Wednesday, June 15, 2011

All Baseball All The Time

With basketball ending for the season Sunday and hockey ending for the season tonight, it's all baseball until football season starts. This is the only period in the entire sports year where only one of the four major American sports is in session. This always becomes very obvious when you watch Baseball Tonight followed by SportsCenter and they are essentially the same show. It's a little weird to only have one sport going, but for the big baseball fan it's no problem at all. It also means we are getting involved with summer for real, which is always a good thing.

Since I wrote about and we talked about basketball a lot in this space this year, I figure one to cap the season is appropriate. Especially given that the Miami Heat and Lebron James are involved.

On that front, nothing has changed. Whichever side of the Heat/Lebron issue you are on, that is the way you are going to frame the 2011 NBA Playoffs. The anti-Heat/Lebron crowd is going to focus on the NBA finals, the Heat's two major collapses in that series, and Lebron's fourth quarter dissapearing acts to say that they proved everyone right, as Gunn did the other day. Those that defend the Heat/Lebron are going to focus on the way in which they turned the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs into a laughing stock, the way Lebron took over those series, and the notion that not winning it all on the very first try is not necessarily indicative of anything at all. It's not like they lost in the first round. They took the NBA Finals to Game 6.

That last point is probably the one that resonates with me the most. The reason for that is that it is in line with the reason why I stick up for Lebron. He's reached the point where he has to do everything exactly right for people to give him a pass. If you don't win the Finals, it's not enough. If you win the Finals, but aren't the driving force for the Heat, it's not enough. You have to win the Finals and have an amazing series. Then everyone will get off his back. This, of course, is incredibly pedestrian to accomplish.

This situation makes me cringe because it reminds me of Alex Rodriguez pre the 2009 World Series. I used to be very critical of Rodrgiuez, especially in his early years in New York. But there came a point where everyone was piling on and creating these ridiculous expectations that it was too much. It took exactly what I'm talking about above - Rodriguez winning a World Series while getting every big hit known to mankind - for people to get off his back. Looking back I would be far less hard on Rodriguez than I was, because his treatment just wasn't fair. You can dislike someone all you want personally (and for many that applies to both Rodriguez and James), but there is only so far you can realistically take it in terms of what is deemed "success" and "failure" in terms of their place in their respective sports.

I mean, Lebron made the Sixers, Celtics, and Bulls look like a joke. He had the Game 7 in Boston in 2008. He had that 4th Quarter against the Pistons in 2007, and followed that up by taking a team that had no business being in the Finals to the Finals. Now listen, Lebron also had this Finals. He also had last year against Boston. In defending him, I am in no way trying to ignore those realities. I'm not saying he's clutch or a bigtime winner. What I'm trying to figure out is why, for so many, last year against Boston, this year in the Finals, and other similar performances are the only things that factor into the analysis. All the stuff on the other side of the equation didn't happen? He's not only 26 years old?

Again, I'm not saying that the positive side is going to prevail. If the rest of his career goes this way, with lots of big performances but also lots of subpar performances when it counts, then that's going to be telling. All I'm saying is that the book isn't written yet. At the very least, there is enough positive to not discount him as one thing or another because his team got to the Finals and didn't win in part because he didn't play well. Believe it or not that does happen sometimes, and it's really, really hard to be critical of someone's game when they dismantled the incumbent (Boston) and the 1-seed (Chicago) on the way to the NBA Finals.

If anything, that last point is the biggest takeaway from these NBA Playoffs for me. The way the Heat cruised to the Finals and then got handled by the Mavericks signals that, outside of the Heat, the Eastern conference lacks elite teams. Considering those teams that the Heat crushed teams in previous rounds the way Boston did the Knicks (who were the 6th best team in the East) points to the conference also lacking depth. Lack of elite teams plus lack of depth is not good. There is a reason that the Western Conference has won 10 of the 13 NBA Championships since the Bulls Dynasty ended. It's a far superior conference to the East. The Mavericks continued to expose that. We spend all this time talking about the Bulls, Heat, and Celtics, and then the Mavericks come in and just handle the Heat who smacked the Bulls and Celtics. Western Conference fans have to be laughing at all that chatter now, and I'd personally like to see the Eastern Conference turn this around. Because it's not even close right now.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

on that note woo bruins!
jason

Anonymous said...

PF

The Lebron/Arod comparison is a strong one for all the reasons you've listed and for others not worth rehashing.

That said, Lebron's Finals performance was historically bad. Of any player who averaged more than 25 points per game during the regular season and then made the Finals, Lebron's Regular Season to Finals scoring drop was the largest in the history of the NBA. 'Bad' may not be the right term, but 'unclutch' (probably not even a word) is the better choice. It wasn't just during the fourth quarter that he disappeared--it was the entire game. And it wasn't just the lack of production. If you watched SportsCenter after the games you'd see Lebron getting the ball late in games and immediately swing it around the perimeter. He wouldn't even look at the rim. Mentally and emotionally he was not up to the task. And when you act the way that he did last summer, guaranteeing EIGHT championships, you probably want to at least be one of the top two players on your team during the biggest series of your career.

On East/West--Since 2004 the West has won five championships, the East three. Two of the West's five titles were won in seven games. It's not that lopsided and really hasn't been even for the past few years. A lot of it has to do with match-ups and injuries--some teams just don't match up well with others, some big time teams lost franchise players. This year a 60 win San Antonio team lost to the eight seed, who promptly lost in the next round. Last year, the fourth best team in the East took the number one seed in the West all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals (and probably should have won). In 2009 the Celtics were even better than they were in 2008 until Garnett went down for the year. In the same year, many people felt Cleveland was the best team in the NBA, they would have had home court in the Finals, but they didn't match up well with Orlando, got bounced and paved the way for an easy Laker victory. The West's dominant run was really from 1999 to 2003 when they won five straight times. Since then there's been much better balance.

--the Gunn

PF said...

no doubt on this finals. there is no way around the way lebron played in this finals for all of the reasons you mentioned. all of that is a given. my point is, does that mean anything? i think the answer is maybe. we just don't know yet. lebron has had other performances similar to this (last year against boston). but he's also had lots of literally opposite performances, such as boston and chicago this very year. that's what makes the situation confusing. it's not like those weren't pressure, clutch situations. they were. if he hadn't beaten boston he'd have gotten roasted 10 times harder than he did for not beating dallas. but then he turns around and is indeed unclutch against dallas. my issue is with those that want to take this situation that can probably most aptly be described as a mixed bag, and turn it into conclusive based on an absurdly high set of expectations (win the finals and play well or bust). i just don't think we can get to that spot yet, as bad as these finals were. there is too much on the other side.

on east/west, all of your points are well taken. your assertion about the east's recent balancing act is exactly what i'm getting at. we all thought thought, based on the last few years and the construction of teams at the start of this season, that the east was perhaps tilting the balance in its favor for the first time in a long time. the 2011 playoffs were a huge step back in that regard, and that's my point. this was a borderline embarrassment from the eastern conference. i mean, everyone is RIPPING the heat, and the celtics and bulls couldn't even muster a fight against them. so what does that say about them? then the knicks couldn't muster anything against the celtics who couldn't muster anything against the heat. what does that say about them?

Anonymous said...

PF

A good post here. Thanks for opening the blog up for a little more hoops discussion.

On Lebron, as I said in a comment a few days ago- the criticism is overblown. If he doesn't play another day in the NBA, you're still talking about him being a top 25 player of all time. I think a lot of the criticism is from people who would like to see him take his game to the next level where he's really in the discussion as one of the top 5 players of all time. He absolutely has that potential, but I don't think you can be there until you take over an NBA finals series. If he doesn't, it's not the end of the world. He's still a fabulous player and talent. As I said, the criticism has reached ridiculous levels. Your strongest point is that he still has half a career left. There is time.

What he really needs to do though is develop some sort of "go-to" offensive weapon. The scary thing is, he averaged 26 a game this year without one- he has no signature move/shot. Magic Johnson aptly described him as a "Wind up player." You put him out of the wing of a fast break or give him the ball in the half court and let him create for himself and he'll just "wind up" and run right through you to the basket like a freight train. No player in NBA history has been as unstoppable as Lebron is when can get momentum going to the hoop.

But what the Mavs did was put a good defender on him and then brought help and you can neutralize his scoring if you do that. Yes he's a great passer, but the issue is that now you can force other players to beat you.

If he had a post up game, or a consistent 3 point shot, or step back mid range jumpshot that he could count on he'd be virtually unstoppable. He can do all those things from time to time but it's just not consistent.

The reason Dirk averaged over 10 points per game in the fourth quarter of the playoffs and really took his game to the next level is that he developed a mid range post game where every time he caught the ball he could either:

A) Shoot the mid-range shot on any shorter player.

or

B) Drive by any big and get the foul line.

Lebron has the athletic ability to put people in that same position.

Okay, done with my speech.

bandi

Anonymous said...

PF

Could Lebron take his career in a different direction and end up doing everything that we expect of him? No question. And I still won't be surprised if he does. But he's in a different place now than where he was after the Cavs upset the Pistons in 2007. Back then we KNEW he was going to be a top-five player of all time. Now? We THINK that he will be.

--the Gunn