Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Skiles surprises NBA world, abruptly resigns as coach of Magic

Four seasons or so. That was Scott Skiles‘ typical shelf life as an NBA coach, the average length of his stays in Milwaukee (4.4 actually), Chicago (4.3) and Phoenix (about 2.4 spread over three years, after two as a Suns assistant coach).

The length of Skiles’ stints with those teams, as much as the way they played while he was in charge, came to define his coaching style and effectiveness. He was old school, a demanding boss who got rapid improvement and then began to grind, not just on his players and his employers but on himself. Late in his stays in Chicago and Milwaukee, Skiles was the one ready to spit out the bit, just to end the aggravation.

No one had much faith, when the Magic hired Skiles last May as their 12th coach, that Orlando would be any different. Except that it was — Skiles announced his resignation Thursday morning, surprising the NBA at large after just one season.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I and I alone, have come to the conclusion that I am not the right head coach for this team,” said Skiles. “Therefore, effective immediately, I resign my position as head coach of the Orlando Magic. I realize this type of decision can cause much speculation. The reality though is in the first sentence. It is simple and true. Any other rumors are pure conjecture.”

“I sincerely apologize for any unintended consequences that may adversely affect anyone associated with this decision,” Skiles continued. “The Magic are a world-class organization that employs world-class people. I wish them nothing but great success. I will always be thankful, especially to the [owner Rich] DeVos family, for the opportunity.”

As direct as Skiles’ explanation was, it also was accurate: conjecture immediately followed. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel noted that:

The Magic finished Skiles’ lone season as the head coach with a 35-47 record.

But the team started the year 19-13, and Skiles felt the team’s inability to recover during an awful January in which they went 2-12 was indicative of an overall softness within the team and a lack of a professional mindset.

And Robbins’ colleague, Brian Schmitz, hinted at a disconnect between Magic GM Rob Hennigan over personnel and tactics:

Hennigan, who had referred to Skiles as a “tremendous fit” when hiring him less than 12 months ago, was quoted on the Magic’s official statement as well:

“While we understand it was a challenging season, we reluctantly have accepted Scott’s (Skiles) resignation,” said Hennigan. “We appreciate Scott instilling a culture of accountability and certainly wish him and his family well.”

The timeline of Skiles’ lone season as Orlando’s coach — he also played 384 of his 600 games as an NBA point guard for the franchise — seemed typical but accelerated. The Magic improved by 10 games to 35-47 last season and showed progress on both sides of the ball. Their offensive rating improved from 99.6 in 2014-15 to 102.6 this season, while their defensive rating improved from 105.2 to 104.6.

But Skiles’ patience apparently flagged more quickly as well. It wasn’t initially known whether Skiles had negotiated a buyout of the remaining years on his reported four-year contract (or will attempt to do so).
What does seem clear is that, in a profession where no owners or GMs embrace one-year plans – and generally prefer to do the firing — Skiles’ unexpected resignation won’t have him atop any team’s candidate list anytime soon.

Blogtable: Top 5 MVP contenders next season?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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


> Steph Curry is now a two-time Kia MVP. Looking ahead, who are your top five candidates for next season’s MVP?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAt the rate he and his team are going, Stephen Curry could be an MVP candidate again, but my hunch is the media beast will demand someone new. So how ’bout Draymond Green? If the Warriors continue their ride atop the league, their versatile and loquacious big-small man might get some love for the impact he has on Golden State’s lineups and success. Then there’s Kyrie Irving, who may be ready to ease LeBron James‘ load sufficiently and thus relieve him of some MVP votes. Damian Lillard might make the leap from snubbed All-Star to serious Podoloff trophy candidate, if he can coax another improved season out of the Trail Blazers. What I’m seeing right now in the playoffs suggests Kevin Durant isn’t going to be content with one MVP – and (wink wink) he might not be splitting votes with Russell Westbrook next season. For a long shot, considering the heavy lifting required, give me Anthony Davis over Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course Davis would have to stay healthy while also keeping a few teammates out of the trainers’ room to boost New Orleans big-time in the standings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook. That is purposely in alphabetical order. It’s challenge enough narrowing the list of possibilities to five. I would love to squeeze Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and maybe a few others on as well. But I will give my very top candidate: Leonard. That’s with the understanding that a lot can change between now and the start of the season, since roster moves obviously effect roles.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI believe we’ll have the usual suspects once again: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. My choice is Westbrook, even if Kevin Durant signs elsewhere. Westbrook is that good, and more important, he’s due.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCurry, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are obvious answers. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finished fourth and fifth while on the same team this year and could earn more votes if they’re on different teams next year. Honestly, it’s hard to find someone who finished outside the top five this year that could crash the party next year, unless TNT’s therapy session for Dwight Howard on Tuesday somehow hits home and leads to much better chemistry and much better defense in Houston (or wherever Howard goes this summer).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m seeing a list of the usual suspects, with Steph gong into the season as frontrunner followed by Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Shuffle that list up any way you’d like, but if we’re at this point in May of 2017 with the same names finishing in the top five, I won’t be shocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Curry will be there, obviously, and so will LeBron James, as always. Kevin Durant will be another MVP candidate, wherever he is next year. I’m looking for Blake Griffin to demand consideration on the hunch that he’ll be motivated to make amends for this season. I’m also looking for a big bounce-back year from Anthony Davis; but if Durant should wind up leaving OKC, then I’ll move Russell Westbrook into MVP consideration ahead of Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Curry clearly remains the favorite, and I’m also loath to remove any of the other guys I voted for this season: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But for the sake of argument, and who doesn’t enjoy a good argument, we should probably also be willing to discuss Draymond Green, who continues to prove his worth to the NBA’s best team. The other guy who should probably be in the mix is Chris Paul, who carried an injured Clippers team to a top spot in the Western Conference.

Blogtable: Will Heat or Raptors win series?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: Which team will go from lottery to playoffs next season?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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


> Of the 14 teams in next week’s Draft Lottery, who could be playing (instead of watching) at this time next year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAre we counting the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors, who have lottery presences thanks to Brooklyn and Denver, respectively? Toronto is playing at this time this year, and the Celtics are one solid piece, i.e., a lottery player, away from May competition (though a veteran star is the real need). If we’re limiting it to teams that earned their lottery status via losing, I think Washington has the best chance to advance two steps because of its proven rotation players (if kept together), its appeal to at least one significant free agent this summer and the distaste management had – and thus, the mandate given to new coach Scott Brooks – for falling out of the playoffs this year. John Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest have to be peeved, too, to have missed out, considering the trajectory on which they’d had themselves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIf you’re talking about the conference finals, none of the above. But if you just mean winning one round of the playoffs, then I’ll go with Washington and Chicago as a longer shot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz, possibly the Bulls depending on several key TBA roster decisions. I could see the Bucks getting back and the Magic taking that next step forward. But that is obviously based on 2015-16. Offseason moves can change everything, including once we know the lottery order.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe easy answer is the Celtics, who own Brooklyn’s pick. But if we discount them, then I’d say the Bulls, for two reasons: They have an All-Star in Jimmy Butler and they play in the East. A wild card would be Minnesota — look for a big sophomore season from Karl-Anthony Towns — but being young and in the West isn’t a great combination.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I probably answered the Utah Jazz to this question last year, (Editor’s note: Actually, it was OKC) but I’ll do it again anyway, because they have a big frontline that gives them a chance to be a top-five defensive team. They need to get more creative offensively, but the continued development of Rodney Hood will help on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Utah Jazz have been knocking on the door for the past two seasons. I hope they finally find a way next season. The Minnesota Timberwolves are my darkhorse pick to chase the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff race. If the Giannis Antetokounmpo point guard experience works out in Milwaukee, I’m going with the Bucks as the team ready to invade the party in the Eastern Conference.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Wizards missed the playoffs by three games. A healthier season for John Wall and Bradley Beal can move them into the postseason, and new coach Scott Brooks can help them reach a strong seed. But the truth is that we’re flying blind on this question in advance of the least predictable summer in memory. Who knows what these rosters are going to look like three months from now?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, clearly, the Minnesota Timberwolves are poised to make a leap, with the addition of Tom Thibodeau and a roster of exciting young players. But the Western Conference remains no joke, and the Wolves would have to be a dozen wins better than they were last season just to sniff the No. 8 seed. I think the team best poised to make a leap out of the lottery is Washington, which has a new coach with fresh ideas and already has a superstar in John Wall.

Morning shootaround — May 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard’s helpers were invaluable | Miami’s dark side without Whiteside | Lowry comes back for Raptors | Jackson ‘owes’ Knicks job to Rambis?

No. 1:  Lillard’s helpers were invaluable — First things first: Without a medical degree, can you nonetheless hazard a guess as to whether Golden State’s Stephen Curry will play in Game 4 of his team’s Western Conference semifinals series at Portland on Monday night? Even before we got any official updates from Curry, coach Steve Kerr or the Warriors’ crackerjack media staff, it seemed likely Curry would test his sprained right knee rather than risk seeing Golden State slip to even, 2-2, in the best-of-seven series. As for how Portland even got it to 2-1, there was Damian Lillard‘s 40-point performance and then there was the work of other Blazers, such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson. Those were the guys Draymond Green was moaning about, per Kevin Arnovitz‘s report for ESPN.com:

The way the Warriors saw it, they began to lose the game on the margins. Green sensed the Warriors could’ve effectively wrapped up the series in the first quarter had they only paid sufficient attention to the smaller details they generally master.

“That team — they had doubt,” Green said of the Trail Blazers. “You could just tell they were unsure about everything that they were doing in the first quarter. Then all of a sudden, like I said, you get a couple of offensive rebounds, hit a couple of shots, that’s when the crowd gets into it. That’s kind of what happened for them. I think right there in that first quarter, they felt like they were on the ropes and we didn’t really take advantage of that.”

When the Warriors ratcheted up their defense on Lillard after intermission, he just pitched the ball out to the likes of Allen Crabbe, Gerald Henderson (who took over defensive duties on [Klay] Thompson) and Aminu, who were a combined 6-for-6 from distance heading into the fourth quarter. Lillard assisted on 18 Trail Blazers points in the third quarter and scored another five of his own, as Portland extended their lead to 93-80 after three quarters.

“[Lillard] getting 40 — that’s not going to beat us if we don’t let Aminu get 23, Crabbe off the bench get 10,” Green said. “If we cover those guys, Dame’s 40 doesn’t beat us. C.J. [McCollum]’s 22 really don’t beat us if we cover the other guys. I think a big part of that fell on me.”

It’s a shame for Green, who put on an individual shooting display of his own in the third quarter. “Draymond from long range” can be a touchy subject in Warriors World, but with the Trail Blazers begging him to shoot from distance, Green politely obliged — draining 5-of-6 3-point attempts in the third quarter and matching a career high for the game with eight total. He finished the game with 37 points, while Thompson added 35.

“All that’s cute,” Green said of his prolific offensive production. “I didn’t do what I do for this team. I don’t feel like I led my troops tonight, and I feel like I was horrendous on the defensive end.”

***

 No. 2: Miami’s dark side without Whiteside — If the result of Hassan Whiteside‘s MRI Sunday is as troubling as he and the Miami Heat fear, if he’s facing even the 2-3 week layoff that Curry has endured for Golden State since slipping on that wet part of the court against Houston, then the Heat are in a bad way. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald reminds us of young Whiteside’s value to that veteran club, his status as its X factor and the limitations it faces without him merely surviving the current series against Toronto, never mind a possible clash in the next round against Cleveland:

He was the one who, if channeled correctly, could lift this from a nice little squad to a fearsome one, a squad that could even scare the Cleveland Cavaliers should it come to that — since most teams to topple LeBron James in the playoffs have had at least two perimeter players who could make James work (which Miami has in [Luol] Deng and Justise Winslow) and a rim protector who could make him think. He was the unaccountable element, the one who might literally swat away a superior opponent, should he be energized, focused and disciplined for an extended stretch.

The Heat knew how much it needed him, Erik Spoelstra above all. That’s why, for all the warts (in Whiteside’s game) and worries (about his contract) Spoelstra invested more personal time in the 26-year-old center than anyone else in the past eight years. That’s why, on the Friday night prior to Game 3, with so much else at stake, Spoelstra was at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, dining in a group with Whiteside and Bill Russell, aiming to expose Whiteside to the ultimate winner.

That’s why Dwyane Wade, as the team leader, while critical of Whiteside at times, also took opportunities to pump him up, even suggesting this could be a “Hall of Fame career.”

This wasn’t just a passing interest, after all. The Heat wants to make Whiteside a core component, wants to see his development all the way through, especially after improvements in foul shooting and screen-setting and — to a degree — composure, in the second half of this second Miami season. And perhaps, regardless of the severity of the injury, that will still occur; maybe, in the worst case, it comes at a reduced cost in free agency in this cruelest of businesses.

But, for this particular postseason, it’s hard to see how the Heat competes for much without Whiteside. Win this series? Maybe. Wade nearly saved them Saturday, with a remarkable 38-point performance, and Udonis Haslem was his usual spirited self while playing a season-high 22 minutes. Heat players generally believe the Raptors are beatable, though some were baffled about why movement was mostly taken out of the offensive plan for Game 3. And Toronto started making rollicking rim runs as soon as Whiteside went out.

Beat Cleveland?

That seems fantasy. Wade has gone above and beyond already, and everything he’s doing should be appreciated. But the Cavaliers are rolling now, 7-0 in the postseason, seeming past their regular season drama.

Whiteside was always the X-factor.

Now he may be X’d out.

***

No. 3:  Lowry comes back for Raptors — Playoff basketball means more than hard fouls, no easy layups and cherished possessions. It also means seeing the individual highs and lows of the participants, usually under the brightest and least forgiving lights. When things are going well – say, for LeBron James or LaMarcus Aldridge these days – those lights can make a guy shimmer like the star he is. But when things are not going so well – think Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry – every flaw gets uncovered and it’s the heat of the lights that matter more than the illumination. Lowry had been suffering through a postseason of personal torment, the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur wrote, until the second half of the Raptors’ Game 3 at Miami Saturday:

[Finally], Kyle Lowry came back. Toronto had been waiting for him, and he came back. The Raptors were winning Game 3 against the Miami Heat, who had lost their monster centre, and then the Raptors lost their monster centre, like this was some kind of chess match, like they had exchanged queens. The Heat started rolling, and Dwyane Wade, the old Hall of Famer, rose to the moment. The Heat crowd, a laid-back crew, were singing along with Seven Nation Army, thundering. The Raptors were coming apart.

But Kyle Lowry came back. He had hit a three-pointer to start the half, and then another. Hmm. The 30-year-old points had missed 96 of his last 139 shots, had openly said it was messing with his head. In Game 1 he had tried to avoid shooting the ball altogether. In this game, with Toronto’s two all-stars flailing again, [Jonas] Valanciunas had become the centre of things. Lowry had four points in a quiet first half.
Then Valanciunas was gone. Lowry came back.

“That’s the Kyle I know,” said DeMar DeRozan.

“Kyle went back to being Kyle,” said head coach Dwane Casey.

“I don’t think we played him that poorly, either,” said Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra.

Lowry’s third quarter was revelation, a flashback, a return. He scored 15 points, and Wade exploded for 18, and the game was tied entering the fourth. The Heat run reached 32-13 and with 8:49 left Miami was up six, and the Raptors’ offence looked gummed in glue again. All season long the Raptors relied on Lowry in these situations: they’d be up two or three, tight game, and he’d hit a string of middle-finger shots to cinch it.

Two games earlier his teammates said he looked beaten. His old friend Goran Dragic said he was thinking too much. All that vanished into the afternoon air.

“He was hitting shots, he was happy,” said Patrick Patterson. “We just tried to do whatever possible to keep him happy. We tried to free up some room for him to create opportunities, and just keep feeding the monster. He was hitting shots, and he was keeping us in that game. When he was hitting the shots, he started calling more plays for himself. He was just feeling it, saying he wanted the ball.”

Did Lowry tell them he was feeling good, finally? That his shot was back in alignment, smooth and assured?

“He never does it,” said Patterson. “The Cleveland game (when Lowry scored a career-high 43), he didn’t did that. No matter how he’s feeling, he doesn’t let us know. He’s just playing within the moment.”

***

No. 4: Jackson owes Knicks job to Rambis?Phil Jackson‘s affinity for the triangle offense that won his Chicago and Los Angeles teams a total of 11 NBA championships – even if that offense has had limited success when run by others whose rosters don’t include two Hall of Fame stars – is, at least, an understandable factor in how he might shape the New York Knicks’ search for a head coach. But Marc Berman of the New York Post cites a noted NBA author and relative Jackson insider when exploring a secondary, more deeply rooted reason for Jackson to stick with Kurt Rambis. It might have something to do with guilt and the employment history of Jackson and Rambis, Berman writes:

Phil Jackson may have cost Kurt Rambis a potentially promising head-coaching career back in 1999, back when they didn’t know each other.

Rambis was the hot, young Lakers assistant, coming off a cult-hero playing career in purple and gold during which he won four championships. Rambis passed over head-coaching offers from the Kings and Clippers, believing he had a bright future on the Lakers’ bench.

Indeed, Rambis took over for fired Del Harris in February of the 1999 lockout season as interim, with promises he would become the permanent guy.

Rambis closed with a 24-13 record, lost in the second round to the eventual champion Spurs, but had plans to smooth a frosty partnership between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, his new Staples Center and expensive skyboxes set to debut, changed his mind once Jackson expressed interest. Buss felt he needed a marquee name. Rambis was removed from the staff completely, demoted to broadcaster and, according to the controversial biography “Mindgames,” conducting arena tours.

According to the 2002 biography, Buss’ daughter, Jeanie, who didn’t know Phil Jackson from Andrew Jackson, was furious. Jeanie had been close friends for years with Rambis’ wife, Linda, since the 1980s.

“Mindgames” cited Rambis as “discouraged, confused and bitter.’’ Two years later, in 2001, at Jeanie’s behest, Jackson promoted Rambis to his staff, demoting triangle legend Tex Winter. But Rambis’ head-coaching career never took off.

Jackson’s current Knicks coaching search has been ongoing for 3 ½ weeks, with indications he is leaning toward Rambis. Is Jackson, who won five titles in L.A., making up for 1999?

Knicks general manager Steve Mills reached out to newly freed former Pacers coach Frank Vogel. But it might take a striking turn for Jackson, at his Montana think tank, to hire Vogel.

Roland Lazenby, the “Mindgames” author who is out with a new book on Kobe Bryant in August, said he believes Rambis will be the guy and explained a move that would not go over well with fans on social media.

If Jackson is making up for 1999, it’s in his subconscious.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami isn’t the only conference semifinalist sweating out a big man’s injury; Toronto’s fate might swing on Jonas Valanciunas‘ sprained ankle. … With Dave Joerger out, the Memphis Grizzlies can talk about stability if they like, but it’s a concept with which they’ve had very little experience, writes Geoff Calkins in Memphis. … Joerger was scheduled to spend at least part of his Sunday in Sacramento being interviewed for the vacant Kings coaching job. Though circumstances suggest he’ll likely end up getting hired, there are other candidates in play, at least for appearances sake. … Maurice Harkless and his sore hip might be out of Portland’s rotation for Game 4 . … Acquiring Channing Frye was a bold and expensive move at the trade deadline for the Cavaliers, but it has the look of a difference-maker for Cleveland in its NBA title quest. … Here’s one more look at Howard Garfinkel, the grass-roots basketball legend who died Saturday, as well as some appreciative tweets from fellows whose professional lives he touched. …

Ignoring inbounds techniques would be out of bounds for Hawks

CLEVELAND – Inbounds plays are the green beans of NBA games, not all that interesting until the day they suddenly line up on your dinner plate and dance like the Rockettes in a Christmas spectacular.

At that point, they demand your attention, in much the way they have on consecutive nights this week in conference semifinal games in San Antonio Monday and in Toronto Tuesday.

So it was a legit question for players and coaches still participating, such as Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, to identify proper execution, some pitfalls to avoid and so on from the world of Xs & Os.

“I’m assuming you’re talking a little bit about the OKC-San Antonio one?” Budenholzer said.

Well, yeah, considering that the Thunder’s inbounds attempt with 13.5 seconds left in Game 1 surprised even longtime NBA insiders with the number of things that went wrong and were uncalled in OKC’s 98-97 victory. From defender Manu Ginobili‘s toe touching the sideline for what should have been a delay of game call to inbounder Dion Waiters‘ thoroughly unexpected forearm to Ginobili’s chest to clear space, the play and the game’s subsequent final seconds generated an epic “Last 2 Minutes” report from the NBA and were chaotic from start to confounding finish.

Precisely what a team doesn’t want happening in the playoffs, when every possession allegedly is treasured.

“It’s definitely something you work on in practice,” Budenholzer said after Atlanta’s shootaround Wednesday in advance of Game 2 against Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, TNT). “There’s subtleties for the inbounder, things that can hopefully help him find the right guy. You want great spacing, hopefully guys who are coming hard to the ball.

“But that inbound position, I’ll just tell you, it is not an easy spot. But we practice it, we drill it, we work on it. It happens a lot during the season so you get a lot of in-game reps too.”

In Miami’s overtime victory Tuesday, Luol Deng had turnovers twice in the fourth quarter on inbounds plays. First he ran along the baseline when it wasn’t permitted, then he miscalculated on a toss intended for Dwyane Wade. “If we would have lost – that would have been a bad one,” Deng said.

“It’s tough, man,” Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. “It’s a lot of pressure on that inbounding guy. Teams are doing a better job of guarding the play and putting pressure on that guy. You’ve got to make good decisions. But it’s very important, obviously. It can cost you a game.”

Atlanta assistant coach Kenny Atkinson was hired by the Brooklyn Nets in mid-April and will become their coach once the Hawks’ playoff run ends.

He said the Hawks spend considerable time — especially in the playoffs — on both executing and defending sideline and baseline inbounds plays. Atkinson said he thinks many NBA teams eventually will designate a coach for such “special teams” situations, not unlike the NFL. Most already have go-to guys to be their designated inbounders in crucial moments.

“Last year, [center] Pero Antic was almost like our ‘long snapper’ [another NFL specialty],” Atkinson said. “He’d sit there the whole game and we’d put him in with four seconds left because he was big and he was an excellent passer. He could just look over the defender.”

Patience and a thorough knowledge of the circumstances are key. “Your first priority is to read your options. You’re the quarterback,” Millsap said. “Take your options one read at a time. If nothing’s there, don’t force it. If you have timeouts, use ’em. But the worst thing you can do is turn it over in a situation like that.”

And the flip side? “If you make ’em use a timeout or force a turnover, force it to a guy they don’t want to give it to, I think you’ve done your job,” Millsap said.

Some teams put a big man on the ball to crowd the inbounder’s view. Others may drop off him to double-team elsewhere. The defense, generally speaking, can’t often count on the man with the ball to break the inbounds plane and forearm the nearest opponent.

Coaches, meanwhile, can’t always count on their inbounders to know every rule, in terms of what they can and cannot do.

“I would say we are confident,” Budenholzer said. “Yet life never ceases to amaze us.”

Blogtable: Best bench left in the playoffs is ______?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who made your All-NBA teams? | Which remaining playoff team has the best bench? |
Who should Mavs pursue in offseason?


> Of the eight playoff teams still standing, who has the best bench? And who’s the most important player off that bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No sense overthinking this. Golden State has the best bench, versatile, deep, talented and at peace with the team’s pecking order. The other teams (most obviously San Antonio) have depth that works for them, well enough at least to be playing in May, and there are individuals among them who could be herded together to match or top the Warriors’ crew. But I’ll take Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights and the others as a proven unit and take my chances.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s hard to argue against the defending champs, especially with the efforts of Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights in the playoffs. But I’m going to do it anyway. The Spurs regularly go 10 deep and virtually every one of them is a threat to win a game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. That’s the Warriors with Stephen Curry. Without Curry, the bench is obviously weakened because Shaun Livingston goes from reserve to starter. He has been a key two one championship run already and the possibility of a second. But Andre Iguodala is the most important. Plays multiple positions, defends, can run the point.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The winner and still champion in this regard is Golden State. And that goes double for Andre Iguodala, still able to give the Warriors what’s needed (scoring, defense, energy) at that time he checks in. Shaun Livingston should get some love, too, given how he subbed for Steph Curry. Depth is what elevates the Warriors from all others.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Spurs had the best bench in the regular season by a wide margin, with an aggregate bench NetRtg of plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions. The depth advantage gets reduced a bit in the playoffs, when rotations are shorter, but with Patty Mills, Manu Ginobil, Boris Diaw and David West, they’re still the cream of the crop. Diaw is the most important player of the group, because he gives them frontline flexibility to match up with whatever opponent they’re facing and allows them to play both big and small at the same time. He’s the French Draymond Green, except that he came first.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Best bench, hands down, belongs to the Warriors. And it’s a tie for the most important player(s) off that bench between Andre Iguodala, the reigning Finals MVP, and Shaun Livingston, who is proving his worth to the franchise in Steph Curry‘s absence. If the Warriors do indeed get back to The Finals to defend their title, they’ll have done so behind the work of their bench and these two guys in particular.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: We’re seeing, again, that the Warriors’ depth is crucial. Last year it was sixth man Andre Iguodala who helped change the NBA Finals while being elevated to the starting lineup. This year the MV(Bench)P is Shaun Livingston, who is such a reliable fill-in for Steph Curry that Golden State doesn’t need to rush the league’s most explosive scorer back into the lineup. The fluid style of the Warriors owes much to their depth – and the versatility of that depth.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta’s bench is probably better and more versatile than most people realize. They have an above-average backup point guard (Dennis Schröder), a sweet-shooting stretch four (Mike Scott), a defensive specialist (Thabo Sefolosha) as well as guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and (when healthy) Tiago Splitter. But to me the best bench of a postseason team belongs to Golden State, and you’re seeing its value right now with Steph Curry injured. Shaun Livingston is a terrific guard, able to play and defend multiple positions, and he’s stepped right into Curry’s spot and played capably. Andre Iguodala is coming off an NBA Finals MVP award, Festus Ezeli is going to command some real money in free agency, and Mo Speights draining threes is never not fun.

Blogtable: Who should Mavs pursue in free agency this summer?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who made your All-NBA teams? | Which remaining playoff team has the best bench? |
Who should Mavs pursue in offseason?


> Following three-straight first-round exits, it seems the Dallas Mavericks will make free agency a top priority this summer. Who should they go after?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com I’m inclined to suggest Mike Conley, because he’d be an instant upgrade at point guard and mesh so well with the other Mavericks starters. But center is a position crying out for helpZaza Pachulia was a backup pressed into overly heavy duty. In a storybook world, Dwight Howard would move up from Houston, stir some early-career echoes and remind everyone what a force he was in Orlando. Failing that, I’d go for Joakim Noah over Hassan Whiteside because of Noah’s fire inside vs. Whiteside’s unknowns with big minutes and big money. Not sure Noah’s a Texas type of guy, though.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Mavericks always make free agency a top priority. But dating back to Jason Kidd and Chris Paul and Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, they never land their first choice and the big prize. Look, Kevin Durant isn’t walking through that door. But Howard is likely looking for a change of scenery from Houston and would be a perfect candidate to make a soft landing with Mark Cuban and the Mavs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comMike Conley. As much as I’d like to see a long courting with Kevin Durant just for the comedy value after KD and Mark Cuban traded barbs in the first round, Conley is such a good fit. I don’t think LeBron James is going anywhere and Andre Drummond is restricted and destined to remain in Detroit. The Mavs should make a direct line for Conley.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, I guess they can cross Kevin Durant off the list after Mark Cuban‘s statements last week. And they’ll have competition for Mike Conley. Should they strike out on the few elite free agents available, I wouldn’t overspend this summer on B-list players (Dwight Howard!), even though the clock is ticking on Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks should instead concentrate on player development and also go the trade route, then chase hard after free agents in 2017. And guess what, Mark Cuban? Russell Westbrook will be on the market and might be a franchise player by then.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I actually think Dwight Howard is a good fit. The Mavs need a center who can make an impact defensively and Howard needs a coach who will keep him in check and get him playing pick-and-roll basketball again. Rick Carlisle is the man for the job and the Mavs have multiple pick-and-roll ball-handlers who can get Howard the ball in position to score, as well as shooters who can space the floor around him.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kudos to Dirk Nowitzki for once again sacrificing dollars he’s earned for the greater good. But I don’t know if that sacrifice will pay off in a marquee superstar. The Mavericks might have to set their sights on a more grounded building block, someone in the mold of Mike Conley. The Grizzlies have no intention of allowing Conley to go anywhere. But the Mavericks need a maestro capable of putting the team first and his ego second.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comDepending upon whom they’re able to keep — Dirk Nowitzki is the only free agent certain to return — the Mavs should be making a hard run at Mike Conley Jr. He is a tremendous leader who would bond instantly with Nowitzki and bridge the Mavericks to a new era. But who knows what is a reasonable reach in this market? Trying to predict free agency this summer is going to be impossible.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Chandler Parsons? Not to be cute, but not having Parsons late this season was a tough loss for the Mavs, and adding him to their rotation of swingmen would be helpful. Another player who would be an interesting addition to Dallas? Dwight Howard, who could anchor the inside alongside Dirk, take advantage of the Mavs’ terrific medical staff, and get some touches thanks to Rick Carlisle‘s astute coaching.

Blogtable: Who made your All-NBA teams?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who made your All-NBA teams? | Which remaining playoff team has the best bench? |
Who should Mavs pursue in offseason?


> Give me your All-NBA selections (first, second and third team).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Generally, my First Team is a reflection of my MVP ballot, which goes five deep. Doesn’t always synch up position-wise but this year it was close (I plugged in Drummond at center and had to put Chris Paul on my Second Team). I don’t agree with the gimmick deployed by a few voters who put Draymond Green as First Team center because of how he and Golden State do in his 15 minutes or so, on average, in the middle. If a guy played only 15 minutes, period, at a position, we’d never consider him All-NBA at that spot.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

There’s Green where he belongs, and Durant would have been sixth on my MVP ballot. I had Jordan on my Defensive Player of the Year ballot, so he’s an easy pick from a Top 6 team. What Lillard did in leading a brand-new group in Portland was, to me, no less impressive than the job Terry Stotts did coaching them up or Neil Olshey did in assembling them.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

A pair of Pauls at the forward spot, determined by Millsap’s underrated game along with George’s remarkable, reassuring return season. Cousins’ team didn’t make the playoffs, he’s a certified coach killer and he might not “get it” until it’s too late, but there’s no denying the talent. Thompson is a two-way sidekick to greatness who deals well with the shadow Curry casts. Lowry’s postseason hasn’t matched his regular season but then, the latter is what All-NBA status honors. Supremely talented James Harden? Nope. The way he ball-hogs, he’s unwatchable. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Leonard steamrolled onto the first team with his dominant play at both ends of the court. Green practically reinvented the center spot with his versatility. Westbrook was the king of triple-doubles. And do I really need to explain about Steph and LeBron?

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: Andre DrummondDetroit Pistons
G:
 Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Drummond stakes a claim for the traditional big man. George’s comeback to an elite level was inspirational and maybe is finest season. I still would take Paul as my point guard in one game with everything on the line. Lillard was no surprise on the surprising Blazers. And it’s almost sacrilegious to make K.D. a second-teamer.

All-NBA Third Team

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets

Aldridge made steady progression into the perfect fit in San Antonio. Millsap is the heartbreak in Atlanta. Towns is the future. Thompson spends too much time in Curry’s shadow. And if Harden played just a little less defense — is that possible? — he might have slipped right off the map here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F:
 LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

The only room for change would be putting Draymond Green at center and moving Drummond to second team. I considered that, before ultimately going the conventional route. Otherwise, the other four spots are pretty locked in.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Not too bad of a pair of forwards on the second team. And if CP3 can’t crack the first team, that says a lot about what kind of 2015-16 that Curry and Westbrook had.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I thought about George for second team and would have put him there if the dominoes fell once Draymond Green was first-team center. Either way, there is no way to overemphasis the importance of George’s season. The same could be said for Lillard as the foundation in play and personality of the new Blazers.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

I didn’t struggle with this one. Putting aside his team wrecking and coach killing attitude, Boogie was clearly the best center in the game, so he was judged purely on that. In fact, the entire first team is comprised of players who show ability on both ends or at least bring multiple skills, something that helps separate them from their peers.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

I’m tempted to put Draymond Green at center, but he played most of his minutes at power forward. I’m taking Chris Paul over Russell Westbrook, because he was just as important to his offense as Westbrook is, and was a much better defender. Center is obviously the weakest position and it’s difficult to find one that really deserves a first-team designation, but Jordan was a two-way force for a team that ranked in the top six on both ends of the floor.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Andre DrummondDetroit Pistons
G: Russell Westbrook,
Oklahoma City Thunder
G:
 James Harden, Houston Rockets

The guards and forwards here are pretty straightforward. Green really deserves a first-team designation, but the forward position is just stacked. Harden’s defense was a disaster, but he carried such a huge load for a top-10 offense.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
G: Klay Thompson,
Golden State Warriors
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Bending the position designations a little bit, so that I can include Aldridge, George and Millsap. Aldridge was huge in the second half of the season for a team that won 67 games, George was the best player on both ends of the floor for a playoff team, and Millsap was an all-around stud for a top-four seed. Lowry and Thompson were pretty easy picks, though it was difficult to leave off Damian Lillard. He’s obviously a great player, and he emerged as a real locker-room leader this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Despite rumors of his demise, LeBron remains the most dominant all-around talent in the game, Leonard has emerged as the best two-way threat in basketball, Drummond’s a double-double machine. Curry had an otherworldly season and Westbrook morphed into a walking triple-double down the stretch of the season.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson,
Golden State Warriors
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Green could have been on this team at two positions. Durant showed us this season that he’s all the way back from his injury hiccup. Jordan’s continued improvement (everywhere but the free throw line) is remarkable. Thompson is the best shooter in the world not named Curry and Paul was as valuable to his team as any player in basketball after Christmas.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G: Damian Lillard,
Portland Trail Blazers
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

George’s comeback from his nasty injury to two-way superstar is complete. Aldridge clearly made the right choice to leave Portland for San Antonio in free agency. Cousins, as much as it pains me to reward someone who causes as much drama as he does, is simply a force. Baby Dame put on a show this season and Lowry led the Raptors to the best season in franchise history.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Whiteside turned the Heat into the No. 7 team defensively. Paul (and Jordan) kept the Clippers in contention without Blake Griffin. My most difficult absences are James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins, whose tremendous statistical years were offset by their disappointing leadership.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

All-NBA Third Team

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Picking three centers was the toughest call for me. I know some people argued that Draymond Green could be an All-NBA center, but to me that’s not his primary position, and I think Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli would agree. So, DeAndre makes the cut, which I don’t mind because of his durability and defensive presence for a top-four team in the best conference.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeMarcus CousinsSacramento Kings
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

For the most part, I tried to reward winning with my selections. And then there’s DeMarcus Cousins. I thought about it a lot, but eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn’t entirely blame Cousins for the dysfunction in Sacramento, and his 26.9 and 11.5 per game were just too great to overlook.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I thought really hard about putting Andre Drummond in as my third-team center, but couldn’t justify saying someone is one of the three best at his position in the NBA when he can’t play at the end of games. The one player who I couldn’t find room for was James Harden, who is still an elite scorer but, at least to me, wasn’t one of the best six guards in the NBA this season.

Morning shootaround — May 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat needs Johnson to step up | All about team for Lillard | Raptors face pain, Pacers all gain | Cavs’ Griffin: Expectations, not chemistry, was challenge

No. 1: Heat needs Johnson to step up — As dynamic as Miami’s Dwyane Wade was in Game 6 against the Charlotte Hornets Friday and as durable as he’s been this season, a matinee tipoff time for Game 7 down in South Florida (1 ET, ABC) isn’t the most ideal scenario for the Heat’s 34-year-old leader. That short turnaround time had Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald casting about for the likeliest teammates to step up into a 1-A role Sunday, and after considering the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and a couple others, Skolnick settled on:

The other guy is Joe Johnson.

The 15-year veteran has had mixed success, with Everest highs and deathly Valleys.
It didn’t start well. He was 5 for 17 for 16 points in the Hawks’ 34-point loss to a much better Boston team in the 2008 first round.

“They killed us,” Johnson said. “But that’s the year they won the championship.”

But then, in 2009, the Hawks and Wade’s Heat went the distance, and Johnson actually had the better finish: He made 10 of 19 shots for 27 points, while also recording five rebounds, four assists and five steals in an easy win.

“That was a pretty good one, because I struggled that whole series,” Johnson said. “And I probably had my best game in that Game 7.”

In 2010, Johnson had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in Atlanta’s rout of Milwaukee in Game 7 of the first round. And then, in 2013 against the Deng-less Bulls, he went 2 of 14 and scored just six points in Game 7, as his Nets lost at home by six.

In the first round in 2014, he made plenty of big plays to push the Nets past the Raptors, in a Game 7 on the road: 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting.

“That was probably the most special, because it was on the road, hostile environment,” Johnson said. “And man, down the stretch, we were huge. It was the loudest place I’ve ever played in. I couldn’t [bleeping] hear myself breathe, think or nothing. That was probably the best one.”

No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.

“Knowing that one team has to go home,” Johnson said. “So for us, to have a Game 7 on our home floor, I think we’ll take that.”

The Heat took him in this season, after his buyout from Brooklyn. He’s had a decent series — averaging 11 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, including 47 percent from long range. But Miami needs more than efficiency to advance.

It needs more impact.

The Heat may not get his best Game 7, better than what he gave against Miami in 2009.

But his best performance of the series?

With the start time, this seems the right time for that.

Bonus coverage: He isn’t expected to be in the building Sunday, but here is the Charlotte Observer’s story on “Purple Shirt Guy,” who played such a goofy intrusive role in Game 6.

(more…)