Explaining Away Frustration In The Miami Heat

The only answers are more questions.  If that makes no sense, good.  It’s exactly the amount of sense the Miami Heat make now that they’re on the cusp of a second unforgivable collapse to an inferior opponent in the NBA playoffs.  Why haven’t the Heat put the Celtics away yet?  How in the world does LeBron James seem to disappear in a game where he put up a 30-12 line? Why doesn’t he impose his will to close out these games?  Are the players to blame?  Is Erik Spoelstra ?  Pat Riley?  Should they really blow it all up and trade Chris Bosh and/or Dwyane Wade next year?  These are just a few of thousand questions I’ve asked myself over the last week or so since the Heat managed to turn a dominant 2-0 series lead into a stunning 3-2 deficit. 

This all bothers me because the Miami Heat should be important.  Historically, the Heat should mark a turning point in sports history whereby we could draw a line of demarcation and tell those who come after us that this was the moment it all changed.  Never before had three individuals with such a combination of talents and skills so willingly flipped “the model” on its head.  They eschewed the conventional wisdom that a GM or franchise alone should have the power to create a team and instead went about accomplishing it themselves.  This made us uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable is a good thing.

Their identity could have been that of the outliers of the NBA or, even better, the villains.  Instead what has evolved is some sort of bizarre identity that is defined only by the fact that it has no identity at all.  The Heat can’t seem to figure out what exactly they want to be and, as a result, struggle when they get into the late stages of the NBA playoffs when teams seem intent on exposing this.  Veterans especially (think: Garnett & Pierce this year or Marion & Stevenson last year) seem to revel in the opportunity of uncovering the fallacy during live broadcasts.  At times they’re a great defensive team, at times they’re breath-taking on the fast break, most times they just fail to live up to expectations

This revelation has its roots in the Heat’s best player, LeBron James.  Since the disaster that was “The Decision” James seems intent on going into full on Tiger Woods/Michael Jordan mode. He basically refuses to take a stance on anything publicly (Trayvon Martin shooting aside) and instead speaks in a well-rehearsed language of saying lots of things without saying anything it all.  While successful at earning money through endorsements, it fails to endear him to any one group of people.  This would not be a problem if he was winning championships.  As you’ve noticed though, LeBron James and this current version of the Heat don’t have any championships.  The result is a disaster in that James comes across as trying to be too many things to too many groups of people. 

The great misconception of this Miami Heat experiment is that America hates villains.  America does not hate villains.  In fact, America loves villains.  As an example, I am a huge fan of late 1990s professional wrestling.  I was a WCW guy and that period is almost entirely known for the great rivalry of the WCW vs. the NWO.  The huge success of that era was predicated on Hulk Hogan’s turning heel into the greatest villain the sport had ever seen.  And you’re never going to believe this, but people loved it! 

I worshipped the sport, tuning in religiously every week as the good guys battled to save wrestling from Hogan and his gang of misfits.  Hogan embraced the new identity of Hollywood Hogan and the sport flourished.  There are more examples of this in sports history: the Miami Hurricanes, the Raiders, the Bad Boy Pistons.  There most certainly exists a place in America’s heart for the Heat to exist as villains, should they so choose.

There is nothing that this country enjoys more than laughing at the failures of hypocrites though.  By choosing to go to Miami and holding what closely resembled a championship trophy celebration in which he suggested that the Heat would win eight titles, LeBron came across to many as though he believed that the titles were already won.  The implication was that the hard work was done with now that the big three finally came together.  This all would be fine, again, if the Heat had won a title last year.

Instead the Heat failed to win a title and, in the biggest atrocity of all, failed to embrace a team identity.  They come across instead as whiny wastes of talent who will never fully live up to their potential.  Once Rajon Rondo made us all aware of the Heat’s tendency to complain to the official’s in transition, Americans had all the ammunition they ever needed to tie what they were thinking in their heads to what was actually happening on the television.

If we must look at facts to attempt to explain the Miami Heat, they do actually exist.  In a sports world dominated by theories and opinions though, this isn’t very popular though.  What’s really going on right now, in a purely basketball sense, is that the Heat inexplicably lost their discipline.  They’re failing to take care of the basketball which couldn’t come at a worse time because the Celtics improbably morphed into a team that doesn’t turn the ball over at all.  The Heat have also been noticeably lazy on their defensive rotations in the last three game (especially 3 and 4).  And finally, they really are griping to the officials during transition opportunities for the Celtics that is allowing Boston to convert easy baskets.  In games that are decided by such close margins, all of these mistakes add up.

For the Heat to avoid a second consecutive playoff collapse they’re going to have to do all the little things better, apologies for the cliche.  They can’t afford lazy passes, they cannot be a second late on defensive switches, and they have to convert their free throws.  In all seriousness, LeBron and Wade missed four free throws in game five.  And guess how many points the game was eventually decided by?  You guessed it, four points.  Avoiding the little mistakes yields great dividends in the final box score.

So please, don’t waste time attempting to surmise once and for all whether LeBron James really has it in him to close out a game like Michael Jordan.  It’s a ludicrous and fruitless endeavor that will never result in satisfaction.  Look at the basketball itself.  More than anything, the Heat might just be unlucky.  That three point attempt Paul Pierce converted in LeBron James’ face at the end of game five was one of the worst shot attempts of the whole playoffs.  It’s incredibly inefficient from a statistical standpoint, but for whatever reason he made it.  You can’t criticize a team for being unlucky.

Instead, criticize this team for it’s failure to craft an identity and not living up to their own expectations

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Video: The United States Won’t Be Going To The Olympics For Soccer Because Of This Tragic Goal In Penalty Time

I have a feeling that goalie will never recover. The silver lining here is that the Olympics only allows for U-23 players so it’s not like the US had their best players out there. But still…

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Good Morning Generation

Devastating loss yesterday.  The US women seemed to do everything right, save two distinct moments where they slipped up, and Japan made them pay both times.  I personally won’t dwell on the result much longer than this morning and I generally think that will be the case for most people my age.  What I can’t help but wonder about though is the impact, or perhaps lack of impact, that result will have on a very young generation of female soccer fans.  I personally witnessed the dramatic aftershock of that ’99 team and was almost certain we were about to experience a redux, but can this team now resonate?  Can that loss even come close to inspiring young fans?

I hate to be the one to say it, but the first thing we have to get out of the way is that our team choked yesterday.  Totally choked.  In the most dramatic way possible.  There was no way Japan even deserved to be on the same field as us, given our superior height, athleticism, and history in the sport.  We should have dominated from the start to the finish, and, for the most part, we did just that.  The Japanese were unable to take control of the game from the midfield, as is usually their style, and instead had to control possession behind the midfield line with their defenders in order to achieve any of what they set out to accomplish.  The Americans failed to convert multiple opportunities in the first half, any one of which would no doubt have proven to be the game-winner.  That’s where the choking started, and it was nowhere close to being the point at which it ceased.

The biggest goats yesterday have to be keeper Hope Solo and the American defense, both of which chose the worst possible time to have their worst games of the tournament.  Solo looked anything but confident out there, a feeling which was only reinforced after Japan repeatedly kept breaking through the back line for runs in the second half.  This all culminated in that shocking equalizer late in the game, the result of a failure to clear the ball by the defenders.  In a bizarre series of events, American Ali Krieger actually assisted Miyama’s equalizer.  Totally unforgivable.

Off to overtime where it appeared that Abby Wambach had again bailed the US out for the third consecutive game when she converted a stunning header in the first of two extra periods.  And then, in a total throwback to the ridiculous  fake injury by Brazil’s Erika in the quarterfinals, Hope Solo decided in the second overtime period to fake as if she’d taken a gunshot to the hamstring.  I knew right then and there that we were doomed.  The soccer gods frown upon poor sportsmanship like that.  In the classless move to waste time, Japan set up for the corner that would eventually tie the game and send it to PKs.  Solo of course was caught flat-footed on the play on a shot that didn’t appear to be all that difficult to stop.  Perhaps even more embarrassing was that the Japanese converted on a set piece in which our team likely averaged about four more inches of height to their team.

And finally, in the final act of the choke job, USA coach Pia Sundhage made the baffling decision to start off the penalty kicks in the exact same order as against Brazil to try to win it for the Americans.  Perhaps she had failed to consider that Japan’s goalie was most certainly watching those PKs as the kickers almost always go to the same side, the result of hours of practice perfecting one single “sure thing” shot.  This point was even further rammed down our throat when announcer Julie Foudy made the stunning revelation that one of the American PK shooters revealed to her that before the Brazil shootout, she hadn’t taken a penalty since college and was 0 for 3 in her attempts before that.  Does that seem like a person you want going to the line to decide the freaking World Cup?!  Furthermore, after she was clearly rattled in the Brazil match, did America’s first kicker Shannon Boxx look like she had any hint of the confidence necessary to take the USA’s first kick again?  She of course was stuffed easily by the Japanese keeper after going to the exact same kick she went to twice against Brazil and with that awful momentum from the start, the Japanese of course went on to win it all.

Now, I’m obviously a little bitter and these are most likely just the gripes of a sore loser who really, really wanted to win that match yesterday.  I admit that openly.  However, seriously think about this one thought for the rest of the day.  How crippling was that loss for women’s soccer yesterday?  There is a fledgling women’s league in the United States right now that was no doubt banking on the Americans bringing home the gold.  They were likely hoping it would lead to a surge at their box office as the American heroes could be paraded around on their club teams for the next couple years.  I wouldn’t want to bring my daughter now, if I had one.  How many young female athletes are now going to associate that failure with soccer and choose another sport like basketball or lacrosse?  Am I completely over-analyzing this?

Whatever the impact, I guess I’ll finish it off by saying I feel the most awful for Abby Wambach.  She’s been the face of US soccer for the better part of a decade now and despite winning a gold medal at the Olympics, she’ll likely never win a World Cup as a starter.  She goes down as the Kurt Warner of women’s soccer rather than the Tom Brady.  Huge bummer.

Generation Y, where it’s good to have Heisenberg back in our lives.  Stunning season opener.

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Check Out The Austin Statesman’s Incredible Look Into UT’s Horrible 2010 Football Season

Think they take football seriously down here??  From the Austin Statesman:

In dozens of interviews with people in or with direct knowledge of the football program, the answers are there. Almost all of these people spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Importantly, the coaches and staff all had a role in the collapse. As a group, they missed or ignored most warning signs along the road. Those warning signs pointed to problems, among them:

• A severe depression hangover from the loss to Alabama in the national championship game on Jan. 7, 2010. It was an exhausting disappointment to Brown, who had worked so hard to get his team to the championship and who told confidantes he was certain his Longhorns would beat the Crimson Tide.

• Brown had become withdrawn from day-to-day coaching, taking on a role akin to a CEO. He was disconnected from his team and his coaches.

• As the year progressed, fractures within the coaching ranks widened to the point where defensive coordinator Will Muschamp got into a heated argument with offensive coordinator Greg Davis after the loss to Iowa State.

• UT’s recruiters had overestimated the talent of incoming players, particularly on offense. Coaches had resorted more to watching tapes rather than scouring the 1,400 high schools in Texas for the type of players that brought the Longhorns nine straight 10-win seasons.

• A switch to a running offense that the team was not built for.

• A lack of dedication in summer conditioning and training, culminating with an eye-opening struggle against Texas State in a 7-on-7 game in July.

• A shift in attitude by coaches, and players, from confidence to entitlement — a sense that the team was guaranteed victory and prestige.

• A lack of on-field competence.

One former player summed it up this way: “UT was just unprepared for the 2010 season. Coaches and players alike.”

The bottom line: The UT team was flawed enough that its season was in doubt even as the players took the field at Reliant Stadium on Sept. 2 to play the Rice Owls. Many observers point to that game, which UT won by a closer margin than expected, as the sign that all was not well.

But the warning signs were evident months before that.

This article was awesome, if only to read about the last bad football season UT is going to have for the next ten years.  I don’t think it’s difficult to diagnose what went wrong last year for UT; even casual college football fans could see what wasn’t working.  The story detailed everything, particularly Texas’ complete and utter failure in recruiting, which it has no business doing so terribly in.  It’s the most desirable university to play for in the most talent-rich state in the country. 

I also particularly took enjoyment in the nugget that Texas State mopped the floor with the Longhorn’s in an offseason scrimmage.

This is a must-read if you’re a college football fan.  It gives an insiders look at the biggest program in the country and everything that took place last season.  It’s a rare look into one of the most competitive environments for atheltics imaginable.

[Austin Statesman]

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