Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Heat at Magic preview

It is easy to expect the Miami Heat to blow out the Orlando Magic after what we saw in the pre-season opener. However, a much different game could emerge in game 2, the preseason finale.

I expect Orlando and its star Dwight Howard to show a little bit more pride this time around as they will be playing in front of their home crowd for the first time. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception Dwight Howard gets from a fan base that has to be pretty convinced it is losing yet another NBA superstar as he hits his prime.

Emerging playmaker Norris Cole has a great opportunity to solidify his spot as an energy guy off the bench. One day he could be a starter, but if he is capable of being a role player off the bench this year, he should consider himself blessed. While Miami has struck out in the free agent point guard market (at least they kept their part time starter in Mario Chalmers), a veteran or two shakes free and the Heat is always looking to upgrade.

The same opportunity is there for the twin mountains -- Eddy Curry and Dexter Pittman -- as Riley has yet to come across a legitimate upgrade at the position he arguably values most. Pittman's chance to shine is while Eddy Curry is injured, which is now and could be a recurring issue if the past is an indicator. Neither player has a guaranteed contract, but they are both expected to make the cut and get some minutes. I expect a solid game from Pittman tonight if he is allowed to play through his fouls.

Lastly, most fans will have an eye on the hopefuls for the 15th roster spot. Some argue that shooters like Terrel Harris and Derrick Byars should be kept for their youth, but they are 24 and 27 respectively. They have the look of solid role players, but I do not think you should keep them based on the fact that they are young. They should be kept if they are knock down shooters. Today they get a chance to prove that they are fearless and not one hit wonders.

Prediction: Miami 110 - Orlando 103

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is This a Must Win Year for the Miami Heat?

The Miami Heat has the look and feel of a championship team already. There are only two teams ahead of them in the standings. One in the East (Boston) and one in the West (San Antonio).

While regular season records do not count for anything other than home court advantage, I think now is a good time to accept the idea that Miami is currently, at best, the third best team in the NBA. If I were to guess today, Miami would get eliminated by Boston in the conference finals much in the way that they were in Shaq's first year in Miami.

Is that OK? I do not think so. Not then, and much less now. They would be losing to an admirable opponent just as they did when they fell short to the Detroit Pistons, but this team is not in the business of admiring opponents.

I could accept it had LeBron not jumped onto the squad, but the moment he decided to team up with Wade and Bosh, the expectation was that the best basketball player in the world two times over (MVP in 2009 and 2010) would have no excuses left should he fall short of delivering a title. His team had the best record in the league for the past two seasons, but did not have the goods in the playoffs. This team has the most clutch playoff performer in Dwyane Wade and the most coveted big man in this year's free agent class in Chris Bosh, well ahead of Amare and Boozer.

I know that Boston, Los Angeles and San Antonio are deep and have been together for many years. I am also aware that they all have legendary coaches who know how to win titles. Beating them will not be easy, but it has to happen. The urgency needs to be there, but people are already lowering the bar. Shame on them. Anybody that has watched the NBA for the past 8 years knows what LeBron and Dwyane bring, why are we bowing down to anybody? Why are we talking about Jordan's failures with the Pistons? LeBron and Dwyane have already failed with the Celtics, that is why they teamed up. They are allowed to lose three more times to them this year, no more.

Barring any unexpected family issues they will have to make do with Spo, who is not on the level of Phil Jackson, Greg Popovich or Doc Rivers. In order to close the gap with those teams - I am not yet buying that LA is as dysfunctional as they seem - they will need to upgrade their roster or find some other way to increase productivity by about 5%. Specifically, winning the close games and closing out the ones that should be blowouts before they become nail-biters.

I have never made it a secret that I am always in favor of a roster or coaching upgrade, however, I think that this group can and should get it done. It is February and it is now obvious to any reasonable fan why Dwyane and LeBron wanted to team up: Boston, LA and San Antonio are at a level that neither player could overcome on their own without having a lot of luck on their side.

Teaming up was their way of saying "We are too good to sit on the sidelines and wait for our turn... we are taking back our league because we are friends and we sincerely believe that nobody could stop us if we joined forces".

Now is the time to prove that theory to be true.

I do not care how good those other teams are. We are talking about LeBron and Dwyane. Double Rainbow. 82 games is more than enough time to figure out invincibility. When Shaq joined Miami I had the belief that nobody could beat our team four times out of seven, health permitting. I have that same belief today.

LeBron and Dwyane, please do not let us down. We believe in your greatness and we will stay by your side no matter what. However, we selfishly want you to live up to your own lofty expectations of "not two, not three..." and that all starts with one, as in year one.

Get ready for it, the first one can be the hardest.