Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat's Hard Knock Life"When my situation ain't improvin', I'm tryin' to murder everything movin'."--Jay-Z, "Hard Knock Life"
The Lakers beat the Heat 106-88 on Thursday but the game was such a mismatch that it almost is not even worth analyzing; the Lakers jumped out to an 18-4 lead in the first 6:16 and basically toyed with the Heat the rest of the way. You hear a lot of talk about executives and coaches who are doing bad jobs and players who are overrated but what is the deal with Miami? There is no way that this team should be this bad with a Hall of Fame caliber coach in Pat Riley plus Dwyane Wade playing alongside first Shaquille O'Neal and now Shawn Marion. Udonis Haslem and Jason Williams were starters on the 2006 championship team. Ricky Davis is a space cadet but he is also a bona fide scorer. There is some decent talent on the bench. Something very strange is going on with this team and if people are going to give various executives grief for certain moves then Riley has to be at or near the top of the list for losing Jason Kapono and James Posey--who continue to be productive players for playoff-bound teams--for nothing and then signing Smush Parker, who is on some kind of bizarre paid leave of absence.
Wade is putting up some decent individual numbers this season but anyone who understands basketball has to cringe when watching him play. He is careless with his dribble, his shot selection is erratic and his defense is just a rumor: all he does now is lunge half-heartedly at the ballhandler attempting to get steals but instead getting himself woefully out of position. He scored 0 points on 0-5 shooting with three turnovers as the Lakers built a 53-41 halftime lead. TNT analyst Reggie Miller made a great point, suggesting that if you swapped Kobe Bryant for Wade that Miami would have made the playoffs instead of having the worst record in the entire league. "Kobe Bryant is that brilliant," Miller concluded. Miami lost 26 of 28 games at one point and it is simply inconceivable that a Bryant-led team would do that. What is happening in Miami should make people have a greater appreciation for what Bryant did last season, when he posted the highest post-All-Star break scoring average in four decades while carrying the Lakers into the playoffs. Bryant was saddled with D-League-level point guard Smush Parker and a roster that was devastated by injuries, yet he kept racking up 40, 50 and even 60 point games, doing whatever it took for the Lakers to win. When Bryant dropped 60 on Memphis in a 121-119 win on March 22, 2007, Parker played 33 minutes as the starting point guard, Kwame Brown played 39 minutes as the starting center and the top player off of the bench was Shammond Williams, who is not even in the NBA this year. There is no question that this year's Heat has more talent than the depleted Lakers' squad that played alongside Bryant that night and for most of the second half of the season.
This is where the above Jay-Z lyric comes into play; if Bryant's situation "ain't improving," then he will drop 60 on your head and do whatever it takes to "murder everything movin'" on the other team--and then he will demand that everyone else on his team, from his general manager to his young center, step up their game as well. You could also see this last summer with Team USA. When Bryant signed on he brought a whole new level of intensity to the team; as Steve Kerr told me, before each game Bryant asked the coaching staff, "Who do you want me to take out?" When I said to Kerr, "That sounds like a sniper zeroing in on a target," Kerr responded, "Yeah--and he was serious." Wade simply cannot elevate his game or his team in the same fashion that Bryant can.
I realize that Wade is not 100% but there is a difference between being injured and being hurt: if you are injured then you can't play but if you can play then you are not injured. Bryant is playing with a jacked-up pinkie that needs surgery, so it's not like he's 100%, either. When the Lakers jumped all over the Heat at the start, Bryant shot 3-3 from the field and had five assists in that 18-4 run. He deflected or stole the ball from Wade so many times it looked like a big brother abusing his little brother in the backyard.
Bryant finished with 21 points, eight assists, one rebound, four steals and two blocked shots, one of them a left handed rejection of a Shawn Marion slam dunk attempt. Bryant shot 7-14 from the field, which is right in line with his .508 field goal shooting in the month of February. The numbers are coldly efficient but they are almost beside the point because the Lakers won so easily--if they had needed 40 points then he would have scored that many and if they had needed more rebounds he would have done that, too. Wade nearly matched Bryant's point total (18) but he shot just 6-17 from the field.
Bryant's tremendous passing skills are on full display now because he has Pau Gasol, a big guy who can actually catch and finish. It is very obvious how much Bryant enjoys feeding him the ball; if anything, Bryant is almost overpassing now. Gasol's impact on the Lakers has been immediate and obvious but it is important to remember that as the main guy in Memphis he made exactly one All-Star team and never won a playoff game. All the people who say that Bryant does not make his teammates better should really pay attention to how much Gasol is benefiting from playing alongside Bryant--and you can bet that it boosts Gasol's confidence to see Bryant passing up shots to feed him the ball. It really is beautiful to watch the on court interplay between Bryant and Gasol, two unselfish, multi-skilled players who have very high basketball IQs. On one play, Gasol set a screen for Bryant and then rolled to the front of the rim. Bryant caught the ball in the post, accepted the double-team and then fed Gasol a slick no-look bounce pass for an easy layup. As Grant Napear would say, "If you don't like that, you don't like NBA basketball."
Bryant's best pass of the night is not even recorded in the box score: after a steal, he fired a Pistol Pete-style no look, over the head, one handed half court laser to Luke Walton, who then got the assist with a behind the back pass to Lamar Odom, who motored to the hoop for a dunk.
Charles Barkley summed matters up nicely at halftime: "They can take the MVP trophy out to L.A. right now."
posted by David Friedman @ 5:59 AM