Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Pacers Must Keep Miami Role Players From Making A Strong Impact

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Part of the Indiana Pacers’ success in the conference semifinals was keeping New York’s shooters in check. They knew that the Knicks were at their best when they were knocking down threes and, except for a flurry in the third quarter of Game 6, really did not allow themselves to get beat from beyond the arc.

With Paul George defending Carmelo Anthony one-on-one and Roy Hibbert protecting the rim, the Pacers’ other defenders were able to stay at home on the shooters.

That strategy is obviously more difficult when you replace Anthony with LeBron James and then throw Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh into the mix, but the Pacers still want to keep their opponent’s role players under wraps.

We remember James and Wade combining for 70 points in Game 5 of last year’s conference semifinals, but other than that 40-point explosion, the four-time MVP hasn’t had a really big scoring game against the Pacers over the last two years. Wade, we know, is banged up and looks only able to score in bursts here or there.

Consider the three games the Heat and Pacers played this season. James, Wade and Bosh had similar production in all three contests: 66 points on Jan. 8, 58 on Feb. 1, and 60 on March 10. And it was when their teammates came through with another 45 points that the Heat got their only win of the season series.

Heat offense vs. Indiana

Jan. 8 Loss FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA PTS eFG%
Bosh, James & Wade 24 46 52.2% 5 7 71.4% 13 18 66 57.6%
Others 4 22 18.2% 3 12 25.0% 0 0 11 25.0%
Total 28 68 41.2% 8 19 42.1% 13 18 77 47.1%
Feb. 1 Loss FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA PTS eFG%
Bosh, James & Wade 21 44 47.7% 1 3 33.3% 15 21 58 48.9%
Others 12 26 46.2% 4 11 36.4% 3 3 31 53.8%
Total 33 70 47.1% 5 14 35.7% 18 24 89 50.7%
Mar. 10 Win FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA PTS eFG%
Bosh, James & Wade 25 41 61.0% 1 3 33.3% 9 13 60 62.2%
Others 13 27 48.1% 6 11 54.5% 13 18 45 59.3%
Total 38 68 55.9% 7 14 50.0% 22 31 105 61.0%

Now, poor defense had a lot to do with the Feb. 1 loss, and Bosh’s nine field goals from outside the paint had a lot to do with the March 10 win. But with the way the Pacers defend and with the way the Heat is set up to succeed, it makes sense that Miami is most dangerous when the “others” are making shots.

Looking beyond the three games against Indiana, the Heat are 43-3 when players other than James, Wade and Bosh scored at least 37 points. Now, there’s a garbage-time factor there, but they’re also 33-2 when Mario Chalmers has scored nine points or more and 29-2 when Shane Battier has scored eight points or more. Neither of those guys plays a lot of garbage-time minutes. Chalmers scored 26 points in the win over the Pacers.

Oh yeah, the Heat are 31-0 when they hit at least 10 threes.

Erik Spoelstra has been saying for a while now that he wants his shooters “hunting down shots.” Not only is three greater than two, but threats from the outside help open things up for James and Wade in the paint.

As was the case against New York, the Pacers don’t want to give shooters much space. They can do that for the most part in the Heat’s half-court offense, and the key might be transition. Three of Chalmers’ five 3-pointers in that March 10 game were generated by secondary breaks, where the Pacers simply didn’t get to him in time.

So the Pacers’ defensive success may come down to their offense. If they can avoid too many live-ball turnovers and maintain floor balance, they can get back in transition, stop Miami’s attackers and get out to the shooters.

And really, the shooters might be more important than the guys with the big names.

For Knicks-Pacers, Game 6 Comes Down To Rebounds, Turnovers

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Knicks-Pacers has been kind of ugly. Eastern Conference playoff basketball at its finest.

The average score of the first five games has been 88-86. They’ve been slow and inefficient. Both teams have shot 41 percent. The Knicks can’t finish at the rim (shooting 48 percent from the restricted area) and the Pacers can’t hit a jump shot (shooting 34 percent from outside the restricted area).

Knicks defensive rebounding
Timeframe DREB% Rank
Reg. season 74.7% 4
First round 86.0% 1
Conf. semis 67.5% 8

DREB% = Percent of available def. reb.

That makes for a lot of missed shots. And if the Knicks had just rebounded a few more of those missed shots, they might be up 3-2, instead of facing elimination for the second straight time in Game 6 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). What was the fourth-best defensive rebounding team in the regular season and the best defensive rebounding team in the first round has been the worst defensive rebounding team in the conference semifinals.

The Pacers were the fourth-best offensive rebounding team in the regular season and have won the battle of the boards on that end of the floor in this series. They’re not the Boston Celtics, who have two jump-shooting bigs, eschew offensive rebounds for the sake of better transition defense, and totaled just 31 offensive boards in six first-round games.

Pacers offensive rebounding
Game OREB OREB% 2CP
Game 1 11 31.4% 20
Game 2 7 22.6% 8
Game 3 18 37.5% 20
Game 4 16 39.0% 19
Game 5 12 28.6% 24
Total 64 32.5% 91

OREB% = Percent of available off. reb.

The Pacers’ two big men play in the paint, they know the Knicks aren’t a fast-break team, and they’ve already grabbed more than twice as many offensive boards (64) as the Celtics did against New York. Roy Hibbert has 10 more offensive rebounds (26) than Tyson Chandler has defensive rebounds (16).

Knicks coach Mike Woodson has repeatedly pointed to the Pacers’ offensive rebounds as the difference between wins and losses. Indeed, the Knicks have won the two games in which they kept the Pacers’ offensive rebounding percentage under 30 percent, though Indy still managed to rack up a ton of second-chance points in Game 5.

Note 1: You can register second-chance points without an offensive rebound. On four occasions in Game 5, the Knicks blocked an Indiana shot out of bounds or committed a loose-ball foul on a defensive rebound, with the Pacers scoring subsequently. That helps account for the 24/12 conversion rate.

Despite all the offensive rebounds, the Pacers have still attempted far fewer shots (367) than the Knicks have (406) in this series. Part of the reason is that Indiana has gone to the free-throw line a lot more (130-89), but turnovers are also a big story.

The Pacers ranked 29th in turnover percentage in the regular season, committing 16.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. That number is at 19.8 in this series. If it was any lower, Indiana would be preparing for the Heat right now.

Pacers turnovers
Game TO Live-ball NYK Pts Off
Game 1 16 4 13
Game 2 21 11 32
Game 3 17 7 20
Game 4 16 7 12
Game 5 19 12 12
Total 89 41 89

This is what the Knicks’ defense is meant to do. They pressure the ball, trap pick-and-rolls, and double-team the post, trying to force their opponent into miscues and willing to concede weak-side 3-point attempts if the opponent can move the ball quickly enough. Against this opponent, it’s a sound strategy (though, with defenders out of position, it also contributes to the defensive rebounding issue).

The Pacers have committed a lot of turnovers in every game of the series, but there’s a difference between dead-ball turnovers (offensive fouls, traveling, throwing the ball out of bounds — which the Pacers are very good at) and live-ball turnovers (strips, pass deflections, interceptions, etc). And not coincidentally, the Knicks have won the two games in which the Pacers have committed more than 10 live-ball turnovers.

Note 2: Live-ball turnovers are always recorded as a steal for the opponent. Dead-ball turnovers are not. This makes it easy to tell how many of each there were.

Paul George, as great as he’s been defensively, has as many turnovers (25) as his next two teammates combined (David West has 13 and George Hill has 12). And if Hill is still out with a concussion, George will need to handle the ball more, which is obviously not a good thing for the Pacers’ offense.

Neither team is going to shoot well in this series. That fact has clearly been established. The Pacers just aren’t a good shooting team in the first place, and the Knicks are going against the No. 1 defense in the league.

For New York, staying alive is about cleaning the glass. For Indiana, finishing the series off is about taking care of the ball.

Hill’s Absence And Copeland’s Emergence Keep Knicks Alive

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NEW YORK – Here’s the thing about the Indiana Pacers: Their bench stinks.

They have the league’s best defense, a terrific starting lineup, and a pretty smart coach. But their lack of depth (or just one guy off the bench they can rely on for consistent production) is a major problem. There’s a reason why only one lineup played more minutes than Indiana’s starting group in the regular season.

With one starter out and another in foul trouble, the Pacers’ Achilles heel was on full display in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday, an 85-75 victory for the New York Knicks that sends the series back to Indianapolis for Game 6 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Pacers now look a lot more vulnerable than they did just hours before Game 5, not just because their 3-1 series lead is now 3-2, but because starting point guard George Hill is out with a concussion he suffered in Game 4 on Tuesday. Hill’s status for Game 6 is unknown, but he must pass the NBA’s concussion testing before he can play again. (And if you read that link, you’ll probably guess that he won’t play again in this series, no matter who wins Saturday.)

D.J. Augustin, who started in Hill’s place on Thursday, is a decent back-up point guard and came up with a huge performance (16 points, 4-for-5 from 3-point range) in Game 1 of this series. But at 40 minutes per game, he’s a big step down from Hill. He scored 12 points on nine shots on Thursday, but didn’t record a single assist in 39 minutes.

Hill’s 26 points helped the Pacers win an ugly Game 4. And more important than his scoring is his ability to get his team into its offense. With one less point guard to call on, Paul George was needed to bring the ball up the floor at times, and the Pacers struggled to get much going offensively. They shot 36 percent and committed 19 turnovers (12 of them live balls), making things even worse by shooting 19-for-33 from the free throw line.

Hill’s absence was felt more on defense, where his size and tenacity has been a key to the Pacers’ ability to defend the Knicks’ pick-and-roll attack. Raymond Felton had a little more space on those pick-and-rolls in Game 5, with Augustin as his primary defender. And Indiana’s league-best defense was further compromised when Roy Hibbert picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter and his fourth foul early in the third.

That, in part, allowed the Knicks to awake from their offensive slumber, which is a scary thing for Indiana going forward. Mike Woodson‘s use of his own bench was another key.

Jason Kidd and Amar’e Stoudemire each played less than seven minutes, and neither saw the floor in the second half. Chris Copeland, who provided a (too-little, too-late) spark in Game 4, played a postseason-high 19:25, giving the Knicks some much-needed 3-point shooting and scoring 13 points.

“Copeland just has a knack for scoring,” Tyson Chandler said. “Anytime you get him in the game, he’s going to make something happen offensively. He’s been doing it all year. He came up huge for us tonight.”

After reaching for answers and coming up empty in Game 4, Woodson found something that worked on Thursday. The Knicks barely scored a point per possession, but that was plenty enough against what the Pacers were doing on the other end of the floor. J.R. Smith (4-for-11) didn’t shoot quite as poorly as he had been over the previous six games, and the New York bench outscored the Indiana bench 35-10.

Having a good bench isn’t necessarily about the points it scores, but rather the drop-off suffered when one or more starters are resting. And while the Pacers weren’t making any excuses after Game 5 – “I don’t think it has anything to do with it,” Frank Vogel said of Hill’s absence – the numbers speak for themselves.

In the regular season, Indiana’s regular starting lineup (with Hill at PG) scored 108.6 points per 100 possessions, while all other lineups scored just 98.5. That’s like the difference between the league’s third best offense and the league’s third worst offense. In this series, their regular starting lineup is a plus-21 in 92 minutes, while all other lineups are now a minus-28 in 148 minutes.

That’s a big drop-off. And with Hill likely out at least another game, Indiana must find a way to nudge that minus-28 closer to zero on Saturday. Otherwise, this series is coming back to New York for Game 7.

Pacers Up 3-1, But Knicks Still Dangerous

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NEW YORK – The Miami Heat are waiting.

The Indiana Pacers know they have what it takes to challenge the defending champs. In Paul George, they have a guy to guard LeBron James. In Roy Hibbert, they have a guy to protect the rim. They have the size to take advantage of the Heat on the glass. They won the season series, 2-1.

But the Pacers have to take care of business against the New York Knicks first. Only eight teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, but the Knicks might not be an easy opponent to keep down.

As bad as things have looked for New York over the last two games — and they’ve looked really bad — this is a dangerous team. The Knicks ranked third in offensive efficiency in the regular season and we saw a glimpse of their potency in Game 2.

At the same time, we saw how bad the Pacers can look offensively. Turnovers, bad spacing, missed shots. It was all there. Over the course of the four games thus far, the Knicks (who were a below-average defensive team) have held them under a point per possession.

The Pacers’ defense has been terrific in this series, particularly in Game 4, when the Knicks tried to throw the kitchen sink at them. But it’s been terrific because there’s been no let-up. It takes both effort and focus to defend on that level, and it would be easy to think a Game 6 at home allows Indy to not bring their best in Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

Written on the board in the Knicks’ locker room after Game 4 was, “Win one, change everything.” And that might be right. New York is desperately searching for answers right now, but if they can find them on Thursday, it could get the ball rolling.

All you have to do is look back to mid-March, when the Knicks had lost four straight and 10 of their last 16 games. Their offense was in a funk, having scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions during the four-game losing streak. Carmelo Anthony was out and J.R. Smith was struggling.

Then, in Utah, Mike Woodson made a lineup change. The Knicks broke out of their slump, won 13 straight games and pulled ahead of the Pacers in the standings.

Woodson is likely to go back to the lineup that sparked that run — with Pablo Prigioni in the backcourt — after going away from it in Game 4. Nothing will come easy against the Pacers’ defense, nothing looks good when the shots don’t go in and the Knicks must find a way to keep Indiana off the glass. But small-ball is how the Knicks won 54 games this season and how they got past the Boston Celtics in the first round.

If they’re going to send this series back to Indiana, the Knicks must remember how they got here.

If they’re going to finish it in five, the Pacers need to do the same.

Blogtable: What To Make Of OKC?




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


Week 29: What to make of OKC? | Who can beat the Heat? | The Bulls’ future


Considering the Thunder’s performance lately, has your opinion changed of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or the Thunder? How?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No change in my opinion of Durant: If he is, in fact, the second-best player in the NBA, he’s No. 2 more than 1A. The step down from LeBron James to the Thunder’s quiet leader is considerable and plain to see with Durant thrust into LeBron-in-Cleveland mode. No change in my opinion of Westbrook, an irrepressible talent whose unbridled game is a nice complement to Durant. But slight change in my opinion of the Thunder. With the premature James Harden trade, they had as big a hand in this iffy postseason as fate (Westbrook’s injury) or Memphis. New CBA or not, front offices should worry about the financial feasibility of keeping a championship team together, not getting out front to shed parts from a contender before its time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Not at all. They’re a team missing a vital piece. Nobody ever thought Kevin Durant could carry the Thunder to a championship all by himself. I have been a defender of Russell Westbrook for years and always thought those who believed OKC should trade him couldn’t tell the difference between a basketball and a watermelon. Yes, he exercises poor judgment at times. Yes, he takes wild shots and ignores Durant at times. Yes, he’s a fearless, spectacular talent and KD could crawl across broken glass on a bed of hot coals to have all those “problems” in the lineup with him right now.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: No change here. Kevin Durant has shouldered the weight of the franchise admirably. Since Game 1 he’s struggled in crunch time, but he’s had All-Defensive First-Team member Tony Allen all over him and one of the best defensive teams as a whole doing a great job on him late in games. He’s just missed shots, and some free throws, too, which is surprising, but likely a result of fatigue after going so hard all game. I’ve always been Russell Westbrook-backer. To me the guy’s a bullet train and OKC dearly misses his ballhandling and how he runs that offense. Not to mention, he would take Allen off Durant’s case. The Thunder will be back.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It has probably made everyone appreciate Russell Westbrook more. After all the talk in previous years, especially in the playoffs, of being the guy getting in Kevin Durant’s way, now there is proof of what happens when Westbrook really gets out of the way. But the opinion has not changed on Durant. He deserves every positive comment, still.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Nope. Durant’s a great player, but nobody can carry a team against a great defense by himself. Westbrook, though he makes some questionable decisions at times, is a huge part of what the Thunder do offensively. And though he’s not the best defender in the world, he’s disruptive (and a lot better than Reggie Jackson) on that end. Durant played 84 percent of his minutes with Westbrook in the regular season, so this is uncharted territory. And it obviously should be no surprise that they’re struggling to score against the Grizzlies, the best defensive team in the Western Conference.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There is nothing to change. All we have is confirmation of Thunder’s fans greatest fear, that if one of their superstars goes down the season comes to an end sooner than expected. Durant is still a spectacular player. But the responsibilities without Westbrook around to help do the heavy lifting increase dramatically. Like roughly 28 other teams in the league, the Thunder cannot afford to lose one of their two best players and maintain the same level of play. If anything, I think Westbrook ends up being the beneficiary (strange as it sounds) of his own misfortune with the knee injury. The Thunder are a really good team without him, but not a team capable of finding its way to the championship round. That speaks volumes about his importance to the franchise.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com: The loss of Westbrook hasn’t affected my opinion of him or KD — I always felt the two needed each other and were each others best chance to win a title. If anything I think Westbrook being out has sort of exposed Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin, the two guys who seemed most likely to pick up the scoring slack while Westbrook was gone. Instead, each player’s scoring numbers have stayed flat, which has been disappointing.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA.com/germany: Not really, no. To me the Thunder always were a two-trick pony, with a bunch of solid-but-not-great role players. Durant and Westbrook both are vital parts of what OKC does and an injury to either one of them was bound to be back-breaking. Westbrook can be a headcase, but that doesn’t take anything away from his talent. And they simply have nobody to replace him. Not after James Harden left. If anything, I was surprised by how great Durant has been as a playmaker rather than the pure scorer that he usually is. He has expanded his game on the fly. Let’s hope he maintains that standard beyond these playoffs. [Philipp Dornhegge is an editor for NBA Deutschland (nba.com/germany)]

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA.com/brasil: Not really. I left the “Russell Westbrook is bad for the Thunder” bandwagon long ago, during the lockout-shortened season. My opinion remains that Westbrook and Durant make a powerful combo, and that the Thunder, when all healthy, are one of the top three teams in the West (if not the entire league). What’s been made even more clear since Westbrook’s injury, though, is they still need more offense from Ibaka and from the bench. Durant is good enough to beat most teams by himself, but even he needs some help against the league’s top defenses. [Adriano Albuquerque is a blogger for NBA Brasil (nba.com/brasil)]

Blogtable: Who Can Beat The Heat?




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


Week 29: What to make of OKC? | Who can beat the Heat? | The Bulls’ future


Let’s assume that the Heat are the best team in the league. Pick another team, either conference: Who’s second-best?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Tempted here to say Indiana, because a Pacers-Heat series for the Eastern Conference title could be dynamite, especially if Dwyane Wade’s sore right knee brings Miami back to the pack a little. And this is with Indiana spotting them Danny Granger. Paul George’s ascendancy, Roy Hibbert’s confidence and height, the X factor of Lance StephensonThing is, my head says that San Antonio is the more complete and mature team at this point, edging ahead of the Pacers in the battle for No. 2. Now that both Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra are done with their personnel gamesmanship (no one would be skipping road games in a Spurs-Heat Finals), I think San Antonio would command the most respect from Miami’s stars. (And yes, I acknowledge Memphis might be better right now than either the Pacers or the Spurs.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It might be hard to believe considering they’re in a struggle with the Warriors, but I’m going with the Spurs. They’re experienced, they’re deep, they’re balanced and I believe that if they’re still healthy in June, they could give the Heat the best run in The Finals.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t have to assume that Miami is the best team. They just are. A healthy Oklahoma City is second-best. But since they’re not healthy, San Antonio is next. Tim  Duncan is in remarkable shape and Tony Parker, when he’s healthy, and he seems to be getting better and better, is an MVP-type player. The supporting cast is excellent, they are disciplined, proficient and can beat you in a number of ways.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: At the moment? The Grizzlies. I would not have made the case at the start of the playoffs, but the answer of the moment is that not only is Memphis playing at a high level, but it has the best chance to give Miami a hard shove. The Grizz strength (inside game) against the Heat weakness (the same), plus Tony Allen as the first line of defense against LeBron James, would be an interesting watch.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Oh, man. That’s a tough call. The Pacers’ defense is the best in the league. The Grizzlies are also great on that end and seem to be getting better offensively every week. But I’m going to stick with the Spurs, who were a great team on both ends of the floor in the regular season. They’ve obviously struggled to slow down Stephen Curry at times in the semifinals, but they’ve survived the toughest test that any of the aforementioned teams have faced in this round, and they’re still the most complete team outside of Miami.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Let’s wade into the deep end of the pool and do that with the Heat. The second-best team, just as I predicted on The Hang Time Podcast weeks ago, is the Memphis Grizzlies. The ability to play at an elite level inside and out and on both ends of the floor sets this Grizzlies team apart from the pack. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph bring the pain every night. And Mike Conley, Tony Allen and the rest of an underrated crew on the perimeter have me skipping a few steps (it’s a foolish thing to do, I know, but  cannot help it) and thinking about the matchups in a Heat-Grizzlies Finals scrap. I’d love to see how LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh try to deal with the Grizzlies’ frontline.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com: In the East, Indiana, and in the West, Memphis. Both teams have several similarities: Size and strength in the post (Hibbert/West and Gasol/Randolph); underrated point guards who can knock down jumpers or get to the rim (Hill and Conley); elite wing defenders (George and Allen). They also both could use an outside shooter and a little more depth, although I don’t think the lack of a bench really works against either team in the playoffs when the rotations are shortened.

Hanson Guan, NBA.com/china: The Grizzlies, definitely. Some see parallels between the Grizzlies and that 2004 Pistons team (and the common link of Tayshaun Prince helps). They are a chain without a weak link, their tactics are working well and the atmosphere in the locker room is perfect. As opposed to those Pistons, the Grizzlies rely on post players, but Conley has been showing a big heart as the playoffs have unfolded. If Memphis elbows its way to The Finals, the Grizz would be a great threat to Heat. They may even emerge the dark horse to replicate the unlikely feat of the Pistons, who, in 2004, came out on top at the expense of the Lakers. [Hanson Guan is an editor for NBA China (china.nba.com)]

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/greece: No room for surprises in this one. The Pacers are playing like the best team right now, but is this truly what the question is all about? The Heat are the bullies of the NBA — the team with the MVP, the defending champions, the squad that everyone is afraid of. But if opponents’ fear is the one way to measure how good a team is, the other one is respect. And the prize for that one goes, without saying, to the San Antonio Spurs, the old dogs that tend to learn new tricks every now and then. They are at the edge of eliminating the “young guns” of the West and are ready to put all that experience-armor on for The Finals. No, I cannot avoid quoting the most important words that came out of a basketball coach in the last 20 years. As Rudy Tomjanovich once said: “Don’t EVER underestimate the heart of a champion.” And the Big-Three have won three in the post-David Robinson era. [Stefanos Triantafyllos is the editor of NBA Greece. (nba.com/greece)]

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/india: It’s between the Spurs, the Pacers and Memphis — teams that are ahead in their series at this stage. A look at NBA.com’s advanced stats for teams in the postseason also puts these three teams among the top five in the Net Rating category, with Miami at No. 1. However, while San Antonio comes in at No. 2 here, with a net rating of 10.3, owing to a couple of blowout games against the Lakers, I’ll go with Memphis as the next best team in the league. They have the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the year in Gasol, two players among the top 10 in the postseason scoring category and Gasol and Z-Bo and get to the free throw line more than any other team. Memphis is also a younger and a more physical team than the Spurs and since they don’t have to play the Heat in the next round (unlike Indiana), they are most likely to represent the West in The Finals. [Akshay Manwani is a blogger for NBA India (nba.com/india)]

Blogtable: The Bulls Next Season




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


Week 29: What to make of OKC? | Who can beat the Heat? | The Bulls’ future


The Bulls finally look cooked, so complete this thought: If the Bulls get Derrick Rose back next year …

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: … we’ll be talking about other guys’ injuries. Or Rose’s injuries other than his left anterior cruciate ligament. This wasn’t a case of one-and-done in Chicago this season – the Bulls have struggled with hurt and missing players for a while now. Rose only played 39 games in the post-lockout schedule of 2011-12. Luol Deng has missed all or parts of three playoff runs. Kirk Hinrich is a walking Ace bandage and Joakim Noah seemingly isn’t built for 82 games-at-35-minutes per. Coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t sweat the 2 1/2 hours he uses his guys on game nights because he expects them to be professional about body maintenance the other 21 1/2 hours. But something has to give, either in Thibodeau’s minutes distribution, in the trainer’s room or in Chicago’s new policy for 2013-14 of team-sponsored three-week sabbaticals for each starter, staggered from January through March.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Assuming Rose can dunk off his left foot by October, the Bulls are right back as a — maybe “the” — prime challenger to Miami in the East. Thibs will see to that.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: They will be an Eastern Conference contender. How can they not be? No way can they suffer a season like this again, not just with Rose out, but with the myriad of injuries and craziness (spinal tap gone wrong?). Jimmy Butler is only going to get better and Rose should — I say, should — be back for training camp primed for a huge seasons.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: … they will open as the second-best team in the East. That’s with the assumption that he comes back healthy. It is impossible to make predictions without knowing the summer moves, and not just for Chicago, but there is still a lot to like about the Bulls moving forward. As much as Rose has come off like a drama queen as the saga dragged on, I don’t question his ability to make a major impact and make the Bulls better.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: If? Ugh. They will a top-three team in the East. But they’re not necessarily better than Indiana if they can’t add some more depth. Thibs is going to be Thibs and ride his guys, but they need competent back-ups at the three and five spots to ease some of the burden on Luol Deng and Joakim Noah and keep those guys fresh throughout the season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If? If they get him back next year? Are you trying to start a riot in Chicago? The Bulls are definitely going to have the services of Derrick Rose next season and that will ensure their status as one of the top four teams in the East for the 2013-14 season, provided he and a few of his friends can stay healthy for the majority of the season. Rose knows that he owes Bulls fans a season they won’t forget, especially after the way things were handled this season. The epic grind they showed throughout this season and into the playoffs should be proof to Rose and his camp that there is plenty of talent around him to help win at the highest level. The assembly of said talent doesn’t guarantee anything, as we’ve seen in so many other cases (Los Angeles Lakers this season). But it does mean you have a chance to compete at the highest level. And that’s where these Bulls belong with a healthy Rose in the lineup.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com: … they become the second-best team in the East. In some ways losing Rose for this season could end up being a net-gain, as the other Bulls have all had chances to carry bigger loads and, in turn, mature and improve in ways that probably would have taken longer had Rose been dominating the ball and shouldering his usual load.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/italy: They will have a shot at the Heat. But they need to reshape their roster. I’d probably start using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer, using the cap relief to bring another big man to Chi-town. Then I’d re-sign Marco Belinelli (he’s had a real good year) because he would form a terrific backcourt with Rose. And I’d see if there’s anything we can find that’d say why they had so many injuries — what caused them to break down physically — in the most important time of the year. [Davide Chinellato is the editor of  NBA Italia (nba.com/italy)]

Eduardo Schell, NBA.com/spain: Who knows what the future holds for the Bulls. Maybe Rose playing again ends up as a setback for Krypto-Nate, Jimmy Butler (or others), who both have stepped up and performed well beyond expectations. With D-Rose, the Bulls’ playing style might change and there can be a big ‘ego’ problem. Again, who knows. Teammates, though they’ve claimed to understand, might even harbor some resentment for how Rose handled this postseason. There have been lots of talks during the season regarding Boozer and Deng so lets see how they come into play. Lets put it this way: adding pieces doesn’t always end up being a great result. But there’s an ancient Chinese saying: the most beautiful flowers blossom during the toughest times. [Eduardo Schell is the editor of NBA España (nba.com/spain)]

Selçuk Aytekin, NBA.com/turkey: Derrick Rose is one of the best basketball players on the planet. If a healthy D-Rose came to the Chicago Bulls or virtually any other team in NBA, that team would become a contender. I have questions about his current physical health, so hopefully he is 100 percent ready to play, as his doctor’s said. But, yes, if he’s back to full strength, the Bulls will be talking about the Larry O’Brien Trophy. [Selçuk Aytekin is the editor of NBA Turkiye (nba.com/turkey)]

Woodson Searches For Answers, Comes Up Empty

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INDIANAPOLIS –
One of the most interesting things about playoff basketball is a team changing gears and abandoning something — a lineup or a style of play — that worked all season because it’s outmatched in a series.

The New York Knicks went there in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday. And it didn’t work.

With his team down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers and shooting blanks offensively against the league’s best defense, Knicks coach Mike Woodson abandoned the starting lineup that had sparked the Knicks to 13 straight wins late in the season. It hadn’t performed poorly (plus-1 in 22 minutes) in the first two games of the series, but did struggle (minus-7 in 13 minutes) in Game 3. The new starting lineup, meanwhile, had never played together.

Woodson abandoned more than a lineup. He abandoned his team’s whole small-ball, two-point-guard, Melo-and-shooters mantra that was so critical to the Knicks’ success. Out was point guard Pablo Prigioni and in was big man Kenyon Martin, sliding Carmelo Anthony to small forward, where he had played just six minutes through the first three games.

It was a sign of desperation, and the hope was that an extra big on the floor would keep the Knicks from getting crushed on the boards like they did in Games 1 and 3. It would also allow them to run secondary pick-and-rolls (instead of isolations) on the weak side of the floor after the Pacers stopped the primary one.

The Knicks did run more pick-and-rolls, they ran more of them with Anthony as the ball handler, and they got the ball up the floor and into their offense more quickly. But the result — a 93-82 Indiana victory — was basically the same as Game 3 three nights earlier. New York got off to a slow start, trailed by 14 at halftime, shot 36 percent, scored less than a point per possession and got crushed on the glass again.

“I thought our offensive flow wasn’t bad tonight,” Woodson said. “I thought the ball movement was a little bit better, but we couldn’t make shots.”

Credit the Indiana defense. It was phenomenal for the second straight game. While the Knicks looked somewhat crisper offensively, they still couldn’t get to the basket. When they looked to attack off the dribble, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers simply shut off the paint, where New York shot a miserable 13-for-34.

“Our effort was just off the charts,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said afterward. “I couldn’t be more proud of our defensive effort, our rebounding effort, and our willingness to share the ball offensively.”

The Knicks got some decent looks at the basket and shot decently (10-for-25) from mid-range, but you can’t win with mid-range shots. They got more 3-point attempts off then they did in Game 3, but many of them were rushed or contested.

Truly, the Knicks are in a funk, having lost five of their last seven games. Anthony and J.R. Smith have combined to shoot 33 percent in that stretch. Jason Kidd has missed his last 17 shots, his last basket coming three weeks ago. And Tyson Chandler looks nothing like the inside force that won Defensive Player of the Year last season.

It’s a bad time to be playing so poorly. And you can’t blame Woodson for trying something different. But he didn’t quite reach all the way down into his bag of tricks.

Kidd still played 16 minutes off the bench, even though his two misses looked awful and took place in the first 7:20 he was on the floor. Meanwhile, two guys who could have provided an offensive spark, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak, rode the pine until late in the third quarter and the final minute, respectively. The Knicks outscored the Pacers by 12 points in Copeland’s 12 minutes, and he and Novak combined to shoot 3-for-4 from 3-point range.

There was also the curious case of Prigioni’s playing time. The numbers have shown that the Knicks are better both offensively and defensively with the 35-year-old rookie on the floor, a phenomenon that Woodson has acknowledged often and as recently as Game 2 of this series. But Prigioni played less than 3 1/2 minutes on Tuesday, and Woodson didn’t have much of an explanation.

“Right now,” Woodson said, “I’m reaching, trying to find combinations that will work.”

Nothing has. And the bottom line is that the Pacers are the better team. The best player in the series hasn’t been Anthony, but rather Paul George. And while Woodson can’t find anyone who can make a shot, the Pacers have someone new step up every night. On Tuesday, it was George Hill, who led all scorers with 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

The Pacers can now close the series out in New York on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Woodson will still be searching for answers.

Knicks Await Word On Shumpert’s Knee

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INDIANAPOLIS – The New York Knicks got good and bad news out of shootaround on Tuesday morning.

The good news was that J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were both back in the gym after missing practice with illnesses the last two days. Smith had been sick since before Game 3, in which he shot 4-for-12 and played just 25 minutes, the fewest of any playoff game in which he wasn’t ejected.

Expect both Martin and Smith, two of the Knicks’ three top subs, to play in Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT). But one of them might need to start, because it sounds doubtful that Iman Shumpert will be able to play.

Shumpert injured his left knee — the same knee he had ACL surgery on last year — in Game 3 and was held out of practice on Monday, but both he and Knicks coach sounded optimistic that he would be able to play in Game 4.

That optimism wasn’t there Tuesday morning though. In fact, Shumpert wasn’t there Tuesday morning. He was back at the team hotel, awaiting the arrival of the Knicks’ orthopedist, who was flying in from New York.

“They’ll evaluate him and give us an assessment this evening,” Woodson said. “He’s had some swelling the last two days, so they’re going to take a closer look at it and make sure everything’s OK.”

If Shumpert can’t play, it will be the ultimate test of Woodson’s Smith-is-not-allowed-to-start policy. New York has had a multitude of injuries this season and no Knick has played more games than Smith, but he hasn’t started a single one.

Ronnie Brewer, who was eventually traded for a second-round pick, started 34 games. James White, whose offensive skills leave a lot to be desired, started 16 games. And Chris Copeland, who Woodson doesn’t fully trust defensively, started 13. Smith? Zero.

But now, the Knicks’ season is on the line. Would Woodson start Copeland, who has played just 19 minutes in the series thus far? Would he dare start Smith? Or would he maybe go big, with Martin up front and Carmelo Anthony sliding to small forward?

“I haven’t even given that a thought,” Woodson said about who would replace Shumpert if he can’t play, “because I thought he would be here this morning.”

A lineup of Smith and the Knicks other four starters — Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Anthony and Tyson Chandler — has played just 16 minutes together (seven of those in the playoffs) this season. Martin and Chandler, meanwhile, have played just 12 minutes together in this series, and Anthony has been on the floor (at the three) for just six of those 12 minutes.

Woodson has a very interesting decision to make, but more important than who starts is what the Knicks would be losing without Shumpert. He’s their best perimeter defender and he’s the one role player that hasn’t been afraid to shoot in this series. Anthony leads the Knicks with 18 field goals from outside the paint over the three games, but Shumpert is second on the list with eight.

Whether or not Shumpert plays, we may see Steve Novak, who has played just seven minutes over the first three games, make an appearance on Tuesday. Jason Kidd has missed his last 15 shots and Prigioni doesn’t shoot quickly off the catch, so if Woodson wants to use Anthony as the pick-and-roll ball handler more, he’ll need another shooter out there. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday morning that Novak makes you “play four-on-four ,” because he’s so dangerous of a shooter.

Game 4 Huge For Knicks, Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS – Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals is a clear referendum on Carmelo Anthony and the 2012-13 New York Knicks.

The Knicks are the No. 2 seed, a team that envisions itself as the one that can knock off the defending champion Miami Heat. But they probably won’t get that chance if they don’t win Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), because coming back from a 3-1 hole against a team as good as the Indiana Pacers is a near impossible task. So this game could very well make or break the Knicks’ season.

“This is a gut-check game for us,” Anthony said Monday. “Tomorrow will tell us a lot about our team.”

Are the Knicks a contender or pretender? Can you win in the playoffs with what was a below-average defense in the regular season? Can a top-three offense outplay the league’s best defense? Has Anthony really matured this season, or is he the same player as before?

These are all questions that can be answered on Tuesday. And the Knicks must remember how they got here: by using an aggressive and efficient offensive attack in which Anthony trusts his teammates and they knock down shots when they’re open, even if for a brief moment. The Pacers’ stay-home defense has made everything much more difficult, but the Knicks’ have also put some of this on themselves, at times looking hesitant.

“It’s just a matter of us putting a full game together offensively,” Anthony said.

Yes, it’s the biggest game the Knicks have played in 13 seasons. But Game 4 is as much about the Pacers as it is about the Knicks.

Indiana also believes it’s got the goods to beat the Heat. The Pacers are seemingly in control of this series, having taken home-court advantage from the Knicks in Game 1. And they’ve won each of their four home playoff games by double figures.

But New York is obviously a dangerous team. If the Knicks win tonight, they’ll be back in control, with two of the final three games at Madison Square Garden. The Pacers arguably need this game as much as their opponent.

They can’t let up defensively. Game 2 proved that the Knicks can take a mile if you give them an inch. And they must continue to take care of the ball and move it to their open shooters.

“It’s about us,” David West said Monday. “It’s about how we come out, what kind of focus we have. We can’t exhale, feeling like we’ve accomplished anything. Our mission is to protect home court. And we haven’t done that yet. We’ve got to win one more game to protect home court.”

The Pacers were in this same spot a year go. As the No. 3 seed, they held a 2-1 lead on the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals with Game 4 at home. They were up 10 early in the third quarter before it all fell apart. A 17-2 Heat run turned the series around and the Pacers were eliminated in six games.

These Knicks aren’t as good as last year’s Heat. And if these Pacers are better than last season’s, Game 4 is when they prove it.

“Our next step in growth of our franchise is our ability to maintain an edge after a playoff win,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We can’t get comfortable at all. This is a pivotal game. And we got to come out hungrier than they are.”

These teams have been on a collision course all season. They’re a complete contrast in styles, and at various times during the past six months, each has looked like the second-best team in the East.

Game 4 might finally prove which team is truly better.