Posts Tagged ‘Gerald Wallace’

Nets Do It All Offensively To Stay Alive

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BROOKLYN –
When you score 110 points in a slow-paced playoff game against a top-five defense, you’re doing a lot of things right. And the Brooklyn Nets did a lot right in their 110-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday, avoiding elimination and sending this first round series back to Chicago for Game 6 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

There are four factors when it comes to scoring efficiency: Shooting from the field, turnovers, free throws, and offensive rebounds.

The Nets shot 50 percent from the field and 6-for-17 from 3-point range. Check.

The Nets committed just 11 turnovers, zero in the fourth quarter. Check.

The Nets got to the line 23 times and connected on 20 of the 23 attempts. Check.

The Nets grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and turned them into 24 second-chance points. Check.

All those checks enabled the Nets to survive a gut-check. They rebounded (literally and figuratively) from Saturday’s heartbreaking loss in Game 4, answered some questions about their heart and resilience, and put themselves in position to bring this series back to Brooklyn for Game 7 on Saturday.

And don’t let the final score fool you. The game was very much up for grabs late in the game. After leading by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, the Nets were up just one after Jimmy Butler began the fourth with a 3-pointer. They were still up only five with a little over four minutes to go.

At that point, any observer still had Saturday’s collapse – a 14-point lead gone in less than three minutes – fresh in their mind. But this was a different night, one in which the Bulls couldn’t stop the Nets, who didn’t go more than two straight possessions without a score over the final 32 minutes.

“The difference tonight was that we were able to sustain it for essentially a full 48 minutes,” Brook Lopez said afterward. “We really came together as a team, played through the entire shot clock, and turned our good looks into great looks.”

Brooklyn scored at least 25 points in each quarter and went off for 33 over the final 12 minutes. And they got critical contributions from everywhere.

Deron Williams clearly knew he could take advantage of the absence of Kirk Hinrich and a mismatch with Nate Robinson. He pushed the ball down the floor, got the Nets into their offense early, and took Robinson into the paint, totaling 23 points and 10 assists.

Lopez took advantage of the Bulls’ heavy strong-side defense by flashing from the weak side and attacking the basket. He shot 10-for-14 in the paint and registered 28 points and 10 rebounds.

Andray Blatche was good Andray Blatche on this particular night, mostly staying in control and scoring 10 of his 13 points in the critical fourth quarter. The Lopez-Blatche combo was a plus-14 in eight minutes on Monday and is now a plus-38 for the series.

And the much maligned Gerald Wallace came up huge in the final minutes, opening the game up with a sequence in which he drained a corner three, stole a Nate Robinson pass, and turned it into a breakaway dunk on the other end.

This is who the Nets can be. They ranked ninth in offensive efficiency this season, but have the personnel to be a top-five team on that end of the floor. They have three guys – Williams, Lopez and Joe Johnson – they can run their offense through. With Hinrich out and Joakim Noah still somewhat hindered by plantar fasciitis, they have distinct matchup advantages. And with the Bulls so limited offensively, they have plenty of opportunities to run the floor. They registered 21 fast break points on Monday.

It’s just a matter of energy and execution, keeping the ball and the players moving. If you have the talent, there are ways to beat the Bulls’ defense. The Nets have now played well offensively in three of the five games in this series.

“I believed we would respond,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “As disheartening a loss as Saturday was, there have still been enough good minutes in this series.”

Indeed. Though they’re down 3-2, the Nets have now outscored the Bulls by 17 points over the five games. If they can keep that point differential moving in their favor on Thursday, they’ll have a Game 7 on their home floor, and Saturday’s collapse will be long forgotten.

Nets Extend King, Who Has More Work To Do

BOSTON – The Brooklyn Nets announced Friday that they’ve signed general manager Billy King to a contract extension. NetsDaily reports that the deal is for three years.

The timing is interesting, given how anemic the roster King has assembled has looked in its last two games against the Chicago Bulls. But Brooklyn was the most improved team in the league this season, and in his time with the Nets, King has turned Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and Travis Outlaw into Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace.

Most improved teams, 2011-12 to 2012-13, NetRtg

Team OffRtg Rk DefRtg Rk NetRtg
Brooklyn +5.3 4 -3.4 3 +8.7
Charlotte +6.0 3 +1.2 14 +4.8
Golden State +1.2 16 -3.5 2 +4.6
L.A. Clippers +2.5 12 -2.0 5 +4.5
Oklahoma City +3.0 9 -0.8 9 +3.8

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The problem is that King gave up a Lottery pick for Wallace, who has really regressed this season and is owed over $30 million over the next three years. And he’s the fifth-highest paid player on the team. Given the restrictions of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Nets are mostly stuck with the roster they have, a roster that had no major injuries this season and finished fourth in the weaker conference.

They do hope that they have one card to play: trading Kris Humphries‘ contract (which expires next season) to upgrade one of the forward positions. In one of King’s more interesting moves last summer, Humphries was essentially re-signed to be traded. The Nets didn’t necessarily want to bring the power forward back, but if they let him go, they didn’t have the cap space to replace him with anything but a minimum-salary player. Re-signing Humphries gave them the opportunity to eventually deal him for someone who makes similar money, but they might not have the add-ins (young players with potential or potentially high draft picks) to entice another team to trade them a real difference maker.

A(nother) coaching change could also make a difference. Multiple reports indicate that interim coach P.J. Carlesimo probably won’t be retained at the end of the Nets’ playoff run. Carlesimo has stuck with vanilla lineups despite his team’s struggles against quality opponents, and the Nets could move up a couple of spots both offensively and defensively next season with a little more innovation from the bench.

So while his roster is mostly set, King still has some work to do. He has to try to find a taker for Humphries, and he has to (likely) hire a new coach.

 

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.

Brooklyn Peaks At Right Time, Based On Opener Vs. Bulls


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BROOKLYN – The last postseason game played in this borough, the guys from Brooklyn didn’t even score (Johnny Kucks and the New York Yankees shut out the Dodgers 9-0 in Game 7 of the 1956 World Series at Ebbets Field).

So things already were looking up when Brook Lopez turned teammate Reggie Evans‘ offensive rebound into a layup 62 seconds into Game 1 of the Nets’ best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night at Barclays Center.

The thing is, it only got better from there. Everything got better. The Nets’ offense purred under the direction of Deron Williams. The Brooklyn defense clamped down hard on a Bulls team with a reputation for clamping down (“I think we’re better,” Nets forward Gerald Wallace said).

Lopez played so well – 19 of his 21 points by halftime – that it might not have mattered if Chicago center Joakim Noah had had three good feet, never mind two. Brooklyn scored in the second quarter alone (35 points) what it took the Bulls a whole half to post and needed only three quarters to do (89 points) what took the visitors the entire game.

NBA playoff series are all about game-to-game adjustments, holding home court and never, ever getting out front of one’s self in excitement or assumptions. The Nets expect nothing less than a resurgence by Chicago’s players, properly chewed, spit out and told to do better by coach Tom Thibodeau.

Still, if a series opener could count double or at least set a tone for what’s likely to follow, this one would shoot to the front of the pack. This was one of the Nets’ most complete victories of their inaugural season at Barclays and it came precisely at the right time.

“Fresh start. New season. Playoffs are totally different,” said Wallace, who has seen performances by his squad similar to Saturday’s but only for partial credit.

“We’ve been doing that in the regular season against them but we’d give it away in the fourth quarter,” Wallace said, referring to Brooklyn’s 1-3 record against Chicago in the regular season. “We just been really inconsistent at times – we got comfortable during the regular season when we got leads as well as we did tonight. Tonight our focus was for 48 minutes.”

Funny how the urgency takes hold when the wiggle room vanishes. “You’ve just got to know that it’s win or go home,” said Wallace, whose 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks mattered less than the aggressiveness he showed, particularly on defense (his counterpart, Luol Deng, got sideways with just six points on 3-of-11 shooting).

“There’s no, ‘Well, OK, we’ll just chalk this one and come back tomorrow.’ We don’t have 82 games to kind of fix things. Four losses and we’re at home. And all the little nick-nack things and petty things that you had to deal with during the regular season have to be thrown out the window now.”

Swapping East Rutherford, N.J., for their fancy new digs, the Nets brought to their new home an almost entirely new team. That bunch got off to an unrealistically perky start – 11-4 through November for East Coach of the Month Avery Johnson, who was gone before their full reversal in December (5-11) was complete.

The parts didn’t always fit, especially with Williams out of shape, aching in his ankles and generally cranky about it all. Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo steered the Nets to the best winning percentage in franchise history (.648) but there still were hiccups late in the regular season, including a loss to Toronto and a scare against Indiana.

But Williams shed some weight, got specialized treatment on his ankles and came back from a getaway All-Star break in Miami looking like a new player, as in, the old D-Will. Guys around him got healthier and more comfortable playing with him, even as Williams’ bursts and jump shots improved.

The Nets’ attention to detail picked up. They have made it routine to get Lopez active early, because of the good things that usually follow. Just run to the rim, big fella. As forward Reggie Evans said: “I have so much confidence up to the point where I know he’s gonna bring it every night. I won’t worry about him … we’ve already been talking about this moment and stuff. Typical Lope – here early, ready to roll, and he did what he did. You can’t really argue, one of the top two big men in the league by far.”

There was hardly a thing to dislike, as “Brooklyn basketball” played to an identity Saturday rather than just a marketing slogan. Highlights abounded, from vet Jerry Stackhouse singing the anthem to Williams swiping the ball and racing downcourt for a reverse dunk.

Chicago was the team in off-day disarray, with a lot of its fans wondering if Noah’s sore right foot (plantar fasciitis) can heal enough again to allow him on the court. Failing that, some who noticed All-Star guard Derrick Rose on the visitors’ bench might be wondering if Noah’s heart could be transplanted into Rose’s chest. The healthiest guy on Chicago’s roster might be the one who hasn’t played since last April 28.

Still, this one was about Brooklyn, so much so that some were bemoaning the Nets’ failure to chase down the No. 3 seed, considering the second-round showdown it might have set up with the Knicks.

For now, though, one Brooklyn postseason game that went right nearly 57 years after the last one went wrong was cause enough for anticipation.

Williams, touting “ball movement, defensively being attentive and helping each other out,” called it “really unselfish basketball.” And “fun basketball.”

“We’ve had ups and downs all season,” the point guard said. “But I think we always expected to be in the playoffs. and hopefully [we're] clicking at the right time.”

Have We Seen The Best Of The Nets?

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BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets gave one away on Thursday, blowing an early 16-point lead and falling to the very undermanned Chicago Bulls, 92-90. Ultimately, the loss may not mean anything, because the Nets still have a 1 1/2 game lead on the Bulls for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and face Lottery teams, against whom they’re 29-6 this season, in five of their last seven games.

A fourth-place finish in the East would give the Nets home-court advantage in first round, likely against Atlanta or Chicago. A loss in that series would be a disappointment, especially when you consider Brooklyn’s payroll. A win would set them up to lose in four or five games to the Miami Heat.

Other than losing in the first round, there’s no avoiding that fate, which has basically been the path the Nets have been on for the last couple of weeks, since the Knicks and Pacers started playing well again.

I wrote about this yesterday. And maybe this is just who the Nets are. Maybe they’re just a good, but not great, basketball team.

But it’s hard not to wonder if we’ve ever really seen the best of the Nets this season. They currently rank ninth in offensive efficiency and 19th defensively. They could and, really, should be better.

Injuries have been an issue. Deron Williams has missed just three games this season, but was clearly not at his best for the first 50 games, dealing with sore ankles and other various ailments. He’s been much better since the All-Star break, but Joe Johnson has had a couple of different injuries since then. Brook Lopez‘s foot injury in late November is what really knocked the Nets off track after a strong start. And Gerald Wallace, in standard Gerald Wallace fashion, has been banged up too.

The Nets have looked like a great team at times. They have road wins in Boston, Oklahoma City, New York and Indiana. But, other than a 12-2 stretch after P.J. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson, success has always been rather fleeting.

Carlesimo made some minor changes, gave Mirza Teletovic a shot in the rotation after the break, and is now giving MarShon Brooks more consistent playing time than he’s had all season. But he has been pretty vanilla with his lineups, and that’s where the Nets may be leaving something on the table.

Of Lopez’s 2,079 minutes on the floor, 1,639 (79 percent) have been played with either Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries at power forward. Neither Evans nor Humphries, of course, spaces the floor very well.

Teletovic is very different from Evans or Humphries, in that he can shoot from beyond five feet. But he has played just 112 minutes at the four next to Lopez.

Andray Blatche has also shot the ball well out to 19 feet or so. But he has played just 86 minutes with Lopez. The Nets’ five best players are arguably Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Blatche and Lopez, a group that has played just 20 minutes together over four games this season.

One of the best lineups the Nets have had this season is a small one. Williams, Keith Bogans, Johnson, Wallace and Lopez have outscored their opponents by 18.3 points per 100 possessions in 107 minutes together. Now, those numbers are skewed somewhat by a couple of late-December games against the Bobcats and Cavs, but that lineup has played just seven minutes together since the All-Star break.

In total, Lopez has played just 242 minutes with someone other than Blatche, Evans, Humphries or Teletovic at power forward. And those minutes have been very good, especially defensively.

Nets efficiency with Brook Lopez on the floor

Power forward MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Reggie Evans 1,125 105.6 103.2 +2.4 +69
Kris Humphries 514 106.1 105.1 +1.0 +14
Mirza Teletovic 112 115.8 110.4 +5.3 +19
Andray Blatche 86 104.8 100.3 +4.6 +17
Other (small lineups) 242 106.3 99.2 +7.1 +72
TOTAL 2,079 106.4 103.5 +2.9 +191

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

When asked about his lineups, Carlesimo has said that he goes with matchups. But he has obviously been leaning heavily on Evans of late, even using him on two crucial offensive possessions in the final minute of Thursday’s loss, thinking Evans might get the Nets a second chance with an offensive rebound.

The Nets have actually been better offensively with Evans on the floor (scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.8), but most of those off-floor minutes have come with Humphries, similarly limited offensively, at power forward.

This is why it’s hard to know if we’ve seen the best of the Nets this season. Those 242 minutes of small-ball aren’t a lot to go on. And neither are the 86 minutes Lopez has played with Blatche.

Lopez is Brooklyn’s most important player on both ends of the floor. And in the playoffs, his minutes should surely increase from the 30.7 per game he’s played in the regular season. Does that mean that Blatche will be limited to just 10-12 minutes, or will we actually see the two on the floor together? Is there a matchup (Josh Smith, perhaps) that will allow Carlesimo to play Wallace at the four?

In four games against Atlanta (all under Carlesimo), the Nets have played small a total of seven minutes. So the answer to that last question is probably “no.”

Now, it’s unfair to really condemn the coach for not taking more chances with his rotation. He took over in the middle of the season, with the Nets going through a serious rough patch. More than anything, they just needed to get their best players playing well. And obviously, Lopez and Williams are doing just that.

Still, we have to wonder if this team has reached its potential.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

D-Will Stays Scorching, Hangs 31 Points On Cuban’s Mavericks

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DALLAS – Deron Williams swears he didn’t so much as wink at Mark Cuban seated baseline as the Brooklyn Nets point guard delivered a 31-point, six-assist wrecking ball to the Dallas Mavericks’ rapidly collapsing playoff chances.

A chip on his shoulder? Not if you believe Williams. Wednesday’s 113-96 win was just like any other his team badly needs. And after inflicting a world of hurt on Cuban and his club, Williams didn’t gloatingly tweet the Mavs owner a la Kobe Bryant, who went for 38 after being tweaked by the outspoken owner a couple of weeks ago.

No, the sharp stick to Cuban’s side was surprisingly wielded by interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo.

“I don’t know,” Carlesimo said when asked if Williams, who scored 26 points in the second half and 13 in the fourth quarter, carried a chip on his shoulder. “But, I’m sure [Williams] understands you’re not going to expect intelligent statements from Mark anyhow.”

Zing.

Williams spurned his hometown team last July as a free agent when he chose to re-sign with the Nets for a max deal of five years and $98 million. Afterward, Williams said he was surprised that Cuban, who was busy in Los Angeles filming the TV show “Shark Tank,” didn’t make the trip to New York to personally sell him on joining the Mavs. Williams said Cuban’s absence helped shape his decision to play in Brooklyn. Cuban responded by saying on a local radio program that his club is actually better off without Williams and the max deal he would have received weighing down the payroll.

“I always get up for the games at home because it’s home and given the situation,” Williams said, who came as close as any time previously of acknowledging a rift with Cuban by referencing ‘the situation.’ “Honestly, I just tried to attack it as a regular game. My thought process was the same today as it is any other game. I didn’t need anything special. It was just a regular game for us, but a big game for us.”

As the Mavs (32-36) limp away from a 14th home loss and the sour opening of a crucial six-game homestand dominated by East opponents, the Nets (40-28) skipped off to sunny Los Angeles for a couple of days of rest and practice before seeking a third consecutive victory on this brutal eight-game trek against the Clippers.

Williams, who hails from a Dallas suburb about 25 miles from the American Airlines Center, is playing his best basketball of the season, rejuvenated from an All-Star break cocktail of platelet-rich plasma therapy, juice cleanser and cortisone shots into both his ailing ankles.

He’s put up 31 points in consecutive games and is averaging 23.9 ppg on 48 percent shooting since the break. Williams refused to talk about his health, offering only a smart-aleck answer when asked if he’s feeling as good as he has all season.

“I really appreciate your concern with my health,” Williams said. “I really do. Thank you.”

We’ll just have to trust the numbers, his teammates, his coach and what he’s telling his coach.

“I kept telling him I would get him out a minute or two in the second half,” said Carlesimo, who played Williams all but 52 seconds of the second half and 41 minutes in all. “And he goes, ‘Are you watching what’s going on out there? So, obviously we didn’t take him out until the the end. I’m not saying that’s as good as we can play, but that’s one of our best games obviously all year.”

Williams got needed help from center Brook Lopez, who matched the 38 points he scored last season in Dallas. Andray Blatche hit six of seven shots and scored all of his 14 points in the first half. Reggie Evans pulled down 22 rebounds in 32 minutes. Gerald Wallace came up with five steals. Joe Johnson dished five assists.

Unlike a few nights ago when the Nets failed to catch their cross-town rival in the East standings by being embarrassed on their home floor by the Atlanta Hawks, they turned up the defensive pressure and poured it on Dallas with 66 points in the second half. Williams and Lopez combined for 46.

With 14 games left and six to go on this so-far 2-0 road trip that Williams said will “define our season,” we are left to wonder where this team, that has mastered the bit of game-to-game inconsistency, will fare now that Williams is again playing like an All-Star.

When the fourth-place Nets finally return home on April 4, after also road-tripping through Portland, Denver, Utah and Cleveland, the No. 2 seed could be within their grasp or a first-round series at home could be falling through their fingers. Brooklyn is two games back of No. 2 Indiana and two games ahead of No. 5 Atlanta.

“This is a good trip for us at the right time,” Williams said. “It’ll define the season for us because we have some tough games ahead of us. We have a lot of days off, but we also have a lot of back-to-backs, which is tough. We’ve got to maintain focus for the rest of the trip and make sure that we don’t slip up.”

Heat Often Put Themselves On Cruise Control … Just Not Against Brooklyn

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BROOKLYN – Poor Nets.

They played the Miami Heat three times this season, and all three times, the defending champs were engaged, focused or motivated. Pick whichever of those three words you prefer to describe the way the Heat have played only some of the time this season.

The Heat completed a three-game season sweep on Wednesday in Brooklyn, blowing out the Nets in the third quarter on their way to a 105-85 victory. They won the three meetings by an average of 21 points and LeBron James has now won 17 straight games against the team owned by his friend Jay-Z.

So the Nets never got to see the Heat team that shows up at the arena and mostly goes through the motions, the team that knows it can flip the switch in the postseason, or the team that seems happy with just a game-and-a-half lead in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks, the team trailing the Heat, saw that Heat team two times already, once in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and once when they were missing Carmelo Anthony. The Spurs, similarly, saw that Heat team when they decided to send four players home before that TNT game back in November. And the Celtics, missing Rajon Rondo, saw that Heat team on Sunday.

Yes, the Heat are in first place. But should they really be 11-10 on the road? Should they really rank 11th in defensive efficiency and allowing 4.3 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season?

The Heat have the best player in the world, two more All-Stars and maybe the best shooter in NBA history. And they’ve been relatively healthy all season. Yet, they’re barely ahead of a New York team that went 8-10 from Dec. 17 to Jan. 26 and has missed countless games to injury.

A championship team on cruise control through the regular season is nothing new. But it’s still OK to be a little disappointed in how the Heat have played this season.

“We understand that 10-10 on the road is not to our potential,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before his team picked up road win No. 11 on Wednesday. “But we’ll have many opportunities to correct that in the second half.”

Sometimes, as it was on Sunday, the problem has been offense.

“Turnovers are the key,” Shane Battier said. “Everyone wants to kill us for rebounding, and our numbers are poor. No question. But that’s not the barometer of our success. The turnover battle is the end-all, be-all for us. When we get extra possessions and we limit giving away extra possessions, we’re going to score. We’re a high-efficiency offensive team.”

Indeed, the Heat are 17-2 when they’ve committed 13 turnovers or less. They had 21 in Boston on Sunday, their second-worst offensive game of the season in terms of efficiency. They were much sharper against the Nets.

But defense has been the larger problem. The Heat ranked fourth defensively last season and are 11th this year. Only four teams have regressed more defensively.

The Heat are at their best when they’re active and aggressive defensively, using their speed and athleticism to its fullest. And maybe it’s just not possible to play elite defense like that for 82 games. But a little more defensive effort could give them the cushion they need in case they do suffer an injury or two in February or March.

“It just required concentration, and our concentration has not been great, especially on the road,” Battier said. “Everyone knows the system here. It’s not a matter of ignorance. It’s a matter of effort and concentration. When we’re dialed in and supply that concentration, we’re a pretty darn good defensive team. When we don’t, we’re pretty porous.”

On Wednesday, the Heat proved that, when they’re “dialed in,” they’re in a class above the Nets, who had the league’s No. 1 offense in January before they were held under a point per possession by the champs.

“I think we were really aggressive against these guys all three times, both offensively and defensively,” Battier said. “It was good to see tonight on the road. We haven’t been this aggressive on the road in a while. We really attacked them and tried to take them out of their sets.”

On Friday, the Heat visit the Pacers, the team that held them to a season-low 77 points in Indiana in early January. It’s a second-straight opportunity to take one of the East’s season-tier teams and knock them down a peg. So it will be interesting to see which Heat team shows up.

For the Nets, no matter how much success they’ve had under P.J. Carlesimo and no matter what they do over their last 36 games, they’ll know that they haven’t been able to hang with the champs. Knowing that there’s no avoiding the Heat in the playoffs, they should have treated this like their most important game of the season. Maybe they did, and maybe they just caught the Heat on the wrong day … again.

“In any sport, you measure yourself up against the champions, and they are the champions,” Gerald Wallace told Newsday. “They’ve embarrassed us all three times, so what does that say for us as a team trying to be a championship team?”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 31

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Two great games last night (Clippers-Wolves and Lakers-Suns) that we’d like to nominate as a must-see this morning, but if we have to pick just one, we’re going with Clippers-Wolves. Great back-and-forth action all game, slick passing from Ricky Rubio here and there, Blake Griffin doing his thing, a little bit of chippiness between two West teams that haven’t liked each other much the last few seasons. Going in, this looked like an easy one for the contending Clips against the banged-up Wolves, but it turned into an overall solid game.

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News of the morning

Howard has shoulder pain | Raptors wild night in Georgia | Pistons say farewell to Prince | Heat teach Nets a lesson | Popovich excited about something? | Nuggets finding their way

Dwight’s shoulder flares up againDwight Howard got his shot blocked by Phoenix’s Shannon Brown with 6:57 left in the game and that was the end of the night for the Lakers’ star big man. Check out the video, but Howard is clearly in pain and reaches for that bothersome right shoulder and the torn labrum that’s hobbled him at times all season. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin and the Orange County Register’s Kevin Ding both chime in on what’s next for Howard, who says he won’t shut himself down for the season:

From McMenamin:

Howard checked out of the game and did not return as the Suns finished on a 19-8 run without him in there. Howard’s shoulder will be re-evaluated Thursday after the team flies to Minneapolis and his availability for Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves will be determined.

“It’s real sore,” Howard told reporters after icing his shoulder and applying kinesiology tape to the joint following the game. “Everything on (the right) side (of my body) is hurting pretty bad right now.”

Howard originally injured his shoulder during a Jan. 4 game against the Los Angeles Clippers and sat out three games to try to strengthen the muscles surrounding his shoulder. He re-aggravated it in the second quarter of the Lakers’ 106-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last week and sat out the second half, but did not miss any subsequent games.

The All-Star center said Wednesday’s aggravation was the worst pain he’s had since the original injury occurred against the Clippers and he will have to consider resting again to help it heal.

“I’m going to try as much as I can but I don’t want to cause more damage to my shoulder,” said Howard, who finished with nine points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes against Phoenix. “I don’t want to (miss any games), but we’ll see.”

And from Ding:

Dwight Howard flatly ruled out shutting himself down or turning to surgery for the labrum injury in his right shoulder, even though he said the pain from this aggravation was the greatest since he first got hurt.

“Just got to deal with it as much as I can,” he said late Wednesday night after the Lakers’ loss to Phoenix.

Howard said that the shoulder pain on previous occasions has abated the day after, which he hopes will be the case again. Accordingly, the Lakers are expecting him play Friday in Minnesota, and Kobe Bryant said the labrum issue is one that will go on all season but with which Howard can learn to deal.

“I’m going to try as much as I can, but I don’t want to cause more damage to my shoulder,” Howard said.

Howard’s injury is not the common tear in the labrum itself that has sent many athletes into surgery and months of recovery. Howard has explained his injury as a tear only in the sense of the labrum tearing away from the bone in his shoulder.

Howard said: “I won’t lose my spirit, and I’ve just got to continue to do whatever I can to get my shoulder strong.”

Raptors’ wild night in Georgia First, the Raptors trade guard Jose Calderon and forward Ed Davis in a multi-team team deal that sends Rudy Gay to Toronto. Then, the Raptors get in a nip-and-tuck game with the Hawks in Atlanta. And lastly, the Raptors have a shot to win in Atlanta, but a late-game scramble on the boards by DeMar DeRozan that ended with a no-call on a possible foul fires up coach Dwyane Casey. Oh, and the Raptors sound like they’re more or less ready to part with former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, too. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun has the details:

It has been obvious for some time that it is time for Bargnani to move on, for his sake and for the Raptors, and Colangelo indicated a move could happen soon, though it is not a certainty.

“Andrea is a player that has definitely garnered interest. Unfortunately when he gets hurt that takes him off the market,” Colangelo explained after breaking down the Gay trade to reporters.

“That’s not to say we’re going to trade Andrea … He’s a unique talent, but sometimes a change of address is not bad. I’m not saying he’s asked for a trade, but he would certainly not fight or resist a situation if it was the right situation.”

Bargnani has two years left on his contract, but is a tremendous offensive weapon, when in top form, a player opposing coaches gameplan around. He has many faults, and this corner has addressed them many times, but someone will come calling for him.

But likely only if he returns to the lineup soon, and well in advance of the February 21st deadline.

“Right now there’s no assurances we trade Andrea. Right now, the goal and the focus is to get him back healthy on the court and let him contribute to this team and we’ll see where things go,” Colangelo said.

Not long before Colangelo spoke, Casey let loose, after the officials declined to call a foul at the end of Toronto’s one-point loss when DeMar DeRozan clearly was mauled.

“I’m tired of losing games because of missed calls at the end of games. I know the league is going to come down on me, but I don’t care,” said a seething Casey, smoke practically billowing out of his ears.

“These guys have fought their hearts out, played their hearts out and at the end of the game, we get cracked, (league sends out an) apology, go back to Canada. I’ve been in this league 18 years and I’ve never seen so many missed calls at the end of the game to cost us the game. We’ve got great officials in this league, and too good to miss calls and short-change young men like this. It’s not right. I watched the replay three or four times, hoping that they (somehow made the right call) but they didn’t,” he said.

“This is fourth time this year that we’ve been in this situation … Clearly DeMar DeRozan was cracked on that last play. Make him go to the line and make two free throws.”

Pistons bid adeu to last title-team linkTayshaun Prince will always be remembered in Pistons folklore for a play known as “The Block” — Prince rejecting Reggie Miller‘s breakaway layup in Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference finals. The Pistons would win that series and the ’04 crown and Prince was an integral part of the Pistons’ lockdown defensive crew of the 2000s that featured Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton. Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press says parting with Prince in the Rudy Gay trade was what Detroit needed to do to official move on from that era:

There’s a graphic montage of the 2004 NBA champion Pistons in their practice facility, honoring all the contributions from that blue-collar, superstar-devoid anomaly. The image of Tayshaun Prince captures his lanky arm swooping up from behind an unsuspecting Reggie Miller, swiping away what should have been a game-clinching lay-up for Indiana in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals in Indianapolis.

“The Block” shifted momentum in the Pistons’ favor.

It was fitting that Prince’s long career as a Piston ended Wednesday at the site of his signature moment.

The Pistons parted with Prince and Austin Daye in deal with Memphis and Toronto that landed them point guard Jose Calderon — and more important, his expiring $10.5-million contract.

Prince represents the last link of the “Goin’ to Work” Pistons era highlighted by the 2004 championship as well as six consecutive trips to the conference finals. It’s always a difficult decision parting with someone so deeply intertwined with an identity that paid many dividends.

But it was a move that was long overdue.

The Pistons finally have closed the chapter on that period.

In the Pistons’ locker room following their loss to the Pacers, Prince expressed his surprise over the trade but acknowledged that he was ready to take “the next step” in his career.

This was a good trade, but it also places an unwritten ultimatum on Pistons president Joe Dumars. If the Pistons aren’t a playoff team capable of advancing beyond the first round next season with all the possibilities now available to them, Dumars should be shown the door. After this summer, there are no longer any excuses.

This season’s written off — as it should be. Throw the young guys out there into the deep waters and see how they respond. Not making the playoffs guarantees that they can keep the conditional first-round draft pick Dumars offered Charlotte to entice it into taking Ben Gordon‘s toxic contract off his hands.

It made no sense keeping Prince around as a reminder of what once was. The memories always will be there, but it’s time to move forward. This trade actually provides hope that finally the Pistons can return to local relevance and attract more people to the Palace in another season. They’re finally turning the page, finally saying farewell to a period of great pride and performance.

Heat deal crushing blow to Nets’ confidence?Since parting with coach Avery Johnson on Dec. 27, the Nets have gone 13-5 under coach P.J. Carlesimo and made up ground in the East playoff chase. Wednesday night’s matchup with the Heat — Miami’s only visit to Brooklyn this season — was supposed to be a showdown of East powerhouses. What happened instead was a Heat romp led by LeBron James and Co. that left some doubts in Brooklyn, writes Howard Beck of the New York Times:

For the better part of five weeks, the Nets evolved. They focused a bit harder, reached a bit higher, listened more intently and became a better version of themselves. But evolution is a squiggly path, not a straight line, and that path was obliterated Wednesday by a team that needs no growth or introspection.

The Miami Heat dealt the Nets a blow so forceful, so profoundly humiliating, it might have knocked them right back into the doldrums of December. The final score was 105-85, but the gap seemed twice as wide, and the psychic damage perhaps even deeper.

Most of the Nets’ players left the locker room before reporters arrived. Those that remained wore dull expressions, except for Gerald Wallace, who was simply seething.

“Typical Nets basketball,” Wallace said. “We don’t play together. Careless turnovers. We don’t execute offensively. And defensively, we don’t do anything. We don’t defend. We don’t guard the ball. We don’t help each other out. It’s the same story as it’s been all season.”

It hadn’t looked that way for most of January, with the Nets winning 11 of 14 games before this one, steadily climbing the Eastern Conference standings. Wallace said it was an illusion, a product of a soft schedule, and he may be right. The Nets have lost three of four games, all by double digits.

“I honestly don’t know what’s going on,” Wallace fumed.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two fully evolved N.B.A. superstars, led the charge for Miami, putting together a highlight reel of flying dunks, all before a national television audience and with the Nets’ owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, watching from a luxury suite.

James put up 24 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Wade added 21 points. And the Heat hardly broke a sweat after putting the game away with a 36-14 third quarter.

“When the bubble burst, it burst completely,” said P. J. Carlesimo, the Nets’ coach.

The Heat have beaten the Nets by an average of 21 points over three games, but Wallace and Joe Johnson both insisted they were not that far behind Miami, or at least shouldn’t be.

“It has nothing to do with the talent,” Wallace said, adding, “It just has to do with teamwork.”

The tension started hours before tip-off, with Reggie Evans’ deriding the Heat’s championship in an interview with The Daily News, and James accusing the Nets of quitting on Coach Avery Johnson, who was fired in December.

“They are playing with more passion, more together — they are playing like they want to play for their coach,” James told reporters after the Heat’s shootaround.

By that time, Evans had already slighted the Heat, saying their title “doesn’t prove nothing.” He added, “That was a lockout season.”

Taunting the N.B.A.’s best team is always inadvisable. The Nets should be clear on that much now.

Shocker! Popovich looking forward to All-Star GameSpurs coach Gregg Popovich is known for his curt answers to reporters — especially those sideline types who bother him during a game. Still, even he’s not beyond appreciating the chance to coach the West All-Star team, which he will do in a few weeks, writes Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:

It’s never a goal for Gregg Popovich or his players, but now that Popovich has been officially installed as coach for the Western Conference All-Star team, the veteran of 16-plus seasons on the Spurs’ bench admits he looks forward to a weekend with some of basketball’s best players.

Popovich earned his spot because the Spurs are guaranteed a better record than the Clippers on Sunday, the deadline for determining the coaches for the Feb. 17 showcase at Houston’s Toyota Center.

While it is still possible for Oklahoma City to have a better winning percentage than the Spurs, Thunder coach Scott Brooks isn’t allowed, by league rule, from coaching because he led the West at the 2012 All-Star Game in Orlando.

“It will be just like it has been in the past: a heck of an opportunity to enjoy amazing talent,” Popovich said after his team’s 102-78 victory over the Bobcats. “That’s not just a B.S. or trite statement. It’s true. When you’re around those guys, you look around the room and you can’t believe you’re in the same room with them. It’s a huge honor just to be a part of it.”

Popovich also coached the West All-Stars in 2005 and 2011.

Gallinari, Nuggets keep rounding into formNuggets forward Danilo Gallinari had a rough November and December, shooting a combined 40.2 percent and averaging 15.9 ppg. But January has been a different story as he’s shooting 46.9 percent (and 43.2 percent from 3-point range) and averaging 19.3 ppg as Denver has picked up steam. Last night’s win over the Rockets only kept he and the Nuggets humming, writes Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:

The Italian Danilo Gallinari hit three key 3-pointers, two of them back-to-back, in Wednesday’s crazy fourth quarter, and the Nuggets did it again. Make it a dozen. The Nuggets won their 12th game of January in the final game of the month, and fifth straight overall, 118-110 against Houston, a team Denver also beat one week ago.

The Nuggets made it interesting, indeed. Just as in the previous game against Indiana, a big fourth-quarter lead dwindled. On Wednesday, Denver led by 13 points with 6:54 remaining, but the home team made the necessary stops and sent the fans home happy (with tacos, too!).

Gallo was gallant. The Nuggets forward, the team’s top player in this 12-3 month, scored a team-high 27 points, doing so on a respectable 10-for-17 shooting. He also unleashed two monster slams, one a one-handed hammer over Greg Smith, the other after dribbling the length of the floor.

And his two consecutive treys gave Denver a 94-86 lead during an push in the early stages of the final quarter.

And so, the Nuggets (29-18) have won those five consecutive games heading into two winnable games, first against New Orleans on Friday and then against Milwaukee on Tuesday.

ICYMI of the night: Anyone wondering if John Wall is completely healed from his knee injury should go ask Sixers big man Spencer Hawes:

Nets Look To Williams To Push The Pace

BROOKLYN – It’s hard to take much out of 48 minutes against a team that has now lost 17 straight games, so no grand conclusions will be drawn from the Brooklyn Nets’ 97-81 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday, their first game after the dismissal of head coach Avery Johnson.

Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo did his job, the players did theirs, and the Nets avoided the embarrassment of losing to an awful, awful team on their home floor. If the Nets’ didn’t win by double figures, there would really be something to talk about.

Until the third string allowed a 27-point, fourth-quarter lead to whittle down to 12, the Nets’ offense looked sharper than it had all December. But such a performance should be expected against the worst defense in the league, no matter who the coach is.

There were no real changes to the system and only a minor change to the rotation. There was a subtle difference in the Nets’ approach, however. Instead of walking the ball up the floor, Deron Williams looked to get it across the mid-court line as quickly as possible, even off made baskets. And that led to a more fluid and free-flowing offense.

The Nets ranked 29th in pace before Friday’s game, averaging a hair over 90 possessions per 48 minutes. Their offense was slow and deliberate, and they were too often taking too long to get to any kind of offensive action that could generate an double-team or an open shot.

All the isolations that Williams had issues with were ran were more out of necessity – in situations where the shot clock was running out and there were no other options – than design.

Even when the Nets ran Jerry Sloan’s “flex” offense that Johnson implemented to placate Williams after his pro-Sloan comments last week, it sometimes took too long before Williams could get the ball in position to make a play.

The Nets do have the personnel that can succeed at a slower pace. Brook Lopez can do work in the post and Joe Johnson can flourish in isolations or in the post as well. And really, this team is never going to play anything like the Houston Rockets.

But they can certainly play faster than they have thus far. And that can only make things easier on their offense.

So, in taking over for Johnson, Carlesimo told his team to get the ball up the floor quickly and keep the ball moving. In the brief time he had to work with them in the wake of Johnson’s dismissal, it was about all he could do to change things up. But it was a needed change and it worked … against the Bobcats.

“We would prefer to push the ball, because Deron is so good pushing it and creating,” Carlesimo said before his Nets coaching debut. “We’d like to push it and get it to Brook [Lopez] down low. We’d like to push it and get it ahead to Joe [Johnson] or [Gerald Wallace] or our other players.”

If the Nets are to turn around their season and get back to a top-four standing in the Eastern Conference, improvement has to start with Williams. Friday’s win was just one game, but Williams was indeed the key to an encouraging performance.

With the point guard pushing the tempo and aggressively looking for his shot, the Nets scored 33 points in the first quarter, their second-highest mark of the season. By halftime, Williams had 17 points himself, the most he’s had by halftime since last March.

“I just think I need to be aggressive,” Williams said afterward, “because I’m not playing well right now and I’m being too passive. And I don’t think that’s good for my team.”

In terms of possession count, Friday’s game wasn’t played at a much faster pace than a typical Nets game. But that was somewhat a product of the 24 possession-extending offensive rebounds that the two teams combined to grab. And it was clear that the Nets were getting into their offense a lot quicker than usual.

“We got a lot of easy baskets today,” Williams said. “The ball was moving today. It wasn’t one of those games like in the past where it was somebody’s turn and then somebody else’s turn. It was kind of moving out there.”

It wasn’t exactly a breakthrough performance (have we mentioned the Nets were playing the Bobcats?), but it was a step forward, for both the team and its star.

“He made his shots, which is great,” Carlesimo said of Williams. “But I thought he pushed it for us. He got us up the floor. He got us into things.

“I thought he played an excellent game. He really did.”

“This was one game, and a game we figured we should win,” Williams added. “We have to come ready to play tomorrow. That will be the test.”

Well, not really. On Saturday, the Nets play the Cleveland Cavaliers, the only team in the league that ranks in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. After that though, they visit San Antonio on Monday and Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

Though those teams will test the Nets’ regressing defense more than their regressing offense, it’s all tied together, because it’s easier to push the ball up the floor when you’re not taking it out of the basket.

***

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Nets Fire Avery Johnson

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On Dec. 3, Avery Johnson was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. On Dec. 27, Johnson was fired as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

In 24 days, everything fell apart for Johnson and the Nets, who are now 3-10 in December after an ugly loss in Milwaukee on Tuesday. They’ve lost five of their last six games and stand at 14-14, just a half game from being a Lottery team.

Of late, they’ve been awful defensively and not nearly as good offensively as they should be with all of their high-priced talent.

Nets efficiency

Month W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Oct.-November 11 4 104.6 7 100.0 11 +4.6 8
December 3 10 101.0 18 108.6 28 -7.6 26

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Deron Williams, of course, has played well below All-Star level. He is shooting career lows from both the field and from 3-point range, and the Nets’ defense has been at its worst with Williams on the floor. And now, Williams has his hand in two coaching departures in less than two years.

Ironically, Williams pined for the offense he ran under Jerry Sloan just last week. Johnson added some of Sloan’s offense in practice this past weekend, but the move obviously came too late.

Johnson doesn’t deserve all the blame, however. After Wednesday’s loss in Milwaukee, Gerald Wallace sounded off, as documented by Tim Bontemps of the New York Post

“We’re a way better team than what our record is,” Gerald Wallace said. “I’m [bleeping ticked] off about us losing, and especially the way we’re losing.”

“It’s mind-boggling that we’re in the situation we’re in,” Wallace said. “As good of a team as we are, as good as started off … you saw the potential we had as a team, and the talent we have as a team. And yet, still, instead of team, it’s more of ‘I.’ “

“Confidence is our problem now,” he said. “I think that’s our main problem. Guys have got too much confidence in themselves and are not trusting in the team.

“Our main thing is we’ve got to get back to a team concept, all for one. Offensively and defensively, when we move the ball, we execute, we take care of the ball, we make the extra pass. … We’ve got to do everything as a team instead of relying on one guy to do this and one guy to do that.”

“Anybody can talk, but we’ve got to go out and execute that out on the court, and right now we’re really not doing that,” Wallace said. “We play a good half or we play a great quarter, and then we go back to playing selfish ball offensively and defensively, and that’s not getting us anywhere.”

P.J. Carlesimo (204-296 as a head coach), who was Johnson’s lead assistant, will take over on an interim basis. The Nets might reach out to Phil Jackson, but probably don’t have what it takes (the proper geography and championship-readiness) to coax Big Chief Triangle out of L.A. Either way, they should already be talking to Stan Van Gundy, who has proven that he can coach both ends of the floor at a high level.