Whatever happens to Heat now, it can’t be worse than their opening 1996 draw against MJ’s merciless Bulls

 

There is one super player in the Eastern Conference but no super teams, which makes me feel kind of hopeful about the Miami Heat’s chances for getting past Philadelphia and reaching the second round of the playoffs.

If that doesn’t sound like much of a goal, or even if you’re feeling a little sorry for this team devoid of dominating stars, think back to Pat Riley’s first season in Miami.

In his role as head coach and master of everything, the Godfather worked deals that

Dennis Rodman fouls Alonzo Mourning. Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post.

brought Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway to the Heat. Together they went 42-40 in the regular season, not much different than the results we’re seeing now, but then came a first-round matchup with the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in the 1996 playoffs.

Here is a column I wrote at the end of that horrible mismatch, a three-game sweep by the Bulls in which the closest game was 17 points. Dennis Rodman’s spicy autobiography “Bad As I Wanna Be” was released right then, too, which made the whole series feel like a promotional tour for the Worm and a fruitless exercise for the Heat.

“We played hard,” said Miami’s Rex Chapman, but they are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”

Things are so much better now. Even if the Heat had drawn LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the first round this weekend, it couldn’t have been as dismal. They’re plenty they can do against any team in the East these days. So let the 2018 playoffs begin, but not before this reminder of what life was like for Miami and everybody else under the inviolate Jordan Rules.

 

(From the May 2, 1996 edition of the Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George

Post Columnist

        A PRIMER ON HOW TO BE GREAT

The Miami Heat took their medicine sitting down Wednesday night, their celebrity coach never leaving his chair in the fourth quarter of a 112-91 loss and their sellout home crowd reduced to gawking at the greatness of the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat weren’t just swept in this best-of-five opening playoff series. They were vacuumed up, bagged and left by the curb of Miami Arena. Total domination, Pat Riley called it, and so it was. Michael Jordan headed for the locker room early, and Scottie Pippen called for his ice bags on the bench. Had this blowout lasted another few minutes, he would have called for his pipe and slippers, too.
“I know one thing I’m going to aspire to next year,” Riley said, and a roomful of reporters leaned forward for a philosophical pearl. “I’m going to make sure the playoff seed has to be six through three. It cannot be seventh through eighth.”
It cannot, in other words, bring the Heat anywhere close to Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference is for sparring partners, not contenders. Miami can move up based on the progress made after the great February trade-off. Wednesday, however, was too wobbly to use as a foundation for anything but a fire drill.
“We ran into a good team,” said Rex Chapman, who scored 39 points in a February upset of the Bulls here but only six Wednesday. “We played hard. They are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”
Jimmy Buffet did his best to make this Game 3 worth playing. He sang the national anthem and 15,200 fans, armed with giveaway clacker noisemakers, provided the passionate percussion. This will be remembered, however, as the night the music died. Miami trailed by 31 points at one point and pretty much went through the motions while Chicago’s benchwarmers piled it on.
Chicago will at least get a fight from the New York Knicks. All Miami provided was a vacation.
So overwhelming is Chicago’s power over the masses that all it takes is one Bulls player to make a low-profile team like the Heat an irrelevance in their own building. Wednesday’s pre-game sideshow centered on Dennis Rodman and his bawdy book, advance copies of which are beginning to make the rounds.
On the cover is a photo of the Worm in the nude, holding a basketball where the sun don’t shine and the fig leaves don’t grow. There is a chapter devoted to the intimate details of Rodman’s brief fling with Madonna, which is surprising only in that Madonna didn’t strike first with this subject matter. NBA Commissioner David Stern, at Miami Arena Wednesday to monitor the storm around Chicago’s playoff run, said Rodman “is a phenomenon, maybe the best media creation of his own image that I’ve ever seen.”
Rodman, meanwhile, sat at his locker before the game saying whatever he believed would shock reporters most. “Pat Riley’s time has passed,” he said, and “the Knicks have a yellow streak down their back.” Of Alonzo Mourning, Rodman asked “$15 million for what? He hasn’t accomplished anything to me.”
Rodman wears controversy like a crown, always willing to take the lunacy to another level. Miami counters with a seriousness that is deadly. Zo screams. Riley preens. And all the while the Bulls are laughing.
Blaming Mourning’s lack of production, a popular rationale in the first two blowouts at Chicago, didn’t even fly this time. Zo had 20 points by half time, more even than Jordan, and finished with a game-high 30.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were their usual brutish selves, piling on at every opportunity. Did Rodman really slam home a reverse dunk in the second quarter or was that a preview for his upcoming music video? At some point it ceases to matter.
We have come to that point, of course, and surpassed it. The glorious debut season of Pat Riley has ended in the manner of Kevin Loughery before him.
Sitting down and looking up at the merciless Chicago Bulls.

[Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep Palm Beach County ties]

[Golden Bear’s grandson thrills Masters crowd with an ace of his own]

[Amendola is another Texas Tech tough guy, like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker]

 

Russell Westbrook is true stats machine, but nobody ever did it like the Big O

 

 

First, allow me to establish my credentials as an old stick in the mud who does not automatically agree that the latest thing is always the greatest thing.

Second, let me state that there will never be another Oscar Robertson, and that will be true even if Russell Westbrook matches the Big O’s landmark achievement of averaging a triple-double for an entire season, the only player ever to do that.

Westbrook is a wonder, no doubt. He leads the NBA in scoring at 31.4 points per game, ranks third in assists at 10.4 and 10th in rebounding at 10.5. That comes out to a triple-double more nights than not, and on some nights the mere stats alone don’t really do justice to Russ’ dominance.

On Monday night, for instance, he rallied Oklahoma City to a victory over Dallas even though the Thunder trailed by 13 points with 3:30 to play. Twelve of OKC’s final 14 points were scored by Westbrook, including the game-winning jumper with seven seconds to play.

Can’t tell you if Robertson ever did anything like that. The stats weren’t as precise or as faithfully recorded during his NBA career, which stretched from 1961-74. On top of that, you couldn’t catch every Cincinnati Royals or Milwaukee Bucks game on television back then.

What I can tell you is that the Big O didn’t have the luxury of the three-point shot, which was not yet adopted by the league. He also played in a nine-team NBA during his banner season of 1961-62, when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists, which means there would have been fewer players signed just to fill roster spots and thus tighter talent all around.

Here, though, is the real stunner. If you total up all the numbers, Robertson’s first five seasons in the league produced an overall triple-double average – 30.3 points, 10.4 rebound and 10.6 assists.

For Westbrook, on the other hand, it is only this season, his ninth in the league, that he is averaging double-digits in rebounds. The last two seasons he has averaged doubles in assists, but not before.

What’s more, it’s difficult for me to believe that a powerful and intimidating point guard like Robertson, so much stronger than his peers, would be a turnover machine. Westbrook has led the league in turnovers twice and may do it again this year.

Again, I’m not saying that Westbrook is overrated or anything. The guy is great. It’s just a matter of emphasizing Robertson’s legendary ability to do it all, and to do it for so long. Just because we didn’t see it on television doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

[NFL got what it deserved when Tom Brady’s jersey went missing]

[Look to Spo’s history as a player for toughness that turned Heat around]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for Heat]

As an addendum, this season is the closest that LeBron James has ever come to averaging a double-double for an entire year. Through Monday’s games he was averaging 26.0 points, 8.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds.

The closest Michael Jordan ever came to a full season triple-double was 1988-89, when he averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists. He was 25.

Monday was sensational, but there’s an even crazier upset in Heat franchise history

Monday’s 105-102 upset of the Golden State Warriors was one of the most shocking victories in Miami Heat history and it provides the blueprint for Erik Spoelstra for defeating the league’s best as the season continues.

First, forget about getting Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson back in the lineup. Obviously, the Heat don’t need them.

Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat poses for photo media during Heat Media Day at American Airlines Arena, September 26, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post
Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat poses during Heat Media Day at American Airlines Arena, September 26, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

Second, get a subpar performance from Hassan Whiteside. His meager 10 points in 35-plus minutes on Monday were well below average but clearly vital in distracting the Warriors from their pregame keys.

Third, tell Goran Dragic to dial it down a bit, too. He made just 5-of-14 Monday from the field and was pretty lousy from the foul line, too, missing 5-of-13. Again, brilliant subterfuge.

Fourth, take a kid who has barely played in the NBA and give him significant minutes. Okaro White, who prior to Monday was 0-for-3 in a grand total of two career games, contributed five very necessary points to the win over the Warriors.

Fifth, get Dion Waiters and Luke Babbitt to combine for 9-for-12 from three-point range. Now there’s a game plan that should be easily repeatable, right?

All kidding aside, there’s only been one Heat game more ridiculous than this one was in terms of overperforming. That was Miami’s easy 113-104 win over Michael Jordan’s invincible Chicago Bulls on Feb. 23, 1996.

Chicago was on its way to a 72-10 regular season, a record that stood until Golden State went 73-9 last year. We’re talking about MJ, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the boys, plus Steve Kerr, the current Warriors coach, off the bench.

Defeating them that night was a Miami team coached by Pat Riley but stuck in a disastrous roster limbo. The 24-29 Heat had just made a trade for Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatlin and two other players but those fresh troops had not yet arrived. Consequently, there were only eight Miami players dressed and ready to play against the Bulls but it hardly mattered.

Rex Chapman, who averaged 14 points per game that year, went off for a season-high 39 against the Bulls, hitting 9-of-10 from three-point range in the process.

“He reminded me of Jerry West,” Riley said of Chapman.

Don’t know about that, but Rex did outscored Jordan that night by eight points.

Here’s an excerpt from the Palm Beach Post’s deadline story on the upset, written by Tom D’Angelo. Of course, Tom was there. He’s everywhere.

“Some nights are hard to explain. Friday was one of them.

Playing with eight players and against the team some are touting as the best of all time, the Miami Heat submitted their most impressive performance of the season.

The Heat – relying heavily on three-point shooting – shocked the Chicago Bulls 113-104 at Miami Arena. Miami showed emotion (and outside shooting) rarely seen this season less than 24 hours after the team was gutted by three trades involving 10 players.

“You see it all the time in sports,” said Heat guard Rex Chapman, who equaled his career high with 39 points. “A team that’s undermanned on paper, and has no chance at all…Nobody is more surprised than we are, I’ll admit that. But if we had come out and laid down, we could have been beaten by 100.”

That’s just a flavor from D’Angelo’s complete story, and here are a few last notes I’ll throw in, too.

In the two games prior to that monumental upset, Miami scored 70 points in a loss to Cleveland and 66 in a win over Philadelphia.

What’s more, they didn’t get a monster game from Alonzo Mourning in beating the Bulls. Zo turned in his usual strongman numbers of 19 points and 12 rebounds but made just 8-of-22 shots.

The funniest part to me, looking back, is how angry Zo was after the game. He couldn’t believe how many in the sellout crowd were cheering loudly for the visiting superstars from Chicago and actually looked forward to going on a road trip in a couple of days.

“I’m kind of happy we’re getting out of this city and away from these fans,” Zo said. “The fans here are so hypocritical, it’s ridiculous. It makes me sick.”

[Gators are a touchdown shy of college football’s per-game scoring average]

[Wondering if Dolphins’ No. 22 draft position is haunted]

[Steve Shepherd and ‘Dangerous Dave’ Lewter join Florida Boxing Hall of Fame]

For the record, the Bulls got their revenge, dismissing Miami 3-0 in the opening playoff round that year and going on to start a new string of three consecutive NBA championships.

Better remember these amazing nights when they come along, however. It’s why any game ticket could wind up being the one you keep forever.

 

Tim Tebow’s Arizona Fall League season has ended but look for him again next spring

Baseball scouts won’t have Tim Tebow to kick around until next spring.

The former Heisman Trophy winner’s Arizona Fall League season is over and he had his struggles against some of the game’s top prospects, many of them Triple-A players on the cusp of making it to the majors.

Just prior to the start of Tim Tebow's first day in the instructional League for the New York Mets baseball team, workers at Tradition Field set up a bunch of Tebow jerseys that will go on sale Monday, September 19, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post
PORT ST. LUCIE – Just prior to the start of Tim Tebow’s first day in the instructional League for the New York Mets baseball team on Sept. 19, workers at Tradition Field set up a bunch of Tebow jerseys for sale. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

Tebow hit just .194 with no home runs. Even uglier, he struck out 20 times in 62 at-bats. Scouts grumbled, anonymously, of course, that he did not look natural in any phase of the game.

The fact that his only baseball since high school was a stint with the New York Mets’ instructional league in Port St. Lucie does not enter into their evaluation of Tebow’s chances to make it to the bigs one day as a designated hitter or something. It’s cold hard facts with these guys.

Looking at it logically, however, Tebow figures to get his chance to play on a Single-A team for the Mets next year, whether it’s in Brooklyn or Savannah or Port St. Lucie. I favor the Florida State League option, naturally, for local interest, and it’s possible he could wind up with the Mets’ Gulf Coast Rookie League team at Port St. Lucie for a while, too.

The Mets might as well get whatever they can from their $100,000 investment in Tebow. Sandy Alderson, the team’s general manager, said “the idea for us was just to get him more game experience (in Arizona). We thought he might be somewhat overmatched and that was true early on, but from the first 10 days of Arizona Fall Leuge to the last 10 days, there was a marked improvement.”

[One former Dolphins head coach made quite an impression on Adam Gase]

[FAU job was tough enough without Butch Davis moving in next door]

[Might be final chance to see Brad Kaaya play at Hard Rock Stadium]

More hits and fewer strikeouts is what he means. Tebow had eight hits in his final 30 at-bats.

There has been no display of raw power, though, and that figured to be his special gift. As for his athleticism, scouts criticized Tebow’s defense in the outfield but he never was charged with an error. On the bases, he was caught stealing twice in three tries.

Bottom line, the guy isn’t afraid to put himself out there so don’t look any kind of sudden retirement.

Unless I’m forgetting something, nobody climbed all over Michael Jordan for giving baseball a try just because he wanted. MJ played an entire season of Double-A ball in the White Sox chain, batting .202 against pitchers who weren’t as good as the ones Tebow just saw in Arizona.

Jordan also committed 11 errors in 119 games in the outfield.

Hey, it’s minor-league baseball. It’s entertainment. If there really are players good enough to make it, having somebody like Tebow on the roster won’t rob them of the opportunity. No reason to get all bent out of shape over it.

Of course some people will at spring training when Tebow is getting too much attention on the back fields or even getting a shot or two at pinch-hitting in the late innings of an exhibition game with the big club.

Even more people will be clamoring for his autograph, of course. This is how it works with him. This is how it always will.

 

 

 

 

Hoping that Warriors finish the job and top Bulls’ 72-10 record

 

The Golden State Warriors are through pretending it doesn’t matter that much. They want to break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 regular-season wins and will bust a gut trying.

“I’m not going to shy away from saying we want the record,” Draymond Green said following Saturday night’s loss to San Antonio. “Absolutely we want it, and we’re going after it.”

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 19: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden States Warriors is defended by Danny Green #14 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on March 19, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO,TX – Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is defended by Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on March 19, 2016. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

This does my heart good, and not because of any dislike for Michael Jordan or the Bulls or anything else to do with Chicago.

There’s just something admirable about striving to be the best at everything, the way Jordan always did.

The Warriors, for instance, already have an NBA title and are favored to win it again this year. They have the league’s best record, a haughty 64-7 following Wednesday night’s win over the Clippers. They have 11 games left before the long playoff grind begins and no requirement to overuse their starters or risk injury.

Still, if Steph Curry and company can plant the Golden State flag atop the NBA’s highest regular-season mountain, they will expend a ridiculous amount of energy to complete that mission.

“Now we’re right there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday. “That’s pretty enticing.

“It’s really the players’ record. I know they want to get it. So we’ll act accordingly.”

My former colleague here, award-winning columnist Greg Stoda, used to pick at me good-naturedly on topics like this, primarily at the end of each college basketball season. As the top teams headed into conference tournament play, he would tell me that it probably would be better to go out in the early rounds, let somebody else win the ACC or the SEC or the Big Ten title, get rested up for the real deal of March Madness, the games that count the most.

He was probably right, but I would spark and spew about the value of hanging any banner that you can whenever you can. Only one team can win the NCAA title, after all. The rest need things to celebrate, too, and to remember forever.

[Adam Gase already showing signs of openness that Joe Philbin didn’t]

[Mario Williams is better than Olivier Vernon, at any price]

[Try Jack Nicklaus’ weight-loss plan by running between shots]

The Warriors, a fairly buoyant group, seem to get that. They went hard earlier this season at the NBA record streak of 33 regular-season wins in a row, eventually coming up five wins short of the 1971-72 Lakers led by Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. They’re going hard now after the 72-10 regular-season record set by Chicago with Michael and Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.

It won’t change a thing if they come up short. They’ll still have a battle on their hands with San Antonio in the Western Conference playoffs no matter which team is seeded where. They’ll still be the team that everyone else is trying to be even as every team is trying to beat them.

To finish 73-9 or better, though, that would be something that no one has ever done.

That’s something worth having, and Kerr won’t get in the way of players going after it the way all-business Gregg Popovich might do if placed in the same position.

Really, why would Kerr? The Warriors went 39-4 to start the season without him, while their head coach was rehabbing a serious back issue and assistant Luke Walton was filling in.

They’ve kind of got this winning thing down.