NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Defensive woes plague stumbling Heat in defeat — Just yesterday, our own David Aldridge offered up three solid points in his Morning Tip column why Miami Heat fans shouldn’t fret over the team’s recent swoon. Still, the Heat’s falterings of late cannot be denied and after last night’s 121-114 loss on the road to the Atlanta Hawks, Miami has lost four of its last six games and is 5-5 in 2014. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald and Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com explain how defensive issues and a lack of overall energy may be at the root of Miami’s slide:
The midway point of the Heat’s season is here, and if one trend has emerged in recent games, it’s that the defending back-to-back champions aren’t interested in playing defense in the first halves of games.
Opponents are averaging 64.5 points in the first halves of the past four games against the Heat and, in Monday’s 121-114 loss to the Hawks, the Heat allowed a whopping 71 points before the break. The Hawks hadn’t beaten the Heat since Jan 2, 2012, a streak of nine games.
The runaway scoring led to some statistical oddities. For example, the Heat made 15 three-pointers and shot 45 percent from beyond the arc and somehow managed to lose to a team that is now just two games above .500.
“All across the board, ‘A’ through ‘Z’, there just was not a lot of pride [on defense],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We tried to win on a shootout and then when our offense came up dry on the road toward the end … we weren’t able to secure a win.”
The Heat is now 2-1 against the Hawks (21-19) on the season and 9-2 against teams in the Southeast Division.
And here’s Arnovitz’s report on the Heat’s overall lethargic effort and poor defense against the Hawks:
It’s Day 13 of a six-game East Coast swing, and the Miami Heat are weary.
They’ve spent only five of the past 27 days at home, and the fatigue was apparent in the locker room pregame, as guys shuffled to and from the training room and on the floor against the Atlanta Hawks, where contests at the rim were late and half-hearted.
The Heat won’t say it publicly, of course, but they’re dog tired. LeBron James looks gassed. Dwyane Wade less so, but that’s only because he was on the bench in street clothes conserving his fuel. Chris Bosh’s eyelids were heavy as he offered explanations for the daze that surrounds the team. Even head coach Erik Spoelstra seems like he needs a double shot of espresso.
Whether it was exhaustion, a lack of focus, poor execution, iffy schemes or the lunar cycle, the result was defensive carnage at Philips Arena, where Miami fell 121-114 to Atlanta. The loss completes a lackluster 2-4 road trip.
“I can’t pinpoint what it is,” James said. “It was a little bit of everything. At some point we have to figure it out.”
That was the sentiment on Monday night as the team packed up to return home to face Boston on Tuesday. There was no specific diagnosis, no reference to pick-and-roll coverage or defending the point of attack or rim protection or defensive rotations. The Heat insist that the issues reside in the more general realms of focus, effort and accountability.
“We’re just not taking away much,” Shane Battier said. “Usually when our defense is clicking, we’re taking away a few things out of a team’s offense and living with other parts of the team’s offense. Right now, the other team has a full menu of what they want to get — paint shots, 3s, transition.”
When things are clicking, in Battier’s words, it’s not unusual to go 15 or 20 possessions without seeing a fundamental defensive mistake by Miami. Lately, the Heat are having trouble putting together consecutive stops. The Heat are failing NBA Defense 101. Simple angle pick-and-rolls — like the one the Hawks ran in the third quarter that yielded a wide-open 3-pointer for Williams — produce mass confusion with Heat defenders helping off the strong side perimeter (a major no-no).
No. 2: Bryant sees ‘no chance’ of slowing down, sounds off on NBA today — Before the L.A. Lakers played the Chicago Bulls at the United Center last night, injured Lakers star Kobe Bryant gave a state-of-the-Mamba address of sorts. In a wide-ranging interview conducted before a throng of media (including our own Steve Aschburner), Bryant talked about his recovery from his left knee fracture, Derrick Rose‘s comeback attempt and more:
Kobe Bryant didn’t delve into negative numbers Monday night in a hallway at United Center, but that’s the level of doubt he felt about his next return from injury. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture in his left knee, didn’t hedge or blink when asked about the likelihood that he’ll come back as the player he was before.
Not just before this latest setback but before the left Achilles-tendon blowout he suffered in April, cutting short his 2012-13 season.
“Zero. Zero,” Bryant said, repeating for emphasis his doubt about his playing future and the quality of his game when he gets there. “There was [doubt] before I came back the first time, because I didn’t know how my Achilles was going to respond to playing, to changing directions. The game in Memphis, I felt I had a pretty good feel for it. I felt like I was getting back to doing what I normally could do.
“So I feel pretty confident about it.”
This media opportunity, coming in Derrick Rose‘s gym, meant he was asked about the Bulls’ MVP, who also is sidelined by his second serious injury in two years (and isn’t expected back till October). While Bryant’s response dealt with Rose, it surely applied to him as well, a nod to the drive and will he long has been known for and the younger Rose still is developing.
“Really there’s not too much you can do about it,” Bryant said. “It’s unfortunate, but you have two options. One is to lay down. The second is get up and get to work. I think the second one is more appealing [to Rose] for sure.”
He made it abundantly clear that he won’t be joining Team USA in the 2016 Olympics, but teased that he’d be an eager spectator to watch Lakers teammate Pau Gasol play for Spain again.
The most noticeable change in NBA basketball since his arrival in 1996? “It’s more of a finesse game. It’s more small ball. Which, personally, I don’t really care much for,” Bryant said. Like so many from the old-school – even at 35, Bryant qualifies – he is befuddled at the soft stuff now that passes for physical play. “Makes me nauseous,” he said. “You can’t touch a guy.”
The rule against hand-checking has made it easier for players to shine offensively, Bryant said. “Nowadays, anybody can get out there and get to the basket – you can’t touch ‘em,” he said. “Back then, if you have guys putting their hands on you, you have to have the skills to be able to go both ways, change directions, post up and have that mid-range game, because you didn’t want to go all the way to the basket because you’d get knocked [down].”
He’s no fan of the NBA’s one-and-done arrangement with NCAA basketball, which no longer permits players such as Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James to turn pro immediately after high school. “I think it worked out pretty well for all three of us,” Bryant said. “The system really isn’t teaching players anything when you go to college. … I’m always a firm believer in us being able to make our own decision.”
No. 3: ‘Melo says Knicks didn’t ‘fight’ against Nets — A 23-point loss at home is nothing any NBA team wants to stomach. But when a team like the up-and-down New York Knicks takes that in (before a national TV audience, no less), it becomes even harder to digest. Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was none-too-pleased after the game, telling ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley that what upset him most about the defeat at the hands of the crosstown Brooklyn Nets was the lack of desire New York showed in trying to keep the game close:
A frustrated Carmelo Anthony said the New York Knicks failed to show fight in their 23-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday.
“That’s the only thing that kind of bothers me: Today we didn’t even fight. I felt like we didn’t fight as a team,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ 103-80 loss. “Them guys from the jump ball just came in and it felt like they owned us.”
“We couldn’t get into defensive sets and [were] just scrambling and double-teaming and switching, basically just scrambling the whole game,” Anthony said.
The Knicks have lost four straight and enter play Tuesday tied with Cleveland for 10th place in the Eastern Conference. They are on pace to win just 30 games.
“I didn’t think we would be in this situation,” said Anthony, who is expected to test free agency this summer. “I don’t really know how to deal with situations like this. I’m learning. This is the first time for me.”
Tyson Chandler didn’t knock New York’s effort after the loss. Instead, he said the Knicks were “outschemed” by Brooklyn.
“I think we came to play. They outschemed us,” Chandler said. “They played to our defense as far their offensive scheme, knowing our rotations and knowing what we wanted to accomplish. Kind of putting us in vulnerable situations.”
Chandler’s words could be interpreted as a thinly-veiled shot at Mike Woodson and the coaching staff. The Knicks were caught switching frequently on pick and rolls and late on rotations, which allowed the Nets to find open shooters all over the floor.
“I don’t want to switch. I personally don’t like it. You come with a defensive plan and then every guy kind of mans up and takes his responsibility,” Chandler said. “I think switching should always be your last resort.”
Anthony believes the Knicks’ four-game losing streak has impacted the team’s confidence, which was at an all-time high after New York won five in a row earlier this month.
“It seemed like everything was just going for us [during the winning streak], offensively, defensively, guys felt good about themselves,” Anthony said. “There was a lot of confidence within the team, with individuals. Right now it seems we don’t have that.”
No. 4: Cuban ready for Silver to ‘feel my wrath’ — Mavs owner Mark Cuban did little to hide the fact he wanted one last fine from soon-to-be-retired commissioner David Stern before he leaves office next month. Cuban got his wish earlier this week when the league levied a $100,000 fine against him for confronting officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last week. The owner doesn’t hold any ill feelings for getting the fine, of course, and told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Dwain Price he’s looking forward, in a sense, to getting to know new commissioner Adam Silver in his own unique way:
In his first interview since the NBA fined him $100,000 Saturday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he just wanted to have some fun before commissioner David Stern retired.“I love it,” Cuban said about the fine, before Monday’s 102-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s a business expense and it’s part of doing business.
“These franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and I literally feel that if I could impact it to have some improvement, they could be worth a lot more.”
Since Stern will retire on Feb. 1, Cuban said he wanted to get in one last fine as a lasting memory to the commissioner.
“I was just a little nostalgic for the commissioner,” Cuban said. “So I was trying to fund the donut fund.”
Asked if he thought Stern was happy to fine him one last time, Cuban said: “I think he was. They call you and make sure what you said is what you said.
“When I said yes, and then they say OK, here’s the fine. That’s the way it works.”
Adam Silver will take over for Stern on Feb. 2. Will Cuban have a present waiting for the new commissioner?
“We’ll see,” he said. “It depends on how things are handled.
“But there’s plenty to come. Now it’s time to let Adam feel my wrath.”
No. 5: Report: Wizards interested in Pistons’ Monroe — Following their 107-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers last night, the Washington Wizards got to .500 for the fourth time this season. One player who had a big impact on the win was center Marcin Gortat, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds and helped set the tone for Washington’s interior play. But as the Wizards look to build on this newfound .500 mark and, surely, try to climb well over it, they could be looking to further upgrade their interior play. According to Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com, the Wizards are interested in acquiring Pistons big man Greg Monroe, either via free agency or trade:
The Detroit Pistons find themselves in a difficult position at the halfway point of the 2013-14 season.
After a big offseason that brought Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups (as well as playoff expectations) to Detroit, the team is currently 17-24 and barely holding onto the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference. Detroit has dropped 10 of their last 14 games and, according to multiple league sources, the organization isn’t sure what to do as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches.
One player who has been mentioned in trade rumors throughout this season is Greg Monroe, the young power forward who will be a restricted free agent this offseason since he couldn’t agree on an extension with the Pistons. It’s no secret that Josh Smith is better at the four, and it’s possible that Detroit moves the valuable Monroe to upgrade another position and slide Smith over to power forward.
One team that is interested in Monroe is the Washington Wizards, according to multiple league sources. It’s becoming clear that Washington is planning to pursue Monroe, either through trade or free agency.
Prior to joining the Pistons, Monroe starred at Georgetown for two seasons so he’s no stranger to Washington. The Wizards have $41,458,760 in guaranteed commitments for next season, since Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza among others are in the final year of their contracts.
The Pistons are certainly a team to keep an eye on over the next month. Rival executives have said that there is “turmoil” within the organization and that they haven’t decided what to do as the deadline approaches.
How the team performs in the coming weeks could determine what the front office does next, similar to what’s occurring with the Toronto Raptors right now. If the team plays well, the team will likely remain intact and the Pistons will try to make a postseason run. If the team continues to struggle, it’s very possible that Detroit makes a trade between now and the deadline.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Knicks reserve guard Beno Udrih has reportedly requested a trade … A little news nugget from Sam Smith — the Celtics might want to trade Jeff Green … Bucks guard Gary Neal might be having some second thoughts about signing with Milwaukee in the offseason … The Hawks are building something worth watching in Atlanta …
ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Clippers and Pistons, two of the dunking-est teams in the league, put on quite a show above the rim yesterday. And since (around here, anyway) there’s no such thing as too many dunks, here’s a great one from Jan Vesely, too, for good measure: