LeBron James, Dwyane Wade

Will the Heat run more next season?

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The Heat Index’s Tom Haberstroh has an interesting article up today wondering whether we’ll see the Miami Heat get out in transition more next season:

Over the weekend, Pat Riley lent us a peek into his offseason game plan. Would Erik Spoelstra and the Heat make it a priority to speed things up next season?

“That’s going to be up to Erik and I think he will try to generate more of a running game next year than we had this year,” Riley said. “We do want to get some quick players.”

Generating a running game seems pretty simple, right? Acquire some super athletic players, tell them to fly all over the court, cause some turnovers, and fast breaks will become the norm. Boom, you have a running game!

If only it were that easy.

When we imagined the Heat in their embryonic stages, we saw fireworks. Not just because of the pyrotechnics at the preseason celebration, but because they featured James and Wade, two guys who terrify opponents in the open court. They’re fast. They’re strong. They’re relentless.

But in reality, the Heat were more like lightning bugs last season, buzzing around slowly and electrifying the stage only once in a while. The Heat posted the 21st slowest pace factor in the NBA in 2010-11, averaging 93.2 possessions per 48 minutes…

…Of course, you don’t want to start taking shots early in the shot clock just for the sake of it. But on the other hand, you also don’t want to force shots with time running out, which is what the Heat resorted to doing all too often last season. With that kind of offensive firepower, the Heat should be able to find a happy medium.

There’s another way to generate shots earlier in the shot clock: jump out in transition. Thanks to the forces of James and Wade, the Heat were the best transition team in the league, if we’re measuring by the barometer of points per play. Synergy Sports tells us that the Heat scored 122.3 points per 100 transition plays last season, which led the NBA.

No other team came close.

But here’s the thing: Despite being nearly unstoppable in transition, the Heat didn’t get out in transition all that much.

Haberstroh goes on to talk about how the Heat didn’t cause many of the turnovers that would allow them to get easy transition opportunities: despite finishing 5th in defensive efficiency during the regular season, the Heat ranked 26th in opponent turnover rate. The Heat’s defensive system isn’t built around gambling, but they could use more players who can force opponents into making mistakes, especially at the point guard spot:

Teams primarily get their steals from their point guards. By drafting point guard Norris Cole in the first round in this year’s draft, the Heat are banking on athleticism at the 1, rather than stacking up on experience like they did with Arroyo and Bibby. As a senior last year for Cleveland State, Cole led the Horizon League in steals and won the conference’s defensive player of the year award. For perspective, Cole averaged 2.2 steals per game last season and Bibby tallied at least two steals in a game just six times in his 42-game stint in a Heat uniform.

If the Heat can bring back Mario Chalmers, who was one of the top turnover-inducing guards last season, they should have a much more athletic and potent defensive attack at the point guard position. More turnovers mean more transition opportunities. And more transition opportunities means a higher-octane Heat squad.

Despite not having Mike Miller effective or Udonis Haslem active for most of last season, the fact that the Heat didn’t get out in transition much, and the fact that James, Wade, and Bosh still don’t seem to have achieved perfect offensive synergy yet, the Heat still finished 3rd in the league in offensive efficiency in 2010-11, won the Eastern Conference Championship, and could have won the NBA Finals if their best player didn’t melt down in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and the entirety of Game 4.

If the Heat can play a little bit faster and a bit cleaner offensively and look like the juggernaut everyone expected them to look like last season, they could find themselves right back in The Finals next year — the question, of course, is whether they’ll be able to seal the deal when they get there.

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
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Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.

Kevin Durant on Warriors, Spurs: “We’re not scared of neither one of those teams”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while facing the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.

Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.

After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…

“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”

The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.

But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.

They have a shot at a title.

If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.