Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson

NBA Playoffs Heat vs. Bulls Game 3: Advantage, home-court and otherwise

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How many times do you read the word “advantage” in sports? It’s used so frequently even in the face of the obviousness of what it implies. After all, what makes teams “bad” so often is a lack of advantage, or a lack of willingness to exploit that advantage. Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks is kept from being an elite player by a reluctance or inability to access his inherent advantage on the floor with his physical tools. In the NBA there’s player, tactical, circumstantial, home-court, and intangible advantage, just to name a few. All will be in play for Game 3 between the Heat and the Bulls.

Player Advantage

The Heat have better players. That’s been pretty obvious from the first two games. There is no denying the fact that what led to the Bulls’ Game 1 victory wasn’t a superior roster, it was a deeper roster hitting on all cylinders, versus the Heat’s design of three players (Wade, James, and one other) playing to the best of their ability. If you rank all players on a scale of one to ten, with one being a D-League fill-in and ten being LeBron James/Derrick Rose, then yes, the Bulls’ final score will be higher. But if you rank all players on a scale of one to a hundred, the Heat’s total will be higher due to Wade and James both being in the 95+ range versus just one 80+ for the Bulls in Derrick Rose. Game 2 showed what happens when the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts for Chicago, and we just stack up players vs. players. This isn’t to say the Heat are a better team. They’re not, nor are they a worse team. These two are about as evenly matched as you’re going to find, a reflection of the Western Conference Finals which display the same trait. But the Heat have better players to rely on.

If Game 3 becomes a matter of “who has more talent” then the Heat win. We saw shades of that in Game 2, even as the Heat showed flashes of team cohesion thanks to Udonis Haslem’s spark. Conversely, if the advantage is defined by what group of players meshes together better, the Bulls have an excellent chance of stealing back homecourt. The best way for the Heat to disrupt the Bulls’ cohesiveness is with individual brilliance wearing them out, and the best way for the Bulls to combat the Heat’s elite superiority talent wise is to get back to swarming them with cohesive, communicative defense. And knock down a few shots, but that’s more tactical.

Tactical

It’s safe to say many underestimated Erik Spoelstra’s defensive chops going into this series. It’s been a much closer defensive bout than anticipated. Were it not for some great efforts on the offensive glass by the Bulls, this series would be in dire shape for Chicago. That isn’t to take anything away from a sound gameplan of making up for their offensive deficiencies by creating extra possessions, it’s simply to point out the Bulls are still trying to find anything resembling a shooter’s touch. And that’s in large part due to how well the Heat have defended. Derrick Rose has been contained with multiple looks, and that’s prevented both of his threats. He hasn’t filled in with efficient scoring, and he hasn’t gotten teammates involved. When he has, they’ve missed semi-open looks, in part thanks to fantastic close-out defense by the Heat. That’s been in part responsible for the offensive rebounding woes (hard to grab a long rebound off a jumper when you’re diving out of bounds after running off the perimeter shooter), but it’s also helped keep the Bulls’ offense under wraps.

This tactical matchup continues in Game 3 with an added wrinkle. The Heat have shown their advantage in their reliance on LeBron James’ special talents, which means Tom Thibodeau has something to plan for as the game gets deep. It’ll be up to the Heat to either adjust with better opportunities for Wade and Bosh, or find new ways of creating space for James, who may not get as many ISO opportunities as he did in Game 2. It wasn’t a flawed approach from the Bulls to rely on Luol Deng who has played spectacularly against James in this series, but having seen James demonstrate that he cares not for Deng’s defense, the Bulls are likely to commit more resources against him.

Circumstantial

How big was three full days off for Udonis Haslem, the savior of Game 2 for the Heat, coming back from injury and  having played long minutes in the Heat win? Getting the extra break definitely favors Haslem, as well as the Heat stars who have to take the most pounding in this series. To be certain, the time off probably helped Derrick Rose’s ankle as well, but with the way the Chicago offense relies upon more personnel for production, the extra hours were a good thing for the Heat. The time off also holds a mental advantage to a degree. A short two day break and the Bulls don’t have to concentrate on the fact they’ve lost homecourt advantage, nor does it allow time for the Heat to bask in their own confidence, which has proven to be their downfall time and time again. How the extra time manifests itself will likely go a long way in deciding who has control after Game 3.

Home-Court

Two things here.

1. The Heat are well regarded as not having a strong home-court advantage due to a docile and late arriving crowd as the fashionable South Beach crowd is not exactly the rabid jumping madhouse of OKC or even the raucous basketball-intelligent crowds in Boston. Some have even argued that with the way the Bulls’ fanbase travels and all the transplants in Miami, this could be an even more divided crowd than first thought.

2. The Heat have not lost at home in the playoffs.

That second figure stands out, considering they faced a Boston crew more than capable of facing down an opposing crowd. Furthermore, the Heat crowd has been surprisingly loud in the playoffs, even with the “white out” one of the more ineffective and lame promotions you’ll find.  So the home-court advantage isn’t as great as it is for say, OKC (who promptly loss home-court last night), but it is definitely an advantage for the Heat. The ability to sleep in your own bed, etc does a lot of good, and that comfort helps put the Heat in a position they want to be in mentally. On the other end of it, though, this is the Bulls’ comfort zone. Attacked, picked against, under bad conditions, struggling to regain home-court advantage in a hostile environment. If any team is well geared mentally to have their backs against the wall, it’s the Bulls.

Intangible

Is Derrick Rose going to have three straight bad games? Is LeBron James really going to shed his non-clutch recent rep? Is Luol Deng really going to be contained this well? Is Carlos Boozer really not going to earn hardly an ounce of that massive contract? Is Udonis Haslem boing to be able to bring the emotional energy for a second straight game the Heat need? Has Mike Miller really become a “defense and hustle” player without a shot? Will Mario Chalmers play that terribly three games in a row? Will Kyle Korver continue to miss open looks? Can Taj Gibson possibly keep up this kind of performance?

And what about Wade?

There’s a mountain of questions that leave you dubious as to either team winning Game 3. Which is why it should be so much fun.

The advantage is clear, both teams have an advantage. Whichever has more or stronger ones will walk away with a Game 3 win.

Roy Hibbert passes ball into hoop, reacts with perfect facial expression (video)

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The Hornets did so much right in their 107-85 win over the Trail Blazers, even a bad pass went through the hoop.

Roy Hibbert reacted fantastically to blunder/basket (blasket?).

Dario Saric blocks back-to-back Raptors dunk attempts (video)

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Norman Powell – get out of here.

Jared Sullinger – get out of here.

Dario Saric blocked consecutive dunk attempts in the 76ers’ 94-89 win over the Raptors. Philadelphia has won seven of nine and looks suddenly revitalized.

The best part of all this? Saric’s teammates’ reactions – though the actual blocks were pretty great themselves.

Kyle Korver regrets missing after fantastic LeBron James pass: ‘That would have been on his lifetime highlight reel’ (video)

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Kyle Korver feels mostly moved in. Off the floor, that is.

The newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers still has some adjusting to do before he feels completely at home with the NBA champions, who have struggled of late.

“Every day it gets better and better,” he said.

One of Korver’s biggest adjustments is learning to play with LeBron James, one of the game’s most gifted passers. Korver regretted missing a 3-pointer in Golden State after James nearly fell before feeding him in the corner.

“Oh my gosh,” Korver said. “I told him that was my bad missing that shot. That would have been on his lifetime highlight reel. That was an incredible pass.

“I thought the play was kinda broken, and he was trying to pick it up. He whipped it around behind his back right at my head, and I was like, ‘Wow, I have the ball and I’m open.’ I hesitated, and I missed the shot.

“That’s what he creates. He’s got an incredible feel for the game. It’s good to be on the other side of the ball with him.”

Acquired earlier this month in a trade with Atlanta, Korver practiced with the Cavs for the first time in Ohio on Wednesday as the team regrouped from the longest road trip of the season – a coast-to-coast odyssey – that ended with an embarrassing 126-91 blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors, who sent a message in January they hope resonates in June.

While Korver, one of the NBA’s most lethal 3-point shooters has felt welcomed by his new teammates, he’s still trying to fit in with them on the court. Cleveland is just 1-3 since Korver arrived and the team’s struggles are at least loosely linked to them trying to incorporate him into the offense.

Although it wasn’t intentional, the Cavs found themselves forcing passes to Korver, who went 2 for 10 from the field and missed his first five 3-pointers in his first two games. He found his range against Sacramento and Golden State, going 11 of 20 (7 of 14 on 3s) and providing a glimpse of Cleveland’s potential when they get back to full strength.

“The more time we spend together, the better chemistry we’re going to have,” Korver said. “A lot of what my game is, is based on chemistry. Getting a good feel for the guys, me getting a feel for them, them getting a feel for me and how I play. Every day gets a little better.”

Cleveland went just 3-3 on its trip, which began in Brooklyn and concluded in the Bay Area, where the Cavs were thumped by the rival Warriors in their first visit to Oracle Arena since winning Game 7 of last year’s finals there.

The game included another run-in between James and Golden State’s Draymond Green, who was called for a Flagrant 1 foul after he collided with Cleveland’s superstar. The two have scrapped before as Green was suspended from Game 5 in the finals for hitting James in the groin.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue felt Green was putting the champs on notice with his hard foul.

“Was it a statement? I think so,” Lue said. “He didn’t want to let LeBron get in the open court and get a dunk or layup and he took a hard foul. He wanted to try to send a message to our team.”

Following the lopsided loss, there was a typical overreaction by some Cleveland fans and media members, who were quick to question all the Cavs recent issues as if they had just dropped their 10th straight game and not just four of their past seven.

Lue said trying to integrate Korver, whose role will change again when J.R. Smith returns from a thumb injury later this season, was a challenge on the trip.

A few days of practice – and a home matchup on Saturday against San Antonio – will either help the Cavs find their rhythm or expose more flaws.

Lue was asked if his team has enough playmakers.

“You can’t make a trade every day,” he said. “We acquired Kyle Korver and we’ve got to be patient for other pieces we need, but, we’re still a good team, we’re still the champs and we got to play like that.”

 

The Cavs are just 1-3 since Korver joined them, but he’s confident better days are ahead.

“I see where we’re going,” he said. “I see how it’s all going to come together. No one around here is panicking.”

Kevin Durant: Playing Thunder ‘never going to be a regular game for me’

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 03: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors is guarded by Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at ORACLE Arena on November 3, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant‘s first game against the Thunder featured a clever Russell Westbrook costume, emotion-laden dunks and Enes Kanter trash talk.

Durant isn’t hiding from the meaningfulness of the sequel.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s never going to be a regular game for me,” Durant told ESPN in advance of his second go-around with OKC. “I’m just going to play. There’s nothing serious. We got the first one out the way, and we’re just going to play the next game.”

“I’m sure it will [be emotional],” Durant said. “It’s people I’ve been with for so long and to see them again, yeah, they’ll be some emotions. But I’ve still got a job to do.”

This game will always spark both nostalgia and competiveness. It’s a lot to process while playing elite basketball.

We’ll see whether Durant, who lit up the overmatched Thunder earlier this season, is up to the challenge.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the game’s location.