Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stetson Hatters 57 at Mercer Bears 91 (NCAA Basketball, Atlantic Sun) - January 30, 2010

Today was the longest driving day on the trip. It's only about 450 miles from Orlando to Atlanta, but I wanted to break it up somehow. Fortunately, the Mercer Bears of Macon, GA were home in an NCAA basketball game. Macon is about 90 minutes south of Atlanta, so it was a perfect spot to stop in and check out some university hoops.

I left Orlando at 8:30 and arrived at Mercer University just over 5 hours later. The basketball games are held at Hawkins Arena inside the University Center, which is located close to the campus entrance off I-75 at exit 163. Parking seems to be free throughout the campus, so just follow the signs to a lot near the UC.

Tickets for visitors are $10 regardless of location, but I noticed that you could sneak in if you wished, there didn't seem to be much in the way of security. The gym is small enough that all seats are close to the action. When I arrived, the women's teams were playing (it was a doubleheader). The 2nd half was about to get underway, so I took my seat and watched for a few minutes. I'm not a big fan of women's basketball, but was impressed with Stetson's outside shooting, they nailed three 3-point shots in a row to take a one point lead over Mercer. Still, it wasn't intriguing enough to keep me watching much longer, so I went in search of some food (Mercer ended up winning 65-51 - one of their players is named LaToya Jackson who seemed to be the leading scorer).

The UC has its own food court which includes Subway and a Japanese rice bowl place. You can eat there before the game, the options are more palatable than the hot dogs and popcorn you get inside the actual gym.

The Teams

Mercer and Stetson play in the Atlantic Sun conference which has 11 teams based in the southeast. The Hatters are based in De Land, Florida, about 40 miles north of Orlando. They were 5-14 when play began, and only 3-8 in conference play.

The Bears were 9-11, but they had played a few first-tier opponents, including Vanderbilt and Alabama, so I think they are better than their record indicates, but they were only 5-5 in ASun games, and were on a three-game skid.

Before the game, there was a ceremony to congratulate Mercer guard James Florence. The senior from Marietta, GA had just become the all-time leading scorer for the Bears, surpassing ex-Raptors' coach Sam Mitchell.

Mitchell even made a taped message of congratulations which was shown. He is a member of the Mercer Athletics Hall of Fame, which is just inside the main doors, along with several displays detailing the history of the university. Below is Mitchell's induction plaque.

The Game

Not much to talk about here. Mercer played a near perfect game and Stetson were terrible. The Bears shot 60% from the floor, including an astounding 14/24 from beyond the arc. The Hatters were a woeful 33%, and only 5/25 from 3-point range. Certainly Mercer played good defense, but Stetson's shooting was still awful. Consequently the Bears had 45 rebounds to Stetson's 22. Mercer's Jeff Smith was 7/8 from downtown to lead all scorers with 25 points. He's #12 in the picture below, grabbing a rebound.

Here are some more pictures.

Florence drives to the basket

Cheerleaders encouraging the crowd to shout "Mercer!"

The final score

Other Thoughts

I didn't have any time to tour the area - just drove in, parked, got a ticket, watched the game, and headed on to Atlanta. But it was a lively crowd who really support their team. It's nice to see these less famous schools in action, I do wish the game was slightly more competitive but even at this level the players are extremely talented. I wonder if some of them will ever make it overseas, perhaps even to Japan?

Next Up

Tomorrow is the last day of the trip. I've got an 8:20 am flight to Pittsburgh to watch the 12:30 game between the Penguins and Red Wings, flying back at 7:30 pm. I'll be meeting fellow roadtrippers Gary and Mike, so hopefully all goes well and you'll have a report on that game in the next few days.



Saturday, January 30, 2010

Orlando Observations

This was my first time in Orlando, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I know that it's the home of DisneyWorld and Universal Studios, but I am not a fan of theme parks, so I wasn't going to either of those places. Amway Arena is located downtown, so I stayed close by, within walking distance. This meant that if I wanted to see any of the bigger attractions such as Kennedy Space Center, I would have to drive a bit.

After driving quite a bit in the earlier part of the trip, mostly on the interstates, I just wanted to keep it simple for a few days, so I decided to remain downtown. Ultimately, I just visited Loch Haven Park, which has the Orlando Museum of Art among other attractions. At $8, the museum has a reasonable collection of American art, and several special exhibitions. It just takes an hour to tour, so if you want to spend the afternoon, the Science Museum and Menello Museum of American Art are located nearby. There's also a Shakespeare Theater just across the parking lot that has an interesting program. Unfortunately I had to leave Saturday, but would have enjoyed a showing of Hamlet.

Another feature of downtown and surrounding area is the large number of small lakes scattered about. They really add colour to the city and make driving around much more interesting. The picture above is Lake Estelle from Rollins Street, near the Museum of Art.

I usually don't recommend restaurants as everyone's taste is different, but if you are staying downtown and looking for a lunch spot, try Shakers Cafe on Edgewater. I lucked out in that this place was a couple of blocks down from a coin laundry I was using, so I stopped in. From outside, it looks quiet and empty, but once you open the door you are greeted with the voices of happy diners, all enjoying a good meal. Specials are posted online daily, and prices are more than reasonable. I had a perfect Eggs Benny for $7, which is a steal. Great service too.

That's all I have to say about Orlando on this trip. I expect to be back and will try to get out to some of the more famous attractions next time.



Rochester Knighthawks 8 at Orlando Titans 13 (NLL) - January 29, 2010

Professional box lacrosse has been around since 1987 in one form or another, but the National Lacrosse League didn't begin in its current structure until 1998. Since that time, only two teams have lasted all 12 seasons: the Rochester Knighthawks and Buffalo Bandits. The Bandits have actually been around since 1992, when they joined the fledgling Major Indoor Lacrosse League.

Every season in the NLL sees franchises folding or relocating, and 2010 is no different. Portland folded at the end of last season while the San Jose Stealth moved to Everett, WA and the New York Titans moved to Orlando. There are now 11 teams in the league, 5 in the Western Division and 6 in the East. With such far-flung teams and a limited 16-game schedule, NLL roadtrips are quite difficult.

Fortunately though, the scheduling gods were kind enough to place an Orlando Titans game one day after the Magic played, so I spent another day here and caught their second home game in team history as the Knighthawks were in town.

The team plays in Amway Arena, but the upper bowl is closed. As well, the arena is designed for basketball so there are no seats next to the glass that you would expect to find in a normal rink that is used for hockey.

The Game

The Titans finished first in the East in 2009 and defeated Rochester and Buffalo before losing to Calgary in the final, so they are not a weak expansion team. They were 1-1 while Rochester came in 2-1, although they were thumped 17-3 by the Toronto Rock the week before. As an aside, it's nice to see a Toronto team that actually wins some games; the Rock are 3-0 and lead the East.

The game was billed as Night of the Legends. Four of the all-time greats were here: Paul Gait is the coach of the Knighthawks, his brother Gary and John Grant Jr. are players, while Casey Powell plays for Orlando. The program equated these four to Jerry West, Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan on the floor at the same time. Perhaps, but the local fans are new to the game, so for most of them, the comparison was lost. It didn't help that Gary Gait wasn't dressed either.

Orlando enjoys a power play

I'll avoid a detailed recap as the game was not that exciting. Orlando's Jordan Hall scored a shorthanded goal that required a lengthy video review midway through the first period to make it 2-1 Titans. Rochester seemed deflated by the ruling and allowed 5 unanswered goals, the 3rd of which chased starting goalie Pat O'Toole. However, a late goal by Rochester's Craig Point made it 7-2 at the half.

Rochester laid an egg in more ways than one

The Knighthawks seemed to use that momentum early in the 3rd scoring the first two goals but Orlando fought back and scored a back-breaker with 2 seconds left to go into the final quarter up 9-5. A 3-goal flurry by Orlando in 23 seconds early on salted the game away and the final was 13-8.

Hall scored 4 goals for Orlando and was the game's MVP. Titans' keeper Matt Vinc made 30 saves for the win, one of which is pictured below. Point tallied 4 himself in the losing cause. Here's the boxscore.

I think lacrosse is a great game, but tonight's battle wasn't that energetic. Rochester were out of it early and unable to fight back. Hall is an outstanding player though (he was Rookie of the Year two seasons ago) and someone worth watching. He's pictured below signing autographs after the game.

Other Thoughts

After the game, they opened the floor and allowed fans to come down to chat to the players. A good idea, and many took advantage of it as you can see above. They are really pushing the season tickets, but with only 8 home games and the schedule so spread out (the next home game here is not until February 20th), it's a tough sell. I hope the team can make a go of it in Orlando; it would be nice to see some stability in the league. But with so few games it will be difficult to keep the Titans in the public eye.

Orlando is a new team and trying to work the kinks out. In the first game, they brought the wrong uniforms and both teams wore white. There was an apology in the program for the snafu. Today, there were some issues with the clock running when it shouldn't have, but otherwise it went smoothly.

However, there was too much talking by the P.A. guy during the play. In particular, he wanted the crowd to shout the goalie's name whenever there was a save. The announcer would say "SAVE BY..." and the crowd would reply "VINC!!!" As the announcer was explaining this, Rochester moved down the floor and scored. Oops. Try again. On another occasion, Rochester scored and the announcer screamed "Orlando Titans Goal!!!!". Then a moment of silence. Then a muted "Pardon the interruption. Rochester goal by...".

Another annoying invention: thunderstix that glow in the dark. No need to even comment on this. Thankfully only a handful of the 7,367 on hand used them.

Surprised to see that the league has implemented a coach's challenge like the NFL. Both teams challenged a call, one was reversed and one wasn't, which cost the challenging team a timeout.

Line changes in the game are interesting. Players much enter the bench from one door and exit from another. Once the departing player reaches a point near the bench (marked on the floor), the player coming from the bench can jump on. This means that it's possible for one player to check an opponent running up the floor, head to the bench and have his replacement continue the check. Goalies can also come to the bench to be replaced, but they return to the net when there is turnover. This is because it takes time to run down the floor compared to hockey, where skating is obviously much faster.

The game itself is remarkably quick. For 60 minutes of action, it took just 2:15. Much better than the basketball last night, which lasted 2:51 for just 48 minutes of game play. Perhaps sports fans in the US like their games drawn out with plenty of commercial breaks. Might explain why the NFL and NBA are so successful.



Friday, January 29, 2010

Boston Celtics 94 at Orlando Magic 96 - January 28, 2010

After taking a day off to rest yesterday, I got back to business today in Orlando. The Boston Celtics were in town to take on the Magic in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference semi-finals. It was a nationally televised game and I decided to splurge to get a good seat to increase my chances of becoming a world famous sports traveler. Didn't work by the way.

The Arena

Amway Arena is located downtown, just off I-4. Lot parking is plentiful around the arena and costs $10. I stayed nearby so didn't have to worry about finding a spot, but when I took a walk around, I didn't notice any street parking in the immediate vicinity.

The arena is celebrating its 21st anniversary this week. In that time, it has seen numerous name changes, most notably the TD Waterhouse Centre between 1999 and 2006. Note that "Centre" uses the Canadian spelling as TD is a Canadian bank. Amway took over the naming rights in late 2006 and also has the rights to the new Amway Center, expected to open next season. The founder of Amway, Richard DeVos, is also the owner of the Magic.

Palm trees surround the arena

I find it surprising that the lifespan of an arena is now just 21 years. I guess the late 80s were the worst time to build - just before the sports boom that saw luxury suites and sky high ticket prices. Amway only has 26 suites, which is apparently not enough to keep the Magic competitive. It's interesting that 1989 is also when the Skydome was built in Toronto. Lauded at the time as the first retractable roof stadium, it is now considered a bit of a dinosaur in the stadium business. So perhaps Amway Arena has suffered the same fate.

The area surrounding the arena is devoid of anything useful. Across the main parking lot lies Lake Dot, but that is next to the Salvation Army and seemed to be a place where the less fortunate hang out during the day. Certainly dichotomous to have these people who need every penny living next to an arena where athletes are paid millions of dollars a year.

From Lake Dot

Inside the arena there is only one concourse with both seating bowls accessed from here. There are no luxury suites between the levels, so the upper deck is quite close to the court. As you walk around the concourse, you might notice the Central Florida Sports Hall of Fame, with notables including Arnold Palmer, who lives in Orlando.

The lower bowl is different than most basketball setups. All the end seats curve around the court and there aren't as many floor seats here. So the first row of these seats is also quite close, and the end zone seats aren't as bad as in other places.

The scoreboard is old and lacks any detail. There were no game stats displayed during play, instead they were shown at the end of each quarter. There was no out-of-town scoreboard anywhere.

There is a designated driver program which gives two sodas for free, a first. Otherwise there's not much point in detailing the food choices here as the arena will no longer be used for major sports after this season. I can tell you that the arena is up for sale, so if you have an extra $90 million lying around, you may want to consider it. But with the new Amway Center just a few blocks south, I'm not sure what use this place would be.

Overall, I enjoyed the game here. It's a cozier place than most new arenas and there isn't a bad seat here. I guess I have to visit again to see the new place, but I'm sure that the upper deck seats will be more expensive and further away.

The Game

The Celtics introductions

It was 80's night, which meant the Magic were wearing their old-style black pinstripe uniforms. They played 80's music all game long, but unfortunately, prices remained at their 2010 levels. The Magic dancers are shown below in their 80's garb.

ESPN described this game as a "Wild Finish in Orlando". It was an exciting ending, but the first 3 quarters were a foulfest - the game ended with 49 fouls, more than 1 a minute. There was no flow at any point. The officiating was really bad in this game in other ways too. On two occasions, Boston's Eddie House had 3-point baskets reviewed and reversed to 2-point shots. The game was nationally televised on TNT, so I guess the refs wanted some exposure too. Don't get me wrong, they did not affect the outcome of the game (Celtic fans might disagree as they drew 30 of those fouls), but they slowed it down. It took nearly 3 hours to complete!


Anyway, on to the recap. Boston was strong in the first quarter while Orlando was terrible, allowing the Celtics an 11-point lead. Both teams were equally bad in a 17-17 second period. The Magic finished the half shooting 33%, including 1/10 from 3-point range, and only 1 assist. Boston shot 49% and had 13 assists, and should have been winning by much more.

KG shoots from the outside

The 3rd quarter wasn't much better as both teams scored 21 points so Boston maintained an 11-point lead going into the final period. Orlando finally turned on the defense and used a couple of Jason Williams threes to move within 5. Dwight Howard then took over for the Magic, simply schooling Kendrick Perkins to make three straight hook shots. Perkins missed 3 free throws himself and Orlando was now down by 3.

Garnett made a great no look pass from this position

Rashard Lewis followed two Kevin Garnett FTs with a 3 and after Rasheed Wallace missed a jumper, Marcin Gortat made a jumper to tie the game at 84 and send the crowd into a frenzy.

KG guards Superman

J.J. Redick was then fouled on a 3-point play and made all of his shots to give the Magic their first lead of the game. But the Celtics did not give up and a Paul Pierce 3 followed by a Rajon Rondo runner made it 94-91 Boston with just 51 seconds left.

Paul Pierce double teamed

Redick, who had turned the ball over on a bad pass on a previous possession, decided to stick to his strength, tying the game at 94 with a trey (below).

After Ray Allen missed a three of his own, Orlando called a 20-second timeout. Their designed play failed and Lewis ended up with the ball, guarded by Garnett. Lewis ran toward the rim and there was no weak-side help - an easy lay-up gave the Magic a 96-94 lead with just 1.3 seconds left. Boston had one chance, but a 3-point attempt from Wallace missed badly and Orlando won 96-94.

I'm not sure how Orlando overcame a 14-point deficit in 11 minutes but they scored 35 points in that span. It's amazing that a team can stink it up for 3 quarters and win by playing well in the last 12 minutes.

This was a fun game, helped by a great seat and a nice comeback by the home team, defeating the Celtics who I do not admire. This was the 3rd and final NBA game on this trip. All three weren't decided until the final play with the other two decided by a single point. I'd be hard pressed to find 3 closer games between top teams. There's no doubt basketball is a fascinating game, but you really need to sit close to appreciate the athleticism on display.

Other Thoughts

One funny play happened when Howard stole a pass and immediately sent an outlet pass to the referee. With Orlando wearing their their black uni's, I think the referee's dark grey shirts might slightly resemble a Magic jersey, and Howard saw this out of the corner of his eye. Everybody got a good laugh out of that one. It even made the week's Not Top 10 on SportsCenter.

I should mention that the crappy Kia promotion I saw in Miami is here too. It's known as the Kia Performance Challenge and at least this time they selected a guy who could hit the rim. He still missed all his FT chances.

When I went to the box office, there was a single ticket in the first row above the tunnel. It was quite expensive, but I've rarely had the opportunity to sit in such a seat and having missed the Lightning game the night before, I decided to take it. It was worth it, as the pictures here should attest. It's such a different experience sitting so close in basketball. There was nobody in front of me, and nobody getting up during the game. Not something I can afford regularly, but coming all this way from Japan, it's worth an extra couple of bucks.

Fans here were good and stayed to the end for the most part. This is their only big league team, and they support them. I don't think having Vince Carter will put them over the top for the title, but they are entertaining. Will be interesting to see how they do in the new arena.

Next Up

I've got another full day in Orlando, and I'll cap it off with an Orlando Titans lacrosse game. Then I'm driving to Atlanta on Saturday, hoping to stop in at Mercer University to watch an NCAA basketball battle. Sunday I fly to Pittsburgh to meet up with Gary and the King and see an NHL finals rematch between Detroit and the Penguins. Monday I fly back to Japan, thus ending 18 great days of roadtripping.

Keep checking back for updates!



Thursday, January 28, 2010

Miami Musings

Miami - capital of the television crime world with Miami Vice, CSI Miami, and Dexter all taking place here. In reality though, Miami is a vibrant city with a lot to offer road trippers of all types.

The first thing you might notice about this place is just how big it is. Miami proper is actually quite small, but if you include the entire urbanized area, Miami is now the 4th largest metro in the US. It's also the 3rd densest metropolitan area in the country, consequently, getting around can take time. I found traffic jams in a few unexpected places. However, there are plenty of highways and expressways around, and I think that once you knew the area, you might know which ones to avoid.

Despite the metro area being rather dense, the downtown core seemed relatively uncrowded compared to other cities I've visited. There's obviously a strong Cuban influence here and many of those walking around are of Hispanic descent, so there's a lot of Spanish spoken on the streets. Living in monoethnic Japan, I always enjoy cities like this, where there's a good mix of cultural backgrounds. I'm not sure if there are racial issues here, but my sense was that people get along fairly well. Why wouldn't you, living here?

Miami transit is not bad. The Metrorail comprises a single line that only costs $2 per ride, with a day-pass at $5. Like MARTA in Atlanta, you need to buy a ticket or card that you tap to enter. This is useful if you are staying out in the suburbs as many stations have parking lots, which cost $4 for the day. Once downtown, you can use the Metromover which is free and arrives every two or three minutes. It can scoot you from Government Center station to nearby stations north or south. There are also plenty of buses but I didn't take one so can't comment on the service.

For sports road trippers, the four teams are separated geographically. The Heat are downtown at American Airlines Arena, just across from the Freedom Tower (pictured above). The Panthers are located in Sunrise, a suburb about 40 miles northwest of the city. The Dolphins and Marlins both play in LandShark Stadium, 15 miles northwest in Miami Gardens. So you'll need a car if you want to see all of these places. The Marlins, however, are building a new stadium just west of downtown which is scheduled to open in 2012. So I'll be back then.

The prime attraction here is undoubtedly Miami Beach. Located on a barrier island east of the city, Miami Beach is famous for its Art Deco Historic District. I'd love to spend more time here but I always stay closer to the stadiums. South Beach has become nationally famous as a resort destination. Below is a picture of the actual beach, not so crowded on that gorgeous day.

I really only had one day in Miami and spent it downtown. There are a few attractions here as well. First is Bayfront Park, which is served by the Metromover. This is a quiet oasis in the middle of the city where you can sit and contemplate Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach across the water. It is surprising how quiet it is here despite being in the centre of downtown. A good place to read a book or just relax for an hour.

A pelican enjoying Bayfront Park

Downtown buildings from Bayfront Park

The other attraction I visited is Vizcaya. Located near the Metrorail station of the same name, this is an old estate that was owned by James Deering. Built between 1914-16, it has been maintained in its original state and provides a glimpse into how the wealthy lived a century ago. Modern amenities included a telephone, central heating, and a dumbwaiter. It's pretty neat but is $15 which is not cheap. Below is a picture from behind the main house.

This was my second time in Miami, and I probably should go for something other than sports next time. I need to spend a few days on the beach to really appreciate the culture here and maybe take it easy for a change.



Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Montreal Canadiens 1 at Florida Panthers 2 - January 26, 2010

Back to the BankAtlantic Center tonight, this time to watch Canada's other original 6 team, the Montreal Canadiens take on the Panthers. For a change, I was cheering for the home team.

I'm not going to post much here as the game wasn't that exciting. Florida won 2-1, limiting the Habs to just 17 shots. Shawn Matthias scored a penalty shot goal in the third, and added the winner off a goalmouth scramble with just 7 minutes left to win the game for the Panthers. All three goals were scored at the other end of the ice too. At least I got to stand up to celebrate a goal in the BankAtlantic Center. I did make it up to the upper bowl during an intermission, here's a pic from there. Good seats here I thought.

It was interesting to note the difference between the Habs fans and Leafs fans. Habs fans smile more and are generally a cheerful bunch; as well they were generally older. It was cool hearing French spoken outside the arena. Leafs fans such as myself are a sad lot who have nothing to brag about. There are less elderly Leaf fans because many of them have given up on hockey. Or just killed themselves.

Here are a few pictures from tonight.

Two teams looking up at the playoffs

Dennis Seidenberg readies to block a shot

Ryan O'Byrne takes one for the team

Bryan McCabe shoots from the point

The Final Score! Habs lose!

After this snoozefest, I decided to skip the Lightning-Habs game in Tampa tonight. I'd already booked a hotel in Orlando and the 90 minute drive each way is not as enticing as the happy hour specials at the bar in the lobby. Hope to return to Tampa for a long homestand next season instead.



Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cleveland Cavaliers 92 at Miami Heat 91 - January 25, 2010

After a week of hockey, it was time to return to the hardwood here in Miami. The Heat were hosting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in what promised to be a classic. After spending the afternoon in downtown Miami, I took the Metromover over to American Airlines Arena to watch LeBron for the first time and was not disappointed.

The Arena

The American Airlines Arena (Triple A to the locals) is located in downtown Miami, across Biscayne Boulevard from the Freedom Tower and a short walk from either the Freedom Tower or Park West Metromover stations. Not to be confused with the American Airlines Center in Dallas, the arena just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

There is one main entrance that fronts Biscayne Boulevard, but the main ticket office is on the north side of the arena. The Heat have a variable ticket pricing plan with 3 game types: hot, hotter, and hottest. I'm not sure how a Nets-Heat game can be considered "hot" but I'll not quibble with the marketing. For the hotter and hottest games there are 14 ticket price options but the hot games only have 11 price levels as it seems like some of the crappy seats are not even sold. Naturally the Cavaliers are a "hottest" game and a seat in the first row of the upper deck was $85. Whatever the case, I suggest you understand the ticket options before buying from others as there are significant differences between games and levels (for example, the $85 ticket is only $40 for a "hot" game). You should know that the 400 sections are only at the ends of the court and sit almost on top of the 300 level.

Once inside, I noticed the seating colors matched those of the Heat, with red and orange seats painted to resemble a flame. I always like it when there is some thought put into the arrangement of the seats and this place might be the most interesting.

The Heat have been a successful team over the past 10 years and have a good collection of banners, including the 2006 NBA championship banner, pictured below. Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway have retired numbers hanging from the rafters as well.

Given the limited space on a downtown location, it is not surprising that the concourse was relatively narrow. There are a number of smaller food stands on the main level, but the upper level had few concessions which resulted in long waits at halftime. There is a designated driver program which saves you $4.50 on a small pop.
The scoreboard is unique in that it is 4 separate screens which resemble oversized televisions. Above these screens is a circular LED board that displays the score and player stats. Inside is a large silver contraption that looks like it was stolen from a sci-fi film set.

I think this arena is pretty good for basketball - the front rows of the 300 sections are close enough, but I'd avoid the 400 level. If you can afford the 100 level, more power to you. Regardless, worth a visit if you are in the Miami area.

The Game

This was a great game that was the main highlight on ESPN all evening. It was really LeBron vs D-Wade - the rest of the players were just a supporting cast for much of the time.

After a dull 1st quarter that had Miami leading 32-22, the 2nd period exploded when Wade and LeBron went one-on-one for several possessions. With Cleveland down 35-26, James scored 9 quick points as part of an 11-1 run. The two stars then began their little game within the game, as they traded points for 3 minutes that left Miami up 47-44 and the crowd energized. We knew we were watching something fun, but after some of the other players scored a couple for each team, Wade hit a jumper and then a 3 to make it 54-47 with 6.6 seconds left. James quickly ran down and made his own three like it was the easiest thing in the world and it was 54-50 at the half, with Wade scoring 30 for Miami.

James was called for charging here

The fans needed to catch their breath as well - my recap can't do those few minutes of basketball justice - it was really thrilling. The third quarter was highlighted by Michael Beasley's putback slam and alley-oop from Wade, but the Cavaliers remained close and we went to the last period with Miami up 69-67.

Midway through the 4th, Udonis Haslem scored on 3 straight possessions to give Miami a 6-point bulge and force the Cavaliers into a time out.

Whatever Mike Brown said worked as Cleveland scored 7 straight points to take an 88-87 lead. After the two O'Neals (Jermaine for Miami, Shaquille for Cleveland) traded baskets, Haslem drove for a layup to give the Heat the one-point advantage with a minute to go.

Everyone knew that it would boil down to James vs Wade now. But LeBron missed a trey, and Wade was fouled immediately upon getting the rebound. But amazingly, Wade missed both shots and Cleveland was still alive. With 25 seconds left, James' shot was blocked by Wade who then took the ball down the court, guarded by James. With 6 seconds left, he tried a behind-the back pass that James easily intercepted, racing back to the basket where he was fouled, falling to the floor where he lay for a couple of minutes.

The crowd was quiet wondering if King James was seriously hurt, but he recovered and sunk both shots to make it 92-91. The winning shot is shown below.

Miami had one chance left, but Wade, again guarded by James, missed the shot and the visitors walked away with the win. Great game although the ending was anti-climatic with all the free throws. Wade blamed himself for the loss, and it is true that Miami should have won if they had played normal basketball, but the fans were entertained regardless.

Nice to see Don Shula and Dan Marino in the house - they were both featured on the big screen and cheered heartily. Ex CFL-star Tracy Ham, a Gainesville native, was also shown but he mostly received a few shrugs among a smattering of applause.

There was a promotion at halftime that ranks as one of the worst that I have ever seen. Sponsored by Kia, the randomly-selected contestant has 25 seconds to make a free throw, a 3-point shot, and a half-court shot. The prize: a Kia car. I can't imagine someone making all 3 in such a limited time, but when the "randomly" selected contestant turns out to be a petite woman who can't even hit the hoop from the free throw line, I gotta wonder what the point is. Make the promotion entertaining Kia!

I took transit from a suburban station to the game but there is street parking around - the lot across the street was charging $20 four hours before the game though. There are meters in the area as well. The Metromover from downtown is free, so the best plan is to park near one of those stations and take it to the arena. This should help you miss the traffic jam after the game as well.

It's funny how many people left the ticket window in front of me empty-handed at 3pm on game day. I guess they don't go to many games, but you are not going to find a pair for less than $80 for this tilt from the box office. I was fortunate to be traveling alone, so I got a reasonably good seat, but at least 4 couples in front of me left without purchasing anything. Hope they found a friendly neighbourhood scalper later.


LeBron ended up signing with Miami after the season. It was not surprising to anyone who saw this game as he and Wade clearly had some chemistry. Whether it can work when they are on the same team remains to be seen.