• Couper Moorhead of the Heat’s official web site examines the development of LeBron James’ post game, complete with video analysis and insight from David Fizdale, the Miami assistant who works most closely with James (and Dwayne Wade) on post play. Great read.
• Beckley Mason analyzes the film from last year’s Finals and says that the difference between LeBron James’ post game then and now is not where he’s catching the ball, but what he’s able to do with it afterwards.
• John Hollinger notes that while the Heat have tightened up their three-point defense considerably in the postseason (a reversal that may or may not be linked to Miami’s extended use of smaller lineups), the Thunder have shot far more ineffectively from deep than we would’ve expected in this series. James Harden has missed some great looks, and Hollinger notes that Thabo Sefolosha is just 2-of-10 in the Finals. Sefolosha is so important to the Thunder — provided that teams actually have to guard him. He can defend both Wade and James, and in the regular season, Sefolosha nailed 31 of his 71 three-point attempts. That’s a small number of attempts, and that hit rate — 43.7 percent — represents a huge outlier in Sefolosha’s career as an otherwise below-average three-point threat. Before this season, Sefolosha hadn’t shot better than 33 percent from deep in any season since 2006-07 (his rookie year). In these playoffs, he’s shooting 33 percent exactly. We could simply be seeing some regression to the mean.
• Really enjoyed this line from Ken Berger’s piece about LeBron, on the threshold:
At 27, Michael Jordan had one league MVP award, no championships and no Finals MVPs — not even a trip to the Finals. If James and the Heat avoid something that has never happened in Finals history, blowing a 3-1 lead, LeBron at 27 would have three league MVP awards, three trips to the Finals, one championship and, unless LSD infiltrates the voting, one Finals MVP.
That’s not really the point, but it is a fact. Jordan won his first title and Finals MVP in his first trip to the Finals, at age 28 in 1991. It was in his seventh season; James is in his ninth. If James finishes the job — Thursday night, or back in Oklahoma City — this won’t be revisionist history. But perhaps it will be the strongest proof yet that the perception of James’ first eight seasons was a case of previsionist history, if I may.
Berger, of course, is absolutely right that the loudest screaming criticisms of James — both of the player and the person — have lacked the appropriate perspective. James has talked a lot this week about how he has matured since his meltdown in last year’s Finals. And that’s great. But it also gives an out to those — writers and fans alike — who came very close to making the argument early in James’ Miami stint (and in some cases, that “came very close” qualifier is unnecessary) that LeBron was congenitally evil and weak, and that he never would truly succeed in the NBA. Those folks can now use James’ own words to say, “We were right, because LeBron had to change in order to thrive on the biggest stage.”
• Stephen A. Smith on how a title for the Heat would shift the “he hasn’t won it yet” pressure to Carmelo Anthony. There will be championship pressure on Anthony regardless: He plays in New York, and his power-grab trade forced the Knicks to surrender most of their meaningful young pieces. But James’ play in the postseason should remind us just how far Anthony is from James in terms of talent, and just how foolish it was for anyone — including the Knicks — to sell Anthony as a top-five-level player.
This trade was a concession, an admission that the likelihood of a team like the Wizards could not use that cap space for players better than Nene, Okafor and Ariza. What a sober determination to make at this point. But if any team needs to be sober about the way out of the cellar, it’s Washington. (Sacramento, too. But please don’t get me started on that.)
This is spot-on, and I mentioned it Wednesday in my analysis of the trade. The Wizards looked at the “blah” list of this summer’s unrestricted free agents and found none worth spending on. There are some nice restricted free agents, but nice restricted free agents almost never change teams. And there are some huge potential unrestricted free agents for next summer, but a few of those players are point guards (i.e. John Wall’s position), and the Wizards are justifiably skeptical of the possibility that someone like Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum would sign there — regardless of Nene’s presence in the middle.
Look: I still don’t think it’s a good trade for Washington. Too many teams operate as if doing nothing is not an option; the Hawks didn’t have to sign Joe Johnson to the game’s richest long-term contract, but they did so primarily out of inertia. Still, this is a defensible trade, and sometimes these things work out better than people expect. I’ll guarantee you this: If the Wizards sneak into the sixth or seventh seed and split the first two games of the playoffs next season — or even compete well in a five-game playoff series loss — there will be stories written about how nice it is that Washington went for something, and how this trade helped change the culture there.
One problem I see is that, while decent players, Ariza and Okafor don’t address the Wizards’ biggest weaknesses. Post-trade deadline, the Wizards were actually an above-average defensive team. Assuming that some elements of that late-season run would carry over, defense wasn’t really a huge weakness. You can never be too good defensively, of course, and expecting the Wizards to be as good as they were to close the season is expecting a lot. But I wouldn’t say defense is the Wizards’ biggest need.
The huge need was perimeter shooting, and this trade does nothing to solve that. Ariza is a career 31.7-percent three-point shooter that many somehow believe is excellent from that range because of one well-timed hot streak in the 2009 playoffs. Okafor, meanwhile, has never attempted more than one 16-23 foot jump shot per game in his career. If anything, this only makes the need even more of a need, because they will likely be soaking up key minutes at small forward and center.
• I generally enjoy the work of Gary Oldman — I’m a Harry Potter fan, after all — so I thoroughly enjoyed this monologue Oldman performed on Jimmy Kimmel’s show.
• Here’s why the Heat’s stars are always yelling at Mario Chalmers — and why Chalmers doesn’t care all that much about it.
• It was Pat Riley who famously said, “No rebounds, no rings.” That has been true so far in these Finals.
• Reports that the Heat are on the verge of a massive new cable TV deal have been denied by the team today. Remember: Teams keep every cent of their local TV revenues, but under the league’s new (and still semi-secret) revenue-sharing system, such TV money could impact whether a team funds or benefits from the revenue-sharing pool.
• Jeremy Lin hired a new agent on Wednesday. He works for a law firm (Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C.) that is mostly associated with high-stakes litigation, including major cases at the U.S. Supreme Court. But they’ve got their “fun” side practice, too.
• A look at which college programs had NBA players log the most minutes this season. There should be some Luol Deng coefficient that rounds the Duke number down to adjust for Tom Thibodeau’s minutes issues with Deng.
• How might Erazem Lorbek, thriving in Spain, fit on San Antonio once the Spurs (who acquired the rights to Lorbek in the George Hill/Kawhi Leonard deal) bring the big fella over?
• Steve Nash says that he might consider the Knicks in his free agency search. Of course, barring an unexpected outcome in the Bird Rights arbitration case, the Knicks will have very little money to offer Nash. So…
• Jim Buss expects the Lakers to have the same core players next season. Also of note: Buss says the Lakers will push to re-sign Ramon Sessions and try to move into the first round of the draft — after dealing two separate first-round picks (to Cleveland and Houston) in deadline deals. The new CBA makes buying into the draft a bit more difficult, in part because it caps the amount of cash teams can use in a trades at $3 million combined over a full year. Teams were formerly able to send that amount of cash out in a single trade, one method through which the moneyed purchased mid- to late first-round picks.