Heat shut down Jeremy Lin, cruise to victory over Knicks

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By now you’ve certainly heard all about Jeremy Lin, and the way he’s led the Knicks to an improbable stretch of nine wins in the team’s last 11 games. The Miami Heat, too, were obviously paying attention, and made sure that Lin wouldn’t be a factor when the teams met on Thursday.

Miami’s defense forced Lin into playing his worst game since becoming a starter, as the Heat cruised to a 102-88 victory, the team’s eighth straight. Lin had averaged just under 24 points and a little more than nine assists per game during that magical 11-game span, but finished this one with just eight points, six rebounds, and three assists, to go along with eight turnovers. Lin was a dismal 1-for-11 from the field, thanks to heavy pressure from multiple defenders all night long.

There’s no shame in the Knicks losing to this Heat team on the road; Miami is playing at an elite level right now, and owns the best record in the league heading into the All-Star break at 27-7. But the Knicks should be concerned with the way the Heat used their team defense to stifle Lin, which in turn shut down the rest of the New York offense.

Miami played physical, on-ball defense when Lin had possession, and twice, the Heat’s point guards were able to get steals from him in the open court which resulted in breakaway dunks on the other end. The Heat showed hard on the screen-and-roll, often forcing Lin to give up the ball while still 25 feet from the basket. And when Lin was able to gain some measure of dribble penetration, his defender was able to stay in front of him, while the Heat’s help defense made sure any shot attempts were well-contested.

Lin couldn’t get the offense going, and as a result, he wasn’t the only one to struggle. Carmelo Anthony, playing in just his third game since Lin started rolling after missing the previous seven due to a groin strain, finished with 19 points, but it took him 20 shots to get there. Baron Davis, who was to be New York’s savior at the point guard spot before Lin made his mark, managed to miss all seven of his shot attempts — including four from three-point distance — in just 14 minutes of action off the bench.

Meanwhile, Miami’s big three shouldered the load for the Heat offensively, combining for 67 points on better than 50 percent shooting.

Lin is no fluke; he can clearly play at this level, and is likely to continue to flourish as the key component running Mike D’Antoni’s offense. It will take some time to integrate Anthony back into the fold, who is an elite if inefficient scorer when he has the ball in his hands. And, the Knicks are clearly still a long way from reaching their potential, as D’Antoni pointed out afterward.

“It’s one game,” he said. “And we’re not there yet. They’re there. They’re the team right now to beat for everybody. They’re playing better than everybody. And we’re trying to get our team together.”

All of that is true, and not every team has the necessary personnel or cohesiveness defensively to do what Miami was able to. But what should be of critical concern to the Knicks is the fact that the Heat gave the rest of the league a solid blueprint of exactly how to go about stopping Lin and the rest of the New York offense.

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?