Dirk face on joel

NBA Playoffs: Miami’s defense lets them down

24 Comments

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.

Magic will look to make a splash in free agency this summer

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: Elfrid Payton #4 of the Orlando Magic dribbles the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 31, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

This is going to be a big summer for the Orlando Magic. They’ve been rebuilding for the past four years, since the Dwight Howard trade in 2012, and have amassed a promising collection of young talent including Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon. They just hired a coach, Frank Vogel, with a proven track record of success in the playoffs. Now, they want to take the next step in the rebuilding process and get back into the playoffs. With as much as $46 million in cap room, CEO Alex Martins told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel that he wants to make a splash in free agency and add some veterans to surround their prospects.

Why the sudden openness for the notoriously tight-lipped Magic?

“Because that’s what we need at this point in time to take the next step,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Secondly, this has been a plan, this has been a process. The first part of the plan and the process is to develop your own [players] and grow your own [players]. And when you inject veterans at the wrong period of time, it has an impact in the way that you’re trying to develop your corps of young players. It can’t just happen immediately. It’s got to happen at a certain point in time — after your players have matured and developed.

“And we always believed that this summer and next summer were going to be the two summers of free agency for us that we needed to focus on after developing our young guys.”

The Magic aren’t traditionally a destination franchise for big-name free agents, the exception being the summer of 2000 when they landed Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. But they made a big offer last summer to Paul Millsap (who decided to stay in Atlanta), and are expected to make a run this summer at Millsap’s teammate, Al Horford. Horford played college basketball at the University of Florida, so he has ties to the area, as does Chandler Parsons. Whether or not they land any of these names, their combination of location (Florida has no state income tax), young talent and a well-respected coach should get them into the conversation this summer.

Five Things Warriors must do to win Game 5, take first step toward comeback

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Getty Images
3 Comments

What is stunning is not that the Warriors lost two games in a row, it’s how they lost them — the length and athleticism of the Oklahoma City Thunder have completely overwhelmed the Warriors. The 73-win defending champions have been completely outclassed and have lost their poise. How do they get that swagger back? Here are the five things they need to do to win Game 5, the first step on the road to their long-shot comeback.

1) Stephen Curry and Draymond Green need to play much better.
We start with the obvious — Golden State’s best players simply have to play better. For Curry, the combination of the length and athleticism of the Thunder defenders, plus the fact he just doesn’t look 100 percent, have led to some ugly shooting numbers (6-of-20 shooting last game, he’s 5-of-21 from three the last two games) plus a lot of ugly turnovers. The Warriors are doing a seamless job with their switching of picks on- and off-the-ball, cutting off a lot of the gaps and driving lanes Curry likes to take advantage of. The Thunder are making things hard for him and being physical with him. But now even when Curry has gotten space to shoot a three — and he has gotten enough space at times — or when he has blown past his defender and gotten to the rim, he’s missed. Plus, the length of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have blown up the Curry/Green pick-and-roll that is at the heart of Golden State’s “death lineup.”

Likely because of lingering knee issues, Curry lacks the same explosiveness, he’s off just a little, and that with the length of Thunder defenders that takes away his margin for error. Simply put, Curry has to turn it around. We’ve seen flashes of elite Curry these playoffs — fourth quarter and OT of Game 4 vs. Portland, the third quarter of Game 2 vs. OKC — but the MVP Curry of the regular season sustained those kinds of runs, he was far more consistent. The Warriors need that Curry back.

And as bad as Curry has been, Green has been worse — Green is -73 in the last two games.  He is 2-of-13 shooting with nine turnovers in the last six quarters of basketball this series. He has been slow footed on defense. Again the length and athleticism of the Thunder are giving him problems inside, ones he hasn’t just been able to overcome with intensity and effort (because the Thunder have matched it). Green also has to get back to his All-Star form, his All-Defensive team form, or the Warriors are not the same.

2) Play better transition defense. That Thunder defense is forcing turnovers and missed shots, which in turn is leading to transition chances for the Thunder — and Russell Westbrook is not being stopped in transition. The Thunder are +17 this series in fast break points against the team nobody wanted to run with. The Warriors have to limit turnovers, start knocking down some shots, but also defend better when they get back in transition (they got back a little better last game, but they looked more like traffic cones for the Thunder players to dribble around then active defenders).

3) Andrew Bogut has to stay on the court, other Warrior bigs need to step up. Steve Kerr talked about this — the Warriors are +12 points per 100 possessions this series when Bogut is on the court, their defense improves 15.9 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors need more Bogut, the problem is he’s garnered 13 fouls in just 56 minutes of action. He’s almost always in foul trouble, in part because the Thunder are attacking (and the aggressors get the calls in the NBA). But Bogut — and Festus Ezeli, ideally less Anderson Varejao (if any) — have to do a much better job both protecting the rim and grabbing rebounds. The Warriors are getting destroyed on the glass (OKC is one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA).

“We’re forcing stops, we’re getting stops, but we’re not going and getting the ball,” Kerr said. “We have to be able to chase down loose balls and long rebounds. Otherwise, they’re getting just way too many possessions compared to us.”

4) Time to guard Andre Roberson a a little, maybe with Curry so he’s not getting torched by Westbrook. The Warriors tried to give Roberson the Tony Allen treatment — “cover” him with a big who stays near the basket to protect the rim, daring Roberson to shoot from the outside. Well, in Game 3 Roberson was 3-of-5 from three. In Game 4, Billy Donovan brilliantly started using Roberson like a center on offense — setting picks and rolling to the rim, or making cuts to the basket — which led to 17 points. The Warriors have to start covering him. Might I suggest putting Curry on him? Because for large swaths of the last couple games Curry has been on Westbrook and that has been a disaster for Golden State — Curry simply is not going to be able to stay in front of Westbrook. Not that anyone can, but the Warriors have better options.

5) Stop turning the ball over. We started with an obvious one, we’ll end with an obvious one — the length and active hands of the Thunder on defense has forced a lot of Golden State turnovers. But the Warriors have helped out, Curry in particular in Game 4 made some ill-advised passes — this is not the Portland defense anymore. The Warriors like to have a lot of flair, some playground in their game, but they need to be careful with that this series. Those turnovers have led to transition buckets for the Thunder, fueling the runs that put the Warriors in holes they have not been able to climb out of. The Warriors need to take care of the ball.

The Warriors may well be able to do all five of these things well enough to win at home Thursday, but could they do it on the road in a Game 6 is another question. The Warriors aren’t worrying about that yet; they need to get things right in Game 5 or their playoff run ends tonight.

Report: David Fizdale agrees to four-year deal to coach Grizzlies

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 17:  (L-R) NBA players LeBron James, David Fizdale, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Erik Spoelstra accept award for Best Team onstage at The 2013 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for ESPY)
Leave a comment

The Memphis Grizzlies’ head coaching position has been filled. On Wednesday, The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the team had offered the gig to longtime Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale, and that the sides were working on contract terms. Now, Wojnarowski reports that it’s a done deal.

Fizdale, who has been in Miami since 2008, is extremely well-liked by players he’s coached, as evidenced by their reactions on Twitter to news that he was close to getting the job. He was there for both of the Heat’s Big Three-era championships, and two players on those teams — Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen — played for the Grizzlies this year. His reputation around the league could make Memphis an attractive spot for free agents, especially if Mike Conley stays.

Gary Payton: “I don’t want to compare” Warriors and 1996 Bulls

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - MARCH 18:  Hall of fame basketball player Gary Payton watches his son Gary Payton II #1 of the Oregon State Beavers take on the Virginia Commonwealth Rams in the first half in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena on March 18, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
7 Comments

Everyone is tired of the who’s-better debate between the 73-win 2016 Warriors and the 72-win 1996 Bulls, but Gary Payton — whose Sonics lost to those Bulls in the Finals — actually has a reasonable take on the matter that most people should be able to agree with.

From an interview with DeAntae Prince of Sports Illustrated:

There have been a lot comparisons between the 72-win Bulls team you played against and this year’s 73-9 Warriors squad. How do you think the Warriors would stack up?

GP: “I don’t compare them and I don’t want to compare them. They’re two different animals. The Bulls did it with a physical type of basketball, we could hand check, we could do a lot of things. It was just a different era. They come back 20 years later and go 73-9. I couldn’t compare them, because if we put Golden State in that era a lot of teams, to me, would give them problems. Because we were more physical, we put our hands on them. A lot of our teams in this era we probably would have fouled out, we probably would have had a lot of problems.”

He may have his personal feelings about which era of basketball was “better,” but his fundamental point is true: they played different styles in different eras. The Warriors wouldn’t do as well in the 1990s, and the Bulls wouldn’t do as well in the 2010s. A hypothetical matchup between the two teams would come down in large part to which era’s rules were in place. We’ll never get a definitive answer, and that’s OK.