ORLANDO – One of the unintended benefits of a team plowing through week after week of a 27-game (and counting) win streak is the collective strain it puts on not just a team’s superstars, but also it’s supporting cast.
And in the case of the Miami Heat, that would be, as All-Star forward Chris Bosh coined it, “the best supporting cast in the business.” Bosh was, of course, speaking about the cast surrounding reigning MVP LeBron James, a group headlined by Dwyane Wade and himself.
But those three superstars have the added benefit of leaning on what has developed into the best cast of veteran, high basketball IQ specailists in the business. From stalwarts like Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen and Shane Batter to Mike Miller and Chris “Birdman” Andersen to Norris Cole and occasionally James Jones or even Joel Anthony, the Heat found ways to tap into their resources at the right time throughout this streak.
It’s a delicate balance, knowing who to go to, and when. But it’s a luxury that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff have cultivated for the past three seasons. And for a team that will need every player to defend their title, this streak and the finish of this regular season could prove to be crucial in ensuring the reserves are ready for that grind.
“They are gaining more and more confidence,” Spoelstra said. “They really are. It doesn’t really matter which group we have out there. They take it to heart that they want to put together good minutes on the scoreboard. Those guys are just stepping up and giving us good minutes.”
Great minutes, actually, in spurts.
Cole scored a season-high 15 points and led seven scorers off the bench in Sunday’s win over Charlotte, the first of two straight games the Heat played without Wade, who sat out with a sore right knee. Cole (3-for-4), Allen (4-for-5) and Battier (2-for-5) lit it up from distance as the Heat used an 11-for-13 barrage from 3-point range to subdue the Bobcats.
Miller started in place of Wade Sunday and played 22 minutes in the win over the Bobcats. That’s the exact same number of minutes he played in the 10 games before that, and looked comfortable doing it. He started again Monday night against Orlando, making three of his six shots from the floor in 20 minutes against the Magic.
He attempted a total of four shots in those 10 games prior to his Bobcats start, but didn’t hesitate Sunday night, uncorking a couple of 3-pointers in the opening minutes of that game.
“My view was to just fill in,” Miller said. “But you can’t be shy. My motto is to let it fly. That helps our team, when our shooters are aggressive it opens up lanes for everybody else.”
Cole, Andersen and ex-Magic All-Star Rashard Lewis (11 points, courtesy of a 3-for-5 shooting effort from long-range) provided the boost the Heat needed to get win No. 27, outscoring the Magic reserves 42-15. The Heat are 26-1 this season when its reserves outscore the opposition’s.
“It’s just knowing your role and knowing what’s needed,” Battier said. “It’s the way we’ve worked all season long and right now it’s the perfect complement to what we’re doing offensively. Our main goal on offense is to create space to allow our best guys the room they need to operate. The only way to do that is to put shooters around them. So when we get the open looks, we have to make shots. It all has to work together.”
Making sure the bench was ready was of critical importance for Spoelstra, though he wouldn’t have forced the issue down the stretch of the regular season. Not with the type of veterans the Heat have.
“They’ve already had a body of work,” he said. “They’ve been called upon at times this year, and they are keeping themselves ready. The most important thing is all the work they’ve been doing behind the scenes. You could whither away on the sidelines by not playing if you didn’t have the right attitude. But our guys come in every single day. They do their conditioning and they also stay in it mentally. They do it every day.”
You win 27 straight games and everybody has to bring it — the superstars and the “best supporting cast in the business.”
That’s what is on tap for Orlando Magic fans tonight when Dwight Howard makes his return to the building built upon his broad shoulders, the one that was supposed to house the city’s biggest and brightest star.
A win over the Los Angeles Lakers would sweeten the deal, anything the Magic can do to damage the Lakers’ playoff chances serves that purpose. And a lousy game by Howard might also add to the feel-good nature of the evening for those Magic fans still wounded by Howard’s departure last summer via a blockbuster trade.
But after it’s all over, when the booing is finished and the Lakers are in the air and headed to Atlanta for a Wednesday night matchup against the Hawks, the Magic and the entire city of Orlando needs to close the door on this Dwightmare drama for good. It’s time to wake up from this mess and finally move on.
That’s an extremely tall order, what with Howard’s refusal to stop sticking his size 18s in his mouth at seemingly every turn. Howard, however, is someone else’s Dwightmare now. The Lakers have to sweat out this summer wondering what he’ll do, whether he’s willing to stick around or chase his fortunes elsewhere (the Brooklyn whispers remain).
Magic fans will get a fresh start after tonight, and a well-deserved one. They can thank their front office for only having to see Howard once this year anyway. The decision to trade him to the Lakers and not somewhere else in the Eastern Conference prevented us all from having to go through this exhausting exercise on more than one occasion.,
That said, tonight’s meeting between the Magic and Lakers (7 ET, League Pass) promises to offer up one of the more bizarre scenes of the season, which is saying a mouthful, given the traveling circus the Lakers have been all season long.
Howard’s recent comments about his time in Orlando and his words about his former teammates (that he insists were misconstrued) will have to be addressed again … and in the flesh. There’s no Stan Van Gundy around to serve as the punching bag/foil for Howard, as he did during that infamous hallways scene after a shootaround practice last season.
One-time Howard ally Jameer Nelson will be in the other locker room. The eyes and ears of former Magic players like J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis and even Vince Carter will no doubt be tuned into whatever is said.
“What’s said is said, and what happened is over and done with,” Nelson said. “I’m just here trying to look forward and not trying to dwell on the past. The decision was made and things happen, so it’s not like anybody could take them back or anything like that. And me personally, I’m not mad at him for doing what he did. I don’t know. Could things have been done differently? Yeah. But they weren’t. So, me as a person, I just have to move on and try to continue to be successful and do the things I need to do to help the team get back in the position we used to be in.”
“In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way,” he said. “If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media.
“I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me.”
That something else, for now, is trying to rebound from the Lakers’ disastrous start to this season and assist Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash in delivering his new team to the playoffs.
Howard would be wise to focus on that tonight and not the hate shower he’ll get from the crowd tonight in Orlando. Because it should get nasty.
But when it’s over, win or lose, the Magic need to wake up from their Dwightmare and just move on.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Fourteen games on the slate all-but ensured plenty of drama around the Association … and that’s exactly what we got. There were several comeback games, but most notably Jazz-Cavs (which Cleveland won), Celtics-Pacers (which Boston won), Lakers-Hornets (which L.A. won) and Magic-Heat (which Miami won). Whew! Lot of great games to pick from just from that slate, and we’re not even getting to Blazers-Grizz (another rally, this time by Memphis) or Kings-Warriors (where Klay Thompson played the hero). Picking one comeback over another is never easy, but that is what we’re here to do: make the tough decisions. All that said, we’re going with Celtics-Pacers as our one to watch this morning. Indiana seemingly had this one in the bag thanks to some clutch baskets by George Hill, but Kevin Garnett showed why he’s a future Hall of Famer with his pinpoint pass to Jeff Green to clinch the win.
Lakers bond stronger after rally — In case you were living under a rock last night (or even this morning) and missed the Lakers’ epic comeback from a 25-point hole in New Orleans last night, our multimedia crew has all the best moments from L.A.’s stunning win. A win like the one the Lakers experience last night not only helped get them closer to the No. 8 spot in the West playoff race, but also created more of a bond amongst the team. Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News has more:
The Lakers’ 108-102 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets didn’t just mark a game in which they overcame a 25-point deficit against a sub.-500 opponent.
This didn’t just mark the first time the Lakers overcame such a large gap since overcoming a 30-point deficit against the Dallas Mavericks in 2002. The Lakers’ latest win gave them renewed confidence they can overcome any obstacle.
“Games like this really strengthen the bond between us players,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “That’s really what the playoffs are all about. You have adversity. It’s about who’s going to stick together and who’s not going to break.”
It helps that the win improves the bottom line results, too.
With the Utah Jazz losing Tuesday to Cleveland, the Lakers (31-31) trail Utah (32-29) by only 1 games for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
The Lakers sat in their locker room afterwards eagerly watching the final minutes of Houston’s loss to Dallas.
“Come on, Dallas!” Lakers forward Metta World Peace yelled from his stall. “Do what you gotta do!”
With Houston’s loss, the Lakers are only two games behind the Rockets (33-29) for the seventh seed.
Bryant took over the offense by scoring 18 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard overcame early foul trouble by taking a large defensive role, including blocking Robin Lopez’s layup attempt with 27 seconds remaining. Reserve guard Jodie Meeks posted 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter by making 4 of 5 three-point attempts.
“Dwight played big. When he’s like that and Kobe’s like this, that’s kind of what everybody envisioned it would be,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We hope we can build on this.”
The roles worked out perfectly.
Woodson: Anthony has fluid buildup in knee — After admitting that he should have pulled Carmelo Anthony out of Monday’s game in Cleveland when Anthony asked instead of letting him suffer a knee injury, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said his star forward will get his rest now. An MRI revealed that Anthony has fluid buildup in his injured right knee and will be taking a seat for a few games, writes Al Iannazzone of Newsday:
Mike Woodson said the MRI on Carmelo Anthony’s injured right knee showed “some fluid buildup” in there.
“That’s what’s causing the stiffness,” Woodson said. “Rest will probably be the best thing for him.”
Anthony rested Wednesday night, sitting out against the Pistons. Woodson said Anthony would be evaluated again Thursday night and if he feels better, he could play against the Thunder at the Garden. Woodson said it will be Anthony’s decision.
“I’ll do whatever he wants to do,” Woodson said. “Trust me. Players know their own body. If he tells me he wants to play I’m going to play him. I’m not going to fight him on that . . . If he says, ‘Coach, I need to sit down and rest a game or two,’ I’m going to grant that, absolutely.”
The irony is Woodson said Anthony asked out of Monday’s game in Cleveland before he aggravated his knee and the coach didn’t listen to him.
“He just kind of nodded that his knee wasn’t right,” Woodson said. “I kind of ignored it somewhat. Maybe I shouldn’t have.”
After tripping over his own feet, Anthony fell in the second quarter in Cleveland. When he got up, he walked right to the locker room and never returned. The Knicks were down 22 at the time and rallied to win behind a strong game from Amar’e Stoudemire. This was the seventh game Anthony has missed all or part of this season.
“Obviously he was hurting,” Woodson said. “He asked me to bring him out. I kind of ignored it because we were down. I probably should have taken him out and then he took the spill and he left the game because he was hurting. I didn’t heed to it because I’ve seen him banged up and hit and things of that nature.”
Howard’s comments irritate ex-Orlando mates Lewis, Nelson — In the 2004 Draft, the Magic took Dwight Howard with the No. 1 overall pick and, 19 picks later, worked out a savvy trade with the Nuggets to add Jameer Nelson to the fold, too. Three seasons later, with the Magic as a budding young team in the East, Orlando added Rashard Lewis as a free agent. From there, the Magic began a steady climb in the East, culminating in a 2009 Finals appearance as well as three division titles. Nelson and Lewis joined Howard as All-Stars in 2009, but apparently Dwight’s memory of his teammates and his days in Orlando isn’t so clear. His comments to a local CBS affiliate in L.A. about his Magic teammates riled up Nelson and Lewis, who is now with the Heat. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:
Former Magic forward Rashard Lewis called Dwight Howard’s recent comments about his former Magic teammates “disrespectful” and defended Jameer Nelson, once one of Howard’s closest friends.
Howard told a CBS affiliate in L.A. that “my team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted, and I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face.”
Howard, Lewis and Nelson were on the Magic team that defied odds and reached the NBA Finals in 2009.
“It’s disrespectful more than anything. We helped Dwight become the player he was,” said Lewis, who signed this summer with the Miami Heat, which faced the Magic on Wednesday night.
“We made a good run. Hell, look at those (conference and division) banners hanging in the stands. They don’t say Dwight Howard on them…”
Nelson said after shootaround that he was disappointed in Howard’s professionalism.
“At some point, when are you a gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner,” Nelson told the Sentinel.
“I would be less of a man to comment on certain things that people comment on about me and my teammates. We had a great run as a group, as core guys, and he was a part of it (reaching the 2009 Finals) and for him to say things about anybody in a negative manner, that’s up to him.”
Nelson and Howard were close, drafted together in the first round in 2004.
But their relationship eroded after Howard said before he was traded to the Lakers last summer that he would love to play with some of the league’s elite point guards, such as Chris Paul.
Former Magic General Manager Otis Smith said that Howard “threw Jameer under the bus.”
Said Lewis, “Everybody on that team was very close friends. Not only that, but Jameer Nelson, out of all people. I don’t care. I got thick skin. That stuff bounces off me…but him and Jameer are supposed to be best friends.
“Jameer kept his mouth shut for a long time..you hear him (Dwight) say stuff like Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, this guy, that guy and Jameer Nelson is the one who took us to the Finals, who helped, even though he got injured.”
Nets opt to bench Humphries — Enteringthe season, Nets forward Kris Humphries was fresh off back-to-back double-double campaigns in which he had elevated himself as one of the free-agent gems of 2012. Humphries re-signed with Brooklyn and was the Nets’ starting power forward for the first 18 games, but since then has seen his minutes dwindle. He’s averaging a mere 5.5 ppg and 5.9 rpg this season, with averages of 2.1 ppg and 4.1 rpg since the All-Star break. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that the Nets are going to dwindle Humphries’ minutes even further as they gear up for the playoffs, writes Seth Walder and Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
Kris Humphries’ official divorce from Kim Kardashian is fast approaching, but his divorce from playing time will come much sooner. According to a league source, Humphries was informed by coach P.J. Carlesimo Wednesday morning that he will no longer be part of the Nets’ shortened rotation.
Carlesimo has said in recent days that he wants to limit the rotation to nine or 10 players as the Nets head into the stretch run before the postseason.
The 6’9″ forward is averaging 18.4 minutes per game this season, a number that has dwindled substantially since the beginning of the year.
The decision to bench Humphries is curious given how fervently the Nets have worked to keep him. In July, the Nets inked the forward to a two-year, $24 million contract. Two weeks ago, at the trade deadline, the Nets could have traded Humphries to their opponent Wednesday night, Charlotte, in a deal that would have brought back Ben Gordon. And yet, despite their commitment to Humphries financially and the value he could have returned in the trade market, his only spot on the team for the foreseeable future will be on the bench.
Carlesimo has preferred Reggie Evans to Humphries since taking over as coach, despite the fact that Evans essentially offers nothing in the offense department (3.4 points per game). Evans has shot just 46% from under and around the basket, according to NBA.com. Evans has had 22% of his shots blocked this year and 33% blocked in February and March. Though Humphries hasn’t displayed a vast improvement on the offensive end of the floor this year, he has been better, and has demonstrated some talent in that respect of the game in previous seasons.
Humphries hasn’t performed at the level that the Nets presumably hoped when they signed him to a lucrative contract in the offseason.
Carlesimo spoke about the rotation Wednesday morning in Charlotte, saying he wanted to limit it to 10 players and that MarShon Brooks will be part of that rotation.
“I think 10 for now. We’re looking more 10. We want to play minimum four bigs and it would be hard to take one of the smalls out of the rotation,” Carlesimo said. “I’m not hung up on the number as much as, for us, coming off the bench, there’s nights we need defense and there’s nights we need offense.”
Budinger, Love await word from doctors– As our own Steve Aschburner documented on Hang Time last night, the Wolves lost 242 man games through their first 57 games to injuries. Two key names on that list, Chase Budinger and All-Star Kevin Love, have missed a combined 90 games and have been a big reason why Minnesota has disappointed so much this season. Good news may be on the horizon for those two players, though, as they are scheduled to talk to their respective doctors this week, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:
Injured Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger will speak by phone with his Florida knee surgeon Tuesday, hopeful he’ll be cleared to practice again with his teammates soon thereafter.
On Wednesday, two-time All Star Kevin Love will revisit his New York City surgeon seeking clearance to play with a healing right shooting hand he has broken not once but twice this season.
Both could be back playing games within two weeks, three weeks at most for Budinger.
With such similar timetables, could both such long-awaited returns possibly come on the same night?
“You never know,” Love said. “You never know.”
Either way, both hope to play at least the season’s final 15 games, Love perhaps a little more than that.
Love said he’ll join the team in Houston the Friday after his Wednesday’s doctor’s visit. He said he won’t play immediately that night even if he does get doctor’s clearance —like he did when he came back the first time in November — because he had surgery this time, on Jan. 15.
But probably not too terribly long after that …
“It’s really up to the doctor and myself and Glen and David,” he said, referring to owner Glen Taylor and basketball President David Kahn. “But until I see what the doctor says, I just won’t know.”
ICYMI of the night: We aren’t sure if this Jamal Crawford-to-Blake Griffin is the dunk of the year, but it has got to be in the running:
DALLAS – Now that J.J. Redick is gone from Orlando, and likely for good, he reflected Tuesday night on his six-plus seasons, all but this one spent with Dwight Howard, and how close the Magic seemed to a dominant run.
Orlando traded the 3-point sharpshooter to the Milwaukee Bucks at last week’s trade deadline. All that’s left of the 2008-09 Finals team that lost in five games to Los Angeles Lakers is Jameer Nelson and the suspended Hedo Turkoglu (who left as a free agent in ’09 and returned in a trade in ’10).
“I can remember being in my third year in the NBA and playing in The Finals,” Redick said Tuesday after scoring 14 points in the Bucks’ 95-90 win over the Mavericks. “You look at Dwight’s contract situation, you look at Rashard’s contract situation, Jameer’s contract situation, we had a chance to re-sign Turk, so you’d think maybe the team would have kept its core together. And you think you’re going to be back in The Finals the next year and the year after that, and it’s frustrating in that sense because I thought we would be back at some point, and we weren’t.
More from Redick in his own words:
Q: How close did you feel the team was to being a dominant force in the Eastern Conference?
A: We were very close. I think the big decision was what to do with Hedo. We didn’t necessarily want to give him a five-year deal and he had options out there, two five-year deals in excess of $50 million with Portland and Toronto. He made his decision and it was a good decision for him. As a player you have to strike while the iron is hot and take advantage of your small window to make a living. We made the trade for Vince [Carter] and for whatever reason we just couldn’t get over the top and beat the Celtics the next year. The following season we had a bunch of injuries and sicknesses early on and got off to a little bit of a slow start, and we made two separate blockbuster trades (Carter, Mikael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Turkoglu, Earl Clark anda first-round pick; andRashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas).
And, to me, that was the turning point. We never really got back to elite status after that.
Q: How did things begin to devolve with Dwight Howard’s ongoing situation?
A: Dating back to a year and a half, two years ago is when things started to get a little hectic in Orlando. It definitely changed the makeup of the organization and the franchise. And obviously, when you have a player of Dwight’s caliber you’re in contention to win a championship. When you lose a player like that there’s a strong possibility you’re going to have to rebuild and it might get a little ugly.
Q: It’s been a little ugly in Los Angeles. The Lakers are essentially backed into the same corner as the Magic were, waiting with bated breath for Howard to make a decision, one he says he won’t make until this summer. He says he doesn’t want another circus, but isn’t he creating another one by being non-committal?
A: I think he’s non-commital, I guess, for a reason. I’m not sure what that reason is, but if he wanted to explore his free agency he could have done it last summer. I’m not sure why he opted in [last year] because he wanted out of Orlando. I’m not really sure.
Q: You dealt with weeks of speculation about where you would be traded or if you would be traded at all. Now that you are with the Bucks, a team that appears, at worst, locked into the No. 8 seed and headed to the playoffs, is there a sense of relief?
A: Yeah, there’s definitely a feeling of relief. My feeling on just being traded in general is it’s part of the business. I’m a guy who just believes in making the best out of any situation. You can’t always change or control your circumstances, but you can change your perspective and your attitude. So no matter where I went, if I had stayed in Orlando, I would have made the most of it.
Idc wat a wiz fan say yes I was outta shape Ill give yal that but no body n that organization tried to help me with— andray blatche (@drayblatche) November 27, 2012
Feels good to be part of a winning organization— andray blatche (@drayblatche) November 27, 2012
Such is the depressing life of the Wizards. Team president Ernie Grunfeld‘s dumping of high-priced Rashard Lewis for veterans Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor has been a disaster. The hailed return of Nene lasted two games before yet another departure to rest his problematic foot. In Nene’s limited floor time of 49 minutes, Washington is a plus-31, so the big fella can definitely help pound out a ‘W’ if he can stay on the court.
Still, Randy Wittman‘s bunch must now be viewed as a serious contender to crash the league record for consecutive losses to start a season. Just two seasons ago, the Wizards lost 25 consecutive road games to start the season, the third-longest such skid in NBA history. Last season they started 0-8.
Now they’re two-thirds to 0-18, the worst start ever by an NBA team and owned by the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets. The lockout-shortened 1999 Los Angeles Clippers and the 1988-89 expansion Miami Heat started 0-17. These Wizards are the 12th team in NBA history to start a season with 12 consecutive losses.
They’ll try to avoid a baker’s dozen at home Wednesday night against a smarting Portland team that dropped an ugly one at Detroit on Monday night.
How realistic is 0-18 or — gasp! — worse? Here’s their next six: vs. Portland, at New York, vs. Miami, at Atlanta, vs. Golden State, at New Orleans. Those six teams are a combined 49-34, and the worst of the lot, the Hornets (4-9), beat the Clippers in L.A. on Monday.
Then comes this hefty four-pack: at Houston, vs. Los Angeles Lakers, at Miami, vs. Atlanta.
Before the Wizards fell to 0-7 nearly two weeks ago following a 107-101 defeat at Dallas where they reversed a blowout, but couldn’t tie it up in the final minute, first-year Washington forward Martell Webster said he and his teammates, many of them new to the team as well, are determined to turn around the moribund franchise.
“Who else is going to do it?” Webster said. “It’s easy when things don’t go well to start blaming and start pointing fingers, but I don’t believe in that. When you think about it with your family, when you have problems you don’t point fingers, you work to resolve the problem as a family, as a unit, and I think that’s the most important thing. We’re a family, a unit and we’re not going to point fingers. We’re going to take accountability and responsibility for all of our individual actions, but at the end of the day we’re settling the problem ourselves.”
Still, there’s little doubt that as the losses mount so does the mental anguish.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Offense was supposed to come back this season.
Last year, we had abbreviated training camps, out-of-shape players and a condensed schedule. And the result was a drop in offensive efficiency of 2.6 points per 100 possessions.
This year, we should be seeing a recovery. But through Wednesday, the league is scoring 100.1 points per 100 possessions, just a tick better than it was through the same number of games last year (99.9). Shooting is better, but trips to the line are down.
Still, there are several teams have taken a step forward offensively. And a few of the teams on that list are a surprise.
Of course, everything comes with the caveat that it’s early. Some teams have had easier schedules than others. And just one or two good or bad games can skew the numbers a bit.
Most improved offenses (points scored per 100 possessions)
For the five teams at the top of the list, improvement has come in different ways. But for all five, it appears to be mostly sustainable.
New York Knicks
eFG% = (FGM (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA
The Knicks have played only five games, and three of them were against teams (Miami, Dallas and Orlando) in the bottom 12 defensively. But they twice scorched the Sixers, who rank fourth on that end.
The improvement has been about hot shooting from the perimeter, but also about taking care of the ball, something we premised a month ago. The Knicks’ offensive regression last season had a lot to do with turnovers, because when they didn’t have turnover machines Jeremy Lin and Baron Davis running the point, they had no point guard at all.
So, while we can’t expect the Knicks to keep their turnover rate this low all season, there’s reason to believe that the offensive improvement is somewhat sustainable.
Of course, there’s no avoiding the Amar’e Stoudemire question. Last season, the Knicks were 6.5 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Stoudemire on the bench (104.6) than they were with him on the floor (98.1). That was the difference between being a top-five offense and a bottom-five offense.
With Stoudemire on the floor, Carmelo Anthony shot 40.9 percent and 30.4 percent from 3-point range. With Stoudemire off the floor, Anthony shot 45.0 percent and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.
How it will work out this season remains to be seen. But until Stoudemire returns, the Knicks’ offense should remain near the top of the league.
The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up, but it’s doubtful that anyone thought they’d be an above-average offensive team.
Like the Knicks, the Cats are doing a better job of taking care of the ball. But with new additions Brendan Haywood and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leading the way, they’re also working the offensive glass for extra points. In fact, they rank second in the league (behind Denver) with 16.9 second chance points per game.
Shot selection has also been key. We noted last month how the Bobcats had the worst selection in the league last season, taking 39.6 percent of their shots from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line). This year, only 28.5 percent of their made shots have come from mid-range, below the league average. They’re also taking a greater percentage of their 3-pointers from the corners.
Kemba Walker‘s game-winner came from mid-range on Wednesday, but he’s been part of the solution, taking the ball to the basket and getting to the line more than he did as a rookie.
Interestingly, the Bobcats are assisting on far fewer shots than they did last year. In fact, they’re one of only two teams (the Sacramento Kings are the other) that has recorded assists on less than half of their field goals. Only 12 of Walker’s 49 makes have been assisted.
The Bobcats would be better with more ball movement, but their improvement seems mostly sustainable, because nobody in Charlotte is playing well above his head.
While the Bobcats have gone from awful to all right, the Heat have gone from great to nearly unstoppable. (Offensively, at least. No team has regressed more defensively than Miami.)
Taking care of the ball has been key (sense a theme here?), but so has 3-point shooting. With the Heat playing “positionless” basketball full-time now, they have one extra shooter on the floor.
We knew Ray Allen (20-for-37) would shoot well with LeBron James drawing double and triple-teams. But James is also shooting well (13-for-28) from beyond the arc, and Rashard Lewis (13-for-23) is proving that his career isn’t over. Maybe just as important is that Dwyane Wade (29 percent for his career) has basically stopped taking threes.
The 3-point shooting should regress some as the season goes on, but the Heat aren’t getting everything they can out of Wade. So they should remain a top-three offensive team all year. And more important will be how well they defend, especially when they go to their bench.
This one is more surprising than the Bobcats, considering the absence of Dirk Nowitzki. But last season was the first time since they drafted Nowitzki in 1998 that the Mavs had a below-average offense. And his regression was part of the problem.
O.J. Mayo‘s 3-point shooting — he’s a ridiculous 31-for-53 through nine games — is most responsible for the improvement. But Mayo isn’t just bombing away. He’s also getting to the line (39 attempts), and he’s been joined their by backcourt-mate Darren Collison (36).
There’s no way that Mayo can stay this hot, but Nowitzki will eventually be back. And if he shoots better than he did last year, the Mavs can sustain their offensive improvement.
With the additions of Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez (who played only five games last season), this is the least surprising team on the list.
Last season, the Nets ranked 30th in restricted-area field goal percentage at 54.6 percent. This season, they rank first at 67.4 percent. Part of that improvement has been aided by the Cavs’ awful defense, but Lopez’s presence has also helped. He’s been the focal point of the offense and leads the team with 24 buckets in the restricted area (11 more than any other teammate). And among 170 players around the league who have attempted at least 50 shots from the field, he ranks 13th in free throw rate, at 0.449 FTA/FGA.
Johnson has struggled early, never finding any kind of rhythm until the second half of Tuesday’s win over Cleveland. Deron Williams is also shooting a career-low 26 percent from 3-point range. And with Gerald Wallace having played only one game, the Nets’ offense should only get better.
Never mind that the playoffs won’t begin for nearly six months. It’s never too soon to leap to conclusions about what we know — or think we know — one week into the 2012-13 regular season.
Knicks: Just when it became fashionable to trade in those blue and orange jerseys for the black and white of Brooklyn, the Knicks roll out their best start in team history, not only going 3-0, but also winning every game by at least 16 points. Nobody’s breaking out the countdown charts until Carmelo Anthony and his buddies run down the historic 72-10 record of the Bulls. But as long as the Knicks keep sharing the ball and the likes of Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni give big man Tyson Chandler help with their defense on the perimeter, they’re for real. At least until Amar’e Stoudemire comes back to mess with the chemistry. Suddenly the Eastern Conference is about more than sniping between the Heat and Celtics. We all know the real bad blood is N.Y. vs. Miami with Jeff Van Gundy hanging onto Alonzo Mourning’s ankle.
Lakers: The NBA’s combination of longest-running soap opera/situation comedy of the past two decades has always been the ride on the day-to-day roller coaster of the Lakers. It’s part of the DNA of Angelenos to panic anytime their team loses two in a row and this season an 0-3 start hit the hysterical jackpot. Yes, Mike Brown will be under more microscopes than a newly discovered germ at the CDC and, yes, it will matter that soon-to-be-39-year-old Steve Nash is ambulatory for the postseason and it would help if their bench wasn’t paper thin. Still every team in the West outside of the Thunder and Spurs would trade its roster for a confused Dwight Howard and an aging Kobe Bryant. They’re not dead yet, but their breathing is labored.
James Harden: Look, LeBron James already has a shelf full of MVP trophies and is concentrating on chasing down Michael Jordan for his six championships. So wouldn’t it be simpler to just acknowledge right now that The Beard is unstoppable. It was never a secret that Harden was talented and explosive. But popping in 37 and 45 in his first two games with the Rockets and leading the league in scoring at 35.3 has been like scrapping the velvet off a painting of dogs playing poker and to find a Rembrandt hiding underneath. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Eric Maynor was forced to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder’s run through the Western Conference and to The Finals like the rest of us, from the sidelines in street clothes. A knee injury cost the Thunder point guard his chance at making a significant on-court contribution to the cause.
But he’s back now and seemingly better than ever, working as the Thunder’s resident wild card after a summer spent growing what’s already in the fold as opposed to adding new pieces to what Thunder fans hope is a championship-ready roster.
Derek Fisher was used in this same position last season, and proved to be particularly valuable in the postseason. He was only keeping the spot warm for Maynor, who reportedly faces a serious challenge for playing time from Reggie Jackson.
If what Maynor showed last night, however, is any indication, Jackson might spend more time watching Maynor work instead of stepping into his shoes.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Tim Duncan’s Hall of Fame credentials are set. His legacy needs no polishing at this late stage of his magnificent career.
And yet Duncan continues to shine.
He’s doing it this time without even touching the court. By taking a whopping 54 percent pay cut to remain with the Spurs, he abstained from the summer’s free-agent-palooza and allowed the Spurs to maintain their financial flexibility. That helped San Antonio keep its core group intact as it tries to mount one last championship run in the Duncan era.
“I’m an awful negotiator,” Duncan said, chuckling. “My agent was mad at me the whole time.”
Duncan was on hand at the Spurs’ practice facility Tuesday for the start of his 16th NBA training camp. That would have been surprising only if the notoriously casual dresser had arrived in something out of Craig Sager’s wardrobe.
Though technically a free agent for about a week in early July, the 36-year-old Duncan said he never seriously considered retirement and never remotely entertained the idea of playing elsewhere.
“I’ve been here for so long,” said Duncan, who took no calls from rival teams. “This is home for me.”
That’s a welcome statement for NBA observers who still cringe at the memory of Hakeem Olajuwon in a Toronto Raptors jersey or Patrick Ewing in Seattle SuperSonics green.
Taking that pay cut means Duncan instantly became The Big Discount. With his reported $9.6 million salary, Duncan moves from near the top of the league’s earnings list to a new spot behind the likes of Al Jefferson and Carlos Boozer, solid big men who will both earn $15 million this season but won’t rank anywhere near Duncan when their careers are over.
Two Gordons, Eric ($13.6) and Ben ($12.4), will both earn more than Duncan this season, as will Hedo Turkoglu ($11.8), Corey Maggette ($10.9), DeAndre Jordan and even former Spurs swingman Richard Jefferson ($10.1).
That doesn’t include the four amnestied players — Brandon Roy, Gilbert Arena, Elton Brand and Rashard Lewis — all of whom will earn between $21 (Roy) and $15 (Lewis) million for not playing with the teams that owed them that money. Arenas isn’t even on anyone’s training camp roster.
In an era when folks love to poke players for being all about the “Benjamins,” Duncan deserves some credit for being about everything but his own bottom line!
MIAMI – After a summer spent alongside an elite collection of some of the other best basketball players on the planet, it takes a lot to impress LeBron James.
James capped his biggest year to date with his first NBA title, first Finals MVP and a gold medal won at the London Olympics. But if the Heat are as good as they could be, or as good as James thinks they can be, things could get “scary” around here this season.
With Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade healthy this time around and new additions in veteran stars, and former teammates, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, James sees the 2012-13 version of the Heat being potentially better than the crew that hugged that Larry O’Brien trophy in June.
“We have the potential to be better,” James said Friday during the Heat’s media day. “We have the potential to be a lot better. And that’s scary.”
Scary is the run James is on currently. His perch atop the basketball was secured during a dizzying nine-month stretch that saw him collect virtually every piece of hardware any player could dream of. Any notion that he would ease up and be satisfied with winning his first NBA title was squashed when he took all of six days to enjoy it before heading to Las Vegas for training camp with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in preparation for the Olympics.
Any notion that the Heat would be satisfied with winning just one title during the Big 3 era was washed away when the wooed Allen away from the Celtics and other teams that pursued him in free agency. There were clearly bigger and loftier goals in mind.
“LeBron has a great sense of legacy, not only his own personal legacy, but this team’s legacy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This team was built for something bigger than just making a one-year run. Nothing is guaranteed. We know how difficult it will be … This is a different challenge now. And that’s what you should want is to continue to have an opportunity to reinvent yourself. How do we respond to success? Will it be as motivating and powerful a teacher as the pain and the failure of the year before. I love that. I’m looking forward to that, because we’ll find out a lot more about ourselves in this new journey.” (more…)