Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Carmelo Anthony is catching fire

Carmelo Anthony is catching fire at just the right time and it sends out a clear message – the Miami Heat may have a challenger in the East after all.

Carmelo Anthony is catching fire
All the rhetoric lately has been of how there’s no team that can stand in the way of the Heat’s march to a third successive NBA Finals.

The New York Knicks, though, are on an 11-game win streak inspired by three straight performances of 40 or more points from Anthony – against the Heat, the Hawks and the Bucks.

It’s the fifth time in franchise history the Knicks have won 11 straight games. In three of the previous four occasions they went on to reach the NBA Finals, winning it all twice. That’s not to say it will happen again but the Knicks have certainly put forward a strong case this season.

For one, the Knicks have a 3-1 record over the Heat this season, even if in one of the wins the Heat were without superstars LeBron James and Dywane Wade.

Still, it’s a winning record and in those three victories they have shown the template of how they can trouble the Heat if the two meet in the post-season.

By then the Knicks will most likely have a fully-fit Tyson Chandler, the Heat’s kryptonite in the 2011 Finals while at the Dallas Mavericks with his stifling defence, power and size. On the outside the Knicks have J.R. Smith who can knock down three-pointers as well as Steve Novak, another pin-point shooter who can get hot.

The experience point-guard play of Jason Kidd, another star from Dallas’ 2011 Finals win over the Heat, could become more important in the post-season. As we know, the playoffs are a completely different ball-game to the regular season – more half-court basketball, where superior game management and experience are crucial.

There’s a theme somewhere here; the Knicks are built much like the 2011 NBA champion Mavericks. They have a relentless scoring machine, a defensive anchor in Chandler that’s as good as any in the league, multiple three-point shooters on the perimeter, and of course Jason Kidd stabilising it all behind the scenes.

Finally, there’s Anthony’s motivation – a supreme scorer and genuine superstar now looking for a ring to validate his undoubted greatness.

The Heat aren’t invincible

As last week’s streak ending loss to the Chicago Bulls showed, the Heat are not invincible. The defending champions lack a low-post presence and this weakness has been shown up numerous times this season, especially against the best sides.

Miami's Big Three
This shortcoming puts pressure on LeBron James to carry the team which he did last year. But it’s a very tough ask.

The Heat’s outside three-point shooters such as Shane Battier and Ray Allen make them a nightmare, which is why you would still peg Miami as favourites. Still, relying so heavily on the three-point shot is more of a gamble in playoff basketball. If the Heat’s shooters go cold there’s no go-to-guy in the post who can relive pressure on driving players such as James and Wade.

It’s a known fact that the Heat are one of the league’s smaller sides which has led to Miami often being overrun on the glass. The Heat rank highly in almost every statistical category, but in rebounds they rank 30th in the league.

With their supreme talent, the Heat have been able to overcome this weakness often. However, it has cost Miami against the league’s better teams, as seen in the Heat’s losses to the Bulls, the Pacers and the Knicks.

At this point, with the roster the way it is, it is not a problem that can be fixed easily. And unfortunately, more than any other weakness, the Heat’s rebounding woes can seriously derail their championship plans.

The Lakers could challenge the Spurs, if they meet

Another on-going storyline has been how impressive the San Antonio Spurs are. They have led the West for the majority of the season and looked on course to comfortably seal the coveted top seed.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are now pushing the Spurs harder than ever and look to be finishing stronger. Nevertheless, the Spurs remain first in the West, and if things finish the way they are the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers will play San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs.

Many have said this would be a comfortable series win for the Spurs, but I beg to disagree. Firstly, the ageing Spurs are again showing they struggle with injuries as the season progresses. Secondly, Dwight Howard is the one player who can compete with Tim Duncan in the post and keep him honest to a degree.

The Lakers have their injuries problems as well, but Kobe Bryant is playing at an elite level and expect Steve Nash to be more important when the playoffs arrive. At the end of the day the Lakers are built for the grind-it-out style of the postseason, and in Bryant they have a proven game-winner.

Still got it...
Kobe Bryant

The Thunder are deadly

The Thunder are back again and they are finding their groove at just the right time. The Thunder have won six of their last seven games.

Led by the league’s top scorer, Kevin Durant, they possess an explosive team that will be better with the experience of last year’s Finals.

It’s definitely far from a forgone conclusion that the Heat will win the 2013 NBA title. Miami may be the best team, with the game’s finest player, but there are some teams with the tools to dethrone them. The Thunder are one.


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