Posts Tagged ‘Dwyane Wade’

Morning shootaround — May 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors value Livingston’s contributions | Heat bemoan mistakes in wake of Game 2 loss | Lue fires back at Barkley | Why Vogel is out in Indiana | Report: Rockets to interview Hornacek

No. 1: Warriors appreciating Livingston even more now — The Golden State Warriors were hoping to have Stephen Curry back for Game 3 of their semifinal series with the Portland Trail Blazers. After practice yesterday, though, Warriors coach Steve Kerr says Curry ‘probably’ won’t play in Game 3. That means more heavy lifting at point guard for Curry’s backup, Shaun Livingston. It’s not surprising the Warriors have come to value Livingston’s contributions to the team even more during Curry’s absence, writes Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Kerr and team trainers want Curry to participate in practice, including at least a three-on-three scrimmage, before he returns to game action. This scrimmage might happen in the next few days, if all goes well, so it’s possible Curry could play in Game 4 on Monday night.

Still, his all-but-certain absence Saturday means it’s time, again, for Warriors fans to appreciate Shaun Livingston. He’s in line to make his sixth start of the playoffs when his team, already leading 2-0, meets Portland in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.

“We’d be dead without him,” Kerr said.

Livingston brings a polar-opposite style — 4 inches taller than Curry and without similar lateral quickness or snazzy ballhandling skills. Curry does his best work away from the basket; Livingston prospers on the low post.

“Honestly, if you lose the MVP, you better have somebody capable to come in,” Kerr said. “Shaun is obviously more than just capable. He’s a great player in his own right.”

The Warriors looked lost at times without Curry on Tuesday night. Their offense grew stagnant as they fell behind 87-76 after three quarters.

But they rallied in the fourth quarter for a stirring victory, and Livingston was right in the mix. He re-entered the game with 6:07 remaining and the score tied 91-91. He had six points and two assists down the stretch as the Warriors pulled away.

He knows he won’t score 30 points a game, like Curry, but Livingston is trying to look toward the basket more often in his temporary role as a starter.

“We obviously don’t have the MVP out there, so my role is to be just a little bit more aggressive with my offensive game,” he said. “I’m trying to get guys involved but also keep attacking.…

“It’s a different game when Steph’s not out there. We don’t have the same spacing or the same shooting, or the same playmaking to a degree. So we have to rely on each other more, move the ball, just trust each other.”

***

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Stars bailed out Heat late in Game 1

TORONTO — A road win is a good win. A road win in the playoffs is a great win.

But the Miami Heat’s overtime win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday wasn’t pretty. And if they hope to get another win in Game 2 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Heat know they have to play better, especially offensively.

The difference in the game was essentially three tough shots from Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade in the first two minutes of overtime. Johnson hit a short turnaround shot from behind the backboard with five seconds left on the shot clock, a Deng hit a step-back baseline jumper from 17 feet out, and Wade hit a step-back fadeaway from the elbow with one second left on the clock.

All three buckets were unassisted. And on all three possessions, the Heat had nothing else going on if those guys didn’t take those shots.

That was the theme with Miami’s offense on Tuesday. They didn’t often get the shots they wanted, but they often made the shots they needed.

According to SportVU, the Heat were 11-for-20 (3-for-5 from 3-point range) in the last six seconds of the shot clock in Game 1. Wade was 5-for-6, hitting the only 3-pointer he took.

Being able to get buckets late in the clock comes with having Wade and Johnson on your team. Those guys can make something out of nothing better than most of the league.

“We got some good one-on-one players,” Wade said after practice Wednesday. “Sometimes it comes down to that. You play team basketball, but sometimes it comes down to guys got to be able to make plays and make shots.”

But the Heat don’t want to be depending on late-in-the-clock offense too much. They ranked eighth in effective field goal percentage in the last six seconds of the clock in the regular season, but for every team in the league, shots in the last six seconds are much worse than shots that come before.

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Numbers preview: Raptors-Heat

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Toronto Raptors survived a fourth-quarter collapse in Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers. The Miami Heat came back from 3-2 down to beat the Charlotte Hornets. The higher seeds advanced to the conference semifinals, but not without some anxious moments.

Now, both teams get a fresh start. And one of them will be going to the conference finals. For both teams, this is a step up from the first round. There will be key matchups all over the floor and interesting lineup decisions to be made throughout the series.

The Raptors were a top-five offensive team for the second straight season. And they were one of the most improved defensive teams in the league, going from 23rd to 11th in defensive efficiency.

The Heat were a top-five defensive team for much of the year and then the league’s most improved offensive team after the All-Star break. They’ve been one of the best teams in the league at attacking the paint and the Raptors have been one of the best teams in the league in protecting the paint.

Miami hasn’t shot very well from the outside all season. The Raptors were brutal from the perimeter against Indiana. This series may come down to who can make shots, but it will also be a battle for control of the paint.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Raptors-Heat, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Toronto Raptors (56-26)

First round: Beat Indiana in seven games.
Pace: 92.0 (12)
OffRtg: 99.0 (11)
DefRtg: 103.4 (8)
NetRtg: -4.4 (10)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Raptors playoff notes:

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Miami Heat (48-34)

First round: Beat Charlotte in seven games.
Pace: 93.4 (9)
OffRtg: 106.5 (6)
DefRtg: 96.4 (4)
NetRtg:+10.1 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Heat playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 3-1 (2-0 in Toronto).
Nov. 8 – Heat 96, Raptors 76
Dec. 18 – Raptors 108, Heat 94
Jan. 22 – Raptors 101, Heat 81
Mar. 12 – Raptors 112, Heat 104 (OT)

Pace: 92.6
TOR OffRtg: 103.8 (12th vs. MIA)
MIA OffRtg: 99.4 (17th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — May 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat needs Johnson to step up | All about team for Lillard | Raptors face pain, Pacers all gain | Cavs’ Griffin: Expectations, not chemistry, was challenge

No. 1: Heat needs Johnson to step up — As dynamic as Miami’s Dwyane Wade was in Game 6 against the Charlotte Hornets Friday and as durable as he’s been this season, a matinee tipoff time for Game 7 down in South Florida (1 ET, ABC) isn’t the most ideal scenario for the Heat’s 34-year-old leader. That short turnaround time had Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald casting about for the likeliest teammates to step up into a 1-A role Sunday, and after considering the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and a couple others, Skolnick settled on:

The other guy is Joe Johnson.

The 15-year veteran has had mixed success, with Everest highs and deathly Valleys.
It didn’t start well. He was 5 for 17 for 16 points in the Hawks’ 34-point loss to a much better Boston team in the 2008 first round.

“They killed us,” Johnson said. “But that’s the year they won the championship.”

But then, in 2009, the Hawks and Wade’s Heat went the distance, and Johnson actually had the better finish: He made 10 of 19 shots for 27 points, while also recording five rebounds, four assists and five steals in an easy win.

“That was a pretty good one, because I struggled that whole series,” Johnson said. “And I probably had my best game in that Game 7.”

In 2010, Johnson had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in Atlanta’s rout of Milwaukee in Game 7 of the first round. And then, in 2013 against the Deng-less Bulls, he went 2 of 14 and scored just six points in Game 7, as his Nets lost at home by six.

In the first round in 2014, he made plenty of big plays to push the Nets past the Raptors, in a Game 7 on the road: 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting.

“That was probably the most special, because it was on the road, hostile environment,” Johnson said. “And man, down the stretch, we were huge. It was the loudest place I’ve ever played in. I couldn’t [bleeping] hear myself breathe, think or nothing. That was probably the best one.”

No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.

“Knowing that one team has to go home,” Johnson said. “So for us, to have a Game 7 on our home floor, I think we’ll take that.”

The Heat took him in this season, after his buyout from Brooklyn. He’s had a decent series — averaging 11 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, including 47 percent from long range. But Miami needs more than efficiency to advance.

It needs more impact.

The Heat may not get his best Game 7, better than what he gave against Miami in 2009.

But his best performance of the series?

With the start time, this seems the right time for that.

Bonus coverage: He isn’t expected to be in the building Sunday, but here is the Charlotte Observer’s story on “Purple Shirt Guy,” who played such a goofy intrusive role in Game 6.

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Morning shootaround — April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? | Walton offers Lakers hope | Wade digs deep, goes deep | Portland’s underdog ride blazes on

No. 1: What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? — One day and two months. That’s the latest way to frame this so-called curse that hangs over the Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to push their first-round Western Conference playoff series to a Game 7 Friday night in Portland. For one day – the time between Stephen Curry‘s sprained right knee and their own calamitous injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – it looked as if the Clippers might have gotten a fortunate break (admittedly due to Curry’s and Golden State’s misfortune). But then their own stars went down with even more serious injuries (Paul’s hand fracture and Griffin’s quad strain). That brought the Clippers’ history of lousy luck roaring back, and a team that hoped to be playing into June couldn’t even make it out of April. Here are more thoughts on the seemingly snake-bit Clips from ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi:

It was another dramatic and heartbreaking close to a season for the Clippers. They have now squandered a 2-0 first-round series lead by losing four straight games twice, and last season blew a 3-1 second-round series lead by losing three straight games. No team in NBA history has ever blown a two-game series lead three times in four years. The last team to do it in consecutive seasons was the Phoenix Suns in 1994 and 1995.

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series are 258-16, and teams that go up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series are 222-9. As good as the Clippers have been recently, they continue to find themselves on the wrong side of history and fate this time of year.

Of course, the way the Clippers’ season ended Friday, with Paul and Griffin watching the final game of the season back home in Los Angeles while recovering from surgeries, made the result more understandable. But it doesn’t change the end result.

Paul has now been on three of the last four teams to blow a 2-0 series lead, and no player in NBA history has played in more postseason games without getting past the second round than he has. Doc Rivers also becomes only the second coach in NBA history to have his team blow three best-of-seven series when leading either 2-0 or 3-1.

So where do the Clippers go from here? They are the only team other than the San Antonio Spurs to win at least 50 games over the past four seasons, but they have nothing to show for it except for two Pacific Division banners that hang in their training facility along with a handful of game balls from some memorable wins. Even the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets have found a way to sneak into the conference finals during that time.

Paul, Griffin and [DeAndre] Jordan are all under contract for next season, but Paul and Griffin probably will opt out of the final year of their deals and become free agents in the summer of 2017. Jordan can be a free agent the following summer (2018).

Looking at the rest of the roster, J.J. Redick will be a free agent after next season; Jamal Crawford, Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute will be free agents this summer, and Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson probably will opt out of their deals and become free agents as well.

Paul Pierce, 38, signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Clippers last year, but said after the game he’s “50-50” on whether he will retire following the worst season of his professional career. Pablo Prigioni, who turns 39 next month, probably will retire after also having his worst season.

In short, the Clippers are a team in flux that has hit a ceiling.

***

 No. 2: Walton offers Lakers hope — For a team so down-trodden this season, the past couple of weeks sure turned out to be heady ones for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans. Starting with Kobe Bryant‘s 60-point farewell performance in the season finale, right through the announcement that Byron Scott – a popular former Lakers player but hardly that as the teams’ most recent head coach – had been fired, there actually was some buzz about the proud-but-sputtering franchise. Then came the word Friday night that Luke Walton, another former Laker but more important Golden State coach Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man up in Oakland, had been tabbed as L.A.’s replacement for Scott. The honeymoon began instantly, though Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com was quick to remind readers that the task Walton faces is a daunting one:

By hiring Walton, the Lakers accomplished several feats. They’re hiring a young, smart, well-regarded, up-and-coming coach from a successful, forward-thinking organization. They’re once again bringing back one of their own, as Walton will become the eighth former Lakers player who went on to coach the team. And the fact that the Lakers are bringing in a beloved familiar face — a Southern California native, no less — will undoubtedly help them not only win the media conference but establish patience from their fans as Walton tries to steer the team out of the depths of rebuilding.

And yet the reality is, for as happy as the Lakers and their fans are now, there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Walton will become the youngest active head coach in the NBA. In fact, at 36 years, 32 days old, Walton is 1 year, 218 days younger than the just-retired Bryant. And Walton’s first NBA head coaching job will be leading a rebuilding team that currently offers a few promising young players but little else. Walton will be tasked with developing those fledgling talents and helping lure free agents back to the Lakers after the team has struck out in that arena for three straight offseasons, though it’s unclear what kind of sway he’ll have with free agents, let alone his own players.

Beyond that, the Lakers aren’t considered to be the most modern-minded franchise, so Walton will have to assist in installing a new culture that helps them turn the page from their past (and Kobe) to whatever successful future he hopes to forge.

This is an extremely tall task for someone who two years ago was a part-time assistant with the Lakers’ D-League team, the D-Fenders. Though, in an odd way, Walton’s experience dealing with those players should come in handy considering the roster he’s now taking over.

There will be expectations for Walton to replicate some measure of success that he had when keeping the seat warm for Kerr, and to infuse some of that Warriors’ DNA into the Lakers. However, such expectations must be tempered.

[It’s] fair to wonder if Walton would’ve been given this offer a year ago.

It’s fair to wonder if his 39-4 mark with the Warriors may have hypnotized some. The Lakers will back him and say that Walton will be a great coach, as they should. But they’ve said that for their previous three coaches, too, all of whom departed before their contracts expired.

Walton has learned under Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, as well as Mike Brown and Byron Scott, and now the Lakers have gone back to a familiar well, bringing back one of their own. Walton could be the greatest hire in Lakers coaching history, a perfect fit. But, if we’re being honest, no one knows much about Luke Walton as a head coach, as someone who can hire a staff, observe a roster and set a course for success.

The once and future Laker is entering an organization that, on many levels, couldn’t be more different than the one he’s about to depart. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine with total buy-in, a modern-day top-down philosophy, a confluence of so many good elements that, together, have produced something almost magical — that’s truly a joy to watch.

The Lakers are none of that.

Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, could well be gone next summer and so could Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Could Phil Jackson return? Such questions loom heavy over the Lakers’ future.

“The number one thing is this,” said one source familiar with both the Warriors and Lakers. “The Lakers are dysfunctional as an organization. A coach can’t change this.”

Indeed, but at the very least, Walton will be (or should be) better than Scott, who is one of the worst coaches in recent memory. Walton has a chance to be good if he develops and is given time, which the Lakers should certainly grant him. Walton knows the Los Angeles market, the Lakers organization, their fan base, the expectations and history. He wanted the Lakers and they wanted him.

He has his dream job and now the Lakers have something they haven’t had in a while: hope.

***

No. 3:  Wade digs deep, goes deep — Neither Dwyane Wade nor Udonis Haslem was ready to have it end Friday night. They have been together in Miami for 13 years, through five trips to The Finals and three NBA championships, so the idea of falling short in Game 6 in Charlotte held no appeal whatsoever for the veteran Heat players. Wade was the one in position to do the most about it, and that’s what he did. In the most unlikely way possible: digging deep and shooting deep. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald chronicled the events:

They’re not men prone to all that much mistiness, though the years can do something to you, and so can the fears of another ending. And so, after Friday’s shootaround, hours before what could have been the final game of the 13th season they’ve shared together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem paused to reflect.

“About how much this meant to us,” Haslem said. “About how much this has meant to us. This opportunity, this organization, being able to lead these guys, and be able to pass the torch at some point…”

“Just being here together,” Wade said. “For 13 years. We’ve been a part of making this organization a championship organization. We’ve been to five (NBA) Finals in 10 years, and we know how hard it was to do that. We just talked about trying to get the guys who have never been here to understand how hard it is to be successful.”

And, when the conversation concluded, Haslem understood clearly:
“Not tonight.”

Not tonight, because, to secure a 97-90 victory and a 3-3 tie in this first-round series — with Game 7 coming Sunday afternoon — Wade truly did need to use whatever means necessary.

Even the least likely of all.
“I’m Kyle Korver now,” Wade joked later.

Well, not really. Not when, before Friday, he hadn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year 2016, missing all 21 attempts since Dec. 16. But he’s warning reporters that he can still stroke it — he did make 88 during the 2008-09 season, and reminded Joe Johnson that he “bombed” Johnson’s Hawks out of Game 2, with six makes, in the 2009 first round. He’s spoken of some sort of mental block, that stops him just as he readies to release.

But, after scoring 13 points in the first half and just two through the first 21 minutes of the second half (”my stroke left me”), Wade did rise up after receiving a pass from a doubled Luol Deng.

And he did rattle it in, off the rear of the rim.

Then, after [Kemba] Walker’s dazzling reverse layup in transition cut the Heat lead to two — and both the Heat and Hornets had empty possessions — Wade did take the ball from Haslem after a rebound, dribble to the top of the circle, then bounce away from traffic in the middle, and step back to the left into another steady 26-footer.

Then he did gesture toward a purple-shirted harassing Hornets fan, who had been angrily advising him the entire game to retire.

“Yeah, I was tired of his mouth,” Wade said. “I mean, I hadn’t said nothing to him.”

Nothing was required, as it turned out.

He’d made his point.

With three points. Twice.

“They gave it to me,” Wade said. “This is a good defensive team. Courtney Lee is a good defensive player. You’re not always gonna get what you want.”
But what you get can still be what your team needs.

“He was shooting them yesterday, and I told him, ‘Man, we’re gonna need you to make some of them [bleep],’ ” Joe Johnson said. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot ’em. I’m gonna shoot ’em.’ So we come down the stretch and I was not surprised, because Courtney Lee kept backing off of him, playing him for the drive. I mean, nobody expected D-Wade to shoot the three. And if he does, you’re like, OK, I’ll live with that. And he made two huge threes.”

After not making one since mid-December.

“Man, are you serious?!” Johnson said, before shouting across the room. “Damn, D-Wade!”

Haslem, naturally, had no issue with the shot selection.

“He was working on it,” Haslem said. “I didn’t know he was going to shoot it, but he was working on it. Clutch situation, that’s my guy, man. I trust every decision that he makes, and every shot that he takes.”

***

No. 4: Portland’s underdog ride blazes on — The story of the Portland Trail Blazers’ overachieving 2015-16 season has been written often and in multiple ways lately. It’s evident in the voting results for NBA annual awards that have come out, what with guard C.J. McCollum‘s triumph as Most Improved Player and Terry Stotts‘ ballot-love in Coach of the Year voting. But the chapter added Friday night with their dispatching of the Clippers and advancement to the playoffs’ conference semifinal round was special enough to earn inclusion here, courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

There are no asterisks in the NBA postseason — not for abbreviated seasons, and not for series wins over short-handed teams missing two All-Stars. Coaches and players sound this trope all the time: It’s so hard to win in the NBA. Hard to win a game, hard to win a series, hard to win a title.

So please excuse the Portland Trail Blazers if they see their 106-103 Game 6 closeout win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center on Friday night not as a fluke born out of Chris Paul’s fractured hand or Blake Griffin’s aggravated quad injury, but as a logical extension of a season-long process.

“Behind closed doors, we felt like we could make the playoffs in September,” guard CJ McCollum said. “We felt like we had enough pieces to get there, but it was going to be a process. We needed to get everybody together. We needed to execute. We were going to take some lumps.”

Even as the Trail Blazers drained seven consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, they still couldn’t shake the Clippers. More Rivers’ vengeance off the bounce, and Jordan reversed the Blazers’ fortunes on the glass. As the game moved into the fourth nip and tuck, the prospect for irony was ripe: The league’s most opportunistic underdogs might squander their ready-made ticket to the conference semis.

Ultimately, Portland became their best selves when they needed to in the fourth. A merry-go-round of multiple offensive actions created a drive-and-dish for [Damian] Lillard, who found McCollum for a 3-pointer with a little over four minutes remaining. Same thing a couple of minutes later: Movement, drive, kick, three from McCollum to keep Portland a length ahead of the Clippers

“I was really happy with the way we executed down the stretch,” Lillard said. “We didn’t panic when they put up a fight for us. We did the things necessary to win the game.”

The Trail Blazers had little time to reflect on the closeout win before the departure time for their Saturday afternoon flight to San Francisco was scrawled on the whiteboard. Golden State awaits in 36 hours time, and the Warriors without Steph don’t resemble the Clippers’ skeleton crew.

The mood following the game was lively, but like a class that finished one exam and has to trek down the hall to the next final, there was a certain focus, even among the relief. “There wasn’t no champagne popping or anything,” big man Ed Davis said.

While Lillard has the most stage presence, and McCollum might be the most expressive of the core, Davis displays the most unvarnished thoughts in the locker room.

“We have nothing to lose,” Davis said. “We go out and [get] swept, that’s what everyone is expecting so that’s how we have to play it — give it all we got, the whole 48 minutes out there and see what happens. We really have nothing to lose. All of y’all are expecting us to lose and the only people who think we’re going to win it are the 15 on the roster and the coaching staff.”

As the scrum dispersed, Davis pleasantly added, “All of y’all expect us to lose, don’t even lie to me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It was Indiana’s night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday but it was Toronto’s nightmare, with pressure shifting back big-time onto the Raptors’ heads in Game 7 Sunday night. … Injured Warriors guard and presumptive repeat MVP Stephen Curry is trying to beat his target date of May 9 in recovering from that sprained right knee. … Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue apparently hasn’t actually signed the contract offered by the Cavaliers when he got promoted from assistant to head coach, taking over upon David Blatt‘s firing. In a fluid market, it makes one wonder whether the numbers verbally agreed to might change. Maybe something bigger? … The Lakers’ gain is the Warriors’ loss, with Steve Kerr now faced with replacing another lieutenant on his bench. … Looking like Dallas point guard Deron Williams will be opting out of his deal with the Mavericks, if only as a good business move. … We’ll say it again: It’s possible that Paul Pierce has played his last NBA game. If so, the memories he made are remarkable ones.

Do the Cavs have any worries in the East?

Watching these playoffs, and concentrating their attention for now on the Eastern Conference, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers are somewhere literally sitting pretty right now.

They’re sitting because, after sweeping aside the Detroit Pistons, there’s nothing else to do but wait.

And they’re pretty because most if not all of their internal worries of the past are gone, and meanwhile, their competition in the East has never looked more beatable.

While it’s true that anything and everything is possible in the playoffs, the notion that the East title is Cleveland’s to lose looks stronger than ever. When you combine the good health and good vibes of the Cavs with the flaws of the remaining field, it screams Cleveland dominance. Wouldn’t you be shocked if LeBron James doesn’t make a sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals?

In a sense, the Cavaliers deserved a break. Come again, you say? Remember last year: Kevin Love‘s shoulder was ripped apart on a cheap shot by Kelly Olynyk in the first round. And Kyrie Irving was injured most of the East finals, then was gone for good after Game 1 of The Finals (knee). LeBron carried the Cavs anyway and took two games from the Golden State Warriors, but the health gods owed Cleveland a full compliment of bodies and, in particular, two All-Stars (Love and Kyrie). Hopefully we’ll get to see how good the Cavs are with LeBron, Love and Kyrie on the floor and clicking. And judging by what happened in the last month of the season and the first round, those three are finally playing in harmony.

As for the competition in the East?

Atlanta Hawks: Entering Thursday’s Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), they hadn’t won in Boston in 10 previous playoff games. So there’s a chance the Hawks could be extended to seven games. After winning 60 games last season, the Hawks were then swept by the Cavs without Love and Kyrie in the East finals. What gives anyone the idea things will be different in the semifinals this year? Paul Millsap is having a beastly series against Boston, but he was torched by LeBron last season. Meanwhile, if Jeff Teague has his hands full with Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie is a step up from that.

Toronto Raptors: If not for a few breaks their way in Game 5, the Raptors would be down 3-2 instead of up 3-2 on the Indiana Pacers. That’s not what you’d expect from the No. 2 team in the East. Kyle Lowry bombed in the 2015 playoffs and this time has upgraded to inconsistent. Speaking of that, the Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll to major dollars, hoping he’d be their defensive rock. The first impressions aren’t very kind — injuries didn’t help — and he’s the guy who’ll be assigned to LeBron.

Indiana Pacers: Paul George is averaging 28.8 points, six rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the postseason. You have to love Paul George. You don’t have to love the Pacers.

Miami Heat: What a weird situation — and we’re not talking about Dwyane Wade on that last drive in Wednesday’s Game 5 and whether or not he got fouled. We mean Chris Bosh. He hasn’t spoken in public since All-Star weekend and hasn’t been officially ruled in or out of the playoffs. He and the Heat are involved in some sort of stand-off regarding his status — he wants to play but there’s a medical issue — and without him, Miami may not beat Charlotte.

Charlotte Hornets: This is a cool story, how a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002 has won one, then two, then three, and now finds itself in position to win its first playoff series since 2002. Good for Steve Clifford, Kemba Walker and especially Michael Jordan. But they’d get swept by the Cavs.

Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens can coach, and Isaiah Thomas can play. But a coach can’t take a team deep into the playoffs, and the only way a 5-foot-9 player can carry a team far is if he’s Allen Iverson-like. Nice showing by the Celtics, though. Their big moment will comenot next week, but next month at the Draft Lottery show; they hold Brooklyn’s pick.

 

Hornets expecting big boost at home


VIDEO: The Hornets need to bounce back in dramatic fashion in Game 3 against the Heat

CHARLOTTE — It happened in Boston Friday night. So why not here today?

The Charlotte Hornets need to find a way to reverse their fortunes against the Miami Heat in Game 3 of this first round playoff series, and they hope to use a little home-court magic to do so.

The Boston Celtics rebounded from a franchise-low seven-point first quarter in their Game 2 loss to the Atlanta Hawks by scoring 37 points in their Game 3 win at home Friday night, behind a monstrous effort from All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas.

The Hornets need a similar boost from their star point guard, Kemba Walker, who promises that the environment and energy provided by the home fans will factor into his team’s performance.

“I know it’s going to be live, exciting and electrifying and our fans will be great,” Walker said, “We definitely would love to feed off the energy of our crowd.”

The Hornets finished the regular season with a 30-11 record at Time Warner Cable Arena, the third best home record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland and Toronto.

“We’re expecting a big boost,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “Our fans have been great all year and our guys love playing here. Right from the get-go, we’ve played really well at home and I think we’ll play a lot better [today].”

The Hornets need to shore up their defense after giving up an average of 119 points on 58 percent shooting, 53 percent from beyond the 3-point line, in Games 1 and 2. They’ll also have to work without second-leading scorer Nic Batum, who is out indefinitely with a left foot sprain suffered in Game 2.

“We’re just trying to get a win,” Walker said. “That’s it. But we want to be locked in and to do the things we need to do to get a win, and that’s to be better defensively overall.”

The Heat have pounded the Hornets with their size advantage in the first two games, so Clifford has to decide whether he wants to go big with Batum’s replacement and insert rookie 7-footer Frank Kaminsky into the starting lineup. Or he can go with a smaller and potentially more explosive lineup and go with sixth man Jeremy Lin alongside Walker in the first five.

Clifford said the Heat’s size, at every position, has been the key difference in the series so far. But the versatility a smaller lineup provides cannot be overlooked. So he’ll continue to analyze his options right up until the final moments and reveal his decision right before the game.

Whatever he decides, the Hornets will have the added boost of their home crowd fueling whatever starting lineup they trot out onto the floor for what breaks down as their most important game (home or otherwise) of the season.

Hornets looking to match Heat’s “purpose of play” in Game 2


VIDEO: Hornets-Heat Game 2 Preview

MIAMI — The Charlotte Hornets had a lot to think about after getting thumped, 123-91, in Game 1 of their first round series with the Miami Heat on Sunday. And, with Game 2 on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), they’ve had two full days off to think about it.

Most of the thinking and adjusting has been about the defensive end of the floor.

“Our offense isn’t the problem at all,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said at shootaround Wednesday morning. “We’re a top-10 defensive team and we got rocked. We weren’t just bad … rocked. They were great and we were terrible. They’re very tough to guard, but from a coverage standpoint, that was as bad as we were all year, and they took full advantage of everything. They’re going to get that ball in the paint, and if you can’t stop them, you’re not going to beat them.”

The Hornets’ pick-and-roll coverage has to be better. And they have to figure out how to handle it when the Heat send a guard to the baseline to throw their normal weak-side rotations out of whack.

“They play guys down along the baseline,” Clifford said Tuesday, “which is pretty conventional in our league. But they do it with perimeter guys, post guys, which is not done a lot. They do it randomly. So it’s not always at the start of a possession where you can be organized whereas it becomes a read. It totally changes your pick and roll coverages.”

(more…)

Numbers preview: Heat-Hornets


VIDEO: Heat vs. Hornets: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Eastern Conference took a step forward this season. It won 48 percent of its games against the West, its second best mark in the last 17 seasons.

Most of the improvement came in the middle of the conference, where teams 5-10 were all at .500 or above, with better records than their Western Conference counterparts.

The Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets were two of the league’s most improved teams. Miami improved on both ends of the floor and was 5.0 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season, while Charlotte took a huge jump on offense and was 6.6 points per 100 possessions better than they were in 2014-15.

Appropriately, the Heat and Hornets finished with the same record and will face each other in the postseason. Statistically, it’s the most evenly-matched series of the first round.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 3-6 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Miami Heat (48-34)

Pace: 95.7 (25)
OffRtg: 104.2 (12)
DefRtg: 101.5 (7)
NetRtg: +2.6 (10)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Charlotte: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_mia_shooting

Heat notes:

20160414_post-break_offrtg

Charlotte Hornets (48-34)

Pace: 97.8 (18)
OffRtg: 105.1 (9)
DefRtg: 101.8 (9)
NetRtg: +3.3 (8)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_cha_shooting

Hornets notes:

20160414_offrtg_impr

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 in both cities)
Oct. 28 – Heat 104, Hornets 94
Dec. 9 – Hornets 99, Heat 81
Feb. 5 – Heat 98, Hornets 95
Mar. 17 – Hornets 109, Heat 106

Pace: 96.2
MIA OffRtg: 100.7 (17th vs. CHA)
CHA OffRtg: 103.6 (14th vs. MIA)

Matchup notes:

  • Three of the four games were within five points in the last five minutes.
  • Joe Johnson and Courtney Lee were only with their current teams for the final meeting, while Al Jefferson missed the December and February games for Charlotte. Both teams only had their current starting lineups for the March 17 meeting in Miami, and the Hornets’ starters played just eight minutes together in that game (because Zeller left with a knee issue).
  • Whiteside had one of his three triple-doubles – 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks – in the Feb. 5 meeting in Charlotte.
  • The Hornets were a plus-38 in 138 minutes with Batum on the floor and a minus-30 in 54 minutes with him on the bench. Wade was a minus-17 and minus-16 in the Heat’s two losses.
  • The Heat grabbed just 14.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, while the Hornets grabbed just 14.9 percent of available offensive rebounds. For both teams, that was their lowest offensive rebounding percentage against Eastern Conference opponents.

Blogtable: Predicting the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race

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


BLOGTABLE: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOHeat solidify their playoff chase with win vs. Pistons

> By this time next week, which teams will be seeded No. 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the Eastern Conference? And which team (if any) is most at risk of falling into No. 7 or 8 territory and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

No. 3: Heat
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Celtics
No. 6: Hornets

This isn’t merely how I think they’ll land — to me, this represents the relative strength and playoff readiness of the four teams involved. Miami knows how vital it will be to land in the third (or sixth) spot, just to avoid facing Cleveland for as long as possible. I don’t think any of the four is in danger of slipping to No. 7 or No. 8. That’s the East’s “green room,” with Indiana and Detroit likely to get bumped fast and asked to return next year.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

Minimal shuffling from current standings.  Boston will beat out Atlanta because of a favorable home schedule and having the critical Jae Crowder back in the lineup.  Also a pair of road back-to-backs will keep Charlotte down in the sixth spot.  I don’t believe any of these teams are in danger of slipping out of the middle of the pack.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

As much as this is the latest opportunity for a lot of people to wrongly overlook the Hawks again, because they are capable of a nice postseason run, it’s tough not to like the Boston defense as a difference maker in this race within the race. The return of Jae Crowder is a big boost. I don’t think anyone falls into 7 or 8.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

I’d be wary of the Heat, only because they might not feel necessary to press Dwyane Wade into heavy minutes for the stretch run. Miami could falter. Otherwise, this is a four-team coin flip.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Celtics
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

This is just a wild guess, because we don’t know what teams (out of this group or their opponents) are going to rest guys in the final eight days. I’ll guess the Hawks and Celtics finish at 49-33 (Atlanta would take head-to-head tiebreaker with a win on Saturday), while the Heat and Hornets finish at 48-34 (Miami wins division-record tiebreaker). And no, none of them are in danger of falling down to 7 or 8.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Celtics
No. 5: Hornets
No. 6: Heat

The hot Hawks have a favorable schedule and can clinch their tiebreaker vs. Boston with a home win against the Celtics. The Celtics, for their part, close their season with three games (two at home) against these rivals — but it isn’t reasonable to forecast a sweep, given the tight competition within this grouping. The Hornets have been terrific on the road lately, which can enable them to hang in despite four remaining games away from home. It has been a month since the Heat has won more than two games in a row, and so a major move is unlikely now.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Hornets
No. 5: Celtics
No. 6: Heat

The Hawks have a relatively tough schedule remaining (home against Toronto and Boston, plus at Cleveland and Washington), but they’re due to win one against Toronto or Cleveland, and have played Boston and Washington well this season. Charlotte has been playing well, and they’re 10-6 this season against the teams they have remaining. And Miami has three games left against Boston and Detroit, who they haven’t won against all season.