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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.

GM David Griffin: Cavaliers have made J.R. Smith ‘incredibly competitive and aggressive offer’

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22:  J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers acknowledges the crowd during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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We’ve now reached the “negotiate through the media” stage of J.R. Smith‘s free agency.

Everyone expects Smith to re-sign with the Cavaliers, but training camp opened without a deal. Reportedly, discussions are somewhere between $10 million and $15 million annually with contract length a roadblock.

Cavs general manager David Griffin, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“As we have stated and coach has previously stated, we think very highly of J.R. and we love him as a member of our team, as a member of our locker room,” General Manager David Griffin said. “He was essential to our success and for that reason we have made an incredibly competitive and aggressive offer in re-signing him.”

I bet Smith’s agent, Rich Paul, would say his contract demands are perfectly reasonable, too.

The Cavaliers want to maximize chemistry as the they defend their title, and that means getting Smith signed as quickly as possible. But they also want to avoid paying Smith a large salary – and taking a big luxury-tax hit – as he declines into his 30s.

Something will eventually give, but first, Griffin is telling the world ending the stalemate is in Smith’s court – though not revealing the exact offer(s) to be judged publicly. We’ll see how Smith and Paul respond.

Report: Derrick Rose more concerned about rape allegation than he’s publicly revealing

FILE - In this June 24, 2016, file photo, New York Knicks' Derrick Rose speaks during a news conference at Madison Square Garden in New York. Phil Jackson made a risky move when he traded for the injury-prone Rose in June, and now the Knicks face the possibility of their point guard's involvement in a rape trial in California during his first preseason with the team.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
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Phil Jackson said the Knicks aren’t concerned about the civil and potentially criminal rape allegations Derrick Rose is facing. Rose doesn’t sound concerned, either.

But is Rose just putting on a front?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

For now, the Knicks wait – and hope. Hope that the civil suit is resolved quickly. Hope that Rose – who has been troubled by the uncertainty of his legal entanglements more than he is letting on, sources familiar with Rose told The Vertical – is able to block out the distractions and build on the progress he made last season.

Rose should be concerned. Whatever happened that night, the specter of criminal prosecution and/or civil judgment against him are daunting outcomes. He can try to put that aside and focus on basketball, but this is a major event in his life.

Jimmy Butler still begging Fred Hoiberg to coach him harder

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20: Head coach Fred Hoiberg of the Chicago Bulls talks with Jimmy Butler during a game against the Golden State Warriors
at the United Center on January 20, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Bulls reportedly has chemistry issues last season stemming from the Jimmy Butler-Fred Hoiberg relationship. Butler’s most public critique of Hoiberg came in December, when the wing said, “We probably have to be coached a lot harder at times.”

A reasonable criticism for the mild-mannered Hoiberg? Perhaps, especially for a team that responded so well to the hard-driving Tom Thibodeau for the better part of five years.

The best delivery? Probably not, considering Hoiberg was still trying to find his way in his first NBA season.

But Butler hasn’t changed his message.

Butler, via CSN Chicago:

“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example. I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing.’,” Butler said. “Because if Doug or Tony or whoever it may be is watching coach talk to me like that, it’s going to be like, ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that, I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ That’s what I try to remind him every day. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else. I want that. I need that.”

Tim Duncan was celebrated for years for taking the brunt of Gregg Popovich’s criticism in San Antonio, setting an example for younger Spurs. So much of what Butler has done lately has been spun into a negative, but it seems he’s really trying to sacrifice his pride to help teammates like Doug McDermott and Tony Snell.

If Hoiberg goes along, this could quiet complaints about Butler’s leadership and preferential treatment.

With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in New York, the Bulls are Butler’s team now. Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have said as much.

It seems Butler is doing what he can to lead the Bulls – his way. The question: Does Hoiberg also think that’s the best way?

Jeremy Lin: My race made Linsanity bigger

Dallas Mavericks v New York Knicks
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Jeremy Lin might want to move past Linsanity, but  he’ll always be linked to that period in 2012. It was so enthralling for numerous reasons, including:

  • Lin played unsustainably great basketball, leading the Knicks to a 7-1 record while starting with Carmelo Anthony injured and averaging 25.0 points and 9.5 assists per game in that span.
  • Lin was excelling in New York, America’s biggest media market.
  • The Knicks were desperate for success, having not won a single playoff game in the last decade.
  • Lin was undrafted and relatively unknown before breaking out.
  • Lin played at Harvard, which is universally known for academics and barely known for basketball.
  • Lin is Asian-American, a rarity in high-level basketball.

Yes, that last factor mattered.

Lin, via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“In some ways, Linsanity wouldn’t have been Linsanity if I was a different skin color, most likely, it wouldn’t have been as big of a deal, and that went to my advantage, too, but if you look prior to that, a lot of the obstacles to even get to that point where I could get to a position of getting on the floor, those were definitely obstacles that were very much stereotypes that I had to fight along the way. So I’ve always understood that there’s good and there’s bad and you have to take them together and just be thankful for it all.”

Linsanity was a culmination of all the elements listed above. Maybe it would’ve happened without one or two, but THE essential factor was Lin’s on-court production. Without that, he never would’ve become a national phenomenon.

Lin’s heritage – he was born in California to Taiwanese-born parents – accentuated his basketball skills, but the basketball skills were the base for his popularity.

And as Lin said, his race was a double-edged sword. It made him less likely to get the benefit of the doubt when rising through the basketball ranks. I believe that coaches, scouts and other players were less inclined to believe in his basketball ability because of his race.

But Lin overcame that and eventually reaped the awards of being an outlier.

Lin has long seemed to possess a keen understanding of himself and a willingness to discuss it. I think he’s spot-on here, and it leads to a better understanding of one of the biggest NBA stories in recent years.