James Not To Blame
The Dallas Mavericks got themselves back into the NBA Finals on Tuesday night with another come from behind fourth quarter effort, and although they’re back on mathematical even footing with the Heat as a result, there are still plenty of reasons to doubt their chances.
The advantages that I thought would carry the Mavs to victory in the series in 5 games (an obvious impossibility now) were the match-ups that the Heat typically have to concede at the point guard and center spots, along with Nowitzki over Bosh. Obviously there are few teams that can hope to match forces with the Heat at the 2 & 3 spots.
The biggest advantage that I thought Dallas had though was their bench. Throughout the playoffs, despite our undying interest in the performances and match-ups of the starting lineups, Dallas won and lost their games through the battles of the benches. Portland’s improbable 23-point comeback effort against Dallas in round 1 was spurred by Brandon Roy, arguably a starter in terms of talent, but a guy relegated to second unit duty by knee injuries and one who hadn’t played in the game before. Throughout their run into these Finals, more often than not, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovich, Brendan Haywood & JJ Barea have outperformed the reserves of their opponents, and when they have the Mavs have won, on the few occasions that they haven’t, the Mavs have lost.
In evaluating the benches however, I was remiss in not including LeBron James as part of Miami’s second unit. If indeed, LeBron is going to play 45 minutes or so per night, and anchor the Heat’s second unit when they come in to spell the starters, then he has to be factored in when looking at those match-ups.
In a series where separation has been tough to come by and runs few and far between, look at the following:
In their Game 3 loss, Dallas had to dig out from a 13-point deficit only to come up short. After controlling most of the early action, the Mavs gave way to a Heat run that put Miami up 22-19 as the reserves for both sides checked in. When the starters came back into the game, early in the 2nd quarter, Miami’s lead had ballooned to 35-22. A 13-3 run put their 3-point lead at 13, and 13 was the deficit that the Mavs found themselves trying to overcome into the 4th quarter.
In Game 4 on Tuesday, the benches checked in with 2:30 or so in left in the 3rd quarter and the Heat leading 64-63. They ballooned the lead to 7, no small task in this series, and that was the deficit (72-65) from which the Mavs had to dig out again.
This time around the Mavs won despite their bench not because of it and although he’s bound to get plenty of criticism for his pedestrian numbers, it was Miami’s second team, run mostly by James and Mario Chalmers that gave them their best run of the night and set the stage for their stars to shrink again in the final minutes. If James is forced to carry the Heat through most of the first 46 minutes, than as a result of his efforts and sacrifices, Wade, Bosh and the others should be fresher and more capable of making shots in the end game. It should also be a testament to his sacrifices and not an indictment of his game.
Win lose or draw, there’s inevitability about this Heat team that makes them tough to like. Well that and the spectacle that was “The Decision”, the victory parade they threw themselves shortly thereafter, the feeling that 3 guys had stacked the deck, and the circus sideshow that has been Miami Heat basketball ever since all add up to make them tough to like. Still…like it or not, they appear to be here to stay, and it’s a pretty safe bet that this will be the weakest Miami team we’ll see for at least the next 4 years or so. Aside from injury or complacency, what else might derail these Heat? The ages of the big 3 (James – 26, Bosh – 27 & Wade – 29) speak to their own potential to get better and the supporting cast is bound to get better too. It’s time to get on board with this team and learn to at least appreciate them, or prepare for the next four years of being an NBA fan to just stink. Like it or not, the Heat are here.
I wonder if the court of public opinion would have been kinder to this team if Pat Riley had traded to acquire James and Bosh instead of having them simply show up at his doorstep through free agency? The willingness of the big 3 to sacrifice their game and defer credit for their individual successes, along with their decision to forego maximum compensation to allow the team some building room around them would seem to be something that we as fans would applaud if a rich old man in an office had swung the deals that brought them together. Why do we seem to resent the players (who were free agents all and beholden to no teams) for taking that onus on themselves?
It seemed pretty common knowledge that LeBron fancied himself a GM already, as he seemed to operate as such in Cleveland. And in fine GM form, he also afforded himself the chance to walk away from one franchise left in tatters by his mismanagement, and parlay that into a better opportunity to try again elsewhere.
Reynolds’ Bad Wrap
Mark Reynolds season has been an interesting one so far to say the least, but not altogether surprising. As a guy who had struggled with the Mendoza line and big strikeout numbers in the NL West, the expectations while adjusting to life in the AL East were certainly for more of the same. And while his efforts and numbers have been frustrating at times (.192 batting average & 61 strikeouts through Tuesday), those alone don’t tell the whole story.
Maybe it says more about the rest of his lineup mates than about Reynolds’ himself, but in addition to the frustrating numbers above, and in stark contrast to them actually, Reynolds also leads the team in doubles (12), homeruns (9), and walks (32) while ranking second on the team in runs (26) and RBI (30). That 35-40 homerun expectation is starting to look more and more realistic lately, and Reynolds defense has been exciting if not consistent.
Crash Davis logic says that the difference between Reynolds’ .192 average and .236 is less than 1 hit per week, and less than 2 hits per week to Vlad Guerrero’s .288. Since their placement in the lineup has each of those guys getting about 4 at bats more per week than Reynolds, the numbers aren’t quite that simple, but the fact that Reynolds has piled up RBI, runs, doubles, walks and homeruns despite far fewer chances than his counterparts in the lineup is not. Maybe others in the lineup could benefit from a Reynolds-like approach at the plate, trading 2 singles per week in for a homerun and a strikeout would probably mean more runs for the O’s overall.
It also seems more realistic that Reynolds will be able, over time, to turn 1 or 2 of those punch outs per week into hits while keeping his 40-homerun power. It sure seems more realistic at present than waiting on Brian Roberts to regain his old form, or for Nick Markakis to morph into a 40-homerun hitter.