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NBA Playoffs: Miami’s defense lets them down

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When something goes right for the Miami Heat in these playoffs, something else invariably goes wrong. When Wade is on his game, James seems to be off of it. When James and Bosh are making music on the pick-and-roll together, Wade seems to be stuck dribbling into traps and firing up ill-advised jumpers. When the team attacks the paint effectively, the role players fail to knock down threes. When the role players are hitting threes, the team forgets to attack the paint. The Heat managed to get to the Finals and take a 2-1 lead without ever seeming to play a gorgeous game of basketball, a game that forced everyone to sit back and watch with their mouths agape at just how dominant the talent Pat Riley collected can be.

On Thursday night, the Heat finally got their offense to hum. James didn’t score much, but he was anything but passive, putting pressure on the defense, forcing double-teams, and making the right pass time after time. When Wade wasn’t in the locker room nursing his hip, he was just as dominant as he’s been all series, slicing into the Maverick defense and making the simple pass or impossible shot with equal amounts of confidence. Bosh attacked both the paint and the offensive glass with vigor, and had as good of a game as can be expected from a tertiary option. The role players knocked down three after three to keep the Dallas defense honest, with Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers going a combined 7-10 from downtown. It was the kind of offense we’ve been waiting to see from the Heat all playoffs.

Naturally, all of that occurred as the Heat played their worst defensive game of the playoffs and ended up losing by a final score of 112-103. Dallas shot a ludicrous 13-19 from downtown, with many of those threes being either contested or off-the-dribble, can’t be blamed entirely on Miami’s defense, but there’s no doubt that Miami’s swarming, suffocating defense failed to show up.

Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were allowed to dribble into shots that they make with the frequency that most players knock down layups. Nowitzki continued to play whoever was guarding him like a violin and got himself to the line for 10 free points. Tyson Chandler was allowed to roll to the rim and dunk with impunity. Some of Dallas’ threes were the kind of shots you simply must admire and move on, but a good portion of them were unguarded.

If Miami had played anything resembling the brand of defense they’ve made a priority since Day 1 of training camp and have played throughout these playoffs, they’d be going back to Miami with a 3-2 lead. Instead, they will have to win two in a row to avoid infamy. Of course, it could also be said that Miami would have been on the wrong end of a shellacking if they’d played the type of offense they have played throughout the playoffs. Such are the oddities of perspective.

Even with Dallas making everything they sent towards the basket, Miami once again had a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter when they led by four points with four and a half minutes left to play. However, they once again failed to close the game, with three empty possessions from LeBron James and 9 points on three-pointers from Jason Kidd and Jason Terry swinging the game and the series to Dallas’ favor.

What does Miami have now? A lot of things they do very well, and no more margin for error in putting it all together. If Wade and James can continue to be aggressive and work off of each other, Miami will be effective offensively. If Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers can keep hitting threes, the paint will continue to be open. If Chris Bosh can continue to be effective and attack off the dribble, life becomes easier for everybody. If Miami can play their brand of defense without letting their offense devolve into AAU basketball, they should have no trouble dominating the Mavericks from wire to wire. If they hadn’t blown a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in Game 2, they’d still be undefeated at home this postseason.

And if Miami fails to put everything together one more time in these finals, they’ll go home without a ring and with the knowledge that they let a golden opportunity to win a championship slip through their fingertips.

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.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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