Posts Tagged ‘Pat Riley’

It’s Still Heat And Everyone Else


VIDEO: Chris Bosh’s game-winning 3-pointer sinks the Blazers

Dwyane Wade flips a behind-the-back pass with a move that is slicker than anything on a South Beach dance floor and Chris Bosh lets fly a 3-pointer that would have sailed over the top of a palm tree.

Bosh’s game-winner did not just serve as the deciding margin in the most entertaining NBA game of the season to date, but as another difference between the two-time defending champs and everybody else.

The Heat have it figured out.

Even with the Trail Blazers rising to the challenge against a full-throated home crowd. Even with LaMarcus Aldridge showing why he belongs in the MVP conversation. Even with Wesley Matthews lighting it up. Even with LeBron James left to only play the role of world’s roughest, toughest cheerleader.

As we prepare to flip the pages another calendar year, the one thing that doesn’t change is Miami’s ability to survive and thrive. Is it myopia or jealousy or sheer boredom that keeps running new contenders up the flagpole and ignoring the resolve and sheer talent of the Heat’s Big Three?

This is, after all, why Pat Riley went to such great lengths to put them in the same uniforms, so that they wouldn’t ever be forced to rely on just one of them?

Here was yet another season that began with yet another set of questions about Wade’s knees and Bosh’s guts and whether James was already peeking ahead to next summer and a chance to return to the Cleveland. And here they are looking like anything but a trio that is ready to surrender its championship grip or prevailing aura.

The standings may show the Heat currently with the fourth-best record in the league, behind the Pacers, Thunder and Blazers and yet you can have the entire field of 29 teams as long as I get to keep Miami.

The Pacers are a fierce and committed blend of burgeoning youth and smart veterans who have made it their goal to finish with the best regular season record and grab home-court advantage all the way through the playoffs into late June. Paul George is an MVP-in-waiting, only the year(s) in question, Roy Hibbert brings the inside bulk and power of a road grader and the rest of the Pacers lineup is filled with weapons.

Yet after beating Miami in Indy on Dec. 10, they let a 15-point lead slip away eight nights later in a rematch, even on a night when James and Mario Chalmers were jawing at each other on the sidelines.

The Thunder were in the spring of 2012, and are still, supposed to be rising young challengers whose games swell with growth and confidence each season. But it’s that swelling in Russell Westbrook’s right knee that has now once more required surgery and could stop OKC from ever reaching its full potential. With James Harden in Houston, they don’t have the three-way luxury of the Heat lineup, and the 2013 playoffs demonstrated that as good as he is, Kevin Durant likely can’t finish the job himself.

The explosive rise of the Blazers behind Aldridge and Damian Lillard and Nic Batum has been as fun and exciting a story as any in the league this season. Yet even on a night when they drop in 11 3-pointers and out-rebound the Heat, they couldn’t close the deal.

The Spurs are still piling up wins against the lesser lights in the league, but may have permanently lost their grip on any chance for a fifth franchise championship in those fateful 28 seconds of Game 6 in The Finals.

The fretting over or knocking of Miami arises any time the Heat lose two straight games, a leftover product of the hype and expectation that greeted their coming together. But if the past three seasons should have taught anything, it is that James, Wade and Bosh are the ones who have assumed nothing and put themselves to the task.

While the Pacers, Thunder, Blazers and the rest are trying to figure it all out, the Heat have amassed what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls “the corporate knowledge” of what it takes to play with each other, trust each other and get the very most out of each other.

The result is an offense that is second-best in efficiency this season and a defense, rated eighth, that can close like a fist around a windpipe and choke off opponents when it’s time.

There is no doubt that, at 32, Wade’s knees require the delicate care of hothouse orchids, yet he can still bloom and take your breath away. Bosh continues to have his inner strength and his consistency questioned, but explodes for 37 points and leaves nothing untapped in Portland. James, well, simply plays the game on a planet where he is the only inhabitant.

So while everyone else around them in the NBA is wondering how Riley and team owner Micky Arison can — and whether they want to — keep the band together after next summer, the Heat keep knocking out hits and asking the only question that matters: Why not?

Heat Mindful Of Toll Of Being Elite




VIDEO: D-Wade spurs Heat to hard-earned Christmas win over the Lakers

LOS ANGELES — They don’t have to see it or even acknowledge it. But it’s there, every moment of every single day for the Miami Heat. Playing on that tight-rope, before the biggest crowds in Miami and everywhere else, takes a toll on the greatest of players and teams.

The Heat needed only to look down the hall on Christmas to the other locker room, where injured Lakers superstars and future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash arrived for the days’ affair in street clothes that they would wear before, during and after the Heat’s closer-than-expected win at the Staples Center. Earlier in the day in Brooklyn,  fellow aging stars (and future Hall of Famers) Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, key members of Boston’s Big 3 (along with Heat reserve Ray Allen), looked like shells of their former selves as the Chicago Bulls trounced the Nets.

James shouldn’t be consumed with his own basketball mortality since he’s at the height of his powers … and trust me, he’s not. But what’s going on around him now is a cautionary tale worth filing away. All of those aforementioned stars, Bryant in particular, have plenty of miles on their bodies. They’ve all soared to great heights in their careers, both individually and otherwise. But it all comes at a physical, mental and emotional price that those stars have to be willing to pay at some point.

James sent out a tweet last week wishing Bryant a speedy recovery from his latest setback, a fractured left knee that followed Achilles surgery that limited him to just six games this season. But that’s basically the extent of his empathy. He’s not going to let anything slow him down, not in the prime of his career and not while the Heat are in the midst of building a dynasty of their own.

“No, I don’t,” James said when asked if he ever ponders his own career clock. “I try to live in the moment. Only the Man Above knows how much time He’s going to give me with this game. Once He decides that I don’t have any more time or when that is, I’ll call it quits … none of us can play forever, though. We’ve all gotta go [sometime].”

That time isn’t anytime soon. Even with the Indiana Pacers pressing them in the Eastern Conference and challengers from Oklahoma City to San Antonio and everywhere else lining up in the Western Conference, there will be no shortage of challenges for this Heat team deal with as we progress toward the postseason.

Trying to make The Finals for a fourth straight season is taxing enough, let alone trying to win the title for the third straight season. The Heat are doing it with Dwyane Wade on a plan to measure his minutes and preserve his body for the entire (anticipated) stretch of a season that ends again in June.

As long as James is healthy and leads the way, though, the Heat don’t have the concerns about longevity that some outsiders might harbor. They also certainly don’t have any issues with sustained excellence, according to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

“They are the same they’ve been the last two seasons, if not better,” he said. “LeBron’s playing out of his mind. He gets better every year, which is hard to say for a guy like that. They are better. They are just laying in the weeds a little bit. But you can’t count ‘em out. They’ll be there at the end. They’ll probably have home-court advantage, if not it’ll be right there.”

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, among others, will want to have a say about who brings home that Larry O’Brien trophy as well. But only the Spurs understand exactly what the Heat have come to understand these past four seasons.

Winning and winning big is more than just a notion. It’s what James, adopting the terminology of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, calls a “process.” And one that James was much more prepared for than his coaches and Heat teammates, as James had tried unsuccessfully to climb that mountain in Cleveland before embarking again and succeeding in Miami.

That’s why the Heat, and Spoelstra in particular, know that no one in the organization can take this time or the relative good health of their stars and role players alike for granted. He knows James in the midst of his prime — “physically, mentally and emotionally” as he put it — and with good health has years of operating as the best player in basketball ahead of him.

But times haven’t always been this good in Miami. And Spoelstra has a long memory.

“We’ve been through a lot of teams in 18-plus years in Miami where we had championship-contending teams, where we had 15-win teams, we’ve had 20-, 30- and 40-win teams,” Spoelstra said. “So we’ve seen it all. And when you have a team like this that you know, as long as you have your health you have an opportunity to play for a title, and that’s all you might have is an opportunity, none of us want to take it for granted. This is a special group that we have. And you don’t know how long it will last so you want to make the most of it.”

James refusing to look beyond anything but the here and now makes much more sense after hearing Spoelstra talk about that process. It’s also why James doesn’t fret these days every time the Heat have a hiccup, or face an unsuspected test the way they did from Nick “Swaggy P” Young and the Lakers on Christmas.

He’s comfortable with where his team is right now, with the initial stages of this season’s journey already behind them.

“I don’t want to say comfortable, because I don’t ever like to be, too comfortable … [at least not] until the end, when we raise that trophy,” James said. “But I can say the process, and where we’re trying to get better right now, we’re right on point. We’ve had a couple of bumps in the road, but we’ve taken more steps forward than backward. And I’m excited about that.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sometimes Love isn’t enough | Stephenson spoils Indy return for Stevens | Pistons ride roller coaster | Wade’s Holiday surprise

No. 1: Timberwolves get monster effort from Love and still lose – Kevin Love has been toiling like this now for a while. He puts up monster numbers, epic numbers often, only to see his Minnesota Timberwolves come up short in seemingly winnable games. Sunday night was no different, with Love posting just the fourth 45-points on 65-percent shooting, 15-rebounds and 5-assist game since the NBA/ABA merger and the Timberwolves found a way to fumble away a late lead in regulation and lose to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.

It makes you wonder if the Timberwolves are ever going to figure things out with this particular group … Rick Adelman in charge, Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way and Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and others as role players.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com ponders the thought:

It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Minnesota, even for those among us who were ready to anoint them as this season’s Warriors. It all looked so promising six weeks ago. The Wolves were quickly mastering Adelman’s read-and-react offense from the high post and perimeter, but could also bully opponents down on the block.

The defense wasn’t half-bad either. Through the end of November, the Wolves ranked 9th in defensive efficiency. They didn’t have a legitimate rim protector on the roster, but they had good size, Ricky Rubio’s pressure up top, Corey Brewer’s skills as a stopper on the wing, and a very large man in Pekovic who nobody wants to encounter in the paint.

The December schedule hasn’t been terribly friendly, but the Wolves have been terrible, their big home win over Portland last Wednesday the one strand of hope. The offense looks nothing like anything Adelman has ever presided over. Half-court possessions are labored affairs, slow grinds into post isolations for either Love or Pekovic.

Martin has battled a knee injury for much of the month and hasn’t looked like himself. As a linchpin of the corner offense, Martin is often a bellwether for Adelman offenses, and if he’s not producing, chances are the offense is dragging.

The Wolves’ 3-and-D guy, Brewer, is shooting 17.1 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, defenses willingly slough off Rubio, practically begging him to shoot. With his confidence waning, Rubio is still racking up assists, but is less a playmaker than a reversal machine, swinging the ball to the second side without truly challenging the defense.

Speaking of defense, the Wolves have given up 106.6 points per 100 possession, a mark that would rank 28th in the NBA. Asked to identify the specific problem prior to the game, Adelman said, “We’re not guarding anybody.” Those big bodies now just look slow. Whether it’s Martin or J.J. Barea alongside Rubio, the Wolves don’t get much defensively at the 2. Brewer has conceded that his wayward shot is affecting his defense.

***

No. 2: Stephenson’s triple double trumps homecoming for Stevens – So much for that storybook homecoming for former Butler and now Celtics coach Brad Stevens. The Indiana Pacers, particularly Lance Stephenson, were having no part of the Holiday cheer. Stephenson collected his league-leading third triple-double of the season as the Pacers trounced the Celtics. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t help but dance a little bit (something Pacers coach Frank Vogel could have done without) on his way to yet another stellar performance.

Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star explains:

Stephenson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and looked very much like a player deserving of his first All-Star berth. No other player in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season.

“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “It was in the flow of the game. My teammates helped me out. We played smart. It was easy because I know my teammates are going to knock down shots.”

Stephenson did get plenty of help, most notably from Paul George, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Danny Granger, playing in his just his second game after returning from a calf strain, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and had 12 points. Roy Hibbert had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

But his teammates acknowledged afterward that Stephenson provides them an emotional lift like no one else.

“He’s just starting the game off more aggressively,” George said. “In practice, he’s been great. We’ve seen it develop over time. Now, when he gets into the game, it’s second nature to him.”

Added veteran forward David West: “One of the biggest things for young guys in the NBA is that once you work your way into the rotation and you become a guy we rely on, that just fills you up. We give him a lot of room to go out and play his game. … He definitely keeps us on our toes and keeps things light. He’s able to just do something we’ll talk about on the plane. It’s just who he is.”

Vogel wasn’t thrilled with a couple of celebration dances Stephenson did after baskets, but didn’t have much else to complain about.

“He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker for us and a huge part of our team success,” Vogel said.

STEVENS‘The emotions are in coming back and seeing friends’

Stevens, the former Butler coach who left the school in July to join the Celtics, got a warm ovation during pregame warmups and his team kept it close for one quarter.

But after that, the Pacers (22-5) showed why they have the Eastern Conference’s best record. They outscored Boston 50-22 in the paint, got 40 points from their bench and held the Celtics to just 38.1 percent shooting (32-for-84) en route to an easy victory.

As the game ended, Stevens shook hands with Vogel, a rarity at the end of a NBA game. He also shook the hand of several Pacers players.

“It was just because we’re friends and we know each other well,” said Vogel, noting they also shook hands after the Pacers’ 97-82 victory in Boston last month. “I came down and told him he was doing a great job with that team.”

***

No. 3: Pistons’ roller coaster season confounds – If Maurice Cheeks had the answers he’d have pushed those buttons already. But he doesn’t and he hasn’t. And therefore, the curious ride of the Detroit Pistons continues as the coach and his staff try to figure out how to stop the roller coaster ride that is their season and stabilize things. That’s a lot easier said than done, however, as Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News points out:

The last two home games, losses to the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats on consecutive nights over the weekend, is a clear example of nobody knowing which team will step on the floor on a given night.

“You know we’re still trying to get better,” Cheeks said. “As I said to our players, there’s going to be some good nights and bad nights. Last night (Friday) and (Saturday) was not our best.”

Cheeks believes the Bobcats loss led to the poor showing against the Rockets. The Pistons blew a 20-point lead to Charlotte on Friday and looking almost apathetic on Saturday.

“I believe there could’ve been some carryover,” Cheeks said. “I can’t discount that because it was a tough loss.”

Losing five of six at home is an unexpected circumstance, although there isn’t much shame in losing to the Miami Heat in a game where the champions were intent on sending a message.

But blowout losses to the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are combined with come-from-ahead losses to the Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers, mixed in with a win against the Brooklyn Nets that was tougher than it needed to be.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s determined when we go up and down the floor a few times,” said forward Josh Smith, when asked about getting a pulse on the team’s energy before games.

.***

No. 4: Wade surprises Union with Holiday ring – Heat guard Dwyane Wade has no problem mixing business with pleasure. He used Heat boss Pat Riley‘s annual Holiday party as his impromptu engagement party after officially popping the question to longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union before they arrived at Riley’s affair. The surprise engagement was announced via social media. But Union showing up with a huge diamond ring on her finger added an extra dash of flair to the festivities, upstaging Riley at his own gig in the process, not that anyone was complaining about that. In fact, Wade popping the question was a bit of a team effort, so says Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Wade proposed to Union before the party at his home and then announced the engagement on Twitter and Instagram.

Wade said his children helped him pop the question.

“We asked her to marry all of us, not just me,” Wade said. “It was a package deal.”

Wade and Union have dated since 2007.

“She was ready,” Wade said. “She had the ‘yes’ in her back pocket.”

At the holiday party, Wade then surprised his teammates with green custom-made sports coats commemorating their 2013 championship. The blazers featured the players’ jersey numbers on the sleeves and white Heat logos on the front pockets.

Wade said his inspirations for the unique mementos were the Masters golf tournament and Rasheed Wallace. Wallace famously had pro wrestling-style replica championship belts made for his Pistons teammates for winning the 2004 NBA Finals. Wade liked Wallace’s idea but wanted something a little classier.

Said Wade: “You know me, I’m always trying to do something different and out of the norm, and I started thinking about what have previous champions done … and then it came to be me, because of fashion and because of the Masters and how amazing it is when they win the green jacket and all the previous winners come back and take pictures with the green jackets and how prestigious it is … so I got with my stylist and created this Masters kind of feel.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder fell victim to the red-hot Raptors and the schedule in their first home loss of the season Sunday … Much like their NFL counterparts, the Dallas Mavericks are having no problems scoring. It’s the defense that they are struggling with these days … The Hawks have brought big man Lucas Nogueira to Atlanta for treatment of his ailing knees.

ICYMI Of The Night: Kevin Love put up the stat line of the night and delivered the elbow of the week, but Blake Griffin got the win, the knot on his forehead and the shine on Nightly Notable …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets the shiner (on his forehead) and the shine in the end

Chemistry Issues In Miami?




VIDEO: The Heat get back on track against the Wizards


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – This is a high-stakes game of NBA possum that the Miami Heat will never win, not at this juncture of their title-winning ways.

Four games into their second straight season trying to defend their title, there are rumblings of chemistry issues with this group. Seriously, Heat players are using strange analogies to describe the current state of affairs for a team that still has headliners like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to cover up any deficiencies.

They have earned the right to start a season a bit shaky because we know how they’ll finish the season, if the opportunity presents itself. Dealing a with a few “minor” chemistry issues should not be cause for this sort of alarm. Then you listen to the words coming out of the mouths of players in that Heat locker room and it makes you pause for a second.

You hear Wade say these sorts of things to Mike Wallace of ESPN.com and you wonder if we’re missing something bigger going on:

“Let me give you an example,” Wade said prior to Sunday’s game, which the Heat won 103-93 to even their record at 2-2. “If you’re in a relationship with a woman for a long time, you start getting comfortable. You stop doing the little things that you should do, that you did in the beginning. It’s just like a relationship. We got a little comfortable. Now we have to get back on that edge a little bit.”

Your first instinct is to look across the Heat locker room at James and examine his words and maybe his reaction to what Wade said, which will undoubtedly be relayed to the Heat’s other alpha male. When James mentioned minor chemistry issues and Wade responds the way he did, it becomes painfully obvious that whatever issues exist must be worked out by the two most important men in the room (no offense to Heat boss Pat Riley or coach Erik Spoelstra, but everyone knows that the James/Wade show is what drives the Heat).

“It’s just getting back into it — not taking what we have for granted,” James said moments later when told of Wade’s comments. “We’ve been together so long, you start to think we can go out and make it happen instead of talking through it. We lacked that the last few games. We got a handle on it today, and we know what the issue is.”

We’ll give it a few more games here at the hideout before we go hunting for that Chemistry For Dummies book to figure out the problem. Whatever issues the Heat have right now pale in comparison to what will go on if they continue to play .500 basketball into December and early January.

Based on their recent history, of course, there is little chance of that happening. So 82-0 is already out of the picture. Big deal.

After exhausting themselves last season in a quest to chase basketball immortality, the Heat should know better than anyone that this is a marathon and not a sprint. There is no need to stress a little early season scuffling when all will be forgotten the minute the Heat pile up four or five straight wins.

And save the possum for someone gullible enough to believe these minor issues are anything more than a temporary annoyance for a team that has managed to overcome all obstacles in each of the past two seasons.

Cuban: Only Idiots Spurn The Mavs


VIDEO: Cuban talks about the Mavericks’ offseason moves.

HOUSTON — Just so you know, if LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony become free agents and don’t pick Dallas as their new home, they’ll also be error-prone idiots.

“I can’t talk about anyone specifically,” said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “I’ll get fined. So any potential free agent is an idiot if they consider the Mavs and don’t come.”

Speaking to a handful of reporters about an hour before Friday night’s game at the Toyota Center, the Mavericks loquacious and opinionated boss was following up on his statement a day earlier when he said Rockets center Dwight Howard made a mistake by choosing Houston over Dallas in free agency.

Cuban and Howard had a brief conversation when they happened to cross paths in a back hallway prior to the game.

“When he stops, it wasn’t tough to figure out,” Cuban said. “He’s saying, ‘What’s going on?’

“He was fine. It was nice. I said I wasn’t picking on him. It’s common sense. I think anybody who doesn’t come to the Mavs is making a mistake, an error in judgment.

“I used stronger words, but I told Dwight ‘Anybody that doesn’t come here is an idiot.’ And if I didn’t say that, I’d be an idiot, because that’s reality, you know. Whether you’re buying a product from one of my companies or making a deal versus somebody else on Shark Tank, if I don’t have the confidence in our product to think you make a mistake if you don’t do business with me, then it’s on me.

“I don’t know if he understood, but that’s the reality. If you’re a free agent and you picked somebody else, you made an error in judgment. And if you’re a lot younger than me, then you’re a kid.’

“Like I said, I like Dwight. It’s not like I don’t like the guy. We get along.”

Having recently been cleared of insider-trading charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Cuban said he’s just happy to be back stirring up headlines in the fantasy world of sports.

“I always like to have people to mess with,” Cuban said. “You’ve got to throw out a few jabs every now and then to have fun. Wins and losses are serious, but this is still fun and if you guys (media) don’t like it, that’s your problem…It’s great fodder. I’m not gonna stop having fun.

“There’s things you don’t say, because you know what’s gonna happen. And there’s things there’s no reason to hold your tongue because you know exactly what’s going to happen and it makes it even more entertaining that the stupidest little things become headline porn.”

You can criticize Cuban for being over the top or wrong with some of his opinions and off the cuff remarks. But you cannot say that he doesn’t know how to enjoy his high profile role and doesn’t add spice to the NBA, if only to keep himself amused. Through the years, he’s waged verbal wars with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson of the Lakers, not to mention infuriating the entire city of San Antonio for insulting the beloved River Walk.

“The back and forth is the best,” Cuban said. “Especially Shaq was good and Phil Jackson was great, because he’s smart. When you get somebody like that who’s witty, it’s a challenge, it’s fun. Whether it’s Phil Jackson every now and then or Pat Riley a few times, that’s the kind of public battles that are fun.”

Is Howard a worthy verbal sparring partner?

“I don’t know,” Cuban said. “You’d have to ask him. I’m not going after that one.”

The truth is, Cuban wishes that a few more NBA owners would get engaged the way he does, heckling opponents from their court side seats and standing up publicly for their teams.

“Yeah, it would make the game more entertaining,” he said. “It really would. At the end of the day, people don’t come to be serious about sports. We take our sports seriously and it’s emotional. But we come to have fun. It’s entertainment. Does anybody remember the score of our exhibition game when we played (the Rockets)? Anybody remember the score of any of our games last year?”

He cackles. He giggles. He rarely ducks a question and always has an opinion on any issue, especially the Mavs, whom he’ll never miss an opportunity to promote. Even at the expense of a high-profile opponent.

Remember that player who made “The Decision” to take his talents to South Beach in 2010 and has since won two championships when he could have jumped to Dallas?

“You know, what can I say? It was still a horrible mistake,” said a grinning Cuban. “I can’t talk about free agents. So whoever you’re referring to, he could have had three (championships).”

NBA Minds Meeting In The Middle On ‘Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics’

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau uses a mix of advanced statistics and old-school in his coaching style.

Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau mixes advanced statistics and “old-school” in his coaching philosophy.

At one end of the gym the other night in St. Louis you had Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, basketball lifer, a fellow who reveres the old-school mentors he has had and spews the sort of coach-ese (“Don’t skip steps,” “next man up,” “more than enough to win”) that existed even before Doc Naismith hung the peach baskets.

At the other end, an hour or so before an NBA preseason game, you had Memphis Grizzlies VP of basketball operations John Hollinger, one of the league’s “new wave” of advanced-analytics gurus. A former columnist at ESPN.com, Hollinger helped to turn the statistical analysis of basketball not just into a new job but a new way of thinking about, appreciating and ultimately playing the game.

And yet, when it comes to crunching numbers, valuing some and discarding others, the two aren’t as diametrically opposed in philosophies as their backgrounds or personalities might suggest.

“I’ve been big on statistics for a long time,” Thibodeau said. “I like to use Elias [Sports Bureau]. There are a number of things I look at. … I get a stat pack both on our opponent and on us for every game.”

With postseason baseball picking up steam toward the World Series and the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s alive until Thursday night in the American League, the use of advanced stats vs. traditional eye- and gut-evaluations in shaping NBA rosters and devising 2013-14 strategy seemed a timely topic.

What got introduced into baseball over a period of 30 years due in part to “sabermetrician” outsider-turned-insider Bill James has traveled along more recent learning and acceptance curves in basketball. Where the former has gained devotees of OPS and defensive range factors over, say, RBIs or pitchers’ victory totals, the latter is making its case for team pace, player usage rates and individual rebound percentages.

Hollinger – quick to admit he is “biased” – said he’s heartened by how swiftly the NBA, its media and its fans have embraced many of the new tools.

“If basketball had as much initial resistance as baseball, there’s no way in hell I’d be working for a team right now,” Hollinger said, laughing. “I thought it would take a lot longer for a lot of these things to be accepted than it has. Even the simpler stuff, like ‘per 40 minutes’ or ‘offensive and defensive efficiency.’

“It took way longer in baseball,” he said. “I think part of the reason is that Bill James kind of plowed a trail through the snow for the other sports.”

Nowhere near as tradition-bound as baseball, basketball, Hollinger said, “has always been more open to trying new things, changing the rules, changing approaches.”

But before the new breed pats itself on the back too much, Thibodeau noted some early influences on him, coaches such as Pat Riley and Bill Musselman who were regularly seeking and utilizing numbers by the 1980s at least. When Rick Pitino went from a Knicks assistant to Providence College in 1985, the Bulls coach said, he upped the ante in his use of 3-point weaponry long before the competition.

“From a math standpoint, you could figure out how you could offset a talent disadvantage,” Thibodeau said.

The Bulls rely on Steve Weinman to mine a lot of statistical info, Thibodeau said. Many other teams – Boston, Houston, Memphis, Miami among them – go further in what most admit is a copy-cat league. As far as a pendulum effect, Hollinger thinks it hasn’t swung nearly far enough while Thibodeau seems comfortable with where the mix sits right now. He notes that few analytical breakdowns account for every variation, such as home/road or 4-in-5-night schedule quirks, and he’s wary of small sample sizes.

Besides, what was it Mark Twain said? “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Churchill has a great quote, something along the lines of, he didn’t believe in any statistics that he didn’t doctor himself,” Thibodeau said. “There is a place in our league and I think it’s good. It may be getting overplayed some right now. I think the trained eye is very important. But numbers are certainly a big part of the equation.”

Hollinger, meanwhile, concedes that basketball is different from baseball or even football, which allow for easier isolation of measurable events. Think of each sport’s flow: Baseball is a series of individual acts strung together. Football is a sequential activity of participants, from snap to block to drop-back and pass to reception and run.

Then there’s basketball, where the ball can reverse directions, teams have 24 seconds to act, react and counter, defenders switch and switch back, and games can turn on so-called 50/50 balls where best-laid plans vanish.

“You’re trying to break it down into almost baseball-like segments,” Hollinger said courtside, sipping from his ubiquitous cup of coffee. “It gets tricky when, much like football, you’re counting on the interaction of multiple players in any one play. Where in baseball, the left fielder could be doing almost anything and he won’t impact the batter-pitcher confrontation unless the ball’s hit to him.”

So while it is said to be basketball’s wave of the future, the use of advanced statistics also has one foot firmly planted in the game’s essence and past. The best thing is that, in 2013-14, there’s room for both.

Those raised on  Xs & Os and squishy stuff like “effort” and “sacrifice” don’t have to butt heads with the slide-rule set, any more than mainstream news media in their scrambles to survive butt heads these days with the blogosphere. Woe to the old-school coach or GM who scoffs at spreadsheets.

Then again, “Moneyball” hasn’t made it to the World Series yet.

No Worries For D-Wade This Season!






HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kudos to Dwyane Wade for setting the record straight from the start, for addressing the Miami Heat’s outstanding issues up front and making sure that the looming free agency situation that could overshadow a lesser group won’t be a problem this season.

That doesn’t mean those of us in the fourth estate won’t make a mess of things a time or two (or three, or four, or five, or six …) this season. That is, after all, what some of us are paid to do.

But as a team leader and one of the main cogs in the Heat’s three-peat machine, Wade knows that his health and how that impacts this season and beyond for the Heat is the underlying story for them. While some people are anticipating a breakup of some sorts of the Heat’s Big 3 of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, that’s not how Wade sees it.

What could be a major distraction for some is just a minor inconvenience where Wade is concerned.

“You have concern when you feel people want to go elsewhere,” Wade said at Heat Media Day. “I don’t think nobody here is looking to go elsewhere. So that’s not a concern. We don’t have guys waiting to get out of this situation. This is a very good situation to be in. I think people enjoy being in it. So guys thinking about their contracts, I don’t see it as a problem. We don’t have young guys looking for their first major re-up, to get paid. We got guys who got paid a few times. So I don’t look at that as being a problem. It won’t be a problem.

“Obviously, there will be a lot of media attention around LeBron James’ decision, of what he’ll do when the summer’s up. But we all know inside our locker room that LeBron is committed to this team. He’s committed to being one of the great players. He’s committed to winning another championship. And the business side for 75 percent of our locker room will happen when it’s time for it to happen. I don’t think no one is rushing to get to that point.”

It certainly helps when the entire organization is reading from the same memo on this. LeBron shut down the free agency line of questioning at Media Day before it could pick up any real steam. And you know Heat boss Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra won’t entertain those questions throughout the season, no matter what the Heat are doing in the standings at a given time.

“We’ll address it but we don’t need to belabor it,” Spoelstra said. “Our guys aren’t naive to the business of basketball. And you have to respect everybody’s point in their career when they become a free agent. There’s nothing wrong with it. We also will have to focus on now and not be obsessed with the future, because it’s unknown.

“It’ll probably be a bigger storyline out there than it will be in our locker room. We’ve dealt with quite a few storylines over the years.”

Wade diving in early and as emphatically as he did, however, slams the door on the drama. And I love that. The Heat have a chance to chase history this season. Whether you are rooting for or against them, you want to see them do it with few distractions as possible.

Wade knows his health will be as big an issue all season anyway. So there’s no need for added pressure, at least not internally.

“My body’s going to do what my body wants to do,” Wade said. “If it was up to me, I would never have a sprained ankle in my life. But it’s not up to me.”

“I know when I’m healthy how well I play. And I know when I’m not healthy how well I still can play. But I would rather be healthy to give this team its best opportunity. But LeBron James’ decision is LeBron James’ decision. Whether I’m healthy or not healthy, he’s going to make the decision that’s best for him and his family. That’s all you can expect from that situation. So don’t try to put that pressure on me. Y’all can stop that right now. It’s not my decision.”

Bosh States The Obvious: It’s Three-Peat Or Bust For Heat This Season

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It took a little while, but heading into the fourth year of one of the greatest experiments in NBA history has given Chris Bosh a certain perspective on things.

Temporary stress produced instant overreactions that, in the long run, simply did not matter. The Heat either failed (as they did in their first season together in The Finals against the Dallas Mavericks) or triumphed (as they did in The Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, respectively) on the big stage in each of the past two seasons.

The Heat center understands the bottom line for Miami’s Big 3 remains the same for the 2013-14 season. It was championships or bust from the start and it will be that way to the finish.

If Bosh and fellow Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade cannot find a way to persevere this season and win a third straight Larry O’Brien trophy, the future takes a decidedly different shape than it will if they succeed.

Free agency looms either way and structural changes would surely be a part of the next phase for the Heat if they don’t find their way to the championship parade route come season’s end. That gives this season with the “SuperFriends” an edge it lacked previously, mostly because no one would abandon the master plan that early in the process.

The pressures facing the Heat this season are as daunting as ever, as Bosh told Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel, but much more manageable now than they were years ago:

“I couldn’t believe it,” Bosh said Wednesday, speaking after the filming of a commercial for the Henry Warren Auto Group at Turnberry Isle Country Club. “I was like, `Man it’s been four years already? But we’re professionals. We know it comes with the job. We can’t do anything about it. We just have to make sure we take care of our business, stay together and just really answer the call to adversity when it comes.”

That business consists of completing another championship run. The Heat are attempting to become the first team to win three consecutive titles since the Los Angles Lakers did from 2000-02. Only five teams have accomplished the feat in league history.

For the Heat it’s more about keeping the core of their team in tact. Making history is just an added bonus.

“Everybody wants to know what we’re going to do (after the season),” Bosh said. “Yeah, I get it. Everything depends on this season. If we win, cool. If we lose, that’s when it’s like `What if?’”

Bosh said he is better equipped to handle the attention than the last time he was in the situation. He was a free agent with the Toronto Raptors after 2010 season before joining the Heat. He said the key is keeping focus on the current season.

“You think about it but I’m mature enough to know that if I really start to think about it, I’m going to start playing bad,” Bosh said. “Things aren’t going to go right. I’m just going to enjoy today. I’m looking forward to having a big year this year. That’s all I think about. In Toronto, it kind of messed me up. I was thinking, `What is going to happen [in the offseason]? I started struggling and then I snapped back into basketball.”

The guessing game on the Heat’s future ends with a third straight title.

It would be tough for any executive to pull the plug on a dynasty like that, even someone with the credentials of Hall of Fame Heat boss Pat Riley. The core of James, Bosh and Wade would still be viable for at least the next four of five seasons (with Wade being the only legitimate question mark).

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is going to be among the league’s best for years to come either way. And Miami will remain an enticing spot for free agents, so long as Riley is there to woo them.

The player component obviously hinges on James, first and foremost, making the decision to stick around. The futures for Bosh, Wade and the rest of the Heat’s rotation players depends on James’ choice, as well. This isn’t breaking news in South Florida, where fans have to be a little restless thinking about the future, or anywhere else in the NBA universe.

The fact that Bosh is as clear-headed as he is about this in advance of training camp speaks to the complete understanding of the journey he and his teammates have traveled thus far.

LeBron, Part 2: Difference Is The Rings

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HANG TIME, Texas — There’s no reason to think the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich has been reserved for a certain night in July 2014. Or that Jim Gray is waiting in the wings fixing his makeup.

There is a reason why The Decision, Part Deux should come with far less Hollywood frippery — though no less high anxiety — than the original.

Deux of them, actually.

When LeBron James announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach on July 8, 2010, he was still, in so many different ways, a young man full of questions and doubt.

Now he is a two-time champion and those rings on his fingers are the answers and the validation that should be able to shut down any of the peripheral noise.

James is, of course, the biggest star who’ll be able to become a free agent next summer, leading a pack that will include Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, as well as his Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And while the four-time MVP says that his first inclination is to continue hanging out and chasing titles in Miami, James admitted to ESPN’s Chris Broussard that nothing is certain.

“I have absolutely no idea,” James recently told ESPN.com. “I would love to spend the rest of my career in Miami with this great team and great organization as we continue to compete for championships. That’s ideal. But we don’t know what may happen from now to the end of the season. That’s the nature of the business. It’s the nature of not knowing what tomorrow brings.

“I mean, as a kid, I never thought the Bulls would break up. Never. If you’d of told me as a kid that [Michael] Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen wouldn’t play together for the rest of their lives, I’d have looked at you crazy. And Phil Jackson wouldn’t be the coach? I’d have looked at you crazy. But sometimes the nature of the business doesn’t allow things to happen like you would want them to. But we’ll see.”

The question then becomes whether LeBronmania 2 can grow into the Melodrama and Dwightmare scenarios that nearly consumed Anthony and Dwight Howard and even himself over the past several years?

On the surface, the difference is age and maturity. But the truth is that it’s those championships that set him apart. Before he jumped to the Heat, it was insecurity that drove James to fuel the gossip mill. While he had the numbers and the individual accolades, he could never be sure of himself as a champion until he’d done it. The past two seasons have seen him raise his game and his teammates onto his back and lift the cloud of self-doubt.

Now when James looks ahead to the next chapter, it will only be about setting higher goals and where he wants to chase them:

Miami – If Wade can get through another long playoff run reasonably healthy, the Heat will have to be consider the odds-on favorites to keep James. Wade would still be a quite capable second banana. Assuming that Bosh won’t give up the $42 million left on his contract to become a free agent, it could be time for team president Pat Riley to make the kind of deal that infuses the roster with younger, deeper talent that could make James’ task less Herculean.

Cleveland — If Kyrie Irving continues on track to becoming a perennial All-Star point guard, if No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett lives up to his billing, if coach Mike Brown’s return puts the bite back into the Cavaliers’ defense, it would not be so very, very far-fetched for LeBron to return. It would be the biggest sports homecoming ever. He would still be in his prime and could heal so many of the old scars left behind.

L.A. Lakers — If King James is really looking to put the ultimate jewel in his crown, what could be a more lofty goal than to pick up the NBA’s most glamorous franchise and put it back on track? Having won MVPs in Cleveland and championships in Miami, he could even get an extra special kick out of being the one who “helps” teammate Kobe get his sixth championship ring to tie Jordan.

But those are all fantasies for next summer and, as he told Broussard, he can avoid fanning the flames of the rumor mill:

“I owe it to myself, I owe it my teammates and I owe it to the Miami Heat to stay focused,” he said. “As a leader, I’m not even going to let that side of the business get me unfocused on what I’m trying to do and that’s trying to win another championship.

“I’m going to try to [stop the discussion about free agency], but you always have reporters who are going to always bring it up. They’re going to change the question and make it sound like something else. But it will get to a point, if I continue to hear it, where I will say, ‘Hey guys, I’ve answered the question and out of respect, let’s talk about this after the season.’ ”

This time there doesn’t have to be a prime time TV show. It doesn’t have to be so crazy, so out of control.

For two reasons, both on LeBron’s fingers.

2013-14 NBA Schedule Released Tonight





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Pat Riley was wise to trademark the term “three-Peat” all those years ago when he was coaching the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers to titles.

Riley, now the president of the two-time defending champion Heat, will find the road to Miami’s three-peat hopes laid out tonight on NBA TV (6 p.m. ET) when the 2013-14 NBA schedule is released. If LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the crew have the energy to do it again, they’ll have to start with the 82-game slate released tonight.

The 1,230 game-schedule will give us the first look at the season’s marquee games on opening night, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day lineup. It’s a safe bet that the revamped Houston Rockets, with Dwight Howard co-headlining alongside All-Star shooting guard James Harden, will be included in that mix.

The schedule will also be posted on NBA.com.