By Craig Kwasniewski
I was wrrrrr... : Damn, I was wrong with my "Shaq Will Play Tonight" prediction. I thought I had a good theory with Stern basically ordering Shaq to play on the MLK Day. Obviously honoring one of the greatest human beings of the modern era wasn't as important as tanking yet another season for "the big fella." I was worried about rushing out a post just to move my prediction down from the top of the page, but then I remembered that there's no Miami Heat fans out there to respond. At least until empty seats get web access.
The photo to the right was one of the weirder moments of the game. Shaq's face appeared on the jumbotron followed by a 50-50 mix off boos and cheers. Shaq was pulling an Iverson to incite the crowd. It's always weird booing a guy responsible for three NBA titles, but it's understandable given all the crap he's done and said.
Miami Resurgence: Miami is easily playing their best basketball of the season. Again, if Miami actually had fans, they should be pissed off that it took a whole 2 1/2 months before they officially started trying. Up and down the roster players are now busting their asses on both ends of the floor. Granted, Wade, Mourning and Haslem always play hard every night. But all of a sudden you have James Posey flying all over the floor on the offensive end and hitting jumpers off the curl as though he was Dale Ellis; Antoine Walker operating patiently on offense and hitting some well-timed threes and Jason Kapono doing his best Steve Kerr impression by hitting every wide open jumper.
Out of nowhere Miami looks like one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Where was this all season? Were the players sick of Riley's antics or is it time to "turn on the switch?"
Lessons from Phoenix: Up two with seconds left in regulation and all the Lakers had to do was defend the Heat and rebound. The Lakers force D-Wade into a bad fade-away with players scrambling for the missed shot. As the ball is falling out-of-bounds, Smush Parker slaps the ball back into play and into the hands of a wide open Jason Kapono, who finds Udonis Haslem for a game-tying dunk. Now where did I last see something similar?
Oh yeah, against Phoenix in game 6 as the Lakers slap the ball out from under the basket to Tim Thomas for a game-tying three. Didn't Smush Parker learn his lesson? What the hell is he doing there? You never blindly save the ball under the basket you're defending... never! Try to save it yourself, knock the ball out of play or fling the ball waaay down court.
3 and 13: No this isn't Marty Schottenheimer's postseason record, but rather it's the freethrow discrepancy between Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Surprisingly (or maybe not if you're a Mavs fan), the visiting Dwyane Wade held the advantage. Aren't both players slashing guards? Sure Wade may drive the lane more than Kobe, but not 13 to 3 times more. The home court advantage should have made it even. I know David Stern has put the entire future of the NBA in the hands of Wade and LeBron, but can they sometimes earn a point or two before giving them 25 freethrows a game?
No Glove, No Love: The loudest boos of the night were not for the parade of freethrows given to Wade in the first quarter (and there was a lot of them), but instead for Gary Payton. I never understood the extreme hatred for Payton. Believe me there's a lot more players on the Heat to hate (Mourning and his steroids/finger pointing/primal screams, Antoine Walker, Shaquille O'Blob, The Black Manu Ginobili, Pat Riley's Ego, Pat Riley's Ego's Agent, Pat Riley's Ego's Assistant, J-Will) but GP doesn't deserve to be Public Enemy No. 1.
Let's look back at his one season with the Lakers. He was the only "star" on the team to play all 82 games averaging 14.6 points and 5.5 assists in an unfamiliar offense. Except for that famous outburst in the playoffs after game 2 against San Antonio, he was a good team player, keeping most of the controversy in-house despite the Kobe-Shaq feud, Kobe's trips to Colorado and Shaq tanking yet another regular season. He feuded with Jackson at times during the season, but so has everyone with the Lakers at one point and it never affected his game.
He was fun to watch for that season and it makes no sense for all the anger from Laker fans.