Posts Tagged ‘Lance Stephenson’

Night for Pacers, Pistons to watch, plot

The Cleveland Cavaliers again have everyone else in the NBA breathlessly waiting while they decide which domino shall topple first.

The Milwaukee Bucks are next, happy to sit at No. 2, hoping for more Durant-after-Oden, less Bowie-after-Olajuwon.

The Chicago Bulls sit further back but hold two picks, Nos. 16 and 19, in the first round of what’s considered to be a deep draft (and even loftier ambitions for free agency).

And then there are the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, poor little Central Division teams on the outside looking in – on the first round, anyway – of the 2014 Draft Thursday night.

The Pacers traded away their first-round pick to Phoenix last summer, packaging it with Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee for veteran forward Luis Scola. The Suns hold it at No. 27, leaving Indiana with only the No. 57 pick – three from the bottom – as a long-shot stab at talent near the end of the night.

The Pistons would have picked No. 9, a pivotal point similar to last year (No. 8), if not for its desperation two years ago to unload Ben Gordon, sweetening a deal for Charlotte’s Corey Maggette by including a protected future first-rounder. That future turned into the present when Detroit slipped one spot in the lottery drawing, stripping the protection, transferring the pick to the Hornets and leaving new basketball poobah Stan Van Gundy only with the No. 38 pick.

Technically, Nos. 38 and 57 aren’t wastelands when it comes to finding (more like discovering months later) occasional talent. Eighteen of the past 20 players drafted 38th earned jobs in the league, however briefly; Andy Rautins (2010) and DeMarco Johnson (1998) lasted five games each, while Michael Wright (2001) and Rashard Griffith (1995) were the only washouts. Over the past 20 years, the top players to emerge from No. 38 probably have been Chandler Parsons (2011), Steve Blake (2003), Eduardo Najera (2000), Chris Duhon (2004) and Nate Wolters (2013).

Meanwhile, San Antonio sixth man Manu Ginobili classed up the No. 57 slot when the Spurs grabbed him there in 1999. Washington center Marcin Gortat was picked at the spot in 2005. Since Gortat, however, the eight players selected at No. 57 have played a combined five games – all by Florida State forward Ryan Reid (2010), who logged 17 minutes total for the Thunder in 2011-12.

All of which is a long and historically broken down way of saying Indiana and Detroit aren’t banking on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to deliver their offseason improvements.

The Pacers have internal chores atop their to-do list. Shooting guard Lance Stephenson has reached free agency before full maturity, forcing a tough call on president Larry Bird and the rest of the organization: Pay Stephenson and risk even greater antics fueled by a fat, guaranteed-and-validating contract in the mid-eight figures, or let him leave and scramble to replace his scoring, playmaking, defense and energy. Backup Evan Turner was a dud after arriving via trade in February and also will be a free agent, but for now he is Indiana’s Lance insurance.

Coach Frank Vogel also has to resuscitate Roy Hibbert as the team’s centerpiece, weighing the big man’s defensive presence against his offensive quirks and alarming unreliability late last season and postseason.

The Pistons feel as if their work already is underway, with Van Gundy in place and speculation swirling about a Josh Smith-to-Sacramento trade. They also have done their homework in gauging restricted free agent Greg Monroe‘s value, possible offer sheets (which often aren’t in synch with the first calculation) and their match-or-trade decision tree. Detroit also figures to have between an estimated $13 million to $14 million in salary cap space, pending other moves.

Van Gundy, a baseball fan, used an analogy from that sport when updating Detroit media recently on the team’s expected maneuvers. “We’re not gonna hit a home run,” he said, “but if we can get three singles or two singles and a double, and drive in a couple runs, we’ll be OK.”

Assuming they’ve got Verlander or Scherzer on the mound, of course.

Leonard, Spurs will stick to traditional methods of defense against LeBron


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard talks about the matchup with the Heat

SAN ANTONIO – And now … the San Antonio Spurs player most likely to blow in LeBron James‘ ear…?

(Crickets).

“There isn’t one,” Spurs forward Matt Bonner said, straight-faced.

Right.

The stoic, disciplined and ultra-professional Spurs have no need for the brand of antics that Pacers guard Lance Stephenson brought to the floor in his personal battle against the two-time Finals MVP during the Eastern Conference finals.

The Spurs, rest assured, will not employ it as a tactic against James.

“Uh, not on purpose,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, who could see time against James as well as Dwyane Wade, said. “That stuff doesn’t work against him and that only makes him better, I think, from the aspect of many different areas. We kind of don’t want to wake a sleeping a giant.”

Not that James has really been sleeping, but in the Spurs and Heat splitting the regular-season series (one game apiece, a blowout per side), the Spurs did as good a job as any team in letting alpha dogs lie. He averaged 18.5 ppg, less than only the Bulls allowed (18.3). Part of that is due to the blowout nature of the two games and James logging an average of only 32.9 minutes in the two games. Still, check out the shooting percentage, and the Spurs limited James to 42.4 percent (14-for-33) from the floor and 16.7 percent (1-for-6) from 3-point range. James’ percentages during the regular season were 56.7 and 37.9.

It makes sense with the Bulls employing Jimmy Butler and their intensely physical defense on James, and the Spurs using 6-foot-7, 230-pound Kawhi Leonard backed by a smart, cohesive unit that was quite successful in last year’s Finals of keeping James from rampaging through the lane.

Leonard, fresh off tracking regular-season MVP Kevin Durant in the West finals, will get the bulk of the LeBron load. On Tuesday, the third-year small forward was named to his first NBA All-Defensive team, making the second team.

“It’s just great that people are starting to notice that I’m giving my effort out there on the floor at both ends and just finally starting to get noticed,” Leonard said. “That’s what I pretty much feel about it.”

James obviously faced Leonard a year ago in the Finals, so he probably knows he’s not going to hear much in the way of trash talk, or much of any talk at all from the famously quiet Leonard. Leonard said he doesn’t get involved in conversations of any kind with the man he’s tasked to guard.

“No,” Leonard said, “no I don’t. I just talk to my teammates, tell them I got help-side or something like that, but not really a conversation to try to get into somebody’s head.”

Dislike? Nope, so Heat, Spurs will try to whip up extreme absence of like


VIDEO: Duncan discusses Finals clash with Heat

SAN ANTONIO – With all the yammering about shared respect and mutual dynasties heading into these 2014 Finals, you might expect to find the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, some night this week, strolling hand in hand along the Riverwalk on a moonlit night.

Veteran Miami forward Udonis Haslem made it clear Wednesday, that ain’t happening.

“Just because this series may not be as physical as the Indiana series or may not be as physical as a [past] Chicago series,” Haslem said, “does not mean we like these guys any more.”

An absence of like might not be the same thing as an active dislike, but it’s a reasonable starting point for a potentially long, best-of-seven series that might lend itself to emotions and subplots in ways the 2013 Finals did not. It would take some doing – the Spurs don’t typically seek out headlines, the Heat see no one on San Antonio’s roster who can play the Lance Stephenson knucklehead/pest role.

But if the series is low in vitriol, it still will be high in competition, both sides’ dials cranked hard to the right to take rather than give.

“Sometimes the game is played a little different between the lines,” Haslem said. “Sometimes it’s more physical. Sometimes it’s faster, sometimes it’s slower. Doesn’t change the mindset. We’re in the Finals. We can’t afford to be trying to make new friends right now.”

Again, not making friends isn’t quite the same as butting heads with rivals. Miami has been targeted for four years now, with East opponents such as Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn eager to topple them and, presumably, everything they stand for. Over time, fueled by hard knocks, strains of resentment and disdain began to show.

Not so with the Spurs, who happen to be catching the Heat in their more-established, less-shortcutting third and fourth postseasons.

“I don’t think it’s animosity,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “Indiana wants what we have – and you could tell, there was animosity on their part. We didn’t give much credence to that, and it wasn’t reciprocal. The Spurs are different. They’ve had serial success over a decade and a half. They want what’s out there and we want what’s out there. It’s not so much they want what we have or we want what they have.”

Last year’s Finals wasn’t exactly gentlemanly, but it didn’t deteriorate into barroom tactics. The Spurs set a Finals record for fewest fouls committed in a seven-game series (118). Correspondingly, the Heat shot the fewest free throws in a seven-game series of any Finals team in history (118). Read that again: LeBron James‘ team shot the fewest free throws in a seven-game series of any Finals team ever .

(The records for the most fouls and free throws? In the 1957 Finals, Boston fouled St. Louis players 221 times, resulting in 341 free throws. Scintillating to watch, no doubt.)

So this one will have to muddle through without bad blood, personal histories or old scores to settle (besides the outcome). Two teams, both driven and fiercely competitive, went at it for seven rounds last June and didn’t even merit a technical foul for defensive-three seconds after Game 4.

“I think that’s why this series was so great last year: It was about basketball,” Battier said. “It wasn’t about talk. it wasn’t about controversy. It was an awesomely officiated series last year – there were no refereeing controversies. There were no technical fouls, no flagrant fouls. It was about basketball.

“How novel for the NBA Finals to be about basketball. I expect the same sort of respect, and it being about the game, as it should be.”


VIDEO: Battier talks Spurs and Finals

Morning Shootaround — June 1


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat welcomes another rematch | And still, it’s Tim Duncan | Thunder needs tweaks, not overhaul | Lots of Love in Beantown

No. 1: Heat welcomes another rematch — It was going to happen one way or the other. The Miami Heat, once they survived one familiar nemesis (Indiana Pacers) in the Eastern Conference finals, were going to face a familiar Finals foe as well, either their 2012 opponents (Oklahoma City Thunder) or the other guys from 2013 (San Antonio Spurs). Turns out, it is San Antonio, the team that Miami beat in seven games last June only after surviving the sixth one (thanks, Ray Allen!). Which probably is best for intensity, TV ratings, the Spurs’ shot at retribution and even Miami’s legacy should it manage to beat the great Gregg Popovich and his mighty trinity of stars for consecutive championships. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel offered the Heat side after the Western Conference clincher:

“Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Dwyane Wade said of having another opponent bent on settling a previous score. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Neither, apparently, would the Spurs.

“We’re back here. We’re excited about it,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said after the Spurs finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-107 in overtime in Saturday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. “We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.

“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”

Said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, “We worked eight months really hard. We had a really successful season. And all we did was to get back to this point.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Saturday night praised his team for showing the “fortitude” this season to not have a “pity party” after losing to the Heat in last season’s Finals.

“I think our guys, they actually grew in the loss last year,” he said.

The last time the Heat faced a Finals rematch, it wasn’t the desired outcome, with the Dallas Mavericks exacting revenge in the 2011 NBA Finals after falling to Wade and the Heat in the 2006 Finals.

“Hopefully, it’s not the same outcome as it was the first time around,” Wade said, with those 2011 NBA Finals remaining the only playoff series the Heat have lost since Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined together in the 2010 offseason. “It’s going to be a big challenge.”

Unlike that five-years-later Mavericks rematch, these upcoming Finals will pit opponents with largely the same rosters as last season’s Finals meeting.

“They’re going to feel more prepared for this moment,” Wade said, with the Heat playing as the road team in the best-of-seven series that opens Thursday, after holding homecourt advantage last year against the Spurs. “It’s going to have its own challenges.”

Having survived the Spurs in a compelling series last season salvaged by Ray Allen’s Game 6 3-pointer, the Heat exited AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night poised for the 12th Finals rematch since the league’s first title series in 1947. Of the 11 Finals rematches to date, there have been seven repeat winners, including, most recently, Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz of Karl Malone and John Stockton in 1997 and 1998.

Wade said getting back to the championship series never gets old, no matter the road traveled, no matter the familiarity with the opposition.

“We’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in because it’s an amazing moment,” he said. “It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes.

“Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this.  So we just want to continue to add to what we’re accomplishing.”

 ***

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 31


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers-Heat rivalry never really existed | Your move Scotty Brooks | Composed Heeat dismantle Pacers, Stephenson | Phil Jackson asks ‘Melo to opt in, stick with Knicks

No. 1: Pacers-Heat rivalry? It never existedPaul George‘s less than rousing endorsement of “No. 1″ aside, the Indiana Pacers left Miami late Friday night filled with mixed emotions about finishing three straight seasons on the wrong side of the ledger against the Miami Heat. They’d call it a rivalry, their annual tussle with the Heat. Others, however, wouldn’t go that far. Not when the Pacers have fallen in this proposed rivalry in each and every battle that truly mattered. Michael Wallace of ESPN.com points out the differences between a rivalry and what amounts to bullying and why it’s time for everyone to move on:

Make no mistake about it: The Pacers were nothing more than a solid group of antagonists, instigators and irritants that pushed, poked and provoked Miami these past few seasons. But they were never really the Heat’s equal.

At least not when it mattered most.

The East might as well start taking applications now for a new so-called “rival” for the Heat. Because these Pacers were officially relieved of their duties after being dismantled and shoved aside in a 117-92 season-ending loss in Game 6 of the conference finals.

It’s clearly time to move on.

The Heat are headed to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season as they pursue a third straight championship. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have known no other outcome since they became teammates before the 2010-11 season.

And for the third postseason in a row, including two straight in the conference finals, the Heat propelled themselves into the championship round after breaking down and eventually stepping over Indiana. The Pacers are all too familiar with the bitter flavor they’ve had to taste after being served and dismissed by the Heat.

Considering some of their actions, antics and comments over the course of the series, I completely expected the Pacers to be defiant in defeat when their locker room was opened to the media after the game. But a team that’s been full of surprises and bucked expectations — both high and low — throughout a turbulent season was true to its unpredictable form late Friday.

It’s difficult to describe just how deflated the scene was inside the visitors’ locker room. As reality sank in that the season ended well short of expectations for the 56-win team that held the No. 1 seed in the East, the Pacers were things they hadn’t been all series.

Humbled.

Quiet.

Sullen.

Sadly accepting that their best, despite three seasons of motivation, isn’t good enough. Not against James and the Heat. Not back then, not now, probably not ever.

“We know what they’re going to do in these moments,” Pacers forward David West said of the Heat as he slumped into his stall and stared at the floor. “And [we] weren’t able to, again, match what they’re capable of. I thought they just were the better team. We got right back to where we got to last year, and they’re just a better team. They’ve got a gear that we can’t get to.”


VIDEO: LeBron and DWade at the podium for the 4th straight season after winning the Eastern Conference finals

(more…)

Indiana can’t drag Heat to Game 7


VIDEO: Heat dismantle Pacers in decisive Game 6

MIAMI – In a ranking of the saddest, most enduring symbols of unrealized ambition in NBA history, it’s difficult to top the rafters of Los Angeles’ fabulous Forum in the spring of 1969, filled with multi-colored balloons that never were allowed to drop.

The balloons had been loaded up there on orders from Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke, convinced that his team would win Game 7 of The Finals over the dynasty-in-decline Boston Celtics. Only the proud Celtics noticed, dialed up their focus – Bill Russell said he wanted to watch the show of Forum workers taking them down one by one – and, on the Lakers’ home court, grabbed the championship Cooke had presumed was his.

Forty-five years later, the Forum and its balloons have some company now in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Not just the rafters – the whole empty, lonely place, site of a never-to-be-played Game 7 of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

The Miami Heat rendered that game unnecessary, lights out, doors locked, by dismantling the Pacers in Game 6 117-92 and ending the best-of-seven series without the trip back to Indy. Miami beat the Pacers in all ways basketball — leading by 37, shooting 58 percent and hanging 117 points on what had been the league’s No. 1 defense, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh refusing to lose.

Miami beat them physically and mentally, too, from Shane Battier pushing a forearm across wild child Lance Stephenson‘s throat to put him on the floor to veteran Udonis Haslem threatening Stephenson from the bench in a GIF widely circulated on social media during the drubbing.

Unspoken, though, was how the Heat deprived Indiana of the essence of its entire season.

From the start of training camp – really, from the moment they trudged off the court in south Florida at the end of last year’s ECF, so similar to Friday’s outcome – the Pacers had targeted the East’s No. 1 seed for the home-court advantage it would bestow. Specifically, they wanted to know, if they locked up with the Heat again for the right to advance to The Finals, Game 7 would be at BLFH this time.

It would have been.

Only the Pacers never made it happen.

There were reasons great and small why it didn’t last the max, why Indiana never got a chance to flex a home-court advantage that, let’s be honest, had fizzled anyway (the Pacers went 35-6 at BLFH during the season, then 5-5 in the playoffs). Stephenson’s mouth and antics might not have affected the Pacers – so his teammates claimed – but they sure seemed to put a face on Miami’s quest to reach its fourth consecutive Finals.

There was Roy Hibbert‘s big fade, an 8-point, 4-rebound performance on a night that the Heat made sure wasn’t his. Miami’s use of Bosh and Rashard Lewis in a stretch-5 attack in which everyone is a deep shooting threat pulled thwarted Hibbert’s 7-foot-2 size advantage even more thoroughly than Atlanta had (with lesser players). Defensively the Heat found way to make Hibbert just as uncomfortable and then the big fella’s sensitive side took over, completing the task. The guy who averaged 22.1 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 55.7 percent in last year’s ECF against Miami slumped to 10.8, 7.7 and 41.5 percent.

The most important, elephant-in-the-room-sized reason, though, was that Indiana could not crack Miami’s code. It doesn’t have the star power, barely has the manpower and never could rise to the occasions – five players tied together as one – for any sustained success.

As bad as Game 6 was, and it was stenchified, the Pacers admitted afterward that their troubles in the series began in Game 2, which had slipped away late, pilfering the home court right there and squandering their chance to put the Heat in a 2-0 hole.

That was a mistake. Getting reckless with the ball and blowing a big lead in Game 3, another mistake. Game 4? A wire-to-wire mistake. Roll them all together and you get a team that wants to chase championship vs. a team that already owns two and is aiming for three.

“Everything starts and ends with the Miami Heat,” forward David West said. “You have to have a team that can survive and get you through a tough regular season, but ultimately you’ve got to be able to beat Miami to get to The Finals.

“This whole year, we competed to get to this moment. We just weren’t able to come through it. They’re built for these moments. Their pedigree shows in these moments, just how everybody on their team does their job. Particularly in these moments, they do it at a high level. They don’t have any breakdowns.”

Indiana has flaws and challenges. Bidding to retain free agent-to-be Stephenson, and at what price, will be a pressing one, requiring guesses as to how his psyche melds with a multimillion-dollar, guaranteed contract. Rounding up some perimeter shooting seems a must.

Coach Frank Vogel might need to find himself a new “bad cop” on the bench to keep the pressure on a squad that got too easily satisfied along the way. And basketball boss Larry Bird is going to have to get back on the horse after being thrown not once (Andrew Bynum signing) but twice (Evan Turner trade).

Here’s the trickiest part: James isn’t retiring anytime soon. What players such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and others went through being born too close to Michael Jordan‘s birth date, the Pacers are facing with regard to Miami’s best player and the team on which he romps.

“We’re in the LeBron James era,” West said after the game. “We fully understand that.”

West likened James to Shaquille O’Neal, another player whose size and skill set warped normal games. Beating James and the Heat, same as beating the big man, requires better personnel (to counter James’ many styles), a deeper roster (to dole out fouls when needed) and a resolve to pull it together. Oh, and one more thing …

“They’ve got that gear that continues to elude us in the moment,” West said. “We can compete in the year, tough and well enough, to beat them for the top seed. But in these moments, the Game 2 moments, this Game 6 moment, it just eludes us.”

A fair question from Pacers fans and NBA followers would be: For how long? West, Vogel and the others felt their team took a considerable step this season, running down that No. 1 seed, winning 56 games and beating better opponents in the first two rounds than a year ago.

Still, getting bounced by Miami for a third consecutive season has gotten old, and the Pacers will need to make sure their act has not.

Earlier in the series, on an off-day, Donnie Walsh – longtime Indiana exec who serves now as a consultant – talked of the 1997-2000 Pacers, Reggie Miller-led and Larry Bird-coached. After the first edition of Shaq’s and Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers beat them for the title, on the heels of two misses in the East finals, Bird told Walsh that Pacers group had nothing left. Changes were made, not the least of which was Bird hanging up his whiteboard, and by the time Indiana reached the 2004 conference finals, the roster had been remade.

West said he didn’t think this squad is at that point, though he understood why the question might get asked. This league has a history, too, of excellent also-rans that never quite broke through.

“We’re in the midst of that,” West said. “This is the third year that they’ve knocked us out, two straight years in the conference finals. It can’t deter us. It can’t deter us from the work we know is ahead of us.”

That’s for the long term, gearing up again in October with a focus on May.

Short term, there will be a big, empty field house in downtown Indianapolis Sunday evening. It was supposed to be the Pacers’ partner, alive and loud and stomping on the clutch so they actually could find that elusive gear.

Instead, it will be dark, a reminder of what could have been and a variation on Hemingway’s shortest saddest story ever (“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn”).

The sign will be posted there in spirit. “Home court, Game 7: Never needed.”

24 – Second thoughts — May 30


VIDEO: The Miami Heat are 4-for-4 in attempts at making The Finals, the first time in 27 years a team has done it 4 straight times

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — History in the making.

History still to be made.

It’s all still on the table for the Miami Heat.

Four straight trips to The Finals. The opportunity to three-peat. 

“I’m blessed,” LeBron James said. “We won’t take this opportunity for granted. This is an unbelievable franchise, this is an unbelievable group.”

The Finals rematch is up next, the San Antonio Spurs (2013) or Oklahoma City Thunder (2012) will help the Heat finish that chapter of this championship story.

But The Finals is all the Heat have known in the Big 3 era. It’s all James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and crew have known since they came together.

:1

Greg Oden is going to The Finals!

:2

Three years running they go out on the wrong end of the Heat’s blade …

(more…)

George driven to apply pressure in Game 6 for Pacers


VIDEO: Pacers-Heat Game 6 preview

MIAMI – It wasn’t on the grand scale of “chicken or egg?” But there was some which-came-first conversation after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, as in: Was Indiana’s Paul George going to have that superstar performance regardless (37 points, including 21 in the fourth quarter, with six rebounds and six steals)? Or was it made possible by LeBron James‘ limited, foul-hampered court time?

The answer matters because George is hoping to perform similarly in Game 6 Friday night (8:30 ET, ESPN) at AmericanAirlines Arena as one way for the Pacers, down 3-2, to stave off elimination.

George, whose 21 points in the fourth were his most in any quarter in his career, pretty much pledged, at Indiana’s morning shootaround, to start Game 6 the way he finished Game 5.

“I’m gonna come out really aggressive,” said George, describing himself as “super excited” for the opportunity to spoil a home celebration in the Heat’s ambition of getting to a fourth consecutive Finals. “We’ve got to understand this can be our last game if we don’t come out the right way. I think that’s enough motivation for us to play right tonight.”

No one on the Miami side was suggesting that George’s big night owed unduly to James’ pine time. Still, the Heat’s most versatile defender played only 24:21 minutes to George’s 45:04. And even when they were on the floor together 10:28 of the fourth quarter, James spent more time carefully guarding George Hill or other less impactful Pacers; he didn’t want to risk a sixth foul and ejection by draping himself over George.

“It was a great performance,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have to give him credit for that. He made some difficult shots where we had our chests in front of him, getting a contest and it’s right over the top. I’m not sure we can defend those better.

“He did break free for three or four system-error shots that, he still has to produce and then make ‘em. But he made us pay for them. And he was extremely aggressive in the fourth quarter. Once he got on that roll, the ball just seemed to find him. That’s typically how this game works.”

George did generate some of Indiana’s most pivotal offense with his steals, which led to breakouts or a scramble back for Miami. As for ducking James as a defender for much of his big night, the Pacers’ All-Star forward said: “I never really was hounded this series by LeBron. I don’t think we really matched up that much in the series. So it wasn’t that big of a difference.”

Whether he has the hot hand for his team or not, George did have one suggestion for the Pacers if they want to force a Game 7 Sunday in Indianapolis: Avoid big deficits. Other than Game 1, when Indiana led from start to finish, its best chance to win another of the first four games came in Game 2, in which it trailed by no more than eight. Even in its Game 5 victory, it had to claw back from an 11-point Miami lead.

“We can’t have a game where we’re down 15 at any point in this [Game 6],” George said. “We’re good enough to come out of that, dig out of a hole, but we can’t put ourselves in a hole in this arena. It’s just too hard to come out of a 15-point deficit to beat this team in their arena. So this game has got to be close. If it’s not close, we’ve got to be up by big.”

Speaking of big, all the Pacers expect big grief to rain down on Lance Stephenson, the antagonist of this series so far. All of Stephenson’s antics figure to get thrown back at him by a boisterous AAA crowd, unless the Pacers do something to squelch that.

“I hope he’s able to block out the crowd,” George said. “That goes to the same mind of taking the crowd out of this. If we’re playing well and we’re the ones that’s really putting an imprint on this game, then they won’t have nothing to say.”

Spoelstra said that big man Chris (Birdman) Andersen‘s mobility still was limited by a thigh bruise. His availability for Game 6 would be determined after evening warmups and consultation with the Heat’s medical staff, the coach said.

Blogtable: What about Lance?

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

Indy's Lance Stephenson does a little spying on Miami huddle and coach Erik Spoesltra in Game 5 (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Indy’s Lance Stephenson does a little spying on the Miami huddle and coach Erik Spoelstra in Game 5
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

What do you make of Lance Stephenson?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: You want to know what Lance’s antics detract from? They detract from his marketability. He’s hitting the free-agent market in a month and 30 GMs — not just 29 — have to think long and hard about the prospect of this guy with a big-money, long-term contract. The Lance through the first half of the regular season, the early Most Improved candidate? Fine. But the post-All-Star snub Lance, the guy who became pre-occupied with stats and maybe even took Larry Bird‘s acquisition of Evan Turner as a threat and challenge, merited deeper evaluations. And now, so does this kook who — let’s admit it — isn’t trying to rattle his opponents as much as he’s screaming “Look at me!” If a big contract is at any level a reward rather than an entitlement, there’s a good chance Stephenson will see this rewarding the wrong things. At this point, if he really wanted to show off, his best approached would be 30 points, lockdown defense and zero antics in the Pacers’ latest elimination game. That would serve everybody.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s a product of the times we live in that this is suddenly a so-called “real story.”  Sure, it’s silly. But this is just a game.  What’s the matter with having fun?  The only one who winds up with egg on his face is Stephenson if he can’t follow up on his talk or his antics. Birdman Andersen flaps his wings.  Dikembe Mutombo wagged his finger.  Back in the day, M.L. Carr used to wave his white towel on the Celtics sideline.  Carr once walked up to Maurice Cheeks as he was standing at the foul line for two free throws in the final seconds at Boston Garden and said, “Don’t choke.”  Cheeks missed one of the free throws. Celtics won.  The world didn’t end. Let me know when something truly important happens, say, with a Kardashian.

Lance Stephenson (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson is a character, and that can be a good thing. The league needs characters, guys that are a bit eccentric, maybe a little weird, but also play the game  the right way. Stephenson walks the tightrope between character and clown. Blowing in LeBron James‘ ear is clownish, serves no purpose and really has no place in the game. It reminded me of Delonte West giving Utah’s Gordon Hayward a wet-Willie a couple of years ago, though that’s much more of an invasion of personal space (and not very hygienic). West was fined $25,000. Stephenson’s antics obviously affected his team because his teammates essentially said so, deeming it unwise to poke LeBron. This time of year it’s just stupid, unwanted distractions. Stephenson’s a little like J.R. Smith with the silly on-court antics he likes to pull that are mostly mindless, childish and, again, serve no greater team purpose. He also reminds me of the kooky DeShawn Stevenson, but I digress. Stephenson proved this season that he can be a complete player and an essential player for the Pacers. The silly extracurriculars are unnecessary and mostly frowned upon by the people that matter. Stephenson will likely figure that out this summer when he becomes a free agent. Those max deals that were talked about earlier this season. He can blow those away.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I think in some ways he is the face of these Pacers. Not the face of the team or the entire franchise — that’s All-Star Paul George for the roster and Larry Bird in the big-picture — but the epitome of a group that can be very good or very unpredictable. And obviously not always in a good way. While he comes off as goofy to a lot of people, that doesn’t matter. The real issue is how he comes off to the Pacers themselves. They have been desperately searching for stability since late in the regular season, yet get antics from an important player. Fine. It gets Stephenson in the right place to play at a high level. And it should also be pointed out that he deserves a lot of credit for going from a second-rounder a lot of teams wouldn’t touch to these heights. Yet I can’t help thinking that teammates could do without the sideshow.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I really don’t care. It’s a storyline that gives people something to talk about on TV. It’s dumb and unprofessional. But it has nothing to do with who’s winning or losing these games. More important than whether or not he’s blowing in LeBron’s ear is whether or not he’s staying in front of LeBron when he’s defending him.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think his act is every bit as silly as it looks on the floor, on TV and frankly from Mars. As talented as he is, Stephenson’s “Lance being Lance” routine is simply a court jester act that was tired before it got started. I don’t think it’s some calculated strategy of his to undermine the opposition or get in anyone’s head. I think it’s a coping mechanism for a guy with colossal insecurity that he cannot shake. He reminds me of the former Ron Artest in that he struggles to deal with defeat and individual failure in anything other than a self-destructive way. I lived through some of Ronnie’s best and worst days in Indiana. One minute you’re praising him and the next you’re thinking he needs to be committed. The emotional highs and lows Stephenson experiences during a game are just mind-boggling. The need to assert himself as some dominant figure one minute and then his sulking and selfishness the next make for All-Star drama, but don’t make him a true All-Star. There are much classier ways to handle yourself than blowing in someone’s ear or getting in someone’s face all the time to make yourself feel important. Most of his antics are harmless to others. They only serve to detract from the fact that he’s a hell of a basketball player who spends far too much time perfecting his act instead of his game. He’s not making a mockery of the game with all of the foolishness, he’s only making a fool of himself and mocking the game for all the world to see.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There was a moment on the Game 5 pregame show on ESPN, just a few minutes before tipoff, when the cameras zeroed in on Lance during the warmups. While the rest of the Pacers were getting up shots, there was Lance in the corner, firing up 3-pointers … with his back turned to the basket. Doug Collins was furious, asking whether Lance would be attempting these type of shots in the game. The thing is, Lance very well might attempt a few back-to-the-basket threes in any given game. And he’d probably make one, too. That’s part of the Lance Stephenson Experience. When you sign up for the ride with Lance, you don’t expect the trip between points A and B to be a straight line — you figure there will be plenty of zigs and zags along the way. But you hope that the whole turns out to contain more ups than downs. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Either way, heading into a Game 6 in Miami, Lance gives the Pacers an elite athlete capable of affecting the game in a multitude of ways, and I don’t think they have many better options than Lance. For better or worse.

Selçuk Aytekin, NBA Turkiye: First of all, I believe he does not have what you and I would call a normal personality. His brain just works a little differently from the other people. Part of the problem here, though, is that playing a “war of nerves” just isn’t a really common tactic in NBA. You like him when he plays for your team, and hate him when he plays for someone else. And it appears that what he’s doing is good for Indy — that he’s pushing his teammates to play harder. Not to say that the refs shouldn’t watch him a little more. Above all, he seems to be having a lot of fun, and he’s a one of a kind player. Let him play with his style

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Born ready! I love his game but his antics? I’m not quite sure yet. A big part of the game is to get into the head of your opponent — that is half the battle. And if you manage to irritate your opponent enough to make them play out of control, all the better. But he should lessen the antics a notch because too much of anything is not good. He can bother LeBron and Dwyane with his raw talent, too. That is where he should focus. He should still respect the game and pick his spots in bothering his opponents. Stephenson is a supremely talented athlete and he will mature into an even better player if he can just focus on playing winning basketball.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Lance Stephenson’s antics have become a distraction. From this series, from Pacers’ problems, from Lance’s talent — which he’s not fully displaying in this ECF. He looks like a bully when he acts like that, one of those playground bullies who try to bother you, because they’re scared by you. It’s not hard to imagine that he acted like that when he was schooling everybody in a Brooklyn playground, and he’s acting the same way today that he’s in the NBA, facing the best player on the planet. What he does on the field, including blowing into an opponent’s ear (that was hilarious) is to some degree part of the game though, like trash talking. The league shouldn’t limit it or try to control it. What I totally don’t like is a player in the other team’s huddle, and that’s where the league should find a way (Tech? Fine?) to stop it. Back to the point at hand: ideally, his antics would be a welcome distraction that could even help his teammates to focus more on the opponent. But if it’s not working, if Stephenson’s antics are distracting even his own team, he should stop it.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Wow! Lance! Where do I begin? He’s a combination of silly and sly, he frustrates and at times he is brilliant. I enjoy Lance’s antics and believe they are good for the game. He’s a polarizing figure and I guess, someone has to play the bad guy, right? As NBA fans we’re all in awe of LeBron and love watching him at his best but we also enjoy seeing a player attempt to get inside his head and go toe-to-toe. Sometimes it even unsettles LeBron and other times it fires him up but I don’t think his random and unpredictable antics are bad for the game. As long as he plays within the rules and doesn’t go out to hurt anyone, I like seeing the wacky tactics that he uses to get inside the opponents’ head. The Pacers fans love it, he teammates enjoy it and I think it fires him up. You have to take the good with the bad with Lance because you will probably see both multiple times in 48 minutes.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew tries to figure out what’s in Lance Stephenson’s head

Morning Shootaround — May 30


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sale price of Clippers shocks the world | Spurs smart enough to fear what they know | Welcome to West’s neighborhood for Game 6 of Heat-Pacers | Curry on board with Kerr, still getting over Jackson firing

No. 1: Clippers $2 billion sale price causes sticker shock — Stunning. That is the only way to describe the sale price of the Los Angeles Clippers, a robust and record $2 billion from would-be-owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. As if the Clippers’ saga couldn’t get any crazier, word leaked out Thursday evening and the reaction from the Southland and beyond has been a collective dropping of jaws that the Sterlings (Donald on the sidelines according to reports and his wife Shelly as the point person) are going to make off with billions. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times provides some context:

The Clippers curse has been at least temporarily swallowed up by the Clippers purse, which was bulging with Thursday’s news that the team has been sold to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

Leave your jaw on the floor. It’s all true. The Clippers. Two billion bucks. No NBA championships. Two billion bucks. No appearances in the conference finals. Two billion bucks. No league most valuable players, no Staples statues, and no real national love until their owner became the most disliked man in America. Two billion bucks.

We all know how Donald Sterling feels about blacks. Now we’ll find out if he has a higher opinion of green.

The deal was brokered by Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling and, depending on whom you ask, may need approval by her husband. Donald Sterling has been banned from the league for making racist remarks on an audio recording that also led the NBA to vow to strip his family of ownership.

Representatives for Donald Sterling have claimed that he won’t give up the team without a fight, but here’s guessing that getting $2 billion for a team that cost him $12.5 million in 1981 — a team he mostly ran like a true Clip joint — would be enough to convince him to slink away.

The NBA would have to then approve Ballmer as an owner, but here’s guessing that would also not be a problem considering he was already vetted last year when he was part of a group that attempted to buy the Sacramento Kings.

So the good news is that there are now 2 billion reasons for the Sterlings to disappear. But the uncertain news is, what does that price mean for the team they are leaving behind? In other words, are the Clippers really worth $2 billion? How on Earth can even a brilliant former Microsoft boss crack the code to make this kind of deal work?


VIDEO: TNT’s David Aldridge discusses the latest in the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers

(more…)