Sabado, Marso 16, 2013

Who, If Anyone, Can Stop the Miami Heat Winning Streak?

Before anything else, I would like to re freshen everyone's memory about the last game the Miami Heat lost. It was February 1st at Indiana, 102-89. 

Many of us aren't even sure that happened. 

More than a month after, that bitter memory was piled under stacks of wins. 21 wins to be exact. After the defending NBA champions experienced that embarrassing defeat before a sold out Bankers Life Fieldhouse, LeBron James' troop seemed to forget how it was to lose a game.

The winning streak started at Toronto and had traveled today at Milwaukee. That's a lot of miles. Long, long miles. Long, long winning streak. And to note, the Miami Heat are one win away from tying the 07-08 Houston Rockets for the second place of the longest running winning streak in the history of the NBA.

And if we look at the immediate horizon, with Toronto waiting to give a shot at ending this winning craze, the Heat might as well extend it to 22. And if they survive Boston on March 18th, life would get lighter with games against Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit, and Orlando.

But aside from these piles of wins that these monsters are getting, what catches my attention is that the Heat are becoming more scary with each win that they pluck. This team is creepy individually and would only get horrifying once they work together and put their efforts in playing their individual roles. Now that Mario Chalmers has been stepping it up a bit, Coach Spoelstra's army is turning Nazi-nasty in picking up those wins.

They say good things come to an end. But with 18 games left to play in the Heat's schedule before playoffs, one must wonder if this good winning streak would even come to an end, well, in terms of regular season games. 

The answer lies on which team is proud enough to humble these surging bullies. Here are the candidates:

Boston Celtics

When Paul Pierce said that he wasn't impressed with the Heat's current success, team captain Dwyane Wade retaliates. That moment, the clash, as we know it, just got real. That's what makes Boston a contender in ending the streak. The bean town mafia are men of their words. They are a playoff team who, despite losing star Rajon Rondo to ACL tear, still made ways to remain a threat in the off balanced Eastern Conference standings. Miami faces Boston two more times before storming the playoffs. And with their season series tied at 1-1 with victories at each's house, things are gonna get interesting. It is true that Miami have a better paper line up but there is something about the greens that just makes the Heat stand back a bit. Their first clash from this moment would be Monday, March 18th. As I said earlier, if Miami survives that encounter, their winning streak could extend for a few more games.

Chicago Bulls

This would be an easy choice if the Heat are boasting their 10-11 line up which rotates in the middle with Joel Anthony. But this Heat team wasn't the old Miami team that went short in the Finals. This team, as we all know it, are the defending NBA Champions and that is where their hearts are at this moment. Chicago, meanwhile, carry ups and downs under their belts in terms of season progression. Without their franchise star Derrick Rose, the Bulls were a little bit inconsistent but doesn't fail to be in the top 8. That is what makes this team dangerous for the Heat streak. Their ability to adjust and focus on their defense would be a big part, if in case they want to put an end to one of the craziest things this Miami team has done. Joakim Noah stepping it up with Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer in the Middle would be their key when they face Miami on March 27. Expect a little more energy from Nate Robinson. They wouldn't be able to stop LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on this one, but when they have the rest of the guys under their Tom Thibodeau inspired defense, everything could be a possibility, including slapping Miami with a loss.

New York Knicks

If there is a team who posts immediate danger, it would be the Knicks. They blew the Heat out in their first two meetings which makes them solid contenders for this one. Carmelo Anthony might be dealing with knee issues when this two squads collide, but that wouldn't be a problem if New York gets solid numbers and defense from Tyson Chandler. He keeps this team breathing. Chandler, I can say, is this team's ace player at the moment. He serves as their oxygen tank for life, while JR Smith serves as their battery. This dynamic duo would be responsible for defensive and offensive flows when they meet Miami on April 2. There is a very long stretch before they lock it up at AAA. That seems to be enough to allow Carmelo and Amare Stoudemire to deal with their health issues. Once the Knickerbockers are healthy, Miami could be on immediate stress.  If the Heat care much about keeping the streak breathing, they might as well prepare to diffuse the bombs from the Knicks early in the first quarter.

San Antonio Spurs

If one meets the Spurs in a stretch of games, expect them to be serious threats. They have the second best record in the league right now and they would be much happy to dethrone who else but the Heat for the top place. That matters for home court advantage going into the playoffs, specifically, the Finals. ESPN and hasn't been talking about the Spurs that much. That is how they wanted to be treated. One says that they are old and too slow to deal with this energetic Heat team, but those are all conspiracies in the league. If so, they should have been sitting there with Dallas at 9th or 10th. But they emerged strong and still. The trinity of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili hasn't been that effective lately but there are lots of combinations that coach Greg Popovich can use. He is the master of that. If he puts DeJuan Blair infront of LeBron, that could be it.

But the Heat, as we know them, won't go out without a fight. This winning streak proves a lot in terms of how good they are as a team. If Toronto doesn't retaliate this Monday and allow the Heat to dominate, the energy and momentum could be unstoppable  when they reach the last 10 games of their season. And you know what, the 1971-1972 LA Lakers are waiting on the line. Should the Heat continue winning until their last game, they would dethrone the 33 game winning streak of that Lakers team, the best in history. And why not? They have the star power to do that.

But I believe very well that this Heat team wouldn't even be wary about who will beat them first, they just focus on one game at a time and let their games speak for them. In the end, a championship wouldn't be decided on which winning streak lasts the longest. The Denver Nuggets wouldn't win the chip just because they have 11 no loss record. That's not how the league goes. Surprises arise. But if Miami wins the championship this year, that wouldn't surprise me at all.


Biyernes, Marso 8, 2013

Where the Lakers-Jazz Chase Stands Right Now

Let's just say that Houston has been a little clingy with the 7th spot in the West right now, which is pretty good for James Harden and the rest of the boys. With that, speaking short term, the huge target set by this unbelievable rage of the Lakers is solely embedded on Utah Jazz's back.

Utah seemed poise to beat Chicago earlier when they take the lead 88-86 with less than a minute in a tightly contested ball game. But the Jazz can't hold long when Chicago's offensive rebounding sparked a Belinelli three-pointer. Bulls win 89-88.

With that loss, Utah is at 32-30 (.516). 

Right after that Chicago slugfest, the LA Lakers lock horns with the Toronto Raptors in a game that could be dubbed as "The Battle of the Ninth Placers". The difference between the two is that LA is at .500 and Toronto is way way down that percentage.

The Lakers, with Kobe Bryant being his usual self, climbed up to edge the visitors in a dramatic comeback, winning it in overtime. 

That Utah loss and this LA win would not make any implications in the standings just yet, let's say, for tonight. But its aftermath would be felt as soon as Utah and the Lakers march into their next games.

With the win, the Lakers tie Utah's W's at 32 each but is a game behind with 31 losses. Still, a win is a win, and in the case of the Lakers, it's a big one. In short, the win vs Toronto does not automatically propel LA into 8th place but this is a needed win. THAT was a must win. Why? Because of their next opponent.

LA faces Chicago days from now. That wouldn't be easy given that the Bulls are still the dark horses of the East despite playing the season without Derrick Rose. And the win against Toronto would decrease the pressure graved on the Lakers going into that game.

Speaking of pressure, Utah has lots of it. Not only that they lost earlier and their predators in LA are smelling their tails, but with their next game as well.

Utah faces New York in a slug fest that could allow the Lakers to penetrate the playoffs scene. I mean, this Knicks team, despite losing Carmelo Anthony to knee issues and dropping the game against OKC yesterday, is a bully. They are a powerhouse to say the least. And if you're the Utah Jazz, you can never be calmed until you beat them or until Chicago beat LA.

Take a look on how the picture goes from here.

-If LA wins against Chicago and Utah lose to New York, the Lakers are in the playoff picture.
-If Utah wins against New York and LA lose to Chicago, the Jazz keep their grip of the 8th and the Lakers would be bugged by the Portland Trailblazers, who are trying to catch up with LA.
-If both Utah and LA win or drop their respective games, implications shift automatically to their next games against Detroit and Orlando respectively.

Finally, I can say that the next games for these two teams, who are battling it out to be a part of April's big dance, would be a perfect test on who deserves a spot. With too much at stake against stronger opposition, a win would solidify their worth as a playoff team. That actually makes sense.

Linggo, Marso 3, 2013

Fatal Four Way: Warriors vs Jazz vs Rockets vs Lakers

With the Los Angeles Lakers showing signs of life, the battle at the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association intensifies, especially at the middle.

Struggling to climb up the ranks with their first 40 games, the inspired play of the Lakers, who lost well-loved owner Jerry Buss last February to cancer, helped them reach the .500 mark after having played 60 matches. The gold and purple squad are now standing at 9th place in the West, and continues to climb up the ranks with the way they are playing right now.

After sending the Atlanta Hawks back to their nests with a 99-98 victory last March 3, the Lakers are posting serious threat to the Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz, and Houston Rockets, who are boxing each other out at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff seeding. With the Lakers finally joining the fray, these three teams may lose grip of their present position at the moment in a matter of two or three games.

With the Lakers seemingly clicking on all cylinders now, the three teams above them may have acquired the curse that LA had at the beginning of the season. But strong as they are, these teams will surely box for their places. How would they exorcise the curse? Let's find out.

Golden State Warriors (33-27) (.550)

Currently at 6th place in the chaotic West standings, the Warriors are currently buried in questions after losing 4 games straight prior to hosting the Toronto Raptors this March 4. Stephen Curry had one of the most memorable Madison Square Garden performances when he dropped 54 on 11 of 13 shooting from trey in a loss to the Knicks. Curry, being on the brightest spot in their rotation as of now, would be the Warriors' antidote to the four game losing streak. With All-Star David Lee not in his usual self after being suspended for a game after his altercation with Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, Curry would need to spice things up for his team if they want to tighten their grasp of the fifth place. In addition to that, a superb bench contribution would be a positive, led by second unit floor leader Jarrett Jack. With offensive bursts from Curry and Jack, and with Lee coming out big to be David Lee again, the Warriors may grab sixth seed come playoff time. That seem to be their maximum especially now that the Denver Nuggets are way ahead of them with a .63 winning percentage.

Utah Jazz (32-27) (.542)

If there is a team on the short term who need to value a W more than life itself, it would be the Utah Jazz. I mean,  they are at seventh place because the Houston Rockets have one loss more than them yet the Jazz have one win less than Houston. If ever the Lakers tie whoever for 8th or 7th, the Utah Jazz would be an easy target either to tie or to break. The Jazz have one of the weirdest and unusual rotations in the league, and even a more unusual record. For a team who has no clear franchise player, a mediocre basketball fan may level them with the Bobcats in their present roster. But the Jazz are winning underdogs who don' look like underdogs. There are no significant numbers under their belts but their willingness to survive placed them on wherever they are right now. They have no franchise player at all but it's clear that with the averages of 17.7 points, and 9.8 rebounds per game, Al Jefferson is their best player. And with his broad shoulders, the Jazz are on a lift. Continuous intensity with their spirit and defense may catapault them through the playoffs. But falling off the standings wouldn't be a surprise for this team. 

Houston Rockets (33-28) (.541) 

The Rockets are leading the NBA in points per game which determines them as the top offensive team in the league. And why not? They have one of the most offensive minded player in James Harden and a point guard who pulls surprises out of the blue in Jeremy Lin. The 136-103 explosion vs Dallas could be a statement that they wouldn't fall out that easy. With winning percentage involved, the Rockets may play around the 6th-8th seed in a matter of three games, depending on how Utah deals with Milwaukee and the Warriors' dance with the Raptors. One thing is for sure for Houston, playoffs odd is at 3:1 at the moment. Being seeded 8th right now, their first priority is not stopping the Lakers from breaking through the playoff picture. Rather, they must focus on how they join LA in climbing up the ranks before April. That wouldn't be impossible now that they have Thomas Robinson, the young gun acquired from Sacramento who was the 5th overall pick in last year's draft. The Rockets' primary ammo is their youth and their ability to stretch the floor on offense. They are second in the league in 3-point shooting percentage and leads the league in ball protection with just 15 turnovers per ball game. Offense. That is their primary weapon as of now. Despite being 8th, the Rockets aren't handling the pressure after 60 games played because of the way they are playing, and the way Harden is leading the team. The troops they are chasing hold the most pressure now that Houston and LA  are playing their best of this season.

With the sudden surge of the Lakers, stability of the Jazz, the offensive prowess of the Rockets, and of course misfortunes of the Warriors, the lower half of the playoff bracket for the Western Conference is at serious war right now. But as fans, we all know that a chaotic standing means interest and fun. And for LA fans, a playoffs featuring two LA teams would be heavenly, especially for Laker fans who thought their team has been busted out of contention. Now the Lakers would have to define their identity, for the real challenges are yet to start soon. Actually soon as their next game, Tuesday, against OKC.