Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Miami Shooters Coming Up Empty


MIAMI – There was some talk after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals about the Indiana Pacers being more of a team than the Miami Heat, because they have five guys who contribute and can come up with a big game on any given night, while the champs have three stars who carry the bulk of the load.

Now, that’s mostly a bunch of nonsense. All five Indiana starters have scored at least 25 points in a game in this postseason, but Miami didn’t win a title last year without significant contributions from multiple players beyond LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The problem is that the Heat aren’t getting those contributions right now, and they aren’t getting back to The Finals if they don’t get production out of their role players against the Pacers.

We’ve seen this before, and it wasn’t that long ago. The New York Knicks’ role players all seemed to disappear in the conference semifinals. Carmelo Anthony got his 28.5 points per game, but nobody else could really get open and the league’s third-best offense was held to barely a point per possession over six games.

The Miami offense, which ranked No. 1 in the regular season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs, hasn’t been nearly that bad, but the Pacers are basically doing the same thing. James is getting his, but the offense isn’t running at full capacity, because other guys aren’t getting open.

This is what the Pacers do. They let Paul George guard the opponent’s best player by himself, they defend pick-and-rolls with just the two guys involved, they don’t over-help, and they stay at home on shooters. They had quite a few pick-and-roll breakdowns in Game 1, but didn’t make any real adjustments in Game 2. They stayed true to their defensive system, did what they do better, and continued to keep Miami’s 3-point shooting in check.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wants his shooters hunting down shots, and James said after Game 2 that it’s on him, Wade and Bosh to get the shooters involved.

“We have to figure out how to get them some shots early in the game,” James said, “where they feel like they’re part of the offense. That has to come from me, come from D-Wade, come from CB. We’re the three guys that have the ball in our hands a lot.”

But that’s a lot easier said than done against this opponent. Indiana ranked No. 1 in 3-point defense in the regular season and they’ve held the Heat to 12-for-40 (30 percent) from beyond the arc through the first two games of this series.

Seven of those 12 threes have come from James (five) and Bosh (two). The Heat’s role players are a combined 5-for-21 (24 percent) from 3-point range. With Wade far from 100 percent, the shooting problems are all the more painful.

Spoelstra also said that he cares more about how many threes Shane Battier and Ray Allen take than how many they make. But with both shooting poorly, he called on Mike Miller in the second quarter of Game 2. Miller drained a three at the halftime buzzer, but didn’t see the floor after that.

Maybe we’ll see more of Miller as the series moves to Indiana. Battier’s and Allen’s struggles go beyond this series. Battier has shot 12-for-52 (23 percent) from 3-point range in the playoffs, while Allen is 5-for-23 (22 percent) since the start of the conference semifinals.

Rewind to last year though. Through the first three games of the conference semifinals against the Pacers, Miami was shooting a brutal 5-for-42 (12 percent) from 3-point range. They recovered, shot 21-for-48 (44 percent) the rest of the series, and then Battier went off (15-for-26) in The Finals.

A similar turnaround in this series would give the Heat a chance to play for their second straight championship. But this Indiana defense is much better than last year’s. George is improved, Roy Hibbert is more of a presence inside, and their pick-and-roll defense is different. They ranked just 16th in 3-point defense last season.

While this series has been physical and points in the paint are always critical, it may be the points from outside that determine the winner.

Pacers Show Resilience In Grabbing Game 2 Against The Heat


MIAMI – This feels different.

The Indiana Pacers were in this same position last year, tied 1-1 with the Miami Heat and heading back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse with home-court advantage in their back pocket. They took a 2-1 series lead that time, before dropping the next three games to the eventual champs.

But these aren’t the same Pacers. They’ve grown up, evidenced by the resilience they showed in their 97-93 victory over the Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday.

No matter how good the Pacers looked against the New York Knicks in the previous round and how close they were to winning Game 1, you probably didn’t see this coming.

The Heat’s worst game of the previous series was Game 1, after a similarly long layoff. And as easily as they got into the paint on Wednesday, the were never clicking on all cylinders offensively, committing too many careless turnovers and unable to get their 3-point shooters on track.

The Pacers, meanwhile, could have been deflated after the disappointment of Game 1. They could have been bitter after Frank Vogel took Roy Hibbert off the floor for the final two defensive possessions and after answering countless questions about that decision over the last 48 hours.

They could have got too wrapped up in the officiating after whistles early in the second quarter went the Heat’s way and helped the champs erase a double-digit Indiana lead. They could have watched LeBron James drain buzzer beaters and block seven footers and thought that there was no beating the best player in the world when he’s having one of those nights.

They could have seen the ball in James hands with the game on the line on two straight possessions in the final minute and wondered how they could stop him.

The Pacers overcame all of that, answered every Heat run, hit big shots, and stopped James on both of those possessions to walk away with a much-earned victory.

“They had great plays, but we didn’t waiver,” Hibbert said. “A lot of times, teams just start buckling, and we’ve been through the wringer before. We’re young guys, but we know what we’re doing.”

This was a complete performance. Offensively, the Pacers scored 97 points on just 86 possessions. The Heat’s aggressive defense kept them from getting into their offense quickly or consistently, David West struggled from the field, and they got basically nothing from their bench. But they found ways to score.

Paul George (22 points, six assists, 9-for-16 shooting) ascended one more step toward stardom, consistently beating his man off the dribble, throwing down the dunk of the playoffs on Chris Andersen, and hit a plethora of big shots. Roy Hibbert scored a career-playoff-high 29 points, using his size in the post and on the glass, while also showing some finesse as a roll man. And George Hill (18 points, 6-for-8 shooting) was aggressive as the ball-handler on those pick-and-rolls, something the Pacers desperately needed.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will tell you that a playoff series comes down to which team can best impose its own identity on its opponent. And the Pacers remained true to their style, playing physical both offensively (getting to the line 32 times) and defensively.

The Heat were somewhat efficient (93 points on 87 possessions), but for the second straight game, looked nothing like the No. 1 offense in the league. James scored 36 points, but didn’t get much help and he coughed the ball up on those two spotlight possessions with the Pacers leading 95-93.

This time, Hibbert was on the floor. While Vogel had his reasoning for sitting the 7-foot-2 center at the end of Game 1, he might never make that same decision.

“As soon as we came to the locker room the other night,” Vogel said, “I told the team we tried that way, but he’s going to be in there.”

More important than Hibbert’s presence was the defense his teammates played on the two pick-and-rolls the Heat ran, the defense that was lacking in Game 1.

On the first play, West (who was the main culprit in a lot of the Pacers’ Game 1 defensive breakdowns) stopped James’ momentum and held his containment until George was able to recover. And when James tried to get the ball back to Ray Allen, West got his hands on the pass.

On the second play, George fought through Mario Chalmers‘ screen, basically needing no help from his teammates and stopping James in his tracks before he could get to the basket. And when James saw Allen open on the other side of the floor, West again stepped in front of the pass.

“We stayed in front of him,” George said. “We knew that if it was going to happen, it was going to happen on a tough shot, a contested shot. Everybody was in the gap ready to help each other. That is how we play defense.”

And that was how they played defense most of the night. Rather make an adjustment to the way the Heat was running it pick-and-rolls in Game 1, the Pacers knew they just had to defend better. And they did just that, containing those pick-and-rolls while not letting Miami’s shooters get free.

This is why the Pacers were the No. 1 defensive team in the league. And this is why this year feels different. Until they lose four times, the Heat are still the best team in the league. But they have a serious challenge on their hands, and the Pacers will fly home on Saturday knowing that they’ve been the better team over the first two games.

“This whole team is showing great desire and great heart and great belief,” Vogel said. “They believe we can win this series.”

Pacers Must Stop Heat’s Paint Parade


MIAMI – It’s another game day on Biscayne Bay, so it’s well past time to put the Vogel/Hibbert thing behind us. It’s done with, the Pacers proved that they can hang with the Heat, and they have another chance to steal home-court advantage in Game 2 on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Besides, more concerning than the two layups that LeBron James got with Roy Hibbert off the floor in the final 11 seconds of overtime were the other 56 points in the paint the Heat scored in Game 1, 2 of which came with Hibbert on the floor.

The 60 points in the paint were almost twice as many as the Heat averaged (30.7) in three regular season games against the Pacers and, appropriately, were the focus of the Pacers’ film session on Thursday. The Heat shot 11-for-42 from outside the paint on Wednesday and committed 21 turnovers, but still had a solid offensive game (103 points on 97 possessions), because they were able to get to the basket so often against a defense that has typically protected it better than any other team in the league.

“We got to keep them off the glass,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. “We got to keep them out of transition more than we did. And we got to clean up our coverages in the half court, so we don’t allow so many straight-line drives at the rim like we did [in Game 1]. And I think we can do that.”

Though there was that example of James getting an and-one when the Pacers failed to get back after a dead-ball turnover, the Heat registered only 11 fast break points on Tuesday, a not-so unacceptable amount given the Pacers’ nine live-ball turnovers. And Miami’s 16 offensive boards (and 24 second-chance points) were mostly a product of those “straight-line drives at the rim” forcing the Pacers’ bigs to help and rotate. So if the Pacers can curtail those, they’ll be in decent shape in Game 2.

The problem is that the Heat have James, the trump card to any adjustments a team might make. Still, there are some adjustments to be made, because the Heat ran their offense a lot differently in Game 1 than the New York Knicks did in the conference semifinals.

Though many of their possessions eventually turned into isolations, the Knicks did run a lot of pick-and-rolls. But they mostly ran them at Roy Hibbert, without much variation. With Hibbert’s man acting as the screener, he was able to pose a threat to the man with the ball, while also staying within reach of his man rolling to the basket (who was still in front of him).

The Heat didn’t run many pick-and-rolls at Hibbert, instead using a guard or David West‘s man as the screener and leaving Hibbert’s man on the baseline, forcing Hibbert to make a decision between the guy attacking the basket or his man behind him.

“They had a more intelligent plan against Roy Hibbert than New York did,” Vogel said. “It was effective last night and we got to adjust to it.”

Of course, the Heat’s plan wouldn’t have been a huge issue for the Pacers if West was able to contain the ball-handler better than he did.

Here’s an example where Chris Bosh sets a high screen for James, who is able to get around West.


At this point, both West and Sam Young (James’ defender) are trailing the play. James goes straight at Hibbert, gets the big man to leave the floor, and dumps the ball off the Chris Birdman, who throws down two of his 16 points.

There were countless examples in Game 1 of West getting burned on pick-and-rolls. In fact, on the very next play, James goes right by West with his left hand. He misses a scoop shot that Hibbert contests, but Andersen is right there to tip in the miss.

Another wrinkle that the Heat used was running a lot of pick-and-rolls toward the baseline, instead of toward the middle, something the Knicks had a little success with in the last round, but probably didn’t try often enough.

The Heat ran it quite a bit in the fourth quarter and overtime, mostly with Norris Cole as the ball-handler and Shane Battier (being defended by West) as the screener.

Here, West doesn’t get totally burned, but Cole uses a little in-and-out dribble move to get to the basket and draw Hibbert’s help.


Cole could hit Bosh, who is wide open in the corner here, but the advantage of the ball being on the baseline is that the defense is turned inside-out and defenders have to turn their heads away from their man. That’s exactly what Lance Stephenson does, and Dwyane Wade takes advantage by cutting to the basket. Cole dishes to Wade, who hits a short floater over West.

When West overplayed that toward-the-baseline pick-and-roll, Norris Cole went the other way, drew Ian Mahinmi‘s attention, and got Birdman another dunk …

West carried the Pacers’ offense in the first half on Wednesday and finished with 26 points. But he was largely responsible for many of the Heat’s points on the other end of the floor. And if Indiana is going to keep Miami out of the paint in Game 2, it has to start with his containment on pick-and-rolls.

Heat’s D Exposes Granger’s Absence


MIAMI – This is where the Indiana Pacers really miss Danny Granger.

Despite the absence of one of their best players for all but five games this season, the Pacers took a step forward. They became the No. 1 defensive team in the league, have advanced a round further than they did a year ago, and just might have what it takes to knock off the defending champs.

Paul George has stepped into Granger’s go-to-guy shoes and Lance Stephenson has stepped into a starter’s role, enough that we sometimes forget that this team is missing a former All-Star who averaged 21.6 points over the previous five seasons.

But the Pacers did regress offensively without Granger, falling from ninth in offensive efficiency last season to 19th this year. They’ve overcome his absence thus far, but this may be the time when his knee injury hurts the most.

The Miami Heat are an aggressive defensive team on the strong side of the floor, looking to deny the post, trap pick-and-rolls and force turnovers. That in itself is an issue for the turnover-prone Pacers, but if they can move the ball successfully to the weak side, they can get open shots.

The problem is that the Pacers don’t have anybody on the weak side to really take advantage of the Heat’s aggressiveness. Their best 3-point shooters are George and George Hill, who are the guys handling the ball on the strong side.

Stephenson is most often the guy left open from beyond the arc, but he’s a career 30-percent shooter from 3-point range. He missed all five of his 3-point attempts in Game 1 on Wednesday (including one that could have given the Pacers a six-point lead with 1:21 left in overtime) and has missed his last 10 threes, going back to Game 4 of the conference semifinals.

The Pacers could ask Stephenson to run more pick-and-rolls so that George or Hill is on the weak side, but Stephenson is often very passive on high pick-and-rolls, rarely forcing the defense to rotate with penetration.

Granger has shot 38 percent from 3-point range over his career. Though he shot 1-for-10 from beyond the arc in Games 1 and 2 against the Heat last year, he made 11 of his next 23 treys and would obviously be a bigger weak-side threat than Stephenson. Not only that, he’d be another ball handler who could free George or Hill on the weak side.

“It’s a factor,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of Granger’s absence on Thursday. “You got to be able to shoot the ball from the weak side against this team that loads to the strong side. So I think Danny Granger would have a profound impact on a series like this. But we got guys who have gotten the job done all year.”

Commence The Torching Of Frank Vogel


MIAMI – Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel has called Roy Hibbert “the best rim protector in the game.” That same Vogel took that same Hibbert off the floor on two critical defensive possessions late in overtime of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.

The result? Two LeBron James layups and a 103-102 Miami Heat victory in overtime. Commence the torching of Vogel.

Vogel is very good at his job, the architect of the No. 1 defense in the league. But on more than one occasion in these playoffs, he has been caught over-coaching. This isn’t the first time he’s sat Hibbert on a late-game defensive possession, but it’s the time that decision came back to really bite him in the rear end.

Indiana was in position to steal Game 1 and home-court advantage in the series. Paul George got them to overtime with a 32-foot bomb at the end of regulation and, after James’ first Hibbert-less layup, got them a one-point lead with three clutch free throws with 2.2 seconds on the clock in OT.

After the Heat called timeout, Hibbert was on the floor.

I repeat, Hibbert was on the floor. And it was just one possession earlier when James beat George Hill off the dribble and got a layup because Hibbert wasn’t on the floor.

But Vogel looked at Miami’s lineup and called his own timeout, for the sole purpose of replacing Hibbert with Tyler Hansbrough. Over-coaching 101.

“That’s the dilemma they present when they have Chris Bosh at the five spot and his ability to space the floor,” Vogel said afterward. “We put a switching lineup in with the intent to switch, keep everything in front of us, and try to go into or force a challenged jump shot.”

Vogel’s fear was that, if Hibbert stuck by the basket to protect the rim, Bosh could free up a teammate with a screen or knock down an open jump shot.

The Pacers did switch as the Heat set multiple screens on the inbounds play. But when James caught the ball at the top of the key, George closed out a little too hard. The Heat had the floor spaced well, so when James blew by George, there was no one in position to help or protect the rim. James laid the ball in with his left hand and the buzzer sounded.

Game over. Opportunity lost.

“Obviously, with the way it worked out, it would have been better to have Roy in the game,” Vogel said. “But you don’t know. If that happens, maybe Bosh is making a jump shot and we’re all talking about that.”

And maybe if Hibbert was on the floor and James just scored over him, we’re talking about the Heat’s offensive mentality. After attempting 11 mid-range shots in the first quarter (and only five from the restricted area), they attempted just 13 mid-range shots (and 31 from the restricted area) over the remaining 41 minutes.

They didn’t let Hibbert’s presence keep them away from the rim. They smartly attacked the Pacers’ defense both from the middle and from the baseline, drew Hibbert’s attention, and dumped the ball off to cutters for layups and dunks.

“We’re an attacking team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It takes a great commitment and effort to be able to do it together, to get our attack. So you play a very good defensive team like this, you might not necessarily get it on the first option of your attack. And you have to have the poise and patience to work your offense, get to the proper spacing, move bodies, and have those opportunities in the paint.”

(Someone send that quote to the New York Knicks.)

“The first quarter, it was more of taking the first available look,” Spoelstra continued. “And a lot of times, it was that pull-up or long jumper.”

After averaging just 30.7 points in the paint in three regular season meetings against the Pacers, the Heat had almost twice that (60) on Wednesday. And all of their biggest buckets of the night came at the rim, including a Dwyane Wade layup over Hibbert in the final minute of regulation and a Bosh put-back over Hibbert in the final minute of OT. So it’s not as if Hibbert was stopping everything.

But you have a much better chance of protecting the rim with Hibbert on the floor than with him on the bench. In his 12 minutes off the floor in Game 1, the Heat were 9-for-12 in the restricted area and just 1-for-9 elsewhere. And if the 7-foot-2 guy is in the game and protecting the rim on that final possession, you can certainly live with the elsewhere.

Hibbert was obviously disappointed afterward, but he had his coach’s back.

“I could see why Coach wanted to take me out,” he said. “With 2.2 seconds left on the clock, they can throw it to Bosh and I’m over-committing in the paint and he can hit a jump shot. My mentality is always to protect the rim. I wish I was in there, but I have complete faith in Coach’s decisions.”

If the situation comes up again, the decision might be different.

“I would say we’ll probably have him in the next time,” Vogel said.

The Heat have now won 46 of their last 49 games. Opportunities to beat them do not come often. Vogel can only hope that there is a next time.

Blogtable: Dwight and D’Antoni

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 30: Dwight and D’Antoni | What do the Knicks need? | Bobcats back to Hornets

Can Dwight Howard and Mike D’Antoni coexist? How?

Steve Aschburner, Maybe those two can co-exist temporarily if Pau Gasol ends up elsewhere and Howard continues as a lone post presence. But long term and big picture, no, I don’t see it. I’m not sure Mike D’Antoni is the championship-caliber coach the Lakers’ legacy ultimately demands and I’m pretty sure Dwight Howard is not up to the job as tent-pole guy for that franchise, either. I still think he’s best suited to a smaller stage — Houston or maybe Atlanta — even if money, ego and preferred distractions have him sticking in L.A. At which point, my guess is, he’s not done burning through head coaches.

Fran Blinebury, The bigger question is can Dwight Howard and any coach co-exist? Until the 27-year-old-going-on-18 big man grows up and takes responsibility for all of the shortcomings in his game and attitude, he and his team(s) will be unfulfilled.

Dwight Howard (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Dwight Howard (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comYes they can. All it takes is for Mike D’Antoni to coach basketball and do so to his players’ strengths, and not force feed an inflexible style. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak might have to move Pau Gasol (which won’t make Kobe Bryant happy) to give Dwight full control of the paint, as well as add a knockdown shooter or two to help free him up down low. If the Lakers want Dwight to be “The Man” for years to come, then it’s time to start making him the center of attention. Just not sure D’Antoni is capable of making such a commitment. And if he’s not then why’s he still the coach of this team?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI give it a resoundingProbably.” Because they have to. It is based on the premise that Howard re-signs, of course, at which point they’ll have no other choice. Howard will want to fulfill his contract until he starts to angle for a trade and D’Antoni will want to keep his job. The coach, now with the benefit of time and a training camp that did not exist when he first arrived, will make tweaks to place the player more at the forefront. Howard will like that.

John Schuhmann, They should be able to, because Howard really is a great fit for D’Antoni’s offense if he’s willing to run a lot more pick-and-rolls than post-ups, if Steve Nash is healthy (because he’s the guy who’s going to get Howard the ball), and if the Lakers acquire some more shooting to spread the floor. Of course, I wonder more about D’Antoni’s ability to get his team to defend consistently more than I wonder about his relationship with Howard.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comSure they can. And it’s called sucking it up and doing your damn job. I can think of $30 million reasons why Dwight Howard should be willing to give it a try. The reality is people go to work every day and work their tails off with co-workers and bosses they don’t like because it’s the professional thing to do. Howard needs to get with the program and put whatever issues he might have with D’Antoni and anyone else and do the job he’s being paid to do. It’s not like D’Antoni treated him the way he treated Pau Gasol this season. If D’Antoni is his excuse for not sticking around with the Lakers, then Dwight is every bit of the Dwightmare his critics make him out to be. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt for the next six weeks. But we’ll see what happens July 1.

Hanson Guan, There’s no room for a traditional center under Mike D’Antoni’s system. Even if the Lakers had made their way into the playoffs, it wouldn’t have helped solve the problem between D’Antoni and Dwight Howard. It’s inevitable that they’ve had trouble working together, while the relationship between Dwight and Kobe Bryant hasn’t been what it was thought to be. Dwight’s personality and playing style mean he shouldn’t play under D’Antoni.

Eduardo Schell, Two ways of building a team: you sign the appropriate players according to the coach’s playing style or you sign the appropriate coach according to the already existing players. So it was quite astonishing when the Lakers signed D’Antoni, having two big dominant guys like Pau and Dwight on the roster. At the end, D’Antoni changed his style somewhat with the Lakers’ backs to the wall, and for sure DH can play with MD with a healthy Nash as point guard. But I doubt the Lakers can really take advantage of PG+DH if MD stays true to his original basketball playing style.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, We have to be fair with Dwight Howard. It was a tough season for him, as he struggled after his back surgery. I think that he was never at the level he was playing in his years in Orlando. So, we must not rush to conclusion. After all, it’s not his fault that the Lakers lacked good chemistry and offensive balance. Now it’s the time to figure out if they want to support their guy in the middle, by adding the right pieces around him: slashers than can feed him in the lane or forwards capable of stretching the floor. As to whether he can work with coach D’ Antoni? When it comes to winning, everybody has to make a step back for the team’s good. So if the Lakers want to return to the league’s elite they have to have a healthy Kobe, less talking and more playing. Coaches coach and players play. D’ Antoni and Howard have proven than they can do their job right.

Blogtable: The Needy Knicks

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 30: Dwight and D’Antoni | What do the Knicks need? | Bobcats back to Hornets

What do the Knicks need to become a true title contender, and how do they get it?

Steve Aschburner, Find a way to make Carmelo Anthony your second-best player. Then find a way to convince him to accept that. Now how do the Knicks go about that? They need to acquire a proven star who has the ball in his hands as much as or more than Anthony. So I’m thinking point guard. And since Tony Parker, Derrick Rose or Rajon Rondo aren’t likely to be playing home games at Madison Square Garden anytime soon, I’m thinking Chris Paul. Done.

Fran Blinebury, First, the Knicks need the realization that they are not on the doorstep of being a true contender. Not when they had a roster of Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Rasheed Wallace and a 36-year-old rookie in Pablo Prigioni and could only get out of the first round. That’s a group that’s more suited to be playing chess in Central Park than knocking off Indiana, Miami and, next season, Chicago. Good luck finding someplace to dump the $45 million left on Amar’e Stoudemire‘s contract. Could they convince small market teams in Minnesota or Portland to give up potential free agents Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge a year early?  That’s the kind of home run they need to hit. As currently constructed, the Knicks are going nowhere. What they need is time … and that’s the one thing you never get in New York.

J.R. Smith (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images))

J.R. Smith (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images))

Jeff Caplan, Welcome to the new CBA, boys. There won’t be any names in lights walking through that door this summer for a team over the salary cap, the luxury tax and the tax apron, and therefore left with little flexibility to do anything substantial. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Health is the key. The Knicks will have Iman Shumpert ready from the jump (he didn’t play until Jan. 17 this season) and that will keep 40-year-old Jason Kidd in his rightful spot coming off the bench. The huge minutes Kidd played early in the season ruined him late. Also (as Knicks management crosses their fingers and toes) Amar’e Stoudemire should be in good health for the start of training camp and hopefully coach Mike Woodson can lay out a mutually acceptable plan of attack with Stoudemire for next season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, They need to balance an offense over-reliant on perimeter play, especially the 3-pointer. They need to get better on defense. They’re just not going to be able to. Without a Draft pick before No. 24, without real spending power in free agency and without many trade options, the Knicks have few opportunities to make major gains. Their best hope is that one or two free agents deliver well beyond their contracts.

John Schuhmann, They need more balance, both in terms of offense/defense and, in regard to their offense, inside/outside. Really, they need more guys under 30 and more guys who can play on both ends of the floor. Amar’e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith are the prime examples of players who can hurt you defensively as much as they help you offensively. Given their cap situation and the age of their roster, I really don’t know how they get better this summer. Maybe they have another Pablo Prigioni they can bring over from Europe

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThey need a second superstar. They need to find Carmelo Anthony‘s Dwyane Wade or Russell Westbrook. And they need to find him now, because J.R. Smith is not that guy. Making that second superstar happen is the tricky part. The Knicks don’t have anyone of value that they could move (on his own) to get back a player of the caliber needed to help them get to championship level. The front office has to get to work and see what they can come up with, because another superstar is not going to fall in their lap. But I’m with Carmelo’s college coach, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, he can’t do it alone. He needs another player of his caliber, or possibly better, to take the Knicks to the next level. And there is no shame in that, not in today’s NBA.

Aldo Avinante, York is one dependable post player away from being a true contender for the NBA championship. Their small-ball approach was exploited by the bigger and more physical Indiana Pacers. David West roughed up Carmelo Anthony in the four-spot — still an unnatural position for Melo — while Paul George‘s length gave him problems. But what lacked in their season-ending series is a dependable scorer in the low-post and consistent work on the boards. Indiana simply outworked them in the big boy stats while they looked helpless when their 3-point shots weren’t falling. The postseason is a different animal: The game’s pace slows down dramatically and the defense intensifies. Tyson Chandler needs help, but other than those problems they are still a very good ballclub.

Pawel Weszka, need fresh legs and creativity. Having so many experienced veterans worked well in the regular season, but the playoffs’ physicality brought fatigue and inconsistency. Carmelo needs more support on the offensive end as the Knicks become predictable – when the Knicks top scorer does not get double-teamed on a post up play, the basketball stops moving. They need a versatile big man and Raymond Felton stepping up in running the offense, but with big bucks locked up in Anthony, Chandler and Stoudemire’s contracts, pursuits of big summer trade opportunities will be limited.

Karan Madhok, is a point guard’s league, where teams that have decent quarterbacks can help set an offense and keep the ball moving. The Knicks desperately need better ball movement to take the next step up, and currently, their two highest-paid players – Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire – cannot co-exist with both having a shoot-first mentality on offense. Felton, Kidd, and Prigioni have been half-decent but they need an upgrade at the point guard position. Unfortunately, the Knicks future looks bleak since the team of elder statesmen was built to ‘win now’. They don’t have enough financial flexibility to bring in a super-talented player next season. What they can hope for is to make a minor trade and hope to strike lucky with an underrated point guard just looking for a chance to shine.

Blogtable: Bobcats Looking For Buzz

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 30: Dwight and D’Antoni | What do the Knicks need? | Bobcats back to Hornets

The Bobcats are changing their names back to the Hornets. Good, bad, odd, something else?

Steve Aschburner, Good. Bobcats is a bad nickname anyway, ill-conceived as a vanity thing for the original owner. Beyond that, teams that relocate never should be permitted to abscond with the nicknames – or the record books – of the franchises they used to be. Too late, of course, for the goofily named Utah Jazz or L.A. Lakers. But by all rights, the expansion team in Minneapolis should have revived the Lakers name there. When George Shinn moved his Charlotte club, it should have become the new Jazz. Same thing if Seattle gets back into the NBA – they’re the SuperSonics. At which point, why should Oklahoma City have any claim on Spencer Haywood, Gus Williams, Slick Watts or Gary Payton? Records, banners and history should stay put (or, retroactively, revert back). Fans in Charlotte surely care about Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Alonzo Mourning more than those cheering for Pelicans in New Orleans.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGee, and here I thought Michael Jordan should have changed his own name so everyone might forget that he’s the one who built the Bobcats.

Jeff Caplan, Something else: Yawn. My only prerequisite is that the new Charlotte Hornets retain the NOLA Mardi Gras uniforms. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, Eh. If they’re happy, I’m happy. Not a big deal either way.

John Schuhmann, I had some teal-and-purple Charlotte Hornets gear back in the early 1990s, and “Bobcats” already has a pretty dreadful history, so I’m in favor of the name change. With two different franchises being named the Hornets at one time or another, my historical spreadsheets might get a little confused, though.

Sekou Smith, Good! Anything to get away from the Bobcats era.

Philipp Dornhegge,’s not to love? The Hornets’ name and logo need to stick in the NBA, and the home of the Hornets apparently wants the name back. I have a good friend from around Charlotte and he told me that most people were never and aren’t to this day able to connect with the Bobcats. The franchise just doesn’t appeal to them. They are in rebuilding mode now, and what better way to start afresh and excite more people than to bring back the Hornets?

Stefanos Triantafyllos, Okayyyyyy…. right. So, we had the Charlotte Hornets. Then they moved to New Orleans. Then another team appeared in Charlotte and was named “the Bobcats.” And now they want to change again to “the Hornets.” And we are back in the 90’s. Are Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson coming back, too? Life goes in circles, after all. As bad as the “Bobcats” sounds like (a really bad choice I ‘m afraid), the real problem is the way the team plays and the fact that they have a 28-120 record over the last two years. “Bad”, whatever you call it, is still “bad.”

No. 1 Pick Could Help Push Cavs Into The Playoffs


NEW YORK – Before Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were among the two or three Lottery teams most likely to make the playoffs next year. They have a budding superstar, other young players who will only get better, and a new (and old) coach who will get them to improve on the end of the floor where they’ve been particularly dreadful that last few years.

2013 Lottery results
Pick Team
1. Cleveland
2. Orlando
3. Washington
4. Charlotte
5. Phoenix
6. New Orleans
7. Sacramento
8. Detroit
9. Minnesota
10. Portland
11. Philadelphia
12. Toronto (to OKC)
13. Dallas
14. Utah

After Tuesday night, if you didn’t already have them there (some of us did), you’d have to move the Cavs to the top of the list. Thanks to the results of Tuesday’s Draft lottery, Cleveland will add the No. 1 pick of the 2013 Draft to and young and talented core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.

It was just two years ago that the Cavs won the right to select Irving with a pick acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers. This time, they won with their own pick, earned with a 24-58 record, some terrible defense, and an 8-3-6-7 combination of ping-pong balls.

A month ago, Mike Brown was rehired to fix that defense. The Cavs are the only team to rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last three years, but ranked in the top five on that end a couple of times under Brown (and with the best player in the world).

A month from now, Cleveland will add another piece to the puzzle. Two No. 1 picks in three years is a good way to ensure both short and long-term success.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said Tuesday, “because if we can pick the right guy to fit into the young core that we have now, we can be a great team for many, many years.”

Before the lottery, there was no clear No. 1 pick. No LeBron James or Anthony Davis. And there was no Big Two on the level of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Among the top four or five talents, there’s a guy at each position, and none is a can’t miss prospect.

But with Cleveland drawing the top selection and already having Irving and Waiters in their backcourt, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, a 6-foot-11 power forward, jumps to the top of the list. The Cavs have Thompson, Tyler Zeller (taken with the No. 17 pick last year) and the oft-injured Anderson Varejao up front, but every good team needs at least three quality big men.

The issue, of course, is that Noel won’t be available until at least Christmas, still recovering from ACL surgery in his left knee in March. And as we’ve seen in the past, training camp is a critical part of a rookie’s orientation to the league.

The Orlando Magic, who finished with a league-worst 20-62 record, will draft second, and they can use help at every position and on both ends of the floor. They have a handful of young players, but none is really a franchise anchor. Their best pieces are on the frontline, however, so they should be happy with any number of options in the backcourt, including Michigan point guard Trey Burke and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.

In discussing the possibilities, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn talked about building a culture as much as acquiring talent.

“I trust our general manager and our scouts and their ability to find the right person who’s going into fit in our locker room,” Vaughn said.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, another descendant from the San Antonio Spurs’ management tree, had a similar outlook, saying that he wants to continue “to build the momentum with what we want to be about, what our identity is, what our values are, and really staying true to that.”

Like the Cavs, the Washington Wizards have a young and talented backcourt. So they will probably look to go big with the third pick, though general manager Ernie Grunfeld indicated Tuesday that he’ll look for the best player available.

“In this league, players win, regardless of what position they’re at,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll take the best player that we feel will help us, in the short term and the long term.”

Pacers Must Keep Miami Role Players From Making A Strong Impact


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

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%
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%
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.