5 Things to Watch, Heat-Mavericks: Christmas revenge

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GAMES. There will be actual NBA games played today starting at noon. To get you pumped, ready, and primed for the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season, we give you five things to keep an eye on today in Heat-Mavericks.

To get you pumped:

The devil you know is worse than the devil you don’t

The Heat would undeniably take this Mavericks team over the one they faced Tlast spring. No J.J. Barea, no Peja Stojakovkic keeping them honest for stretches, no DeShawn Stevenson d’ing up James and generally being an irritant, and most of all, no Tyson Chandler. The Heat still don’t have a quality center (sorry Eddy Curry, sorry again Joel Anthony), so not having to deal with the seven-foot Chandler roaming the paint is helpful. Lamar Odom will be a handful, no doubt, but they’ll still take that over last year’s combo anytime. The Heat have better odds against a deeper but more piecemeal Mavericks team than the cohesive team that took them down in last year’s Finals.

The Wade Conundrum

Dwyane Wade was a huge barometer for the Heat’s success last year. When he was plugged in and engaged, the Heat were hard to stop, especially for the Mavericks. The Mavericks didn’t retain Caron Butler and only brought in Vince Carter one the wing. Jason Terry lacks the size to guard him, Carter the athleticism and toughness. If the Heat are smart, they’ll gear the offense through Wade almost entirely on Sunday.

The Disengaged One doesn’t sound as good as Chosen One

LeBron James vanished in the fourth quarter during the Finals to most people’s delight. The reality is that the Mavericks sent a brilliant blanket coverage at him, using Shawn Marion to over-pursue on the perimeter, forcing James to drive, then bringing two separate help defenders, forcing James to kick out to someone else who couldn’t shoot from the outside. James has to force the issue on Sunday. The result is fouls, which means weaker lineups for the Mavericks and easy points for James. He needs to not worry about making the right play and make the best play. Or he’s going to have flashbacks of June.

Simple percentages

The Mavericks were in fuego in last year’s Finals, hitting 41 percent from the arc. That number figures to drop as Jason Kidd has to come back to earth a bit (right?), Barea is gone,  along with Stevenson. But Odom has three-point range, as does Carter, and there’s always Dirk. The Heat are a great defensive team, but they may have to sacrifice some inside bucket risks in order to keep hand in the face of the perimeter shooters.

Like a Bosh

You know who actually had a pretty good Finals series? Chris Bosh. Bosh used the attention drawn by the Heat’s drivers to get his pick and pop on, and wound up averaging more points than LeBron. He actually neutralized Jason Terry’s impact, if you choose to think of it that way. Bosh is in his hometown, with a crowd that doesn’t like him. He was tagged as being soft and inferior last season. He can set the tone for this year with a strong performance Sunday.

Willy Hernangomez ‘mad’ about falling from Knicks rotation

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Knicks president Steve Mills started his second tenure talking about rebuilding and listed Willy Hernangomez as a core piece.

But Hernangomez, coming off an All-Rookie first-team season, barely played in New York’s season-opening loss to the Thunder– drawing scrutiny.

Then, he didn’t play at all in a loss to the Pistons – eliciting a strong reaction from Hernangomez himself.

Hernangomez, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

“The same. I’m still mad,” Hernangomez said. “I cannot help the team win if I’m sitting on the bench. Two games in a row. It’s tough. I have to wait my moment. I cannot say nothing more.”

The Knicks are moving in different directions. Management is talking about building for the future. Coach Jeff Hornacek, who was hired by previous president Phil Jackson, is trying to win now.

There’s a fine line between developing Hernangomez through playing time and making him earn his minutes. Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn might be better right now.

But being marginally better this season won’t get the Knicks anywhere meaningful except lower in the lottery. On the other hand, even on rebuilding teams, winning is most important to a coach’s job security. Earl Watson implemented the Suns’ tanking scheme, and look where that got him.

Hornacek is backed into a corner, and now one of the team’s most important young players is publicly expressing his displeasure. It’s the latest troubling sign in a locker room already suspicious of Hornacek.

Report: Eric Bledsoe requested trade from Suns before season

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Suns guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted yesterday:

In light of Phoenix’s 0-3 start and Earl Watson getting fired yesterday, that sure looks like a trade request. Still, there’s risk in making assumptions about vague tweets.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Why wouldn’t Bledsoe want out? The 27-year-old is in his prime and stuck on a young team that would rather tank than play him.

It’ll be interesting to see how Bledsoe explains the tweet. He previously paid lip service to his situation in Phoenix, but it appears he’s ready to open up. On the other hand, public trade requests typically draw fines from the NBA.

Another Hornets backup PG injured

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Hornets backup point guard Michael Carter-Williamsout.

Nicolas Batum, who handled a lot of playmaking with Charlotte’s second units – out.

Julyan Stone, another Hornets backup point guard – out.

Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that guard Julyan Stone has suffered a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. The injury occurred in practice on Sunday, Oct. 22 and he did not travel with the team to Milwaukee.  Stone is listed as out for tonight’s game against the Bucks and his expected recovery time is estimated at four to six weeks.

The Hornets have been outscored by an astounding 35.8 points per 100 possessions without starter Kemba Walker, producing an offensive rating of just 61.4. That’s in just 23 minutes, but the problem dates back to last season, when Charlotte was outscored by 7.0 points per 100 possessions with a 100.7 offensive rating sans Walker.

Now, the Hornets have little choice but to turn to rookie Malik Monk. Monk is a scoring guard, but his 6-foot-3 size means he has at least worked on playing point guard. Is he ready to play the position full-time for a team eying the playoffs. Probably not, but he’ll just have to do his best to keep Charlotte afloat in the few minutes Walker rests.

Report: Suns also fire three assistant coaches

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The Suns fired Earl Watson just three games into the season – the second-earliest firing in NBA history.

They didn’t stop there.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Firing assistant coaches during the season has become Phoenix’s m.o. I’m just not sure what it accomplishes.

Were Watson, Nate Bjorkgren, Mehmet Okur and Jason Fraser all so bad at their jobs? If so, why did the Suns figure that out simultaneously?

Were the firings designed to shake up a losing team? If so, wouldn’t ousting Watson have been enough?

Will Phoenix replace those assistants? If not, will the team have the resources to properly train its players?

The Suns are filled with young players who need coaching, particularly skill development. This move looks like it will put them further behind.