We watch a pregame show sponsored by Kia Motors, and the NBA champion Miami Heat plays at an arena that has the words “American Airlines” plastered all over the place.
MIAMI – The game time on the box score read 2 hours, 24 minutes. With that in mind, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were best of friends Wednesday for 21 hours, 36 minutes.
When the ball is thrown up, it all changes.
“Our friendship goes behind basketball, but, during the game, there’s really no friends,” Miami’s James said before he faced off against New York’s Anthony, his counterpart at small forward.
The two went at each other with zest in a spicy duel at American Airlines. In the Heat’s 106-94 win, which closed out a 4-1 win in an East first-round series, Anthony scored 35 points and James had 29. It would figure both finished the series having averaged 27.8 points.
When the final buzzer sounded and the two could go back to being friends, it was fitting the first thing James did was seek out Anthony to give him a big hug. What did he say to him?
“Brotherly love, I guess,” responded James, whose Heat advance to face Indiana in an East semifinal starting Sunday in Miami.
Big-time bust Darko Milicic going No. 2 by Detroit might have messed it up as far as the history books read, but James and Anthony were regarded by most as the two best players taken in the 2003 draft. James went No. 1 to Cleveland and Anthony No. 3 to Denver.
Because they played in different conferences and never met more than twice in a season for seven years, the rivalry never fully blossomed. But after James went to Miami in July 2010 and Anthony joined him in the East with New York in February 2011, it looked as if it finally might really get going.
James and Anthony met five times in a week and half. It used to take them 2 years to play that much.
“I’ve known LeBron since I was in high school,” Anthony said. “It’s always good to play against him, to play against a guy that’s going to bring the best out of you.”
The two first met at a 2001 summer hoops session in Colorado Springs and first faced each other in high school in February 2002 when Anthony was a senior at Virginia’s Oak Hill and James a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio. They were teammates in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and have both played against each other and been teammates in NBA All-Star Games.
“It’s always special any time we are the court together period, the All-Star Game or the Olympics or the first time competing in the postseason,” James said. “He’s one of the best friends that I have. It was great to finally go through a playoff series against him. He’s one of the best players we have in this league and one of the biggest competitors we have in this league.”
Still, Anthony always has been in James’ shadow. He was second behind him in voting for Rookie of the Year, trails him in MVPs 2-0 (soon to be 3-0) and only once has been past the first round of the playoffs while James at least has been to two Finals.
Anthony so much wants to get into James’ territory that he copied him. Many viewed Anthony’s forcing of a trade last year from Denver to New York as a desire to form a northern version of the Big Three.
The Knicks’ trio of Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler pales in comparison to Miami’s one of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But don’t call Anthony the one who’s dragging it down for the Knicks.
“Anthony is exactly what we expected, a top-three tough cover in this league,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Now that we can remove ourselves from the series, I don’t know how you can stop that guy He deserves the respect that we gave him, which was the whole kitchen sink.”
In the last two games, the Heat could have thrown a refrigerator at Anthony and had trouble stopping him. He scored 41 points in Game 4 before Wednesday’s effort, which came on 15-of-31 shooting. With nobody else on an injury-ravaged team scoring more than 14 points, the Knicks had no chance.
Meanwhile, James, who had seven assists, got ample help. Bosh and Wade both scored 19 points.
The game wasn’t too close, with Miami never leading by less than eight in the second half. Still, it was a joy watching the two small forwards go back and forth throughout the night.
“It’s fun to see them compete against each other,” said Heat swingman Mike Miller. “It’s a good ticket to have.”
It also was good training for James as the Heat moves on in the playoffs. Just listen to Wade, who also has a lengthy relationship with both James and Anthony, having been the No. 5 pick in 2003 and also playing on the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams.
“They’ve been running into each other for a long time,” Wade said about the two. “You can see it on both of their faces, they love it, the competitive nature of them both. As a teammate, I enjoy it because I know Melo is going to push LeBron, he’s going to challenge him and you need that. Because you go through these playoffs, you’ll be challenged at different times mentally to see how you can come back from it. So I thought it was a great match-up for (James) for the first round. (Anthony is) one of the toughest one-on-one covers that he’s going to face in the NBA.”
It would have been interesting to see if Anthony still would have been able to drill that key last-minute three-pointer in New York’s 89-87 Game 4 win had James, rather than Shane Battier, been on them. But perhaps there will be some future meetings in the playoffs.
Anthony seems to think so.
“In the future, I feel good about competing with the top teams in the Eastern Conference,” Anthony said. “I do consider our team being up there, top three, top four teams in the East. We just got to get better and go from there.”
For now, even if he did outscore him Wednesday, Anthony remains in the shadow of his good buddy.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson
Hey Tyson Chandler, the Allas Mavericks called and they want their D back.
Indeed, Chandler in his absence is showing how pivotal a piece he was to the 2011 Dallas Maverick title run.
Denver Nugget Ty Lawson was fearless while running through a porous Mav defense in the Nugget 115-93 trouncing of the Mavs. On more than one occasion the 5’11″ Lawson drove directly to the hoop as if he had received a pregame letter from Chandler, reminding him that the former Mav had taken his shot-blocking talents to New York this season.
While Ty Lawson was running to the hoop, the Mavs were running into the ground.
In just two games, Dallas has earned a dubious award: quickest turnaround from best to worst. That distinction is obviously provisional this early in the season, but just as quickly as they lifted the championship banner, the Mavs have arrested many lofty fan hopes for a repeat, and sent some in a free-fall descent.
In less than 48 hours, American Airlines Center went from cheers to jeers.
Still, this team is full of too many hardworking veterans for this nosedive to lead to a playoff-less crash, and most Mavs fans are still holding on, even until bitter ends.
Those who stayed until the conclusion of a consecutive lopsided loss, this one against another running and gunning team, the Denver Nuggets, were still cheering on any signs of Mav hustle.
Things were so desperate at one point that my wife yelled praise to Vince Carter for taking a good open shot. He missed that one. And he was not alone.
If most fans are rightfully not panicking at this early stage of post-lockout discombobulation, many filing out of American Airlines did look bewildered about how out-of-sync the current lineup appears.
I should say lineups since it is also clear that Rick Carlisle has yet to find a coherent rotation.
Frankly, the Mavs look uninspired, and that is a little bit scary, even after only a couple of games.
Perhaps starting the season feted in eye-watering, banner-raising adulation makes it difficult to trade a party hat for a hard hat, but the Mavs better get to work soon because a shortened season means that there is less margin for error.
Thankfully, they do have a local workhorse on their team, and he was let out of the gates when some Mavs fans were peering toward the exits.
Local Dallas Metroplex native and Mansfield High graduate Sean Williams launched his lanky frame all over the court, at both the offensive and defensive ends. I watched as he continually seemed to break Mav convention by boxing out his man, Chris “Birdman” Anderson.
Williams picked up 12 points (and four fouls) in 11 minutes of action.
Hey, Mavs fans, guess who they announced as player of the game in the second contest for our ”defending” (and I use that word loosely) champions: a recent D-League player who saw only 11 minutes of action.
Care to respond Mav Veteran with a finger awaiting your precious ring? Any of you?
Hopefully, the Mavs will respond on the court with swarming help defense.
Their offensive woes are obvious at the moment, but post-lockout rust on shots is a lot easier to take than all these weak-willed closeouts on the perimeter, and the no-rebound lethargy on the glass is dispiriting.
Time to get to work and lift our spirits, Dallas Mavericks.
Before it is too late.
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