April 2, 2012
Courtside: Feelin' the Love
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency
Even if Kevin Love is somehow able to sustain his remarkable run in March and even if Minnesota hangs around long enough in the playoff hunt, it still won’t be enough when the MVP ballots are counted.
What Love has done, besides elevate his game among the game’s elite, is to raise the age-old question that has surrounded the definition of MVP since the award was first handed out.
So subjective is the honour that any player, in theory, posting huge numbers must be considered, regardless of wins and losses.
Had Ricky Rubio stayed healthy, it’s quite likely Minnesota would be better positioned to qualify for the post-season.
As it stands, only a miracle will help the Timberwolves get into the derby, which this year in the West looks like a three-horse field with Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers out in front.
But more than anything, basketball is a game of matchups.
Playoff basketball becomes even more of a battle of matchups, which is why Memphis got out of the first round last spring by upsetting the heavily favoured Spurs, who could not matchup with the Grizzlies’ frontcourt size in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
The Timberwolves don’t have much of any advantage against any of the elite teams in the West, their season pretty much reduced to Love and how he’ll stack up in the MVP race.
Barring an injury, the MVP should go to Kevin Durant, OKC’s marquee player who is basically unstoppable when he’s making shots.
The Thunder, barring a complete meltdown in the final weeks of the season, will go into the post-season as the No. 1 seed in the West.
The team gained valuable experience last spring and unless Russell Westbrook makes Durant disappear by not getting him the ball, the Thunder should advance to the NBA final.
LeBron James will likely finish second behind Durant in the MVP race and Miami should be back on the final stage, which will give the NBA a showcase event featuring two of the most entertaining teams in OKC and Miami.
The mere mention of Love as an MVP candidate speaks to his evolving game and the impact he has had in Minnesota, where fans are now beginning to draw comparisons to Kevin Garnett.
Love is nowhere near K.G.’s defensive presence, but Garnett never had Love’s range on the perimeter.
In addition, Love never had the supporting cast the Timberwolves finally surrounded Garnett, who won the league’s MVP in 2004, the year Minnesota played the Lakers in the Western final.
With Rubio, when healthy, Love has a facilitator, but Minnesota is far from contending with the likes of the Thunder, whose youth assures OKC of being in the championship picture for years to follow.
But in Love, the T’Wolves have a very unique player, the NBA’s league leader in double-doubles who had a March no one will soon forget, a period where Love had a 51-point game and a 21-rebound performance.
In 16 games, the T’Wolves went 7-9, which speaks to just how far the team must go to become truly legitimate players in the West.
Love’s game will make for some interesting MVP debate, but he’s not the league’s most valuable player and in time the ballots will verify it.
AROUND THE RIM
At no point during Kobe Bryant’s brilliant career has he started a game by missing his first 15 shots from the field. Then Saturday night came and there was Bryant firing blanks against the visiting New Orleans Hornets, who continue to play hard despite being undermanned and overmatched. But when a basket was needed, it was Bryant who would drain the go-ahead bucket in an eventual 88-85 win. “All scripted,” Bryant mused. “I’m stubborn. That’s probably what it is. If I would’ve missed that shot, everybody would’ve killed me.” Players such as Bryant are special because they are never afraid to heave shots, even on nights when their shot is off. And no matter what numbers Durant and James post, neither is in Bryant’s class when it comes to late-game heroics ... Their season gone completely off the rails, the Charlotte Bobcats have been using Stephen Silas as head coach on certain nights. Silas serves as lead assistant for Paul Silas, Stephen’s dad, a move Charlotte’s hierarchy endorses. It has been done in the past and the move does allow Stephen Silas an opportunity to apprentice as the main guy, but the NBA has informed the team that it needs to know in advance who is the designated head coach on that night. Charlotte visits Toronto on Tuesday, which will likely give Paul Silas an opportunity to have his son assume the duties of head coach ... Steve Kerr, who has developed into one of the best analysts minus the self-serving and annoying schtick, is being mentioned in Portland for the team’s vacant GM post. Kerr briefly ran the Suns.
Oklahoma City at Miami, Wednesday
Heat got torched in OKC and need to return the favour in possible NBA final preview.
Phoenix at Denver, Friday
A game with post-season repercussions, a game neither team can afford to lose.
Dallas at Memphis, Saturday
Another big-time Western matchup pitting two teams who should be in the playoffs.
JET-ING TO MIAMI?
Steve Nash isn’t the only player who has expressed an interest in playing for the Heat next season.
Jason Terry, for the record, beat Nash to the punch when he told reporters during Dallas’ only visit to South Beach, barring a repeat of last year’s final, that he’d consider Miami as well.
Whether it’s Nash, Terry, or any other veteran, the most they’ll earn is the $3-million mid-level package unless some strange sign-and-trade deal could be engineered, an unlikely scenario given how little assets the Heat has outside of its Big 3.
“No question, they need a veteran shooter, a guy who can score besides LeBron (James) and (Dwyane Wade) that they know they can count on,” said Terry, whose late-game offence in last year’s six-game series over the Heat was huge for Dallas. “I think I’d be an asset to them.”
Terry, unlike Nash, has a championship ring.
The Mavs are said to be very interested in Dallas native Deron Williams, the jewel of this summer’s free-agent class.
Williams is a max player and Terry, among others, will be asked to seek employment elsewhere if Dallas owner Mark Cuban does sign D-Will.
KNICKS COULD LOSE LIN
Now that Jeremy Lin’s season is done, the victim of a bum knee, the Knicks will have to lock up Lin for next season.
As unlikely as it is, there’s a chance, albeit remote, the Knicks may not have Lin in the fold.
A restricted free agent on July 1, in theory any team can offer Lin a contract, which will max out at $5 million.
By NBA standards, the amount is akin to pocket change.
Based on the impact Lin had on the Knicks, at least under head coach Mike D’Antoni, and on the bottom line from a business perspective, he’s worth four times the amount.
Under Mike Woodson, the Knicks have slowed the pace down and have ensured that every possession goes through Carmelo Anthony, a logical decision when one looks at the price New York paid to get Melo.
“I would love to keep this team together as long as we can, everybody, top to bottom,” Lin said, but then again what else can he possibly say without ruffling any feathers.
“We’re growing as a team, we’re finding an identity, we’re getting better. And we have so much potential, so much talent. And I think it’s a process in terms of reaching our potential.”
There’s also the potential for disaster given Amare Stoudemire’s back woes and Anthony’s penchant for being selfish.
SPURRING ON CHANGE
The change began last season and it has continued well into this lockout-shortened season for the San Antonio Spurs.
With Tim Duncan no longer that dominant presence in the post, though he’s still effective, the Spurs have gone from this stifling defensive team to a team that wins through its offence.
Heading into Tuesday’s tip against Cleveland, no team has been hotter than the Spurs, who have won seven in a row.
During that streak, the Spurs have scored an average of 112 points, but have also yielded an average of 105 points, which flies in the face on how the Spurs used to win.
In the NBA, defence wins titles, the recent exceptions being the Heat in 2006 when Dwyane Wade got every call and the 2001 Lakers when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal kept their egos in check.
“We spend more time working on offense these days because our defence won’t be as good as it used to be in the past,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “It just won’t.”
While the window is closing, it would be foolish to dismiss San Antonio, a club that has won four titles since they won the draft lottery in 1997 and got Duncan.
“You have to score a lot more points now,” Duncan said. “I don’t think it’s the league of old, where you can score in the 80s and defend your butt off and still win championships.”