1) Tough loss on the road. Encouraging in certain ways, especially effort-wise, but nonetheless a tough loss. KJ made a huge late triple off an offensive rebound by - of all people - Chris Bosh, but then moments later missed a free throw to ice it. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau yanked last year's MVP Derrick Rose, who was absolutely embarrassed by KJ all night -- annndd then, of course, his replacement, CJ Watson, made a three under duress to send the game to overtime, whereupon Dwyane Wade got tomahawked on the head by Omer Asik to no call, and then Taj Gibson dunked on the ensuing runout with a brush-by foul called for the and-one. Of course that happened! Why wouldn't it? Tough loss, but the Heat seemed engaged, and played hard - losing in overtime to one of the best teams in the league on their home floor with absolutely nothing at stake isn't the worst result of all-time. More importantly than the result, the game highlighted almost exactly how these two teams match up with each other, strength-and-weakness-wise. Not sure if that was good punctuation there using all those dashes in that last phrase...Let's go!
2) Okay, Heat weakness/Bulls strength: Miami's defensive glass. Basically, the issue breaks down like this: every time the Bulls shoot and miss, we can't get the rebound. We either lose it clean, or someone - usually Chris Bosh or Shane Battier, but sometimes Mike Miller or Ronny Turiaf - tips it back out politely to the perimeter, and then someone on the Bulls drains an open jumper. Or sometimes Taj Gibson or Joakim Noah grabs it up close and dunks it back in. Either way, not good. There are probably like statistics for this - yes, the Bulls had 15 offensive rebounds, I see. I estimate that out of their 96 points, maybe 85 were second chance points? More? Coach Spo tried to address this by removing Ronny Turiaf from the starting lineup and inserting UD. I'm not sure it really went much better- Bulls had a bunch of putbacks in the first half; in the second half UD sat out with a "stomach virus." M.Minutos pointed out that the more common household terminology would be "diarrhea." Anyways, I'm not sure what Miami can do about this issue - they aren't good rebounders. So that's a problem.
3) Heat strength/Bulls weakness: KJ James can guard Derrick Rose; Derrick Rose can't guard KJ James. We've said this many times - it was the difference in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. I don't want this to be a "dump on Derrick Rose" session, even though I don't like him much personally - he has such a sour, unlikable personality that I think it's possible that Dwyane is still the more-revered Chicago native son. Also, he cheated on SATs, and won't nut up and admit it. You know, when you cheat on a test, the only person truly getting cheated is yourself, or so I am told...He is a very, very good player - but he has a somewhat limited skill set: he is a high-volume, medium-efficiency scorer. Those are both valuable skills - shot creation is a very valuable skill - and the Bulls are structured to take advantage of that. They pound the offensive boards and play great defense - they don't need an efficient offense, just an offense which creates enough opportunities to win. But against Miami, Rose's efficiency plunges any time KJ guards him. It's not a small sample size, either. Last year in the playoffs, KJ played him in fourth quarters and Rose's numbers were horrific - 3 for 20-something. Whatever it was, it was bad. Tonight was worse: 1-13 for 2 points, and Rose looked extremely tentative any time KJ was on him, which was often. Derrick Rose's primary ability as a basketball player is that he is never tentative. So, you know, this is a problem for Chicago. After he hit the backside of the backboard on a drive against KJ to turn the ball over again with a couple of minutes to go, Thibodeau yakked him and never put him back in. I don't know how Chicago solves that problem either. If they play in the playoffs, KJ's still going to be 6'8", Rose is still going to be 6'2". Rose's backup, CJ Watson, is the better ball mover - tonight the answer was to play him instead of Rose, and it worked. We'll see if that continues to be the solution going forward.
4) This is really just a Heat weakness: Mike Miller and Shane Battier were utterly atrocious tonight. Miller was 1-9 from the floor, but it was more the way he played. For him to be of value, he has to play like James Jones Plus (essentially, like last year's revelation "Playoff James Jones," PJJ, where he starts doing things - like dribbling - that he hasn't done in four straight seasons). Meaning, if he has daylight, he has to pull the trigger. His primary job is floor spacing - then, everything else. It wasn't the1-9 tonight; it was the 6 or 7 that he didn't pull when he had a sliver of space. Of the 8 misses, a lot of them were on plays he had to make at the ends of shot clocks, after he (or also Battier) didn't fire a look earlier in the shot clock, and the ball found its way back to them late. Meanwhile, Bulls floor spacer Kyle Korver did exactly what Miller should be doing: came off screens aggressively looking to hunt shots. He made 5-6 triples and 6-8 overall for 17 points in 19 minutes. Great job by him. Maybe Mike doesn't have his legs back yet, but if he's going to be out there, to me he's got to let it fly at every opportunity. That's how you solve that problem - just rip it. Do it like you did it at the Corn Palace in South Dakota, Big Fella! Basket's the same height!
5) Have we talked about Battioke yet? Let's talk about Battioke. Battioke was Shane Battier's charity event, held at the iconic Eden Roc hotel in Miami Beach a few weeks ago. As you can probably figure out from the name of the event, essentially Shane Battier (and his teammates) dress up in ridiculous outfits and sing karaoke songs. The night kicked off with Battioke donning a white jump suit and singing "Eye of the Tiger." Of course he did! LeBron wore a wig and sang "Superfreak-" he was actually pretty good. GFOB Thor suggested that we make my dad Pat Riley's version of "My Girl" a candidate for our theme song, but there are a couple of problems with that. One, my dad isn't the best singer. Two, it's not really a headbanger - maybe in 1940 or whenever the original song came out it was, but not now. Three, and most importantly, I've spent the last week receiving emails that my dad, Pat Riley, should be fired, along with Coach Erik Spoelstra, Chris Bosh, Mike Mil-lar, and in one particularly vengeful email, the entire Sunsports crew: Eric Reid, Tony Fiorentino, Jax. Everyone except Johanna Gomez, essentially. Okay, I feel like I should address these emails en masse - transparency! And here is what I say. Yes, the team has struggled as of late. Everyone feels terrible about that, and is nervous about the playoffs - if the team plays like they have been in the playoffs, we are not going to get out of the East. Tonight was better - and if CJ Waston's tough triple doesn't go in, and we win, we would be no better or worse off for the playoffs than we are right now - remember that. You'd feel better; but it wouldn't truly be better. On the other hand, this is exactly how last season went down. Nobody thought we had any chance in the playoffs. Then, LeBron played more minutes, Dwyane played more minutes, both guys rebounded more, defended harder, and the Heat essentially breezed through the east playoffs before getting derailed by Dallas. I do not know if that will happen again. I do not. I do know it could happen again, for sure. Let's say it doesn't, though, let's say Miami loses to Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals, or to Boston in the semis - what would happen? For sure, Spo would get waxed. It may or may not be fair, they may or may not find a better coach (I'm guessing it would be Nate McMillan) - doesn't matter. He will get waxed. My dad, Pat Riley, is not going to get waxed. He might decide enough is enough and retire, but he's not going to get waxed. You can keep writing it to me if you want, but it isn't going to happen. As GFOB Snets and I discussed yesterday, my dad has made the exact same mistake twice in the last four years: he saw a perimeter-oriented big - first Beasley, then Bosh - and tried to build a frontcourt around him. Exact same mistake. Big, big mistakes! If you want to claim this is a fireable offense - and maybe it is - okay. The reality is, he isn't going to get fired, no matter how much you want him to. And by the way, why would people keep writing this to me - that's my dad you are talking about firing!..What he is going to do is break this group up, no doubt. The first thing he is going to try to do is find a trade for Bosh - I think he does this no matter how the season turns out. Until we see what Bosh does in the playoffs, we aren't going to have any idea of his value - right now I'd say it's somewhere between "Anderson Varejo" and "a corpse." (In fairness, Chris was pretty good tonight: 20 points, 8 polite rebounds, and somehow, 4 blocks! Knocked Carlos Boozer over on one block - Mon Dieu!) Say you can't move Bosh because no one wants him. What are you going to do, trade Dwyane Wade? That's absurd - I hope. Personally, and I said this about UD two summers ago, I'd rather have Dwyane and lose every game, then not have Dwyane and win every game. Dwyane, UD, and I already brought this town a title - it'd be nice to get another one this year, or any year, but it isn't necessary to cement our legacies. That only leaves one guy to trade: my man KJ. I absolutely would call Orlando about a KJ for Dwight Howard swap (would probably mean we keep his dad Juwan around for another year). I absolutely would call the Lakers about a KJ for Bynum swap. If I had to, I absolutely would send him back to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving and Varejo, or something like that, if had to be KJ or Dwyane. Absolutely. Without even giving it a thought. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Let's just let it play out and see what happens. In the meantime, while we are wallowing in anticipatory grief, instead of a head-banging theme song for a triumphant playoff run, let's play a song about what it would be like to lose in the playoffs again this year. I mean, it would be pretty much like a plane crash, right? Check out Drive-by Truckers, "The Lonely Crash of Pat Ri-," I mean, "Angels and Fuselage" - in the third verse, when the engines stop, and everyone knows that the plane is going down, just imagine all of us, sitting there, watching Derrick Rose knife through our defense, miss a layup, and then seeing Joakim Noah dunk the rebound - and Bosh - back through the rim, late in the fourth quarter of game four as we are about to get swept. I mean, you think things are bad now - just think about that!
6) A lot of questions about Castro in my inbox, dudes, all prompted by Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen's pro-Castro remarks last week. A lot of questions - most of them implying that I might be a Castro-sympathizer because of his beard. Look, I don't respect the dude - his behavior is not cool. The beard? I mean, that's a tough one, you're putting me in a tough spot there. Let's just say that without Castro, maybe there never is a James Harden - and you know I love James Harden! On the other hand, as a half-Jew, if, say, New York Knick coach Mike Woodson made a virulently anti-Semitic remark, I might be disappointed, because I love Mike Woodson, even when he shaved off his eyebrows, if only because his point guard in Atlanta for years was Mike Bibby, but I certainly wouldn't be outraged. I might be like, "Et tu, Mike Woodson?," but I honestly don't think I would give it that much thought. On the other hand, guess what? Mike Woodson would never do that! A man smart enough to start Mike Bibby at point guard, even when everyone was like, "Mike Bibby is still in the league?," would never make an anti-Semitic comment! So you know what? Fine, Marlins - fire Ozzie Guillen! And hire Mike Woodson! Let's go!
Well, we're right back at it tomorrow. Charlotte is in town. Only two weeks left in the season, then the playoffs. Playoffs are always a no-lose situation: win and advance; lose, stop writing this stupid blog, and read some books, for a change. If you need me before tomorrow, I'll be setting the trimmer to "bone-clean" and getting at those eyebrows - I had forgotten how much I love this look! See you tomorrow!