Rudy Fernandez has been given his chance, but has lost his confidence

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nba_fernandez_250.jpgRemember the Rudy Fernandez from the gold medal game in Beijing? The one with 13 points in nine minutes on the court. The one that made you think “Damn, Portland has another one, another great young player.”

That Rudy Fernandez has gone missing. And Portland could really use him, as he is starting in place of the injured Brandon Roy against the Suns (a series that tied up at one game a piece).

That Fernandez was confident, the kind of guy that women chase. But after rewatching all his plays from the first two games of the Suns series, he looks like a player without any belief in himself.

He is 2 of 9 from the floor for the series, 1 of 7 from three.  He has not driven the lane with any authority — all his shots have been jumpers, the closest he has gotten to the rim is a jumper from the elbow (he made that). He has four assists, but they are not things he created. Look at the two from Tuesday. One was a simple drop off to Marcus Camby as he moved through the offense, but the Suns defender dropped off Camby and dared him to hit the 18 footer (he did, the Suns should know better than to give him that shot near the top of the circle). The other was not really an assist, in early offense off a Suns miss Fernandez made an ordinary pass to Batum at the three point line, who held the ball for a second, took a couple dribbles left and when his defender stepped back to slow penetration he hit the pull up three.

Fernandez is playing passive, he is clearly unsure of himself. His issues with the Blazers system and coach Nate McMillan are well documented. He said he was frustrated that he was not getting enough minutes.He has talked about wanting to go back to Europe to play.

Well he’s getting his minutes in the playoffs, but all of that stuff from the past is clearly still impacting his game.

Credit the Suns for part of Fernadez’s struggles, they took Andre Miller out of the game by putting Grant Hill on him, which forced Fernandez into a more point guard role, one he is not suited to. The Suns Jason Richardson talked
about this
in a radio interview with KTAR in Phoenix yesterday.

“We know Andre is not only their playmaker but they rely
on a lot of scoring from him because Brandon Roy is down.  Make sure to
get the ball out of his hands making tougher to ask for anybody else to
get into their offense and then deny him the ball and make somebody else
beat us.  It will be a great scheme and it actually worked last night.”

Part of Fernandez role is to be the feared spot up guy, or a guy coming off screens and getting the shot if open (or making the post pass inside if not). The ultimate goal for the Blazers is to get the ball inside to Camby or LaMarcus Aldridge. But to get the ball inside means someone has to be an outside threat. There has to be balance.

Fernandez is supposed to be that balance. Right now he is not.

ESPN’s John Hollinger talked with Blazers coaches who had some ideas about how to get Fernandez involved.

To an extent, Blazers insiders will tell you that their offense makes it difficult for Fernandez to put up big numbers, and it hides some of his contributions. He’s usually not a primary ball handler, and often his main responsibility is to run a curl to set up a post-up for Aldridge before retreating to the opposite corner. When he does get touches, most often they’re for an immediate post entry to Aldridge — a tricky type of play that he executes as well as or better than anyone else on the team.

That said, the general sentiment before Game 2 was that Fernandez should attack the basket a bit more and not settle to be a jump shooter. This was particularly true given that the Suns were guarding him with Nash, one of their most vulnerable defenders, as he gives up 3 inches to Fernandez and can’t hope to match him in the air. For Fernandez to finish without a field goal in that matchup borders on embarrassing.

Without Roy, the Blazers are going to need Fernandez to step up, to make an offensive contribution and force the Suns to adjust. He has the game to do it.

But his head and his confidence seem to be back in Spain.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.