Posts Tagged ‘Rashard Lewis’

For Heat to succeed, Miami needs big performances from Little 12

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra speaks with the media after Heat practice (April 22)

MIAMI — You probably know all about the Big Three, Miami’s terrific trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Those three form the Heat’s power base. But for the Heat to three-peat as champs, they also need big performances from what Shane Battier says the players refer to as The Little 12.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has referred to his bench as a bullpen for a few years now, borrowing some baseball terminology. On Sunday, Spoelstra revived this trope when referring to James Jones, who made a somewhat surprising appearance off the bench in Game 1 against Charlotte and came up huge. After the Heat’s practice Tuesday, Spoelstra stressed that the bullpen parallel was simply a way to get players to understand what they were working toward.

“This year is different than years before,” Spoelstra said. “Look, it’s not an -ism or anything like that. It’s something they can wrap their minds around. It’s something that’s been done before. Because of the way the season went on and the makeup of this group, we have a lot of guys that can contribute, and we’ll need those contributions, but it might be different game to game, series to series, quarter to quarter, and it’s a little bit different than the way this team was before. And the quicker we’re able to wrap our minds around it and adapt to that, I think the more we can play to our strengths. Hopefully.”

Spoelstra has shown that he’s not afraid to make bold moves with Miami’s bench rotation. Last season, Battier didn’t play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but in Game 7 he scored 18 points in 28 minutes. During those same Finals, Mike Miller went from the bench into the starting lineup, getting the nod in the final four games against San Antonio.

While Miller is the only one of Miami’s top 11 rotation players departed from last season’s team, this season Spoelstra has juggled minutes up and down the bench. In February, Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis combined to play 17 minutes for the month. Against Charlotte on Sunday, Haslem started, and he and Lewis combined to play 21 minutes.

Spoelstra said that having this loose collective of versatile players is something the Heat have been trying to compile for a few seasons, noting they’ve played 14 deep three straight years: “Our first year, we did not have enough depth. That wasn’t the reason why [we lost in the 2011 Finals] — Dallas beat us, fair and square. But we had injuries, and we got to that point and we were very flat. That was the first step of doing it, but it’s constant sacrifice. Constant acknowledgement of that sacrifice. It’s not easy. Everybody says, in life, in business, and in pro sports, ‘Yeah, I’ll sacrifice.’ But it’s always easy to sacrifice when you’re not the one sacrificing. As long as it’s somebody else sacrificing, everybody buys into the sacrifice.”

“Look, every player wants to play,” Battier said. “Once you get to this league, we’re all here for a reason. But you have to have to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. And although you don’t agree with it, for the betterment of the team, you suck it up, you cheer your guys on, and you produce when your number is called.”

According to Haslem, having other teammates go through similar journeys makes it more relatable for the rest of The Little 12.

“You never really know what a guy in that situation is going through until you go through it,” said Haslem. “But there’s other guys who are going through it with you. So what we did is we kind of formed a pact, the guys who weren’t playing. We made sure we kept each other encouraged, we kept each other ready, we played pick-up games with each other, three-on-three, four-on-four, whatever we could do. We got shots up together, we did conditioning together. You know, it’s a lot easier when you got guys that are in the same position going through it with you.”

On Sunday, with Miami up 35-34 with 4:19 to play in the second quarter, Spoelstra brought in Jones, earlier than he usually looks for him.

“I was a little surprised,” Jones said after the game. “Not surprised that he called my name. I was surprised he went to me early. But not so surprised that I wasn’t prepared. We’ve said all along, we have 15 guys who can play. Most nights we only play nine. Which nine play? We don’t know. But we don’t need to know. We just need to know that whichever nine go out there will commit and perform.”

Jones had announced he was “definitely thinking” about retiring … back in 2012. He did not, though this season he logged just a combined 70 minutes from November through January, and didn’t play a single second in February. He also didn’t play in any of Miami’s four regular season wins against the Bobcats. And yet Jones posted a plus-9 player rating in just over 4 minutes of action in the first half. By the time he’d totaled 12 minutes of court time, it was up to a plus-17. He finished with 14 minutes of action and a plus-18 rating, to go along with a dozen points.

“We learned this from early on, that he is a unique guy,” Spoelstra said of Jones following Game 1. “He is one of those unique players that you can pull out of your bullpen and not many guys have that type of mentality — patience to understand the big picture, willing to sacrifice, and don’t have an ego in that regard, yet having incredible confidence when they do play. That’s a tough balance to achieve and he understands the big picture. These are small opportunities but he makes the most of it.”

“We said it early in the year,” noted Wade. “If we want to win a championship this year, we’re going to have to do it a little different. Last year, Rashard Lewis didn’t play as much, or James Jones didn’t play as much. This year those guys are going to have to be a huge part of it.”

So if Spoelstra signals down the sideline during the rest of the postseason, he may well be calling for a lefty reliever or a groundball specialist from his tried and tested ‘pen, although Battier said the “bullpen” analogy is mostly reserved for Jones, who had an uncle who was a major league baseball player.

“He’s the Joe Nathan, the Rivera if you will,” Battier said. “When we can’t make a shot, he’s the guy who you signal for the righty, and bring him in. It’s a metaphor for the rest of us. We call it The Little 12. Bullpen, Little 12, call it what you will.”

Just so long as you call them.

Film Study: When The Heat Aren’t Engaged


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks handle the Heat at MSG

NEW YORK – This week’s Film Study could look a lot like last week’s. For the second straight Thursday night, a team picked apart the Miami Heat’s pick-and-roll defense.

The New York Knicks only scored 102 points (compared to the Warriors’ 123 last week) in their victory on Thursday, but it was a very slow-paced game. The Knicks had the ball just 86 times, so, in terms of efficiency, they were on par with what the Warriors did against the Heat in a much faster game a week earlier.

New York actually scored less than a point per possession (43/47) in the first half. But in the final 24 minutes, they scored a remarkable 59 points on just 39 possessions.

Like the Warriors, they executed well. The Knicks got the Heat defense moving with pick-and-roll, they moved the ball to the open man, and they made shots, hitting nine of their 16 mid-range jumpers and seven of their 18 above-the-break threes.

Having a healthy point guard helps. Raymond Felton racked up 14 assists on Thursday, while committing just two turnovers. He’s been in and out of the lineup this season, and not very effective when he’s been (relatively) healthy.

But last season, the No. 3 offense in the league was at its best when Felton was on the floor. A healthy dosage of pick-and-rolls keeps the Knicks from getting too iso-heavy and allows Carmelo Anthony to shoot off the catch, instead of off the dribble. Though Anthony led the league in usage rate last season, Felton had the ball in his hands about 70 percent more (5:40 per game vs. 3:21 per game, according to SportVU).

So, going forward, the Knicks will be better if Felton is healthy and they’re moving the ball. They’re most efficient when they’re picking and rolling, which was the game plan on Thursday. They knew that the Heat could be beat and open shots could be had with quick passes and ball reversals. And they took care of the ball against the team that has forced more turnovers per 100 possessions than any team in the last 15 seasons.

The Heat can be the best defensive team in the league when they want to be. But they generally don’t want to be during the regular season. Their disruptive defensive scheme requires a lot of energy, more than they can come up with over 82 games.

And while the Knicks deserve a ton of credit for their offensive execution, the Heat were clearly not at their best defensively. Here are some examples from a stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters when the Knicks turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead …

Play 1 – Ole!

With the Heat up three late in the third quarter, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire ran a side pick-and-roll. Dwyane Wade came to help from the weak side, but, instead of putting himself between Stoudemire and the basket, he just swiped at the ball as he ran by. And that’s not going to get it done.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade’s pick-and-roll defense leaves much to be desired

Play 2 – Ole! Part II

A couple of possessions later, the ball was swung to Andrea Bargnani, who was being defended by Chris Bosh, who bought on a pump fake from a guy who has shot 30 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons. Wade again comes over to help and again just takes a swipe at the ball. The result is an and-one and a lead the Knicks would never relinquish.


VIDEO: Andrea Bargnani easily drives on the Heat defense

Play 3 – Amar’e all alone

Two possessions after that, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis double-teamed Anthony in the corner. After the ball was swung around the perimeter, Stoudemire was wide open under the basket, because neither Cole nor Lewis rotated.


VIDEO: Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis fail to rotate on defense

The Heat’s semi-lackluster play spilled over to the offensive end of the floor. As the Knicks were making their run, Miami scored just two points (against a bottom-10 defensive team) over 10 possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters. They weren’t attacking and they often settled for a decent shot when a better one could have been had with a little more work.

Play 4 – Carelessness

This is just a careless pass by Chris Andersen as Cole curls out from the baseline. Andersen takes one hand off the ball and doesn’t wait until Cole has created any separation from Felton.


VIDEO: Chris Andersen throws a careless pass to Norris Cole

Play 5 – Settling

Here, Wade settles for a contested, mid-range jumper early in the shot clock instead of running the offense and putting pressure on the Knicks’ D.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade takes the contested shot rather than pressure the Knicks’ defense

The Heat have had their moments this season, but there have been a lot of games/halves/quarters/possessions when they’ve been disengaged. The same was true early last season and they went on to win 27 straight games and their second straight championship. But even in the playoffs, they seemed to turn their defense on and off, failing to win consecutive games against the Pacers or Spurs until they pulled out Games 6 and 7 in The Finals.

They still have LeBron James and they’re still the favorite to win another title. But in the middle of the season, you’re going to see teams take advantage of their indifference.

One Team, One Stat: Stay In The Corner, Jeff Green

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Boston Celtics, who are starting over without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

The basics
BOS Rank
W-L 41-40 16
Pace 94.0 17
OffRtg 101.1 20
DefRtg 100.4 6
NetRtg +0.7 14

The stat

17.9 percent - Difference between Jeff Green’s 3-point percentage from the corners (45.0 percent) and from above the break (27.1 percent) over the last three seasons.

The context

That’s the biggest difference among 134 players who attempted at least 100 threes from both the corners and above the break over the last three years. (The league-wide difference is 4.0 percent.)

In his two full seasons with the Celtics, a Green corner three has been worth 1.35 points per attempt and a Green above-the-break three has been worth 0.81. That’s the difference between a great shot and a bad one.

Biggest difference, corner 3P% vs. above-the-break 3P%

Corner 3 Above the Break 3
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Jeff Green 76 169 45.0% 58 214 27.1% 17.9%
Kawhi Leonard 75 170 44.1% 31 113 27.4% 16.7%
Chandler Parsons 90 191 47.1% 122 381 32.0% 15.1%
*Shawne Williams 77 191 40.3% 28 105 26.7% 13.6%
Corey Brewer 112 329 34.0% 42 200 21.0% 13.0%
Arron Afflalo 148 334 44.3% 117 374 31.3% 13.0%
**Martell Webster 114 236 48.3% 117 325 36.0% 12.3%
Darren Collison 46 105 43.8% 77 242 31.8% 12.0%
***Shannon Brown 52 120 43.3% 128 407 31.4% 11.9%
Rashard Lewis 89 218 40.8% 65 224 29.0% 11.8%

* Williams’ discrepancy was the source of this great line from my man Howard Beck (now with Bleacher Report: “And Williams is reliable only from the corners — meaning even his one dimension is one-dimensional.”)
** Led by Webster, the Wizards are the Jeff Green of 3-point shooting teams.
*** Geez, Shannon Brown. Take a look at your shot chart before you go and take more than three times as many threes from above the break again.

Three seasons ago, Green took 80 more above-the-break threes than corner threes. But last season, upon returning from heart surgery, he took more corner threes.

A closer look reveals that the difference may have been the team Green has played for. Upon being traded from the Thunder to the Celtics in February of 2011, Green found himself in the corner a lot more.

Jeff Green 3-point shooting

Corner 3 Above the Break 3
Season Team FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
2007-08 SEA 16 45 35.6% 5 30 16.7%
2008-09 OKC 23 59 39.0% 73 187 39.0%
2009-10 OKC 41 118 34.7% 63 192 32.8%
2010-11 OKC 20 46 43.5% 36 135 26.7%
2010-11 BOS 8 18 44.4% 0 9 .0%
2012-13 BOS 48 105 45.7% 22 70 31.4%
SEA/OKC Total 100 268 37.3% 177 544 32.5%
BOS Total 56 123 45.5% 22 79 27.8%

That’s a product of the two teams’ offenses. In four full seasons under Scott Brooks, only 22 percent of the Thunder’s 3-point attempts have come from the corners. In the same time, 29 percent of the Celtics threes have come from the corners. And that number was up to 34 percent over the last two seasons.

Here are Green’s seven 3-point attempts from that March 18 game in which he almost single-handedly ended the Heat’s winning streak at 22 games. He was 4-for-4 from the corners and 1-for-3 from above the break…


Brad Stevens brings a new offense to Boston, Rajon Rondo‘s absence means that Green will have the ball in his hands more, and the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett mean that he’ll be asked to carry more of the offensive load. All that could certainly mean less attempts from the corner.

Through five preseason games, Green is 5-for-10 on corner threes and 0-for-11 from above the break. So the saga continues…

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Right And Wrong: When A Triple-Double In The Finals Isn’t Good Enough

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Rare is the moment when a triple-double of 18 points, 10 assists and 18 rebounds in the NBA Finals can be deemed not good enough.

Welcome to the upside-down world of LeBron James.

The King left his Cleveland throne three years ago for the company of more noble servants, not more clown jesters. Yet here is, fresh off a grueling, seven-game series just to get back to The Finals and he and his favored Miami Heat — The Big Three a vanishing contrail of past conquests — have fallen behind the magnificent Tony Parker and his humming band of San Antonio Spurs, 1-0.

Right: James had just eight points on seven shots in the second half and he took just four shots in nine minutes of the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh, dared by San Antonio to shoot long-range jumpers, took five shots and missed four. Credit young Spurs defender Kawhi Leonard for his quiet, determined one-on-one defense against James (7-for-16 shooting) all game. Leonard made a huge steal on a James pass attempt with six minutes to go that extended a 79-78 Spurs lead to 81-78 and ignited a 6-1 surge. The Spurs never lost the lead. Fact is the Spurs will live with an 18-10-18 triple-double from James every game. It’s the 32-10-10 ones that’ll get them killed.

Wrong: With 1:08 to go and the Heat down 90-86, Bosh received the ball behind the arc on the right wing. Not a defender stood between him and Miami Beach. Although he was 0-for-3 from 3-point range, Bosh unleashed a wide-open 3 … and he still missed it. Bosh needed to put is head down and drive to the basket, at least hope to get to the free throw line where was 1-for-2 in 35 minutes.

Right:Parker is a magician with the basketball and if his Curly Neal impersonation as the shot clock ticked down on the Spurs’ final possession isn’t convincing, nothing will be. The Heat don’t have an answer for Parker and that’s going to be a big problem. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole were helpless and when Miami matched LeBron on him, the Spurs’ screens created switches. Parker scored 10 points in the fourth quarter while the Heat managed just 16. He finished with 21 points on 9-for-18 shooting, six assists and — this is amazing — no turnovers in darn near 40 minutes of orchestrating the offense.

Wrong: The Heat have now lost one of the first two games at home in three consecutive series. It hasn’t proven fatal yet, but in the 2-3-2 Finals format, it’s more difficult to recover (as the Heat remember well from 2011). When Cole busted a 3-pointer for a 38-29 lead early in the second quarter, Miami appeared to have that winning look in their eye, but never could put their foot down. Only two minutes later it was 38-36. It would be the theme of the night with the Spurs continually reeling itself back within a bucket or so until finally pulling ahead in the fourth quarter for its first lead since the first quarter. That nine-point bulge Miami briefly enjoyed was its largest.

Right: Any suggestion that 37-year-old Tim Duncan wouldn’t victimize Miami’s thin interior in the same manner as the Pacers’ young and rugged Roy Hibbert seemed asinine — and indeed were. Duncan opened the game 0-for-5 from the floor, but the quickly heated up and tormented the Heat the rest of the way for a do-it-all 20 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.

Wrong: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra‘s rotation went haywire. By the end of the first half he and already used six players off the bench with five logging six-plus minutes (Rashard Lewis – DNP-CD again — must really feel awful). In Game 7 against the Pacers, Spoelstra went nine-deep with Shane Battier playing fewer than nine minutes. Sure, maybe Spoelstra felt his guys were a little worn out after the Pacers series and wanted to spread some minutes, but look for him to tighten the rotation and seek more continuity.

Heat Thrive With ‘Best Supporting Cast’





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 HaslemRay 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.”

Magic Need To Wake From Dwightmare?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Closure.

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.

Nelson swears there are no hard feelings, as he told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“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.”

Last week, Howard said he had reached out to former teammates after some of them, including Nelson and Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick, took issue with a comment Howard made to a Los Angeles television station about his old Magic teams.

Howard said the statement was misconstrued and twisted by the media — that he was attempting to say that the Magic were always considered underdogs.

Nelson was asked whether he and Howard have conversed recently.

“No,” Nelson said.

There was silence before Nelson spoke again.

“Have me and Rashard conversed? Yes.”

To his credit, Howard has tried his best to apologize to everyone from his former teammates to the arena workers for how he handled himself during his season-long departure, which started with a trade request he refused to own up to during training camp. Howard was candid in a sit down interview with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, explaining his side of things as best he could:

“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.

In fact, it’s time for everyone to just move on!

Morning Shootaround — March 7

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.

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News of the morning

Comeback win helps Lakers bond | ‘Melo suffering from fluid buildup in knee | Nelson, Lewis fire back at Howard | Nets decide to bench Humphries | Wolves’ Budinger, Love set to talk to doctors

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 kneeAfter 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, NelsonIn 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 HumphriesEntering the 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:

Redick Reflects on Magic, Dwight Opt-In

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 and a first-round pick; and Rashard 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.

Wizards Fall To 0-12 … And Counting

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Along the maddening trail to 0-12, there have been the gut-punches — three points combined in consecutive overtime losses to Charlotte (double OT) and at Atlanta, a near-22-point comeback at Dallas, four points at Indiana, OT at Boston and a three-point home loss to the Celtics.

Close was not the case Monday night at Verizon Center. The still-winless Washington Wizards, still without point guard John Wall, were run out of their own gym by the surging San Antonio Spurs, 118-92, the largest margin of defeat in an already defeated season.

Adding insult to injury, former Wizards big man Andray Blatche, who’s still pocketing $23 million from the franchise after being amnestied in July and eventually signed by Brooklynis taking cheap shots at his old team in the media and through his own brand of bastardized English on Twitter:

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.

Knicks Lead Most Improved Offenses

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)

Team 2011-12 Rank 2012-13 Rank Diff.
New York 101.4 19 111.3 1 +9.9
Charlotte 92.3 30 100.7 14 +8.3
Miami 104.3 6 111.0 2 +6.7
Dallas 101.0 20 105.0 4 +4.0
Brooklyn 99.7 23 103.5 7 +3.8

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

Season eFG% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank
2011-12 49.2% 12 26.6% 18 16.6% 27 .306 6 48.7% 8 33.6% 21
2012-13 53.3% 3 21.3% 28 11.6% 1 .245 23 47.8% 12 42.6% 1

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.

Charlotte Bobcats

Season eFG% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank
2011-12 43.9% 30 23.6% 27 15.4% 16 .276 14 43.9% 30 29.5% 30
2012-13 45.7% 24 30.0% 7 14.4% 6 .277 15 46.3% 18 28.9% 28

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.

Miami Heat

Season eFG% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank
2011-12 50.5% 6 26.6% 19 16.1% 22 .307 5 49.6% 4 35.9% 10
2012-13 54.8% 1 23.4% 23 14.5% 7 .290 13 51.8% 2 42.1% 2

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.

Dallas Mavericks

Season eFG% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank
2011-12 48.9% 15 23.4% 28 14.8% 9 .246 27 48.2% 11 33.9% 20
2012-13 51.8% 4 22.5% 26 15.1% 10 .299 9 48.3% 10 41.8% 3

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.

Brooklyn Nets

Season eFG% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank
2011-12 47.3% 24 27.8% 10 16.1% 23 .269 17 45.7% 27 34.2% 18
2012-13 50.0% 7 29.4% 8 16.1% 17 .325 5 49.9% 4 33.6% 18

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.