• The Heat finish the week up strong with a thrilling triple overtime victory in Atlanta behind great games by Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. A game like that would not have been won last season. This Heat team is as deep as I can ever remember a Heat team being. A good rookie point guard off the bench (Norris Cole), four capable wing players (Shane Battier, James Jones, Mike Miller, Terrel Harris) , and a 6th Man of the Year candidate in Udonis Haslem makes up, what is in my opinion the deepest bench in the NBA. They lack at Center? Not necessary in today’s NBA.
• Andrew Bynum has staked his claim as an elite player and easily the second best center in Basketball. If we didn’t know his injury history, he would have more promise than Dwight Howard. But the truth is that Howard and Bynum are irrelevant in today’s NBA. Defenses cater to nullify the impact a big man can have on the offensive end, and it reduces the gameplan versus a dominant big man like Howard or Bynum to figuring out how to lessen their impact on the boards. We are a long way from the hey day of the big man in the NBA. It’s a guards league now.
• Portland is the early “wise guy” pick to make the Western Conference Finals. Their collection of Wing players is only rivaled by the Miami Heat, and they are finding timely scoring from Jamal Crawford. Will that last? It might not matter. The key to this team is their front line and their wing players. Nate McMillan has them playing at a fast pace while still hugging the Top 5 in Offensive and Defensive efficiency and boasting the NBA’s 5th best rebounding rate. There are a lot of indicators early on that suggest that Portland will be in this for the long haul. A Trailblazers / Thunder Western Conference Finals would be entertaining for it’s matchups and for the clash of styles that could lend itself to some really entertaining basketball.
• The Lakers struggles seem born out of Kobe Bryant’s stubbornness and a lack of athleticism. Bryant’s play this season at times has been clownish. Unworthy of the legacy of allegedly a Top 10 all-time NBA player. No team can boast the size the Lakers can project, yet their three point shooting has been miserable. Why is that?
Well, Pau Gasol is first of all, getting reduced touches. Second of all, Mike Brown has Bryant seemingly calling the signals down the stretch, and he is isolating way too much. Sad is it might be for Kobe fans, teams do not help on Kobe anymore. Teams are staying home on three point shooters. And when a perimeter player such as Kobe Bryant is dominating the ball, it lends to big men such as Gasol and Bynum to lose interest. The Lakers have a mess in what their “game” should or could be. It is an identity crisis, and it is the aging superstar that is resisting necessary change.
• The Chicago Bulls are back, and the inevitability of a Heat/Bulls Eastern Conference Final is rather stark. The Bulls consistency on defense reminds me of those Pat Riley Miami Heat teams of the 90′s. Carlos Boozer is still a liability for the most part, but they have found a comfort zone in their rotation, and it seems to be working out. The Bulls’ defense is good enough to pile up a lot of regular season wins again, but in the playoffs, versus a team that has many scoring options, the Bulls will have to rely heavily on Derrick Rose, yet again. I don’t believe that the Rip Hamilton signing was much of a difference maker, but it does add another option that can become useful. The Heat has been fortunate in what their direct threats did this offseason.
• The Studio shows on ESPN and TNT have taken a severe turn for the worse. On ESPN, we are reduced to Mike Wilbon waving Chicago Bull pom poms and Jon Barry taking “Heat Hate” to the comedic stages. The actual basketball analysis is terrible except for Chris Broussard, who does a very good job. I cannot understand why they did away with a studio host on that show. The flow seems clunky now, and they are reduced to PTI type gimmicks such as “over/under” to fill time.
I feel as if the Mike Breen/Jeff Van Gundy commentating team has suffered with the loss of Mark Jackson to Golden State (yeah, I am the one). Meanwhile, I am taking a liking to the Kevin Harlan / Reggie Miller combo. Reggie is rather informative and has been informative on the broadcast for a while. Last season, he seemed to want to pile on the Miami Heat for whatever reason, and he definitely bought into the group think while pushing the common non-stories about the Heat.
The TNT studio show went under some changes with the addition of Shaquille O’Neal. And so far, it has been a dud. We all know that the only guy that offers any type of real analysis on the show is Kenny Smith. And Charles Barkley is there for comedic relief. SHAQ, just doesn’t fit in. He has no role. He is not particularly smart about Basketball. He doesn’t seem to know the teams. He is not particularly funny in this format, and he mumbles. Other than that, he’s great!
I am just not a fan. Thank You for our championship in 05-06′, now get off my screen. His presence is also affecting the dynamic between Kenny and Charles. Ernie Johnson keeps looking at him with this “worried” look on his face, while Kenny Smith, for whatever reason, feels the need to stroke SHAQ’s ego constantly with unnecessary compliments that seem totally out of place. Barkley treats him as a equal, as he should, because Sir Charles is a media pro, and is acting like it.
We can only hope it gets better, because it would be a shame if the best studio show in all of sports gets ruined.