NBA Preview: Can Anyone Beat the Heat?
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010
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“I don’t see 73 wins, I see 66 wins,” says Bob Ryan, who has been covering the NBA for 40 years with the Boston Globe. “The conference is so much improved that they could lose a game in cities like Washington, New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta. These are not automatic Ws.”
In addition, Wade and others who see only stars may be guilty of a kind of additive fallacy: adding the star wattage of three players, comparing them with other squads with fewer stars, and concluding that Miami is superior because their threesome adds up to more and therefore better. That formula doesn’t always win the race. Philadelphia’s Julius Erving, George McGinnis and World B. Free were a more spectacular threesome than Portland’s Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, and Lionel Hollins in the 1977 finals. None denied it. But Portland won the last four games of that series because of team play and superior balance. Star power doesn’t always shine brightest.
“Right now, before the season, they have a lot to prove,” Brown says. “They need chemistry and must rebound with Orlando and Boston in order to get out of out the east.”
Whatever the hype-to-reality ratio hanging over Miami, they are not the team to beat, according to Brown. “The Lakers are still the favorites,” he says. “They are the two-time defending champions. They have added [Steve] Blake—since Jordan Farmer and Shannon Brown could not back up Derek Fisher and give them quality minutes in the Phoenix and Boston series. In Blake you have a true backup point guard to run, shoot off the dribble and hit the three. Matt Barnes backs up Ron Artest and gives them major minutes, which is crucial because of Luke Walton’s lower back trouble. The real luxury comes from adding 15-year veteran Theo Ratliff, a prime shot blocker and defender. He’s handy at play-off time when Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, or Lamar Odom gets in trouble.”
Two consecutive titles have not led the Lakers to complacency. They have geared up for a fourth consecutive foray into late June that could send Phil Jackson into the hues of a mountain sunset with a third straight title for the fourth time in his career. Who can dethrone the Lakers? “They are going to beat you [in a play-off series] one or more times in your building,” Brown stresses. “But only once [in 23 play-off games] did they lose in their building.” They lost game two of the finals at home. “I predict Los Angeles will beat Miami in six or seven games,” Ryan says.
Boston is the biggest mystery of all. Considering their age—Kevin Garnett (34), Paul Pierce (33), and Ray Allen (35)—it is appropriate to ask if they even can get to mid-April healthy enough for the NBA’s grueling two-month title run, the longest in any sport. “As my broadcast partner Mark Jackson says, “ ‘Father Time is undefeated,’ ” said Van Gundy. With a 13-point lead in the third quarter of game seven, their 18th title was in sight. Alas, they couldn’t close the deal on a night when Kobe Bryant couldn’t hit water from a boat, shooting 6-24.
“If I said to you that the Lakers would shoot 32 percent and they would miss 12 of 29 foul shots, you would think Boston would win,” says Brown. But Los Angeles pounded Rasheed Wallace, Garnett and Glen “Big Baby” Davis into submission off the glass, while snaring 23 offensive rebounds. Gasol grabbed nine. “The problem with giving up offensive rebounds is that the opponent will get a second shot within eight to 10 feet of the basket,” Brown explains, “which results in a put-back or a foul.” Boston had a brilliant defensive plan, which had the Lakers missing 56 of 83 shots. But the Lakers second shots cost Boston 17 points. They lost by four, 83-79.
But spilt milk isn’t Boston’s focus. The acquisition of two O’Neals—Shaquille and Jermaine—will fill in the center position until Kendrick Perkins returns, probably in February. “Five guys at those two positions will give them probably the best physical strength and rebounding potential they have had.” says Brown.
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