Posts Tagged ‘defense’

Fixing defensive downfalls remains job No. 1 for Cavaliers


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses what the Cavs must do to shore up their defense

CLEVELAND – It sounded like the old Steve Martin joke, advising people how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (“First, get a million dollars. Then…”). Someone asked Gregg Popovich how he and his San Antonio coaching staff get players not known for their defense to “buy in” to the Spurs’ system so they uphold that team’s stingy reputation.

“I don’t bring anybody in like that,” Popovich said after the Spurs’ shootaround session Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena. “Except maybe [Marco] Belinelli. He’s trying.”

Even the trigger-happy Belinelli got vetted through Tom Thibodeau‘s five-guys-on-a-string tactics in Chicago for a year before Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford signed him in July 2013.

The Cavaliers imposed no such prohibitions when they came together this offseason, parts being bolted around LeBron James in a flurry of trades and free-agent acquisitions. The incumbent backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters had no particular defensive chops. Power forward Kevin Love racks up formidable rebounding numbers but otherwise hadn’t shown much defensive proclivities. Center Anderson Varejao is energetic and aggressive in the paint, but Love and Tristan Thompson aren’t bonafide rim protectors. Shooters Mike Miller and James Jones are, well, shooters. And even James’ defense seemed to slip a notch in his last season with Miami.

Through nine games, Cleveland’s defensive rating of 108.3 was tied for fifth-worst in the league. That’s not just worse than his Heat team’s performance last season (102.9), it’s worse than the 2013-14 Cavaliers managed (104.8) on their way to a 33-49 record.

The Cavs have given up 100 points or more seven times, and their defensive effective field-goal percentage of .536, which adjusts for the premium on 3-pointers, is third-worst in the NBA, better only than the Lakers (.551) and Minnesota (.559). The breakdowns in Cleveland’s schemes are clear, from zone coverage to pick-and-roll misdirections to some poor or lazy individual habits.

So while everyone has focused on the blending of offensive styles and responsibilities of James, Love, Irving and the rest, Cleveland opponents have found it awfully easy to score – a flaw the Cavaliers can’t afford to ignore.

“I don’t think it’s something you learn on the fly,” James said Wednesday. “I think it’s something you work on every single day. You teach it, you preach it, you demand it. I didn’t come [into the NBA] as being a big defensive guy. I played defense and my high school coaches did preach it, and we knew in order to win, we had to defend. This is a different level.

“When [former Cavs coach] Mike Brown came to this team, that was just his whole mindset, saying, ‘If we don’t defend, we can’t win.’ And he preached it every day. It was just instilled in us as players. You’ve got to teach it, you’ve got to preach it, you’ve got to demand it every single day.”

Sounds like current Cavs coach David Blatt is there now, too.

“You have to raise the level of expectation,” Blatt said the other day, “and the level of accountability, and you have to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes if you’re not blessed with great individual defenders, your principles have to be that much stronger, and your helps and your court recognition have to be that much better. And that’s why it’s taken us longer in that area of the game than on the offensive end.”

San Antonio, by contrast, ranks third in the NBA in defensive rating (96.0) after finishing fourth (100.1) last season and tied for third (99.2) two years ago. A team whose main pieces have been together for multiple seasons might be expected to have an edge, though effort and priorities matter as much or more.

The Cavs’ familiarity will grow, but it’s on them to drag the defense along. Bumping up Shawn Marion‘s minutes has helped some, and there has been chatter about pursuing Timberwolves wing Corey Brewer in trade. Still, a roster overhaul is unlikely and any defensive makeover will require lipstick (and more) on what so far has been a pig.

“Defensively we just need more than anything to just trust each other,” Love said. “We’re all capable, especially as a team. We’ve got to take the individual battle. But at the end of the day, we need to trust each other that we need to help each other out.”


VIDEO: LeBron James is driven to get the Cavs back to winning consistently

 

Misfiring Offensively, Nets Turn To Defense, Force Game 7

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CHICAGO
– For 130 of the final 139 seconds of Game 6 Thursday at United Center, the Brooklyn Nets never could put the Chicago Bulls more than three points back in the rear-view mirror. There were repeated opportunities for the Bulls to tie or take the lead, plenty of chances for the Nets to slip up or let up on the road, in a noisy gym, their postseason survival on the brink.

Offensively, they were melting down. They shot 4-of-19 in the third quarter, 6-of-17 in the fourth. And still, Chicago never could catch them. The Nets led by six at halftime and won by three, 95-92. Three times the Bulls got as close as one point. And that was it.

Brooklyn’s defense earned them their Game 7 shot Saturday night. So many weapons offensively, so much hand-to-hand combat when those weapons misfired (Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams combined for 12 points in the second half.)

“The first half we didn’t play any defense,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “The second half we didn’t have any offense. … It was a heckuva win but it wasn’t Xs & Os, anything like that. It was two teams played real hard and our guys found a way to win.”

The Nets zinged Chicago for 60 points through the game’s first 24 minutes. That earned them a little cushion over the next 24, but not enough to absolve their shooting and scoring woes.

So when they shot 21.1 percent in the third, they made sure Chicago did no better than 27.3. When they burped along at 35.7 percent in the fourth, they saw to it that the Bulls were even worse at 32.1.

And while it stung to miss five of their 11 free throws in that final quarter, it wasn’t fatal because Chicago only shot two. All that defending, so little fouling (2 in the period).

“Be physical with ‘em. Get ‘em off their spots. [Carlos] Boozer‘s good, those guys are good getting to their spots and getting comfortable,” forward Gerald Wallace said, sharing from Brooklyn’s “book” on the Bulls. “The main thing is, we’re playing 48 minutes. We’re not dropping our heads when our shots not falling. We’re keeping the defensive pressure up on ‘em. These last two games, we’ve relied on our defense a lot more.’

Set aside the bloated  numbers from Game 4, the Bulls’ 142 points and 53.2 percent shooting in triple-overtime, and Brooklyn’s defensive prowess has been good. The Nets have held the Bulls to 88.2 points, on average, in the other five games and 44.8 percent shooting.

They learned their lesson against Nate Robinson, too. Since his Nate being Nate-ness in Game 4 — 34 points off the bench, all but five from the fourth quarter on, Robinson has been contained by Brooklyn’s guards and help up front. He scored a combined 38 points on 16-of-34 shooting in Games 5 and 6 but he hasn’t spent more than a few brief stretches in takeover mode.

The Nets’ defensive focus on Robinson? Forward Reggie Evans smiled at the question.

“We ain’t focusin’ like that,” Evans said. “You know what I’m saying? Nate’s a good player but he ain’t a focus to the point where you’re like … if you asked me what’s our focus against Derrick Rose, it’s something different. You’re talking about an MVP player.

“We’re talking about Nate Robinson — he had a good game [in Game 4]. No disrespect to him because he’s a good player but, c’mon, they’ve got Luol Deng who’s an All-Star. [Joakim] Noah who’s an All-Star. Boozer, who’s a former All-Star. So don’t you think they’d be a little more of a bigger focus?”

Actually, the Bulls did not have Deng Thursday — he was sent home sick, and reportedly had a detour to a local hospital in the 24 hours prior to Game 6. Robinson was sick too — visibly at one point, in a towel-and-bucket way — as was forward Taj Gibson. Gibson showed the worst effects, fouling out after just 17:46 of raggedy play. And the Bulls’ 16 turnovers, many unforced, made Brooklyn’s defense look peskier than it truly was.

So was Chicago easier to guard, without Deng, without point guard Kirk Hinrich (bruised left calf), without that Rose guy? Sure. But a Nets club that often lapses into the bad habit of trying to outscore the other guys went the other way Thursday. They have looked capable of doing both when the games are at Barclays Center, so Brooklyn seems set up nicely for Game 7.

“Beating ‘em to the punch,” Evans said of the Nets’ tactics vs. Chicago. “Rebounding the ball whenever they miss it. Understanding the tendencies of each individual player and trying to make that come together as a unit. Once things get to clicking, and everybody communicating, good things happen.

“It was a grind game for both of us. No matter how you shoot, that don’t determine your defense. Like they say, offense sells tickets and defense wins games for you. So when you don’t got it going, that don’t mean you don’t got to play defense.”

Remembering that is big. Doing it is bigger. Doing it in a Game 7 to earn an Eastern Conference semifinals series against the NBA’s defending champions, that would be biggest of all, so deep into Brooklyn’s special season.

No ‘D’ In Brooklyn But Nets Get It Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like he was going to say anything different, right?

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

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

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

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

Nets Might Need A Bigger Boat

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BROOKLYN – As P.J. Carlesimo, the Brooklyn Nets’ coach, talked about the Chicago Bulls’ halfcourt defense early in the evening Monday night, his tone gradually morphed from respect to reverence to … something darker. Suddenly, he was Robert Shaw as Quint in “Jaws,” scaring the hell out of Brody and Hooper with his tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, 1100 men into the water, 316 coming out and those black, lifeless eyes.

The Bulls brought the black, lifeless eyes of their defense at its best to the Barclays Center for Game 2 of the teams’ first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

Eleven Nets players checked into the game, only a few came out unscathed.

Bulls center Joakim Noah will get more of the headlines in the Windy City for his courageous-slash-reckless performance in helping Chicago even the best-of-seven series 1-1. Noah reached double figures in points (11) and rebounds (10) while going single figures in feet, running and jumping – trying to, anyway – on a nasty case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Plantar fasciitis being Latin, of course, for “hot needles jammed into the sole of one’s foot.”

If Noah played a familiar, vital role as the Bulls’ heart — pumping blood into their bounce-back game for the first victory by a road team in these 2013 playoffs — the Chicago defense handled the predator end of it, draining the lifeblood right out of Brooklyn’s attack.

Forty-eight hours after the Nets hung 89 points on the Bulls through three quarters, they needed all four to reach 82. Two days earlier, Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace had combined to score 36 points on 14-for-22 shooting, with Brooklyn hitting nearly 56 percent overall. This time, Williams and Wallace went 2-for-16 and the Nets shot 35 percent.

“Their defense was very good,” Carlesimo said afterward, “But our execution was not as good as it needs to be. … When they made an adjustment or when they increased their defensive pressure, we didn’t handle it or react as well as we needed to. … Their interior defense was better, they contested a lot better and they didn’t let [Williams] turn the corner.”

The dorsal fins showed up in full in the third quarter. With Chicago crowding Nets center Brook Lopez some, staying aggressive on Williams’ attempts at pick-and-rolls and zealously patrolling the defensive glass, Brooklyn scored only 11 points and missed 17 of its 19 shots, including the last 10. What resumed after halftime as a one-point game pushed out to 12 by the end of the third quarter, 69-57. (more…)