Love Is In The Air
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SECAUCUS, NJ, Feb. 12, 2007 – Did you remember to hit the candy store and call the florist? Or did you pick up a 32-pack of Harry Potter cards to pass around to your third grade classmates?

If not you could have one very unhappy Valentine, as I do each year the Hallmark holiday cruises by on the calendar. It’s not that I don’t show a little love, but I’m usually in transit to the city of choice to cover the All-Star Game.

Even so, my relationship is harmonious; the same can’t be said for a few others around the league.

You see, the NBA has a way of doing that around this time of year, when the trade deadline looms and teams begin jostling for playoff position, nerves get a little frayed and emotions run high.

With that in mind, today we take a look at a few NBA loves lost and found.


DALLAS-MIAMI

It should come as little surprise to see last year’s Finals contenders on this list. A bitter loss with all the marbles on the line can harden the resolve of a runner-up and sometimes lead to ill will as it tries to get over the hump.

In the eyes of the Mavericks, however, they were the better team, making last June’s loss all the more disappointing. Just don’t tell that to Miami’s Dwyane Wade; he’s not hearing any of it, and he said as much late last week to the Miami Herald.

“Dirk says they gave us the championship last year,” Wade was quoted, “but he's the reason they lost the championship, because he wasn't the leader that he's supposed to be in the closing moments. That's because of great defense by us, but also he wasn't assertive enough as a leader's supposed to be.”

Well, as you can imagine, the Mavs had a response.

Owner, Mark Cuban, wrote on his blog about Wade’s leadership. “I know Shaq appreciates your leadership as well. He called out your team a few weeks ago saying it was ‘embarassing’. Great leadership DWade. Your coach sat players for being fat. I guess you couldnt lead them away from the buffet.”

Cuban’s star player took a slightly toned-down approach when he told Newsday, “We had a 2-0 lead (in the Finals), we were up 10 with a couple of minutes left in Game 3. If we win that Game 3, we have a chance to close the series out. That's really all I said, and I don't know why he got all sensitive about it.”

Sensitivity is nothing new when the Larry O’Brien trophy is at stake. The loser, after tasting a celebration – albeit not one of their own – usually comes out gunning for a second chance. As for the winner, well, the last thing they want is to be told they didn’t earn their hardware.

Fortunately, we hoops fans don’t have to wait for June, hoping the two meet again to renew their un-pleasantries: Miami travels to Dallas for a game on Feb. 22. You can watch it unfold on TNT at 9:30 ET.


DON’T FORGET ABOUT LEBRON

Since coming into the league together in 2003, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have assumed the roles of Bird and Magic, Wilt and Russ. The two are bound to be linked throughout their careers because of their mastery of the game. The mention of one instantly brings comparisons to the other.

The difference between Dwyane-LeBron and their predecessors is that the two are tight off the court, bonding through their summer commitments to USA Basketball during the 2004 summer Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.

That’s why, with his friend struggling lately, Wade has leant support … at least when the two weren’t on the court together.

“You can see he doesn't have that LeBron pep in his step, that excitement that he normally brings to the game,” Wade said before Friday’s contest vs. Cleveland, after which he planned to ask James about his recent slump. “Even watching from a distance, you can see he doesn't have that, and he has to find a way to get it back.”

A week earlier, however, Wade exploited one of his friend’s only weaknesses, urging the crowd to make some noise when James was shooting some late game free throws. James, hitting only 68 percent from the stripe this season, missed both and the Heat went on to win the game 89-82.

All’s fair in love and hoops.


NO FIVE-ZERO FOR AGENT ZERO

There’s often respect and admiration between a player and an opposing coach. In the case of Gilbert Arenas and Team USA assistant coaches Mike D’Antoni and Nate McMillan, the relationship heads south from there.

Arenas, operating with the notion he was snubbed for participation in last summer’s World Championship, made it his personal crusade to light up the coaches’ NBA squads this year to make a point about his abilities.

On his NBA.com blog, Arenas said he got his 50 points against the Suns and was shooting for the same mark against Portland on Sunday. “Even if you don’t watch the game,” Arenas wrote, “you’re going to look at the boxscore to see what happened.”

I looked at the boxscore and instantly wondered if Arenas and McMillan had kissed and made up. That, or if Gilbert mistakenly left his jumper at home when he headed for the arena. Arenas missed all eight tries from beyond the arc, finishing with nine points, as the Wizards got trounced by the Blazers.

Even if he was 41 points off his prediction, we still love Gilbert for all his quirks and look forward to him making his first start in this weekend’s All-Star Game.


CLIPPERS LOVE CHRISTIE

Nearly a week ago, before the Clippers took on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Mike Dunleavy said the team might re-sign Doug Christie to a second 10-day contract after seeing how the veteran fit in with L.A.

Later that night, Christie went out and gave the Clips a solid 22-minute effort, recording four assists, three rebounds and two steals, although he struggled to find his shot, connecting on one-of-five from the field.

Christie is learning the Clippers system despite having to do so on an extended road trip.

“(The road trip) wasn't conducive to getting him in the flow right away,” Dunleavy said. “He's had a chance to see some stuff, and he's had two legitimate practices, so you could see us using him a little bit.”

The Clippers will use Christie a little bit more, having rented the defensive specialist’s services for another 10 days.


Questions or comments? My mailbox is open.