I am choosing to view inauspicious debut of Mad Props not as a portend of imminent disaster, but as a test of discipline and resolve, administered by a pair of all-time greats. A possible payday undone by an overwhelming finish in Newark, driving home a stark reminder of my “don't make a habit of betting against greatness” policy, followed immediately by the encouragement of a foul-plagued first quarter that transformed suddenly into a no-effin-way-your-under-is-winning first half, topped off by a just-for-good-measure three overtimes – good times all around.
First, the fans in Newark, deprived of seeing both Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams, received value for their entertainment dollar in the form of a magnificent fourth quarter from LBJ. Actually, not even a full quarter. It wasn’t even half a quarter. In the game’s final 4:48, having received a “in two weeks these guys are Brooklyn’s problem” reception, LeBron went full 48-Special, scoring Miami’s last 17 points (bringing his total for the evening to an Under-27.5-busting 37) to seal the 101-98 win over the shorthanded-but-game Nets. Hell, if I’d known Miami’s game plan would involve more than simply paying for postage I’d have coughed up the cash to be in the Pru. Even on TV, it was awe-inspiring.
With that said, I am unclear as to the objective of Erik Spoelstra’s game plan. Sure, the genesis of this complaint is largely self-interest, but even the impartial observer in me is slightly puzzled by the decision to rest the perpetually nicked-up D-Wade but run Chris Bosh and LeBron– the latter only a day removed from a minor ankle tweak – for 35 minutes apiece in the interest of securing an inconsequential regular season victory against a lotto-bound opponent.
Make no mistake, Spo did right by the fans, his superstar (LeBron clearly felt like being out there) and the immortalized words of Herm Edwards, and all’s well that ends well… but why?
Meanwhile in Utah, two first quarter fouls in roughly 9:30 – again, on the road in the second half of a back-to-back – appeared to place Dirk Nowiztki’s bid for 24+ (he had 6 in the quarter) in jeopardy. Yeah, about that…
Dirk returned a couple of minutes into the second quarter and, thanks to a whopping eight free throw attempts (and makes), 3-of-6 from the field and no more personal fouls, proceeded to hang 14 on the Jazz in the stanza, and took 20 points into the locker room at the half. Dirk did little to inspire hope after the break, peppering the dream with a pair of 15-foot daggers before ending the misery with the first of two freebies with just over three minutes remaining.
I say the following in all honesty – be it LeBron extending hope before extinguishing it with a blinding nightcap or the efficient steamroller that is Dirk requiring neither fourth quarter nor THREE OVERTIMES to lay waste what was frankly an aggressive line – if you’re going to go down in flames, there are more maddening way to have it happen than that Monday night smackdown. One logical theory. Two prime opportunities. No bad calls. No hard luck. Two gameplans zagging where I thought they’d zig. Two of the greats doing what they do. That you can live with.
Let’s move on, shall we?
On a fairly light Tuesday slate (5 games) – one highlighted by a Celtics-Knicks/Spurs-Lakers TNT doubleheader (tips off at MSG at 8:00 Eastern) – I say we keep it local (to me, at least) with a contrarian value play (tread lightly; no need to bet the farm here) on a team still battling for playoff seeding, squaring off against an aging (elderly) opponent whose playoff position is pretty well set in stone. At The Garden, where the rejuvenated post-D’Antoni Knicks – locked in battle with the 76ers for the East’s bottom two spots, take on the set-in-stone Celtics, who are part of the 3-way logjam at 4-5-6, but, thanks to a 4.5-game lead on both the Sixers and Knicks, are a virtual lock to finish as the #4 seed by virtue of winning the Atlantic Division. I’m hesitant to predict a full-blown Boston mail-in… but I’m not sure why.
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce – both of whom will apparently suit up Tuesday night – were listed as questionable until well into the afternoon and are unlikely to see particularly heavy minutes. As a result, increased responsibility for checking a red-hot Carmelo Anthony will fall to Mickael Pietrus, with double-team help where appropriate. This, along with some possible added rest for Melo (I’m avoiding both his scoring line of 27 and Reb/Asst line of 9.5, with both over’s at -125) in what ought to be a fairly easily winnable game against the C’s second unit, should open up opportunities – both in the form of minutes and touches for one Landry Fields. Fields has been decidedly less-than stellar of late, but getting plus odds (+105) on his reaching 9 points – a mark he reached in four straight games prior to the last two – in a game that could feature a lot of sitting stars epitomizes the ugly contrarian play (seriously, I don’t even feel good about it, which tells me there is something there) that stealthily pays.