Thunder roll on Miami as Heat roll over

47 Comments

The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Miami Heat 103-87 Sunday night behind Kevin Durant’s 29 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. It was an MVP performance by Durant and a statement game for the Thunder. For the Heat, it was yet another in a long series of headache-inducing performances in which the Heat faced the biggest game of their season, a potential Finals preview, and played listless, without energy, and basically uninspired basketball.

The Heat are polarizing, and a huge story, but I don’t want to short OKC, so we’re going to split this. Let’s start with the Thunder.

—————————————————————–

We told you in the pre-game things to watch which of the two teams got scoring inside and which of the two teams had turnoverissues. OKC has the worst turnover rate in the league, and tonight was +5 in that category, turning over Miami 21 (!) times. That meant run-outs for James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant. If you give the best offensive team in the league an open court and man advantage, that’s going to work out badly for you. The way they created them was interesting, though. They didn’t overplay the passing lanes. Instead, they waited for entry passes inside, then swarmed whoever the post or pinch man was, attacking their handle and aiming for a jump ball, forcing a desperation kickout and then attacked the passing lane. In doing so they managed to create havoc without gambling out of position on the perimeter.

But the real story of the game was hidden behind Durant’s brilliance. A huge part of stopping OKC is making them a three-headed monster. You can survive Harden, Westbrook, and Durant, and in reality, Durant had a great game, Harden an OK game (19 points but 7 turnovers and some truly terrible defense at times) and Westbrook a poorer than normal game (13 points on 16 shots and 4 turnovers). But Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins combined for 35 points and 16 rebounds and if that happens, you are done, my friend. You can pack it in.

They got those points off of smart passing. Off of mid-range jumpers. Of of supreme effort. At one point, Serge Ibaka dove out of bounds to save the ball, then recovered, grabbed the pass and nailed a 16-footer. That’s an exceptionally difficult play and the kind of focus that OKC had all night. They had the Heat’s number at both ends. They played superb defense, attacking and frustrating the Heat with help defense. It was the kind of performance that OKC needed to provide with the defensive question marks they have as a team and it provided the statement they needed.

Harden in reality didn’t have an “OK” game, he had a simultaneously great and relatively questionable game. Overall you have to give him a solid B for the performance, but the matchup, should the two teams meet in the Finals, would be one to watch. But when you let OKC turn you over, when you let them get that kind of production from their bigs, when you let them beat you to every loose ball and make every hustle play, you’re going to be in trouble.

——————————————————————————–

And that’s what Miami found. Trouble all over.

It was yet another big game in which Miami looked shellshocked. They started out well enough but once OKC started landing haymakers, they faded into the background. Miami had one of those games that reminds you of the Finals, a reminder that there are nights when they simply evaporate from the court and are overrun. There are games when teams don’t have it, that happens in the league all the time. But the fact that it always seems to happen against contenders is a serious problem. Miami no has lackluster efforts against the Lakers, Bulls (without Derrick Rose) and Thunder. The Heat can claim that these losses don’t matter, but that kind of confidence requires championship pedigree. Otherwise how can we be sure they won’t have the same kind of meltdown they had in the Finals? I’m no advocate for the “Count the Rings!” approach, but it’s not totally fine for Miami to keep no-showing opportunities for them to make a statement.

Getting murdered inside is especially worrisome. The common refrain has been that the Heat don’t need improvements in their roster at center, because Joel Anthony is surprisingly good and their athleticism covers the rest. But giving up 35 points to two players who, despite what their coach will tell you, are not legitimate offensive weapons when adequately defended, is not going to get it cut. They wound up against one team with a great center last year in the playoffs.

They lost to that team.

Sunday night can be passed off as just another game all they want. But it wasn’t to OKC and they played like it. Durant played like an MVP, the Thunder role players stepped up, and the Heat literally threw away their chances at the game.

Championship teams get to play the “we’ll be fine, we’ve been fine before.” As usual, Miami’s playing that card without having it.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Leave a comment

Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

Getty Images
3 Comments

These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.