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Monday, February 15, 2010

Dwyane Wade Leads East All-Stars to Thrilling Victory in Front of the Largest Basketball Crowd Ever

Dwyane Wade is the king of the basketball universe for a day and he received his crown in front of 108,713 fans, the largest crowd to ever attend a basketball game. Wade filled up the boxscore with a game-high 28 points and a team-high 11 assists plus six rebounds and five steals as the East All-Stars outlasted the West All-Stars 141-139 in Cowboys Stadium. Wade shot 12-16 from the field and scored at least eight points in each of the final three quarters; even though he only scored two points in the first quarter his one basket provided some foreshadowing of the dazzling display that Wade was about to unleash: he tossed the ball high off of the backboard, muscled defender Steve Nash out of the way like a big brother bullying his little brother while playing on a Nerf hoop and then slammed the ball home with authority.

LeBron James was in the hunt for MVP honors until he fizzled out a bit with four points on 2-7 shooting in the fourth quarter but he still finished with 25 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals. He retained the unique distinction of being the career leader in All-Star game scoring average without ever topping a single All-Star game in points. Texas native Chris Bosh had 23 points and a game-high tying 10 rebounds. Dwight Howard (17 points, five rebounds) and Joe Johnson (10 points) were the only other double figure scorers for the East.

Despite his denials in the postgame press conference, Carmelo Anthony certainly seemed determined to shoot his way to the MVP award, firing up 11 attempts in the first quarter en route to 13 points, but despite his early offensive fireworks the East led 37-34. Anthony ended up with a team-high 27 points and a game-high tying 10 rebounds. Hometown favorite Dirk Nowitzki added 22 points, while his Dallas teammate Jason Kidd--a late replacement for the injured Kobe Bryant--played just 6:11 and was the only participant who did not score a point. The balanced West squad had seven players score in double figures; Chauncey Billups did not have much impact in the first three quarters but scored 14 of his 17 points in the closing stanza, including five points in the final 2:03 when there were two ties and two lead changes. Much like Jerry West put up modest numbers (13 points, six rebounds, five assists) but seized the 1972 All-Star MVP by hitting a game-winning buzzer beater, it appeared that "Mr. Big Shot" might be positioning himself to steal the show from Wade, James, Anthony and Nowitzki. Ultimately, the West's late rally fell just short, in no small part due to a pair of gaffes by Deron Williams: first Williams turned the ball over with the score tied and less than 18 seconds remaining and then he fouled Wade with the East in the bonus. Wade hit both free throws, Nowitzki countered with a pair of free throws and then Bosh provided the game's final points with two free throws after Billups committed a loose ball foul at the five second mark. Anthony's game-winning three point attempt missed the mark as time expired.

This game had a strange rhythm to it, as players and fans alike seemed to need some time to adjust to the oversized setting and hyped up environment. Surprisingly, shooting percentages did not suffer despite the challenge of shooting against a background that differs dramatically from those that are usually found in NBA arenas. I watched the game from my perch in press box one--"high above courtside" as the late, great Johnny Most would say, though the press box one denizens were likely higher above courtside than Most ever was. The players were clearly visible--but looked quite small--and most press box inhabitants found their eyes inexorably drawn to the massive video board. In the press box the stadium sound was largely muted, so the effect was kind of like watching the game on the world's biggest television screen with little audio: the images were stunning and the replays were plentiful but a lot of the normal feel/vibe of attending a live event was absent. I'm sure that the experience was different for those who were on the other side of the press box windows and thus heard the game's sounds and the crowd's reactions at full volume; during the extended halftime show I wandered down from the press box to soak things in from courtside (or as close to courtside as I could get, as the floor level was understandably quite congested with fans and media members alike trying to get a closer look/listen). The fans certainly seemed to be quite engaged and excited.

The East appeared to have matters pretty well in hand with a 135-126 lead at the 4:17 mark of the fourth quarter; a substantial portion of the crowd headed for the exits while many media members left the press box to go to to the press conference rooms on the floor level. Then the East missed some shots, Billups got hot, the margin tightened and the dramatic conclusion played out in front of a lot of empty seats. Overall, though, this All-Star Game has to be considered a big success for the NBA: the league set an attendance record and generated a lot of interest in a game that turned out to be entertaining and concluded with a hard fought finish.

East Coach Stan Van Gundy was the last person to be interviewed in the main postgame press conference room; he looked at the assembled media crowd--which had just thinned out markedly after James finished his press conference--and quipped, "You can't seriously have any questions for a coach in an All-Star Game." ESPN's John Hollinger did not ask about the game but rather sought out Van Gundy's reaction to the nightmare scenario possibly facing NBA coaches: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joining forces next summer. Van Gundy said, "You know, I don't think you needed to see tonight to understand that that would scare any of us in this league. Incredible talents, both of them, obviously." Despite all of the feverish speculation about James leaving Cleveland to play in New York or New Jersey, neither of those scenarios makes any sense; James understands that his resume will not be complete unless he wins an NBA title--10 or 15 years from now he does not want to be the butt of jokes on TNT a la Charles Barkley (with all due respect to the ring-less Round Mound of Rebound) and James is smart enough to realize that the New York and New Jersey franchises are not built to win championships. However, if James and Wade work out a way to play for the same team as a package deal then that team instantly becomes very formidable, assuming that the rest of the roster is not completely gutted to pay the two superstars. The only way that I see James leaving Cleveland is if the Cavaliers fall short of winning the 2010 title and he is able to partner with Wade in the aforementioned manner.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Monday, February 15, 2010 12:26:00 PM, Anonymous Happydaze said...

i keep seeing rumors about hinrich to the lakers and amare to cleveland. probably both long shots but i always thought hinrich would be perfect for the lakers with his toughness and defense, whereas amare could not play with someone like james or wade, simply because if he couldn't handle being 2nd to nash, an incredibly unselfish player, how would he deal with playing in the much larger shadow of one of the league's biggest stars?
how do you think these trades would work out?

 
At Monday, February 15, 2010 12:28:00 PM, Anonymous Happydaze said...

oh and also of course the trade that actually happened, with butler going to the mavs.

 
At Monday, February 15, 2010 3:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Happydaze:

I agree that Hinrich could help the Lakers; they would certainly like to upgrade the point guard spot defensively. However, due to salary cap/luxury cap considerations it seems like the Lakers are likely to stand pat.

Amare is a wondrously skilled scorer, a powerful slasher who also has a pretty good jump shot--but he is not nearly as good as he should be defensively or on the boards. For those reasons, if I were running a contending team I might be hesitant to acquire him. He is more "talented" than Varejao or Hickson but that does not mean that the Cavs would necessarily become a better/more effective team by acquiring Amare. Defense is a crucial part of Cleveland's winning formula, so if Amare would not be willing to fully apply himself at that end of the court then the Cavs would be well advised to not tinker with a roster that has posted the best record in the league.

 
At Monday, February 15, 2010 3:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Happydaze:

Howard has been injured and/or ineffective the past couple years, while the Wizards felt that their current nucleus had run its course, so this trade made sense for both teams. Butler has not been great this season but when he is at his best he is capable of adding a lot to the Mavs' attack at both ends of the court. Haywood will be expected to fill the void in the middle that was created by Dampier's injury.

 
At Monday, February 15, 2010 8:50:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

David, do you think James and/or Wade and/or Bosh would accept less than the max salary (about $16 MM/year) in free agency in order to join up with other talented players?

 
At Tuesday, February 16, 2010 4:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

BhelAtlantic:

Anything that I would say regarding those specific players' willingness to accept less than max salary would be pure speculation and I prefer to avoid doing that.

However, to answer your question in a more general way, it is hard to think of many recent examples of NBA stars in their primes leaving money on the table in that fashion. I know that years ago in the NFL Bernie Kosar took less money because the Browns promised that they would use the funds to bolster his offensive line--and then the team promptly signed Vinny Testaverde, who eventually replaced Kosar at quarterback!

 
At Wednesday, February 17, 2010 8:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding Amare and his defence, do you see it as him being unable or unwilling to play it? Could being on the Cavs, a defensive minded team/coach/superstar demanding defence change his game? And could they do it in two months?

 
At Wednesday, February 17, 2010 3:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Amare is certainly able to play defense. A few years back, TNT's John Thompson had a great line in response to people who thought that Dirk Nowitzki was not athletic enough to play defense: essentially, Thompson quipped that Nowitzki sure looks mobile and agile at the offensive end of the court! Similarly, Lakers' Coach Phil Jackson often jokes about how Andrew Bynum sprints toward the offensive end of the court but jogs back on defense while the coaches would prefer the opposite.

Amare is an explosive athlete--even after his knee surgery--and he sometimes makes spectacular individual defensive plays but the problem is that he is not consistently attentive to how he is supposed to position himself overall in the team defensive scheme. It is possible that if a defensive-minded team like Cleveland acquires him that he will perform more effectively at that end of the court but there is no way to know for sure.

If the Cavs trade for Amare and he is willing to put forth the effort defensively then he certainly could help the Cavs and he could learn the system in time for the playoffs. The Lakers acquired Pau Gasol midway through the 2008 season and made it to the Finals.

 
At Thursday, February 18, 2010 11:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your experience, how much of a chemistry issue do mid-season trades create? How are some teams able to overhaul their roster and gel much faster than other teams?

On one hand you have Rasheed to Detroit, Gasol to LA, Miami's complete roster overhaul in 2006, and Boston's KG + Allen acquisition.

On the other, you have Carter to Orlando, Jefferson to Spurs, Rasheed to Boston, etc..

Some moves that make sense sometimes end up badly. Carter, Jefferson, and Wallace are having the worst seasons in their careers. How would a new system make you miss wide open shots?

Z

 
At Friday, February 19, 2010 1:45:00 PM, Anonymous rakeback said...

Wade is the most underrated player in the NBA. His career stats compare very favorably to Lebron and Kobe, yet he doesnt seem to get nearly as much attention. Im glad he won the All-Star Game MVP!

 
At Saturday, February 20, 2010 3:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

The trades that you mentioned in your comment include several deals that took place before the season began (including KG+Allen, Vince Carter and Jefferson).

So many factors are involved in determining whether or not a trade will work that it is difficult to make a general statement about the subject that will have much meaning but I will try to answer your question. "Chemistry" issues can involve several factors: how well individual personalities mesh (on and/or off the court), how well the skill sets of various players fit together on the court, how well various players are able to adjust to possible changes in their roles. Naturally, if players get along, have complementary skill sets and are willing/able to accept lesser (or possibly greater) roles then a trade has a good chance of being successful.

For instance, the Pistons won back to back titles after the midseason trade that dealt Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley for Mark Aguirre. Aguirre was a better post up player than Dantley, a better passer out of the double team and a better three point shooter, so his skills fit in better with the team's three guard offense than Dantley's, because Dantley liked to face up, hold the ball and then make his move. The Pistons enjoyed a lot of success with Dantley but Aguirre was a perfect fit. Similarly, Sheed's length, his ability to post up/guard the post and his ability to shoot the long ball made him the perfect complement to the undersized but hardworking Ben Wallace. I spoke with Slick Leonard--former NBA player who later coached the Pacers to three ABA titles--shortly after the Pistons acquired Sheed and he told me that the Pistons would win the title that year (remember that the Lakers were considered the favorites with their future HoF lineup of Shaq, Kobe, Malone and Payton).

Regarding Carter to Orlando, I think that it is too soon to pass judgment. Carter and the Magic have had good moments and bad moments so far but we won't know for sure how to evaluate the trade until after the playoffs.

Sheed looks out of shape and/or old but he seemed to be running out of steam the past few years so that is not shocking (though I did think that he would provide more production than he has so far).

Jefferson may have lost some bounce in his legs but the biggest problem for the Spurs is not his numbers but rather the fact that their vaunted defense has not been particularly effective so far this year. Playing alongside three current/former All-Stars it is only natural that Jefferson's numbers would go down; that is part of the "price" of playing on a talented team.

A new system does not make you miss shots but if a player is shooting from different spots than he is used to shooting from, if he is getting fewer shot attempts than usual or if his shot attempts are sporadic then those factors may cause him to press as opposed to getting into a good flow; if you are used to shooting 15-20 shots per game from certain areas and suddenly you are shooting much less frequently--and possibly from different areas of the court--then your rhythm may be off even if you are shooting open shots.

 

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