Hibbert, Hill stymie Pacers’ revival

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled with production since the All-Star break. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled to find their way of late. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is a particular reason why the Chicago Bulls have mourned the absence of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and, in healthier times, felt confident about their chances against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat:

Center and point guard. The two positions where Miami has seemed most vulnerable through its three-Finals, two-titles reign over the NBA. And the two positions where the Bulls, with Rose and Joakim Noah (even before Noah’s blossoming in 2013-14), held distinct match-up advantages.

And then there are the Indiana Pacers, where center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill have embodied and driven – in an especially vicious circle these days – their team’s struggle against the Heat specifically and in the season’s stretch drive generally.

Hibbert is the one taking most of the grief, an obvious lightning rod given his stature literally and in Indiana’s preferred scheme of things. He’s a 7-foot-2 center who has come up about 4-foot-11 of late, shrinking at the task of nailing down the East’s top playoff berth.

Over the past 10 games, Hibbert has averaged 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 32.9 percent, all south of his expected numbers. His decline since the All-Star break is nothing short of alarming – from offensive and defensive ratings of 104 and 95 through his first 52 games, to 91 and 106 over the past 27.

And the past week went by almost without so much as a ping from the Pacers’ missing aircraft carrier: A nightmarish nine minutes, scoreless and without rebounds in a blowout loss to Atlanta. A game in street clothes in Milwaukee as part of coach Frank Vogel‘s rattle-whatever-cage-remains decision to sit out his starters. And just five points and one rebound in nearly 34 minutes in the smackdown in Miami, with the Heat taking apparent glee in finally solving their Hibbert headaches.

Hill, the team’s unassertive point guard – and one of the NBA’s few where “playmaker” can be subbed in as a synonym to mix up the phrasings – has been just as disappointing in the Pacers’ desperation to stop their swoon. Averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 assists, while hitting 42.4 percent of his field-goal attempts and 69.2 percent of his free throws.

He, too, has stepped into an open elevator shaft post-All Star break in some of the advanced metrics: true-shooting percentage down from 57.9 to 53.3, and a combo drop in offensive and defensive ratings from 117/98 to 110/112. If those were blood pressure numbers, the Pacers’ title hopes already would be dead.

All of this is a way of pointing out how challenging the Pacers’ matinee game against Oklahoma City (1 p.m. ET, ABC) figures to be Sunday. The gap between NBA Most Valuable Player favorite Kevin Durant and Indiana’s Paul George, a likely fourth- or fifth-place finisher, already is vast enough. But for Hill, matched up with the Thunder’s angry young man at the point, Russell Westbrook, it will be all he can do to hang on defensively, offense – no matter how badly Indiana needs a fix there – be danged.

For Hibbert, facing low-center-of-gravity Kendrick Perkins, relentlessly active Serge Ibaka and fundamentally sound Nick Collison is no way to get his game healthy. Last Sunday against the Hawks, Hibbert made Pero Antic look like Dave Cowens in his prime and had Pacers peeps excusing the (ahem) tough match-up. At Miami Friday, it was old reliable Udonis Haslem staying low, beating Hibbert to his spots and pushing him around to exploit that flamingo-like base the Pacers center seems to set.

Hill, George and the other Indiana players aren’t absolved when Hibbert struggles, either, given their lackadaisical entry passes and tendency seemingly to look away from the big man rather than establish him in the paint. Maybe they’ve grown tired of his soft left-handed hook shots and mid-range jumpers that rattle out, when what they crave is a nasty, rim-attacker who utilizes his greatest asset.

All in all, with the East’s No. 1 seed still remarkably in play, what might have teased at a potential Finals showdown – OKC vs. IND – looks more like a contender facing a calamity.

Proud Hawks keep playoff streak alive

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeff Teague talks about the Hawks clinching their playoff bid against the Heat

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They did it with their best player sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle since Christmas, with a parade of journeymen and supposedly over the hill stars like Elton Brand filling in and playing huge minutes, with the likes of Pero Antic and Mike Scott, Cartier Martin and DeMarre Carroll playing vital roles.

Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, fantastic basically from start to the near finish of this regular season for the now playoff bound Atlanta Hawks, can probably walk around the city without being rushed by fans for autographs. Would you even know Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap if he walked up on you in street clothes?

Perhaps … but probably not.

Reserve guard Lou Williams, in and out of the regular rotation all season, is arguably the most recognizable face on the roster for locals, and that’s mostly because he played his high school ball in the area at South Gwinnett High.

These Hawks are the poster child for the anti-tanking movement, a motley crew if ever there was one, bound for a first round playoff matchup against either the two-time defending champion Miami Heat (the team they beat Saturday to secure their Eastern Conference-best seventh straight postseason trip) or the struggling Indiana Pacers.

Instead of accepting their fate after All-Star center Al Horford saw his season end the day after Christmas due to a torn pectoral muscle, the Hawks survived and advanced to yet another trip to the playoff line.

Williams, who scored 18 of the Hawks’ 29 fourth-quarter points, including the final 12 Atlanta points of the game, admitted that the opponent Saturday night did not matter. The outcome was the sole focus.

“It doesn’t make a difference (who the opponent was),” he said. “That was our second time beating them this year. We gave them an overtime run earlier this year. It’s a team we’ve played well against this season. It was just satisfying to get a win and be in the groove that we’re in.”

As stubborn as they are fearless, Mike Budenholzer‘s Hawks finished the season series with a 2-2 record against the Heat. They had the same mark against the Indiana Pacers, the team they’d face if the playoffs began today. Whoever earns that No. 1 seed will be dealing with a No. 8 seed just crazy enough to believe they can compete with the best.

They could have packed it in and headed for the lottery, like so many others. Their fans wouldn’t have blamed them. The prospect of a higher pick in the lottery and the wistfulness that comes with it make for an easy sell. What could be is always a powerful elixir when you know there is no hope for a championship.

The hard work and dedication it takes to earn a playoff berth, even in a year when the Eastern Conference is historically weak, shows a level of perseverance that the Hawks should be applauded for showing. They knocked the dysfunctional Knicks (and former Hawks coach Mike Woodson) out of the playoff mix, ending Carmelo Anthony‘s personal playoff streak at 10 seasons.

Budenholzer is working with a much different talent base than Woodson did when he started the Hawks’ playoff streak. Horford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Mike Bibby and Zaza Pachulia comprised the core group. Hawks boss Danny Ferry hasn’t had the time to build a comparable core group, yet.

They backdoored their way into the No. 8 seed in 2008 and promptly scared the life out of the top-seed and eventual champion Boston Celtics with an epic seven-game series that was as entertaining as it was intense, considering one team finished the regular season 66 wins and the other with 37. (It was arguably the Celtics’ toughest series during their championship run, seeing as how they only saw one more Game 7 — against Cleveland — during their march to the Larry O’Brien trophy.)

“I’m happy that we get to play more games and I get to talk more about improving, and getting better each practice,” Budenholzer said after his team outlasted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat before a raucous home crowd Saturday night. “We want to build something here. Miami has been in the Finals for three years in a row. There are a lot of teams that have had a lot of success. It takes time to build your habits. (Miami’s) habits are outstanding. We want to continue to build our habits and continue to improve. Our group has really fought hard and competed hard this year. I think they got what they deserved.”

The Hawks got exactly what they earned, which is at least four more games for this bunch to show that sometimes it’s hard to break a habit of winning your way into the playoffs.


VIDEO: Jeff Teague leads the way as the Hawks earn their seventh straight playoff bid

Morning Shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mavs clinch | Durant studies Nowitzki | Wizards make dream come true | ‘Melo asks about Thibs | Silver to take ‘fresh look’ at playoff format

No. 1: Mavs clinch – The Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years. But they can breathe easier now after clinching one of the final two spots in the Western Conference playoff picture with a 101-98 win over the Phoenix Suns. Despite the clinch, the regular season fight is not yet over for Dallas as it currently sits in the seventh spot, but could rise or fall to the sixth or eighth seed over the season’s final days. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on the clinch:

“It feels good to be back in the big dance,” said [Dirk] Nowitzki, who scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half. “That’s where competitors want to be — on the big stage in the playoffs.”

[Monta] Ellis had 37 points, including three 3-pointers in the third quarter when the Mavericks erased a 13-point deficit.

Nowitzki played the final minutes through a twisted left ankle, which he said hurt briefly, but he doesn’t expect it to hinder him moving forward.

The return to the playoffs is gratifying for all the Mavericks, but particularly Ellis and the veteran trio of Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

“We feel official now,” Carter said. “We’re back where we feel we should be. This is a tough bunch. We walked in the day before training camp and looked at all the talent and said: ‘It can happen.’ We knew it was going to be a bumpy road, but there’s so much talent in this locker room.”

For Ellis, it will be only his third playoff appearance in nine NBA seasons.

“It’s lovely,” he said. “We set this goal at the beginning of training camp. Everybody doubted us. We knew if we won, it was automatic.”

Said Devin Harris of Ellis, who hit 15 of 23 shots: “He’s missed the playoffs a whole lot. You could tell he wanted it. I’m happy for him. And happy for the guys that we really accomplished something.”

That much is true. Nowitzki, Marion and Carter had been used to being in the playoffs for most of their careers. To be back is meaningful.

“It’s big,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our franchise, it stands for winning championships. And you can’t win a championship unless you get to the playoffs. I don’t know who our matchup is going to be. It’ll be tough, whatever it is. But we’ll be ready.”

***

No. 2: Durant studies Nowitzki – If they stay in the seventh seed, Nowitzki’s Mavericks will most likely play Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. This matchup will feature two of the premiere talents in the game, but don’t be surprised if you see a few unique moves duplicated. That’s because Durant has taken to study the moves of Nowitzki, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reports:

Durant doesn’t often reveal much beyond what we can all see out on the floor, but he recently confessed that he’s been swiping liberally all season from the Dirk Nowitzki playbook all season.

Turns out that, since November, Durant has been working with Adam Harrington as his personal trainer beyond his daily duties with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Which is the same Adam Harrington who briefly played alongside Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks more than a decade ago and has been studying the unorthodox coaching techniques hatched by Nowitzki’s longtime mentor and shot doctor from back home, Holger Geschwindner, ever since.

“It’s a lot more than just trying to copy the one-legger,” Durant said, explaining that he’s not merely focused on trying to mimic Nowitzki’s signature shot.

“Dirk’s got a lot of moves I’m trying to steal.”

Practice shots with both hands, off both feet and launched from a variety of stances and spins to improve footwork. Planting the heels and shifting smoothly onto the toes for better balance. Breathing techniques as the ball is released. Keeping the fingers wide, too.

Durant has been dabbling in all those Holger-centric areas of emphasis in his hourly sessions with Harrington, which typically take place in the evenings — home or road — whether it’s a practice day or after the Thunder fly into a new city on the night before a game.

Dirk, you see, is Durant’s favorite active player.

“It’s probably a tie between him and Kobe [Bryant],” Durant said after giving it some extra thought.

Yet there’s no disputing who’s the more natural role model for KD. It’s that 35-year-old, that 7-footer, who plays three hours away down Interstate 35 … and who just shot his way into the top 10 on the league’s all-time scoring charts in his 16th season.

You figure Durant will get there even faster at his current pace, given the insane levels of efficiency he’s hitting — sporting a PER of 30.2 for the season — and blessed with that extra dose of athleticism Dirk has always dreamed of.

Yet you can go ahead and give Dirk and Holger an assist or three in helping Durant navigate his path to that first MVP trophy. Harrington was predictably spotted sitting right next to Geschwindner, Der Professor, when the Thunder and Mavs dueled in Dallas in late March in a game the hosts eked out in overtime.

“I don’t know him so well,” Durant said of Nowitzki, “but I’ve always liked the way he goes about his business.

“And I’ve learned a lot from him by just studying the techniques.”

As if Durant, heading into a potential first-round matchup with Nowitzki’s Mavs, didn’t already have enough going for him.

***


VIDEO: Wizards sign Amaris Jackson

No. 3: Wizards make dream come true – Amaris Jackson is a 10-year-old who currently battles a rare type of cancer called renal cell carcinoma. She’s a huge basketball fan and her dream of becoming a professional basketball player came true on Saturday when the Washington Wizards inked her to a one-day contract. Brandon Parker of The Washington Post has more on this inspirational signing:

Ten-year-old Amaris Jackson, who is battling a rare kidney cancer known as renal cell carcinoma, signed a one-day contract with Wizards prior to Saturday’s home game against Milwaukee in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation. As part of her one-day experience as a Wizard, Jackson took part in the pregame shoot-around, visited the locker room and led the team onto the court.

Jackson watched intently and excitedly from half court of the Wizards’ practice gym as the team walked through plays in preparation for Saturday’s game. When Wizards Coach Randy Wittman told the defense to set up in a 2-3 zone, Jackson whispered to assistant coach Sam Cassell that she knew what that scheme meant before pointing where each of the defenders should line up.

At the conclusion of the shoot-around, the players gathered around Jackson, who broke the huddle with a yell of “team.” The Takoma Elementary student then shot around with Trevor Booker and Martell Webster, who told Jackson that her left-handed shot looked better than Booker’s.

Jackson then proceeded to prove Webster right, draining a short jumper from the paint before Booker clanked the same attempt off the back of the rim.

“See, I told you, Amaris!” Webster said while laughing. “Book can’t shoot like you.”

Donning a No. 10 Wizards jersey with her first name on the back along with a red and blue hair ties to hold up her long, black pigtails, Jackson then took to the main court to do an individual workout with her favorite player, John Wall.

“It was fun . . . exciting, meeting all the players,” Jackson said. “It was awesome.”

After leading the team onto the court about 20 minutes prior to tip-off, Jackson was the first player introduced in the Wizards starting lineup, complete with her name and photo on the scoreboard. A few minutes later, she headed back to an office with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld to ink a one-day contract that made her the youngest NBA player in history at 10 years old.

“It was kind of a neat thing, not only for her, but it was kind of neat thing for our guys,” Wittman said. “Our guys I think had a special moment with her. So, that’s always good, to make sure you never take your eyes off the big picture.”

.***

No. 4: ‘Melo asks about Thibs – The Atlanta Hawks’ win over the Miami Heat secured them the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and officially eliminated the New York Knicks from playoff contention. This disappointing season has caused many to question whether free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony will remain in New York or bolt for a more attractive situation in, say, Chicago. Frank Isola of The New York Daily News reports that Anthony recently asked a  former Chicago Bulls player what it’s like to play for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, and apparently that’s just enough juice to squeeze out a glass full of speculation:

Anthony’s interest in Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau can be taken one of several ways. Anthony, who lives and breathes basketball, is merely interested in learning something about one of the NBA’s top coaches. In fact, Anthony will be working with Thibodeau, who was named to USA Basketball’s coaching staff last June.

Of course, Anthony’s impromptu background check on Thibodeau could also be his idea of due diligence since the Bulls loom as an attractive option this summer for the free-agent-to-be.

The Bulls are emerging as one of several teams, along with the Lakers and Rockets, who are expected to pursue Anthony if and when he opts out of his contract on July 1. The Knicks can still offer Anthony the most money, and [Phil] Jackson, the new Knicks president, is intent on re-signing the All-Star forward.

But with the Knicks getting eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday night by virtue of Atlanta beating Miami, Anthony, now in his 11th season, is well-aware that the clock is ticking on his career. He won’t be in the playoffs for the first time and knows the Knicks won’t have cap space until next summer.

Anthony will have to decide if he wants to wait another year before Jackson can make a significant impact, or jump to a ready-made team such as Chicago or Houston.

When asked on Friday why the Bulls have survived losing key players while the Knicks haven’t, Anthony said: “I have no clue. Thibs is a great coach, his system kind of reminds me of Gregg Popovich’s system.

“You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. That’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve had guys sitting out all season long, guys that’s been in and out of the lineups and they seem to get it done.”

Anthony flirted with the idea of joining the Bulls before forcing a trade to New York, which was his top choice all along. But the chance to play with [Derrick] Rose, Joakim Noah and Thibodeau may be too appealing to pass up again.

Another factor could be Thibodeau’s close relationship to Anthony’s agent, Leon Rose, whose longtime friend William Wesley represents Thibodeau. They all fall under the same CAA umbrella.

In recent weeks, Jackson has hinted that he doesn’t want to feel beholden to any one agency, and his comments have been viewed as a knock on CAA. However, the Knicks’ relationship with that agency was viewed as a strength last season when they were winning 54 games.

Also, Anthony and another CAA client, J.R. Smith, have both played at a high level over the last month as the Knicks kept their season alive.

Ultimately, Anthony will make the decision on his own, and the Knicks’ offer of $125 million may be too good to pass up. But with the Knicks’ coaching situation unsettled and the playoff chase over, Anthony may soon be able to answer the question of “What is it like to play for Thibs?” for himself.

***

No. 5: Silver to take ‘fresh look’ at playoff format – New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have plenty of time to make his desired changes to the league, and it appears he already has a few ideas of things which could potentially be improved. One of them, which he discussed during a San Antonio Spurs broadcast, is to shake up the current playoff format. Mike Monroe of The San Antonio Express-News has the full Silver quotes:

Conducting an in-game interview with Spurs broadcasters Bill Land and Sean Elliott during the telecast of Friday’s Spurs-Suns game at AT&T Center, Silver said the league needs to consider changes to the format that puts the top eight teams in each conference in the playoffs.

This season, that means one Eastern team with a losing record will make the playoffs while one Western team with at least 47 wins will be left out.

The Suns, who left Friday’s game with a 47-32 record after absorbing a 112-104 loss to the Spurs, would be third in the East with that record. The bottom four teams in the West all would have home court advantage in the East were the playoffs to begin on Saturday.

“I don’t know that there will be movement,” Silver said about changing the format. “My initial thought is we will take a fresh look at it. When these conferences were designed it was in the day of commercial (air) travel. It was very different moving teams around the country.

“In this day and age when every team is flying charter it changes everything. It’s one of the reasons we moved back to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for this year’s Finals.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden collected 33 points and 13 assists to help the Rockets rally past the Pelicans 111-104. … Brandon Wright secured a Mavericks victory with this huge block.The Nuggets’ Evan Fournier proved that he doesn’t need to be standing to make a shot.

ICYMI: The Atlanta Hawks clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Miami Heat on Saturday night. This marks the seventh straight season the Hawks will be in the playoffs, which is the longest streak in the East. Point guard Jeff Teague joined the NBATV GameTime crew after the game last night to talk about what the clinch means to the team.


VIDEO: Arena Link: Jeff Teague

Ellis delivers Dallas back to the playoffs

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mavs knock off Suns to clinch playoff spot

DALLAS – Even as he’s reshaped his reputation through 80 games playing alongside a legend and for an offensive innovator, Monta Ellis at 7:35 p.m. Central Time on Saturday night still stood 48 minutes away from getting back into the playoffs.

Nearly three hours later, moments after a late collapse in which he missed two free throws in the final 20 seconds was narrowly averted, Ellis, smiling and surrounded by cameras and notepads, said his season-high-tying 37 points on 15-for-23 shooting, plus five assists against the equally desperate Phoenix Suns, was nothing personal.

It was all about the team, he said.

“This is nothing for me personally,” Ellis said. “I do everything for my teammates, I do everything for my organization that I play for and I leave it all on the court. That’s all.”

In an interview back in 2012, Ellis, wanting to emphasize that he is a complete player and not just a flinger, famously said “Monta have it all.” On Saturday night, with his team begging for it, he did it all.

He logged 43 minutes, 28 seconds of the 101-98 victory and every tick of the second half simply because coach Rick Carlisle couldn’t afford to take his headstrong gunner and virtuoso playmaker out of the game. When the NBA’s 10th all-time leading scorer, Dirk Nowitzki, couldn’t find a rhythm early — he scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half — Ellis attacked and never stopped.

He had 14 at halftime, the reason — with center Brandan Wright – why the Suns’ lead wasn’t bigger than 57-46. He scored 11 points in the third quarter, his back-to-back 3-pointers in transition slicing the Suns’ 11-point bulge down five. Then came 12 more in the fourth plus a strip of Channing Frye and a breakaway layup for a 94-89 Dallas lead with 4:03 to go.

“It was tough, man,” said Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who went toe-to-toe with Ellis for 29 points on 11-for-15 shooting and six assists, but with 19 seconds to go was blocked at the rim by Wright on a potential game-tying drive. “Monta is one of the premiere scorers in this league when he gets it going like that.”

Not personal? Ellis’ teammates weren’t buying it. This entire season has been personal.

“He’s missed the playoffs a whole lot, and I know he wanted it and you could tell he wanted it,” Devin Harris said. “You could tell he was engaged from the start. I’m just happy for him.”

Ellis is going back to the playoffs for just the third time in his career, and Dallas is going back after a one-year hiatus that interrupted a streak of 12 consecutive postseason appearances. For Ellis, this time is different. He’s happy. He’s counted upon.

“At the time we needed him most, he stepped up and played his biggest game of the year,” Carlisle said. “We had to play him the entire second half; we couldn’t get him out.”

Last season with Milwaukee, Ellis was miserable and has said so. So miserable he left $11 million on the table to get out. The Bucks backed into the eighth seed at 38-44 and were a first-round mop job for the Miami Heat. In 2006-07, Ellis was a second-year free-wheeler on a Warriors team that streaked into the playoffs as an eighth seed, upset the No. 1 Mavs in the first round and quickly bowed out to Utah in the second round.

This season Ellis, averaging 19.0 points on just 15.5 shot attempts, has won more games on the 49-32 Mavs than in any previous season. The irony is that in the stiff Western Conference, it will be good for only the seventh or eighth seed and a first-round playoff date against either Oklahoma City or San Antonio. When the Warriors won 48 games in 2007-08, the previous high in Ellis’ career, they failed to make the playoffs.

On Saturday night, it didn’t seem to make much difference to Ellis if Dallas had been locking up the top seed or that he needed to be near-perfect on his home floor just to secure the elusive playoff berth on the penultimate game of the regular season.

Ultimately, the season might still come to an end in short order once the playoffs begin next weekend. Dallas, which relies so heavily on old, but reliable legs — Nowtizki (35), Shawn Marion (35), and Vince Carter (37) — and their 28-year-old former chucker, has lost nine a row to the Spurs. Until taking two from Oklahoma City in the last six weeks, Dallas had lost 11 in a row to the Thunder, including the 2012 first-round sweep.

For now, Ellis was content to soak in this moment, his steely performance and what it meant for a franchise whose fans had practically come to take the postseason as a birthright to be a playoff team again.

“Ah man, it’s lovely,” Ellis said. “We set this goal at the beginning of training camp. Everybody doubted us and for us to come and be here in the playoffs, and then add our goal to get 50 wins, we got one more game to do that and get ready for the playoffs.”

Howard, Beverley make Rockets whole

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Harden leads way as Rockets end 2-game skid

HOUSTON — Kevin McHale hadn’t planned on using Dwight Howard and Pat Beverley for long and so late.

So much for plans.

With the Rockets knocked onto the ropes by the undermanned Pelicans and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs in danger of slipping away, Howard and Beverley made their returns count.

In the final two minutes, Beverley sandwiched a pair of 3-point bombs around a huge blocked shot by Howard that sparked the comeback for a 111-104 win over the Pelicans.

More than just a win, it was a much-needed tourniquet for a Rockets team that had been losing games, confidence and a sense of purpose.

Howard (ankle) and Beverley (knee) both were coming off injuries that had forced them to miss eight straight games and the past two weeks while the Rockets defense went AWOL. While the pair of starters were sidelined, Houston had limped to a 3-5 record and surrendered an average of 115.9 points a game.

“We’re not playing hard,” said McHale. “We’re not getting the 50-50 balls. We’re not playing every possession. We’re playing selectively.”

Though the Rockets still dug themselves an alarming 15-point hole and had to close fast to overtake a Pelicans’ team that was playing without its top seven scorers, the fact that Howard and Beverley were back on the court with the start of the playoffs just a week off was the biggest takeaway.

The Rockets’ magic number to clinch the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference is just one and they will likely open the first round against the Trail Blazers.

Howard played 29 minutes, shot 5-for-8 for 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots.

“I think the first quarter I needed an oxygen mask,” he said. “I was pretty tired. But I just kept playing, kept trying to get a rhythm. First games are always tough to come back. But I think Pat had an excellent game. He started hitting shots late in the game. At the beginning of the game he was rushing a lot of his 3s. In the second half, he calmed down and was knocking them down. I was happy to see him back and being aggressive and the knee held up for him and that was a great thing.

“It’s important that we come out better and we hold teams on the defensive end. We’ve got to do a better job on the pick and roll. With me and Pat coming back, we’ve got to get our rhythm going, especially on defense. Everything will come together. We’ve got to continue to be patient with our bodies. We’ll be fine.”

Beverley finished with 20 points, hitting 4-for-8 from behind the arc, in 33 minutes and said his sprained right knee was not a problem.

“I was kinda hesitant on it first half,” he said. “I hadn’t really played in a game situation. But I got warmed up and it felt good.

“I was in a groove. I asked coach not to take me out. He kept me and Dwight in a little bit longer than we expected. But we needed this win.

“No swelling at all. I feel good, man. All praise to God. I heal unbelievably fast for some odd reason. It’s not a bad thing.”

It’s also not bad that Howard and Beverley have two more regular-season games to work on their timing and rhythm before the playoffs begin and the Rockets have a week to shore up the holes in that defense.

“Taking two starters out for the last two weeks, you’re switching everything around. It’s tough,” Beverley said. “We’re kinda of rusty this game, but we were able to chip that rust off and get that win. We’re gonna be all right.”

Morning Shootaround — April 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat win the numbers game over the Pacers | Pierce becomes the 18th player to reach 25,000 | Brewer the most unlikely 50-point scorer … ever? | Raptors ready to hang another banner | Clippers to get Crawford back tonight

No. 1: Numbers that matter favor the Heat in Pacers seriesLeBron James made sure the Miami Heat evened their regular season series with the Indiana Pacers, going off for 36 points in the Friday night showdown on NBA TV and making sure there were no doubts heading into the playoffs that the two-time NBA champs are ready for all challengers. But while the Heat own the numbers game over the Pacers, Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote believes there are quite a few assumptions being made about the two teams everyone feels are destined for a playoff rematch in the Eastern Conference finals:

The Heat’s game against the Pacers here Friday night understandably was billed as the battle for No. 1 — for the top conference playoff seeding as the NBA postseason fast approaches. It was supposed to be crucial because it would determine who would have home-court advantage in a deciding Game 7 in these teams’ inevitable Eastern finals rematch.

Nice, neat little story line.

Only one small problem with the premise.

It assumes both teams will advance that far, a presumption that seems mighty flattering right now to one of those teams.

The Pacers look disheveled and done, frustrated and finished. They look lost, their downward spiral continued by a decisive 98-86 Heat victory at the downtown bayside arena, an outcome putting Miami in control of that top seeding.

Here is why the outcome had to be so disheartening for Indiana fans and such a shot of adrenaline for Miami’s chances of a third consecutive championship.

The Pacers were the Pacers again, healthy, rested and supposedly re-energized after their fatigued starters recently were given three consecutive day off.

And the Heat still was not the Heat, not fully, not with Dwyane Wade missing a ninth consecutive game on account of a strained left hamstring.

Yet LeBron James with 36 points led his depleted champions to a resounding triumph that tipped on a 16-0 Miami run to open the second half.

The Heat has too much offensive firepower, even sans Wade, for light-scoring Indiana, which has too little in the way of a counter-punch. Pacers top scorer Paul George has not been anything special most of the second half of this season, and Miami seems to have discovered a weapon to stop Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, the 7-2 behemoth who is a lumbering slug against the rest of the NBA but tends to take a star turn against Miami.

The Heat’s not-so-secret weapon against Hibbert? His name is Udonis Haslem. He held Hibbert to a whispering five points and one rebound Friday. Haslem had fallen out of the rotation this season but seems to be a big factor again as the playoffs loom.

“It’s great to have U.D. back,” James said of Haslem. “He’s the heart and soul of our team.”

Haslem gave up 6 inches and 55 pounds to Hibbert but won the matchup with hustle, with knee burns on wood earned diving after loose balls. Haslem turns 34 in June, right around the time of the NBA Finals. With obvious affection, coach Erik Spoelstra calls him “our old warrior.”

“He set the tone early,” Spoelstra said. “It’s what going on in here, which you can’t teach.”

As he said “here,” Spoelstra tapped his finger on his chest, over his heart.


VIDEO: The Heat’s Chris Bosh talks about the win over the Pacers

***

No. 2: Paul Pierce joins the exclusive 25,000-point club – Not that he needed the boost, but is there any doubt that Paul Pierce will join the Hall of Fame club one day now that he’s scored his pass to the all-exclusive 25,000-point club, becoming just the 18th player in NBA history to reach that mark? It’s a nod to not only his elite scoring ability but also his dedication to the craft and the longevity it takes to reach such heights. Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com helps put Pierce’s accomplishment into better perspective:

Pierce became the 18th player in NBA history to score at least 25,000 career points in Friday night’s 93-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center.

“I told him, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood,’ ” said teammate Kevin Garnett, who is also a member of the exclusive club.

” ‘Truth’ has been a big part of this league. He’s one of my great friends, best friends. We’ve had some accomplishments together, done some great things together, and tonight it was all about him. I’m happy for him.”

Pierce, Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are the only four active players in the league to have reached the milestone.

“It’s better to be in the championship club obviously,” Pierce said when told of the comment from Garnett, with whom he won a title with the Boston Celtics in 2008. “Statistical things, they come and go. There’s gonna be players in the future that pass me up, but when you win, that lasts forever. It’s great. I’m gonna enjoy being part of history. It’s just a testament to my hard work and consistency over the years and good health.”

Pierce came into Friday night’s game just five points shy of reaching the mark. He knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:09 remaining in the second quarter to give him 25,001 career points. Pierce had started off 1 of 5 from the field before draining the milestone shot.

“It’s hard not to [think about it],” said Pierce, who finished with 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting. “Everybody’s talking about it. My family’s here, my friends that’s all they’re talking about, and I was the same way when I reached the 20,000-point mark. I remember I couldn’t hit a shot in the first quarter because I was pressing just to get it. I’m just glad it’s over with and I can just focus on the rest of the season.”

Pierce received a nice ovation from the home crowd after his accomplishment was recognized by the public address announcer.

The 36-year-old has averaged 21.3 points per game during his 16-year career. He spent the first 15 seasons with the Celtics, and currently ranks second on the franchise’s all-time scoring list behind John Havlicek.


VIDEO: Paul Pierce joins the 25,000-point club

***

No. 3: Brewer the most unlikely 50-point scorer ever? — Welcome to the 50-point scorer’s club Corey Brewer, we had no idea you’d be joining the party. Since you’ve never scored 30 points in a game in your seven seasons in the league … until Friday night, of course, when you smoked the Houston Rockets for half of a hundred. Brewer also joined the elite list of Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Rick Barry as the only players to score 50 points and collect six steals in the same game. The other three guys are either already in or locks for the Hall of Fame. Brewer … is not, as Ryan Feldman of ESPN Stats & Information explains:

Brewer is the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 50 points in a game without having previously scored 30 points in a game.

The lowest previous career high for a player to score 50 points in a game was 26 by Terrence Ross (earlier this season for the Toronto Raptors) and Tony Delk (in 2000-01 for the Phoenix Suns).

Brewer, in his seventh NBA season, is the most experienced player ever to score 50 points without having previously scored 30.

The only other players to score 50 before ever scoring 30 among players with at least two full seasons of NBA experience were Delk (fifth season in 2000-01) and Willie Burton (1994-95 season with the Philadelphia 76ers was his fifth season).

Brewer averaged 9.9 points per game in his career entering Friday, the fifth-lowest career scoring average for a player at the time of scoring 50 points. The lowest was Ross, who averaged 7.4 before scoring 51 back in January.

Brewer now averages 10.0 points per game, the fifth-lowest career scoring average for any 50-point scorer (including every career game for players after they scored 50). The lowest on that list? Walt Wesley (8.5 career points per game), who joined the 50-point club with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 1970-71 season.

And let’s not forget about a few other notables:

Tracy Murray, who scored 50 for the Washington Wizards in 1997-98, averaged 9.0 points per game for his career.

Phil Smith and Phil Chenier both joined the 50-point club in the 1970s before ever scoring 30 in a game.

Dana Barros had eight 30-point games, all for the 76ers in 1994-95, his only season averaging more than 13.3 points per game. That season, he scored 50 against the Rockets on 21-of-26 shooting.

***

No. 4: Raptors ready to hang another banner with Atlantic Division title wrapped up – No one said it was going to be easy, the Toronto Raptors getting to the top of the heap of the Atlantic Division. After all, the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks were both projected to finish ahead of them in the race this season. But as the sun rises this morning north of the border, it’s the scrappy Raptors (losers to the Knicks Friday night on their home floor) who have emerged victorious in the chase. Losing your way into winning a division title makes for a rather odd but satisfying celebration, according to Cousin Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

The lone banner signifying Raptors success will soon have another flying next to it in the Air Canada Centre.

It was an odd celebration — barely a celebration at all — but the Raptors did manage to secure the second Atlantic Division title in franchise history on Friday night.

Coach Dwane Casey was deconstructing a 108-100 loss to the New York Knicks at about the same time the players were bemoaning a lost opportunity and the Atlanta Hawks were providing a helping hand by beating the Brooklyn Nets to hand the division to the Raptors.

So while there were commemorative t-shirts mandated by the league — Atlantic Is Ours, they said — there was hardly a raucous celebration raging in the locker room.

“It sucks that we lost the game, especially with us trying to hold on to the third spot (in the East) but it feels great to win the division,” said DeMar DeRozan. “I don’t think anyone would have picked us to win it, so it is definitely an accomplishment.

“The feel is we are still anxious, we want more, we aren’t satisfied with anything. We still have much basketball to play and have a long road to go.

“We want to take advantage of it, not just get there and say we got there and say we got there when people doubted us. We feel like we can go in there and make some noise.”

***

No. 5: Clippers Crawford set for a Saturday return – The best sixth-man in the business is set for a Saturday return, per Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com. And it comes at the perfect time for the Los Angeles Clippers, as they welcome back Jamal Crawford in the lead up to the first round of the Western Conference playoffs:

Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford practiced with the team Friday and is expected to play Saturday against the Sacramento Kings.

Crawford has been sidelined the past five games with a strained left calf. It was the same injury that sidelined him for eight of nine games last month.

The Clippers are officially listing Crawford as a “game-time decision” for Saturday but he is expected to play for the first time since March 29.

“I think it’s huge from a chemistry standpoint to get everybody back healthy,” Crawford said. “At that point we’d just be missing Danny [Granger]. Just to get back into rhythm after missing some [time] would be huge. You want to play your best heading into the playoffs.”

Granger, who has missed the past six games with a strained left calf, shot with the team on Friday and is hoping to return for the team’s playoff opener next week.

Coach Doc Rivers last week thought Crawford and Granger would be out until the playoffs started, but with Crawford coming back and Granger on track to return next week, Rivers could have a fully healthy roster for the first time this season just as the playoffs begin.

“I think it’s great,” Rivers said. “I think it’s great for him and the team.”


VIDEO: Corey Brewer goes off for a career-high 51 points

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers have changed their tune now that the No. 1 seed seems to have slipped away …  The Warriors bounce back, bounce Lakers and clinch playoff berth … Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva is facing an uncertain future …  The Atlanta Hawks mourn the death of “Sweet Lou” Hudson …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Steph Curry goes off again and Big Al Jefferson shreds the competition inside once more …


VIDEO: All of the Lakers found out the hard way what it means to deal with Steph Curry

 


VIDEO: Al Jefferson 32-point, 10-rebound night was routine work for the Bobcats big man

 

Pierce joins 25,000-point club

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pierce hits 25,000 points

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With a 3-pointer from the left wing late in the second quarter of the Brooklyn Nets’ game against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, Paul Pierce became the 18th player in NBA history to score 25,000 points in his career.

Among active players, Pierce is fourth on the all-time scoring list, behind Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and teammate Kevin Garnett. Tim Duncan, who had the night off in Phoenix, is just 108 points from the 25,000 mark.

Of the 18 players who have scored 25,000 points, Pierce has the sixth-lowest scoring average (21.3 points per game), but the sixth-highest true shooting percentage (56.9 percent), a number which measures scoring efficiency. Reggie Miller is the only member of the club who has hit more 3-pointers.

Almost everybody above Pierce on the all-time scoring list was taller or more athletic. Pierce has an unorthodox game, but he knows how to put the ball in the basket. “Professional scorer” is an appropriate term.

He’s 36 years old and a free agent this summer. But if he re-signs with the Nets for another two years, he has an outside chance of cracking the top 10, like Nowitzki did on Wednesday.

Players with 25,000 points, NBA history

Player GP FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% PTS PPG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1,560 15,837 28,307 55.9% 1 18 5.6% 38,387 24.6
Karl Malone 1,476 13,528 26,210 51.6% 85 310 27.4% 36,928 25.0
Michael Jordan 1,072 12,192 24,537 49.7% 581 1,778 32.7% 32,292 30.1
Kobe Bryant 1,245 11,055 24,374 45.4% 1,640 4,895 33.5% 31,700 25.5
Wilt Chamberlain 1,045 12,681 23,497 54.0% 31,419 30.1
Shaquille O’Neal 1,207 11,330 19,457 58.2% 1 22 4.5% 28,596 23.7
Moses Malone 1,329 9,435 19,225 49.1% 8 80 10.0% 27,409 20.6
Elvin Hayes 1,303 10,976 24,272 45.2% 5 34 14.7% 27,313 21.0
Hakeem Olajuwon 1,238 10,749 20,991 51.2% 25 124 20.2% 26,946 21.8
Dirk Nowitzki 1,186 9,387 19,711 47.6% 1,465 3,828 38.3% 26,733 22.5
Oscar Robertson 1,040 9,508 19,620 48.5% 26,710 25.7
Dominique Wilkins 1,074 9,963 21,589 46.1% 711 2,231 31.9% 26,668 24.8
John Havlicek 1,270 10,513 23,930 43.9% 26,395 20.8
Kevin Garnett 1,375 10,307 20,714 49.8% 173 624 27.7% 25,623 18.6
Alex English 1,193 10,659 21,036 50.7% 18 83 21.7% 25,613 21.5
Reggie Miller 1,389 8,241 17,499 47.1% 2,560 6,486 39.5% 25,279 18.2
Jerry West 932 9,016 19,032 47.4% 25,192 27.0
Paul Pierce 1,175 8,196 18,327 44.7% 1,934 5,223 37.0% 25,008 21.3

Bold = Active player
Through Friday, April 11, 2014

Warriors miss out on prime chance to keep moving forward

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Denver knocks off Golden State with a late Kenneth Faried jumper

OAKLAND – With the opportunity to make things easy on themselves for once and a chance to clinch a playoff spot against an injury-depleted, lottery-bound opponent (on the second night of a back-to-back, no less), the Warriors wouldn’t cooperate.

They handed it all back Thursday inside Oracle Arena, every comfort zone, every opening, every ideal scenario. The Warriors got hurt bad by Wilt Chamberlain — no, wait, that was Timofey (the Dream) Mozgov — but mostly brought the 100-99 loss to the Nuggets on themselves in an embarrassing loss that stands for more than a bad night.

Golden State is a better rebounding team than Denver, but not last night. They got drilled on the boards 63-38, with Mozgov grabbing 29 on his own — the most in the league this season — to go with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and three blocks. Golden State may have been without David Lee, but Denver was down three power forwards and centers, and besides, give up 29 to Bill Russell — check that, still Timofey (the Worm) Mozgov. Suddenly, this becomes about the heart of the healthy players, not Lee’s nerve inflammation that kept him out of the lineup.

Having been off since Sunday, and basically longer since no Warrior logged more than 31 minutes in a blowout win over the Jazz, the Warriors go run off the court … by the team that played Wednesday in Denver, got to their San Francisco hotel a little after 1 a.m. Thursday and won using eight players.

The team that trailed by 13 points in the first quarter and 20 in the second (Denver) showed toughness and determination while the group that might win 50 games (Golden State) showed there should be concern about the direction.

Because of everything that happened to Golden State with the playoffs so close, capped by Denver’s Kenneth Faried dropping in an eight-footer with five-tenths of a second remaining for the win, Thursday night wasn’t about Thursday night. With choppy times behind them and four games left in the season, the Warriors were in big-picture territory as a team surprisingly lacking focus and consistency as the postseason nears.

Or, maybe not.

“I won’t co-sign that,” coach Mark Jackson countered, disagreeing with the premise. “We lost a ballgame. I won’t say that the Houston Rockets are inconsistent with their focus. They lost to the Nuggets (Wednesday) night. Mozgov, Faried hurt us. We didn’t play well. We made mistakes. We lost a ballgame. I’m not concerned. It’s part of the process. You talk about the Spurs in a game (Thursday) that they don’t have to win, they go into Dallas, a team that’s at home and playing with a sense of urgency, and the Spurs win. It’s a mentality. They (the Spurs) didn’t just get it overnight. That’s the next step for us.”

But it’s not just the Denver game. The Warriors haven’t been dependable for weeks.

“We lost to a team that played desperate, out-worked us and hurt us on the boards,” Jackson said, dodging the issue.

The two games before this were very encouraging, a 130-102 trouncing of the Jazz on Sunday and the 102-69 light workout against the Kings on Friday. That was the look of a team ready for the playoffs.

But immediately before?

A loss at San Antonio, no shame considering the opponent and the circumstances of the second night of a back-to-back.

A win at Dallas.

A loss at home to the Knicks.

A win over the Grizzlies in Oakland.

A loss to the Spurs at Oracle Arena with San Antonio finishing a back-to-back and sitting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

And before that was three wins in a row preceded by two losses in a row.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our focus,” said Draymond Green, Thursday’s starting power forward. “Nobody was complaining about our focus the last two games, when we punched everybody by 40. We got up 20, took our foot off the gas pedal, and when you’re playing against a team like that who doesn’t necessarily have the best shot selection and nothing to lose, and those shots start falling, you’re in for a long night. We had a chance to put them away. We didn’t and they came back to bite us.”

That was right after Stephen Curry was asked if he was worried about the backslide, the Warriors’ direction with the postseason so close, and answered, “I’m not concerned about that at all. It’s not going to waiver our confidence when it comes to what’s going to happen when we get to the playoffs. But we’ve got learn these lessons. It’s as simple as that. You can’t take off possessions, you can’t take off quarters and expect to just turn it on when you need it. For us to close out these last four games and to win a playoff series, we’re going to need every ounce of effort, energy, focus and execution going forward.”

“This is a pretty veteran team,” a reporter pointed out. “Wouldn’t you guys have learned that lesson long ago?”

“You would think so,” Curry said. “But we fought down the stretch. Obviously Faried made a great play. We probably wouldn’t be talking like this if he misses that shot. But you put yourself in that situation, you’ve got to deal with the consequences. That’s what’s going on right now.”

That’s just the pain of what happened Thursday night, though. Until the Warriors show otherwise, there’s actually a lot more going on than that.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew sees the Warriors as a still-dangerous playoff squad

Hawks, NBA mourn Lou Hudson’s death

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Hawks legend Lou Hudson died at age 69

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Hawks great Lou Hudson passed away this morning at 69.

A six-time NBA All-Star, Hudson had been in a local Atlanta hospital on life support after a suffering severe stroke late last month. He was reportedly taken off of life support two weeks ago and remained in a coma until his death.

Lou Hudson

Lou Hudson was a six-time All-Star as a member of the Hawks.

Hudson is one of three Hawks with his number (23) retired, joining Bob Pettit (No. 9) and Dominique Wilkins (No. 21) on that elite list. Known as “Sweet Lou,” Hudson played 11 of his 13 NBA seasons for the Hawks and during his stellar career averaged 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

Hudson was a first round pick of the Hawks (No. 4 overall) in the 1966 NBA Draft after starring at the University of Minnesota in college, where he also had his No. 14 jersey retired. A native of Greensboro, N.C., Hudson was a three-sport star (football, track and basketball) in high school and was also drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1966 despite never having played a single down of college football.

But Hudson made his mark in a Hawks uniform. Beginning with the 1969-70 season, Hudson put together a stretch of five consecutive years where he averaged at least 24.0 ppg. He averaged 20 or more points in seven of his 11 seasons with the Hawks and still shares the franchise single-game scoring record, having put up 57 points against Chicago on November 10, 1969.

“Lou Hudson holds a special place in the Hawks family, in the hearts of our fans and in the history of our club,” Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon said in a statement released by the team. “As a fan growing up with this team, I’m fortunate to say I was able to see almost every game Sweet Lou played as a member of the Hawks. He was an integral part of successful Hawks teams for over a decade, and is deservedly recognized with the ultimate symbol of his significance to the franchise with the number 23 hanging inside Philips Arena. On behalf of the Hawks organization, I’d like to extend condolences to Lou’s family and friends.”

Most Valuable Player by the numbers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters have their say on the LeBron-Durant MVP race

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Is the Kia NBA Most Valuable Player award for the most outstanding player or the most important player? If it’s the latter, is it more important to turn a playoff team into a championship contender than it is to turn a Lottery team into a playoff team?

Where would the Bobcats be without Al Jefferson? The Raptors without Kyle Lowry? How about the Mavs without Dirk Nowitzki? None of those three guys are in the top 10 of our MVP Ladder as of last Friday.

In reality, MVP voting is typically a combination of three things…

  1. Team success – Each of the last 25 MVPs played for a 1 (20) or 2 (five) seed in their conference. The last MVP not on one of the top two teams in his conference was Michael Jordan in 1988.
  2. Production – Each of those 25 MVPs have averaged at least 36.8 points + rebounds + assists per game, with 20 of the 25 averaging at least 40.
  3. Importance – This can lead to a narrative creeping into the conscience of a voter (see Derrick Rose in 2011), but it’s something that advanced stats can help quantify.

Obviously, in terms of production, Kevin Durant and LeBron James lead the pack. They rank first and second in our PIE statistic. And through Thursday, their teams each rank second in their conference.

All stats are through Wednesday, April 9.

But can we tell which guy has been more important to their team’s success? If you look at team numbers with each on and off the floor, they’re both in the same ball park.

Thunder & Heat NetRtg with Durant and James on and off the floor

On floor Off floor Difference
Player MIN NetRtg MIN NetRtg NetRtg Rank
Kevin Durant 2,961 +8.2 808 +3.6 4.5 67
LeBron James 2,830 +8.1 954 +3.3 4.9 64

NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Rank = Among 244 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes with one team

The Thunder have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions better offensively and 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Durant on the floor. The Heat have been 8.1 points per 100 possessions better offensively and 3.3 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with James on the floor.

Those numbers are influenced by who Durant and James are playing with and against. Both have All-Star teammates that have missed big chunks of the season. Russell Westbrook has missed 35 games for the Thunder, while Dwyane Wade has missed 27 games for the Heat. Durant (43 percent) and James (41 percent) have each played less than half of their minutes with their costars on the floor.

But Serge Ibaka and Chris Bosh are both really good too. And both have missed just one game all season.

James has played more minutes without either Wade or Bosh than Durant has played without either Westbrook or Ibaka. But the Thunder’s only-Durant minutes have been much more successful than the Heat’s only-James minutes.

Thunder efficiency with Durant on the floor

On floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Durant + Ibaka + Westbrook 1,128 110.1 103.9 +6.2 +143
Durant + Ibaka, no Westbrook 1,195 107.0 100.7 +6.3 +162
Durant + Westbrook, no Ibaka 146 113.3 98.2 +15.1 +43
Durant, no Ibaka or Westbrook 492 114.7 99.6 +15.1 +153

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Heat efficiency with James on the floor

On floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
James + Bosh + Wade 1,022 109.5 101.4 +8.1 +156
James + Bosh, no Wade 1,113 115.4 101.6 +13.8 +270
James + Wade, no Bosh 127 107.8 107.8 -0.0 +2
James, no Bosh or Wade 568 109.0 109.9 -1.0 -18

James and Bosh have been a better tandem, but Durant has been, by far, the better solo act. Those 568 minutes are just 20 percent of James’ total playing time, but the numbers make it clear that Bosh has been a critical component to the Heat’s defense. His presence on the floor has been more important for the Heat than Ibaka’s has been for the Thunder.

These guys are never playing by themselves, of course. Beyond each team’s big three, the Thunder have gotten more consistent production from their role players. Nick Collison has the best on-off-court differential of OKC regulars.

But Collison has played less than 1,300 minutes and Durant’s on-court numbers appear to have been less influenced by the other stars on his team. The Thunder have the better record overall (57-21 vs. 53-25) and the better record when star No. 2 is out (35-10 vs. 27-10).

If James is going to be the fourth player to win five or more MVP awards, it probably won’t happen this year.