With Haslem out, will LeBron see more time at the four?

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Udonis Haslem going down with a torn foot ligament is very bad for the Miami Heat means that the Miami Heat are going to have to make some tough calls regarding their rotation in the coming weeks. Allow me to offer this thought: instead of giving Haslem’s minutes to Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, or increasing Joel Anthony’s minutes, why not use more lineups that use James Jones at the three, feature a backcourt of Wade and Arroyo/Chalmers, play Anthony or Ilgauskas at center, and use LeBron at the four spot?

After all, LeBron is bigger than most power forwards, and there isn’t a power forward in the league who can keep James in front of them. The Heat have been using LeBron as their de facto point guard a lot of the time, which takes full advantage of LeBron’s passing ability. That’s all well and good, but LeBron isn’t the best passer in NBA history. However, he might be the most frightening combination of size and speed the NBA has seen since Wilt Chamberlain. The closer LeBron is to the basket, the more chances he has to use that athleticism.

LeBron’s footwork in the post is one of the worst parts of his offensive game, but putting him on the block will force defenses to bring double teams, give James more opportunities to finish plays at the basket, and infuse some athleticism into a Heat offense that has relied heavily on pick-and-pop basketball in the opening parts of the season. And if LeBron does use this opportunity to commit himself to working on his footwork and developing a scorer’s mentality in the post, the rest of the league is going to have problems. Even if the Heat go “four-up” with LeBron at the four like ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh predicts they will, the Heat are going to be tough to defend because of how well they can spread the floor.

Here’s some of what Haberstroh had to say about the possibility of James seeing extended minutes at the four:

LeBron at the 4 sounds nice. And it often is. But there’s more to it.

The Cleveland Cavaliers found success deploying LeBron at the power forward, but only while he was paired with a mobile, defensively-focused big man like Anderson Varejao. The effect was lost when LeBron tagged alongside slumbering 5s like Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Evidently, the Cavaliers excelled with the duo of James and Varejao, beating opponents by about 28 points every 100 possessions. But that’s not the case with Shaq and Ilguaskas, with the Cavs getting outscored on a per possession basis. (Side note: the Cavs had 12 more offensive possessions than defensive possessions, explaining the negative efficiency differential for Iglauskas’ line).

While it’s insightful to look at how Cleveland fared with LeBron at the 4, the situation in Miami is substantially different. The Heat don’t have a player like Varejao who can run the floor, finish in transition and sufficiently defend opposing bigs without fouling them every time down the court.

The Heat will look for Bosh to fill that role at the center position even though he’s been vocal about it not being his favorite one.

Possible Heat acquisition Erik Dampier isn’t a speedster by any stretch of the imagination, but he is a good deal more mobile than the glacial pair of O’Neal and Ilgauskas. Joel Anthony isn’t as smart of a defender as Varejao, but he’s nearly as quick, stronger, and a better shot-blocker.

It might be beneficial for the Heat to give LeBron some minutes at the four now, because injured Heat 6th man Mike Miller is probably a natural small forward — a Miller/James frontcourt combination could be a great way to keep the pressure on teams when Bosh sits, or they could even go crazy and play Miller/James/Bosh for some stretches. The Heat will probably end up playing LeBron on the perimeter as much as they can, and LeBron himself doesn’t seem that excited about playing the four, but LeBron embracing his size and athleticism in Miami instead of insisting on being the world’s largest lead guard could ease the blow of the Haslem injury.

Hayward, Johnson, good ball movement lift Jazz past Clippers 98-94, Utah up 3-2

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LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul is the best player on the floor in the Los Angeles vs. Utah first round series. He’s also the best playmaker on either team, a guy who can survey the court and quickly decide whether he should score or what teammate he can set up. He also gets the Clippers points and plays solid defense.

However, for lengthy stretches of the game, he’s the only playmaker on the court for the Clippers. He has to be Mr. Everything.

Utah has multiple guys they can lean on to create looks — George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson — and with that has come better team ball movement and open shots.

It also came with a crucial Game 5 win over Utah, 98-94, putting the Jazz up 3-2 heading to Utah for Game 6 on Friday night. Utah has the chance to advance past the first round for the first time since 2010, when Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were at their peaks, and Jerry Sloan was still patrolling the sidelines.

Gordon Hayward is Utah’s big star now, and he returned from missing Game 4 with food poisoning. This time he made the Clippers sick, with 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting, plus he made the little plays like a tip-out offensive rebound to Johnson late in the game that turned into a key made three for the Jazz.

“Hayward killed us early,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought Hayward set the tone tonight in the first six or seven minutes of the game (Gordon had 11 first quarter points on 4-of-6 shooting).”

The Clippers often use Blake Griffin as a secondary playmaker, because he has good handles and is a strong passer. However, with Griffin out for the rest of the series with a foot injury that will require surgery, the Clippers are stuck. Backup point guard Austin Rivers returned to the Clipper lineup, but he could only play 16 minutes. Too much of the time it felt like CP3 against the world to create shots for the Clippers. That’s rough against a long, disciplined Jazz defense.

Meanwhile, the Jazz were moving the ball and getting better looks — if guys such as Joe Ingles (0-of-4 from three) or George Hill (1-of-7) had knocked down their shots, this game may have been decided much earlier. Utah’s drive-and-kick game was in full force, and with Griffin out the Jazz have nobody who can check Joe Johnson effectively.

“That’s beating us off the dribble way too much and making us rotate,” Rivers said. “Also, we did a good job — we took the ball out of Joe (Johnson’s) hands… by doing that they’re going to get open threes. And listen, we were fortunate tonight with them being on the road, their role players didn’t make some of those.”

That’s what the first half felt like. The Jazz pushed the pace at times, moved the ball well in the half court, exploited mismatches, and largely got better looks than the Clippers, but missed enough good shots that the game was always close. It was 21-19 Clippers after one, led by six points from Paul Pierce nailing a couple open threes. By the half the Jazz had a small 46-43 lead behind 14 from Hayward on 5-of-8 shooting. But neither team was able to take control.

The third quarter was just ugly basketball — it was slow, physical, and Utah missed shot after shot. So did both teams — Utah “won” the quarter 18-15 to have at 64-58 lead after three. Still, it just felt like Utah was playing better and just missing looks.

Utah pushed the lead to 11 in the fourth after some threes started to fall, but the Clippers went on their own 11-0 run sparked by Paul to tie the game up 69-69. Staples Center was getting loud. But out of a time out the Jazz scored five quick points off well-designed plays, and order was restored (as far as Utah was concerned). From there Utah just held on.

Hayward finished with 27 to lead the Jazz, followed by Rodney Hood who came off the bench with 10. Utah had six players in double figures.

There was little pretty about this game, or for that matter the series. It’s become slowed down and grinding. It’s not a style the Clippers thrive in, but they’re going to have to find a way — or pick up the pace — by Friday night, or their season will come to an end. Then the questions will begin.

Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley get weak double techs for trash talking (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley had no love lost during Tuesday night. The Houston Rockets closed out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-99, but that didn’t stop Brodie and Beverley from getting one of the weakest double technical foul calls we’ve seen during these playoffs.

The two squared off midway through the fourth quarter, with both players seemingly OK and a bit incredulous after getting techs for what amounted to trash talk.

I’ll let you be the judge for yourself whether it was worth of a tech.

Via Twitter:

The double technical foul is definitely one of the dumbest calls in the NBA.

Houston goes on to face the winner of the series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills lead Spurs by Grizzlies for 3-2 series lead

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) Kawhi Leonard had 28 points and the San Antonio Spurs rebounded from two discouraging road losses to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 116-103 on Tuesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.

San Antonio shot 14 for 28 on 3-point attempts, two off its postseason record, including 5-for-7 shooting by Patty Mills.

Mills finished with 20 points and Tony Parker added 16.

Mike Conley had 26 points and Marc Gasol added 17 for the Grizzlies, who have lost nine straight postseason games in San Antonio.

With each team winning on its homecourt, Game 6 is Thursday night in Memphis.

The Spurs went on an 11-0 run shortly after switching Leonard onto Conley defensively, holding the Grizzlies scoreless for 2:46 midway through the first quarter.

But it was the few times either team had success defensively.

San Antonio shot 53 percent from the field and Memphis shot 52 percent in a surprisingly explosive game between teams renowned for their defense.

Conley had seven points during a 17-3 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to pull Memphis within 87-83 with 9 minutes remaining.

The teams exchanged baskets over a 3-minute span before consecutive 3-pointers by Mills helped break the game open for San Antonio.

After failing to score in the first four games, Manu Ginobili had six points in 33 seconds in the first quarter and finished with 10 points.

James Ennis III had 11 points and Andrew Harrison added nine, as both took advantage of Leonard leaving them to help defensively during the second and third quarters.

TIP-INS

Grizzlies: Conley and Gasol are the only Memphis players to score in double figures in all four games. . Zach Randolph had nine points and six rebounds Tuesday after averaging 17 points and 9.7 rebounds in the previous three games. Randolph was held to six points and three rebounds in Game 1. . Tony Allen remained out with an injury to his right leg after being kicked in the calf during Memphis’ regular-season finale against Dallas. . Ennis was 4 for 9 from the field in scoring 11 points after averaging 7.0 points in the previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio’s franchise record for 3-pointers made is 16 against Miami in the 2013 NBA Finals. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 25 straight playoff games, the longest streak in franchise history since Tim Duncan had 26 from 2011-2013. . The Spurs have lost three straight only once this season, dropping their final three games of the regular season after clinching the second seed. They have lost two straight on four occasions, including back-to-back losses in Memphis in this series. . Dewayne Dedmon returned after missing Game 4 due to an illness. . Ginobili’s eight points in the opening quarter are the most he scored in any quarter of a playoff game since scoring nine in the 2014 NBA Finals.

Watch Houston’s Eric Gordon yam it down over Thunder forward Jerami Grant (VIDEO)

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Eric Gordon is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate for the Houston Rockets for one reason: he can shoot the lights out.

But that didn’t stop Gordon from surprising a few folks during Tuesday night’s closeout Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Gordon scored just eight points in Houston’s 105-99 win, but two of those points came on a thunderous dunk over Oklahoma City’s Jerami Grant.

Via Twitter:

Wasn’t expecting him to get up like that.

Houston will go on to play the winner of the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies series.