Posts Tagged ‘Chris Bosh’

Miami lineups change, LeBron plays on

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron dunks on the Bucks on a night when he rested during the fourth quarter

MILWAUKEE – In the last game of LeBron James‘ seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he took the floor against Boston in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison and 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal. Combined points-per-game of the four starters besides James: 50.9.

Against the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night, James stepped on the court with Chris Bosh, Toney Douglas, James Jones and Udonis Haslem. Combined scoring average at tipoff of this “supporting cast”: 26.2.

This was not what the smoke, lasers and dance music were all about back in July 2010.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has shuffled through 19 different starting lineups in 72 games this season. One – the familiar one from the past two Finals, with James, Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier – has been used 30 times,with the Heat going 20-10 in those games. The other 18 actually have yielded better results – 30-12 – despite none getting more than eight starts together and eight of the combinations going one-and-done.

None of this is by design, mind you. Injuries and ineffectiveness have pulled the handle on Miami’s lineup slot machine, not Spoelstra, the fruit tumbling and landing based on who’s available and contributing. Everyone knows about Wade, whose increasingly brittle body has been nursed through the 2013-14 schedule (51 games in, 21 games out) as if it’s Stephen Strasburg‘s right arm. Ray Allen at times has looked every bit of his 38 years, eight months, one week and three days. Battier’s planned retirement after this season has had a few false starts.

Eternally rehabbing Greg Oden has been more mascot than center, the way this season has gone.

“People think we’re overanalyzing it, we have some plan right now,” Spoelstra said Saturday evening before his guys did their work early in the 88-67 breeze past the Bucks. “Guys who are able to play right now are playing, period. Guys who cannot play, who are not passing the test, they’re not playing. The thing about this season, we’ve had a lot more of those than we’ve had in the past where guys aren’t able to play.”

In the middle of it all stands James. He’s the constant in the Heat’s season of change – OK, Bosh has missed one game and Norris Cole none but they orbit James the same as Miami’s other planets and moons. The four-time MVP has missed three games himself – broken nose, groin and ankle sprain, he recounts swiftly when the topic comes up – but no one on the roster has played within 300 minutes of his time. At 2,592, he has played nearly seven full games more than Bosh (2,258) and the equivalent of twice that compared to Chalmers (1,887).

James sat down after 30 minutes Saturday, skipping the fourth quarter entirely thanks to the score and who the Heat were playing. He orchestrated and facilitated more than dominated – two shots and two points in the first half, 13 points and seven rebounds by night’s end – but he was out there. Wade again was sitting on the bench in a suit. Chalmers and Oden were sidelined, too, and the flu sweeping through Allen’s family kept him off the three-game trip entirely.

Frankly, James would be within his rights to look around and wonder whether this patchwork attack and relative M*A*S*H unit of teammates will be enough to reach and win another Finals. And if he did, the opt-out in his contract this summer would loom so large, it’d throw a shadow over Miami’s entire postseason.

If James’ teammates feel sheepish or some extra obligation to pick up the pace and durability in fairness to him, they’re not saying. “We’re a team. We have to come through for each other,” Wade said after the Milwaukee game. “So we all are obligated for each other. Obviously myself, LeBron and Chris wanted to play together.”

Then again, if his heavier work load while others sit is an issue, James hasn’t let on.

“It’s gotten to the point now where I don’t even think about it,” the Heat star said, “and if I’m in the lineup tonight, then I’ve got to do my job. You just worry about controlling things you can control. Us having injuries, us having guys in and out of the lineup, that’s something I can’t control.”

It is something he’s noticed, at least. Never before has James played for a team with such a revolving door on its trainers room.

“I can’t really recall it, as many guys as we’ve had [out],” he said. “In that sense it’s challenging, not only for myself but for the guys who are in – they may not have played for two months – and then out and they may not play for 14, 15 games.

“It’s the luxury of having unselfish guys. That’s what we have. I don’t know too many teams who can do this – that can have guys like James Jones who – I don’t know, has he played this year [before Friday]? – then to start [in Detroit] and contribute. Guys like that, it’s amazing.”

For the record, Jones had played a total of 70 minutes in a dozen games across Miami’s first 70, before logging 54 minutes in the back-to-back against the Pistons and the Bucks. But what about James? Has fatigue made him crave a couple games off just to rest or reset?

“Only if I’m injured, for the most part, will I sit down,’ ” James said. “I don’t have too many ‘mental days.’ “

In past seasons, when Miami’s playoff berth has been secured, Spoelstra has spotted James a game or two to set up for the playoffs. He will again, unless Indiana keeps the East race for No. 1 close till the end.

But the Heat aren’t there yet. And James has no hand up in search of a breather.

“If I tried to sit him out of a shootaround or a practice, he would look at me cross-eyed,” Spoelstra said. “This summer he had more rest than he’s had any other offseason. So that’s probably triple [rest] for most people, because he loves the game so much, he loves to compete.”

Consider Friday, the day Miami played in Detroit. James showed up at Oakland (Mich.) University not long after sunrise to work out at the gym where his childhood friend and high school teammates Sonny Weems serves as an assistant coach. Then he went through the Heat’s shootaround later than morning. Nine or 10 hours after that, he posted a triple-double against the Pistons.

During warmups against the Bucks, James took time to meet and visit with Ebony Nettles-Bey, a girls high school basketball player from Verona, Wis., who is battling a Stage 4 cancer. He shot around with her prior to tipoff, then spoke warmly about their encounter after the final horn.

“What she’s going through every single day, the challenges she’s facing every single day with the Stage 4 cancer that she has,” James said, “she’s the stronger one out of us two.”

After that, any further questions about work load and rest, not just James’ but any NBA player’s, seemed a little silly.

“There’s no such thing as well-rested at this point,” James said. “Every season is different. My mentality changes from season to season. Every challenge is different. You just go about it however it presents itself.”

Heat-Pacers packs punch as playoff preview, palate cleanser

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers edge Heat in chippy East clash

INDIANAPOLIS – Surely, Washington and Detroit would understand. Same with Cleveland and Milwaukee and the other teams on the Indiana Pacers’ and Miami Heat’s schedules over the short term.

If the NHL could shut down for a few weeks to accommodate the Winter Olympics, the NBA and its member teams no doubt would oblige by staging the Eastern Conference finals now, wouldn’t they?

This one – Pacers 84, Heat 83 – was that special. And raggedy. And nasty. And hot.

There were grimaces and grumbles in the visitors’ dressing room afterward, smiles and a couple of exhales over on the home team’s side, and for a night – portending, soon enough, a fortnight – all was right with the NBA world.

Not all right in the sense that Miami lost and, with it, an opportunity to squeeze the Pacers a little harder in that chase for the East’s No. 1 seed. But all right in the way storm clouds over both teams got shoved aside by the sun burst of playoff-worthy basketball from all involved.

No one mentioned doldrums. Whatever the bad math lately – seven losses in 12 games, or was it eight in 13? – it was rendered irrelevant. Both teams clinched their divisions, one by winning, the other by losing (thanks, Washington), and naturally that meant nothing to them either.

Getting a game like the one at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Wednesday, one that lived up to the hype and then transcended it, has the effect of a palate cleanser at this point in the regular season. Of course, that’s way too genteel a metaphor for what went on – clotheslines and elbows and flagrants, oh my! – unless we sub out the sorbet for a squeegee, a bar rag and some styptic pencils.

The Pacers and the Heat hadn’t faced each other in anger (and that’s no mere cliché in this matchup) since Dec. 10 and Dec. 18, back before the season had gotten much traction. The battle everyone expected, and still expects, them to have as the East’s last two standing was, well, out there somewhere.

Now it’s right there, in relative terms. And the margin was as slim as Indiana strongman David West‘s shocking 3-pointer on an inbounds play with 50.2 seconds left that made it 84-80, followed by Miami forward Chris Bosh‘s hurried 22-footer to win just before the buzzer on what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra admitted was a “gunslinger” play. The ball had come in to LeBron James with just two seconds left and he followed orders by shoveling it to Bosh. Two passes in two seconds, yeah, a little gunslinger.

But it was that sort of night.

“It was definitely a playoff game,” Bosh said. “Close, going back and forth. Each possession was crucial. We just had [19] turnovers and didn’t do a very good job of taking care of the ball. Especially down the stretch [two in 21 seconds late in the fourth quarter]. Against a good team like that, you have to get good shots. You can’t come away with empty possessions, because that puts them in position to really strangle you.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about Miami’s loss in Indiana

Strangle? Nah, that was one of the few forms of mayhem not on display Wednesday.

Emotions ran hot, as evidenced by the dueling technical fouls on Lance Stephenson and Dwyane Wade for barking close in the third quarter. Later, both were gone, done in by their respective fatal flaws: Stephenson’s immaturity and Wade’s assorted ailments.

The Pacers’ mercurial guard taunted Wade after a basket with 5:01 left in the fourth and foolishly got his second T, earning an automatic suspension. Wade grabbed at his left hamstring three minutes later and had to exit.

Physically, this was May, not March. James, one of the league’s brawniest players, was in the thick of it. On one play, he got dragged down by Indiana big man Ian Mahinmi. It was reviewed as a flagrant foul but recast as a shooting foul. Next, he was whacked hard by Luis Scola, his recently broken nose taking impact. It too was reviewed as a flagrant but recast as a common foul.

“I see me and Blake Griffin take some hard hits,” James groused afterward. “They call it how they want to call it.”

So naturally, when James drove strong soon thereafter, his right elbow caught Pacers center Roy Hibbert smack on the jaw, sending the big man to the floor and briefly on rubber-leg street. And that was ruled a flagrant-1 foul.

James, unhappy most of all with the outcome, clipped his answers to postgame questions off at three or four words. But he went longer when someone wondered if the hit on Hibbert was retaliatory.

“If I could jump in the air, elbow somebody in the face in the air and still try to finish the play, I must be a kung-fu master or something,” James said. “I mean, his face happened to hit my elbow or my elbow happened to hit his face.”

Bosh stuck up for his friend.

“Our guys are getting punched in the face and clotheslined out there and we’re getting two shots,” Bosh said. “Then we get an offensive foul called – and it’s a flagrant. I guess we really need to decipher what ‘flagrant’ means. Because I don’t feel they were going for the ball. Especially in those two situations.

“If you can come down and clothesline somebody, I mean, it’s open season. People are going to get hurt. I don’t know, we’re going to have to revisit what ‘flagrant foul’ means to see if it’s even. But they had one and we had none, even though LeBron got punched in the face and clotheslined.”

West, when he heard about Bosh’s complaint, was incredulous: “He [James] shot 15 free throws!”

How perfect was this stuff? There had been no handshakes before the game, no chit-chat or fraternity hugs. There certainly won’t be any next time, not now, not after the bodies spent sprawling and the blood spilled Wednesday.

West had an air of satisfaction about him as the Pacers’ locker room cleared. He and some teammates had given Stephenson a talking-to after the final horn, reminding him to knock off the foolishness. Their team, for the most part, also had eased some of Paul George‘s burden by getting the ball out of his hands, sending him through and around the Miami defense as a cutter and generally keeping the Heat guessing.

But best of all, as West saw it, Indiana matched Miami in rugged play and giving as good as they got. With the game in their gym, they felt they had a solid chance to stay even on the whistles.

“They’re a tough team and psychologically, against most teams, they have the edge,” West said. “They have the best player in the game. Wade and Bosh are Hall of Fame guys. They’ve got that pedigree, their entire organization. You understand what you’re gonna get.”

Better than that, fans of both teams and the league in general understand what they’re gonna get when these two teams meet again. And, soon enough, again and again and again.


VIDEO: Paul George and the Pacers discuss their big win over the Heat

Blogtable: The NBA’s most dynamic duo

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined to snuff out Portland’s chance at a win Monday

> Right now — taking health problems and everything else into consideration – who would you name the most formidable pair of teammates in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This reminds me of the trivia question about baseball’s all-time brother act among HR hitters. Of course it’s the Aarons, on the strength of Henry’s 755 and Tommie’s 13. To me, any pair of teammates that includes LeBron James as one of them is a serious contender as top tandem. Some might argue that Chris Bosh is Miami’s second-best player now, but I’ll stick with a rested and recuperating Dwyane Wade as wingman to the NBA’s best player (not necessarily the 2014 MVP), based on how well Wade and the team have managed his health and workload.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Because there are questions going forward about how Russell Westbrook will hold up over the long haul of the playoffs and because there are constantly questions about Dwyane Wade’s knees, you have to go past the obvious.  I’ll put Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at the top of my 1-2 punch list.  Paul can run the break, get everybody a good shot at any time and Griffin has raised his all-around game to be part of the MVP conversation.  Formidable isn’t the word to describe Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, just incredibly efficient.  The pairing that could leap up and make an even bigger splash still in the playoffs is James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comKevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I know Westbrook’s been in and out of the lineup and might be a knee bump away from potentially being shelved again, but together this tandem of 25-year-olds is a two-way terror like none other. Durant is the best player in the game right now, simply unguardable. Put the strength and speed of Westbrook, practically unguardable in his own right, next to KD and say goodnight.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFour first names and two players equal one top tandem: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin. The best point guard in the world and one of the top, maybe the top, power forward gives the Clippers a dynamic inside-outside pairing with a season of Griffin’s commendable improvements and Paul coming back from the shoulder injury. James Harden-Dwight Howard and Paul George-Roy Hibbert (defense, defense) are in the conversation. Paul is not 100 percent, but the potential challengers of Westbrook-Durant, Lillard-Aldridge, Rose-Noah have larger health issues.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLeBron James and Chris Bosh. James is the best player in the world and Bosh is the next most important player on the Heat, with his ability to defend the pick-and-roll and space the floor offensively. Dwyane Wade can create more offense when James is off the floor, but Bosh is the better complement. He’s bigger and a better perimeter shooter.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The most lethal pair of teammates, injuries included, remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. There aren’t two guys working in tandem that can wreak more havoc or affect more change, on both ends of the floor, during the course of a game than the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo and their Miami Heat counterparts. When they crank it into high-gear, who else can wade into that deep water and still stay true to what they do best? Sure, Westbrook and Wade have dealt with more than their fair share of injury issues this season. But the entire league knows what happens when they have it going. They are the obvious choices for the most obvious of reasons, we’ve seen them go to that next level so often over the past three or four years that there should really be no argument here.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I’m sure we’ll see nominations for Westbrook and Durant, Harden and Howard, maybe even LeBron and Bosh. But I think I’ll go with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I don’t think CP3’s leadership or toughness have ever been questioned, and with CP3 missing time this year due to injury, I think we saw exactly how good and complete a player Blake has become. The thing I also like about these two is that they combine to form a terrific inside-out combination, or at least as much of an inside-out combination as exists these days in the NBA.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Right now it’s the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin duo. The smartest PG in the league paired with one of the most athletic big man gave us Lob City, but now that Griffin is evolving into something more than just a spectacular dunker, the Clippers have a spectacular duo who’s winning a ton of games. They can both win games by themselves, as a duo or involving their other teammates. I really like what Doc Rivers has turned them into. Without injuries, I’d go with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade over Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: I was thinking about Howard/Harden, Nowitzki/Ellis, Paul/Griffin and Westbrook/Durant. But right now I don’t believe that any duo is as good on both sides of the floor as LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In his fourth season with the Heat, Bosh is so much more than the third-best player of the team. You could argue that Miami would be going nowhere if they didn’t have the lefty big man. He takes and makes big shots with great regularity and is capable of a key defensive play anytime. And LeBron is just the best player on the planet. I really believe that if you have those two players working together, you’re guaranteed a shot at the title. And they’re the only duo I think about in those terms.

Hang Time Podcast (episode 152) featuring Joakim Noah and Steve Aschburner

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Phil Jackson‘s basketball roots run deep in New York, dating all the way back to his playing days with the Knicks, when he was a part of teams that won the franchise’s only championships, all the way up to his being introduced Tuesday as the Knicks’ new team president.

But there is no denying his connection to Chicago, the place where he enjoyed some of his greatest moments in the game, including the six titles he helped bring to the city along with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the dynasty Bulls.

And Phil and Chicago is where we go on Episode 152 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah and NBA.com’s senior writer and Chicago-area native and Hang Time bureau chief Steve Aschburner. Whether or not that championship connectivity comes into play for Phil Jackson and the Knicks (and right now, Carmelo Anthony and his current crew) remains to be seen, but if Jackson’s Knicks grind the way Noah and the Bulls do under Tom Thibodeau, Knicks fans would have plenty cheer about.

The bigger and perhaps better questions center around what kind of power, drawing and otherwise, Phil brings to the Knicks. Can Phil attract the other superstar needed to pair with Anthony so the Knicks can contend? Would LeBron James listen to a pitch from The Zen master if and when he becomes a free agent? And what does that mean for Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Riley in Miami?

So many questions … and needed answers, plus this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights, can be found here.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 152 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Joakim Noah and Steve Aschburner …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

LeBron fatigue … it’s real!




VIDEO: LeBron James and Jimmy Butler get tangled up on the baseline Sunday

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Like most anyone with eyeballs and a remote control, I took in the career-high 61-point performance from LeBron James and wondered if the energy and effort expended on a night like that was worth the wear and tear it takes to deliver it.

A week and four interesting performances later, I’m still not sure.

My Monday sparring partner on almost every debatable topic — NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, who usually helps me make a mess of our production meetings for The Beat with Vince Cellini, David Aldridge and yours truly every Monday on NBA TV — did what you’d expect a research expert to do with the topic. He dug even deeper and formulated an interesting theory on a phenomenon we’ll call LeBron Fatigue … turns out it might actually be real:

Statistically speaking, LeBron James is on track to become one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. However, his most recent stretch of games are troubling.

After scoring a career-high 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats, LeBron scored a total of 58 in the following three games. For many players, 19.3 ppg would be their best week ever. For LeBron, it was a cause for panic, a shedding of the face mask and complaining of a wardrobe malfunction. Worst of all, that average coincided with a season-high three-game losing streak.

61 point Game vs 3 Game Slump

vs Bobcats​          Next 3 Games

61        POINTS      58

22/33      FG           23/59*

8/10       3P            1/9

*3-for-27 FG outside the paint

LeBron’s 3-for-27 shooting outside the paint is good for 11.1 percent, the worst three-game stretch of shooting (outside the paint) in his career. To be clear, it’s not the percentage that is cause for concern, but his unwillingness to get to the free-throw line.

In his last two games — against Chicago and Washington — LeBron did not attempt a free-throw, which had not taken place in back-to-back games since his rookie season. Furthermore, he’s only had 10 instances in which he did not attempt a free throw in his 824 game career.

LeBron is in search of many more rings and realistically speaking, Michael Jordan‘s six-ring total is obtainable. At the conclusion of his Bulls’ first three-peat, Jordan was 29 when he completed his ninth season (before retiring for 18 months) and winning three more. However, MJ did miss 64 games in his second season after breaking his foot. So there were resting periods prior to both his title runs.

James and the Heat have already appeared in three straight Finals. James, 28, concluded his 10th season having never missed more than six games in a season. The Miami Heat are trying to become the first team since the 1983-87 Celtics to reach four consecutive Finals, but it will be tough with a banged-up James. He’s battled back soreness and, most recently, a broken nose.

Will this maintenance plan cost him the MVP award? Maybe, but there was no guarantee he’d win it anyway. Besides the Heat rely on LeBron to be their best scorer, rebounder and passer not to mention their best defender on a nightly basis. Remember, Jordan had Scottie Pippen to defend the opposition’s best player, the Heat will rely on LBJ to shut down the Pacers’ Paul George. On Monday, Miami clinched a playoff berth defeating the Wizards 99-90. That’s the first step in winning a third straight title.

So rest up LeBron, you have enough MVP awards and regular-season feats. Years from now, we won’t discuss how you came out of a three-game midseason slump, but how you did (or didn’t) win three consecutive titles.



VIDEO: LeBron and the Heat shake off their funk and clinch a playoff bid with a win over the Wizards

Danger rears its head for OKC, Indy




VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about the concerns facing some of the league’s elite teams

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That small market NBA Finals you were daydreaming about is in jeopardy based on what we’ve seen from the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and even the Portland Trail Blazers recently.

Early-season visions of say the Pacers and Thunder squaring off in The Finals and restoring the faith of the fans in the hinterlands have faded since before All-Star weekend.

The Pacers’ struggles are real. You don’t lose four straight games, and five of your last 10, and allow 106 points in your past four games and maintain your aura as the defensive juggernaut that we assumed you were based on your work up until now. No matter how much coach Frank Vogel insists that his team is capable of navigating these bumps in the road, we have no idea how they will recover from this stretch because they’ve never been in this position before.

The Thunder’s issues are tangible as well. You don’t lose five of your past eight games, give up 121 points in consecutive games and get torched for 40-point games by the likes of Gerald Green and Jodie Meeks without two of your top defensive players (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins) and expect us to just chalk it up to a temporary hiccup. Even if all that happens as Russell Westbrook is transitioning back into the mix after missing nine weeks recovering from knee surgery.

Contenders tend to show their teeth this time of year, embrace statement games and remind the competition that what they see now is merely a glimpse of the fury to come in the postseason. But these current struggles, particularly for the Pacers and Thunder, constitute a clear-and-present danger to their big-picture plans.

We are nit-picking at the highest level here, I understand that. But vetting championship contenders is a tedious, season-long process that requires us to examine each and every little tidbit of information gathered. While I don’t agree with the wilder sentiments like this one (of course, the Thunder aren’t trying to get Scott Brooks fired), I do think a contender’s February and March performance is a much better indicator of what’s to come in the playoffs than anything accomplished before then.

And the Pacers and Thunder, two teams that would appear to have as good a chance as any to unseat the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, respectively, have both shown signs of vulnerability in the past few days and weeks.

In addition to locating their defensive punch, the Pacers need Paul George to regain the form he showed earlier in the season, when he was being mentioned in the MVP conversation with Kevin Durant and LeBron James. The playoffs are looming and a quality team like the Chicago Bulls will identify your weakness and attack it in a best-of-7 series … the same way the Pacers did to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last year.

UPDATE:



VIDEO: Pacers coach Frank Vovel talks about Andrew Bynum maing his debut against the Celtics

The Thunder have to worry as much about getting their own house in order as they have to worry about the neighbors. The Spurs, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers all appear to be as up to the task of winning the Western Conference crown and representing their side in The Finals.

The Spurs have enough corporate knowledge to navigate these rough waters for a second straight season. The Rockets have two stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard, who have just as much experience in The Finals as Durant and Westbrook. And the Clippers, when healthy, have what is arguably the deepest and most balanced roster in the league with one of the game’s best button-pushers (coach Doc Rivers), especially at playoff time, leading their charge.

Momentary hiccups are one thing. All teams, even the great ones, deal with them at one time or another.

Cracks in the foundation, though, require more and immediate attention.

Time will tell which of these the Pacers and Thunder are dealing with …

Have the Pacers lost their Edge?




VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Paul George’s slump and the Pacers’ struggles

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The playoff bid is clinched, locked up before anyone else in the league. Yet after five games in seven nights, there is suddenly a lingering fog surrounding the Indiana Pacers.

That brash, bruising, defensive-minded machine we saw before the All-Star break doesn’t look nearly as intimidating these days. That team that vowed to chase the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, in an effort to play host a potential showdown against reigning two-time NBA champion Miami Heat in the conference finals, has been humbled lately with crushing defeats both at home and on the road.

The Pacers’ best players — All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert, as well as Lance Stephenson and David West — have all endured their fair share of struggles. Coach Frank Vogel remains as confident as ever, something you’d expect from a coach who understands that seeing the Pacers reach their ultimate goals is a painstaking process fraught with trials and tribulations. Vogel and his crew know that unmitigated attention to detail is required to overcome any adversity.

Still, it’s enough to make you wonder — have the Pacers lost a little bit of the edge that led them to the top of the standings? They were so good so fast this season that a bit of a letdown was inevitable. But it’s dangerous to play this game this close to the end of the regular season.

“Over the last 20 games or so, we just haven’t had our mojo,” West said after the Bobcats beat the Pacers Wednesday night in Charlotte on the back-end of a back-to-back. “We’ve got to change some things up because these last 20 games is going to be a battle.”

“Right now I think we’re on our downs,” Stephenson said. “We just got to get back on our ups, work together and play as a unit.”

The Pacers also have to return to the identity that led them to the top of the standings.

They were a defensive juggernaut to start the season, holding teams down in every facet and allowing just 90.3 points per game through All-Star weekend. In the nine games since then, they are giving up close to 100 points a night.

“We can’t get teams under control,” West told the Indianapolis Star. “Nobody’s afraid of us and we got to regroup. We got to get back to the basics. We got tough two-game trip out West and it’s got to mean something to us to go out and do whatever we have to do to win these games.”

The road trip he’s speaking starts Friday with a date with the Houston Rockets, who have the league’s best record since Jan. 1. Then comes Sunday’s game in Dallas against the Mavericks. They’ll be tested by two Western Conference playoff teams with the ability to make the Pacers uncomfortable in many different ways.

There is also a seven-games-in-11-days stretch looming at the end of the month, a grind that includes two games against the Chicago Bulls (home and away), road games in Memphis, Washington and Cleveland and showdowns with the Heat (March 26) and San Antonio Spurs  (March 31) that will shed more light on whether or not these Pacers are as ready for prime time as they appeared to be just a month ago.

Changes to their make-up (Evan Turner and, eventually, we assume, Andrew Bynum) will also force the Pacers to continue to tweak their chemistry. They have to be proactive in terms of how they make their own internal adjustments.

But when you build up the sort of reservoir of victories and the quality body of work the Pacers did out of the gate, it’s almost impossible to squander it now. A two-game tailspin can be survived.

If there are cracks in the foundation, though, you better believe the other contenders on both sides of the conference divide have noticed. And they’ll be sure to do whatever they can to exploit that in the future.


VIDEO: The Bobcats thumped the Pacers and shut down Paul George and Roy Hibbert in the process

Rockets Face Defining Test Of Their Might


VIDEO: Kevin McHale talks about Dwight Howard’s increased role of late

Since the giant ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve the Rockets have gone nowhere but up.

Dwight Howard has rocked, James Harden has rolled and a team that was supposed to be still figuring it all out in its first season together suddenly looks like it has all the answers.

Now comes the test.

Call it a dirty dozen days of the schedule. Call it a magnificent seven lineup of (almost entirely) worthy opponents who’ll peel back the curtain to reveal whether the Rockets might be merely a problematic playoff hurdle or a real contender for a Finals run.

From tonight through March 16, the team with the best record in the NBA since Jan. 1 will have to deal with a grueling stretch sandwiched on either end by a home and road set with the two-time champion Heat. As if that alone were not a mouthful, there’s a good deal of meat in between. By the time the Rockets come up for air, they’ll have also faced the Pacers (No. 1 in East) and Blazers (No. 3 in West) at home and the Thunder (No. 1 in West) and Bulls (No. 3 in East) on the road. The only breather is a road game against the young and struggling Magic, but even that comes off the second night of a back-to-back after dueling the Heat.

“It’s definitely going to be a tough couple of weeks,” Harden said. “It will be a good test.”

All season long there has been a general reticence to lump the Rockets in with the so-called true championship contenders. Much of that has to do with their predilection for launching 3-pointers like they were spitballs in a grade school classroom.

But while the 3-pointer makes them wild and crazy, the truth is that the Rockets have grown into more than a novelty act that relies on the long ball and a hyper-caffeinated fast pace.

The Rockets came off their recent five-game West road trip having averaged 55.6 points in the paint per game. Then they went inside on the Pistons Saturday for another 58. It’s all the result of the work Howard has done in the practice gym to learn how to be more effective around the basket. As well, Harden’s growth curve that has turned him into the game’s best closer, regardless of any traffic or would-be defenders in the paint. Since Kevin Durant has played most of the season without Russell Westbrook and LeBron James’ help from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh comes in fits and spurts, it’s hard to argue that there is a better 1-2 punch in the league.

Not that there aren’t holes in their game. The Rockets have a penchant for running hot and cold, often unable to maintain a consistent intensity or focus. They also tend to throw the ball around, piling up careless and costly turnovers. Then there is the matter of leaving themselves vulnerable to second chance points, which squander away whatever efforts a middle of the road defensive team puts out.

All that said, the Rockets are just three games behind the Spurs for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. That’s a reachable — and desirable — goal because it would keep them out of the playoff bracket that contains the Thunder and Clippers, who have so far been insolvable (0-5).

Since the ball first went up in the season opener, Howard has been talking about the Rockets being a work in progress as he learns about his new city, his new teammates and his new role while coach Kevin McHale puts the pieces together. Even as a season-long litany of nagging injuries has healed and those pieces have come to fit, Harden has said that life has been good and comfortable in Houston below the radar.

But how long can a dark horse remain in the shadows if the spotlight starts to shine? In the next dirty dozen days, we’re about to find out.


VIDEO: James Harden talks about Houston’s upcoming road trip

LeBron Rewriting His(Own)story!




VIDEO: LeBron James tries his best to explain his historic night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What do you do for an encore of one of the greatest months in NBA history? When you’re LeBron James you turn in one of the greatest nights of your storied career.

The Heat star had a February for the ages, becoming the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2003 to average 30 or more points and eight or more rebounds while shooting better than 57 percent from the field for an entire calendar month (a minimum of five games played). Toss in LeBron’s seven assists a game in February and only Wilt Chamberlain, in February of 1966 has had a wicked stretch of that sort.

That’s why LeBron going for a career-high 61 points in the Heat’s 124-107 home win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday ranks right up there among his greatest performances ever. He did it with a mask on, protecting his recently broken nose. He did it with Dwyane Wade resting in street clothes, as part of ongoing maintenance program. And he did it with work from all over the floor, including a career-high tying eight made 3-pointers.

He needed just 33 shots, 22 makes, to notch the 10th game of 50 or more points of his career and his first outing of 60 or more. He’s one of just five players to reach the 60-point plateau shooting better than 65 percent since the 1985-86 season — joining Carmelo Anthony from earlier this season, Shaq in 2000 and Tom Chambers and Karl Malone (both in 1990) as the only players to accomplish that feat.

Oh, and unlike high-scoring escapades by superstars in recent seasons (you know who you are, ‘Melo and Kobe Bryant), LeBron made sure to stick to his usual formula (he did have an assist or two … or five, to be exact) on his outlandish scoring night. The fact that he’s still rewriting his own history this deep into his career speaks volumes about the sort of competitor and player he is now and really has always been.

How many other guys can get 60-plus points without it becoming an absolute hysterical exercise from one basket to the next? If you watch the highlights, it looks just like any other night from LeBron … save, of course, for the 3-point storm he rained down on the Bobcats.


VIDEO: LeBron makes it rain 3-pointers against the Bobcats

LeBron setting his own career-high for points and breaking Glen Rice‘s Heat franchise record of 56 (against the Orlando Magic in 1995) is just another milestone he can add to his overflowing collection. It’s a reminder, though, that the great ones will dial up the unthinkable when you least expect it.

Who knew a Monday night game against the Bobcats would serve as one of LeBron’s finest moments? 

Just so we’re clear about what kind of run he’s on right now, LeBron has scored 187 points on 68 percent shooting from the floor over his last five games. The last time someone did that in the NBA was when Michael Jordan did it November of 1988.

And that envy he spoke of regarding the January exploits of one Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder … well, if February and the early days of March are any indication, LeBron wears envy as well he does the black mask he wore in his comeback outing (a 31-point treat dropped on the New York Knicks last Thursday on TNT).

This stretch run and race for the MVP between LeBron and KD should also serve as the ideal appetizer to whatever they have in store for us come playoff time, too.

Get your popcorn ready!


VIDEO: LeBron’s demolition of the Bobcats

Pick-and-roll Data Likes The Suns

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On the Washington Wizards’ first possession of their big, triple-overtime win in Toronto on Thursday, John Wall and Marcin Gortat ran a side pick-and-roll. The same primary action produced two big free throws in the final minute of the second overtime and a huge three-point play in the third OT.

SportVU cameras captured every pick-and-roll run in the 63 minutes of basketball at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. The folks at STATS LLC have been tracking pick-and-rolls via SportVU this season, opening a new door as we look to learn more about the game, and have provided some of the data to NBA.com.

Note: All pick-and-roll stats included are through Wednesday’s games.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Wall and Gortat had run almost 200 more pick-and-rolls than any other combination in the league. They’ve been a pretty solid combination, with the Wizards scoring 1.06 points per possession when the pair ran a pick-and-roll. That mark is a notch better than the league average of 1.03 (on pick-and-roll possessions) and ranks 87th among 209 pairs of teammates who have run pick-and-rolls on at least 100 possessions.

But there’s a big difference between a Wall-Gortat pick-and-roll and a Wall-Nene pick-and-roll, which has produced just 0.85 points per 100 possessions. That’s one reason why Washington ranks 29th in pick-and-roll efficiency (better than only the Milwaukee Bucks).

Wizards’ most-used pick-and-roll combinations

Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Wall Gortat 784 731 772 1.06
Wall Nene 349 324 275 0.85
Beal Gortat 240 226 224 0.99
Wall Booker 147 139 128 0.92
Beal Nene 121 116 110 0.95
Wall Ariza 111 111 119 1.07
Ariza Gortat 113 108 105 0.97
All other combinations 1,295 1,249 1,077 0.86
TOTAL 3,160 3,004 2,810 0.94

Wall has been more likely to pass to Nene than Gortat, but that hasn’t been a good idea, as Nene has shot just 16-for-48 (33 percent) on those plays.

John Wall pick-and-roll partners

Screener Scr. P&R Poss. JW FGM JW FGA JW FG% JW PTS Pass to S S FGM S FGA S FG%
Gortat 784 731 74 183 40.4% 171 188 42 85 49.4%
Nene 349 324 24 71 33.8% 56 129 16 48 33.3%
Booker 147 139 15 49 30.6% 33 34 6 13 46.2%
Ariza 111 111 14 23 60.9% 41 29 5 9 55.6%
Seraphin 85 81 4 11 36.4% 10 27 3 15 20.0%
Others 149 143 6 22 27.3% 17 25 2 10 20.0%
TOTAL 1,476 1,386 131 337 38.9% 311 407 72 170 42.4%

You see that Wall has shot worse when he’s come off a Nene screen, perhaps because Gortat sets a better pick and/or because Nene’s defenders are more mobile and able to defend Wall on a hedge or switch.

The Wizards will miss Nene, who’s out six weeks with an MCL sprain, but mostly on defense. The Wizards have allowed slightly less than a point per possession when he’s been the big defending a pick-and-roll. They’ve been almost seven points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.

Offensively, they’ve been a point per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. And their pick-and-roll game might actually get better in these six weeks without him.

Top of the list

The Dallas Mavericks have been the most prolific pick-and-roll team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns have been the best, scoring 1.09 points per pick-and-roll possession, just a hair better than the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, team

Team Screens Scr/100 Rank P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Phoenix 2,640 47.8 24 2,162 2,362 1.093
Houston 2,480 44.2 27 2,091 2,282 1.091
Portland 2,805 49.7 23 2,295 2,499 1.089
Oklahoma City 2,834 50.0 22 2,354 2,554 1.08
New York 2,782 51.9 16 2,292 2,452 1.07
Miami 2,768 54.0 12 2,145 2,294 1.07
Dallas 3,955 69.6 1 3,031 3,226 1.06
San Antonio 2,752 50.7 20 2,224 2,361 1.06
Indiana 2,420 44.6 26 2,015 2,139 1.06
Toronto 3,529 66.2 2 2,696 2,848 1.06

Scr/100 = Screens per 100 possessions

The Suns’ success starts with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, the aggressive ball-handler and the 6-foot-11 floor spacer. They’ve been the league’s top pick-and-roll combination among those with at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, tandem

Team Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
PHX Dragic Frye 425 392 510 1.30
MIA Wade Andersen 131 124 160 1.29
OKC Durant Collison 119 114 143 1.25
OKC Westbrook Durant 156 148 185 1.25
NOP Holiday Anderson 130 125 156 1.25
SAC Thomas Gay 168 165 202 1.22
POR Batum Lopez 183 180 220 1.22
POR Williams Lopez 121 111 135 1.22
IND Stephenson Hibbert 147 144 175 1.22
OKC Durant Perkins 209 196 238 1.21

Minimum 100 pick-and-roll possessions

Dragic has run almost the same amount of pick-and-rolls with Miles Plumlee (407 screens on 390 possessions) as he has with Frye (425, 392). But the Suns have  scored only 1.03 points per possession on the Dragic-Plumlee pick-and-rolls. Clearly, Dragic prefers to have a screener who pops out for a jumper, rather than one who rolls to the rim.

On those 390 Dragic-Plumlee possessions, Dragic has passed the ball 232 times, but only 59 times (25 percent) to Plumlee. On the 392 Dragic-Frye possessions, he’s passed the ball 234 times, and 113 of those passes (48 percent) have gone to Frye.

Overall, the Suns have been efficient when Dragic has the ball, scoring 1.16 points per possession from his 1,238 pick-and-rolls. That’s the best mark among 46 starting point guards and other high-usage perimeter players who have been the pick-and-roll ball-handler for at least 300 possessions. And who’s next on the list might surprise you.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, ball-handler

Ball-handler Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss. Top Partner Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss.
Goran Dragic 1,172 1,361 1.16 Channing Frye 392 510 1.30
DeMar DeRozan 690 793 1.15 Amir Johnson 261 303 1.16
Kevin Durant 732 813 1.11 Serge Ibaka 284 286 1.01
Jeremy Lin 528 586 1.11 Dwight Howard 166 181 1.09
LeBron James 659 729 1.11 Chris Bosh 188 225 1.20
Damian Lillard 1,121 1,238 1.10 LaMarcus Aldridge 441 526 1.19
Dwyane Wade 469 516 1.10 Chris Bosh 155 144 0.93
Jrue Holiday 783 859 1.10 Anthony Davis 245 256 1.04
Monta Ellis 1,451 1,583 1.09 Dirk Nowitzki 500 554 1.11
George Hill 619 672 1.09 David West 258 279 1.08

Among 46 starting point guards and other perimeter players in the top 25 in usage rate.
Top partner = Player with whom he’s run the most pick-and-rolls.

DeRozan’s numbers seem a little fluky. He’s shot just 41 percent out of pick-and-rolls, has recorded an assist on just 5.8 percent those 690 possessions (the fourth lowest rate of the group), and averages less than one secondary assist (where his pass directly leads to somebody else’s assist) per game. But he has drawn fouls on 9.4 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions, a rate on par with that of LeBron James.

Some more notes from this list…

  • It’s interesting that James has had good success with Chris Bosh, but Dwyane Wade hasn’t. Wade has actually shot better (18-for-32) than James has (14-for-31) coming off Bosh screens, but Bosh has shot better when receiving a pick-and-roll pass from James (15-for-22) than he has when getting one from Wade (9-for-25). The shooting numbers, of course, are some small sample sizes.
  • Of the 46 pick-and-roll ball-handlers I looked at, the most likely to shoot is Tony Wroten, who has taken a shot on 31.0 percent of the screens he’s come off of. Next on the list are Nick Young (30.7 percent), Reggie Jackson (30.0 percent), Jamal Crawford (29.6 percent) and Rudy Gay (29.6) percent.
  • The players least likely to shoot are Kendall Marshall (12.4 percent), Patrick Beverley (12.9 percent), Mario Chalmers (14.5 percent), George Hill (15.9 percent) and Ty Lawson (16.3 percent).
  • James (20.1 percent) is less likely to shoot than Chris Paul (21.3 percent), Dragic (21.7 percent) or Wall (22.1 percent).
  • The guy most likely to pass to the screener is Stephen Curry. Of Curry’s 830 passes out of pick-and-rolls, 56.3 percent have gone to the screener. Next on the list are Russell Westbrook (55.3 percent), Michael Carter-Williams (52.1 percent), Deron Williams (50.7 percent) and Kyrie Irving (48.7 percent).
  • The guy least likely to pass to the screener is James Harden (27.2 percent). So when they come off pick-and-rolls, Curry is twice as likely to pass to the screener than Harden is. After Harden comes Carmelo Anthony (27.4 percent), James (28.0 percent), Jrue Holiday (29.0 percent) and Tyreke Evans (30.3 percent).
  • Six of the 46 have shot better than 50 percent when coming off a pick-and-roll: Chalmers (54.8 percent), Dragic (53.2 percent), James (52.5 percent), Wade (51.3 percent), Kevin Durant (50.2 percent) and Tony Parker (50.2 percent).
  • Get this: Durant has recorded an assist on a higher percentage of his pick-and-roll possessions (13.0 percent) than James (10.3 percent) and more than twice as often as Paul George (6.0 percent).

Location is key

SportVU keeps track of where every pick-and-roll takes place. As you might expect, the closer to the basket the screen is set, the more likely the offense is to score. The most efficient pick-and-roll spot on the floor is at the high post (around the foul line, inside the 3-point arc), which produces 1.05 points per possession.

But high post pick-and-rolls account for only 4 percent of all pick-and-rolls. The most common location is the top of the key, which sees 41 percent of pick-and-roll action. Next is the wing (foul-line extended), which sees 28 percent and the “sideline point” area (out by the coach’s box line) at 25 percent.

Pick-and-rolls by location

Location Most PCT PPP Best PCT PPP Worst PCT PPP Lg. avg. PPP
Center Point NOP 53% 1.05 POR 42% 1.12 MIL 41% 0.90 41% 1.02
Wing CHI 39% 1.05 GSW 16% 1.11 ORL 19% 0.93 28% 1.02
Sideline Point DAL 32% 1.10 OKC 31% 1.17 WAS 25% 0.92 25% 1.03
High Post PHI 7% 1.03 HOU 3% 1.31 GSW 3% 0.80 4% 1.05
Corner MIA 7% 0.97 MIN 2% 1.28 BOS 3% 0.76 3% 0.99

PCT = Percentage of total pick-and-rolls run from that location.
PPP = Points per possession on pick-and-rolls run from that location.

We’re just scratching the surface here. And that’s the issue with SportVU. There’s so much data to digest, it has to be compartmentalized and put into the proper context. But we’re really starting to see how much it has to offer.

Next week, I’ll take a look at pick-and-roll defense. (Hint: Indiana good, Portland bad.)