pt line. The Mavs shot lights out, particularly in games 3 and 4, and just like that…bye, bye LA Lakers.
A massive HI-FIVE as well to Scott Brooks and his Oklahoma Thunder. The Thunder survived in seven games against an excellent Memphis team. The series changed in the Thunder’s favor when Brooks started playing Nick Collison significant minutes in game four to slow down Zach Randolph. Collison’s defense in game four’s triple overtime win in Memphis was the difference in the series. It’s amazing how far and fast this Thunder team has come. Only two seasons ago the team started 3-29 and were on pace to have the worst season in NBA history. No organization has executed their plan better than the Thunder with GM Sam Presti calling the shots. Sure there was some luck landing Durant when Portland Sam Bowied themselves again by drafting Greg Oden. But Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka were all Thunder first round picks. Another first round pick Jeff Green was used to acquire Kendrick Perkins to bolster a thin front line and more importantly give them some NASTY! Even backups Eric Maynard and Nazr Mohammed played crucial roles against the Grizzlies. With the Thunder’s talent, depth and youth expect them to be contending for a title the next 5 to 10 years.
Now the bad news, Thunder fans: this team ain’t ready yet. Kevin Durant is a scoring machine, great kid, teammate and awesome if he is on your fantasy basketball team. We even like the dorky backpack he has been wearing for postgame interviews. Unfortunately we think he is the NBA’s most overrated player right now. Between poor shot selection (go to the rack more my brother!), propensity for turnovers and lack of passion on D we find him to be a thinner version of Amar’e and Carmela right now as opposed to a studly superstar. In many ways we prefer the suddenly oft-criticized Westbrook as an overall 48 minute difference maker night in and out. Yes, we know, blasphemy! Well, just doing our job folks. The good news for the Oklahomans is that both Durant and Westbrook still have a ridiculous upside. But in this series, the smarter and more experienced team moves on to the NBA finals.
MAVS in 6
We will be back for the NBA FINALS!