Posts Tagged ‘Dexter Pittman’

Long Layoff Over, Rose Returns In Rush


– This so-called feel-good story permeating the Chicago Bulls through the first eight days of the preseason – Derrick Rose coming back from 17 or 47 months away, off doing surgery rehab or covert operations or whatever – has a flip side, of course.

For the Bulls, their fans and basketball enthusiasts in general, it’s a terrific thing, the return of their star and leader. For rival teams and folks in cities where Rose (gasp!) gets booed, another season or two sitting out – to make really, really sure his left knee was healed – would have been just fine.

“I called him this summer to see if he was interested in coaching when Brian Shaw left,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said, teasing, before Saturday’s preseason opener at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the first for Rose in exactly 75 weeks. “I had a position for him if he wanted to retire early and join the coaching ranks. But he declined.”

Actually, Rose did a fair amount of sitting in the Pacers’ gym Saturday but he did even more damage. In three shifts that totaled 20 minutes 26 seconds, the former NBA MVP scored 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, rushed his way to four turnovers and attacked the paint and the rim as if he were back in his pre-ACL-tear, pre-dinged-up-2011-12 bionic days.

In his first NBA game action since April 28, 2012, the 25-year-old point guard thrilled a bunch of Chicago rooters who drove down and claimed seats in the Fieldhouse, and thrilled another group who were on the floor and on the visitors’ bench.

After Rose raced to a pair of coast-to-coast layups – you half-expected to see the slats of the floor fly up in his wake and hear a Road Runner-esque “beep-beep!” – several smiles and head shakes broke out where the Bulls coaches and reserves were sitting.

“I was like, ‘I don’t remember him being that fast,’ ” said new Bulls swingman Mike Dunleavy, only a Rose chaser till now. “I’m sure he was but it was a great thing to see – even at times when he was going almost too fast and mishandled the ball a little bit. But you can always slow it down.”

After 525 days on the side, Rose returned and was the fastest player on the floor.

“The speed, the quickness but the power to go along with it,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, unabashed in this man-crush. “That’s what makes him so special and unique. There’s no one like him.”

In his first three seasons as Chicago’s head coach, Thibodeau coached 264 games, regular season and playoffs. He had Rose for 137 of them, none at all in 2012-13. The Bulls were 104-33 in the games Rose played, just 69-58 in the one he didn’t. So  yeah, “with” is better than “without” for Thibodeau.

“You see how he makes the game easier for everybody,” Thibodeau said. “And the speed at which he plays, you’ve got to get accustomed to that too. Some rust, that’s to be expected. But you could see as each minute went by, he got more and more comfortable.”

The baseline ambition for Rose Saturday – and for that matter, Indiana’s Danny Granger, also returning from left knee surgery (just six months ago, in his case) – was a) no re-injury and b) no new injuries. Both the Bull and the Pacer achieved that.

But Rose went beyond that by starting and staying aggressive, by driving into the paint, by attacking Indiana’s bigs Roy Hibbert and David West. He showed a fearlessness that, apparently, only could be restored through a full season’s layoff.

After one breakneck drive to the basket, former NBA big man Antonio Davis – watching from the baseline in his ESPN analyst role – said, “There’s no way he would have come back confident enough to play like that last spring.” That was the elephant in every NBA arena in which the Bulls played over the final months last season, the controversy over Rose’s decision not to test his knee in March or April for a playoff push.

With results like he got against the Pacers, and even a three-steps-forward, one-back progression now, that hubbub might swiftly be forgotten.

“It felt great. It felt normal,” Rose said afterward to a huge media throng by October standards. “I’ve just got to get my feet under me. On certain plays slow down. Turnovers were big tonight because I was going too fast. And my jump shot. I missed two free throws.”

Rose admitted that he was relieved to get this first return game out of the way, allowing him to lock into a pattern now with less apprehension, less anticipation. There will be a series of firsts, sure – first United Center appearance, first regular season game, first clash with the dreaded Miami Heat – but this one was the biggest of the steps remaining in his comeback.

That devastating speed of his, that’s an asset he’ll have working for him, less a liability in timing and turnovers the longer he’s back. “It’s there,” Rose said. “I think I’m more balanced. Just attacking. On defense. Getting around screens. Getting into the ball. Avoiding screens. And trying to get back in front of the man.”

Rose never ran into any hard screens by Indiana, but he did take some rough contact from an open-floor collision with George Hill and a soaring drive smack into Hibbert. Rose landed awkwardly after that one, his legs spread, his right one buckling a little. But he got up to shoot his free throws, no worse for wear. Said after the game his knee was fine, too.

“He’s hard to guard when he’s coming at you like that,” Thibodeau said. “He’s going to get you back on your heels and force the defense to collapse. And it makes the game easy. So it was good to see him as aggressive as he was, but that’s what he’s been doing [in practice].”

It was a hit Rose took on the first day of camp from roster hopeful Dexter Pittman, a former Miami big man, that let him know it was OK to get hit and fall. “I ran into Dex,” Rose said. “He’s a big body and just going up against him, he knocked me. Both of us fell at the same time, actually. I knew then I was ready for a game.”

This time, the contact didn’t come against “friendlies” but against rivals. Rivals with a history, in fact, who want the same thing Rose and the Bulls are chasing. Vogel had said before tipoff the Pacers wouldn’t treat the point guard like a “recovery player.” “The whole summer, from what I hear, he’s been playing at full strength,” the coach said.

But Rose took the knocks without incident. Besides the two full-court dashes, his best moment was a breakout from center court, finishing with a two-handed dunk.

Said Vogel afterward: “Same old Derrick Rose.”

Rose was 5-of-6 in the restricted area but missed the six jumpers or floaters he put up from outside it. Considering how he might have played – tentative, testing from the perimeter, relying on mid- or long-range shots – Rose thriving inside and staying in attack mode was seriously encouraging to Chicago.

“Honestly, the game was so much easier … it’s just an easier game [with him],” Bulls forward Luol Deng said. “We were excited just to be back out there playing with Derrick. I’m so happy for him.”

Flattened Last Year, Stephenson Is Flattener Vs. Knicks

INDIANAPOLIS – A year ago, Lance Stephenson was comic relief and the Indiana Pacers’ resident knucklehead. Twelve months later, he is as serious as a flagrant foul and the single biggest reason the Pacers eliminated the New York Knicks in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Last May, Stephenson was the Indiana deep reserve, all raw talent and immaturity, who got caught by the cameras making a choke sign when LeBron James missed free throws in Game 3 of the teams’ playoff series. James ignored him, in the moment and when asked about him later. But a couple of his Miami teammates weren’t so detached; Juwan Howard got into a verbal confrontation with Stephenson before Game 4 and backup big Dexter Pittman seemed to be on the floor late in Game 5 for the express purpose of flattening him (Pittman winked to the Heat bench after the hit across the young Pacers guard’s throat).

Now, it’s Stephenson doing the flattening. Not quite all growed up but making a mad dash in that direction, the 6-foot-5 kid from Brooklyn – from the same Lincoln High that produced the likes of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair – did New York’s NBA team wrong. He grabbed the game at both ends – grabbed it by the throat, one might say – and scored nine points in the first quarter to ignite Indiana in a game it couldn’t squander, then nine more (in not quite seven minutes) in the fourth when it mattered most.

His 25 were a career playoff high but then, just about everything Stephenson does this postseason is a career high, given how unused he was previously. Twice in the first half, Stephenson snagged rebounds and raced downcourt, going end to end through New York’s defense for buckets.

In the fourth, he picked off a pass by Carmelo Anthony and finished with a three-point play that broke a 92-92 tie. Next time down, he drew Tyson Chandler‘s sixth personal foul and hit two free throws. After an Anthony jumper made it 99-94, Stephenson backed his way first through J.R. Smith, then through Anthony for another layup. It wasn’t over, except that it was.

“Unbelievable,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s got no playoff experience whatsoever, but he’s got some of the best basketball instincts I’ve ever been around. There’s an old phrase – he’s a gamer.

“He’s not always going to look good. He’s not always going to be in the right spots defensively. … But you put him in a situation like this – Game 6, closeout game – the kid’s got a lot of guts and great basketball instincts.” (more…)

Q & A With Grizzlies VP John Hollinger

BOSTON — The seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is being held Friday and Saturday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

The conference brings together folks from several different sports and continues to grow every year. This year’s panelists and speakers include R.C. Buford, Mark Cuban, Michael Lewis, Adam Silver, Nate Silver and Stan Van Gundy.

Co-chaired by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, the Sloan Conference has a huge NBA presence. This year, 29 of the 30 teams (the Los Angeles Lakers being the only exception) were in attendance.

Like the conference, the role of analytics in the NBA continues to grow. And when owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien took over the Grizzlies in the fall, they knew they needed an analytical mind to help them make their basketball decisions.

They turned to ESPN writer John Hollinger, naming him vice president of basketball operations in early December.

Hollinger was thrown right into the fire, as the team looked to restructure it’s payroll and regain some flexibility under the parameters of the new collective bargaining agreement. In late January, the Grizzlies made two trades involving three other teams and nine total players. At the trade deadline, they made one more minor deal.

Most notably, the Grizzlies traded leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto, breaking up a starting lineup that had enjoyed a decent amount of success over the last few seasons. They replaced Gay with Tayshaun Prince and also added Ed Davis to a bench that had taken a hit when they traded three players (and a first round pick) to Cleveland for Jon Leuer.

The Grizzlies are 9-4 since the Gay trade and had won eight straight games before falling in Miami on Friday. They continue to be an excellent defensive team, but are still looking for some answers offensively. exchanged e-mails with Hollinger this week to discuss his new job and how the Grizzlies are moving forward… How does your approach to analytics as a team executive differ from your approach as a writer?

John Hollinger: The biggest change is that I’m looking at everything through this more narrow lens of “how does this impact the Memphis Grizzlies?” That means I’m probably looking at certain players much more closely and all but ignoring some national stories that I’d be discussing nearly every day in my former gig (like one that rhymes with “Spakers,” for instance), and it means I’m paying a lot more attention to non-NBA stuff (college, Europe, etc.) because that’s the pipeline for incoming players. As a writer I had the luxury of waiting until those guys got to the league if I so chose. How has your team changed with the trades you made?

Hollinger: Well, hopefully we’re better. More seriously, I think we’ve diversified our offense a little, not just in terms of Tayshaun’s versatility, but also with adding guys like Austin and Ed that come off the bench and give you a major boost.

Rudy was a very good player but Tayshaun’s ability to pass and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers hopefully replaces some of the athleticism and shot-creating ability we gave up in this deal. Defensively we probably get even better, because we still have that 6-9 small forward who can guard, but now we also have an athletic big who plays above the rim in Ed, which is something we really didn’t have before.

And finally, we’re pretty deep in the front line now, because we also have bigs like Jon Leuer and Dexter Pittman waiting in the wings from our other deals. I think we all understand the basic reasoning for the Rudy Gay trade and that you have more flexibility going forward. But can you explain the reasoning behind the Cleveland trade in the context of the trade that followed?

Hollinger: One thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that we still were facing a potential luxury tax hit even with the Rudy trade we made, because of certain incentive deals in our player contracts. So even though all those little charts on the Web had us $4 million and change into the tax, in reality our potential liability was about $6 million. Because of that, it was inevitable that another deal also had to be made in addition to a Rudy deal.

Also, there was a fairly important chess element to this — we were able to improve our leverage in the second deal by being under the tax, because beforehand people were demanding a premium for all the money they’d be saving us. The basketball offers for Rudy got better once we’d done this.

As for the particular deal we chose, it was clear given the frontcourt depth we had that moving off that [Marreese] Speights deal for both this year and next was the way to achieve the greatest savings at the least basketball cost. I suppose it’s possible he opts out of his deal now that he’s in Cleveland and getting minutes and playing well, but if he had stayed here and been our fifth big I’d say those odds were pretty minimal.

And going forward, if we’d had him on our books it would have been almost impossible to keep Tony Allen and stay under the tax. Obviously this isn’t the kind of move you’d prefer to make, but we came into a situation where our hands were really tied financially, and now we have options again.

While I have the floor, I’ll also point out two other things: First, that the Speights trade exception was parlayed into an even larger exception in the Rudy deal, because we took Daye into it, so we now have a $7.5 million chip that could prove valuable in the offseason. And second, that our breathing room allowed us to take in Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick at the trade deadline. How much interaction have you had with players and coaches about numbers that can make you a better team? Does Tayshaun Prince understand the value of a mid-range shot vs. a three?

Hollinger: This is where coming in partway through a season probably limited what we could accomplish somewhat. We’ve had some discussions about it, but we’ll probably be able to have a lot more impact once we’ve had a full offseason together. And obviously time is a factor here two, just in terms of getting to know each other and develop a trust and rapport.

As for Tayshaun, you’re right that it’s probably not ideal to have just 11 percent of his shots come from beyond the arc, given that he shoots it fairly well from out there. We’ve talked about it some internally and with the coaches, but this is another example of an area where we’d be more likely to have an impact in the offseason. Where are NBA analytics most valuable? (Coaching strategies, lineup combinations, evaluating your own personnel, opponent personnel, draft, etc.)

Hollinger: I think the greatest value is still in personnel, and especially in the personnel that you don’t see everyday. The whole thing about numbers and analytics is that they summarize all the games you can’t see, which is great because you can’t possibly watch every team play every game.

With the Grizzlies obviously analytics helps too, but because we’re seeing all the games there’s a lot of times where we already know the answers and the data just confirms it — not all the time, but a lot. As you might expect, the analytics are probably most valuable at the NBA level, because there is a lot less to translate than there is when players are jumping from college, Europe or the D-League.

That said, the answer to this question may be in flux, especially as the use of video explodes. I wouldn’t be shocked if in five years the answer to this question is “coaching.” And I’ll also contradict myself by saying that the translation of going from lower levels to the pros, while harder, also potentially offers more advantages for those who can break the code.

Marc Gasol Holds Open Door To St. Jude


This week, The V Foundation for Cancer Research and ESPN are teaming up with the NBA and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the fight against pediatric cancer by raising awareness and funds to support lifesaving work for children.

Continuing through March 4, the NBA family – led by Hoops for St. Jude ambassadors – will engage fans through this unique relationship, designed to advance cancer research and patient care benefitting children and families battling pediatric cancer.  One hundred percent of donations to The V Foundation from this campaign will go directly toward cancer research benefitting St. Jude patients. Together they form a powerful force in pediatric cancer research.

March 4 marks the 20th anniversary of The V Foundation, which was founded in 1993 by ESPN and legendary N.C. State basketball coach and ESPN commentator, the late Jim Valvano.  As a cancer patient, Valvano worked to eradicate the disease by championing investment in promising young cancer researchers. To date, The V Foundation has helped carry his dream forward by awarding more than $100-million in cancer research grants.  This new endeavor will allow the organizations to work together to help make the shared vision of a world free of pediatric cancer a reality.

St. Jude treats some of the toughest cases of children battling cancer and no family ever pays St. Jude for anything.

Center Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies has been a strong supporter of St. Jude since his arrival in Memphis in 2008 and this year has become an official St. Jude Ambassador along with NBA players and coaches Pau Gasol, David Lee, Kevin Love, Lionel Hollins, and George Karl.

After a recent visit to St. Jude, Marc Gasol shared his thoughts on the program:

Question: What made you want to get involved and become a St. Jude Ambassador?

Answer: That’s easy. The kids. To be able to walk through those doors, be able to spend time with them and play with them is one of the best parts of my life. I think I’m very lucky to live here in Memphis where I can get to St. Jude often. It’s a place where you maybe think at first that you’re going to cheer them up by playing with them. But what I find is that they play with me and it makes me happy. One day we might read a book or do drawings. Another day it’s making cupcakes with different toppings. We even have tea parties and, yeah, I get right down there at the those little tables. Sometimes I get to hear the older kids tell their stories. All the time I spend with them is very special.

Q: Has there been an influence from your family?

A: My Mom is a doctor. My father was a nurse administrator in Spain. Pau went to medical school before he focused on a career in basketball. So there has always been a tie to the medical community and an awareness that there was work to be done and opportunities for everyone to do their part. I believe our parents gave Pau and me a great education and a sense of how the real world is. They have never pushed us to do anything, whether it was basketball or our studies. But if we chose something, they have always encouraged us to make a full commitment. Sure, our family has been touched by cancer, like most families. My grandfather and my aunt both passed away from cancer. But that is not the reason for my interest or involvement. I just like to like to be with the kids and to help them and get the message across the world. Any research or discoveries at St. Jude are spread to hospitals everywhere. We have similar research hospitals in Spain and they all share information, discoveries, treatments. I also like to stress that once a child and their family comes through the doors of St. Jude they do not have to worry about money. No one ever pays. It’s only about taking care of the kids. When you see what that means to families who come here, you understand how special this is to so many people.

Q: What was your first visit to St. Jude like and how have the visits affected you personally?

A: I was only about 17 or 18 the first time that I came out with Pau. I can’t say that I have a specific memory of one thing or one person, but what stays with me is that the first time you come through those doors you get a sense of hope and happiness. Of course, when anyone moves to Memphis I think your awareness goes up and it becomes a bigger part of you. You learn and you find out what makes St. Jude different. It’s not a hospital. At least, not the way that you usually think of a hospital. You come here and you see happiness and colors and kids playing and learning and teaching each other. You see a place that is filled with smiles and hope. It’s a place of fun.

Q: What is the reaction of your teammates and fellow NBA players to what you do for St. Jude?

A: I’m not pushy. I don’t try to convince people. I’ll recruit if I have to. But I think once players do come, you don’t have to convince anyone. I tell them how they can help, what they can do. I just had a visit with some of the new guys on our team — Austin Daye, Ed Davis, Dexter Pittman, Jon Leuer — and it always has an effect.

Q: Do you have favorite memories of your St. Jude experiences?

A: I have a lot of memories. I been here living in Memphis now five years. Sadly, some of those memories are of kids who are not here anymore, times when there are not happy endings. But I’ve had those relationships with them and the relationships and experiences will never go away. I’ve had so many experiences of watching kids get better. A lot of them are basketball fans and they love to watch our games and give us their opinions on how we do. We played in Brooklyn the other night and won and a lot of them watched on TV. We had a halftime segment with Coach Hollins that we did at St. Jude. They loved that. They loved seeing themselves. It’s just great to see them so excited, so happy.

Q: What is the message you want to get out from this campaign?

A: The message should be St. Jude. It’s a place of hope. Anything is possible and we need your help. You and your entire family. For the kids.

Visit or or text HOPE to 50333 or JIMMYV to 80888 to make a $10 donation today and help create a world free of pediatric cancer.

Landscape Unchanged As Deadline Passes

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The 2013 trade deadline will be remembered more for the lack of movement than for any deal that was made. We had a handful of transactions in the final hours before the deadline, but the best player dealt this week was a guy who has started a grand total of 52 games over seven seasons.

That would be J.J. Redick, who is heading to Milwaukee in a six-player trade. The Bucks are also getting Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith from Orlando. The Magic will receive Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb and Tobias Harris in return.

Redick is a role player, but one who should help the Bucks, who have struggled on both ends of the floor as they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games, dropping below .500 for the first time since early December. Now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, they’re just three games in the loss column ahead of ninth-place Philadelphia.

The Bucks were reportedly the leaders in the race for Josh Smith, who is surprisingly staying in Atlanta … for the next few months or so. The Hawks apparently did not have a deal they liked, and will have to hope for a sign-and-trade deal in July if they want something in return for Smith. Our own Sekou Smith says that the Hawks will have “no chance” to re-sign Smith.

Atlanta did make a minor move, sending Anthony Morrow to Dallas for Dahntay Jones.

As much as the lack of a Josh Smith move was a surprise, so was the fact that the Utah Jazz stood pat. With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, the Jazz have both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on expiring deals. We don’t know if the Jazz had an opportunity to upgrade their backcourt this week, but maybe, like the Hawks, they’d prefer to let one (or both) of those guys walk in the summer.

The Boston Celtics made a minor deal, but held on to both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for the stretch run. They’ll be adding Jordan Crawford to their backcourt, sending Jason Collins and the contract of Leandro Barbosa to Washington in exchange for the volume scorer who has been out of the Wizards’ rotation for the last couple of weeks.

Other moves:

  • The Heat sent Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick to Memphis.
  • The Bobcats traded Hakim Warrick to the Magic for Josh McRoberts.
  • In order to get under the luxury tax line, the Warriors are sending Jeremy Tyler to Atlanta and Charles Jenkins to Philadelphia.
  • The Raptors traded Hamed Haddadi and a second-round pick to the Suns for Sebastian Telfair.
  • The Thunder sent Eric Maynor to Portland.
  • The Knicks sent Ronnie Brewer to OKC for a pick.

In addition to Smith, Richard Hamilton (Bulls), Andrea Bargnani (Raptors), Kris Humphries (Nets), Ben Gordon (Bobcats), DeJuan Blair (Spurs) and Evan Turner (Sixers) aren’t going anywhere. The Denver Nuggets didn’t get a shooter, the Brooklyn Nets didn’t get any of their targets (Smith, Millsap, etc.), and the Los Angeles Clippers will try to get past the Spurs and Thunder with what they have.

The new collective bargaining agreement certainly had a role in the inactivity. The new, steeper luxury takes goes into effect next season, so contracts that don’t expire this season are a heavy burden to bear. Two years from now, the repeater tax goes into effect, so there’s plenty of incentive for teams to get under the tax line this year as well.

And now that the deadline has passed, we can get on with the remainder of the season, knowing that the landscape hasn’t changed one bit.

Deadline Passes Without ‘Smoove’ Move


From staff reports

Days, weeks and, in some cases, months worth of hype about the future of Josh Smith in Atlanta ended up being just idle talk. The Hawks’ star forward was the centerpiece topic on trade deadline day 2013, yet will play out the season in Atlanta — a move that surprised many observers around the league. Leading up to the trade deadline, Smith — an unrestricted free agent this summer — had been mentioned in possible deals with Brooklyn, Phoenix, Milwaukee and a host of other cities.

Our own Sekou Smith heard rumblings as of deadline day that Boston and Phoenix were making a push for Smith. But perhaps most valuable to the Hawks in a new NBA economic world is the cap space they’ve created for themselves with last summer’s trades of big earners like Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. Atlanta has hopes of a spending spree of sorts this summer on a free-agent class that includes the Lakers’ Dwight Howard and the Clippers’ Chris Paul. And, as Smith himself told “Atlanta will be on my list in free agency.”

While the man known as “J-Smoove” is staying put in Atlanta, there were a few deadline-day deals. You can get a full recap on all of these and others on our Trade Tracker, but here’s a quick look:

Tale Of The Tape For Game 6

INDIANAPOLIS — And the yapping contiues.

The Pacers and Heat will actually get around to deciding this East semifinal series on the court, but before Game 6 they threw verbal punches, the kind that don’t draw suspensions, which is what Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman received and Tyler Hansbrough didn’t.

“I mean, Hansbrough, it’s not the first time he’s gone after one of our players this year,” said LeBron James. “We have two guys suspended and basically they have no one suspended.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, citing the physical whacks on LeBron and Dwyane Wade, said: “The league does not have a problem with hard fouls on our two main guys. In nine games now (including regular season games with Indiana) there’s been over a dozen hard fouls to the face, some of the tomahawk variety, some have drawn blood. They don’t have a problem with it, so we don’t have a problem with it. We’ll focus on what we can control.”

Well, what Miami can control is its fate in this “wild wild West” series, to quote Danny Granger, with two chances to close out the Pacers. Putting aside the bad blood for a moment, both teams aren’t at full strength, Miami without Chris Bosh and Haslem, the Pacers hoping Granger will overcame a bum ankle suffered in Game 5.

For Game 6, anyway, given the injury/suspension issue, it’s a matter of everyone shutting up and certain players stepping up. Here are the candidates for the latter: (more…)

The League Gets The Last Punch

INDIANAPOLIS — Retaliation comes at a price, and the true cost for the Heat will be totaled up by late Thursday.

Miami will be without Udonis Haslem, whose foul on Tyler Hansbrough was upgraded to level two and the league office tacked on a one-game suspension to boot. Hansbrough wasn’t suspended for his hard foul moments earlier on Dwyane Wade, and truthfully, the league didn’t see any malice by the Pacer forward. But Haslem’s hit was clearly a payback, and the intent, therefore, was judged just as damaging than the actual foul.

That’s why Dexter Pittman was suspended (three games, and he probably got off light) for clubbing Lance Stephenson and then winking about it. As if the vicious foul wasn’t enough, Pittman went after Stephenson because the Pacer reserve gave the choke signal to LeBron James. Once again, the intent, as well as the foul, carried equal weight.

Because Pittman is a benchwarmer who seldom sees any light anyway, the loss of Haslem is where Miami could feel a pinch. Coincidently, Game 6 is at Bankers Life, where Haslem dropped four critical jumpers late in the fourth quarter of Game 4, which tilted the series in Miami’s favor. Since the Heat’s supporting cast isn’t especially deep, and because Haslem has scored 24 points the last two games, this could be a price that proves too difficult to overcome, unless someone else steps forward for Miami.


Haslem, Pittman Out For Game 6

INDIANAPOLISUdonis Haslem won’t be playing in Game 6 of the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers playoff series Thursday night. Tyler Hansbrough will be. And Dexter Pittman … c’mon, does Dexter Pittman’s availability really matter?

The afternoon-after officiating of the flagrant-foul frenzy in Game 5 probably got it right: Haslem, Hansbrough and Pittman all had their flagrant-1 fouls upgraded to flagrant-2 violations, but Haslem (one game) and Pittman (three games) also were handed suspensions for striking the head and shoulders of their intended Indiana targets.

Haslem must sit out Game 6 without pay for his two-armed chop on Hansbrough, which came less than a minute after the Pacers forward put a hard foul on Miami’s Dwyane Wade. Wade got hit in the head and shoulders, too, but in the view of Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, that was a foul that fit within the context of basketball. Who hasn’t seen Wade, after all, get up some acrobatic continuation shot that dropped after a defender fouled and let him go?

Haslem’s and Pittsman’s moves, in real time, in replays and in context, were retaliatory moves. That wasn’t included in the league’s news release on their suspensions, but it was evident to anyone in the building or watching the game. Haslem “had” Wade’s back and Pittman apparently decided to do for LeBron James what Juwan Howard had only yapped about. Lance Stephenson, remember, was the Pacers’ deep reserve who made a choke gesture courtside when James missed a free throw in Game 3.

The Heat won’t be happy about losing Haslem, who has given them value scoring, rebounding and toughness (most of it clean) off the bench in the past two games. Will it swing the series? Hard to say. But the NBA would have been remiss – and didn’t offer any explanation for why the game officials got their rulings wrong – if it had let the Heat’s two hammerings go without further punishment. Those veered into hockey, bordering on pro wrestling and had a distinctly dirty feel.

Remember, all Stephenson did was act stupid and disrespect James from afar. He didn’t get physical with anybody, yet wound up getting clotheslined across his collarbone by Pittman’s lunging elbow.

Expect a more buttoned-down Game 6, despite Larry Bird’s “soft” challenge to his Pacers in what might be their elimination. A couple of key transgressors won’t be active and the referee crew almost certainly will have quick whistles, lest things get uglier.

Bird Calls Pacers S-O-F-T!

HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — The Indiana Pacers left Miami nursing their wounds, both physical and emotional, after a second straight deflating loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

But they won’t get any sympathy at home, not from Pacers president Larry Bird, who made it clear late last night where he feels his team went wrong in this series.

Bird unleashed on his own team after the Heat unloaded on both Tyler Hansbrough and Lance Stephenson with a couple of wicked hard fouls from Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman, respectively, telling Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star:

“I can’t believe my team went soft,” Bird said on the phone. “S-O-F-T. I’m disappointed. I never thought it would happen.”

When asked to elaborate on those comments, an obviously frustrated Bird said, “That’s all I have to say.”

You had to know Bird was going to let loose on someone after watching his team get wobbled repeatedly in the last six quarters of this series. Bird and his Celtics never shied away from a challenge during his Hall of Fame playing career, so it’s no surprise that went off on his own team.