2012 NBA Playoffs

No ‘D’ In Brooklyn But Nets Get It Done

CHICAGO – Halfcourt basketball is a staple of the NBA playoffs. But with so much talk about Brooklyn’s offense and Chicago’s defense in the Nets-Bulls first-round Eastern Conference series, some might assume the teams actually are using just half a court, like a pickup game at some crowded playground.

The sad truth is, without Derrick Rose, the Bulls’ attack often is as entertaining as watching Dad re-grout the bathroom floor. As for the Nets’ defense, the voters spoke loud and clear: While 21 different players received votes for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award announced Wednesday, none of them play for the Nets.

The numbers suggest that while Brooklyn has improved its performance when the other guys control the ball, that wasn’t exactly a priority when GM Billy King went shopping prior to this season with another $330 million of owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s money.

Statistically, the Nets brought defensive improvement along on their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, just not any dramatic reimagining that way. In 2011-12, their defensive rating of 109.6 ranked 28th and they were 28th in opponents’ field-goal percentage, 29th in foes’ 3-point percentage, 19th in steals and dead last in defensive rebounds and blocked shots.

This season, the Nets got their defensive rating down to 106.2 and their ranking up to 17th. They ranked 23rd in opponents’ field-goal percentage, 21st in 3-point percentage, 19th in steals, 21st in defensive rebounds and 18th in blocks.

No less an authority than Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau sounded sufficiently impressed with what interim coach P.J. Carlesimo and, before him, Avery Johnson did starting in training camp.

“It starts with Brook Lopez,” Thibodeau said of Brooklyn’s All-Star center, known primarily as a dangerous scorer and occasional rebounder. “He’s gotten a lot better at challenging shots and blocking shots. [Forward Reggie] Evans has been an excellent defender. Gerald Wallace, every year you can make a case for him, all-league defense. I think P.J.’s done a great job with them, as did Avery, having a defensive philosophy.

“There’s been tremendous growth, I think, in the last two to three years. They have size, they have versatility. [Keith] Bogans, C.J. [Watson], I had both those guys here and they’re really terrific. [Veteran Jerry] Stackhouse is a little older now but he was a terrific defender for a long time and his team defense is very, very good. [Backup big man Andray] Blatche has very good feet.”

Yeah, Thibs, but are they any good when it comes to that five-guys-on-a-string stuff?

“They’ve got shot-blocking at the rim, they’ve got Wallace who can guard, they’ve got Johnson, who’s big,” Thibodeau said.

Like he was going to say anything different, right?

As for the DPOY award and Chicago placing three players – Joakim Noah (4), Luol Deng (15) and Jimmy Butler (T18) – among the 21 vote-getters, Thibodeau said he was proud of his players. But he also spoke of the multiple, sometimes contradictory factors that influence the balloting.

“I don’t know the metrics that are going into it,” said Thibodeau, whose work in Boston and Chicago since 2007 have led to greater defensive appreciation throughout the league. “I think it’s very difficult to measure the impact of a defensive guy. It’s not like a pitcher against a hitter in baseball and you can say, ‘This is what he’s doing.’ It’s five-man offense, five-man defense and a lot of variables that go into it: there’s rotations, there’s switches. Often a guy gets credit and maybe he wasn’t the person responsible.”

That, the Bulls coach said, is “why you could make a case for several guys who are on the same team.”

Or none on a middle-of-the-pack defensive team such as Brooklyn.

Rockets Making Noise, But For What?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Nothing gets the masses more excited this time of year than the notion of a blockbuster deal-to-be, something the Houston Rockets have mastered the past five years.

And Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is at it again, making moves in successive days leading up to tonight’s Draft, cranking up the speculation that something huge is on the horizon as they continue to climb up the draft board.

What that is, however, remains a mystery.

Dwight Howard‘s name is at the forefront of the rumors. And that’s always a good thing for everyone other than the folks in Orlando (check the video above).

Where this drama goes between now and tonight’s Draft is anyone’s guess, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle makes clear:

The Rockets also do not want to stop there in their climb up the draft board, and they do not want to add three rookies to the three players they drafted last season. With that in mind, they have been talking to teams throughout the top 10, especially Sacramento, which holds the fifth pick, and Toronto, which has the eighth pick, about moving up.

To move that much they would have to offer a veteran, rather than a package of picks. Guard Kyle Lowry is considered the most likely player to be moved, in part because of his relatively modest contract. But according to a person involved in the process, Lowry has in recent conversations seemed more open about returning to the Rockets since his comments last month and the team would like to bring him back if he is not the key to a larger deal.

While Magic center Dwight Howard is the Rockets’ top target, the Magic have not specifically said what it would take to get him since trade talks between the teams ended March 15, and have not indicated which player they would want to get in the draft to help facilitate a deal.

The Rockets are also are still interested in a deal for the Lakers’ Pau Gasol, according to a person with knowledge of their planning, but not at the price they would have paid before the season when they agreed to send Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and a first-round pick to New Orleans in the three-team deal blocked by commissioner David Stern.


LeBron And His “Baby” On Letterman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Miami Heat victory parade has already made its way to New York.

And that includes a trip to the set of the Late Show with David Letterman, where LeBron James and his “baby” (the Larry O’Brien trophy) made an appearance:

Heat, Fans Enjoy Their Moment

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh weren’t the only ones shutting up their critics during that Heat championship parade today through the streets of Miami.

The fans who lined up along those streets deserve a little respect, too. Maligned for years as a group of late-arriving, front-running, basketball novices, Heat fans took on the challenge of facing off against some of the best fans anywhere in sports and stood up to Oklahoma City Thunder fans in fine fashion.

They more than held their own in the battle of the dueling fan bases.

In fact, they reacted the same way fans in almost every city act after their team wins it all. They drove around honking their horns into the wee hours after the Heat’s Game 5 win over the Thunder last Thursday night. My main man and NBA.com’s  John Schuhmann and Sheridanhoops.com’s Jeremy Bauman can attest to as much, since the three of us had to walk through hundreds of screaming Heat fans as we made our way from AmericanAirlines Arena and down Biscayne Boulevard to our hotels after Game 5.

It was a wild scene, with everyone on the sidewalks operating pretty much in the dark as Miami’s finest kept a handle on things.


LeBron And The Ring Maker

MIAMI — LeBron James and the Miami Heat aren’t the only ones reveling in the championship glory this morning. The millions who stuck by his side are celebrating as well.

If you need to identify them, they’ll be the ones who can appreciate this nice 62-second career retrospective (courtesy of the folks at Nike Basketball) on the man who finally got his ring:

Riley Gets No. 8, Happy In Exec Office

MIAMI — Two nights earlier, Pat Riley had been honored by his peers with a lifetime achievement award, receiving a trophy named after a rival and friend – late Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly – for whom he had much love and respect.

It was a special moment and an introspective one, with Riley talking about his career, the influences on his life and style and a little about his future, as well as the state of the game.

Then came Thursday, when the Miami Heat clinched the 2012 NBA championship in five games over the Oklahoma City Thunder, thrusting Riley into the spotlight on a bigger stage as the architect of a grand, superstar-driven blueprint. Now that was a special moment – Riley’s eighth title as a player, coach or executive. It had Riley calling out to the jubilant fans at AmericanAirlines Arena: “Can we have a party tonight?! Is it OK to have a party tonight?!”

“This is a great, great, great group,” Riley had said during the on-court presentation of the Larry O’Brien trophy. “This is right now not about anybody else but the coaches, the players, the staff, the employees that work for the Heat. … It’s not easy. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.”

And naturally, within minutes of having done that most difficult thing, Riley was asked about the Heat’s chance of doing it all over again next June. “Well, we believe we built a team that’s going to be around for a while, and our goal is to hopefully come back every year,” he said.

Finals Numbers Of Note

MIAMI —Some numbers of note from the Miami Heat’s 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the 2012 Finals, giving the Heat their second championship:

  • LeBron James became the 14th player to win a championship in the same year he won the MVP award. The last was Tim Duncan in 2003.
  • James tied a postseason career high with 13 assists in Game 5. The Heat were 20-2 this season when he recorded at least eight assists. Both losses were in Orlando.
  • The Heat are the first NBA champion to have trailed three in three of their playoff series. They were down 2-1 to Indiana, 3-2 to Boston, and 1-0 to Oklahoma City.
  • The Heat became the third team to sweep the middle three Finals games at home since the 2-3-2 format came into play in 1985. The others were the 2004 Pistons and the 2006 Heat.
  • The Heat’s 14 3-pointers in Game 5 tied a Finals record, set in the 1995 Finals by both the Rockets and Magic.


Heat Shooters Knock ‘Em Down

MIAMI — LeBron James established early on in this postseason that he would handle his business. He was focused and aggressive from start to finish. And though Dwyane Wade wasn’t at his best and Chris Bosh missed nine games, they were still about as good as you can get when it comes to secondary stars.

But as good as the big three were, the Heat needed more. Specifically, they needed guys to make shots from the perimeter.

“We need them hunting down shots,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said early in the first round, adding that he wanted Mike Miller taking 10 3-pointers per game. “We need our guys finding them in rhythm with timely passes, and for them to let it go, with absolute confidence. That helps our game, obviously.”

Simple concept. The shooters open up lanes for the attackers (James and Wade). The attackers create open shots for the shooters.

Miller never did take 10 threes in a game this postseason, but he came close in Game 5 of The Finals, shooting 7-for-8 from downtown to help James, Wade and Bosh win their first championship together.

Report: Garnett Considering All Options, Including Retirement?

MIAMI — He’s only spent five seasons in green and white, but it’s hard to envision Kevin Garnett in another jersey.

He’s become synonymous with the Celtics since the Big 3 was formed and he joined forces with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo to form one of the league’s most formidable units.

So to hear that Garnett is considering all of his options, including playing elsewhere and even potentially retiring, is a bit of a shock. He played so well during the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference finals that I can’t see any reason for him to make his 17th season in the league his last.

It’s obvious he has more to give the game, be it in Boston or somewhere else. But Celtics boss Danny Ainge told ESPNBoston.com that Garnett retiring is one of several options being considered:

Despite a strong finish to his 17th season in the league, the 36-year-old Garnett is pondering retirement and needs time to make a decision about his basketball future.

“Kevin and I had a good conversation last week and the conversation was mostly on how he needs time before he makes that decision,” Ainge said during an in-studio appearance Wednesday afternoon on Boston sports radio WEEI-93.7 FM. “I think we’ll talk within the next week, but I’m not so sure that’s a decision day for him. He may want to wait and see what sort of team we have. I’m not sure.

“I know that he wants to come back. I know he likes Boston, and I know he loves playing for (coach) Doc (Rivers). He loves everything about the team and the city and so forth. I think that his decision will be, ‘Do I really want to play? Or do I not want to play.’ ”


Nash Says The Magic Words, Will Consider The Knicks In Free Agency

MIAMI — The words Knicks fans wanted to hear finally came flowing out of Steve Nash‘s mouth yesterday. The two-time MVP and soon-to-be free-agent point guard says the Knicks are on his list of teams that he’ll consider playing for this season.

He praised the Knicks during a promotional appearance in Manhattan, telling ESPNNewYork.com:

“The Knicks are a great franchise and I live in New York City (each summer), so I’d definitely consider them if they were interested.”

The Knicks’ interest should be high, considering their muddled point guard situation. Jeremy Lin is also a free agent and there is no guarantee he signs with the Knicks this summer. And Baron Davis had knee surgery and it’s not clear exactly when he will return and what shape his game will be in when he does.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson knows his team needs solid point guard play from the start of this season and who better to orchestrate for Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire (Nash’s former teammate in Phoenix) than the Nash?

There should be plenty of competition to sign Nash, 38, who has made it clear that he feels great and can see himself playing three more years:

“I want to wait and see what’s actually on the table,” he said. “I’m open and excited. I’m looking at every possibility right now. It sounds like there are a number of teams that are interested.”

Other than playing for the Heat or Magic (alongside Dwight Howard?), there isn’t a more intriguing destination for Nash than the Knicks. He has no plans to make a decision before free agency kicks off July 1.