First of all, congratulations to the Heat. After last season it should have been harder to become more unlikable than to actually win a title in a shortened season, but somehow you accomplished this goal by acquiring former Dookie and human car-dealership-inflatable-floppy-thing Shane Battier. At least he fits into the general ugliness of the team with his brain bumps. And yes, I stoop to name calling and comments about looks with the Heat. As a fan and member of the have-nots, this is my childish right. It's in the Constitution. Look it up.
All of that being said, let's get one thing out of the way before we continue with the Spanish Unicorn: The Wolves did not lose this game because of poor officiating. The Miami Heat shot 8 free throws in the 1st half, 0 in the 3rd quarter, and 6 in the 4th. The Wolves got to the line at a .145 to .086 clip. Kevin Love jumped sideways into Shane Battier and got a call (he's starting to pick up calls). Yes, the Tolliver call was brutal (it's even worse watching it back on Synergy) but the Wolves lost this game for 2 simple reasons: turnovers and a general lack of talent.
More below the fold.
A team as talent-deprived as the Wolves simply cannot afford to let teams like the Bucks, leave alone the Heat, 10+ extra possessions per game and expect to win. Forget the final score, the bad call, and the idea that the Wolves had a shot to win/tie at the end. None of that matters like the turnovers.
How much clearer can the turnover issue be?
The Wolves, with basically just Kevin Love and (hooray!) the Spanish Unicorn are outplaying teams on the boards, at the line, from the field, and....oi.
Last night the two worst offenders were Love and Rubio, with a combined 11 turnovers. Part of the reason for this high number is the way in which the Heat approached the second half. They saw what Love and Rubio did with the ball in the first 1/2 (whatever they wanted to do with it) and then spent the 2nd half throwing athletic wing player double team after athletic wing player double team after the Wolves' 2 best players. It got to the point where...wait for it...they put LeBron on Rubio near the end of the game.
What was even more interesting than the Heat's approach to beating the Wolves was the way in which Rubio responded. The Heat clearly saw very early on that the Spanish Unicorn can run the living hell out of the pick and roll. They saw very early on that the tired meme of "he can't shoot" doesn't matter with this particular player. He doesn't have to shoot when he finds open players who can. The passing is that good.
When they ran two big wing players at him, the Wolves responded by sending 3 players out beyond the arc, and then the big dashed out for a pick and roll. When Rubio would clear the pick, the big would dash towards the lane and then Rubio would drop a pass to the player who lost his man running towards the big in the lane. This was the 2nd half offense. It exists for only 1 player. A rookie. In his 3rd game. (Actually, at this point, we should probably stop the rookie bit. He's as much of a rookie as Ichiro was.)
That being said, he had an enormous TO% (37) and if he has too many more 4 to quarters, the unicorn luster will quickly start to wear off.
Now let's talk about elephants. 3 starters played under 18 minutes. They played an entire game a single functional guard. As much as it seemed like Wayne Ellington was having a good game, he shot 5-13 (1-6 from deep) with 1 assist and no trips to the line. It seemed like he played well because the guy he replaced is one of the very worst players in professional basketball.
My favorite Wes "NBA Ready" Johnson moment of the night came when he thought he was fouled on a 3 point attempt. He promptly argued with the ref while the guy who blocked the shot, Dwayne Wade, motored down the court for an easy dunk. This play neatly sums up what the team has in Johnson: A 24 1/2 year old 2nd year player who is supposed to make 3s and defend who can't actually do these things. But hey, he looks like he can and that's what really matters.
Speaking of pretty things, over at Four Letter they had a debate about who is better: Chris Bosh or Kevin Love? The verdict:
"...Bosh has a more varied game...Feed the ball to Bosh at 18 feet and he can make any number of things happen...Bosh is more offensively skilled...[and so on and so forth]
There were obligatory references to Love's supposed terrible defense and even a comment about how Love's statistics are better, but not his game.
Last night was just about a pitch-perfect example of why this sort of reasoning is just garbage. Guess what, it doesn't really matter how pretty you can put that little orange ball through the hoop. Love ended the game with a TS% of .578 compared to Bosh's .529. He out-rebounded Bosh, passed better, and was more efficient. Love definitely lost the turnover competition but he doesn't get the benefit of playing alongside the 2 best players on the planet. Can you imagine Love on the Heat? Trailing for 3, letting LeBron and Wade really terrorize things far away from the basket because the boards are taken care of...it would be silly.
I'm not sure what else Kevin Love has to do at this point to get recognition as a top flight player above and beyond someone like Bosh. The NBA Geek lays it out well here:
So, Love appears to be better than Bosh in the following per48 categories: points, assists (yo, passing is part of "scoring", right?), eFG%, 3FG%, TS%, FT% and FTA (on the same number of FGAs, it should be noted; it's not just volume). Holy shit, I sure wish I could have Bosh's offensive production instead of Kevin Love's. For the record, I love Bosh, he's on my fantasy team and I bid highly for him. But I would give up Bosh for Love in a ****ing heartbeat before the other GM reconsidered and said "Wait, WTF am I thinking!?" (yes, in real life too, not just my fantasy league), because offensively I get the same results but I get a bunch of extra rebounds a game (before anyone pipes up about "stealing" rebounds: you're wrong, WP48 already counts stolen rebounds: read the FAQ).
Once again for the slow kids: The ugly baskets count too. As an aside, I am like 15-0 in pickup basketball games where I am the captain and I pick 2nd (getting picks 2 and 3 from the gym) and I know the players. This is because my opponent always takes the flashiest, most athletic wing scorer. Then I pick two flat-footed tall guys who rebound the [****] out of the ball, don't take bad shots, and basically rock a lot of put-backs, layups, and other spectacularly BOOOOOOOOORRRRRING buckets.
Anywho, back to the talent bit: the Wolves don't have a 2 guard. They don't have a wing player worth anything at all. Wes and Beas aren't good at professional basketball. Moving down the roster, Darko isn't good at professional basketball. Pek isn't good at professional basketball (on this side of the Atlantic, at least).
What this leaves Love (and Rubio!) with is Anthony Tolliver, JJ Barea (when he's healthy), sometimes Luke Ridnour, and the Derrick Williams/Anthony Randolph will-they/won't-they duo. Randolph has a track record of actual production to match his track record of not being able to wrap his head around his talent. Williams is a rookie.
They need a wing player in a bad way. You can apply this statement to each and every single game for the rest of the year. The Love formula needs 1 more player if the Spanish Unicorn has anything to say about it.
Let's wrap this up with random bullet points because I'm rambling and I gots to go.
- As much as I hate the Heat, no visiting player has consistently delivered as many fine performances over the years as has LeBron. Last night was no exception. He's the best player on the planet, playoffs be damned. He is a frightening athlete with outstanding basketball skill. Everyone should be thrilled about the fact that he is who he is: a massive self-centered jagoff who is really good at getting people to dislike him while playing amazing regular-season basketball before crumbling when it matters. It's really a win-win for everybody.
- In the post game presser, Rick Adelman said that he told his players to look for the lob and that they knew the Heat's final play was coming. Ricky has to beef up a bit to fight his way through screens.
- It was kind of fitting that Lindsey Whalen was in attendance last night. No longer is she the best point guard ever to set foot in Minnesota. And yes, this is preposterous on a couple of fronts...I'm just really excited about unicorns.
- The Spanish Unicorn has now gotten in the head of Russell Westbrook, demanded double teams 35 feet from the basket, and drawn the LeBron James Derrick Rose Defensive Special Treatment in 3 games. Please, please, please find a 2 guard or a legit 3. I don't care where he comes from. I don't care if D-Will is immediately flipped or if a team decides to fire sale at the trading deadline. Just get Love and the Spanish Unicorn another running mate who can actually play good ball. (FWIW, just get Love 2 other good players. I don't care how it happens or who that means saying goodbye to. If I was able to say goodbye to the Manther, I can say toodles to a unicorn. I hope the Love/SU combo stays...but I want winning ball now and I think it is well within the resources of this franchise to make that happen. I digress...)
- Speaking of the Manther, he played over 10 minutes last night. Against Howard. It was awesome.