NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Heat boss Riley sends cautious message about team, season — Perhaps it’s his personal history with trying to three-peat that’s on Heat boss Pat Riley‘s mind these days. Reality has a way of creeping into the consciousness for a man who has seen and done as much as Riley has over the course of his career. And that could explain his cautious message to Heat fans over the weekend, words spoken at a charity function, words that are sure to make their way to the locker room. And maybe that’s what Riley, always the master motivator, was trying to do all along. If he feels his team needed to be poked or prodded from on high, he took matters into his own hands. More from the Associated Press report:
“We’re playing very well right now, but every day you keep ratcheting up what you need to do to get ready for what you know is going to be an incredibly competitive playoff,” Riley said. “Right now, you have to keep in mind we have a long way to go.”
The Heat (42-14) will head into Monday’s home game against Charlotte winners of seven straight and 10 of 11. They still have to wait seven weeks before the playoffs.
“Everybody thinks it’s right around the corner. No, a lot of stuff can happen,” Riley said. “We’re in home-court advantage races, not only in the West but in the East. That’s not an objective.
“The objective, I think according to Coach (Erik Spoelstra), is that (we) stay on track with the defense and the rebounding, and I think we’ll be OK.”
Riley touched on several other topics during a brief meeting with reporters.
• On LeBron James: “The fact that he’s a confident player right now, probably the most confident player in the NBA, and it’s not born out of arrogance or born out of anything else other than the main thing, which is winning. He wants to win. That’s all it’s about.”
• On Dwyane Wade, who this season has been managing sore knees: “Dwyane is an 11-year veteran and he knows his way around the block. He knows what he has to do to get himself ready. Again, I go back 11 years with him, and I’ve seen him from the beginning to where he is today. He’s a smarter, more efficient in using his energy.”
• On not signing former Heat swingman Caron Butler, who signed with Oklahoma City on Saturday after being bought out by Milwaukee earlier in the week: “We love Caron. We reached out to him but he was very definitive with what he wanted and I don’t think it’s something we could have promised.”
• On 7-foot center Greg Oden, who has returned after missing nearly four years due to knee injuries: “He’s gone through a lot and I just cross my fingers, and knock on wood every day that he stays healthy. And if he does, he’s going to get better. And if he gets better then we’re going to be better. That’s why we brought him in.”
No. 2: Melo’s dilemma, Chicago or New York? — If Carmelo Anthony’s going to chase a championship at this stage of his career, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News suggests he start studying up on the situation in Chicago. Our Steve Aschburner has already highlighted the deep-rooted cultural differences between Melo and what he’s used to and what the Bulls are used to under Tom Thibodeau … and the gulf is wide. But time is running out on Melo and the Knicks, who fell hard against Joakim Noah and the Bulls Sunday. Melo has to have an escape plan in place and Chicago wouldn’t be a bad place to land, if chasing a title is truly at the top of his to-do-list:
A young fan seated behind the Knicks bench held up a sign encouraging Carmelo Anthony to consider the Bulls — again — when he weighs his free-agent options this summer.
“I saw a lot of signs,” Anthony said in delivering perhaps the best cryptic message of his career.
“It was a good sign,” he would later say. “I mean the kid went to art class … not the message.”
Anthony’s words are becoming more scrutinized, especially with July 1 drawing closer and his future already having been linked to the Bulls, among other teams.
He was admittedly “embarrassed” by the Knicks’ 109-90 loss on Sunday, yet also impressed with the Bulls’ resolve. Deep down, Anthony knows Chicago could be his best free-agent option.
The Bulls can offer Melo a stable franchise with a fierce, battle-tested roster as well as a superb head coach. The best the Knicks can do is the most lucrative payday, which may be too good to reject.
But if you take Anthony at his word, that winning a title is his top priority even if it means taking less money, well then there are few places better than Chicago.
“I don’t know, man. They always are a team who’s going to be there, who’s going to compete, who’s going to play hard,” Anthony said. “For whatever reason that is, I don’t know if it’s their system, if it’s Thib’s system. For whatever reason they’re always going to be there and compete.”
The Bulls apparently do have interest in Anthony, whom they pursued three years ago in a trade but couldn’t land. Chicago was not thrilled about dealing Deng, the emotional leader of the team whose personality and competitive fire would complement Anthony. Imagine if after all the assets the Knicks gave up to land Anthony he goes to the team that kept its core intact, has an MVP-caliber point guard and a brilliant head coach.
You better believe Melo sees signs. He sees a Knicks organization in utter disarray. He sees himself missing the playoffs for the first time in his career and it makes him sick to his stomach.
He sees LeBron James poised to win another title and sees Chris Paul with a loaded roster in Los Angeles.
The sign he should be looking for as it relates to the Knicks is a yellow one that screams, “Caution!” The Knicks’ plan is simple: re-sign Anthony and add a free agent the following summer. Makes sense. Maybe they’ll sign someone like Rajon Rondo, who has his own knee issues and who, unlike Rose, can occasionally be a head case. However, selling Anthony on the 2015-16 season is a risky proposition.
No. 3: Finally, Spurs get back to normal with Parker’s return — Tony Parker‘s return to the lineup for the San Antonio Spurs didn’t necessarily make global waves in the basketball atmosphere. But it should have. The Spurs have not been their usual selves without him. And for months they’ve battled injury after injury to their core group, issues that all teams face in some form, fashion or another. Still, it caused more than a little teeth-gnashing in San Antonio. Dan McCarney of the Express News explains how Gregg Popovich and crew handled the mess:
Parker’s return brought an end to a two-month crisis, started by Tiago Splitter’s sprained shoulder against the Clippers on Jan. 4, during which the Spurs missed at least one and as many as four key players for 24 straight games. They went 16-8 during that span, dropping just one game further behind first-place Oklahoma City to sit 1 1/2 off the pace in the Western Conference standings.
While Spurs coach Gregg Popovich couldn’t care less about seeding — “It doesn’t matter. It never has,” he said after Sunday’s game — [Manu] Ginobili and Parker are thrilled.
“Sometimes you do have a lot of injuries during a season,” he said, “but not five core players together. Pop and the team really had to figure it out. Grab players and change positions. We had Nando (De Colo) and Cory (Joseph) playing (shooting guard) a lot, even (small forward). So it’s remarkable we managed to stay in the second spot with a good record. I’m proud of this team.”
Said Parker, “It feels great to have everybody back. Hopefully, everybody can stay healthy and try to make a run at it. Everybody recharged their batteries. Everybody should be fresh. Every year I like our chances so as long as we stay healthy and play our best basketball when the playoffs come. That’s the main thing.”
No. 4: Markieff Morris serves as Suns’ biggest key — The “Year of the Dragon?” Maybe not in Phoenix. Sure, Goran Dragic has been great this season for the Suns. He’s high on the list of most improved players in the league and also has earned a spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. But the Suns’ biggest key this season? That honor belongs to Markieff Morris. That’s right, Markieff Morris. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic provides some context:
The Suns were piling up points early Sunday night, but their defensive stops could not keep up until Markieff Morris and Ish Smith entered the game.
Markieff Morris’ presence can swing a game, and it usually has been for the better — like Sunday night, when he posted 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in 14 first-half minutes to swing the Suns from trailing to a double-digit lead.
“Of maybe all of our guys, he’s probably the biggest key,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “If he plays well, we usually have a pretty good chance of winning the game. When he isn’t active, then we struggle. We rely on him a lot coming off that bench, and we run a lot of stuff to him. He’s a great passer. He’s probably one of our better passers on the team.”
The Suns need Morris to be aggressive in the post to create plays for himself and others, especially when Goran Dragic is resting. He has become a Sixth Man Award candidate by scoring in double digits in 21 of the past 22 games. The last Suns reserve to do that was teammate Leandro Barbosa, when he won the Sixth Man Award seven seasons ago.
The Suns have not strayed from the usual starting five except for injuries, using the second-fewest total of starters this season (seven) in the NBA. Morris’ connection with his twin, Marcus, makes it an effective bench unit with Smith pushing the tempo.
As a bench player, that sometimes means that Markieff Morris plays the rest of either half because he is going so well. He closes tight games with Hornacek usually trying to get a brief fourth-quarter rest.
“You say we’ll ride him out and see if he gets tired and he’s been able to get through that and finish a lot of games,” Hornacek said
No. 5: Van Gundy dismisses analytics crowd — John Schuhmann and the rest of the stats-loving/analytics crowd might want to cover their ears whenever Stan Van Gundy speaks, because he is not a fan. And that’s the politically correct way of saying that the former Magic and Heat coach has not been converted to the analytics age of the game. Not yet at least. Van Gundy went off o the analytics movement during his time at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, expressing his displeasure with many of the folks who have championed the cause. Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk has more on Van Gundy’s analytics inquisition:
Van Gundy posed legitimate questions that would theoretically need to be addressed before the basketball purists at the NBA level take the data as gospel, and making sure that whoever is identifying certain play types and quantifying them knows basketball, and is doing that job to the specifications of a particular head coach.
“I don’t trust most of it,” Van Gundy said, beginning an exquisite rant on the topic. “I read some of the stuff that people write on ESPN.com, you know, I’ll read stats on pick and roll defense and stuff that came off Synergy or somewhere else — I don’t know who the hell is recording that information!”
“I read a thing in the playoffs last year that said that New York isolated like 17 percent of the time,” he continued. “I’m watching their games, they isolate half of the time, at least. So I don’t know who’s recording that. If there’s a pick and roll, and they throw it back to Carmelo and he holds the ball and isolates for eight seconds, that’s a pick and roll play, not an isolation? And a lot of pick and roll stuff … you know, I read a thing today from ESPN the Magazine on Paul George being the best pick and roll defender in the league on the ball handler. Look, a lot of pick and rolls … there’s pick and rolls designed to score, and there’s pick and rolls you run to get into something else. If you’re recording it and you’re treating those two things the same, then you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Van Gundy really does like the additional available data — he just needs to be able to trust that whoever is compiling it has the same standards basketball-wise that he does. Ironically enough, I overheard a statistician type at one of the panel discussions explaining to a colleague that of course he watches games — but only to enhance his data set.
“I mean, I do watch the games,” this person said, “to to try to pick up on some things that maybe my numbers aren’t catching.”
This is obviously completely backwards, and as far as Van Gundy is concerned, there’s simply no substitution for the eye test.
“To me, I think that a lot of the analytic stuff can be very useful, but if you’re using that in place of sitting down and watching film yourself and seeing what’s going on, you’re making a big mistake,” Van Gundy said. “And I don’t want to offend anybody, but I think one of the problems with analytics — I think it’s good; I used it, I love looking at it — but one of the problems is, there are a lot of people in a lot of organizations who don’t know the game, who all they know is analytics and as a result, that’s what they rely on. And they will use that to supersede what guys like us see with our eyes. And I think that’s a major mistake. There’s no substitute for watching film over and over and over again, and the only numbers I trust are the ones that my people believe.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jimmer Mania is on and popping in Chciago … Some “tanking” going on in Orlando? … Andrew Bynum is reportedly ready for action and is saying it loud and clear, “I want to play” … Jeremy Lin goes up before the All-Star break but has come crashing down since … Thunder will work without two defensive cornerstones for the foreseeable future
ICYMI of the Night: The Phoenix Suns want you to know that the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors aren’t the only Western Conference playoff teams capable of going off from distance. They peppered the Atlanta Hawks from deep Sunday, raining down 15 made 3-pointers in smashing a pie in the face of their guests …