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By Thomas Johnson
We are two full months into the NBA calendar.
We have also officially passed the halfway point of the regular season.
Those two things should not both be true, but thanks to the lockout, they are. Suddenly all those injuries make a bit more sense when you look at the standings and realize the Miami Heat have played 34 games in that time.
It also means that on average I have had to pick the ten best plays from about 17 games each month. This feature was difficult enough to write last year with a full season and schedule that made sense. (Some perspective: last February the Heat played 12 games.)
Thanks again, owners.
Even with a schedule that makes the Spartan Race look like a leisurely first date idea, Miami has somehow managed to thrive in this environment. Four games in five nights? No problem. Three consecutive games? How about three consecutive double-digit wins.
Whenever a case is made for another team as the title favorite, you have to wonder if that analyst is aware of the fact that Miami has won 16 of its last 18 games, or its last eight by more than ten points.
That’s not to say the Heat is a finished product, but they are clearly the scariest team in the league right now, geographical bias aside.
One last note: To read January’s top plays list, click here.
10. Udonis Haslem ‘s surprising put-back dunk
Every now and then, Haslem will surprise you with either a dunk or block that will cause you to reevaluate his athleticism and think to yourself, “Maybe he can jump over a stack of phone books…Wait, where the hell can I even find phone books?’
This was from the game that he surpassed Rony Seikaly, also known as the Heat’s most successful international dance DJ, as the franchise’s second all-time rebounder. As Wade said himself, Haslem will surpass Alonzo Mourning’s rebounding record at some point this season. And it feels fitting, doesn’t it? There’s a good chance that you’ll probably enjoy James’ reaction more than the play itself.
9. Chris Bosh dunks with authority against the Cavs
Apparently December wasn’t a fluke. Chris Bosh has continued his mission to lose the “soft” tag one frame-worthy dunk at a time. This time he uses the element of surprise to completely blind-side Cleveland forward Samardo Samuels.
Bosh has become my favorite subject of post-game interviews. His awkward humor is always a winner in my book. Especially when he’s bombing other interviews and cursing on live TV.
8. LeBron James vicious block off the backboard, to Dwyane Wade layup.
Last month I wrote that LeBron “hasn’t had one of his signature chasedown blocks this season. He used to have those nasty ‘smashed off the glass back to the three-point line’ blocks routinely in Cleveland.”
7. LeBron James dunks, Tyson Chandler cowers
If Tyson Chandler had only jumped with LeBron, then this would have been his dunk of the season. Can’t you just picture James’s knee colliding with Chandler in mid-air, and sending an airborne Tyson smashing into the basketball stanchion, à la Varejao. Luckily for him (not so much for us), Chandler was smart enough to get out of the way.
6. LeBron James reverse dunk off a Dwyane Wade lob
There have been so many alley-oops recently that I’ve begun to grade on an incredibly steep curve. Unless it’s something truly impressive (like LeBron having to duck to avoid getting a concussion), then it probably won’t make the list. Case in point:
5. LeBron James demoralizes the Bucks with a power slam
This dunk probably had a lot to do with Tyson Chandler getting out of the way. Even though we are more than 100 games into the LeBron-Miami marriage, it still blows me away how high the man gets even though he’s taking off from the dotted line. “Explosive” doesn’t do him justice.
4. Dwyane Wade “scoop” alley-oop to LeBron James
Not saying it’s on the same level, but this reminds me of that dunk he had in Cleveland — which he puts in his top-5 of all-time — from a misplaced Daniel Gibson alley-oop pass. You get the feeling Wade could throw it slightly more accurately, but enjoys giving LeBron a bit of a challenge.
3. LeBron James 75-foot alley-oop pass to Dwyane Wade
Remember what I said about the steep alley-oop curve? That half-court James to Wade alley-oop against the Magic would have made the list, if not for this one. Mark my words: one of these full-court, or near full-court, alley-oops will end in a dunk and that will be the defining play of the Wade-James era.
2. LeBron James casually windmills a tip-dunk
I argue that this windmill is more impressive than any of his aerial displays at the All-Star game. Can you remember the last time you saw someone windmill a missed shot? Games in which you had an Xbox controller in one hand and a beer in the other don’t count.
Speaking of the All-Star game, I have to imagine most basketball fans had at least a couple lengthy LeBron-centered discussions about exactly what transpired at the end of the game. I’ll keep it (relatively) brief.
- I have no problem with LeBron initially passing the ball to Deron Williams. It was a diagramed play that resulted in a wide-open look for the second-hottest shooter on the East team.
- The cause for worry is how LeBron reacted when the ball ricocheted out to him. Down two, with six seconds left against one defender, you expect him to create a shot. Especially when that defender is his biggest rival. Instead, he panicked and treated the ball like a hot potato, throwing it into a crowd of opposing players. LeBron is far too talented of a passer. You can’t tell me he didn’t panic on some level.
- The bigger concern is his decision to inbound the ball with a second left, down three. He’d made six of eight three-pointers leading up to that moment! He’d been the best player on that team the whole game and he’s INBOUNDING?! (Stephen A. Smith voice.) You can’t help but think that he was worried about missing the shot and the negative feedback that would create. He has to want the ball in that spot and see it as an opportunity to win the game, not shy away from the bright lights. For better or worse, Bryant and Jordan are always taking that shot. It’s the difference between being the most talented player and the best player. And yes, they are two different things. What’s just as worrying is how it appeared as though Kobe was bullying him and how little James did in response.
- Yes it was an All-Star game, but to merely dismiss his meltdown as unimportant ignores one key detail: if anything, crunch-time in these games can be more important than regular season matches to the players involved. Just as Kobe taking over the last Olympics final was indicative of his standing among his peers, taking control of an All-Star game similarly reinforces a player’s rep. Why do you think Kobe keeps playing so many minutes in them? Well, besides his records chase. After the game was over, LeBron couldn’t hide his emotions on his face. He tried to downplay the moment, but even he wasn’t buying it. It clearly bothered him.
Ultimately, it might not matter. Miami could feasibly blow-out every opponent it faces in the playoffs, all the way to the title. The Heat was half a quarter away from doing just that last year. But if history has taught us anything, that probably won’t happen and a few meaningful games will go down to the final seconds. How LeBron reacts and how Spoelstra handles these situations (Does he just give-up on James and go exclusively to Wade?) will be the most captivating subplot of the entire post-season.
1. Dwyane Wade 360° circus shot against Javale McGee
February has been exceptionally kind to Wade this year. He bounced back from the early injury struggles and hit his stride offensively (24.5 points on 56% shooting this month), had a triple-double in the All-Star game, and there might even be a Player of the Month award waiting for him next week. Hell, he even hit his first three-pointer of the season.
But more important than any of that, he earned the top spot on this month’s list.
Agree? Vehemently Disagree? Any unforgivable snubs? Let us know, below. ‘Till next month.
By Thomas Johnson (Twitter: tjohnsonwriter)