Miami Heat slowing it down, still winning

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There has been a stylistic debate about the Heat this season — should they run more or slow it down?

Frankly Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are fearsome both in transition and in the half court, but what works best for the team? I was in the camp that with the Heat’s pressure defense they should use that to create transition opportunities, easy fast break points where their tremendous athletes are unstoppable. And their eight-game winning streak came while running more.

But traditionally, good defensive teams (and the Heat are currently the second best defensive team in the league) want to slow the tempo down — if you can stop a team and give them fewer chances you can control the game.

That is what the Heat have done lately, notes Tom Haberstroh at ESPN’s Heat Index in a fantastic breakdown of the Heat’s transition offense.

Ending with the Kings win (Dec. 11), the Heat’s transition rate (percentage of offense generated from transition) had averaged 17.2 percent in their previous eight games, according to Synergy data. But the Heat have eased off the accelerator in their most recent five games, averaging just 11.5 percent with a season-low of 8.2 percent mark in Los Angeles. For perspective, the league average transition rate stands at 12.5 percent — or every eight possessions.

But the change of pace hasn’t slowed them down in the win column. After beating the normally high-octane Phoenix Suns by 12 points, the Heat methodically dismantled the Lakers 96-80 with just four points coming on fast breaks. And it wasn’t from lack of opportunities, as the Heat caused 12 turnovers while pulling down 39 defensive rebounds on the day.

Against the Lakers, the Heat’s three stars were all patient, passing up good shots for better ones later in the possession. As Haberstroh notes, that was not a luxury any of them had on their previous teams, where any kind of decent look for them was the best chance the team had to score. The Heat are adjusting.

What should be scaring teams around the league is this shows how versatile the Heat really are — if you try to run on them they can beat you that way; if you try to slow it down and grind it out they beat you that way. They drain a lot of the long-twos that every team tries to force other teams to take.

There are questions about matchups against long front lines and good defensive teams, questions that will not be answered until deep in the playoffs. But in the regular season, the Heat are winning at whatever pace they feel like playing at. And they look like the force everyone expected them to be.

Kobe Bryant says LeBron James has earned the right to take a rest (VIDEO)

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Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was a pretty consistent player in the NBA. Save for his final injury-laden seasons and the lockout year of 2011-12, Bryant played in no fewer than 65 regular season games in a single season.

Coaches also had no reason or want to ask Bryant — a notorious worker — to sit out in order to rest. That wasn’t really on the menu, and Bryant knew that.

Speaking to ESPN’s First Take, Bryant said no coach really asked him to ever take a rest, “I’ve never been approached by a coach and asked to rest.”

Bryant remarked that he took queues from Michael Jordan during tough stretches of the season — back-to-backs or four games in five night scenarios — where he could switch his game up, floating from perimeter to post, in order to save energy during those matchups.

Bryant also said during the same interview that he understands the complexity of the modern game, and that players like LeBron James deserve to take a rest if they’ve earned it.

“LeBron has done so much for the game. He’s earned the opportunity to take a rest,” said Bryant.

The debate on this subject will continue, it seems.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.