Doughty gaining fame while leading LA Kings

June 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Image

In a city overflowing with movie stars, television personalities, musicians and every other kind of celebrity imaginable, Drew Doughty enjoyed a degree of anonymity that other high-profile players in the NHL or any professional sports league could only dream of.

But after leading the Los Angeles Kings to their second Stanley Cup finals in the past three seasons, the defenseman is finally getting noticed around town.

“It’s changed drastically,” he said. “Back in the day we could roll in anywhere, and there’s no way anyone would know who you were, no possible way. Now it seems like everywhere we do go, we are getting recognized.”

The New York Rangers know all about Doughty, too, after he showcased his burgeoning offense midway through the second period of Game 1 on Wednesday. After forward Justin Williams dropped off the pass, Doughty skated through the offensive zone — taking the puck between his legs at one point — and beat Henrik Lundqvist over the goalie’s right shoulder for the tying goal.

“It was incredible,” Kings forward Tyler Toffoli said. “It doesn’t really surprise us, we know what he brings and the skill that he has.”

The Kings would go on to win 3-2 in overtime, taking the next step toward what could be the franchise’s second Stanley Cup title. The first in the 2011-12 season was relatively drama-free and defined by a smothering defense, in stark contrast to this year, where the top scoring offense in the playoffs has allowed the Kings to triumph in three consecutive Game 7 series, all ending on the road.

The difference in Doughty’s statistical output reflects as much. He has 17 points this postseason to lead all defensemen and is tied for sixth-most among all players, with five goals representing exactly half of his regular-season tally. However, his plus-minus rating is down significantly from the 2012 run, as his increased role in the offensive zone has resulted in breakdowns the other way.

One such example came in the first period of Game 1 when Doughty reached and failed to secure a pass back to the blue line on a power play, which gave Rangers left wing Benoit Pouliot an easy breakaway down the ice for a 1-0 lead.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said before the Stanley Cup finals that Doughty is still finding that balance as a two-way weapon, while also playing nearly 28 minutes per game. Still, Sutter views the 24-year-old as a cornerstone player in the same mold as greats Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios.

“I think Chelios was the best all-around defenseman that I had the opportunity to coach,” said Sutter, referencing his time with the Chicago Blackhawks. “So I’d say that Drew would be trending more toward that type of player in terms of the all-around part of it, in terms of the whole package part of it.”

With two Olympic gold medals and one Stanley Cup to his credit, Doughty already has a resume worthy of such praise. He could become just the second player to win a gold medal, the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP in the same year, a feat accomplished by Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks in 2010.

“He’s the best defenseman in the world, as far as I’m concerned,” Kings defenseman Alec Martinez said. “He does everything well. He can skate the puck, shoot the puck. He can defend. He’s willing to block shots. He’s got a lot of heart and he’s a great leader, makes big plays at big times. You really can’t say enough about him.”

And with such accomplishments, everything Doughty does is getting noticed these days. His celebration after the Kings won Game 7 in overtime to oust the defending champion Blackhawks has become widely circulated on social media, slamming the glass with two fists before flailing to the ice while going over the boards.

Even former Kings teammate Dustin Penner couldn’t help but take a playful jab at Doughty.

“Great game by @dewyy8 so far. Hasn’t fallen off the bench once yet since last game,” Penner wrote on Twitter during Game 1.

“You just kind of black out in those situations,” Doughty said. “Sometimes stuff goes wrong.”

Not much else is going wrong for Doughty, even if comes at the cost of his privacy. That is a trade he is more than willing to make.

Said Doughty: “I’d rather have the problem and be a winner than not have the problem and lose.”

NY Rangers wowed by LA Kings in Cup finals opener

June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Image

Alain Vigneault reviewed only portions of the video from the New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup finals opener before he sat down at their oceanside hotel to explain how it got away.

The coach had already formed a few impressions, and they made him even more wary of the Los Angeles Kings.

“They’re one of the best teams I’ve seen in a long time,” Vigneault said Thursday. “Areas to exploit, they don’t jump out at you. We’re going to have to be better than we were.”

The Rangers realize they missed a golden chance to grab an early game from the weary Kings, who were 72 hours removed from a grueling, seven-game Western Conference finals victory over defending champion Chicago.

New York jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period at Staples Center, but was soon overwhelmed. The Kings tied it in the second, utterly dominated the third and won early in overtime on Justin Williams’ latest clutch goal.

The comeback was classic Kings — and now the Rangers realize exactly what they’re facing.

“We’re a team that’s just never going to go away,” Kings forward Jeff Carter said. “We’re going to play hard no matter what the score is.”

Game 2 is Saturday. The Kings enjoyed a rare day off at home, while the Rangers tried to relax near the beach on a splendid sunny day.

Despite Vigneault’s lofty praise, the Rangers don’t seem intimidated by the 2012 Stanley Cup champions. Although New York was outshot 20-3 in the third period, Carl Hagelin was denied by Jonathan Quick on a breakaway in the last minute of regulation, barely missing a chance to steal it.

“To be honest, I don’t think they had that many grade-A scoring chances in the third,” Hagelin said. “They had a lot of puck-possession time. They had some shots. It wasn’t really a lot of good chances. I mean, we can’t look too much into shots.”

The Kings realize they’ve also got work to do after stumbling early in their first series opener at home in the entire postseason. New York’s speed on the wings surprised the Kings, leading to numerous prime scoring chances for the Rangers.

But Los Angeles’ ability to adjust during a game has been a strength throughout its remarkable playoff run. The Kings also have proven to be an incredible comeback team after rallying from four multigoal deficits to win: They’ve rallied from at least two goals down in three of their last four games, winning twice.

“Well, you can’t chase leads all the time,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “It’s the National Hockey League. It’s the best teams in the world. There are two teams left out of 30, which means that they’ve both come a long ways, and they both had to be resilient. You don’t get any award for ‘resilient.’ So we can play a lot better, and it’s way better when you’re not chasing the lead.”

New York acknowledged Los Angeles took control of the second half of Game 1, using its disciplined structure and balanced offense to dominate puck possession. It’s a familiar formula to the Western Conference after the Kings gritted out seven-game series victories over San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago.

The Rangers have a renewed respect for the Kings after Game 1, but they also see simple fixes for their biggest problems.

“I think maybe we’re pressing, holding our sticks a little too much, too tightly,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “Looking for stuff that wasn’t there. We know if we get pucks in deep and get our forecheck going, that’s where we can generate offense. We were looking for a little bit too much on the rush, looking to carry it across and gain the zone a little bit too much.”

The winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup title roughly 77 percent of the time since 1939. The Kings won Game 1 in overtime two years ago in New Jersey, ultimately finishing off the Devils in six games.

The Rangers might spend two days stewing over the lost opportunity of Game 1, but they also realize they’ve got time to counter the Kings’ strengths.

“Ultimately, I feel this group has a lot more to give,” McDonagh said. “We’re going to need that in Game 2.”

Kings’ win is second-most watched opener on NBC

June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Image

The Los Angeles Kings’ overtime victory over the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals averaged 4,777,000 viewers, making it NBC’s second-most watched Game 1, and the second-most watched opener overall since 1999.

NBC won Wednesday night’s prime time among viewers 18-to-49 with a 1.9 rating. The Kings’ 3-2 win peaked at 5.7 million viewers from 10:45-11:00 p.m. EDT. It drew a 3.0 households rating, including a 10.1 in New York and a 7.1 in Los Angeles.

The game was up 65 percent in viewership compared to the last time the Kings were in the finals two years ago, and 212 percent higher than the Rangers’ previous finals appearance in 1994 on ESPN.

The only Game 1 on NBC to surpass Wednesday night’s viewership was last year’s triple-overtime game between Boston and Chicago that averaged 6,358,000 viewers.

NBC won the night by 27 percent among viewers 18-to-49 over its nearest competitor, Fox.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault does it his way

June 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Image

Alain Vigneault doesn’t bristle often, at least not publicly. If a question is one he doesn’t care to answer directly, he will do it with a smile or a joke.

For example, when one of the many video replay rulings went against the New York Rangers this season, instead of complaining about it — and possibly facing a reprimand from the NHL office — Vigneault said he has “a friend who says, ‘They make it up as they go along.’ ” The coach emphasized that it was the “friend” who says it.

But during these playoffs, Vigneault was asked a question he didn’t like, and he bristled. He was asked how much of a selling point his calm demeanor was when he applied for the Rangers’ coaching job last summer — coming in, as he did, to replace John Tortorella.

Their personalities could not be more different. Vigneault’s is breezy, Tortorella’s sandpapery. Vigneault is ice cream, Tortorella spicy garlic.

“It had nothing to do with following John,” Vigneault said, his voice declaring his annoyance. “This was about me being me and bringing what I believe is the right thing for this team. It has nothing to do with what happened before me.”

That’s been the tactic from Day One, when Vigneault had T-shirts printed that read: “Clean slate. Grab it.” He probably said 100 times this season, “I don’t know what happened, I wasn’t here,” when asked about last season or seasons before.

To be clear, though, Vigneault’s was the personality the Rangers needed after the fiery coach before him wore out his welcome and they traded places (Tortorella went to Vancouver for one rocky season before being fired again). Still, that personality wouldn’t matter a lick if Vigneault couldn’t coach, couldn’t win.

The last coach who won big-time in New York was Mike Keenan, and he was as prickly as Tortorella, maybe even more so behind the locker room doors and on the practice rink. He won. Then he booked, before the players revolted.

Just as Keenan replaced nice guy Roger Neilson and was followed by nice guy Colin Campbell, Tortorella followed nice guy Tom Renney and was replaced by Vigneault.

That might be too simple a comparison, though. Vigneault isn’t just the players’ buddy. “AV” can mean business: He pushes buttons, kicks some tails, uses the doghouse, plays mental games — all the stuff good coaches do.

“He certainly lets you know if it’s not good enough, and he will give you positive reinforcement when it’s going well,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “It’s a tough thing as a coach to know that sometimes. But with us, he’s been great.”

“Yeah, he gets worked up,” said forward Brad Richards, one of the clean-slate grabbers after a nightmarish 2013 during which his relationship with Tortorella crumbled. “He’s a human being, and he’s a coach. Coaches have to do things sometimes to get things going. But his worked up is different than other people’s worked up.

“I think you’ve just got to be around it and be behind closed doors, and you’ll know when he wants a little more of a practice or a little more preparation or whatever he’s doing. He still sets the tone when you see him that day, if things need to be changed or need to be worked on.”

Vigneault sent Chris Kreider to the minors to start the season. He scratched two other forwards, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot, early in the season. He challenged goalie Henrik Lundqvist, during the worst regular season of his career, by repeatedly playing first-year backup Cam Talbot. He criticized rookie forward J.T. Miller’s commitment. He said, during the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, that Ryan McDonagh wasn’t playing well enough.

So, it certainly hasn’t been all rosy. But all of those players — other than Miller, whose chance will come next season — responded in a big way.

Patience pays off

The style of play under Vigneault is starkly different — a game of speed and transition and depth, of having defensemen activated in the offensive zone, and playing a man-to-man system in the defensive zone. Tortorella wanted to play that way at first, saw that he didn’t have the skill or the depth, and went a different way. And, to be fair, the depth Tortorella had — the Rangers’ fourth line of Dominic Moore centering Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett would have been his third line — wasn’t what it is now.

Most questioned, though, whether the Rangers had the skill to play AV’s way.

Turns out they did. Turns out he was the right man with the right plan.

“I personally just like how calm he is,” Lundqvist said. “Obviously, he changed a lot the way we play, so it was a big change early on in training camp and the first couple months for us to adjust and for me to adjust. It was a little different game. But he was very patient and calm and understood the process for us to get there. It’s going to take awhile to get there.

“But obviously having Tortorella for almost five years and having that coaching style and then AV comes in, they’re opposites. As a player, you learn from both, and I enjoy both. But it’s refreshing when you see a new coaching style that you haven’t had before, and the way he handles pressure situations. That’s been impressive to see, I think. The heat you felt early on and not getting the results and now getting in the playoffs, he’s pretty consistent with the way he talks to us, good or bad.”

It wasn’t easy. Vigneault was saddled with a cockamamie schedule that included a needless portion of training camp in Banff, Alberta, a needlessly long western preseason, followed by a quick trip home and then a nine-game, season-opening road trip. The new coach and his clean slate of players learning a new system started 2-6.

But the man’s personality, being who he is and nothing more, eventually worked.

True to himself

Vigneault’s humility is rooted in an early-career failure. The Quebec native was fired after 3 1/2 seasons as Montreal Canadiens coach.

“I was six years in between NHL jobs,” Vigneault said. “Got fired from the Habs, and my next coaching job was in Montreal coaching the junior team. Instead of being in front of 21,000 people, I was in front of 1,000 people coaching my team. But at that time, I had bills to pay, I had a family to make sure I was providing for, and that was the only place I could work. That’s where I always felt that working was honorable, and I went to work there. Did a couple more years of junior, and I was fortunate to land a job in the American (Hockey) League. Then from there, I was fortunate enough to get a second chance at coaching in this league.”

As coach of the Vancouver Canucks for seven seasons, Vigneault had a .632 winning percentage, won six division titles and back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies and reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, losing in seven games to Boston after leading the series 3-2.

He won just one of his final 10 playoff games with Vancouver and found the unemployment line shortly before Tortorella did. Not for long.

People wondered if any bum off the street couldn’t have coached the Canucks with all that talent, wondered if he could possibly succeed with what the Rangers had instead.

Vigneault answered the second part in the affirmative. He left the leading to the players in the locker room, before and after captain Ryan Callahan’s departure. He left it to Richards, Lundqvist, Staal, Dan Girardi, McDonagh, Moore, Boyle and others, and then to Martin St. Louis, who was obtained for Callahan.

Vigneault said what he has learned, what has helped him to be so successful, is simple: “Be yourself and stick with what you believe in,” he said. “If at one point you’re shown the door, at least you did it your way.

“I was seven years in a Canadian market, and in the other Canadian markets at that time, 20 coaches went through. It’s a tough environment to coach. I did it my way, and I’ve come here to New York in another great hockey market, and I’m doing it my way.”

The guy before Vigneault did it his way, too. Just don’t ask the coach of the Stanley Cup finalist Rangers about that. He wasn’t here.

Rangers, LA Kings ready for big Stanley Cup finish

June 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Image

Although the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers have played 41 combined postseason games over the previous six weeks, they still have ample energy for the big finale to their epic playoff chase.

“No, you don’t get tired right now,” said Kings forward Marian Gaborik, the former 40-goal scorer for the Rangers. “All you think about is winning the Stanley Cup.”

When they meet at Staples Center on Wednesday night to begin the first New York-L.A. Cup final in NHL history, the Rangers and Kings are prepared for one more exhausting series in a spring filled with two-week sagas, nail-biting finishes and Game 7 heroics.

No team in NHL history had made it to the Stanley Cup finals after going seven games in each of the first two rounds — until New York and Los Angeles both did it this spring. The Kings even went one longer, playing the maximum 21 games.

Yet neither team will be satisfied without one more achievement. The Rangers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1994, while the Kings are just two years removed from their only NHL championship. Two franchises long familiar with losing have the chance to raise the Cup again, and the players already felt the energy building when they went through practices Tuesday.

“It’s definitely been a grind, but that’s why you play hockey,” Kings forward Jeff Carter said. “We know what we went through to get here, and we’re willing to go through a little more.”

Five things to watch when the Kings host Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history:

PLAYING FAVORITES: Although Los Angeles won just one more regular-season game than New York, most hockey observers think the Kings are strong favorites after they survived three playoff rounds in the superior Western Conference. Neither team is listening: The Kings aren’t interested in prognostication, and the Rangers relish the pressure-free role of an underdog. “It doesn’t matter about public opinion, media opinion,” New York’s Martin St. Louis said. “We’re still here, and we know we have a chance.”

GOOD TO GO: Kings goalie Jonathan Quick said he’s fine after leaving practice a bit early Tuesday when he took a shot off his collarbone. Although the Kings are the NHL’s highest-scoring playoff team, defense-minded Los Angeles needs its franchise goalie in top form. Quick has won three straight Game 7s this spring, even if his statistics aren’t as impressive as they were in his Conn Smythe-winning season in 2012. The Rangers can’t expect Quick to help them out the way he did in New York’s only previous trip here in October, when he knocked Ryan McDonagh’s long clearing attempt into his own net during a 3-1 loss.

NO CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: You won’t see a “C” on a blue shirt this series. If the Rangers win the Stanley Cup, they don’t have a captain to raise it after trading Ryan Callahan in March. That role is being played unofficially by Brad Richards, a healthy scratch in last season’s playoffs and a potential salary-cap casualty this summer. But the 2004 Conn Smythe winner, who flirted heavily with the Kings in free agency in 2011, is back in form this season. The Rangers likely need his resurgent offense to win that Cup.

DEWEY THE GREAT: Even after strong offensive efforts by Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, the Kings believe their most dynamic playoff performer has been Drew Doughty. The inexhaustible defenseman is looking to add a second Stanley Cup title to his two Olympic gold medals, and he’s the current favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. Casual hockey fans who might not understand Doughty’s two-way brilliance should be in for a treat.

SECONDHAND FAMILIARITY: Although the two teams haven’t met in six months, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault led the Vancouver Canucks against Los Angeles for seven years, including two of the previous four postseasons. He knows all about Kings coach Darryl Sutter’s defense-minded system and Los Angeles’ hard-hitting style. “It’s a team that obviously has grown through the years. It has a real good balance. That’s why they’re getting another chance to compete for the Cup.”

Miami Heat 4 wins from ranks of greatest NBA teams ever

June 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Image

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you can’t stand the Miami Heat, stay away from the NBA Finals.

Here they are again: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company in the NBA championship round back-to-back-to-back-to-back, a feat not seen since Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics of the mid-1980s.

And if you can’t stand the Heat, you’re hardly alone. Haters emerged when James took his talents to South Beach and said they’d win championships — not two, not three, not four, not five. Don’t look now, but if the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in the best-of-seven Finals beginning Thursday, they’ll have won three consecutive NBA titles, a feat not seen since the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000s.

“We don’t take this for granted,” Wade says, “and hopefully our fans in Miami, our supporters don’t take this for granted, neither. This is not something that happens every day.”

Dynasties, by their nature, are not everyday things. The NBA has given us only a few: George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers (five titles in six seasons in the 1940s and ’50s), Bill Russell’s Celtics (11 titles in 13 seasons in the 1950s and ’60s), the Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Los Angeles Lakers (five titles and eight Finals in the 1980s) and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (six titles in eight seasons in the 1990s).

The Heat are coming to San Antonio with a chance to join mini-dynasties on the next rung of NBA history, among them Bird’s Celtics (three titles and five Finals in seven seasons of the 1980s), the Lakers of Bryant and O’Neal and these Tim Duncan-led Spurs, who are attempting to win a fifth NBA title since 1999.

That makes this series one of dueling dynasties: the Spurs, who have never won consecutive titles, against the Heat going for a three-peat, a term their president, Pat Riley, trademarked back when he was coaching the Lakers.

“We’ve worked as a unit,” Wade says. “We sacrificed as individuals to be in this moment, in this position, so we understand where we’re at right now. But it’s still crazy, too.”

Here’s how crazy: Just two other franchises have reached four NBA Finals in a row. Bird’s Celtics and Johnson’s Lakers did it in the 1980s, and their skeins intersected. Russell’s Celtics played in 10 consecutive Finals from 1957 to 1966. When that streak ended, Riley was a junior at Kentucky. When the streak ended for Bird’s Celtics, James was 3.

“Just to piggyback off what D-Wade said, we don’t take this moment for granted,” James says. “We’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of this four straight times.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked with his team about the history within their grasp at the start of training camp — and then left the enormity of the task unsaid for the balance of the season.

Image

“We talked about it from the first day,” Spoelstra says. “We talked about the legacy of this team. The players that weren’t here that first year, they inherited all of those experiences. But it was only that first day. We’ve never brought it up since then.

“What I was really encouraged about was our attendance and commitment in training camp in the Bahamas. Right from there, and we communicated during the summer that, if we’re real about this, about how difficult that journey is, that you cannot shortcut, that we would show it immediately in training camp. … It got us off to a great start.”

And now here they are looking for a great finish.

WEAR AND TEAR

Abdul-Jabbar knows about dynasties. He won three titles in three years at UCLA and played on six NBA championship teams, five with the Showtime Lakers. He looks forward eagerly to the Spurs-Heat rematch.

“Both of them are seeking to establish themselves as premier teams” of history, Abdul-Jabbar tells USA TODAY Sports. “If Miami wins it, they will start to take on that aura. I think they have some work to do, but they’ve gotten close. I think the Spurs are already there for what they’ve achieved over the last 15 years. I think the Spurs are more impressive over the longer period.”

Abdul-Jabbar gives the Heat a strong chance but picks the Spurs. “San Antonio kind of blew it last year,” he says. “They’re going to be really incentivized. They know what it takes, and they know how to prepare. All of those things are in their favor, but Miami is not any shrinking violet.”

NBA TV analyst Rick Fox played on the last team to win three consecutive titles, the Lakers of Bryant and O’Neal. He appreciates how hard it is to do.

“It’s extremely hard, because regardless of your desire or your experience or your basketball IQ, the greatest challenge in pursuing that is the health of your team,” Fox says. “If you tax your body into June on consecutive years, it builds up, and there is not the recovery you would normally get if you don’t go to the Finals.

“To win three in a row and be healthy enough to do that is already a miracle in itself. Every team is different, so to maintain a chemistry from season to season, you have to build that from year to year. … So I would say that’s why it’s only been done such a few number of times.”

Steve Kerr, recently named coach of the Golden State Warriors, understands how hard it is, too. He was a key contributor to the next-to-last team to three-peat, Jordan’s Bulls.

“Everybody is plotting to beat you. They’re building their rosters around guarding you. They’re scheming to find your weaknesses. Over the course of a few years, it just gets harder and harder.”

Kerr says the Bulls’ sixth title, completing their second three-peat, was the most difficult one for just those reasons.

“We were sort of teetering,” he says. “We knew it at the time. It just seemed a lot harder. We barely got past the (Indiana) Pacers in the East finals in 1998. We pretty much breezed through the playoffs in ’96 and ’97; we were never really threatened. In ’98, all of sudden, we’re down 13 at home in the first half against Indiana in Game 7. We had to win Game 6 in Utah (against the Jazz), or otherwise we faced a road Game 7. You could feel how much tougher it had gotten and everybody had gotten worn down.”

HEAT’S LAST RUN?

Abdul-Jabbar likes the Swiss watch precision of the Spurs offense, with five bodies in motion, Manu Ginobili curling around screens, Tony Parker probing the paint and Duncan scoring inside.

“This whole thing about the pick-and-roll while the other three guys are on the other side of the court doing crossword puzzles, that doesn’t appeal to me,” Abdul-Jabbar says. “I like the game when it’s a five-man game.”

Dave Cowens played center for the Celtics between the Russell and Bird eras. He likes the intensity of the Heat.

“There is this misconception that NBA teams don’t play hard,” Cowens says. “If you don’t, you don’t win. The Heat play hard. They’re well-coached. They’re disciplined. And they keep their eyes on the prize.”

The secret, Fox says, is finding ways to improve after you’ve won it all. That, he says, is the only way to win again.

“A season in itself is a balancing act,” Fox says. “You are constantly improving if you are going to win a championship. Improving your health or improving your understanding of an opponent. You don’t win a championship, let alone string three together, without that mentality.”

Image

That goes for the Spurs, too, who have been in the hunt nearly every season since the last millennium.

“They are repeatedly in position to have a chance,” Fox says. “When they’ve fallen short, often it does not have to do with basketball IQ, it has to do with health. And age for them has been an ongoing challenge.”

The time is now for the Spurs: Duncan is 38, Ginobili 36 and Parker 32.

The time is also now for the Heat. Their core is younger — Wade is 32, Bosh 30 and James 29 — but all can become free agents this summer. This might be their last hurrah collectively.

Wade has made it no secret he wants to return to Miami, where he has spent his entire career. Bosh has also suggested he wants to return. The wild card is James, who has said he will weigh his options after the season.

But here’s another option to consider: James, Wade and Bosh don’t have to exercise early termination options. They can delay free agency for at least another year, or some or all can test free agency and still re-sign with Miami. If the Heat win these Finals, their Big Three would be in position to try for a four-peat next season. That’s rare air.

Only Russell’s Celtics, with eight consecutive Finals victories, have won more than three consecutively.

Make that kind of history, and James’ grandiloquence — not two, not three, not four — takes on the patina of prophecy. But the Spurs and their fluently precise offense stand squarely in Miami’s way. Sometimes it’s not the Heat, it’s the fluidity.

Horace Grant says LeBron’s Heat ‘wouldn’t have had a chance’ against Jordan’s Bulls

June 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

AP File Photo

The Miami Heat are four wins away from becoming the second team since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls to win three consecutive NBA titles — but is Miami a better team than the six-time champion Bulls of the 1990s? As evidenced by the ferocious debate sparked by Kobe Bryant’s claim that the 2012 Olympic team could beat the Dream Team, it’s clear that basketball fans and players love nothing more than discussing which historic team would win a hypothetical matchup. Former Chicago Bulls forward Horace Grant cast the first stone  in the Chicago-Miami debate by saying that Jordan’s Bulls wouldn’t have any trouble with LeBron. Grant joined WSCR in Chicago and made it clear that the Bulls would roll over the two-time defending champs.

NBA Photo Library

Grant, a first-round selection by the Bulls in 1987, played his first seven seasons in Chicago before bouncing between Orlando, Seattle and Los Angeles. Grant won three titles alongside Michael Jordan, and later won a fourth in 2001 (though he didn’t address if Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers could take down the Heat).

After LeBron James led the Heat to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year, Pacers coach Frank Vogel called James “the Michael Jordan of our era,” and the Heat “the Chicago Bulls of our era.” James said he was humbled by the comparison.