Tagged: lebron james

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Balling: LeBron returns to Cleveland, is not immediately placed under citizen’s arrest

HEAT 118, CAVS 90 (MIA 12-8)

The big Return to Cleveland has finally come and gone. It went much as you might predict: big, fraught atmosphere; loud, cacophonous boos from the stands; and the Heat overwhelming an undermatched team. The Cavs aren’t good, and there’s no debate to be had about that. The Heat have been very good against bad teams this year but struggled against the top teams, which means we can’t take that much meaning from this win. Sure, there was a playoff-type atmosphere and everyone was as amped as you can get for an early December NBA game.

But does this really tell us how the Heat will fare in the playoffs? Not quite. The only thing it says is that when the stakes seem high (even if they aren’t, not really), this team can perform like a collection of superstars, so long as their competition isn’t great. A win like this against a playoff-caliber team, like the dominant performance over Orlando a month ago, says a lot more. In and of itself, all this game says is that a good team with more talent can beat a subpar team with less talent. At the same time, a loss would have been embarrassing as hell, so at least the team could put together a good showing when they had to.

And this was nothing short of a terrific showing for the Heat. They were ahead by 19 at the half and 30 points after three quarters. They shot 56 percent to Cleveland’s 35 percent. James Jones came off the bench to sink five three-pointers, which was nice to see, and gives me a chance to revisit the JAMES JONES THREE-POINTER TRACKER or whatever it’s called. LeBron finished with 38 points in three quarters, including a third-quarter with 24 points where he went 10-for-12, before sitting out the final quarter. Dwyane Wade nearly had a triple-double with 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. The Heat barely went to the line, taking just 21 free throws to Cleveland’s 37, reminding us that while they can score in droves from the perimeter, they still don’t go nuts in the paint all that much (though they didn’t need to in this game).

Besides the derisive chanting, the booing, the signs and the general feeling of unified hatred in the same place and by the same people where there had been undying love seven months ago, there were no real problem or issues.

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Miami Heat 2010-2011 Season Preview

The new Heat stars celebrate being able to find the arena so soon after signing

The NBA season kicks off tonight with the Miami Heat taking on the Boston Celtics. That the season would begin with the Heat was a foregone conclusion after the free agency maelstrom this summer ended with LeBron, Wade and Bosh all teaming up on South Beach. For the first time since 2006, the Heat go into a season as title contenders, but to compare their standing to any prior season this team (or any other NBA team) has had is downright insane.

I’m not saying the Heat are the favorites for the title. The Lakers have Kobe, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest, to say nothing of paper mache center Andrew Bynum. This squad isn’t even guaranteed to win their own conference, given that they have no answer for Dwight Howard in Orlando and the Magic haven’t even traded Vince Carter for Chris Paul yet.

But make no mistake: Miami is the epicenter of the NBA world this season. The combination of star power, controversy and media attention guarantees it. A lot of people want them to fail, and a lot of people specifically want LeBron to fail. Of course, if the season progresses and Miami is 35-2, a lot of the anger and hostility will fade away and you’ll see a lot of bandwagon fans pop up nationwide. But the Heat will always be on SportsCenter, they will always be loaded with coverage and they will provide a source of constant energy for a league that often lacks it over the first few months of the season.

Ignoring the media frenzy, ignoring the crass predictions (Really, Jeff Gundy? 75 wins?), ignoring “The Decision” and everything that came before it, the thing that matters is basketball. The Heat’s final roster (via Hot Hot Hoops): Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony, Carlos Arroyo, James Jones, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eddie House, Jerry Stackhouse, Dexter Pittman, Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magloire.

Yes, the early injuries to Wade (relatively minor) and Mike Miller (much more serious, since he won’t be back until January) hint at what all the Heat fans fear (and all of the other fans are rooting for): this is not a team built to withstand injuries. If Wade, James or Bosh suffers a season-ending injury, the team’s fortunes are severely cut. The bench is not particularly deep (Eddie House, Carlos Arroyo, James Jones and recent signee Jerry Stackhouse have all had their moments, but they are not fear-inspiring backups). Of course, that’s the same for any team. If you remove Garnett, Kobe or Dwight Howard from their respective teams, their fortunes also drop.

Ultimately, Miami is going to play an incredibly fast-paced game. They will likely lead the league in points (only Oklahoma City really poses a threat to that). Their defense is not going to be earth-shattering, but they have excellent defenders in Wade and LeBron, not to mention solid guys down low in Ilgauskas, Haslem and (occasionally) Anthony. They are going to run up and down the court faster than anybody else and score more rapidly than anyone else, that much we know; but I think their defense is going to be better than expected, if only because there are only so many Dwight Howards in the league (which is to say, he is perhaps the only player for whom they truly have no answer).

The interesting thing will be how long it takes in the season before the villainous mantel is dropped or embraced. These guys are going to be the league’s top attraction, drawing big crowds wherever they go and lighting up the ratings when they take on Kobe, the Bulls, the Thunder, Boston and Orlando. If they are winning big and being humble, fans will come. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if people keep harping on them? Could they start blowing teams out just to see what they can do? Could they start just attacking the basket with LeBron and Wade and seeing how many points they can pile up on any given night? It’ll be fascinating.

Without injury, the first seed and a Finals berth are incredibly likely. Everybody is expecting the “Who’s team is it?” argument to flare up at some point between James and Wade, but I disagree. Of course, that’s because I think it’s Wade’s team and LeBron will take over games when needed, but we’ll see. I think that, much like the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics, these players have all been on enough bad teams and individually shouldered enough responsibility and blame that they can subsume their egos and focus on the team.

Meanwhile, this new LeBron ad from Nike is rather something:

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One of the NBA season’s already-annoying storylines off to a solid start

Chris Broussard, who I honestly thought ESPN had worked into a coma after they kept him on the air for about 712 consecutive hours during this past summer’s free agency scrum, penned a pretty blah story about how the Miami Heat AREN’T LeBron’s team but they AREN’T Wade’s team and they WILL BE LeBron’s team if he is the driving force. Sigh. This, after one preseason game, wherein Wade left early with a strained hamstring. I am linking to one and only one of these stories, but get excited, because for the duration of the season (and, really, for the duration of the Wade-LeBron-and-their-pal-Bosh-too team in Miami), you are going to see hundreds of these things.

(Also, they handily beat the Pistons, Bosh and LeBron combined for 38 points, Wade was introduced last and LeBron was introduced first. There, that’s the news from a meaningless preseason game.)

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Cleveland’s owner takes the high road

Oh, I couldn’t go without mentioning this: Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert penned a thoughtful missive regarding LeBron James’s decision to head to Miami. Is it in the Comic Sans font? You bet it is! Does it seem like he’s in a bloodthirsty rage? You tell me. Here’s one quote:

“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”

And another one:

Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.

Golly, I’d love to sit in on today’s meeting of Cavs brass. Think Gilbert eggs LeBron’s house next?

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LeBron joins the Miami Heat

Oh, right. In all of my whinging about the hourlong LeBron LeBorefest, I forgot this part: LeBron James is joining the Miami Heat. I had a very lengthy diatribe written up to dissect the pros and cons of this, but what’s the point? I’ve already expressed my concerns over LeBron joining the team. I’m probably the most uncertain, hand-wringing, Woody Allen-esque Heat fan out there right now, so I want to look at the positives:

  • The Heat have two of the three best players in the NBA, and three of the best 10 or 12 players.
  • There’s no arguing that the Heat have the best top three on any team.
  • The Heat resigned Wade, snagged Chris Bosh and then completed the impossible trifecta by adding the biggest free agent out there — in other words, Pat Riley pulled off one hell of a trick. (And he reportedly shipped off Beasley and signed Mike Miller, which helps right off the bat.) At the very, very least, the Heat “won” free agency and completely altered the basketball landscape in Miami and throughout the league.

The Heat are now a high-expectations, target-on-their-backs, championship-or-bust team. There are far worse problems to have. (As Hot Hot Hoops pointed out, the hatred will come, but every team out there would have gone for this.) Sure, I’m trying to talk myself into it. But at least I won’t have a problem finding Heat games on national television next season.

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Why I Hope LeBron Doesn’t Join Miami

LeBron might be joining the Miami Heat. He might not. He’s announcing it tonight in an incessantly vainglorious hourlong special, which is the cherry of self-promotion atop the hubristic sundae that has been LBJ’s march towards free agency.

I’ve been torn on this — on whether or not I wanted him to join my favorite basketball team. On the one hand, how do you say no to an immeasurable talent, a freight train of a player with the vision and deft hands of a point guard and the powerful body of a wideout? On the other hand, this is Wade’s team. This is Wade’s city. And with Wade, you know what you get — a Jordanesque two guard who can take over a game the way only he and Kobe can really do nowadays. With Wade, you have the core of a solid franchise. Wade and LeBron, okay, that could work. Wade, Bosh and LeBron, well, suddenly the imagined possibilities become close enough to actually ponder and fret about.

Israel Gutierrez just about sums up my feelings:

What’s better for a league, singular dominance or legitimate rivalries with unpredictable results?

What’s better for an organization, nightly chaos or a precise focus?

What’s better for a city, a foreign king commandeering the hearts and minds of its people or continuing a healthy relationship with a familiar leader who has put in time and work to win over those people?

I was uncertain, but reading that helped make up my mind. The negatives ultimately outweigh the positives. The negatives: A team with an alpha male leader (Wade), a sterling No. 2 (Bosh) and the requisite role players (Chalmers, Haslem, whomever else they pick up) has a pecking order. It fits a mold. With LeBron and Wade, who takes the last shot? Who carries the team? Who is the undisputed leader? (This isn’t like Boston with KG and Pierce. KG doesn’t want the final shot, Pierce does.) That stuff can be sorted out, of course. More importantly — most importantly — how do they fill up the rest of the roster? You’re spending almost everything on three players. You don’t need three All World talents; you need two leaders and a bunch of guys who can help you play the rest of the game. Three men alone cannot win a ring.

And there is, of course, the image problem. If the Heat build a team around Wade and Bosh and they win it all, yeah, some people will grumble. People always grumble. But they are just two players, and the rest of the roster and the season have to fall into place. But there’s that element of having a championship handed to you that makes some teams seem cheaper. When the Yankees won the World Series last year, even though it was the first time in nearly a decade, it was expected. It’s what happens when you spend the most money to get the best players. And you know what? I hate Yankee fans. Everybody who isn’t a Yankees fan hates them. I hate Yankee fans who are legitimate fans (just because they root for a New York sports team, due to basic human morality), and even more than that I hate Yankee fans who just root for them because they’re the Yanks (the vilest creature in sports fandom, this person roots for the Yanks, Cowboys, Bulls or Lakers and Duke). I don’t care about fans of the Astros or St. Louis Rams.

I really don’t care so much about the image problem. I don’t care if other people hate the Heat. But I don’t want my favorite team to turn into the Yankees, and I don’t want my fan experience to turn into that of a Yankees fan. Where’s the fun in rooting for them? Where does the joy come from? The title in 2006 meant something because of how close the Heat came to losing it, because of how close they came in 2005, because of how close they seemed in 1997 and 1999. A Miami title behind Wade-LBJ-Bosh will be cheap. And a pre-Finals  Miami loss, which will likely happen in the face of better-balanced teams? It will be a busted experiment. There will be no joy in achievement, simply sorrow at not getting as far as they could have. How many times will that work? One season? Two? How soon before LBJ is bitching about his supporting cast and Bosh’s knees hurt and Wade is tired because they are logging too many minutes and oh, by the way, there’s a lockout coming so enjoy it while you can!

In any event. I waffled on this one. But I hope LeBron doesn’t come. (Personally, I hope he stays in Cleveland, where he will continue to star on just-good-enough teams that pose no threat. Also, that poor city deserves it, after the way he’s treated their hopes over the last few years. I wouldn’t object to him going to New Jersey or New York, where he similarly can’t cause any damage. Chicago, on the other hand, would terrify me. If he joins Rose, Boozer, Noah and Deng on a defensive-minded team…[fans self]. If championships are what matter to him, that’s his best bet, but that’s all besides the point.)

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