Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers

What did we learn about the Heat? Lakers?

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On Christmas 2009, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers thumped the Los Angeles Lakers pretty good, winning by 15. Come June, that game was meaningless.

That 2009 game looked a lot like the 2010 Lakers/Heat game. Which is to say, the Heat’s 16-point win has no real predictive value. If these two teams do meet again in the finals don’t point back to this game as an example of what will happen.

But this game was instructive. It was a snapshot of where the teams are right now at this moment, and where they need to improve to get to the title they both crave.

We learned some things.

• For the Heat, we learned that their pressure defense can disrupt more than just the lesser lights in the league. That defense is a force. They took the Lakers out of their rhythm, both cutting off passing angles on the wings and not letting Pau Gasol get to his spots on the floor, making him far less effective. They took the Lakers out of the triangle and into the Gasol/Kobe pick and roll — always a sign the Lakers are struggling. (That pick-and-roll worked for a bit but the Heat adjusted and shut it down.)

I was reminded of what Doc Rivers said back before the start of this season — how far the Heat went was going to be decided by how well they played defense as a team. If that is the case, the rest of the league should be worried.

• We learned that Chris Bosh can ball — he was the best big man on the court in this one. Well, actually we knew Bosh could ball. People ragged on him after a slow start to the season but he was a max guy with good reason. Bosh was slow adjusting to being the third option, but he still can be a force and reminded everyone of it today. He was taking what the defense gave him, hitting the jumper when they pulled back and driving on guys when they came out on him. He was very active on defense as well.

• We learned that when LeBron James is dropping threes he is really tough to guard. But we probably knew that, too.

• For the Lakers, we were reminded how this team be so overconfident as to bring their “C” game against anyone. This is a team acting like it will be able to flip the switch. Kobe said it well on the Land O’ Lakers blog.

“We know what we’re capable of doing, that’s the problem.”

• We learned how much the Lakers miss Andrew Bynum. Yes he played, but not the active, conditioned, reacting well and clogging the lane on drives Bynum that the Lakers need. Some other, slower guy was out there trying to recover from surgery.  The Heat in general and Dwyane Wade in particular were getting into the teeth of the Lakers defense on the pick-and-roll and the rotations were terrible. The Heat had a lot of room to operate (and frankly should have won by more than 16).

• More than all that, we learned that this Lakers team is not yet like the ones we might remember from the playoffs — those Lakers teams still found a way to score on the Celtics and other top defenses. Right now, when they get pushed out of their comfort zone, these Lakers look lost. Gasol was bothered by the long arms and athleticism of Bosh. Gasol wasn’t just not scoring, he wasn’t the hub of the Lakers offense (like he is when they are playing well). This lack of comfort should change for Los Angeles — Phil Jackson’s teams usually find their groove later. But right now the Lakers do not have it.

Then again, last year when the Lakers lot to the Heat they went on a run winning five of their next six. This may spark them again, but with their next game Tuesday in San Antonio it’s not an easy road.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.

Chauncey Billups explains why not every player wants to go home

Dallas Mavericks v Denver Nuggets
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LeBron James did it and shook up the NBA — he returned home to Cleveland. That has led to fantasies other players want to do the same thing: Kevin Durant back to Washington D.C.; DeMar DeRozan or Russell Westbrook back to Los Angeles; Blake Griffin back to Oklahoma. And the list goes on.

Not every player wants to do it.

Chauncey Billups did. Billups is a Denver guy who returned to play for the Nuggets — he gets his number retired Wednesday night in Detroit, a much-deserved honor — but in a letter to his young self at the Players’ Tribune Wednesday he explained that going home is fraught with peril.

“But in reality, playing at home as a 23-year-old professional is going to be less blessing and more curse. (There’s perception, again, for you.) It’s as simple as this: you’re just not going to be ready for Denver to be Your City. You’re going to think you’re ready — and they are too — but, trust me, you won’t be. You’re still going to be so young. You’re still going to be hanging out with your boys, doing your old thing. There are going to be those … hometown distractions. And those distractions will add up.”

“And you have to understand, Chaunce: It’s not just that you made it. It’s that your whole neighborhoodis going to feel like they made it. All of Park Hill is going to feel like they made it. And don’t get me wrong — that’s special. But at the wrong age, it can also be tough. It can be a lot to handle. And you’re going to be at that wrong age. You’re not going to be mature enough yet, or developed enough yet, to take on that mix of environments, those responsibilities, that role.

“You’re not going to be ready to lead.”

There are plenty of guys around the NBA who understand those distractions and how those can get in the way of off-season workouts, of time spent shoring up a weakness or developing a new shot, and how during the season they can be another thing that wears the body down.

Some guys can handle it. Some can’t.

Go read the entire letter from Billups. He talks about getting traded from the Celtics his rookie season, about playing for Mike D’Antoni, about how very rarely do veterans want to mentor younger players because they are fighting for the same piece of the pie.  Billups is honest.

And it’s great that Detroit is rewarding him as they should.

Did Marcus Thornton steal free throws from Rockets teammate Clint Capela?

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Leandro Barbosa – guarding Marcus Thornton and fighting through a Clint Capela screen – was called for a foul in the first quarter of last night’s Warriors-Rockets game.

Thornton went to the line.

Should he have? Or should Capela have?

Perhaps, Thornton and Barbosa tangled, but it certainly appeared the contact primarily occurred between Barbosa and Capela. It looks like Barbosa tries to ram through Capela.

It also appears Capela thought he drew the foul. Watch him step toward the line before seeing Thornton there and taking his spot along the paint.

So, why would Thornton step in? He’s making 89% of his free throws to Capela’s 40%.

I’m honestly surprised players don’t try this maneuver more often. Refs have so much to keep track of. The worst consequence would be the refs shooing away Thornton and bringing Capela to the line.

Thornton made both free throws, but it didn’t matter. Houston was playing Golden State, which rolled to a victory.