Everyone who tuned in to yesterday’s exciting finish to the Oklahoma City Thunder-Miami Heat game saw the Heat spoil the Thunder’s hopes of pulling off a late-game rally. What was most surprising, though, was who stuck the final dagger in the Thunder. Here’s a hint: it wasn’t LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. Yup, Eddie House has suddenly emerged as the Heat’s go-to man late in games, which is obviously surprising given the talent level of James, Wade and Bosh. Yesterday afternoon it worked, though. Instead of pulling up for a wide open three, LeBron unselfishly dished the ball out to House for a three of his own that turned out to be the game-clinching play.
If you didn’t catch the play, here it is (and make sure to check out House’s “big balls” dance after):
This from Tom Haberstroh of ESPN:
“Eddie House, Heat closer. To borrow a baseball term, House has unexpectedly stepped into the role of Miami’s closer in the end of tight games. In back-to-back contests, the star-studded Heat squad has entrusted House to register the go-ahead points with the game on the line. On Friday night against the Pistons, the Heat were down one point with 15 seconds remaining, when LeBron James passed it to House, who earned a game-winning trip to the free throw line on the final possession. And on Sunday against Oklahoma City, in one of the Heat’s most theatrical games of the season, the Heat received an encore performance. Miami down one, less than a half a minute remaining — James to House for the win. Both times, House delivered. Although the Heat reserve is an unlikely candidate for closing duties, the veteran would have it no other way. ‘I’m just ready,’ House said about Sunday’s game-clinching play. ‘If [James] passes it or he doesn’t, we both had looks. He just made a pass for an easier look. He could have taken a shot, but at the same time, that shows trust in his teammates.’”
It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how the Heat continue to handle late-game situations. Yesterday Wade initially got the nod, but he couldn’t capitalize and because of a nice Mike Miller rebound, the Heat were able to get a second chance. Whenever the Heat isolate Wade or LeBron late in games, their offense gets awkward. Each guy tries too hard to pull of a heroic and it usually results in a botched possession. We’ve all seen the likes of Steve Kerr, John Paxon and, most notably, Robert Horry coming up clutch in huge moments for their respective teams. So far for Miami, House is doing just that.
Let’s see if that continues.
(Last week’s Weekly Seven rankings: 1) LA, 2) MIA, 3) BOS, 4) ATL, 5) ORL, 6) POR, 7) NO)
1) Los Angeles Lakers (7-0): Is any explanation even needed here? All they’ve done is start off the season undefeated (pretty soft opening schedule, though), Pau Gasol is stating his claim as the best all-around big man in the game, Kobe Bryant’s knee looks perfectly fine, and their ridiculously deep bench is already making a strong impact. I’m starting to think maybe Phil Jackson wants to go out with a major bang. Not just an NBA Championship, which would solidify his third back-to-back-to-back title run (insane!), but possibly making a run at breaking his own record of 72 wins. How fitting would it be for Jackson to go out by letting his superstar (Bryant) capture his sixth title (for anyone counting, that would put him tied with Michael Jordan) and also have this Lakers team go down as one of the best of all time?! The Lakers will probably go on and lose two games this week and this discussion will be a moot point, but with Gasol playing at an MVP level and Bynum possibly returning by this month’s end, you never know. At this point, they’re clearly the best team in the league.
2) New Orleans Hornets (6-0): Call me crazy! Last week I thought the Hornets would quickly vanish from this list for the rest of the season. Now they’re one of only two undefeated teams left and playing arguably the best basketball in the NBA. Whenever a team has wins over San Antonio, Denver, and more importantly, Miami, this early in the season you have to give them their deserving credit. I’m probably overhyping them at this point, but it’s impossible to argue with their body of work thus far. Let’s just pray Chris Paul stays healthy!
3) Boston Celtics (6-2): Without Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille O’Neal, the Celtics still have salvaged an impressive 6-2 start. This veteran team will surely hit the brakes mid-season to prepare for the post-season, but you’re never going to get a soft effort whenever you encounter them. The Celts lost a tough one last night at Dallas, but since the Celts were coming off a road shellacking of the OKC Thunder the night before, we’ll give them a pass. That Rondo fella continues to marvel with his uncanny passing ability. He’s still averaging 15 dimes per game.
4) Miami Heat: They lost to New Orleans last week primarily because they relied heavily on the three-point shot and nothing could go down. More concerning, though, was the defensive play of Chris Bosh. He made Emeka Okafor look like a Hall of Famer and one has to wonder how the Heat will defend a Dwight Howard in a seven-game series. Numerous NBA pundits are already stripping Bosh of his label as one of the “Big Three,” (it’s now the “Big Two”) and are calling him “soft,” “overrated,” etc. Bosh doesn’t have to be a stud night in and night out, but he’s got to be more effective than he was in their two losses. I mean, he was signed as pretty much a max-contract guy…After seeing James Jones and Eddie House get open look after open look, I’m sure Mike Miller is salivating at the prospect of returning to the floor. I thought Miller was the Heat’s most ingenious move after the obvious signings of ‘Bron and Bosh, so I can’t wait to see his impact on this team.
5) Orlando Magic (5-1): It appears the embarrassing defeat to the Heat was probably an aberration. But just how good is this Orlando squad? Their other wins this season – Wizards, Knicks, T’Wolves, Nets, Bobcats, and Hawks. It’s important to note the Magic did destroy all of those second-class opponents, and their win last night against the Hawks qualifies as impressive, but we’ll be able to better gauge this team once they collide with the better teams out West. I tossed this idea around with Matt today and we both think the Magic should make a desperate attempt at luring Steve Nash away from Phoenix. If anyone hasn’t watched Phoenix yet, well, they just don’t have any adequate big men to contend in the West. Nash is now stuck in the desert with a probable lottery team so why not save him from his misery and let him try to contend for a title one more time. Could you imagine the pick-and-roll with Nash and Dwight?! Pretty unstoppable.
6) San Antonio Spurs (5-1): Perhaps the quietest team in the entire NBA right now. Their “Big Three” (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan) somehow is still incredibly effective. More surprising, though, has been the play of Richard Jefferson. I was one who initially hated the re-signing of Jefferson, but now he’s much more comfortable in the offense (as evident by his near 20 PPG, 60 FG%, and 52 3PT%) and may be the key to their success. With all the talented SF’s in the West (Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay), it’s great to have one that can both defend and score – like RJ. The Spurs locked up Parker last week, which was a wise move. George Hill is solid, but Parker when healthy is still a studly PG who can penetrate the lane as well as anyone. He also deserved this contract because of his past contributions to this team. People forget he did win a NBA Finals MVP. Oddly, this team might still be the biggest threat to LA.
7) Denver Nuggets (4-3): This seventh spot easily could be replaced with Dallas, Portland, Chicago, Atlanta or even GS. I throw Denver here because they’ve been able to survive the whole Carmelo Anthony drama and still play solid basketball. They’ve had arguably the toughest schedule so far – Jazz, Hornets, Rockets, Mavs, Clippers, Mavs, Bulls – and they still have a winning record despite playing without their top big men (K-Mart, Nene, Birdman). Matt’s disgraced by the play of Mr. Bad Shot Mr. Big Shot (Billups) and would love if any NBA team picked up this over-the-hill and overrated former superstar. Still, given their inauspicious pre-season predictions, the Nuggets should be pretty thrilled with this start.
On the brink: Mavericks, Blazers, Thunder, Hawks, Warriors, Jazz
Interesting Stats of Note:
Monta Ellis – leading the league in scoring with nearly 28 PPG.
John Wall – nearly averaging 6 TO’s a night. Ouch.
Joakim Noah – averaging 15 boards per game
Lakers – shooting 45% from three this season
Emeka Okafor – shooting 72% from the field. Thanks, Bosh!
Tom Haberstroh of ESPN insider seems to think so. And here’s why (courtesy of ESPN insider):
“Imagine the following scenario. James brings up the ball into a halfcourt set. After coach Erik Spoelstra signals for the pick-and-roll, Bosh obediently jogs to the top of the key to set a high ball screen for James. James uses the hard pick to dribble away to the right wing, luring Mike Miller’s defender from the right corner, sending Bosh rolling to the basket, and leaving Wade to fill the top of the key. Hit the pause button. In this instant, James has four options to alter his team’s chances of scoring: 1) Pass to Miller for the open three. (Miller shot 41-for-67 on open catch-and-shoots last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology) 2) Hit Bosh for a layup underneath. (Bosh scored in 73.3 percent of such situations) 3) Hand the ball off to Wade to restart the offense. (Wade ranks as one of the top isolation scorers in the game) 4) Take a pull-up jumper off the dribble. (James hit 37.4 percent of jumpers off a screen) This pivotal moment captures the beauty of basketball. It would take even the sharpest analyst several minutes to collect all the available data at hand, design a decision tree, calculate the probabilities, and finally arrive at a well-informed choice. But James has only a precious millisecond to make his move. And for most of James’ career in Cleveland, the optimal choice for the Cavaliers often aligned with the optimal choice of his own — take the shot. But as we all know, he’s not in Cleveland anymore and it may not be a good idea to choose what’s behind door No. 4. It may be a better play to draw the defense and use his vision and passing skills to get the better shot. But that means less points for James, and less recognition in the box score. James’ mind will be forced to adjust to a brand new set of variables in Miami. And they’re much, much better. In other words, the scoring probabilities of his teammates have risen to heights he’s never seen. This is why some believe James will become the first person in nearly a half-century to average a triple-double. He just received a new batch of toys and he can pass to them without lowering the chances his team will score. But the big question remains: is LeBron willing to trade personal glory for the sake of victory?”
Let’s take a look at LeBron’s last five seasons statistically (PPG/RPG/APG):
’08-’09 (MVP year): 28.4/7.6/7.2
’09-’10 (MVP): 29.7/7.3/8.6
5-year average: 29.4/7.3/7.1
Now it doesn’t take a genius to see he wasn’t too far off from a triple-double playing on a much inferior team (Cleveland) that required him to carry the entire scoring load night in and night out. With the immense talent surrounding him, is it ridiculous to expect LeBron to average a 24/13/12? This obviously depends on how the Heat utilize him. Is Dwyane Wade definitely going to take on the scoring load? Will LeBron be the primary ball handler? How often will the Heat play small ball (Chalmers/Wade/Miller/’Bron/Bosh or Wade/Miller/’Bron/Haslem/Bosh)? Are the Heat going to dominate many of their opponents to the point that the three kings are off the floor in the fourth quarter? Is the alpha dog issue going to have lingering effects on this team throughout the season?
My main concern is whether or not Wade and James can co-exist. LeBron opted to join a team with an already established and proven winner/alpha dog (whereas he could have been the unquestionable alpha dog on any other team), so maybe he’s ready to be the Robin to Wade’s Batman (leaving Bosh to be the Batgirl, I guess?). Wade and LeBron are best friends off the court; now it’s time to see if they are best friends on the court. If Wade and James learn how to play with one another, while still making the team exponentially better (like they should), they will be an unstoppable duo and an unbeatable team. If Wade and James can’t overcome the alpha dog issue late in games, then this team won’t be as successful as most think. Unfortunately, I think Wade and James will thrive off one another and mesh just fine.
Overall, I think LeBron will fall short of a triple-double this year (will take him a little while to get used to a new role); but, he will become the first player since the Big O to accomplish that rare feat during his time with the Heat – just not next year.
So I end by asking the readers two questions: 1) Who will lead the Heat in scoring? and 2) Will LBJ average a triple-double?