Chris Bosh: Stepping back to step up

Chris Bosh once said that you don’t really know the sacrifices you’re making until you actually make them. When the big three first came together in Miami, rising up from the ground amid smoke, lasers, and an affirming crowd, it seemed as if the difficult part of the journey was over. But through the hardships of that first year, and even through the successes thereafter, Chris Bosh came to learn just how much he gave up for the sake of contention.

While LeBron and Wade made similar financial sacrifices, neither has had to relinquish either their stats or their perceptions as elite players to the extent that Bosh has. His numbers across the board have been on a steep decline from his days in Toronto, and his role on offense has been marginalized without its burden being any lessened.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Bosh said of his new normal in Miami. “It’s been a long time, this role that I’m in now is difficult enough for me so it’s never a dull moment.”

Playing out of position and battling down low with the Roy Hibberts and Tim Duncans of the world has only fed the “soft” narrative that was always there in Toronto, but on a periphery that no longer exists with the Heat. Bosh’s reflective nature has stood in stark contrast to the bombast of Miami, and the mocking reaction to some of his more awkward antics have often taken a turn for the cruel.

Yet, as his recent performances against the Lakers and the Spurs proved, Bosh remains among an elite class of players. In the best power forward debate that tends to revolve around Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Blake Griffin, Bosh’s defense and versatility sets him apart from the crowd.

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Dwyane Wade’s defensive slide

Dwyane Wade’s dropoff throughout the 2013 playoffs has been steep and sudden.

Just a month and a half ago he was registering his seventh top-10 regular season PER in the last eight years. Now he’s being outplayed by Lance Stephensons and Danny Greens of the world, and can’t get to the rim or play consistent defense because of a right knee injury that’s sapped his athleticism and explosion, spawning the once-inconceivable notion that Wade would be better suited coming off the bench.

While most of the discussion about Wade has centered on what he can’t or isn’t doing offensively, his struggles on the defensive end of the floor have been just as jarring.

Wade’s decision to play through his grueling injury is admirable in and of itself, and a decline in his defensive effectiveness is understandable and expected. But a significant portion of his defensive miscues have stemmed from lackadaisical effort and questionable technique, not physical aptitude.

His incessant tendency to gamble in the passing lanes has always been offset by his superhuman athleticism, but with his speed and quickness diminished, those same gambles have become either ineffective or nonexistent. Danny Green has killed the Heat, and often Wade, by simply finding the right place to stand.

Though Green certainly deserves big time credit for his stellar performance thus far, there’s a reason why he’s been wide-open on a handful of three-pointers: Dwyane Wade’s defense, or lack thereof. By my count, six of Green’s 16 three-pointers have been a direct result of Wade’s defensive miscues, and the blame for another two of Green’s threes should be split between Wade and a teammate.

The Spurs’ offense has capitalized on the Heat’s defensive chaos, effectively providing the requisite spacing, ball movement and timing

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Dwyane Wade testing Erik Spoelstra’s faith

“I’ve been around that man for 10 years and when the competition is at its fiercest, Dwyane Wade steps up biggest.” — Erik Spoelstra as quoted in The New York Times

Spoelstra’s faith in Dwyane Wade is well-founded. Wade has a way of silencing doubters like he splits a double team and rising to the occasion like he leaps past shotblockers. But as Tom Haberstroh points out today at ESPN, this swoon is atypical, even given Wade’s recent history of playoff swoons:

In his past 10 games, Wade has averaged just 4.4 attempts per game in the restricted area, down from his regular-season rate of 6.6 attempts. Remember when Wade’s knee bothered him throughout last postseason? This is much worse. When Wade’s knee plagued him last playoffs, he was still able to find 6.2 close-range shots per game, converting at a much higher percentage than he has been lately.

When Wade was struggling earlier in the playoffs, it only applied a slight drag to the Heat’s offense. But the Pacer defense is super elite and is turning Wade’s inability to attack the paint into a real liability. The Pacers are almost playing him like the Spurs did Tony Allen, backing way off and playing him for the jump shot. In the past, Wade would just use that space to get a running start and evade the waiting defense, but that’s not happening on an weak knee and against the likes of Paul George. As a result, the Heat are scoring 14 fewer points per 100 possessions when Wade is on the court.

That’s a massive disparity, and though the numbers look a bit worse because Wade faces the Pacers best defenders, it’s worth noting that Mario Chalmers has been able to sneak into the heart of the

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Roy Hibbert: Human Bulldozer

Some notes on the video above.

Stats: Hibbert is using every bit of his 7-2, 280 pound frame to grab 21 percent of the Pacers’ misses when he’s on the court. Hibbert converted 14 of those for putback layups, tack on six extra points for fouls and and-1s. The Heat (read: LeBron James) managed to strip or block him five times after he got the offensive rebound. Guarding Hibbert looks absolutely miserable. Again, he’s MASSIVE, even by NBA standards. And now that he’s deadlifting around 600 pounds, he’s also much more difficult to move than he used to be. It’s difficult to overstate the impact of Hibbert’s improved fitness. Last season, the Hibbert gave the Heat problems, but he could only sustain his effort for 32 minutes per game. He would lag getting up and down the court and go stretches without impacting the game. Not so, this year. Watch how many of these offensive rebounds come from sprinting the floor and beating many of his teammates, and the Heat big men, down court. And because he’s so strong, sometimes he’ll just toss the defender out of the way, like he does with Bosh on rebound 25. Remember, the difference in size between Bosh and Hibbert is roughly the same as that between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Hibbert spends a lot of time near the basket in the Pacers offense and is now so strong that once he has his roots down in the paint, no one can wrench him free. Heat bigs will dutifully try to box him out and find themselves directly under the rim, rather than backing out into the paint. A handful of these rebounds are just a result of Hibbert being way bigger than everyone around him, but the Heat big

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Would you like Ray Allen to lie?

We desperately want to know these athletes, but we refuse to have a grownup conversation with them. We’re really too angry and jealous to be trusted with so much as a paragraph of their actual thoughts. If a quote can be potentially mocked, it will often get suctioned into the LOL vortex, where middle school sneering obliterates all memory of the source material context. If a great many fans are already angry at the quote giver, then LOL framing gives way to STFU framing. Mad people like to stay mad, or at least, to validate their rage. If you already hate an athlete, you’re liable to sculpt his sentences into one, long, middle finger.

It would seem that a certain former Celtic is trapped in that STFU box because he joined a historically hated franchise. Ray Allen is 37 years old. His team was inclined towards a future involving other, younger options. Allen wanted a different style of play from Boston’s PG-dominant approach. Few expected Ray to get through five Celtics seasons when he was traded there at age 32, so you could say that it’s been a bountiful relationship for both parties.

This is one of the most common occurrences in the NBA, as aging stars often believe in themselves more than their teams do. Reggie Miller is an exception that proves the rule. Even the most cherished, beloved players are either forced to go, or depart on their own accord–often in pursuit of championship.

And for the most part, they are forgiven for doing so, even if the new squad is a rival. Laker fans had few bad words for Derek Fisher when he signed with OKC. Robert Horry was a beloved kind of foe when he came back to Staples in a Spurs jersey. Rasheed

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LeBron and Durant care more about basketball than competition

Perhaps you remember those 2011 LeBron and Durant workout videos. Back then, the videos were intriguing. A year later, the videos are hypnotizing.

This was pre-season prep, James was trying to bounce back from an inauspicious Finals. We say “bounce back” for sports recoveries, but the term doesn’t always fit temporally. LeBron’s Finals humiliation was sudden, but the journey to get there was drawn out over 82 regular season games and 21 playoff battles. Maintaining offseason motivation should be especially difficult for NBA superstars because those playoff battles usually mock the notion that the preceding regular season games count. The rule: If your team is good enough to matter, the regular season games don’t matter. Players still have to go through with the tiring charade, though.

How do you “bounce back” slowly? How do you invest so much time in an arduous climb when the fall comes so much quicker? Your run can end on one stupid play. It could all be over before national TV audiences receive the images on the seven second Janet Jackson delay. And how do you build yourself back up, lego-by-lego on the off chance that owners and players might end the 2011 lockout? LeBron and KD were doing this just in case, just so they could start the tiring charade at full tilt.

I’m curious about this motivation because these workouts do not look fun. There is squatting, sprinting, and situps. Broadcasted enjoyment can be contagious. We like to rent it from those we watch, laughing along with their laughter. These videos are different. The footage is so enjoyable because this is such joint-rubbering drudgery. LeBron James and Kevin Durant could be betting on camel polo from an invisible helicopter hovering over Dubai, and yet here they are, running windsprints. It’s

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Why Ray Allen might not care about Boston fans

Many are shocked that Ray Allen would “betray” his Boston fans. “Judas Shuttlesworth,” they call him. That’s a clever jab, one that’s also funny because it places the stereotypical Massachusetts sports lover at the Last Supper table, serene expression, open palm protruding out of his beer-stained Sawx jersey.

Steve Nash left for the Lakers, the archetypal hated team to those Nash-loving Phoenix fans. Dwight Howard probably uses a metaphorical Magic fan voodoo doll as an insole.

The aftermath of fan slight prompts punditry on how athletes just don’t get how much we love them, or about how they just don’t love us like we love them. I disagree with both notions. My guess is that pro athletes understand the depths to which we love them, but also perceive that the love as false, or worse, unsettling.

Think about it from their perspective. In the absence of knowing someone, how much should your affection matter to that person? And if you don’t know that person, then what is that love? It can be obsession. It can be misplaced narcissism. Fans are body snatchers, living vicariously through these men until the bodies break. At that point, the vessel is discarded, exchanged for a newer, springier avatar by which to romp around your TV screen in.

Ricky Rubio’s draft night was an informative, formative experience for me. The two of us experienced it together, though Ricky probably doesn’t remember my name. I was his draft escort, the PR sherpa who was charged with dragging him through hours of repetitive English interviews. His hatred of that night was palpable. Perhaps he sees my stupid, sweating face in his nightmares. I have an inkling as to what else Ricky might also glimpse in those dark dreams.

It’s a vision that still haunts me.

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Can we stop spending Steve Nash’s money?

Steve Nash is coming to save your franchise. I know your team is over the cap, but he’ll take the mini-mid level exception. Why? Because money doesn’t matter to Steve. Because Steve’s the easy-going dad who trundles down the Whole Foods aisle with a bag full of red quinoa. Because Steve likes Radiohead, and you like Radiohead. Because winning a title obviously means more than anything in the universe to Steve Nash, loyal soldier of Sarver misfortune.

Not so fast!

Steve Nash is still killing it, and could get upwards of $10 million per year for a short term deal on the open market. Teams like the Knicks and Heat would need Nash to take a contract in the three million per year range, per the mini mid-level. So Nash-hopeful fans are assuming he’ll give up, say, seven million dollars of his money, per year to a private, cold-hearted business. Would you be shocked if Portland offered Nash to three years, $35 million? Then don’t be shocked if he rejects three years, nine million from Team Dolan.

It’s just so much fun to imagine, though. Editors have certainly pushed the Nash-to-big-market storyline on me, and I’ve buckled. Such Nash wishing unfortunately makes little sense in the actual world. The idea of “giving up money” is largely abstract to us, and it’s conveniently not our money. The statement, “All he has to do is give up some money” rarely comes with any acknowledgement that some dollar amounts are larger than others. Ya, I could see a player giving up a million or so to play where he wants. But $20 million? Who does that?

My best guess is that the “Who does that?” question can be answered, “Probably not Steve Nash.” Remember, this is someone who left his good

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LeBron is better while being worse

There were a few Game 7 fourth quarter plays where LeBron James was matched up against Brandon Bass. Now, it’s remembered as LeBron torching Bass, or Doc making the mistake of putting Bass on James. And yes, LeBron dunked on poor Brandon in semi-transition. It was a stunning crossover that morphed into a tomahawk in a way that made it all look like part of the same movement.

But, what followed did not reflect so poorly on Bass. An exhausted James had difficulty beating him off the dribble, which resulted in a lucky dagger of a deep three. In the subsequent possessions, a flagging LeBron settled for two bricked jumpers. He was tired, the victory was largely in hand, but I couldn’t help but think:

Cleveland LeBron would make a planted windmill out of Brandon Bass.

Cleveland LeBron thrice averaged over 10 free throw attempts per game. Cleveland LeBron beat the entire Detroit Pistons team off the dribble en route to a Game 5 victory that felt like history’s closest trouncing. He was a brilliant passer and an inexorable force when driving. To call LeBron “just that” would be reductive, but those qualities defined him.

It did not look as though he needed much else, well, maybe apart from a slightly improved jumper. In 2008-2009 LeBron posted 31.7 PER and .318 win shares mark. He was dominant in the 2009 playoffs, though his team failed him against Orlando. James was nearly as good the next season, but in the 2010 playoffs, LeBron was memorably mortal in that Game 5 versus the Celtics, for reasons that still aren’t clear. Still, it was only a game. His playoffs were altogether brilliant, and his supporting cast was altogether mediocre.

Cut to last year with the Heat, when Dallas cut off his driving

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Russell Westbrook, Scapegoat in a Superhero Cape

Russell Westbook created and ended the possibility of Oklahoma City victory. It’s difficult to process within the context of “blame.” Russell Westbrook is the reason Oklahoma City had a chance to win. Russell Westbrook is the reason they lost almost any chance of winning. Both these statements are true. He knocked over his wonderful sandcastle, and we’ll never quite grasp why.

There’s a logical case to be made against any sports scapegoating, as these games are comprised of many complex events. Also, it’s just plain wrong to act as though one man has loser cooties. With Westbrook, it would just be short-sighted because he looks poised for a decade of success. What good’s a future winning, successful scapegoat? Better to kick someone on the way out like poor Billy Buckner. Or better yet, spotlight a foul-ball-meddlin’ fan. Steve Bartman wasn’t exactly a threat to sign with the Yankees and play right field.

In our logical, benevolent haste to shield athletes from scapegoatery, we can sometimes minimize the hated mistakes. Kyle Williams fumbled twice in the NFC championship game. This prompted a) angry 49er fans anger-vomiting bile at Williams over Twitter b) a lot of screeds in opposition to the idea that he “cost his team the game.” Well, much as I don’t want Kyle Williams to wear a scarlet S.G. for the rest of his life, it’s hard to hurt your team’s chances more than “one muffed punt in regulation, one muffed punt in overtime.” If Kyle Williams didn’t cost his team that game, then no player can ever “lose” a game for their team. Maybe that’s your position, and it could be an admirable one. But in reducto terms, if LeBron kicks the ball out of bounds on every possession of a game, then what else could that

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