Posts Tagged ‘Michael Beasley’

Mavs double-down: Sign a forward and fall for 5-foot-7 Japanese PG Togashi

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The diminutive Yuki Tagashi has become a fan favorite with the Mavs in Summer League

LAS VEGAS —  The Dallas Mavericks may have double-downed in Summer League, potentially finding a depth forward for the big club and possibly an international sensation to play point guard for their nearby D-League team.

It’s rare for any team out here to offer an off-the-street free agent a contract, but the Mavs signed athletic, 6-foot-8 forward Eric Griffin on Friday just hours before the Dallas squad played its final game. Griffin closed out his strong summer with 20 points, three rebounds and three blocks in the 88-62 win over the Suns.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s a blessing at the same time,” Griffin said of signing the contract. “I’m just real happy to be part of a team that wants me.”

Griffin, cut from the Miami Heat last year after they signed Michael Beasley, played two seasons at San Jose State and finished his collegiate career with two years at Campbell in North Carolina. He played in Italy and then Venezuela last season. The contract doesn’t mean Griffin’s made it to the big leagues just yet, but it does reserve him a spot at training camp where he can fight for a spot on the 15-man roster.

Mavs assistant coach Kaleb Canales, who coached the summer team to a 3-3 record, texted Griffin the news Friday morning.

“It brought a big smile to my face,” Griffin said. “But more than anything, my mom was happy. She knows where I came from and how I started. It’s a big day for me.”

The other half of this dreams-can-come-true Mavs summer is 5-foot-7 Japanese point guard Yuki Togashi. The 20-year-old’s combo of stature, speed, instincts and fearlessness instantly made him a fan favorite over the past week, although not quite to the level of another Mavs Summer League point guard sensation a few years ago, a guy named Jeremy Lin.

Of course Togashi’s size, quick-twitch style and terrific ability to run the pick-and-roll is more similar to yet another great Dallas Summer League find, the diminutive J.J. Barea. Now with Minnesota, the 5-foot-9 Barea developed into a steady, change-of-pace backup point guard for the Mavs and even started in the 2011 NBA Finals.

Togashi’s dream is to play in the NBA and said Friday that he will follow that dream and enter the D-League draft in the fall. His other option is to return to Japan’s pro league and take home a much bigger paycheck.

“I played professionally for a year-and-a-half in Japan. I think I did a good job in Japan,” said Togashi, who took the BJ-league by storm last season and led it in assists. “To improve my skills I think I have to go overseas and play in the D-League.”

The D-League draft has 10 rounds. The early rounds are dominated by players on the edge of being good enough to make an NBA roster. Togashi is projected as a late-round pick so it’s quite possible the Mavs’ D-League team, the Texas Legends, co-owned by Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, will be able to select him.

Togashi idolized Allen Iverson as a kid and says he now watches a lot of Chris Paul. Interestingly, Togashi came to the United States for high school and attended Montrose Christian in Maryland, where a number of NBA players went, including Kevin Durant. When no Division I scholarships came, Togashi took his talents back home and began his professional career.

His agent steered him to Charlie Parker, a longtime assistant coach with the Mavs, who now works for the Legends. Parker has been training Togashi in Dallas for the last six weeks. Parker called his friends with the Mavs and told them they should consider putting the point guard on their summer team.

Obviously a part of his instant popularity here was initially due to his against-all-odds size. When he takes the court, he looks like one of the smaller kids on a youth team at the YMCA swimming in his oversized uniform. Then he gets the ball in his hands and the oohs and ahhs suggest he’s much more than a sideshow attraction.

“It is tough,” Togashi said of his height and 143-pound frame. “But I use my speed to be able to make plays.”

Togashi will return to Japan on Saturday morning and join the national team for practices in preparation for a tournament in Taiwan. If all works out, U.S. basketball fans will get their next look at the little man in the D-League.

Griffin’s pursuit of his NBA dream begins now. The high-flyer averaged 11.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg in Vegas. A Mavs scout described Griffin as raw offensively and depending on his athleticism. But he runs the floor with energy, finishes above the rim and Dallas coaches believe he can develop a perimeter jumper essential to making it as player who can switch between the two forward positions.

“His activity on both ends just makes things happen,” Canales said.

Griffin heads home with a list of improvements to work on — starting with “my dribbling and keep shooting” — before heading to Dallas in a few months as training camp approaches.

“It’s definitely not over,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to prove myself now to the team and organization.”


VIDEO: Eric Griffin executes perhaps the dunk of the summer

Morning shootaround: June 14


VIDEO: Fisher discusses the Knicks’ roster 

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan explains Higgins’ exit | Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? | Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo | Cavaliers closing in on coach

No. 1: Jordan explains Higgins’ exit — For years, a lot of casual observers of the Charlotte NBA team (once Bobcats, now Hornets) figured Rod Higgins held his job as president of basketball operations largely because he was a longtime pal of owner/legend Michael Jordan. But in addressing the reason behind Higgins’ abrupt deision to resign – Jordan shifted more responsibilities to general manager Rich Cho – the GOAT made it clear why he valued having Higgins around too. Here’s a peek at veteran scribe Rick Bonnell‘s Jordan exclusive in the Charlotte Observer:

“Rod’s strong points are working with the coaches and the trainers, traveling with the team,” Jordan said. “He was my buffer zone with the coaches. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with ideas, so I’d work with Rod on that.”
Jordan said he wants Cho, with a background as an attorney, dealing more with budgets and managing the salary cap.
“One of (Higgins’) strong points is not negotiating, leveraging teams,” Jordan said. “Sometimes when teams would call (proposing trades), they’d bypass Rod to get to Rich.”
Higgins, with the franchise since 2007, teamed with Cho the last three years. Jordan said that arrangement led to some “confusion over who reported to whom. It created a contentious environment where I had to step in.”
That’s when Jordan proposed these shifts in responsibilities, which Higgins considered a demotion. At that point, Jordan said he asked Higgins if they could wait until after the draft to make a change.
“He chose to leave now,” Jordan said.
Higgins, 54, has been a friend and colleague of Jordan’s for roughly 30 years. They played together with the Chicago Bulls in the mid-1980s. Jordan later hired Higgins to help him run the Washington Wizards’ basketball operation. Jordan said that made Friday’s parting extra difficult.
“I had to make a decision about a brother,” Jordan said. “I hope he gets a soft landing and finds (the job) he wants.”

***

No. 2: Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? — Before the 2014 Finals began, the suggestion that Miami might find itself in need of help from erratic forward Michael Beasley would have been seen as an implicit admission that the Heat were headed for trouble against the San Antonio Spurs. Well, they are in trouble, down 3-1 and facing elimination in Game 5 Sunday in San Antonio. And more than a few critics have wondered if Miami coach Erik Spoelstra might look to Beasley as an X factor and counter to Kawhi Leonard‘s offensive impact for the Spurs. Our man Jeff Caplan didn’t necessarily see much of a role for Beasley in the series when they chatted prior to Game 1, but now can offer a look at the maddeningly talented but scatter-careered forward:

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).
Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”
The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.
Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.
“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”

***

No. 3: Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo — We can assume that, if numbers came up when basketball boss Phil Jackson, new head coach Derek Fisher and GM Steve Mills of the New York Knicks met with Carmelo Anthony and agent Leon Rose Friday in Los Angeles, the Knicks contingent detailed the pay cuts Anthony would be facing were he to leave New York as a free agent this summer. How big would those cuts be? The difference between a nine-figure deal with N.Y. vs. an eight-figure packages from outside suitors, the latest allegedly the Miami Heat in a refurbished Big 4 vision. Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone laid out some of the basics for Newsday:

Phil Jackson led a contingent of Knicks officials into a meeting with Carmelo Anthony on Friday in Los Angeles, according to a league source, and presented their plan for turning the team into a contender.
The current blueprint includes Anthony, but he has the ability to opt out of his contract by June 23 and become a free agent. All indications are that Anthony will do that.
Jackson has said he hopes Anthony will “opt in” and wait until 2015 to become a free agent. But a league source said Anthony hasn’t changed his mind after saying all season that he would become a free agent this summer.
If Anthony were to opt in, it would give the Knicks more flexibility next summer, and perhaps in 2016, to sign multiple stars. The 2015 free-agent class could include LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Marc Gasol. Kevin Durant is the big potential prize in 2016.
Jackson was accompanied by general manager Steve Mills and new coach Derek Fisher during the sit-down with Anthony and his agent, Leon Rose. It was the first time Anthony met with Fisher since he became coach.
The Knicks can pay Anthony more than any other team in free agency. A maximum deal from them would be five years and roughly $129 million. But Jackson also has said that if Anthony re-signs, he hopes he will take less to give the Knicks more room for other moves.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers closing in on coach — Holders of the Draft’s No. 1 pick, dreamers when it comes to LeBron James’ possible return as a free agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are said to be getting closer to assigning value to at lease one of their multiple variables: their vacant head coaching position. Longtime Cavs beat writer Bob Finnan wrote about the narrowing field of candidates: Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue, both assistants on Doc Rivers‘ staff with the Los Angeles Clippers, and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt:

Clippers assistant coaches Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt.
Gentry and Lue met with Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert on June 13. It was their second interview with the Cavs.
Blatt reportedly will meet with the Cavs next week. He previously spoke to Cavs General Manager David Griffin about the position left vacant by the firing of Mike Brown on May 12. Blatt told Israel reporter David Pick that he interviewed for the Cavs’ head-coaching job via the phone.
The 55-year-old Blatt announced during a news conference in Israel on June 12 that he was leaving his position as head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. It is believed that he would be joining an NBA team. If he doesn’t get the Cavs’ job, he could join Golden State coach Steve Kerr’s coaching staff as his lead assistant.
However, he’s very much in the mix in Cleveland for the head-coaching position.
Griffin has been doing some background checks on Blatt, and Pick reported that he has spoken to former Cavs’ draft pick Milan Macvan, who played for Blatt in Maccabi. Macvan, a Serbian power forward, was a second-round pick of the Cavs in 2011.
There was a report that Blatt wouldn’t come to the NBA unless he got a head-coaching job. He said on June 12 that wasn’t true.
If those are the three finalists, two of them — the 37-year-old Lue, and Blatt — have never been head coaches in the NBA. The third, 59-year-old Gentry, is considered by some as a coaching retread who has a below-.500 record in 12 years as a head coach. All three coaches are known as offensive-minded, who would take advantage of the Cavs’ personnel.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Ray Allen has at least one of these three R’s in his future: Return, relocation or retirement? … Celtics assistant Ron Adams might wind up on Steve Kerr‘s staff in Golden State, and Julius Randle refutes the claim that his right foot needs surgery. … Tim Duncan has until June 24 to opt in for next season. He, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich all have contracts that run through 2014-15, should they choose to give it one more season. … One more inspiring scrap-heap-to-Finals-star Boris Diaw story. … Can Dante Exum vault into the Top 3 and rock the 2014 Draft? … Sid Lowe goes to the Timberwolves for a third (or is it fourth?) go-around, with Sam Mitchell invoking “country club” privileges next. … Larry Bird tries to help disappointed Pacers fans buck up … We’re not clear as to which trio should feel more disrespected by this, the Heat’s Big 3 or the classic comedic geniuses.

Beasley says season in the background has changed him for the better

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6

Michael Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat’s main characters had taken their spots for media day at AT&T Center on the eve of the NBA Finals. Stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade entertained in the interview room. Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and other key cogs answered questions from behind podiums spaced around the perimeter of the floor.

Then there were the others, plopped down in the front row of seats along the corner of the court, just outside the sphere of the media’s interest. It was a fitting foursome: Greg Oden then Chris “Birdman” Andersen then Rashard Lewis then Michael Beasley. All four had signed with Miami within the last two seasons, eager to join LeBron and D-Wade for a championship ride, but also to seek a resurrection of sorts for careers that veered in different directions for differing reasons.

Only Beasley, the troubled, 25-year-old forward, sought something deeper: Salvation.

“I’ve seen him grow immensely, maturity‑wise, as a pro, on and off the court,” said Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s rookie coach in 2008 when they drafted the 19-year-old Beasley No. 2 overall. “It’s really been ‑‑ it’s been cool to see.”

Even so, if judging solely by how Spoelstra has used him, it’s fair to wonder if Beasley, his disappointing career already dwindling by a thread, has failed in his pursuit. Some may have even forgotten he plays for the Heat. Few players are perceived so negatively by fans and media alike, with much of the scrutiny coming by way of his own missteps; a self-destructive path of poor decisions off the court and a sliding, seemingly increasingly lazy effort on it through his first five seasons spent with three teams.

Yet despite never realizing a rotation niche this season, and being inactive more often than not during the postseason, Beasley is adamant that this second stint with Miami has served as a vessel for personal growth.

“I’ve learned a lot, not just from LeBron and Dwyane, but from Rashard, Udonis [Haslem], Birdman and Ray, a team full of veterans, a team full of future Hall of Famers,” Beasley told NBA.com from his front-row seat little more than a week ago. “Definitely a great move for my career, more on the mental side of things. I’ve learned a lot: How to do things the right way, how to have fun the right way, not to sweat the small stuff.

“I’ve worked. The thing I’ve learned above all else is how to win, what it takes to win, the attitude and dedication to work. You get tired, but once you get used to it, it’s like your body needs it.”

Those are words that might pique the interest of skeptical general managers as Beasley becomes an unrestricted free agent next month. Last summer, after an underwhelming first season in Phoenix, the Suns bought him out of his remaining two years and $12 million as legal issues swirled around him. It followed a flame-out with Minnesota, the team Miami traded him to for a couple of second-round picks two seasons after drafting him one spot behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose and ahead of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.

After the Suns cut ties, Beasley signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract with the two-time champion Heat, a team with established leaders and where Beasley believed he would be afforded the chance to reset his career, and his life, while removed from the daily pressures of the spotlight.

“Who doesn’t have a past? Who doesn’t have skeletons?” Beasley said. “It’s just my skeletons are in the open, not in the closet. So have I been unfairly portrayed? I can say yes, I can say no. Did I bring it on myself? Most definitely. But it’s the growing process in life, maturing, a grown boy turning into a young man.”

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).

Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”

The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.

Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.

“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”

Beasley has worked closely with Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard. Unlike past seasons, Beasley is said to arrive early for practice and stays late, cues he said he immediately gleaned from the team’s veterans. He is said to listen intently to coaches and teammates, and he hasn’t uttered a peep about being limited to an end-of-bench role.

He even pays more attention to nutrition when in the past a pregame meal of chicken strips and french fries from the concession stand would do.

“Everything that we’ve discussed privately, everything that we’ve been working on individually and also with other coaches, he’s been grasping it, and he’s been enjoying it and working hard at it,” Howard said. “That right there, that’s how I judge Michael.”

After he signed with the Heat, Beasley hired a new agent. Beasley said he is solely focused on finishing out this season and declined to answer if he’d be willing to sign a deal similar to his current one to remain with the Heat. His agent, Jared Karnes, said there have been no discussions yet with Miami president Pat Riley.

Beasley did make one declarative statement: He will be sticking around in the NBA.

“Definitely,” Beasley said. “There’s still some immaturity about me, but that’s what keeps it light. I’m a goofy, fun-loving guy, I like to think so myself anyway. But you’re definitely going to see a different me.”

It’s up to Beasley to make believers.

Andersen injury has allowed Heat to find a new lineup that works


VIDEO: Pacers-Heat Game 6 Preview

MIAMI – Has another injury forced the Miami Heat into another lineup change that will help them win a championship?

It was two years ago when Chris Bosh suffered an abdominal injury in Game 1 of the conference semifinals against Indiana. His absence forced Shane Battier into the starting lineup and unlocked the Heat’s floor spacing around LeBron James, turning them into an offensive juggernaut and two-time champions.

Rashard Lewis (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Rashard Lewis (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

In Game 3 of this year’s Eastern Conference finals, Chris Andersen suffered a bruised left thigh. Andersen wasn’t starting, but his absence forced another lineup shuffle by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Because the Heat needed a back-up center, Udonis Haslem went from starter to reserve, and Rashard Lewis — who hadn’t played in the first two games — was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4.

Andersen could be back for Game 6 on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) — he’s a game-time decision — but it seems unlikely that Spoelstra would remove Lewis from the starting lineup either way.

Lewis is a series-high plus-35 in the conference finals. Though he shot 0-for-7 in Games 3 and 4, the Miami offense has been at its best with Lewis on the floor. His work (and “work” is the right word here) against David West has allowed the Heat to remain strong defensively without playing big.

With the best player in the world, Miami has a lot of combinations that work. But the one with Haslem wasn’t working that well. Haslem is a series-low minus-43. He has hurt Miami’s spacing offensively and hasn’t been able to make up for it with defense and rebounding. Even in the Charlotte series, which the Heat swept, he was a minus-17.

Going into the conference finals, the Heat just didn’t have many alternatives at the second forward spot. Battier’s minutes are limited as he approaches retirement. And Michael Beasley never earned a postseason role. Neither can really handle West defensively.

Lewis can. He’s listed as 15 pounds lighter than West, but he held his own against bigger power forwards when he played for the Orlando Magic. And now that he’s rediscovered his shot (he hit six of his nine threes in Game 5 on Wednesday), he can provide even more spacing for James offensively.

So with 25-30 minutes of Lewis, a dash of Battier and a fourth quarter that features their three-guard lineup, the Heat don’t have to play big, save for a few Bosh-Andersen minutes, in which they still have solid floor spacing. That floor spacing  has made Indiana’s No. 1 defense struggle to get stops.

“They spread you out,” West said Thursday. “We’re not matching up in transition as well as we should. They’re getting us cross-matched. We just got to get a man to a body in transition.”

If they can do that, there’s still the question of what they should try to take away.

“We expect LeBron to have a huge night and be able to play his game,” Paul George said. “But we can’t let Rashard Lewis go for 18 from the 3-point line. That’s an area that we feel like we can cut out, the whole team in general. We do a great job of being able to guard the paint as well as the 3-point line.”

West, the guy who’s responsible for defending Lewis, says it’s a balance.

“We’re not going to overreact,” West said. “A lot of it is the system stuff that we’re doing, just having some breakdowns, maybe putting too many guys in front of LeBron. But we got to take our chances. We have to load to LeBron, load to Wade, and force those other guys to make plays and beat us.”

Lewis hadn’t hit six threes since the 2009 Finals. He probably isn’t going to hit six again. But whether he’s making shots or not, his presence on the floor is working for the Heat.

Thirteen different players have started playoff games for the Heat over the last four years. Spoelstra isn’t afraid to make changes when needed. Don’t be surprised if Lewis, who played just 47 minutes in last year’s postseason, is starting in The Finals.

24–Second thoughts — May 20

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade has LeBron’s back at crunch time … they’re not done yet, folks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Born Ready?

Not yet.

Not Lance Stephenson and the Indiana Pacers, who made it interesting until the very end of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

Born Ready?

Not ready. Not yet.

Not when LeBron James (12 points) and Dwyane Wade (10) own the floor at crunch time in the fourth quarter.

The Heat have never trailed 2-0 in a series since they joined forces. They still haven’t. James and Wade 22 in the fourth quarter, Pacers 20!

Game 3 is Saturday in Miami.

The Heat are taking their talents and that always crucial 1-1 series split back to South Beach!

:1

LeBron and Wade either scored or assisted on every single basket in the fourth quarter for the two-time defending champs. Real Champs wore black!

:2

LeBron with the sick bounce pass to Wade for the reverse baseline jam and essentially the game!

(more…)

Wade returns in full, while Heat just keep winning

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron, Heat win Game 1, 17th straight vs. Bobcats

MIAMI — There is comfort in consistency, and over the last three seasons, since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat have created something of a cottage industry around winning in the postseason. Since the 2011 Playoffs, the Heat have compiled a 48-19 record.

Being in Miami for a playoff game throughout this era, there have been many of the same sights on display: Fans dressed head-to-toe in white; Julia Dale belting out the National Anthem; intros set to “Seven Nation Army” with flame-throwers spitting fire into the sky.

None of those things would change in Miami’s 2014 playoff debut. And 90 minutes before tip-off, the mood in the Miami locker room didn’t seem to betray any extra nerves on the verge of the newest playoff push. On one side of the room, James sat in his locker, focused on an iPad, rapping along to whatever was playing in his headphones. Over by the door, Shane Battier offered dining recommendations to a visitor in town for the series. Across the room, Michael Beasley discussed the design history of Air Jordan sneakers.

These days, playoff basketball is the business of the Miami Heat, and business has been terrific. But maybe the most important performance in Miami’s 99-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats came from Dwyane Wade. After a season in which we only saw flashes of Flash, Wade provided the Heat with exactly what they needed to take a 1-0 lead. Even if Wade almost burned a timeout one minute into the game.

“I wanted to call a timeout with like 11 minutes left in the first quarter,” Wade joked after the game. “I was so tired. I was so happy when Rio (Chalmers) got his leg hit so we had to call the timeout. After that everything just settled in. It was that first rush of the playoffs and everything. But after that I felt fine.”

Wade finished the game with 23 points on 10-16 shooting, and led the Heat with 5 assists. If resting Wade for 28 of the 54 games gives you this version when the postseason rolls around, perhaps it’s worth enduring the games off and constant monitoring of minutes.

“Physically, this is where I wanted to be,” Wade said.  “Feeling good today. No limit or limitations. It was a good first game.”


VIDEO: Thanks to LeBron, D-Wade flashes old form

Wade referred to his play as a “natural day,” meaning he was able to play instinctively instead of dealing with limitations. “I didn’t have to think too much,” Wade said. “Just was playing, making the reads. That’s a sign I was feeling good. I want to continue, want to get better. Still want to get my conditioning back to where I want to get. I played 34 minutes tonight, which is pretty good.”

Wade’s 34 minutes were the most he’s played since March 16 against Houston. “He couldn’t look better,” said James. “He’d get to the rim and work the transition, had his step-back game on, he is feeling good.”

“He’s put in a lot of work,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “If I hadn’t seen the extra work he’s been consistently putting in, I would have been a lot more cautious about it. He probably wanted to be cleared a week before we cleared him. He’s been putting in that time of all that extra miserable conditioning. Other than the fourth quarter, he never really played more than an eight- minute stretch and then, probably more important, a full amount of minutes.”

Wade was not only able to log a bunch of minutes, he was able to sustain production. There were hints of the Wade who would fall down seven times and get up eight throughout the game, like when Wade called for an alley-oop (which never came) on the fast-break early in the third quarter. Overall, Wade looked energized all afternoon, taking on double-teams, hitting jumpers, even initiating offense. A drive and one-handed dunk with 1:36 left in the game punctuated the performance.

“We know what to expect out of Dwyane,” said Chris Bosh. “We play 82 games for this. The excitement, the energy going for another championship, it’s everywhere. So we know that we’re going to raise our game to another level, and he’s no different. We expect the best from him.”

Despite a few runs from the Bobcats, Miami consistently answered back. And a 18-4 run in the fourth quarter put the finishing touches on Charlotte. If the Heat weren’t ready for another playoff run, you’d never know it from watching them.

“You have to know how to prepare, to be able to lock in on your opponent and not worry about anything else,” Bosh said. “We’re not thinking about anything else. We’ll watch the other games for entertainment, to see what everybody else is doing. But our focus is the Bobcats. I wake up thinking about the Bobcats. I go to sleep thinking about the Bobcats.”

You can forgive the Bobcats if they have a few nightmares about the Heat. Sunday’s loss was the 17th in a row against Miami. Which isn’t to say the Bobcats were not worthy opponents. But after a first-quarter foot injury seemed to slow Al Jefferson, the Bobcats struggled to play consistently, not to mention regain the same momentum that gave them an early 16-9 lead.

Before the game, LeBron was asked if seeing Indiana get blown out at home by the Atlanta Hawks one night before would serve as a reminder to the Heat that the postseason had started.

“You shouldn’t have to have a reminder in the playoffs,” James said. “It’s not our concern, really.”

Perhaps not. But it is what they do.

Suns hot pick in NBA March Madness

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The selection committee has done its job, the field is complete and now the intrigue starts all around the NBA — filling out those March Madness brackets.

But for a different kind of insanity, we thought it might be fun to go into a few arenas and locker rooms to ask one question: If the NBA playoffs were set up like the NCAA Tournament, who would be your Butler, a below-the-radar team capable of making a deep run?

Ray Allen, Heat: “In an NCAA format, one game and advance, anything is possible. Charlotte’s a team that would be dangerous. They can get hot. They’ve developed confidence. They play hard. They’re running a new system. Atlanta is a team that’s running a San Antonio offensive system and they play good defense. Both of those can really play defense. So if you put them in win-or-you’re-out format, teams like those that always play hard and don’t care about who their opponent is, they’re gonna be capable. There would definitely be more drama in that kind of a playoff system. Obviously, it would never get to that because of all the money that’s at stake over the long playoff series. But as players, you would appreciate it. You’d have to leave it all out there on the line. And every night — with the best players in the NBA going at it — it would really be madness. There would be some true grudge matches. Oh, that would be interesting.”

Mario Chalmers, Heat: “Dallas. That’s a team with weapons and can score.”

Roy Hibbert, Pacers: “In the East, I could see Toronto and Charlotte doing that. Even Chicago. In the West, Phoenix has played great a surprise people all year. Phoenix has a style of play that’s fast-paced and they have guys that are built for that.”


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Suns’ solid season to date

Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN analyst: “Memphis. Because of the style they play. Who else plays like Memphis? Who else has those two big guys like Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) and (Marc) Gasol to beat you up and wear you down. That’s a team that could walk into a tournament setting, get on a real roll and just start knocking people out. And in the East I’d say Chicago for a lot of the same reasons. They don’t have those two big bangers in the low post, but with Noah and the middle and the aggressiveness and the ferocity that they play with, the Bulls could make a tournament very interesting and tough on everyone.”

Chandler Parsons, Rockets: “I like Phoenix as my Butler in the West, because they’re so explosive offensively. In transition they’d get out and they’d beat a lot of good teams. In the East, I like Chicago. They’re playing really well. Joakim (Noah)has been unbelievable for them. He’s doing everything, getting triple-doubles. Plus they’re such a good defensive team. Those are definitely two teams you don’t want to see in the NBA playoffs and in an NCAA Tournament type scenario with sudden-death, no way. Even Memphis, if they sneak in at No 8 in the West. That’s a team that could do a lot of damage. Us? We’re above that Butler level. We’re Florida. We’re Duke.”

Matt Bonner, Spurs: “Phoenix. It’s about style of play. It’s about scoring points from a lot of different places. It’s about playing at a fast pace. Definitely Phoenix.”

Shane Battier, Heat: “Who is that dark horse team? Really, still no one is talking about Houston. They have played fantastic and the Rockets would be a buzz saw to play in any single game or even a seven-game series. You know they’re gonna shoot 30 3s. If they get hot, that’s an amazing number to try to match offensively. And no one is really talking about them. The hubbub is OKC and San Antonio and the Clippers to a large extent. People are talking about Golden State and the Splash Brothers more than they are about Houston. I think Houston is a legitimate team.”

Michael Beasley, Heat: “Miami. That’s the only team I’m worried about, the only team I think about. I don’t even want to imagine nobody else making a run, nobody else doing nothing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Bobcats and Al Jefferson’s play

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers: “I think every team in the West is capable of being that Butler type team. It’s so close, so many good teams. It just depends which week or two you’re talking about. We’ve seen that all season long. Remember how Memphis came in and beat San Antonio in the playoffs a couple of years ago? Golden State over Dallas a few years earlier. I think everybody is close and there are so many good teams in any matchup that in the NCAA Tournament arrangement, you might be able to play it three or four times and get a different team out of the West every time.”

Paul George, Pacers: “I think Phoenix. I think the Suns could do it because that’s a consistent team. They don’t rely on just one or two players to get most of their offense. They really spread things around. They really get after you all the time. They always play hard and bring it to you. They always want to attack. And in a tournament setting, they’ve got enough guys to make shots and make plays. They would just have to get hot at the right time, which we’ve seen from them this season. They’ve taken down tough opponents. They beat us twice, OKC. So that’s a team that could be very dangerous if it was tournament time.”

Dwight Howard, Rockets: “The Rockets. Despite anything that we’ve done and any games that we’ve won, I think in general we’re still a team that nobody’s looked at as a real contender. But you know, I like being the underdog. We’d like to keep ourselves being overlooked as much as possible through the end of the season and going into the playoffs. In a tournament, in the playoffs, we’re that kind of team that I believe and rise up and surprise people.”

Dwyane Wade, Heat: “I guess if look at the West, I’d say Phoenix could be a bracket-busting Butler. That’s a team that could get hot. Lot of weapons, lot of different people and ways to score and they don’t seem to let up. That style they play, they’re always going. In the East maybe the Bobcats. They play very well together. They’ve got a big man in Al Jefferson that can go 1-on-1 and can score. That’s a team that’s also been playing hard all year, been really gaining in confidence. So if you tossed them into a tournament setting, I’d say, yeah, they could go on a run.”

Danny Green, Spurs: “Phoenix. I was watching them play and they’re very dangerous at home. You know they don’t back down from anybody. They beat Indiana and OKC. We’ve lost to them this season. They love to get out and run. They move the ball fast and they don’t ever let up. If they’re healthy, they’re gonna come after you nonstop and they could do something like go on a run through a tournament. That pace of play is tough to deal with. Another team you’d have to watch out for is Dallas. They’ve got weapons and you’d always have to watch out for Dirk getting on a roll.”

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers: “Oh, I wouldn’t want to do that. But if you want a dangerous team that maybe nobody would pick, I’d say Sacramento. They got a lot of weapons — Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, now Reggie Evans over there with some experience. Derrick Williams. They got a lot of pieces they can throw out there. If they get going, they could beat some people and go far. That’s a capable team.”

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers: “In the West anybody can beat anybody. You’ve got four or five teams with over 40 wins at this point in the season. You’ve seen teams go on runs with different styles. Houston went on a run recently. We went on a run earlier. Pick a day of the week. Anybody could be Butler.”

Francisco Garcia, Rockets: “I would say Phoenix, because they score in so many ways. I think everybody would take them lightly at the beginning of a tournament since they’re young and they don’t have a team filled up with All-Stars. It’s easy from the outside to overlook them. It’s only when you get out there on the court and see how hard they play and see how they are so good at moving the ball around and getting offensive from a lot of different places that you find out how good they can be. So if you put them in that kind of situation, where you get to play them only once, they could have a lot of success and make a run.”


VIDEO: The Starters talk about teams primed to make noise in the playoffs

Belinelli, Most Improved Shooter

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

The List

Biggest improvement, effective field-goal percentage

2012-13 2013-14
Player FGA eFG% FGA eFG% Diff.
Marco Belinelli 610 46.0% 140 63.6% 17.6%
Michael Beasley 766 43.4% 119 58.4% 15.0%
Andre Iguodala 879 50.2% 110 65.0% 14.8%
Jodie Meeks 530 50.2% 198 61.9% 11.7%
Wesley Matthews 808 54.0% 238 64.9% 10.9%
Tony Allen 638 44.8% 128 55.1% 10.3%
Jeremy Lin 897 49.0% 155 57.7% 8.7%
Spencer Hawes 811 48.3% 236 57.0% 8.7%
Markieff Morris 653 44.2% 196 52.0% 7.9%
Klay Thompson 1,205 50.9% 352 58.7% 7.8%

Minimum 500 FGA in 2012-13 and 100 FGA in 2013-14
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

It’s interesting how a different team can make a player better. The top two guys on this list went from bottom-10 offensive teams last season to top-10 offensive teams this season. Marco Belinelli went from the Rose-less Bulls to the Spurs, while Michael Beasley went from the Suns to the Heat. Andre Iguodala was part of a top-five offense last season, but the Warriors certainly space the floor a lot better than the Nuggets did.

Speaking of floor spacing, Belinelli is shooting a ridiculous 30-for-53 (57 percent) from 3-point range after going 2-for-3 in Tuesday’s win in Toronto. He’s also shooting 51 percent from inside the arc.

Is it a product of the system? Do Tony Parker‘s pick-and-roll brilliance and the Spurs’ ball movement produce more open shots for Belinelli?

First of all, only 54 of Belinelli’s 140 shots have come with Parker on the floor. He actually has shot better with Parker on the bench. He’s played more minutes with Patty Mills as his point guard and has been assisted 22 times by Manu Ginobili. Mills’ improvement, Ginobili’s resurrection and Belinelli’s shooting are big reasons why the Spurs are 16-4 despite an underperforming starting lineup.

According to SportVU, 61 percent of Belinelli’s shots have been uncontested* this season, a jump from 56 percent last season. But the jump is all in his 2-point attempts. In the 20 Bulls games that were tracked by SportVU last season, none of Belinelli’s 47 2-point attempts were uncontested. This season, 42 of his 87 2-point attempts have been uncontested.

*Uncontested: The nearest defender is at least four feet away.

Both years, most of his 3-point attempts (87 percent last season and 83 percent this season) have been uncontested. But he’s shooting them much better with the Spurs. He’s also 6-for-9 on contested threes this year.

So it’s very possible that this is just a fluky start to the season for Belinelli. Or maybe there’s something in the Riverwalk water.

There is one more aspect to Belinelli’s shooting that SportVU can clue us in on: whether he’s shooting more off the catch or off the dribble.

In games tracked by SportVU last season, 60 percent of Belinelli’s shots were catch-and-shoot. This season, that number is up to 75 percent. But again, he’s shooting much better on those catch-and-shoot jumpers this year.

While the Spurs run the most beautiful offense in the league and that offense certainly makes players look better than they would elsewhere, it’s hard to believe that Belinelli’s shooting numbers are very sustainable.

The Video

Here’s video of Belinelli’s six 3-point attempts against the Rockets on Nov. 30. One was a half-court heave, three were wide-open looks on feeds from Ginobili, one was a semi-heat-check, and the last was a rushed shot with the Spurs down four in the closing seconds. If you’re a Spurs fan, you have to love the way Ginobili has been playing.

And if you really like your meatballs spicy, here are all 30 of Belinelli’s made 3-pointers this season.

The bottom of the list

Kosta Koufos is the anti-Belinelli, with a regression of 13.6 percent. That mark edges out Kevin Garnett (-12.7 percent), Jerryd Bayless (-11.4 percent), Patrick Patterson (-10.6 percent) and Tyreke Evans (-9.4 percent). Koufos had an effective field-goal percentage of 58.1 percent on 508 shots with Denver last season and is at 44.5 percent on 146 shots with Memphis this season.

Trivia question

To qualify for the above list, you had to have attempted at least 500 shots last season. There are five players who had at least 500 field-goal attempts last season and have not played a game this season. Four of them are on rosters and are injured: Carlos Delfino, Danilo Gallinari, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor. Can you name the fifth?

Random notes

  • Chris Paul has 84 assists to Blake Griffin this season and no other combination has nearly that number. Next on the list of teammate-to-teammate assists is Jeff Teague and Al Horford, who have hooked up for 62 of Horford’s buckets.
  • Paul, Griffin and the Clippers have the No. 1 home offense, scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions in 10 home games. But they have just the 17th best road offense, scoring only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 12 road games. Their differential of 10.3 isn’t the biggest in the league. That belongs to the Mavs, who have scored 10.9 more points per 100 possessions at home than they have on the road.
  • The biggest defensive differential belongs to the Rockets, who have allowed 14.9 fewer points per 100 possessions at home. Houston ranks third defensively at home and 28th on the road. The good news is that they have the No. 1 road offense.
  • Deron Williams returned to the Nets’ lineup against Boston on Tuesday and Brooklyn played its best offensive game of the season, scoring about 116 points per 100 possessions against what was a top-10 defense. Point guards are important.

Trivia answer

Shannon Brown, who attempted 571 shots for the Suns last season. He was sent to the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and was waived before the season.

Mild-Mannered Hornacek Infusing Suns With Just The Right Amount Of Fire


VIDEO: Jeff Hornacek talks about learning the ropes as an NBA coach

It took until the end of the second week of the season, five minutes into the second half of a game against the visiting Pelicans. It took five sloppy turnovers in the space of just three infuriating minutes.

It was, in fact, all  Jeff Hornacek could take. As he signaled for a timeout to apply a tourniquet, he whirled, raised an exasperated fist and slammed it down hard on the court side press table.

“Oh yeah,” said guard Eric Bledsoe as he thought back to the moment. “That got our attention. That was the first time I had ever seen him get that mad. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, he does have that in him.’ “

It was one of the questions that loomed from the time the 50-year-old Hornacek took over as the Suns coach in May following Phoenix’s 25-win season of 2012-13, the fewest wins in franchise history since the expansion season (1968-69). Was Hornacek simply too nice of a guy to do the heavy lifting required by the job?

“You can see where people might get that impression from the outside,” said small forward P.J. Tucker. “Because for the most part he’s always the same. He doesn’t have those emotional swings that you see from a lot of coaches. I know you hear a lot of coaches say they don’t intend to be that way. Then you watch them and see them losing it.

“From the first day that he got together with this team, all Jeff has been focused on is getting us to play with emotion, play hard, play aggressive. He channels his energy into us.”

“It important that the coach can stay calm, especially on a young team like this one,” said guard Goran Dragic. “When players are going through bad minutes on the floor, you need someone that can keep his confidence. It allows you to move forward. I will say that he is a nice guy as long as you don’t take advantage of him. If you do, he can bring you back to the ground.”

It was hardly the ideal situation to have your coaching baptism. After the misery of last season, the Suns went into an almost total rebuilding mode, purging the roster of most of their veteran players. Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal and Wesley Johnson were moved over the summer. Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown were traded to the Wizards just before the season opener.

So who was left? Veterans Dragic and Channing Frye to mix with Bledsoe, Tucker, Marcus and Markieff Morris and a No. 1 draft choice in Alex Len (who needed ankle surgery and has played just token minutes in four games). It was a roster picked by most experts to finish rock bottom in the rugged Western Conference and Las Vegas oddsmakers posted the over-under on Suns wins for the season at 21.5. The Suns and their coach getting his first crack at being the man in charge could have been offended.

“No,” Hornacek said. “Obviously this team won 25 games last year. We traded away a lot of our veteran guys who helped them win games last year. So we understand how it looks. But we went into this season and training camp tell our players, hey, you’re gonna read all that stuff, hear all that stuff. But if we play hard, we believe you guys are good players and if we play together and play hard we’ll win our fair share of games. I’m not going to put our a number on it or anything like that. But we’ll win our fair share and so far that’s what’s happened.”


VIDEO: Bledsoe fuels Suns’ victory in Houston

So the group went out and made Hornacek the first coach in Suns history to win his first four home games. They kept every game within a five-point margin in the final five minutes for the first three weeks of the season. After a home win against Toronto on Friday night, they stand at 11-9. They are doing it with an offensive style that wants to run when it can and a defensive approach that is always attacking on the perimeter. Hornacek is making the most of the guard tandem of Dragic and Bledsoe that many thought create duplication and conflict.

“Look, I’m only a rookie in this league myself, but I’ve had a lot of coaches at other levels of the game,” said center Miles Plumlee, “and I think what we are is a reflection of Jeff’s personality. What I know of him during his pro career is a guy that used no excuses, took no shortcuts and got the most out of his ability.”

All the while he’s been doing it by keeping a lid on those outward displays of emotions.

“I slip every once in a while,” Hornacek said. “They could drive you crazy. That’s part of it. Not everything’s gonna go perfectly. I think all coaches get frustrated when they see the same errors over and over. If they see something new, OK, maybe haven’t seen that. But the guy makes a mistake and does the same thing and does the same thing that’s when you’re gonna pound your head and say ‘OK, we talked about that.’ That’s the way it is.

“We’re also pretty young except for a couple of guys, Channing and Goran have been around. Everyone else is playing minutes that they’ve never played before. So we hopefully learn, but that’s a big part of it. I think it’s also part as an ex-player to want to be out there. You see things happen and you can give these guys all the preparation and talk about reads, but they actually have to do it out there … Maybe as ex-players, you see, ‘This is gonna develop.’ But they’ve got to figure that out.”

So far, Hornacek is giving his Suns enough room and push to do that.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks continue to struggle | Report: Rockets want 2 first-rounders for Asik | Hollins wants another NBA coaching gig | D’Antoni pushing Young for Sixth Man honors | Beasley finding a role in Miami

No. 1: Arguments mark Knicks’ latest loss — At 3-13 and with nine straight losses to their name, the New York Knicks are the coldest team in the Eastern Conference and sit tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the conference’s worst record. In short, it’s not pretty for New York right now and things were particularly unpleasant last night at the Garden, when in the course of losing to the New Orleans Pelicans, Knicks guard Iman Shumpert got into on-court arguments with both rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. Marc Berman of the New York Post details that tiff, while in another report, ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley has some telling words from Anthony and coach Mike Woodson on New  York’s slump:

A shouting match with Carmelo Anthony and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.’s breakout game may have pushed Iman Shumpert closer to the door.

Hardaway is fighting for playing time with Shumpert, who got into a heated rant with Anthony on the Knicks bench during a third-quarter timeout. Anthony didn’t look at him as Shumpert raved. Shumpert, who was then benched for the fourth quarter of the 103-99 loss to the Pelicans, called his tiff with Anthony “a miscommunication’’ on defense.

“Of course I wanted to play,’’ Shumpert said. “Tim was making shots. J.R. [Smith] had it rolling. We were just trying to get a win.’’

Anthony declined to talk about Shumpert, who has been on the trading block since the middle of last month. Trades usually pick up Dec. 15, because free agents signed over the summer and draft picks can be dealt.

Anthony and Woodson both think the Knicks have been playing ‘not to lose’ of late and that the losing streak has affected New York in several ways:

Shortly after the New York Knicks dropped their ninth-straight game, star forward Carmelo Anthony said the team is “playing to lose” and appears “a little tense” as the losses pile up.

“I think we’re playing to lose rather than playing to win right now,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ 103-99 loss to New Orleans on Sunday. “When you lose games the way we’ve been losing them at home, on the road, you start thinking a lot. You start playing a little tense, you start playing on your heels.”

“We just can’t seem to get it together,” Anthony said after scoring 23 points and grabbing ten rebounds. “We can’t seem to figure it out.”

The Knicks’ last home win was Oct. 30 against Milwaukee in the season opener.

Head coach Mike Woodson admitted the obvious when he said the losing streak is weighing on his players.

“I thought coming down the stretch, we played on our heels. The [eight-game losing streak] we were looking at here was staring at us in the face [and] instead of relaxing and just playing, we just didn’t make one play,” Woodson said.

The Knicks have held two closed-door meetings in the past three weeks to try to turn things around. Anthony isn’t sure if another one will help.

“I don’t know what we have to do as far as coming together as a group,” Anthony said. “I don’t know if we’ve got to sit here for hours and talk and get it all out, but we’ve got to do something.”

Anthony said earlier this week that he worried about his team going into a “dark place.” He doesn’t think the Knicks are there yet.

“Anytime you’re fighting an uphill battle, you feel like you’re in a dark place. But we can’t go to that place,” he said. “I’ve never been to that place. I don’t plan on getting to that place.”

Firings and trades aside, Anthony believes the bigger issue for the Knicks right now is a lack of identity.

“Last year around this time we had our identity as who we were as a team,” he said. “This year we’re still searching who we are as a team and who we’re going to be as a team.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony discusses New York’s loss to the Pelicans, nine-game slump

***

No. 2: Report: Rockets want two first-rounders in Asik tradesOmer Asik has worked his way back into Houston’s playing rotation, logging 20 minutes in the Rockets’ thrilling win over the Spurs on Saturday night. However, Asik continues to be a popular name on the trading block and seems all-but certain to be dealt at some point this season. What the Rockets are apparently asking for Asik, though, might make the kind of deal they want hard to come by. Alan Hahn of MSG Networks explains and provides a bit of Knicks slant on any possible deal, too:

The name that is dominating the early rumors is Omer Asik of the Rockets. The disgruntled center can be had, but Houston isn’t just giving him away.

In fact, the Rockets are setting the market high for Asik, with a demand of two first round picks in any deal.

That eliminates the Knicks, who have given away enough first rounders over the last few years. They can’t move one until 2018.

Even if they did, Asik’s luxury tax hit next season is the same as Jeremy Lin‘s ($15 million), which would make it an expensive transaction.

It’s more likely the Knicks will target more of an “energy” big, if they can land one. Kenneth Faried, a recently rumored name, certainly would fit that mold, but the Nuggets have shown no interest in making a deal.

The Knicks, like many teams in the league, could use an upgrade at the point guard position but that’s like shopping for a BMW with a Kia budget.

And the competitive market for point guards has gone up even more now that the Bulls are shopping hastily for one in the wake of Derrick Rose‘s season-ending injury.

***

No. 3: Hollins turned down chance to be assistant in Detroit — After being fired by the Memphis Grizzlies following a 56-win season and a berth in the 2013 Western Conference finals, coach Lionel Hollins has spent his down time playing golf, putting in some work for NBA TV and watching his son, Austin, play at the University of Minnesota. In an extended, insightful interview with ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne, Hollins talks about his desire to coach again in the NBA and how he passed on a chance to be an assistant in Detroit this season:

Nice as the time off has been, however, Hollins is ready to return to the NBA.

“I believe I’ve established myself as a head coach and I’d like another opportunity to show that [my success] wasn’t a fluke,” Hollins said. “I feel like I’ve proven I can take a young team and develop it, then sustain what I’ve done by what I did in the last five years in Memphis.”

Hollins was let go by the Grizzlies despite winning a franchise-record 56 games and leading Memphis to its first Western Conference Finals appearance last season. The reasons were philosophical in nature, after a season in which Hollins didn’t always publicly embrace the moves or direction set by the Grizzlies’ new ownership and front office.

“We want to have the kind of organization where we get people in a room … who are going to disagree about what we should do and what the personnel moves should be,” Grizzlies president Jason Levien said in a radio interview with WHBQ after Hollins was let go. “We want to really dig in and get messy when we’re in that room talking about what the decision and direction should be. And then once we come to a decision, whatever that personnel decision is, we want to walk out of the room arm-in-arm, locked together in how we’re going to proceed.”

Hollins, who still makes his home in Memphis, declined to comment about his exit from the Grizzlies. He said that he has tried to keep a distance from his former players as well, out of respect for new coach Dave Joerger, who was an assistant for him last season. He occasionally runs into Tony Allen, whose wife is close with Hollins’ wife. He also sent a text message to center Marc Gasol recently, after he suffered a knee injury.

But mostly, he said he’s tried to move on with his life and career.

“I think Marc [Gasol] said it best, ‘It was odd knowing — from his perspective — that I wasn’t going to be there,’ ” Hollins said. “And from my perspective, it was odd knowing that we weren’t going to add a few pieces and build on what we’d already established. We were at a level where we needed to add the right pieces in order for us to take another leap. So it was just odd not being there and planning and going through the whole process that we normally do every summer with our young players, starting with the draft and then summer league and then the workouts that we have all summer, with players coming in and out. You get away from that routine. …

“I was antsy when training camp started. But once they started playing, I was comfortable not being there. I get to watch a lot of basketball on TV. And now I’ve gotten to re-evaluate what I like to do and what I want to do.”

Over the summer, Hollins said he had an opportunity to join Maurice Cheeks‘ staff with the Detroit Pistons as an assistant coach but declined.

“I had done it [serve as an assistant coach] for a long time before I was given the opportunity to be a head coach,” Hollins said. “But my thought process was, ‘I’ve established myself as a head coach. I’d like to stay in that state at the moment.’ But if it didn’t work out, yeah, I’d go back and be an assistant coach. I’d go to college and be a head coach there, if I had the opportunity. But my thought process is to be a professional head coach.”

***

No. 4: D’Antoni hyping Young for Sixth Man of Year honors — Swingman Nick Young is averaging 14.2 ppg this season, only .1 ppg behind team leader Pau Gasol for the No. 1 spot on the Lakers. But while Gasol has started all 18 games for the Lakers this season, Young has notched just six starts, doing most of his damage off the bench. That big scoring punch and his vital role in L.A.’s offense has coach Mike D’Antoni starting some early buzz for Young in the Sixth Man of the Year campaign, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Within a two-month span, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has viewed Nick Young as a a streaky shooter and inconsistent defender to a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

“He should. If we can get our record [good],” D’Antoni said. “That’s going to be the product of the team. He’s playing well enough. But if we surprise people, get in the playoffs and do really well, yeah, he’ll have a really good chance at it.”

Ever since D’Antoni demoted him as a starting small forward to a reserve, Young has jokingly touted himself as a sixth man of the year candidate. Young has backed up those words said in jest with his play. Young has averaged 16.5 points on 47.4 percent shooting in 27.1 minutes through 11 games as a reserve.

“I’m loving it with his concentration and ability not to take a play off,” D’Antoni said. “We have a few guys who have home run trots and were not engaged. But for the most part, most guys have gotten that out of their game. They’re engaged. A lot of that is due to the chemistry of the team and how they feel about themselves. We can keep getting better. He’s playing both ends of the floor. He’s playing phenomenally.”

So much that Young has slightly altered his nickname.

“As he says, he’s changed his name to ‘Swaggy D,’” D’Antoni said with a smile. “We’ll see how that holds up.”

***

No. 5: Heat finding steady role for Beasley — In the offseason, the Heat more or less took a flyer on their former No. 2 overall pick, Michael Beasley, after the Suns terminated his contact. Early in the season, Beasley’s role was that of mostly mop-up duty in blowouts with some sporadic minutes during games when the decision was not in doubt. That has changed of late as Beasley is averaging 19.5 mpg over his last four games and had a solid night against Charlotte last night (four points, seven rebounds) as Miami rallied for a win. After the game, coach Erik Spoelstra explained to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel how he and the Heat have started to find an appropriate role for Beasley in Miami’s stacked lineup:

If it looks only now like Erik Spoelstra is developing a role for Michael Beasley, you’re not too far off.

The Miami Heat coach acknowledged Sunday that it wasn’t until after training camp that he began formulating a plan for the Heat 2008 first-round draft choice. Before that, he said it was just about creating a fit with the versatile forward who had split the previous three seasons between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.

“With Michael,” Spoelstra said, “it was more about, initially, we felt he was part of our family. We drafted him. We spent a lot of time with him, not only during those two regular seasons, but during the offseasons and we just wanted to open up our arms back into our family.  “That was our initial thought when we talked to him. I didn’t even talk role. I didn’t even talk specifics about anything. I didn’t talk about, ‘Hey, you’re going to learn from these guys.’ It was, ‘Hey, come back to the family,’ and just get back into the routine and we’ll take it from there. After training camp, that’s about the first time I really started to talk about a possible role with him.”

Spoelstra said it was more about allowing the Heat’s locker-room culture to envelop Beasley, who returned on a one-year, non-guaranteed, veteran-minimum contract.

“Our whole locker room is important for anybody we bring in now, that there’s a world-class professionalism we expect from everybody, and our guys live and breathe it,” Spoelstra said. “They take pride in it. There’s a culture and discipline and structure to how we do things. And so when we’re recruiting players, we always have that in mind, whether a guy will fit in. We love it that guys will get inspired by each others’ professionalism and work ethic.”

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ICYMI Of The Night: All you have to do is watch what Steph Curry and Klay Thompson did last night in Sacramento to understand why they’re called the Splash Bros. …


VIDEO: Steph Curry & Klay Thompson run wild against Kings