New Jersey Nets v Miami Heat

New York vs. Miami: Defend the pick-and-roll and win.

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The Miami Heat run devastating pick-and-roll combinations — LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have been doing it for years, and now a few times a game LeBron is setting picks for Wade and that can be an unstoppable combination.

After a slow start to the season, the Knicks Raymond Felton/Amare Stoudemire pick-and-roll has become a very efficient weapon. Which shouldn’t be shocking, Stoudemire is the best roll man in the game. He can pop, he is devastating going to the rim. And in vintage Mike D’Antoni style, the Knicks spread the floor around that play with guys who can knock down the open shot on the kick-out when you help off them.

What that means is Friday night at Madison Square Garden — whoever can defend the pick and roll best will probably win.

Kevin Arnovitz breaks it down fantastically at ESPN’s Heat Index.

Like every Knicks’ opponent, the Heat will have a series of tough choices to make. Do they want Stoudemire’s defender to pressure Felton off the pick-and-roll? If so, then the Heat’s other big man better be ready to stand in front of the freight train as Stoudemire dives to the hoop. James might be one of the best help defenders in the NBA in these situations, but if he’s going to leave Gallinari all alone on the arc, somebody in a Heat jersey better be prepared to rotate over, or else Felton makes an easy skip pass for an uncontested 3. Cheat off Chandler and he can make you pay as both a shooter or a slasher (he’s finishing at the rim at a 81.6 percent clip). Fortunately for the Heat, they have both speed and intuition — and they’ll need a healthy dose of both on Friday night to contain the Knicks.

So far this season, the Heat have defended the pick-and-roll ball handler well — he is shooting 38.5 percent — but the roll man is having considerably more success when he gets the ball back, shooting 51.9 percent.

On the season, the Knicks have held the pick-and-roll ball handler to 43.7 percent shooting, while the roll man is shooting 50 percent even. (Stats via Synergy Sports.)

There are going to be a lot of pick-and-rolls tonight. The team that defends that better — and defends better in transition — will get the win.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.