Dwyane Wade in the middle of everything wrong with Miami

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Dwyane Wade remains the beating heart of the Miami Heat. He remains the focus, the center of the storm. The Heat are struggling in part because he is struggling — with his shot, with how to play along side LeBron, with the offense, and maybe with this coach.

And until he figures it out, the Heat as a team will not.

Quotes that have come out of Wade in the last 48 hours sound like a man who is frustrated — with losing and with his game. Those two struggles are interlinked.

Wade is struggling with his shot, and he is down across the board with it. Last season he shot 67 percent on shots at the rim, this season it is down to 55.7 percent (via hoopdata). He’s been good in the shorter midrange, but from beyond 16 feet things get worse, with him shooting 18 percent from 16 feet out to the arc and 25.5 percent beyond it. Both numbers are well down from last year. His percentage of shots assisted on has dropped as well.

Why is that? Well for one, Tom Haberstroh of ESPN got Wade to say some interesting things about his thought process on the court.

“We’re both kind of similar players,” Wade said of LeBron after practice last week. “On the court, we’re thinking too much. When we have the ball, we’re thinking about the other guy — we’re thinking about the other guys.”

And then he said something that no coach wants to hear from one of the most potent scorers in the league: “You don’t want to take two shots in a row.”

Yes you do. Do you think Kobe has qualms about taking two shots in a row? (Do you think Kobe has qualms about taking 15 in a row?) Do you think Dirk Nowitzki has that concern? Kevin Durant? Paul Pierce? And that’s just a handful of guys — the best couple scorers on 29 other teams (and a few who are not the best and should shoot less) don’t have those qualms.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has taken criticism for part of that hesitant Heat mentality, it is Spoelstra’s offense in which Wade is struggling. It is too reliant on pick-and-rolls. Wade even seemed to tell ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz he’d like to see more pure isolation over more P&R.

I think, at times, we get into a space where we let the whole team guard us because we run a lot of pick-and-roll. And we are letting guys off the hook. I want to see someone guard LeBron [James] one-on-one three or four times in a row down the court, because I know what they are thinking: “Somebody please help.”

I want to see them do that to Chris. I want to see them do that to me. So it’s about how we do it in spots in games, if all of us can be involved together. And it’s about how you do it where we are getting other guys involved as well.

Wade is right there — the constant 1/5 pick-and-rolls is allowing opposing big men to help put pressure on the ball. Opposing centers don’t fear getting beat by whomever is playing center for the Heat like they do Wade and LeBron, so you know where the focus goes. Add in the heavy ball-pressure defenses of teams like the Celtics and you have a problem for Miami. Pure isolation (four guys along the baseline, one guy out top) makes it harder to help and can open up passing lanes for a disciplined team. But are the Heat really that disciplined? Isolation is not really an efficient offense for anyone.

What’s interesting is Wade seems to — for the first time, really — have backed away from Spoelstra. Look at what he told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

“Players and coaches, it’s always that kind of weird type of relationship. You don’t look at him and say, ‘That’s my guy right there,’ in the sense of me. Yeah, I came in when Spo was early in his coaching career. He wasn’t even on the bench when I first came in. He’s grown to know me; I’ve grown to know him.”

And now?

“He’s a different person and I’m a different player than when we came in,” Wade continued. “So, I’m not going to say he’s my guy, but he’s my coach, you know. We listen to him and try to execute a game plan and sometimes players and coaches get into disagreements. In general, that’s life with people. It’s the nature of sports…”

“Right now, in my opinion, no one is doing a good job, we’re 9-8,” Wade said. “We’re all in this together. Players not doing a good job; coaches not doing a good job. As a whole. When success comes, we win as a whole. We win four in a row, Coach is going to look great.”

These comments are notable because Wade used to be the guy with Spoelstra’s back no matter what. But now the losing comes and nobody seems to have anybody’s back in Miami. There are people close to the players — and most likely from either LeBron’s entourage or CAA, the agency that represents all of the Heat’s Big Three — saying that the players are unhappy and Spoelstra is the reason. Of course, those same people have to put the spotlight on the coach, so as to keep their players looking good. Shift the blame.

But there is enough blame for everyone. The Heat don’t look good and Wade is right in that everybody can step up and accept a helping of blame.

That includes Wade. Because more than anyone else he is right in the middle of everything with the Heat.

Jrue Holiday hits game winner, Anthony Davis has 45, Pelicans beat Heat in OT, 124-123

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami’s third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans’ winning streak – and 42 or more three times – raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points.

Neither team was able to build a double-digit lead during game which riveted a boisterous crowd with its fast pace and array of highlights on both ends of the floor. There were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

New Orleans scored 37 fast-break points. Davis threw down seven dunks. He converted one alley-oop while being fouled and also turned a steal into a fast-break layup as he was fouled. And the All-Star wasn’t the only one blocking shots for New Orleans. Emeka Okafor, now in his second 10-day contract after being out of the league for four-plus seasons, had five blocks.

After trailing much of the second half, the Pelicans appeared to be seizing control with a 10-0 run during which Holiday scored eight points, giving New Orleans a 104-99 lead with 2:51 to go.

But the Heat rallied to tie it at 106 on Wade’s free throws.

Davis hit a jumper with 23 seconds left and Wade missed on the other end, but a rebound contested by several players fell to Dragic in the paint, and he hit an uncontested layup to tie it again.

The Pelicans had 14 seconds to set up a winning shot, but Davis’ drive was cut off along the baseline and his awkward layup attempted missed and the game went to overtime after Miami was unable to get a shot from an inbounds play with .8 seconds left.

 

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.

Jimmy Butler to Lou Williams on All-Star snub: put up $100K for 1-on-1 game

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Jimmy Butler earned his spot on the All-Star team — he’s had an All-NBA, bottom of the MVP ballot level season. He deserved the trip to Los Angeles.

But when he got there, Butler didn’t play in the All-Star Game itself, saying he needed to rest. That frustrated a few All-Star snubs, and Lou Williams called him out on it.

Butler fired back before the Timberwolves took on the Houston Rockets.

“My thing is this, to Lou or anyone else who thinks they’re an All-Star, with all due respect, LeBron and them got $100,000 for winning, so if you got $100k to put up, you guard me I guard you, I’ gonna show you why. All this talk, put $100,000 up and I’ll show you why and where I’m at.” (That may have been paraphrased)

Butler earned his spot, he deserved to be there. He can do as he sees fit.

But if you’re not going to roll out there for even five minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge played four and nobody is saying anything to him), then give the spot up to someone else. You don’t need the $100K that badly.

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.