Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Lure of Overcoming a 3-0 Deficit

The idea of the 3-0 deficit is pretty incredible to grasp. A team loses three straight games, then turns it on and wins four straight? It's the most removed thought. Admit it - your team is down 3-0 and the only thing entering your mind is, "We couldn't even win one lousy game?" or "Coach needs to be fired!" In the history of the NBA, MLB, and NHL playoffs only four times has a team ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit. In 1942 the Maple Leafs came back in the Stanley Cup Finals to beat the Red Wings. 33 years later the New York Islanders pulled off the same stunt. In 2003 the Red Sox famously did it against the Yankees and this year the Philadelphia Flyers rallied against the Boston Bruins. Though through it all no team has ever pulled off in the NBA. It remains untouched. Only 3 times out of 93 series that were 3-0 has a team even FORCED a Game 7. (I'm probably one of seven people my age that actually knows these three series.)

(Note: Of those three series that did go to a Game 7 never has the team that trailed 3-0 had Game 7 on their court. Orlando does.)

This is what the Orlando Magic are up against. History. The basic logic that no way can a team in a professional league win three straight, then lose four straight. It's so far removed it's laughable. Yet in the span of only a couple days that thought has slowly transformed into a possibility. The once flawless Boston defense has lost its edge and in turn momentum has shifted to the Sunshine State.

This series and it's current state reminds me a lot of 1996 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics. Now without looking at the obvious differences (Paul Pierce is not Michael Jordan among other things) there are similarities that I think will hold true to this series as well.

In 1996 the Chicago Bulls had the best record in NBA history (72-10). The Bulls were 11-1 going into the Finals. In Game 1 Chicago won by 17, Game 2 by four, and the critical Game 3 (much like Orlando) Chicago cruised to a 22 point victory. Seattle was assumed dead. (Sound familiar yet?) But in Game 4 Seattle showed up and won by 21, in Game 5 the Sonics again overcame the Bulls and prevailed with an 11 point victory.

In three days the series went from an absolute sweep to "can it really happen?" status. This is exactly what's going in with the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. The lure of seeing an NBA team come from 3-0 is all too tempting to witness. Despite consecutive wins the Magic (and Sonics) remained two games away from the advancing.

Michael Jordan, the greatest player to play the game, was on a team that flirted with giving up a 3-0 lead. The talks of a championship, surprisingly, were halted because of his team's shocking back to back losses in which they lost by an average of 16 points. The point is the Boston Celtics are the same victim of the same spell. But more so than the 1996 Bulls (which did win Game 6 despite a 5 of 19 shooting day for Michael Jordan) the Celtics do have a real chance of losing four straight.

How Game 6 turns out is directly parallel to how the Boston Celtics look back at their disturbing Game 5 loss. Do they learn from it and rebound or do they foolishly bury their heads in the press clippings and start to listen to the voices of history they are up against?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Implications of Game 6 Between the Cavaliers and Celtics

At only 25 years old LeBron James is already at a critical point in his career. After the embarrassing 120-88 loss in Cleveland to the Boston Celtics the fate of LeBron's career remains at center stage. Like never before King James will be bearing the pressure. This is more than a playoff game, this is the fate of a franchise, the league and more importantly a tell-tale sign of LeBron James and who he is as a basketball player.

On one end is the city of Cleveland ready to experience the worst yet again. The last time the city of Cleveland won a sports title was in 1964 and with recent luck that does not seem to be changing. On the other end are the potential suitors for LeBron James. Does LeBron James return to Cleveland after yet another humiliating finish to the season? After seven years why should LeBron think things will ever change?

And finally there is LeBron. All the scoring titles, all the MVPs and all the amazing games LeBron James has played in his career hold little value to the importance of Game 6. This is what LeBron James was brought into the league to do.

First he was the young junior in high school who grazed the cover of Sports Illustrated. Next he was the young rookie in 2003 making a name for himself in Cleveland. Now he is the superstar who, on his best team in his career, is one loss away from elimination.

This was the season for the Cavs. The season it all came together. Not like the past ones, no this season was going to end with LeBron at the top. The Cavaliers had the best regular season records so there was reason to believe this would happen.

For the past 24 hours every media outlet has chastised (rightfully so) the performance of LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Game 5. His work ethic, his style of play and his dedication have all been scrutinized.

It's gut check time for LeBron. Now more than ever his back is against the wall. To his fans and his critics Game 6 is a testament to the player he really is. The voices of being overrated will only get louder if LeBron puts up another lackluster effort.

But if he regains his form and shows his ability on national television in the biggest game of the 2010 NBA playoffs so far than we all will believe again.

On Thursday night we will all be witnesses.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Why Would Dwyane Wade Stay in Miami?

The Summer of Free Agency is almost upon us. After all this is supposed to be the offseason where everyone switches teams. The most intriguing story is where or not LeBron James resigns with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It's fun to ponder, but honestly I think King James will be staying in the Rock 'n' Roll Capital of the World.

That leads us to the next biggest commodity this offseason: Dwyane Wade.

In recent days I have been thinking constantly about Wade's situation this summer and whether or not he will leave. The more I think about it the more I have to ask: why would Dwyane Wade stay in Miami?

In 2006 the Miami Heat won the NBA title after trailing 2-0. The city of Miami was on center stage and we all had reason to believe things would only get better for Wade and the Heat.

We were only right about one. Wade got better, but the Heat got worse. In 2007 the Heat got swept in the first round by the Chicago Bulls. In 2008 the Miami Heat would finish an embarrassing 15-67. In 2009 the Heat would again lost in the first round losing in seven games to the Atlanta Hawks. And finally in 2010 the Heat lost in the first round in five games to the Boston Celtics.

I know the city of Miami must be a dream to live in. The weather is terrific and the women are gorgeous. But how far does that go when your team is consistently underachieving and you are not? After his seventh year in the NBA Wade is averaging incredible stats. (25.4 ppg, 6.6 apg, 4.9 rpg)

Here are the three biggest issues with the Miami Heat.

First is the supporting cast. All too often in the Boston series Wade was having a good game only to see his team fall because of a lack of a supporting cast. The only way the Heat avoided a sweep was because Dwyane Wade had, up to this point, the best individual performance of the 2010 NBA playoffs in Game 4. (46 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds). Even more troubling for Miami is the lack of development in former No. 2 pick Michael Beasley's game. He career stats do not tell the full story (14.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg). Beasley's offense is sporadic, his defense is not crisp (he struggled greatly with Glen Davis) and his overall rebounding is nothing to write home about. In the series he averaged 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

The second issue has been with Miami's front office and their lack of making a move to get a player to help the Heat in the playoffs. Earlier this year it seemed like Amare Stoudemire was headed for Miami. Unfortunately (and foolishly) the Heat would not give up Michael Beasley. Unless some metamorphosis begins to take place in Beasley's game, I can not see him ever being the threat Stoudemire is on the court.

Okay that's fine. They missed one. Sure it was a big missed opportunity, but hey it's only the third year of the Beasley Project. Maybe he comes around.

Example number two is John Salmons. Salmons was released by the Chicago Bulls earlier this year and later picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks. Why didn't Miami make a run at him? Salmons showed during last year's epic Chicago/Boston first round series he is a playoff warrior. The Heat of could have gotten him rather cheaply and in the process given Miami a proven scorer in the playoffs.

But Miami stood still. They stayed with their team and in turn they completely, 100 percent jeopardized Dwyane's Wade future in Miami. Here's the thing: it's not like the Heat are barely missing out of getting to the NBA finals, no it's more troubling. The Heat can not get past the first round. It's been four years since Wade and company have survived a postseason series. Think about that. One of the game's best players has not been past the first round since 2006.

The final reason Dwyane Wade has to leave is the appeal of his hometown team. The Chicago Bulls are definitely going to be going out shopping for a superstar this offseason. What superstar wouldn't want to walk in to Chicago? You have a young point guard beyond his years in Derrick Rose as well as a rebounding, defense machine, down low, in Joakim Noah. Both of these men will sacrifice minutes, shots and spotlight time to win. Tell me that's not appealing - play in your hometown with a team one player away from being a serious title contender. It's the perfect fit. Unless the Miami Heat manage to pull in a big superstar of their own (Chris Bosh?) I can not see a reason for Wade to stay behind. Also what in the recent past gives Wade reason to think the front office can pull off such a deal?

Wade is already seven years deep into his career. Hate to say, but he is reaching the halfway point. He already got Miami a title. He needs to think what is best for his career. Miami is a great city, but lately the franchise has not shown the ability to put playmakers around one of the NBA's best. Wade needs to see this and not the wheelbarrow of money Pat Riley and Co. will offer him.

Dwyane Wade needs to sign with the Chicago Bulls.