Posts Tagged ‘Juwan Howard’

Heat’s Change Comes From Within


ORLANDO, Fla. – The Rockets are over the moon with the arrival of Dwight Howard. The Nets are busy loading up on veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. The Bulls figure they’re right back in the picture with the return of Derrick Rose. The Clippers and Warriors are on the rise with additions of Doc Rivers and Andre Iguodala, respectively.

summer-league-logoSo is there any reason to be concerned that the two-time champs from Miami have done little more than sit on the beach this summer?

During his visit to the Orlando Pro Summer League, coach Erik Spoelstra said the improvement to the Heat will come from themselves.

“Even our veteran players, even guys that are over 30 years old, you have to continue to try to get better,” Spoelstra said in an interview on NBA TV. “And the only way we’ll get better, and you see the competition around the league is getting better, our guys have to get better.

“Our best players take that upon themselves, so it’s easy for the other guys to follow. But even a guy like LeBron (James), coming off of an MVP year the year before, people thought that was probably the highest level that he could play at and he played at an even more historic level last year. We’re going to need that from quite a few players next year.”

In an era where change is always in the air, the Heat with back-to-back titles can afford, are using cohesiveness and consistency as their strength built around the core of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The Heat re-signed free agent center Chris Andersen and now the only member of the playoff roster not under contract for next season is Juwan Howard.

“It was important for (Andersen), for us, to be able to get him back,” said Spoelstra. “It was one of the biggest signings, we thought, during the year.

“His style fits very much to how we like to play, defense and toughness and rebounding, he finds a way to get open. But his personality also fits. And he’s got that great TV personality that you all see, but inside the locker room, you have to be a little bit out of the box to fit in our locker room.”

Spoelstra said the most important thing for the Heat going forward is to continue blending and refining the talents of the Big Three.

“It’s taken some time,” he said. “I think you probably forget what we looked like when we first put the group together. It was rough offensively.

“I think early on, we were able to develop our defense and create an identity and play off of that. But offensively it’s taken some time to get into a comfort level and gain some confidence. Another year, hopefully will do that. But we also have to have an improvement from within.”

Flattened Last Year, Stephenson Is Flattener Vs. Knicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Of Era: Only Beards Grow In Dallas


HANG TIME, Texas — Pity poor Jessica Nowitzki, who is not a fan of the Mavericks drive-for-.500 beards.

“It’s not a good look,” husband Dirk admitted the other day. “My wife doesn’t like it that much. But I guess we’ve all got to suck it up and reach our goal.”

It might be time to wonder how tolerant Mrs. Nowitzki will be by October, when the Mavs have a more realistic shot to reach the break-even mark after their spectacular 136-103 flameout in Houston? By that time Dirk and his teammates could look like so many Rip Van Winkles or extras from the cast of “Lincoln”.

The Mavs hardly resemble a team that is sharpening its razors or its playoff claws as a lost season staggers toward the finish. They couldn’t defend, get enough shots for their biggest gun or do much of anything right against the Rockets.

“At the clip, we’re losing and losing (close) games at home, and those are the games you have to win if you want to be in the playoffs,” Nowitzki said. “We haven’t shown consistently that we can big games. We have to fight and we have another game on Wednesday and we’ll see what we got.”

What they’ve got is a season that jumped off track when Dirk missed the first 27 games following knee surgery and has never developed a sense of rhythm or direction. Now a team that has not won more than three consecutive games all season would have to go 15-8 over the final six weeks just to get to the .500 mark and it’s unlikely that 41-41 would be good enough to make the playoffs anyway.

It’s the end of an era. Assuming there is no postseason basketball in Dallas this spring, it will bring an end to the best stretch of basketball in franchise history, ending a playoff streak that stretches back to 2001, the first full season under Mark Cuban’s ownership.

The Mavs string of 12 consecutive playoff appearances is tied for the 13th-longest in league history and is the second-best active streak in the NBA, trailing only San Antonio’s 15 and counting.

The highlight, of course, was the 2011 championship, but more than a decade of always reaching the playoffs is a worthy feat that marks consistency and constant striving by what has become a model franchise.

How long has it been? Consider that the first year of the playoff streak, coached by Don Nelson (53-39), had a roster that included Shawn Bradley, Christian Laettner, Juwan Howard, Vernon Maxwell, Wang Zhizhi a rookie named Eduardo Najera and a 27-year-old Steve Nash, along with Nowitzki who was in his second NBA season.

Now only Dirk remains as the Mavs close in on coming full circle to his non-playoff rookie season.

“If you want to be in the playoffs we haven’t showed consistently we can win big games,” Nowitzki said. “It was a nice win in Brooklyn [on Friday], and we can’t follow it up.

“Not consistent enough even over one game. A decent half, a decent three quarters here and there, and one garbage quarter. It’s never consistent enough to really be a playoff threat.”

It was a long road and long climb by the Mavs to get to the top of the mountain, but the only thing getting longer these days is those beards.

Draft Night Redux: No Blockbusters?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We waited all night on that blockbuster deal, only to walk away from another Draft night without any of the rumored mega deals taking place.

(Houston, we have a problem … and it includes that red and white No. 12 Dwight Howard jersey  that won’t get worn this season)

That’s fine, we’re just hours away from the start of free agency. And the Draft class of 2012 offered up plenty of mild surprises (Dion Waiters to Cleveland with the fourth overall pick, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III lasting until near the end of the first round, etc.), as always.

Ah, the joy of the Draft night drama that was …


It’s not often the 33rd pick in any draft absolutely steals the show from the other 59 guys selected. But Florida State’s Bernard James got the loudest roar from the crowd in Newark last night.


Finals Numbers Of Note

MIAMI –Some numbers of note from the Miami Heat’s 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the 2012 Finals, giving the Heat their second championship:

  • LeBron James became the 14th player to win a championship in the same year he won the MVP award. The last was Tim Duncan in 2003.
  • James tied a postseason career high with 13 assists in Game 5. The Heat were 20-2 this season when he recorded at least eight assists. Both losses were in Orlando.
  • The Heat are the first NBA champion to have trailed three in three of their playoff series. They were down 2-1 to Indiana, 3-2 to Boston, and 1-0 to Oklahoma City.
  • The Heat became the third team to sweep the middle three Finals games at home since the 2-3-2 format came into play in 1985. The others were the 2004 Pistons and the 2006 Heat.
  • The Heat’s 14 3-pointers in Game 5 tied a Finals record, set in the 1995 Finals by both the Rockets and Magic.


Battle Of The Benchwarmers

INDIANAPOLISJuwan Howard and Lance Stephenson haven’t played any significant minutes of this playoff series, but their time on the court Sunday was intense.

Neither actually played in Game 4. Instead, they had to be separated during the pre-game warmups, a confrontation that was a culmination of bad blood between a 17-year veteran and a player who was only six years old when Howard turned pro.

For the second time in as many days, Howard actively sought out Stephenson, who gave the choke sign late in Game 3 after LeBron James missed a free throw. Stephenson apologized for that. But Howard marched over to Stephenson while the teams were warming up, spoke animatedly, and then went nose-to-nose with Stephenson before they were broken apart.


What’s Next For The Heat?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With The Finals in the books (and in case you missed anything, check out our nifty recap above), it’s never too soon to start analyzing the participants. We’re not ones to wait, so here’s our quick post-Finals take on the state of the Heat and Mavs and what’s next for each of them. Up first are the Eastern Conference champs and Finals runner-up.


A quick look back: The most anticipated combination since beer and pizza, the debut of the Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Chris Bosh Era left a bad taste in the mouth when the Heat lost at Boston on opening night and delivered the message that this was going to be a process.

After Udonis Haslem was lost to a torn ligament in his foot on Nov. 20, things hit rock bottom on Nov. 27. A 106-95 loss at Dallas dropped the Heat to 9-8 and was marked by the episode of James bumping into coach Erik Spoelstra. The loss precipitated a postgame, players-only meeting that cleared the air and set things straight.

The meeting led to sizzling stretch of 21-1 from Nov. 29 through Jan. 9 where the only loss was — in perhaps another hint at the future — at home to Dallas.

A four-game losing streak in January and a five-game losing streak in early March set the alarm bells ringing again. But the Heat closed the regular season on a run of 14-3 to complete a 58-24 record that was good enough for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and they cruised through the playoffs with a swagger that never stopped until they ran into the Mavs again.


The Journeyman Finals

MIAMI — Trivia: Name the two NBA teams that no current Heat or Mavs player has ever played for.

Answer below…

If you’re not a fan of the Miami Heat or the Dallas Mavericks, you probably still have an interest in the outcome of the 2011 NBA Finals.

There’s plenty of anti-Heat sentiment among fans of the league’s 28 other teams, of course. But there’s also plenty of former-player sentiment as well. There are likely Nets fans out there hoping to see Jason Kidd get a ring or Hornets fans who’d like to see Tyson Chandler win a title.

These are two veteran squads, with a total of seven guys who have played for at least five different franchises in their careers …


Where have you gone, Mr. Mourning?

CHICAGOAlonzo Mourning‘s tougher and better and would scare the Bulls more than any big man in a Heat uniform. Like, right now, at age 41.

‘Zo currently cuts a dignified presence in the Heat front office, the scowl replaced by a compassionate heart that reaches deep into the community, the Popeye forearms hidden by a tailored Brioni suit. But you could forgive the Heat for wondering if ‘Zo could find some sneakers and some shorts right now, 24 hours after Miami was bloodied on the boards by Joakim Noah and crew.

The Bulls own a huge advantage over the Heat from a big man’s perspective, and that won’t change in this series. It’s a fixed advantage for Chicago, meaning there’s nothing the Heat can do about it. Not only does Miami have the weakest collection of bigs of any team left in the playoffs, you’d be hard-pressed to recall another team that advanced this far in the post-season with a weaker group.

Remember those howls heard in Chicago when the Bulls trotted out Luc Longley and Bill Cartwright and Will Purdue? The Heat would kill for any of those guys right now.

Put it this way: The centers (Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas) who started 73 of the 82 regular-season games sat in suits for Game 1 because they couldn’t be trusted.


Rebound now, or maybe not at all

CHICAGO – If the Miami Heat hope to rebound in Game 2 from their 103-82 pasting Sunday by the Chicago Bulls in the opener of the East finals, they will need to do just that: Rebound.

Rebound as they did at times in previous playoff games (52 vs. Philadelphia back on April 16). Rebound like Spider-Man working the glass. Rebound as if their postseason lives depend on it. Which they might.

Choose whichever you want, the Heat got beat on the boards. They managed to grab only six offensive rebounds (one more than their 2011 playoff low). That limited them to just eight second-chance points and worse, only 68 field-goal attempts. That matched their previous low in these playoffs.

So it did Miami little good to shoot at a higher percentage than Chicago; to match the Bulls’ 38 field goals while taking only 68 shots, the Heat would have had to shoot 55.8 percent. And no one shoots 55.8 percent against a Tom Thibodeau-coached defense in the postseason.

At the other end, the Heat grabbed 27 defensive rebounds but allowed Chicago to take back 19 of their misses. That fueled the Bulls’ bounty of 31 second-chance points. That’s deflating in its own sense but it really hurt because Miami did not make Chicago pay for its aggressiveness on the offensive glass. The Bulls still managed to get defenders back to close off Miami’s fast-break opportunities, even as Joakim Noah was grabbing eight offensive rebounds Carlos Boozer was getting four and Taj Gibson managed three off the bench.

Some of this is personnel, certainly. NBC Sports’ Pro Basketball Talk addressed that issue:

“[The] Heat have had their best success these playoffs with a small ball lineup. Meaning the 6-foot-9 Joel Anthony at center. The 76ers couldn’t expose the Heat for that, and the Celtics by design don’t try to grab offensive rebounds. But the Bulls do and just destroyed the Heat so severely it made Erik Spoelstra go to Jamal Magloire for 10 minutes to see if that would help. If the Heat have to go away from the Anthony lineup, they could suffer in other ways.”

Yeah, when your options in the middle are Anthony, Magloire or Juwan Howard Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier were inactive Sunday – that can happen.

But the Bulls deserve credit too for tiptoeing that fine line between going after their missed shots vs. heading off Miami’s transition game. Thibodeau had said Saturday, after his team’s final practice before the series, that he wanted his guys to do exactly what they had done all season, boards-wise.

“Our smalls have a responsibility of getting back to protect,” the Bulls coach said. “Our bigs, if they’re inside, go to the offensive glass. If a big is on the perimeter, he gets back. I don’t want to change what we do in terms of responsibility. But you are concerned about giving them easy baskets, so if it does mean you get everyone back, you get everyone back.”

Don’t overlook the Bulls’ accuracy from 3-point range (47.6 percent) and their care in not hoisting reckless long jumpers from out front, the ones most likely to kick back as breakout chances. It all conspired to beat the Heat on this particular night.

“When they started to overwhelm us on the glass,” Spoelstra said, “I think we started to lose our focus on the other end of the court. And it affected us.”