Posts Tagged ‘Steve Clifford’

Blogtable: Slipping (already) in the East

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: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Which Eastern Conference team (discounting Cleveland) is not nearly as good as you thought it might be at this point of the season?

Charlotte's Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford
(Kent Smith/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI expected more out of Charlotte than a 4-7 start and, especially, its porous defense so far (106.2 defensive rating, 21st in opponents’ field-goal percentage). Coach Steve Clifford‘s team has to clamp down better than that. Lance Stephenson has been underwhelming and Michael Kidd Gilchrist hasn’t been healthy, but a 3-3 start fizzled when the Hornets headed West. Losing to the Lakers? That’s so 2009-10. The schedule softens up a bit for the next three, then rematches at home loom with Portland and Golden State. The Hornets’ big boss would make sure to clean those up if he still were playing, so let’s see if he can inspire his crew.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Maybe they should have kept that Bobcats name in Charlotte. Except for that one wild game-winning shot, Lance Stephenson has not provided an upgrade and the defense has fallen off badly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Everyone is pretty much where I thought they’d be. If I had to make picks, I’d say the Knicks and Hornets are slightly under, but not enough to qualify as “not nearly as good” as I figured. I had both around .500 (Charlotte) or a few games under and making the playoffs (New York). The danger sign for the Hornets now is they’re starting to have a lot of blowout losses. That’s a very bad look.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I realize they’re on their fourth coach in three years and just returned from a trip out West but is this really what the Nets have become, a hum-drum team — in the East, no less? They’ve been called out by Joe Johnson, who hasn’t whined since he was spanked to life at birth, and also Lionel Hollins. The coach questioned their toughness which could’ve been a swipe at Brook Lopez (who at this stage of his career isn’t going to morph into a young Kevin Garnett) and their identity, or lack of one. All told, the Nets aren’t dropping any hints of being a contender, now that Deron Williams is no longer a top-5 point guard, and what you have is the increased likelihood of this being the Same Old Nets.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCharlotte’s had a disappointing start. The former Bobcats have two new starters and have played one of the East’s tougher schedules thus far, but they’ve been just average defensively and much worse offensively, with losses to both the Knicks and Lakers. Brooklyn has also had some bad results, but also has two new starters and doesn’t have the system continuity that the Hornets do. This team had a better start last year, in Steve Clifford’s first season as a head coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based strictly on potential, I expected the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards to sit at the head of the class in the Eastern Conference this season. And for the most part, they have played their respective roles this season. The wild card team in that top group was supposed to be Charlotte. But they’ve struggled with the adjustment to new expectations this season. They have not looked like the team I thought they would with Lance Stephenson playing alongside Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Steve Clifford is an excellent coach, so I’m sure they’ll figure the chemistry out as the season goes on. But I expected them to get off to a much better start than what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t know what to make of Lance Stephenson’s impact on the Hornets. He’s their leader in rebounds and assists, which is impressive; and he’s been scoring more efficiently in recent games. But between his addition and the subtraction of injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte looks less cohesive and more fragile.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCharlotte. Sure, we knew there would be some growing pains incorporating Lance Stephenson into the offense, but they’re 4-7 (and one of those wins came on a miracle buzzer-beater from Stephenson). What’s more surprising to me is that after being so good defensively last season, this year the Hornets are in the bottom half of the League in defensive rating. The rebranding campaign has been great, but if they keep playing like the Bobcats of old, I’m not sure that it’s going to matter all that much.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I was hoping Brooklyn would have a more positive/winning record in the first month.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I had high expectation on the Charlotte Hornets. I thought Lance Stephenson would be the missing puzzle piece to be top 5 in the East. But they still have to figure out how everything works out together. Marvin Williams is not the Marvin Williams we knew from Utah and the departure of Josh McRoberts has hurt. But it’s still early in the season and I’m sure the Hornets will get the turnaround soon. Lance is not the offensive weapon I’ve expected, but he helps with his all-around game. So, give them some time. The Hornets will buzz!

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: The Hornets have played below expectations so far given what they were able to create last season. I must admit, I wasn’t on board with Lance Stephenson being the answer to their offensive problems, I still think his game lacks consistency and he has a propensity to do inefficient things (shooting too many long 2s and whacky contested shots off the dribble). Still, this team won 43 games last season, owned a top-5 defense, committed the fewest turnovers, and on paper, improved in the offseason. Plus we were expecting the overall upward curve of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It might sound simple but I can’t see this team creating an efficient offense given the way the roster stands currently. A whopping six players are shooting below 40 percent and they’re all guards who were supposed to propel them. They need shooters!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The Pistons! I expected more of them. They have a great front-line (Monroe, Drummond, Smith) and all the pieces of the puzzle to find their way to the postseason. But they are playing terrible on the road and have won only 3 out of 11 games. Not the best start for a team that regrouped this summer and tried to turn a brand new page.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: To be honest, beyond the Bulls and the Cavs, there are no Eastern Conference teams that I had expected to be elite anyways, just ‘good’ in relative to other Eastern squads. With that said, I was expecting better things from Charlotte. The Hornets have started 5-7 – bottom of their division — and if you take away a couple of game-winning shots, they’d be 3-7 right now. I was expecting that the core of Kemba, Lance, MKG, Big Al would be able to help this team take a small step forwards, but some early teething troubles have them taking a step back. It will take some ironing out in the backcourt power-struggle between Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson to get the wheels rolling.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Brooklyn Nets, no doubt about it.They hired a new coach, and the comeback of Brook Lopez is a big help, but they need some time to come together. Obviously, what made them lose in past games is the poor defense (107.5 at DRtg). When Brook steps into the paint, opponents just shoot a sky high percentage in the field (52.6% when he’s on the court). However, their roster is still loaded, and I think coach Hollins,who is good at coaching big man, will figure out how to play defense when their most dominating big man is on the floor. Maybe they could make a run after the All-Star weekend.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The obvious answer would be the Knicks, but I thought they were not a playoff team, so I’m going to say the Hornets. I thought they could be up there with the Raptors and the Wizards, battling for the third spot in the Conference behind Cleveland and Chicago. But Lance Stephenson is not even near to the All-Star player he was last year with the Pacers. And the Hornets are struggling, with a 4-7 record, a defense that allows more than 100 ppg and a team still looking for its identity.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford


VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA – The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.

20141010_improvement

Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically.

NBA.com spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense

NBA.com: Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?

20141010_passes

Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there.

NBA.com: Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in.

NBA.com: What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack.

NBA.com: Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.

20141010_cha_offense

Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things.

NBA.com: Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J

NBA.com: But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?

20141010_cha_assist

Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way.

NBA.com: Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future.

NBA.com: Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.

20141010_mkg_on-off

Balance and priorities as a head coach

NBA.com: Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again.

NBA.com: Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never.

NBA.com: You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well.

NBA.com: How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense.

NBA.com: What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year.

NBA.com: In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany.

NBA.com: Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority.

NBA.com: So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.

NBA coaching in the time of social media

One by one they arrive, each man pulling up in his elegant sedan, sports coupe or luxury SUV and, for all intents and purposes, bringing his family, his friends, his fans — his peeps — and his digital world along with him.

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

In the locker room, where they dress and tease and bond and strategize, it’s all about chemistry. Except when it’s about technology.

“Say we have a shootaround or a team meeting that starts at 9:30. Guys start trickling in at 9:15,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said the other day, talking about these modern times. “We used to come in and sit around and talk to one another face to face. Now these guys have their devices and they’ll all be sitting at a table and nobody’s saying anything to anybody. They’re just punching buttons and looking down, and there’s no interaction.”

That novel about Love in the Time of Cholera? The men who oversee NBA teams are coaching in the time of social media, which might just be trickier.

Red Auerbach never had to worry about some tabloid photographer popping out of a darkened doorway to snap a photo with his date. Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson barely stuck around long enough for cell phones. Coaches today face the full arsenal of gadgetry, as far as where their guys might turn to lose themselves or what a civilian might use to catch players unawares. TMZ, remember, pays real folding money and, after all, 15 minutes of fame is better than none.

“It’s a big challenge coaching now,” said Shaw, who  – when he was an NBA rookie in 1988 — needed a quarter and a glass booth if he wanted to fiddle with a phone at the Boston Garden. “There are so many more options for them, so many more things to take their attention away from what you’re trying to do as coach. You have to constantly bring them back in and keep them engaged.”

Twenty years have passed since Magic Johnson, in his unsatisfying 16-game stint as Lakers coach, threw Vlade Divac’s cell phone against the wall after it rang during a team meeting.

Sounds quaint now.

“I feel his pain,” Shaw said, chuckling. “A coach like Phil Jackson, the majority of the years that he coached, these are challenges that he didn’t have to deal with. To me, the X’s and O’s kind of cancel each other out, between me and the coaches I’m opposing at the other end. Keeping everybody dialed in and not being distracted by outside forces — that’s what the real challenge is.

“I’m contemplating making the players, an hour before practices and an hour before games, check their cell phones in. So they can’t even have ‘em in the locker room. It’s, ‘You’re here. We need your undivided attention right now.’ “

Been there. Doing that.

“We have rules against cell phones in the locker room after a certain point before a game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose owner, Mark Cuban, is the king of NBA social media, at least among the Board of Governors. “If someone’s cell phone goes off, the guy gets hit with a pretty hefty fine. And we all have a good laugh about it. If it happens again, we may have to have a serious discussion about it. And the fine’s going to be heavier.”

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 14


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Sunday’s gold medal match against Serbia

NEWS OF THE MORNING
U.S., Serbia match up for gold | France beats Lithuania for bronze | Rose makes an A | Melo says players will avoid Atlanta

No. 1: U.S., Serbia match up for gold — Later today in Madrid, Team USA will play in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. While Team USA was a near-unanimous choice to qualify for the gold-medal game, their opponent, Serbia, was not; most suspected the host country, Spain, would play their way into the final. But after Spain was eliminated by France, Serbia stormed their way into today’s championship game. And as our guys Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann write, some of the team USA players believe neither Serbia nor the U.S. were supposed to be here…

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

***

No. 2: France takes bronze: In the FIBA third place game yesterday, France defeated Lithuania 95-93 to win bronze, their best-ever finish at the event. France was led by Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, and the final seconds of the game were basically a foul-shooting contest…

The European champions seemed to have clinched the issue with about a minute left in the game, but Adas Juskevicius’ three-point play brought Lithuania within one, 86-85, with 16 seconds to play.

The teams were then involved in a tactical exchange of fouls and France stayed ahead with every exchange.

Jonas Maciulis was fouled with a second left. He made his first free-throw to get Lithuania within 95-93 and then strategically missed the second in order to give himself and his team-mates a chance at an offensive rebound and a quick shot. However, no Lithuanian player was able to control the ball, which went to Florent Pietrus who sprinted past halfcourt to run out the clock and seal the game.

In all, the final 16 seconds of the game saw 11 fouls committed, resulting in 22 free-throws attempted.

Down 71-64 at the end of the third quarter, France found their savior in Boris Diaw. The 32-year-old, who strove to find his rhythm in the first three periods, found his form as he accounted for eight of France’s 31 points in the final period. He finished with 15 points.

Nicolas Batum was at the fore-front of France’s offense throughout the game and finished with a game-high 27 points.

***

No. 3: Rose grades an A: Throughout the FIBA World Cup, many eyes have been trained on Derrick Rose. After missing most of the last two seasons with injuries, Rose has used the World Cup to get into competitive shape for the upcoming season. While he may have started slow, Rose has been increasingly aggressive throughout the tournament. Rose says he feels great heading into camp, and for him, the World Cup has been nothing but a success…

“I would give it an A in my mind,” Rose said. “Just coming off of what I had to go through and actually getting a spot on the USA team after missing two years of basketball? Like, c’mon man. It shows that I at least worked somewhere and hard work pays off. If anything, it gives me more confidence to head into the regular season.”

Rose said he will enter Bulls training camp in just over two weeks in the best physical condition he ever has entered a camp. And this is after back-to-back knee surgeries.

“I think I’m going to be far ahead of people, especially on my team,” Rose said. “Nobody in the world is getting this type of competition right now, where you’re playing against different people every night, a different style of play every night, chasing people around.”

Rose, who won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, said playing for Team USA has only enriched his already-high confidence level.

“I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish but winning this championship. And that’s (Sunday),” he said. “After that, that’s the icing on the cake.

“But looking back at it, my whole mindset was just getting on the team. You had younger players who had great years since I been out, great guards who had great years. Just trying to show them that I’m still one of the best out there. I think I was going into camp with a chip on my shoulder.

***

No. 4: Melo says players will avoid Atlanta: While the Atlanta Hawks work to undo the damage caused by Danny Ferry’s race-related remarks on a conference call, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony spoke out strongly yesterday to the New York Post about how NBA players now view the Hawks’ franchise…

“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony said at the Citi Carmelo Anthony Basketball ProCamp at Baruch College Saturday morning. “At the end of the day, Atlanta … I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.”

The Hawks franchise has been under fire after the Hawks and the NBA announced Sunday morning that the team’s majority owner, Bruce Levenson, was selling his controlling interest in the franchise after an internal investigation uncovered a racist email he sent to other team executives in 2012. That investigation began after general manager Danny Ferry said on a conference call with the team’s ownership group in June that potential free agent target Luol Deng, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks on Friday, but the damage to the franchise already has been done in the eyes of one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.

“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment, but those comments right there, we would never look at. I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”

With Levenson already agreeing to sell the team and the possibility Ferry already has served his last official day on the job, the franchise is taking steps toward moving on from the issue. But Anthony said, given the amount of time over which this has taken place, it’s going to take more than a couple of faces changing to fix the problems in Atlanta.

“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. That’s not going to change overnight. I don’t think that just happened overnight. That’s been an accumulation over the past couple years. A lot of people think that it just happened, but it’s been going on for the past two or three years now … these are conversations that have been ongoing.

“We just have to stop it. We have to stop that. This is not the league for that. As players coming in, we want to play and make a good career out of everything, and from [former Clippers owner Donald] Sterling to this situation, just pushing everything back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay has a fractured jaw and a broken tooth … Boris Diaw celebrated France’s bronze medal by posting a selfie … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford says Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has “transformed” his jump shot … The one member of Team USA who has had staying power? Mike Krzyzewski … Longtime NBA big Melvin Ely has signed with Japan’s Gunma Crane Thunders.

Morning Shootaround — September 6



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ’100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.

***

No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

***

No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

***

No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors. NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

***

No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.

The buzz is back in Charlotte


VIDEO: Hornets unveil new court

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA has Rip City, Motor City, Lob City and Loud City.

Now get ready for Buzz City in Charlotte.

They’re back. Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.

“I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

The Charlotte Hornets joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1989, built a strong fan base and had a pretty good team that made the playoffs seven times from 1993 to 2002. After the franchise left for New Orleans, the NBA awarded Charlotte another team and the new owners christened it the Bobcats. Actual bobcats are found in North Carolina, but it was often said that the “Bob” in Bobcats was a self-tribute to then owner Robert L. Johnson. Unfortunately, the new team was bad and interest in the Bobcats never materialized. Michael Jordan became majority owner in 2010. Even the game’s greatest player couldn’t pump life into franchise or the fan base. The Bobcats were perennially in the bottom 10 in attendance, sometimes in the bottom five.

Once the Hornets name became available, Charlotte officials immediately began internal discussions about reclaiming the team’s lost identity.

“We embarked on an extensive research project to really find out what that name meant to the marketplace, and then not only that, how actionable would it be?” said Guelli, hired away from the Buffalo Bills in 2009. “It seemed like it was the right thing to do to bring the name back. But how would people respond to it?”

Harris Research was brought in to conduct an extensive survey of the greater Charlotte area.

“The point was to find out how did they feel about the existing name, what kind of an attachment did they have to the previous name, what were their attachments to the colors, how about the history around the players,” Guelli said. “And then a lot of actionable data, like, ‘How does that pertain to how many games you might attend? How much more likely would you be to watch a game? How much more likely would you be to purchase merchandise?’

“That data was so strong. I’ve been involved in a number of research projects in my career, but to see 80 percent in favor of bringing the name back was pretty strong. And as you drill deeper into the data you found out that not only did people want it back, that they would respond to it once it came back.”

They were convinced. The name Hornets had to come back. Charlotte quickly announced its intention to pursue the name, and soon after the league’s board of governors stamped their unanimous approval.

A four-person team was assembled, kept small purposely to better keep their plans and designs confidential. The group included Guelli, team president Fred Whitfield, senior vice president of marketing Seth Bennett and vice president of marketing Josh Kramer. They would work closely with Brand Jordan and the NBA on all elements for the rebrand.

It was a full-on sprint to design new logos, primary and secondary marks, new uniforms and the pièce de résistance, a court that epitomized their entire effort.


Gallery: New Floor, New Buzz (Photos courtesy of Robbins Sports Surfaces)

“We probably had 10 or 12 iterations of the [floor] design, various looks, and we probably incorporated elements of many of them to get to the final result,” Guelli said. “There just were a number of different elements that we wanted to incorporate to get that final feel: How strong should the cell pattern be? What should the border colors be? What are the logos that should be on the court? What brand do we want to use in the center of the court?

“What was important to us was to really kind of create this DNA of a new Hornets brand and have it integrated into everything we do, and that’s where the discussions around the cell pattern on the court started. There’s a lot of iconic courts out there, courts that you would recognize even if you took the logos off. We started to think about what we have as an asset that could help us do that, and that cell pattern was consistent through a number of our other design elements.”

Once they settled on a final version, it had to be TV-approved by the NBA. A court’s no good if its shades and colors detract from the TV product. Using a sample portion of the court and a few employees recruited to don Hornets uniforms, the NBA turned on the cameras. The Hornets had a fallback strategy, a “little less aggressive” court design, but crossed their fingers the honeycomb court would pass with flying colors. It did, and the NBA gave the green light to get it done.

Robbins, Inc., out of Cincinnati, was commissioned to build the floor. The company boasts that it has built basketball courts for 21 out of the past 25 NBA champions and for more than 90 percent of the league’s 30 teams. But it had never taken on a task quite like this. The intricate nature of the cell pattern made it a uniquely painstaking process. More than 250 honeycomb-shaped stencils were used to create the stain pattern which was manufactured and finished at the Robbins flooring mill in Ishpeming, MI.

The 7,000-square-foot court, which is made up of 200 sectional panels, each of which are 4-feet by 8-feet and weigh approximately 175 pounds, took nearly three weeks to manufacture, and once set up, the honeycomb graphics took three more weeks to complete. Buzz City logos are painted at each end of the floor.

The Hornets unveiled the court to nearly 6,000 fans in late June. A video of the unveiling went viral. But before that, when the final honeycomb was stained and the arena was empty and quiet, Guelli walked up to the suite level nestled between the lower and upper levels and peered down. And smiled.

“I was just thrilled. I don’t think it could have come out any better,” Guelli said. “What we were really trying to accomplish is when people walk into the building for our home opener October 29, they need to realize that they’re walking into a completely different place. It’s not what the building was before. This is the new era of the Hornets and we knew the court was going to be the centerpiece of that, so it had to be something very special that people would identify with our brand. I think we accomplished that.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Buzz City is alive.

Zeller’s timeline, urgency need to synchronize with Charlotte’s


VIDEO: Knicks blow out Hornets in Las Vegas; Zeller scores 18 in defeat

LAS VEGAS – Cody Zeller‘s personal timeline doesn’t seem to be in sync with his team’s. And that not based simply on the fact that his 2014 Summer League experience began four days after the Charlotte Hornets’.

Zeller’s brother Tyler, recently traded from Cleveland to Boston, got married over the weekend, so the Hornets’ 7-foot center/forward had permission to show up late for the team’s slate of games in the desert. But the tardiness needs to end now, because Charlotte is growing weary of waiting for Zeller.

After the Hornets used the No. 4 overall pick on Zeller in the 2013 Draft, he proved to have a more prolonged learning curve than they had expected. He averaged 6.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 17.3 minutes. Some things clicked as the season progressed, but he shot 42.6 percent and was no factor in the playoff sweep to Miami.

Now, with versatile and valued Josh McRoberts gone from Charlotte’s front line, Zeller is being counted on to contribute far more. Beginning, like, yesterday.

Though he wasn’t even ready for today.

“He played like he just came off the plane,” said Patrick Ewing, Hall of Fame center and the Hornets assistant coach who worked Charlotte’s 95-72 spanking by New York’s summer squad. Zeller scored 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting in nearly 31 minutes, but those points are misleading; by halftime, he had just six points and zero rebounds in 16 minutes. Charlotte was getting thumped 62-31 and dominated on the boards, 19-5. So yeah, Zeller made most of his impact in garbage time.

Ewing was as honest in his assessment as Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is when talking about the big guy from Indiana – actually, the roster now has two, with rookie forward Noah Vonleh arriving with the No. 9 pick last month.

“We need for [Zeller] to do it on both ends, not just look to score,” Ewing said. “I told him a couple times, ‘If we’re gonna go to you and you don’t have anything, and there’s a man right there, pass the ball to the open man.’ [Play] the way that he’s gonna have to play during the season. Even though this is summer league, this summer league is important to all three of those guys – him, P.J. [Hairston] and Noah. We still need for them to make plays.”

Zeller, 21, didn’t share the sense of urgency. In fact, he sounded a little above the fray for what goes on at Summer League, as if a gentleman of his breeding needn’t overdo it this week.

He might want to rethink that stance.

“Summer league is no indication of how the team or individually how you’re going to be in the season,” Zeller said. “Everyone is trying to use it to get better at this time of year. But for me, I’ve got two or three months till the beginning of the season.”

Zeller sounded like he had to handicap his game Monday so the hopefuls and wannabes playing with him could keep up. “It feels like I’m going back from making the adjustment from the NBA back to college now,” he said. “I’ve got to take a second and slow down, and try to help guys along.”

Sounds nice of him, but Zeller has no time to lose. There already are rumblings in Charlotte that the momentum of last season, off a 43-39 record and playoff berth against the Heat, may be lost with McRoberts’ departure and the inability to pry restricted free-agent Gordon Hayward away from Utah. Clifford relied on McRoberts for stability and smarts whenever his talented but inexperienced squad lost its way. In signing with Miami, he left a hole bigger than his 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

It’s largely on Zeller and Vonleh to plug it. Otherwise they both might get to pad their numbers in far too many games with garbage time.

“He’s gonna have to grow up real fast,” Ewing said of Zeller. “With Josh not being there, I’m not sure who our starting four man is going to be … but we need for him to improve in all the areas where he didn’t do well last year. He has to continue to rebound and block shots – he’s 7 foot tall – running on the break, developing a go-to move. Just all the things a normal basketball player’s supposed to have.”

Told that Zeller doesn’t seem to be fast-tracking this project – he’s counting on the team’s chemistry and character to fend off slippage, while focusing this offseason on his offensive moves – his coach for the day Monday nodded.

“There’s time,” said Ewing, one of the hardest-working big men in league history. “Hopefully not too long.”

Blogtable: Straight to the big-boy chair

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


BLOGTABLE: No assistants needed | Awesome O, awful D? | Whaddya think now?



VIDEO: The Starters on new Knicks coach Derek Fisher

> Is this a good trend or a bad one, players (like Derek Fisher) jumping straight into head coaching jobs? Isn’t time spent as an assistant worth anything?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This long has been a copycat league, so I’d get concerned if this started being copied for the wrong reason – to land a big name for name’s sake or to distract fans from an under-skilled roster. I think of the career assistants, too, who can’t crack the inner circle because they don’t have notable (or any) playing experience. But these trends tend to come in waves – it wasn’t long ago that Steve Clifford, Mike Budenholzer, Brett Brown and others were getting “all” the jobs. I think smart, recent veterans players bring a great deal of knowledge, and instant credibility with their players. But I don’t see any downside in those guys spending a year or two sitting next to a head coach to learn more about the care and feeding of an NBA club.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Good trend, bad trend? Unless you’re running a halfway house for long suffering assistant coaches, the only thing that matters is winning. Does it work? It didn’t for Magic Johnson. The jury is out on Jason Kidd. Now Derek Fisher will get his chance. It’s like high school players making the jump to the NBA. Good idea if you’re Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant. Others not so much. But Fisher ought to ask his new boss to get him a real team.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t see it as good or bad. Last summer we saw a run on assistant coaches awarded first-time head coaching jobs. Jason Kidd was the outlier. I think the Knicks situation is, too. Phil Jackson wanted someone he knew, who came through his system. Steve Kerr was his top choice, but Kerr went to Golden State. If Kerr took the Knicks job as he nearly did, then we’re not even talking about Fisher as a coaching candidate. He might have ended up in a front office or wearing a headset on TV. As for the experience of learning on the bench as an assistant, well, 18 years in the league as a point guard is pretty good experience, too. There’s just no way of forecasting who will and who won’t be successful and why. Will Quin Snyder be the answer for the Jazz just because he built up his resume as an assistant? Maybe. And maybe Fisher will be the right man for the Knicks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It depends on the team and the coach. It’s tough to compare Fisher with Jason Kidd, because Kidd is more basketball savant and Fisher is more expert communicator. They’re two very different people with, more importantly, two very different rosters. But time spent as an assistant can only help in regard to understanding the preparation that goes into a game plan, what information is most important, and what works on both ends of the floor. Kidd developed nicely over the course of seven months, but the Nets could have won 5-10 more games had he not had his early-season growing pains.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t know how long this trend lasts, but I don’t think it’s detrimental to any part of the game. Who knows the intricacies of this game better than the men who toil between those lines on a regular basis? Why this sort of corporate knowledge wouldn’t be rewarded the same way work in the film room or as an assistant  coach, for any amount of time, is beyond me. Time as an assistant is worth plenty. But it doesn’t guarantee success as a head coach any more than a stellar 19-year career as a player does. And that success or failure depends largely on the man taking that plunge, the support system surrounding him, the structure of the organization he’s joining and lastly and, I believe most important, the talent at his disposal. Kind of interesting the way it all comes full circle for the player-turned coach. Is Steve Kerr any more ready than Fisher? Nobody knows. I say good for Fisher and good for other players, who won’t have Phil Jackson waiting on them, interested in making that leap.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Time spent as an assistant can be valuable, but I don’t know if anything’s more valuable than having the experience of playing against the guys you’re coaching against just months earlier. It obviously took Jason Kidd some time to adjust to the coaching role, but he obviously warmed to it as the season went along. I think Fisher will have a similar learning curve in New York. If someone like me became a head coach with no prior experience and no time as an assistant on my resume, then I could see an outcry. But considering Fisher was out there playing just a week or two ago, I think he’s prepared.

Business handled, Heat rest and refocus

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Heat finished off the Charlotte Bobcats

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They’d have done anything to avoid the spotlight this time three or four years ago. It would have been a welcome relief for the Miami Heat back then, when they were in the formative stages of a championship quest that continues today in a business-like fashion that has become routine for LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Heat.

All of the hype and hoopla that marked their early time together has faded a bit for the Heat, the first team to break through to the next round of the playoffs courtesy of their sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. The minutiae, the “process,” as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra loves to call it, has infected this team.

“It’s a process,” James said. “I think this was step one for us. I believe this is a great direction we’re going in right now. In four games we played championship-level basketball and we got tested … and the way we responded was a championship-type attitude. We have to continue to get better. We can’t play how we played in this round in the next round. We look forward to our next opponent.”

The Heat’s “process” is why reserves like James Jones and Norris Cole, bit and role players throughout the course of the regular season, can come seemingly out of nowhere to help close out the Bobcats. It’s why Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can work their way into playoff form instead of working under the extreme pressure that other All-Stars around the league are right now as they try to push their teams through to the next round.

The Heat simply handle their business and refocus on the next task. It’s not nearly as dramatic as the reality-TV life they lived in their first two seasons together. But it has benefits that the Heat will cash in down the road.

“Nothing is exactly the same,” Cole said. “So this does feel like a new year. We’re working the same way we always have and going about things in the same way we always have, the way that’s worked for us. But it’s about taking the right steps. And ultimately, winning is everything. And we know everybody on this team has to make certain sacrifices along the way. Sometimes you’re in that mix and sometime you’re not. But you stay ready … you have to on this team.”

With higher seeds around the league under siege and complete chaos ruling the day in almost every other series, the Heat have been strictly about the business at hand. They got a spirited effort from the Bobcats, a much more formidable foe than the Milwaukee Bucks team they toyed with in a first round sweep to kick off last season’s championship campaign.

Bobcats All-Star big man Al Jefferson injured his foot in Game 1 and was never able to test the Heat inside the way many expected. That didn’t stop the Bobcats from providing the stern test the Heat needed to prepare them for either Toronto or Brooklyn in the next round.

Sexy rematches from last year — the Heat went through the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and eventually the San Antonio Spurs after whipping the Bucks — are either not going to happen or so far off right now that they’re barely worth discussing.

The Bulls were eliminated Tuesday night by an upstart Washington Wizards team. The Pacers, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff field, are facing elimination Thursday night in Game 6 in Atlanta, down 3-2 to the Hawks. Even the mighty Spurs, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, are locked in a battle with the Dallas Mavericks, the series is tied at 2-2 with Game 5 on tap Wednesday in San Antonio.

The hopes of a Heat-Oklahoma City Thunder rematch from the 2012 Finals are on life support as well. The Thunder trail the Memphis Grizzlies 3-2 and have already lost on their home floor twice in that series.

Like I said, all of the sexy storylines are either useless right now or pure imagination right now, given the current state of affairs everywhere else but Miami.

And that’s fine with Spoelstra, who relishes the opportunity to prepare for and trade blows with each and every opponent in the same manner. Again, it’s that process he loves to talk about.

“We don’t take these wins for granted,” he said. “We’re very pleased to get to the next round. The Bobcats put up a lot of fight throughout and this was a much closer series than the 4-0 outcome would indicate.”

The tricky part for the Heat is making sure to manage the time off. When you are dealing with the oldest team in the league, rest can’t be a bad thing … can it?

“You know we haven’t had much rest like this before, so our rhythm and timing may be off,” Chris Bosh said. “That is the challenge coach and everyone will have. We have been here before, we have learned some lessons from last year, and that is the best part of it. I think we will handle it better this time.”


VIDEO: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra discusses his team’s quick work of the Bobcats

Heat stay focused, go up 3-0 on Bobcats

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Postgame: Erik Spoelstra

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In a first round series in which they have much more talent, much more experience and better health, the Miami Heat just have to stay focused. They did their best job of that in Game 3 in Charlotte on Saturday, handling the Bobcats 98-85 to take a 3-0 series lead.

For the Heat, it’s on defense where their focus can really waver. In the first quarter, they allowed Al Jefferson to take them to school. In the post or on pick-and-pops, Jefferson ran the Miami defense ragged, scoring 15 of the Bobcats’ 27 points on 7-for-9 shooting. The passing lanes were open and the catches were easy.

“Every catch was exactly where he wanted it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward, “right in his wheelhouse, right in his comfort zone, where he could inflict incredible damage to our defense. There was not a lot of resistance to it. It was just too easy and we did not have a disposition.”

Then the Heat turned up the defensively intensity and Jefferson barely touched the ball over the final three quarters. He scored just one more field goal and finished with 20 points. After those first 12 minutes, the Bobcats scored just 58 points on 65 possessions.

It was a two-pronged smothering. Direct entries into the post were impossible, because the Miami bigs fronted Jefferson. And pick-and-rolls had no effect either, because the Heat stopped the ball-handler in his tracks and cut off his passing lanes with an aggressive trap.

“But they just got up,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said, “got great ball pressure on the perimeter, got up in the passing lanes, and made it just so difficult for us to be able to get him the ball.”

This is what the Heat do when they’re focused. There are some teams that can handle their defense better than others, but when they bring all their energy and effort on that end of the floor, there’s no better D in the league.

And the most important part of that defense is Chris Bosh. He’s the guy smothering those pick-and-rolls, recovering back to protect the rim, and handling Jefferson in the post. His defensive brilliance was on full display in Game 3.

“In the third quarter, he was outstanding,” Spoelstra said, “covering a lot of ground in pick-and-rolls and really putting a lot more pressure on Jefferson’s catches. He either couldn’t catch in the post or had to really work for it and catch it further out on the court.”

There will be much tougher challenges down the line, but it was encouraging to see the Heat keep their foot on the gas in a game they didn’t necessarily need.

“I was curious to see what our mind set would be coming into shootaround this morning,” Spoelstra said. “The guys were locked in and we certainly saw some carryover, not only in the activity level, but the focus and the details. It was professional win.”

The next step is to do it again in Game 4 on Monday (7 p.m. ET, TNT) and earn some extra rest before a matchup with the Brooklyn Nets or Toronto Raptors in the conference semifinals.

“If we come out with the same mind set or even greater focus on Monday,” LeBron James said, “we can give ourselves a great chance to win. It doesn’t always result in a win, but we can be satisfied with the results if we come in with the same mind set that we had tonight.”