Winderman: 2012 Mavericks are what Heat should have been in 2007

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Heat-Mavericks wasn’t what it was cracked up to be on Christmas Day, and it won’t be on Thursday night either.

At least when cast as an NBA Finals rematch.

Oh, the Heat still start the same lineup they started in Game 6 in the 2011 NBA Finals, the night the Mavericks won the NBA championship at AmericanAirlines Arena, the venue for Thursday’s nationally televised game.

But from the start this season these Mavericks haven’t been those Mavericks. Not even close.

And that, to a degree, pits the rivals in a different sort of competition when it comes to one-hit wonders.

Neither the 2006 Heat (who defeated the Mavericks in those NBA Finals) nor the 2011 Mavericks were expected to win championships. Neither were viewed as potential dynasties once the confetti fell.

But the divergent paths could yet serve as a model for future one-hit wonders when it comes to when to say when.

Despite several shaky moments on the way to that 2006 championship, Pat Riley, known for his organizational loyalty, opted to return with his Heat roster relatively intact, with veterans Antoine Walker, James Posey and Gary Payton brought back. By the midpoint of that season, Walker and Posey were suspended for conditioning issues. By the end of that season, Gary Payton wasn’t merely saving his invectives for the opposition.

Contrast that to the forward-thinking approach of Mark Cuban, who allowed Heat Finals tormentors Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea to depart in free agency, with DeShawn Stevenson also permitted to move on.

What we’re seeing now is what we saw at the end of 2006-07 with the Heat, a defending champion scrambling for playoff seeding. The Heat were swept in the first round in 2007 by the Bulls. The Mavericks, based on their potential opening-round seeding, could be facing the same fate.

But the Mavericks also are flush with potential salary-cap space, Deron Williams-level cap space.

Their championship prospects could wind up on an up-down-up curve.

The Heat post 2006? Not only didn’t they win a playoff game in 2007, but they ended 2007-08 with a league-worst 15-67 record, not to win another playoff series until last season’s run to the Finals, leaving them more up-down-down-down-down-up.

Thursday night, the not-nearly-the-same Mavericks return to AmericanAirlines Arena for the first time since exiting last June with the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

The shine this time isn’t nearly as bright.

But the future might be, something that couldn’t have been said about the post-championship, post-2006 Heat.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.