Posts Tagged ‘Miami Heat’

Morning shootaround — June 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron on the verge of a dream realized | Curry understands stakes are high | Role players could play huge role in Game 7 | Kerr wants Warriors to embrace the moment

No. 1: LeBron on the verge of a dream realized After two weeks of games, tonight it’s finally time for the deciding Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And for the Cleveland Cavaliers there’s plenty on the line, as they try to become the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a title. It would also be the first championship for the city of Cleveland in over 50 years. As our own Shaun Powell writes, those hopes and dreams are at the mercy tonight (8:00 p.m. ET, ABC) of LeBron James, who hopes to author history with the Cavs

LeBron returned to Cleveland two summers ago to create a new image for a sobbing city with a sports inferiority complex, and that can only be secured with a championship. That’s heavy. That’s a burden. How many more times will he get this close?

And he’s one win away.

“I don’t think people imagined it this way, the route we’ve taken,” he said.

He was the teenaged basketball messiah from Akron drafted No. 1 by the sad-sack Cavs and therefore planted a seed of hope. That initial tour of duty in Cleveland resulted in one championship appearance, where the Cavs were rudely swept by the Spurs, to be followed shortly afterward by a nasty defection to Miami. After living out his mid-life crisis with the Heat, winning two rings, LeBron returned two summers ago to a hero’s welcome only because Cleveland was just as miserable as when he left, maybe more.

The Cavs last season were simply unlucky, harpooned by injuries and therefore ran out of gas last summer against the Warriors. LeBron was the most important player on the floor, then and now, especially the last two games, both 41-point masterpieces, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7.

His averages in this series: 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals, 2.5 blocks in 41.2 minutes of heavy labor. He’s away from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, his All-Star teammates in Miami who relieved him of all the leadership responsibilities and pressure, and blessed only with Kyrie Irving, which magnifies what he has already accomplished. Win or lose in Game 7, LeBron should be a strong favorite if not a lock for MVP — Jerry West is the only MVP winner on a losing Finals team — and he managed a wisecrack about that.

“The last time I answered a question about MVP, it didn’t go so well for me,” he said, “so I’m not going to do it.”

Why should he? His play speaks loudly and boastfully. If you combine this series with last summer’s, nobody has more points, rebounds, assists or blocks than LeBron. He shot only 40 percent last summer, mostly because he wore down from the load without Irving and Kevin Love, but is far more efficient now. Besides, his defense and especially shot-blocking has been brilliant if barely noticed from the outside; when the subject came up Sunday, he took the opportunity to mention his pet peeve: “I’ve been highly upset that I haven’t won Defensive Player of the Year.”

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Morning shootaround — May 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Warriors fall in Game 1 | Bosh, Heat face uncertainty | Vandeweghe: No changes ‘imminent’ to Draft lottery | TNT’s Smith won’t get Rockets gig

No. 1: Curry can’t save day in Game 1  Golden State fans awaken this morning undoubtedly in a state of shock or disbelief after their Warriors blew a 14-point lead in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. The eventual 108-102 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder has the Warriors trailing in a playoff series for the first time in the 2016 postseason. Perhaps more shocking to Golden State fans, though, is that the reigning Kia MVP, Stephen Curry, couldn’t save the Warriors’ bacon as Game 1 wound down. Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group has more one what Curry and the Warriors must do better come Game 2:

There were several moments Monday night that called for Stephen Curry to put on his cape and save the day. There were several times when past practice made you believe the Warriors would turn on the jets.

But Curry never pulled off the magic that he so often does, no matter how hard the home crowd begged. And the Warriors never woke up.

In what has been a rarity this season, Curry didn’t shine the brightest in this meeting of stars. He finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. But it wasn’t enough to cover his seven turnovers, his 1-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter, and his questionable decision making.

In what has been a rarity this season, the Warriors were not the team to get it downe down the stretch. Monday was their first loss to one of the league’s top four teams when fully healthy.

“I do think we lost our poise a little bit,” coach Steve Kerr said, “and that had a lot to do with the quick shots. I think we were trying to rectify the situation in one or two plays instead of letting it play out. So that’s something we’ve got to get better with.”

Is Curry’s right knee an issue, or was it the Warriors’ game plan to use him as they did?

Curry still has pain, he said, but it’s tolerable. It’s not 100 percent, he said, but it’s good enough.

In Game 1, Curry spent a lot of time off the ball. The Thunder responded as other teams have, grabbing and holding Curry away from the sight of the officials. When Curry didn’t get the ball, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson became the one-on-one players.

Late in games, the ball in Curry’s hands might allow him to get a better rhythm and allow him to set up for his teammates. It forces the Thunder to adjust their defense to stop him and could result in him getting some free throws. Curry went to the line only twice in nearly 40 minutes Monday.

“We have to heighten the sense of urgency and heighten the sense of ball possessions and pace and flow,” Andre Iguodala said after scoring six of the bench’s 16 points. “It’s good to get hit in the mouth. That’s when it really shows.”

Was Game 1 a sign that Oklahoma City has found the formula to beat the Warriors?

The Thunder were the Warriors’ toughest foe during the regular season. Even though the Warriors swept OKC, all three games were closely contested. Neither San Antonio, Cleveland, Toronto nor the Los Angeles Clippers could stake such a claim. And Monday, OKC played with a comfort that suggested a feeling of superiority.

The Thunder got better as the game wore on. The Thunder made adjustments, fixed their ills. It was the OKC point guard — not the Warriors’ popint guard — who took charge of the game.

“There were several key (plays) in the second half when we kind of lost our momentum,” Kerr said. “Careless passes. Didn’t have the flow to whatever set we were running. And I thought we lost our aggressiveness and momentum offensively. A lot of that had to do with his speed and aggressiveness.”

Or was this the Warriors not bringing it like normal? Was their demise their own doing? Did the weight of their historic chase finally catch up with them?

In their mind, they played out of character. They failed to live up to their standard.

Lue lauds LeBron’s lighter load, potentially snubbing old Heat mates

If they could, the web site designers here at Hang Time HQ would put this item in a dashed-line box, suitable for clipping and saving, to be brought out or tacked to a bulletin board if Miami and Cleveland happen to meet for the Eastern Conference championship.

(Actually, the dashed line would be easy enough, but no one here wants to deal with the liability of so many readers trying to actually clip and save digitized content on their monitor screen.)

So skip the line and savor the quotes. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, depending how you spin it, seemed perhaps to slight a couple members of the Heat Saturday when he told reporters that LeBron James, for the first time, has the help he needs in the playoffs, such that less (scoring points, for instance) is turning out to be more for Cleveland. The Cavs have two sweeps under their belt and have been waiting a whole week to learn the identity of their next opponent.

Many might quibble and suggest that playing alongside Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the other two in the Heat’s Big Three, qualifies as more than enough help.

Lue talked about the lighter workload his team’s star is lugging this spring and Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com was there to chronicle it:

“LeBron is letting the game come to him,” Lue said after practice Saturday. “When he wants to be aggressive and he sees fit to be aggressive when the teams have a good run or whatever they may have, then he just takes over the game … And with Kyrie (Irving) and Kevin (Love) playing at a high level, he can take a lot of mileage off of his body, reduce his (usage) rate and just kind of seeing and figuring out the flow of the game.”

James has a career postseason scoring average of 28 points per game in 11 trips to the playoffs. He is averaging a career low 23.5 points in this postseason thus far and doesn’t even lead the Cavs in scoring, as Irving is averaging 24.4 points through the first two rounds.

Despite the fact that James played with two likely future Hall of Famers in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh during in his time in Miami, Lue said he believes the four-time MVP has never been afforded such help around him during a playoff run.

“I don’t think he’s been in this position before where he can just sit back and see the flow of the game, see where he has to take over the game and it’s been great for him,” said Lue. “I mean, to average 23 points or 24 points and sweep both series is big for us because now our other guys are stepping up, they’re playing well and we know LeBron always can play well.”

Lue sounded as if he was assessing James at this particular stage of his career and the way he’s made it a priority to serve Irving’s and Love’s games. With Miami, most of the expectations still were on James – the Mt. Rushmoriest of the Heat’s three stars – to produce titles in his prime, with Wade and Bosh figuring out their places around him.

McMenamin goes on to note that, compared to a year ago when Irving and Love were hurt and ultimately sidelined in the postseason, James is playing much more efficiently this time. He felt he had to be a volume shooter last year and was, averaging 27.2 field goal attempts to get his 30.1 points in the playoffs. This time around, James is averaging 19.1 shots. Both his minutes and his usage rate in the Cavs’ attack are down.

Miami, of course, had enough to focus on Sunday to not get caught up in parsing Lue’s comments. But given the click-bait generated last week when James wondered about the definition of “valuable” when news came of Steph Curry‘s second MVP award, and his expressed opinion that Portland Terry Stotts should have won Coach of the Year – the implication being that Golden State’s Steve Kerr should not have – it seems only fair to play the same game with the Cavs coach.

Clip-and-save might not work. But there’s always print-and-save.

Morning shootaround — May 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Another Game 7, as Raptors define themselves | Was Pacers’ answer sitting right there? | Adams: No formula for Durant, Westbook | Ginobili weighs old love vs. new life

No. 1:  Another Game 7, as Raptors define themselves — Growing pains. Notice that it’s a plural noun. Adolescence of any sort would be a lot easier if it were singular, a one-and-done experience or rite of passage that got you quickly from Point A to Point Done. But real life rarely works that way and neither does the maturation of an NBA playoff team, as the Toronto Raptors are finding out. Toronto, as it tries to go toward something special in the Eastern Conference, has faced a gauntlet of tests and pressures. From the expectations that accompany home-court advantage for a No. 2 seed to getting pushed to seven games in the first round, from the frustrations of a franchise that historically has left its fans wanting to now, again, feeling the burden of a Game 7 (3:30 ET, ABC) that could define everything the Raptors have done since October. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star looks at the Raptors’ advancement, more internally than merely through the East bracket:

The Toronto Raptors and Wade’s Miami Heat will play Game 7 Sunday afternoon, and the winner gets to keep playing under the lights. Let’s be honest, for Toronto, the playoffs have been a fine agony, punctuated by the exhilaration of escape.

Two more Game 1 losses, because the Raptors almost always lose Game 1. So many missed shots, bad shots, empty shots. Kyle Lowry’s elbow, Kyle Lowry’s head, Jonas Valanciunas’s ankle, DeMar DeRozan’s thumb, DeMarre Carroll’s wrist. A Game 7 win that seemed comfortable, then nearly slid into the lake, then didn’t. And another Game 7, with the pieces dented or missing.

These are the Raptors. The franchise, in its best moments, has tended towards anxiety. The Raptors have never seemed born for this.

But these are the franchise’s best moments, or near enough. It can be hard to remember that when they get drilled off the dribble in Game 6. There was Vince Carter’s graduation day, and then there were 14 years that ended with 49 empty-calorie wins and a fourth humiliating game in Washington last season, and there is this.

At the trade deadline Masai Ujiri could have traded the top-10 pick he has in the draft, plus pieces, and brought back a rental — Ryan Anderson from New Orleans, maybe. Instead he stood still. That day Ujiri said, “you play with that in your mind a little bit, but I just don’t think we’re there yet, as a team, as a ball club. We’ve got some good momentum coming in here, but we’re a good team in the East, and we want to keep plugging along and figure out the playoffs.”

He wanted them to prove what they are worth, and while that picture is still muddled in places, here they are. Before Game 5, with Valanciunas sidelined, Lowry said that if he and DeRozan got going, “I think we’d have an opportunity to do something special. We’re not playing well and I think we still have an opportunity to do something special. And that’s the scary thing.” Lowry was asked how he would define something special.

“Finals,” he said. He didn’t have to, but he did.

“I already had this conversation with Kyle on numerous nights the last couple weeks — we can’t never get down, or let the media, or people discourage us in any type of way on the way we’ve been playing,” said DeRozan, before the Raptors won Game 5. “As long as we have the opportunity to put on these shoes and this jersey and go out there and play, we still have an opportunity to go as far as it goes. And that’s to get somewhere this franchise has never been to, to play for the world championship. That’s six (wins) away. And that’s the type of motivation, whatever we need to believe in ourself, we’re right there.

“And we can’t say, OK, we got this close, we can get even closer next year. We got to take advantage. I tell everybody, we might never get this opportunity again.”

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Keys to Game 7: Paint and Possessions

Raptors-Heat Series Hub

TORONTO — The 2-3 side of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket has all the Game 7s. After needing seven games to dispatch the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat are, appropriately, going to Game 7 to determine who gets to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

The home team has won 99 (80.5 percent) of the 123 Game 7s in NBA history, including 10 of the last 11. Of course, the one loss in that stretch belongs to the Raptors, who lost at home in Game 7 of the first round two years ago.

Home-court advantage should play a role on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Home teams are 43-22 with a NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of plus-7.4 in these playoffs. But as loud as the crowd will be inside and outside the Air Canada Centre, the game (and the series) will be determined between the lines.

Here are a few things to look out for…

Heat in the paint

The Heat have been playing small quite a bit since they lost Hassan Whiteside to a sprained knee in Game 3. In Game 6 on Friday, they went all in, starting 6-7 Justise Winslow at center and leaving both Udonis Haslem and Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench for all 48 minutes.

That doesn’t mean that they’ve turned into the Golden State Warriors from the perimeter. The Heat have three guys who have been able to shoot decently from the outside in this series. Two of those three guys – Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade – have taken most of their jumpers from inside the 3-point line, and the other – Josh Richardson – has attempted fewer threes (15) than Wade (16).

Sixty-four percent of the Heat’s points, the highest rate in the conference semifinals, have come in the paint or at the free throw line. They need to attack to score. And the Raptors, more than anything, need to keep Miami out of the paint and protect the rim. That’s why Toronto has allowed just 94 points per 100 possessions with either Jonas Valanciunas or Bismack Biyombo on the floor and 122 in 62 minutes with both off the floor.

Since Valanciunas was lost to an ankle injury in Game 3, Biyombo’s presence has been important. But it’s not his job alone to protect the basket, and the Raptors’ perimeter players need to do a much better job of staying in front of their Miami counterparts than they did in Game 6 on Friday.

Dragic goes away

At times, it has felt like these teams have been playing for the Re-Screen Championship, with guards on both ends of the floor dribbling past a ball screen, getting nothing out of it, and then getting another screen from the same teammate in the opposite direction.

On Friday, both Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade had success when they “rejected” a ball screen and drove away from the screener.

Here’s Dragic setting up Cory Joseph, who’s focused on Winslow’s screen…

20160514_reject_1

Dragic catches Joseph leaning, goes right, and eventually scores in the paint.

20160514_reject_2

Dragic also had some success in attacking close outs when he received a pass on the weak side of the floor. The Raptors’ guards have been aiming to contest catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, but were unable to balance that with containing the drive on Friday.

According to SportVU, the Heat have a brutal effective field goal percentage of 38.4 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the series have scored 1.16 points per possession on drives over the last five games.

For the Raptors, the choice should be easy on close-outs: Let ’em shoot and don’t let ’em get by you.

The other three factors

Game 6 was, by far, the Heat’s best offensive game of the series. But over the six games, the bigger difference between Toronto’s three wins and Miami’s three was has been on the Raptors’ end of the floor. The Raptors scored 103 points per 100 possessions over Games 2, 3 and 5, but just 90 over Games 1, 4 and 6.

Toronto shot decently in Game 3, but not in their other two wins. And the difference in their offense in wins vs. losses has been more about the other three factors of efficiency: turnovers, free throws and rebounding.

In their three wins, the Raptors have committed just 11.4 turnovers per 100 possessions. In their three losses, they’ve committed 14.1.

In their three wins, the Raptors have attempted 33 free throws for every 100 shots from the field. In their three losses, they’ve attempted just 23 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.

And in their three wins, the Raptors have grabbed 24 percent of available offensive rebounds and averaged 13.7 second chance points. In their three losses, they’ve grabbed 15 percent of available offensive boards and averaged just 8.3 second chance points.

In Game 5, though the Heat played small for all 48 minutes, Toronto grabbed just eight of 42 available offensive rebounds.

Neither team has shot well in this series, but extra possessions (via offensive rebounds) and lost possessions (via turnovers) have been critical. Every one counts.

No-Lowry minutes have been a mess for Raptors in playoffs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — By all accounts, Kyle Lowry‘s performance in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was a disaster. The Toronto Raptors’ All-Star point guard shot 3-for-13 and looked shook for most of the game, passing up shots when he wasn’t missing them.

Fast forward 10 days and, as the Raptors try to close out the series in Game 6 in Miami on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they need Lowry on the floor as much as possible. Lowry hasn’t exactly been on fire since that Game 1 (and his post-game shooting in both at the practice gym and the main floor at the Air Canada Centre). He scored 33 points on 11-for-19 shooting in Game 3, but also shot 18-for-58 (31 percent) in Games 2, 4 and 5.

Still, shooting poorly isn’t the same as playing poorly. Playing poorly is what the Raptors have done when Lowry has gone to the bench.

In Lowry’s 204 minutes on the floor in the conference semis, the Raptors have outscored the Heat by 48 points, having scored 101.9 points per 100 possessions. But in Lowry’s 51 minutes off the floor, the Raptors have been outscored by 45 points, having scored just 72.8 points per 100 possessions.

In the regular season, the Raptors had an *aggregate bench NetRtg of plus-7.0, the second best mark in the league and the best in the Eastern Conference, their best three-man combinations all included Cory Joseph or Patrick Patterson, and two of the league’s seven best lineups (minimum 200 minutes played) were Lowry with four reserves and DeMar DeRozan with four reserves.

* Aggregate bench NetRtg is, basically, an average of the plus-minus of players that came off the bench, adjusted for pace.

Lowry and that same group has continued its excellence in the playoffs, outscoring opponents by 20 points in 29 minutes. But Patterson is now starting, so that unit’s minutes have been limited. And DeRozan’s minutes with the bench have been generally terrible.

Lowry has played at least 41 minutes in four of the five games in this series. But the Raptors managed to get outscored, 23-6, in his 6:34 on the bench in Game 5, when their no-Lowry problems were as much defensive as offensive.

For the entire postseason, the Raptors have been 36.6 points per 100 possessions better with Lowry on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench. That’s the third biggest differential among players who have logged at least 100 minutes in the playoffs and the biggest among those that are still playing.

20160513_on-off2

In the conference semis, the Raptors have been 60.6 points per 100 possessions better with Lowry on the floor (plus-10.4) than with him on the bench (minus-50.2). We’re not talking about a large sample size here, but small samples is what you get in the playoffs, where the key to the Raptors ability to advance to the conference finals could be their ability to stay afloat when their point guard needs a rest.

Morning shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder KO Spurs in Game 6 | Carroll, Deng questionable for Game 6 | Warriors’ Green says ankle improvingWho do Magic turn to next?

No. 1: Thunder become Spurs-like in Game 6 clincher  It may be hard to remember now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder hardly looked like they’d give the San Antonio Spurs a series after Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Spurs won that game by 32 points and looked dominant in every way, shape and form. Yet here we are this morning with the Thunder having ousted the Spurs in Game 6 on Thursday night in a fashion that was more Spurs-like than San Antonio could muster, writes Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman:

The Thunder blasted the Spurs 113-99 Thursday night at Chesapeake Arena to win this Western Conference semifinal series that started with a blowout one way and ended with the same the other way.

And what came in between was even more remarkable. The Thunder became the Spurs. The Spurs became the Thunder.

In winning four of the final five games, OKC went San Antonio-style.

Ferocious defense. Superior passing. Spreading the offensive wealth. Big boosts off the bench.

Those are San Antonio calling cards. But by series’ end, the Spurs were hard-pressed to slow the Thunder, San Antonio’s offense had become isolation-heavy with overreliance on its stars and the bench difference was mighty in OKC’s favor, thanks to the superior play of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters.

Iso ball? That’s been the knock on the Thunder for years. But after the Game 1 blowout, the Thunder out-assisted the Spurs 92-88, including 12-5 in the first half Thursday.

The Spurs’ best offense was isolation with Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge. They are great players, but not as great one-on-one as Durant or Westbrook. The Spurs’ “beautiful game” of passing went by the wayside.

No Spur other than Leonard, Aldridge or Tim Duncan even scored the first 16 minutes.

Bench? By series’ end, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was trying all kinds of combinations, including 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, ex-Thunder Kevin Martin and 40-year-old Andre Miller, none of whom had played in the series since mopup duty in the Game 1 blowout.

Meanwhile, Billy Donovan shortened his bench and got the same quality play he’s been getting from Waiters and Kanter.

It all was a stunning turnaround from Game 1, when the Thunder seemed outclassed. By series end, the Spurs seemed old and tired. All they had left was their pride.

Pride they had. The Spurs trailed by 26 points after three quarters but didn’t give up. Even cut the lead to 11 late in the game.

But it wasn’t enough. Victory was secure. The transformation was complete.

Morning shootaround — May 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Deng. Carroll injured in Game 5 | Hayward, Jazz were in ‘shock’ during Kobe’s finale | Report: Blazers, Stotts to talk extension | Crawford wants to stay with Clippers

No. 1: Injuries piling up for Raptors, Heat  Entering Game 5 of the Toronto Raptors-Miami Heat series in the Eastern Conference semifinals, both teams were already without their starting centers. The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) and the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (knee) were both hurt in Game 3 and haven’t played since. Last night, both teams incurred injury again as Miami’s Luol Deng and Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll left the game early. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star has more on the injuries and what’s next:

Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll and Heat forward Luol Deng are the latest key players to have their statuses put in jeopardy, after each one suffered wrist injuries in the Raptors’ 99-91 Game 5 win.

The Raptors can close out the series with a win in Miami on Friday.

Deng told The Miami Herald that he hurt himself falling into a cameraman and that he left the game after the wrist swelled. He’s awaiting the results of a MRI to determine his fate.

Carroll is in the same boat, but fortunately he can paddle opposite of Deng. Carroll suffered a left wrist contusion when Miami point guard Goran Dragic stepped in front of him in the second half to try to take a charge.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey only repeated the team’s announcement on the injury to his top defensive player. “A left hand contusion. X-rays were negative and we’ll see how he is come next game,” the coach said. Carroll left immediately after the game to get further testing on his wrist. He left the court clutching it and appeared to be in a significant amount of pain.

On Wednesday, Dragic was just as physical, not shying away from any kind of contact regardless of his opponent’s size. He fell on Raptors backup centre Jason Thompson in the second quarter, with his knee appearing to hit Thompson in the breadbasket area.

“That’s how the playoffs are,” he said. “I think my back was turned if there was any retaliation. We’re just going to go hard and that’s our mentality of everyone sacrificing their body.”

Blogtable: Will Heat or Raptors win series?

Each week, we’ll 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.


BLOGTABLE: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> More likely to win this series: The Heat without Hassan Whiteside, or the Raptors without Jonas Valanciunas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Assuming Whiteside doesn’t make it back for what’s left of this series, I think his loss is more damaging. I’ll leave the respective net-ratings calculus to Schuhmann and just note how Whiteside’s absence defensively in Game 4 emboldened Toronto players, notably DeMarre Carroll, to attack the lane with abandon. Plant the Heat’s big center down there and those opportunities are gone, Raptors probing elsewhere. Toronto still has Bismack Biyombo as a fairly productive, fairly traditional big and seems comfortable enough at small ball with Patrick Patterson as a surrogate center. The Heat’s crew behind Whiteside – Udonis Haslem, Josh McRoberts, Amar’e Stoudemire – is a little creaky, a little little or both. Now if Whiteside’s “day-to-day” status has him available for Games 6 or 7, ignore all of the above.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMy head says the Raptors, but my gut is watching Dwyane Wade as the throwback Flash, so I’ll pick the Heat.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Party in Jurassic Park. The Raptors without Jonas Valancuinas. Not by much, but Toronto has a slight edge. It would be bigger if the Raptors could get consistent production from Kyle Lowry and/or DeMar DeRozan.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIt really doesn’t matter; the winner of that series will only last four more games. But if we must choose, then I’ll go with the Raptors. Because Kyle Lowry can’t be this bad and DeMar DeRozan can’t miss this many shots for much longer, right? Also, Bismack Biyombo can at least provide some defensive presence in the absence of Valenciunas.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m not sure that either team has deserved to win any of the four games we’ve seen so far, so it’s difficult to pick a winner of this series other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who should be making June 1 dinner reservations for their favorite restaurant in San Francisco. I’ll stick with my pre-series pick of Heat in 6, because the only Raptors I believe in right now are role players, while the Heat player who has managed to rise above the fray is named Dwyane Wade.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The way Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are struggling in this series, it’s impossible for me to go with the Raptors. There’s so much playoff muscle memory in Miami with Dwayne Wade, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and some of those other veterans. The deeper this series goes, the more I expect those vets to show up and rule the day.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf not for Kyle Lowry’s shooting elbow and DeMar DeRozan’s shooting thumb, I’d be picking the Raptors to exploit their homecourt advantage. As it is, Toronto’s best players are shooting a combined 33.1 percent in the playoffs, while Dwyane Wade has elevated his game throughout this postseason. Wade gives Miami the advantage.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Having just spent the weekend in Miami watching this series up close, I think Miami is poised to win this. Toronto has two superstars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who are struggling with injuries, and neither can find any consistency, particularly DeRozan. Miami, meanwhile, not only has Wade playing like 2006 Wade, but also have a bunch of quasi-stars around Wade in Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Goran Dragic, who can make big shots and create for their teammates. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has talked about the Heat needing to play with pace, and they seemed to finally hit the mark at the end of Game 4 when they went super-small. So I’m most interested to see if the Heat can continue to play the way they closed out Game 4.

Morning shootaround — May 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Howard opens up on his personality, playing with Harden | Blazers hardly think they’re done for | DeRozan not worried about how slump may affect payday | Smith initially miffed over trade to Cavs

No. 1: Howard opens up on Harden, public perception of himself  If you didn’t stick around for the postgame show on TNT after last night’s Game 5 between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, you missed out. Sitting in for regular TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal was Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, and he was grilled by Charles Barkley about his future, playing with James Harden and the perception the public has of him. Howard didn’t shy away from the questions or give vague answers and ESPN.com’s Calvin Watkins transcribed some of best quotes from the segment:

Hall of Famer, former Rocket and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley asked Howard about being disinterested during games.

Howard gave a long response, saying it does upset him when he doesn’t win. He also discussed the difficulties of dealing with his own personality, particularly with smiling on the court.

“I’m always interested in winning,” Howard said. “But as a big, you want to feel a part of what’s going on, and you know, if I could bring the ball up the court, shoot 3s and go between the legs, do all that stuff, that’d be great. But I have to rely on my teammates in certain aspects to get the ball. Now there have been times I have been upset and I’ve taken myself out of the game in certain situations, and that’s on me.

“And I have to grow and became a better player. So I’m always interested in the game, and I’ve had the problem with smiling too much or I play too much on the floor, so when I’m not smiling and all that stuff, it looks like I’m not interested in the game. So it’s like a thin line, and I’m like, ‘Man, do I not smile? Or do I smile and have fun?’ So that’s always been a struggle for me personally.”

Barkley also asked Howard why he’s not liked by people. Howard responded by saying Barkley is the one saying nobody likes him.

“I think I was very likable in Orlando, and the way that situation ended, I think people felt as though I’m just this bad guy, I’m all about myself, I’m a diva, I’m stuck on being Dwight Howard, this famous basketball player,” Howard said. “So people say, ‘I don’t like that guy.’ And I hear that, and it really hurts me because my heart and my attitude toward the game has always been the same.

“My drive has been there, because I never will forget the day that I came in here and you [Barkley] told me I wasn’t going to be good in the NBA, and I’ll never forget the day Magic Johnson said I wasn’t going to make it to the NBA, when I was in the 10th grade. That stuff drives me every day to want to be one of the greatest players to play the game. So that part, to hear people say that, it pisses me off because that’s not who I am. I’ve never been a bad person, and it’s not that I want people to like me, because I know people are not going to always like me, but you know, if you get to know me, I’m laid-back, I love to have fun.”