NBA Playoffs: Heat destroy Pacers, take 3-2 series lead

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The Miami Heat are just one road loss away from facing a Game 7 in the 2nd round of the NBA Playoffs, but they sure did look like a championship team on Tuesday night, when they absolutely dominated the Indiana Pacers en route to a 115-83 win.

There’s really only one way to describe this game: everything went exactly right for the Heat. The Heat haven’t been getting much help from their supporting cast or been able to implement their “Pace and Space” offense throughout this series, but they got contributions from all of their rotation players, made their threes, got out on the break, played great defense, and got great performances from both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade while playing suffocating defense. This is the Miami Heat team that we all imagined when LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade announced that they were joining forces. This is the team that looked like an absolute juggernaut. Even though the Heat have a long way to go before they get out of this series, let alone get to the Finals, but on Tuesday night the Heat looked like they can beat either the Spurs or the Thunder.

Let’s go through it: The game started off with the slumping Shane Battier hitting a few wide-open threes, which was the best possible thing that could have happened for them. Battier was in full “No-Stats All-Star” mode on Tuesday, making 4 of his 5 three-point attempts and playing great defense on David West, which allowed the Heat to effectively mitigate the loss of Chris Bosh for at least one night.

LeBron James was in MVP mode once again — he had every aspect of his game working, and finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists on 12-19 shooting from the field. He made outside shots, he worked in the post, he punished the Pacers on the fast-break, he made pinpoint passes, and he crashed the boards hard on both ends. He also made what could be the best pass of the playoffs when he grabbed an outlet pass one-handed, and, while falling out of bounds, hit Wade with an absolute laser beam pass right on the numbers for an easy fast-break dunk.

Dwyane Wade was in rare form as well — he slithered to the basket at will, made some impossible shots around the basket, and even mixed in some outside shots.

There are times when it looks like the offensively challenged Joel Anthony looks like a waste of a roster spot for the Heat, let alone deserving of the 5-year contract they gave him, and there are times when Anthony looks like one of the best bargains in basketball. Tuesday night was an instance of the latter. Anthony showed and recovered brilliantly on pick-and-rolls, kept the Pacers from getting the ball to their bigs in good positions, got 4 blocks, and even made 3 of his 4 shots from the field.

Udonis Haslem has his mid-range shot working again, and gave the Heat great energy, but was a source of controversy after the game. In the 1st half, Haslem delivered an extremely hard foul on Tyler Hansborough shortly after “Psycho T” was called for a Flagrant-1 foul on Dwyane Wade. Haslem was called for a Flagrant-1 foul and was not ejected, but if his foul on Hansborough wasn’t a Flagrant-2, then I’ve frankly never seen a Flagrant-2 foul in my life, and there may be a possibility that Haslem will be suspended for Game 6.

It was a physical game all-around — Dexter Pittman will almost certainly be suspended for a brutal elbow on the Pacers’ Lance Stephenson in the waning moments of the game, and Danny Granger missed most of the 2nd half after he twisted his ankle after landing on LeBron James’ foot after launching a jump shot. (Some Pacer fans may say that LeBron pulled a “Bowen” on Granger to cause the injury, but it certainly looked unintentional to me — if LeBron slipped his foot under Granger’s foot intentionally, he’s the league’s best actor as well as its best player.)

The Heat shot 61% while holding the Pacers to 34% shooting from the field — the Pacers kept themselves in the game early by making some long jumpers, but they were never able to establish their big men against the Heat’s swarming defense, and the offense fell apart completely after Granger had to go to the trainer’s room.

One game can change everything in the playoffs, and the Heat aren’t done with the Pacers yet, and there are no such thing as “statement games” in the playoffs. Still, this was a darn impressive performance from the Heat, and the Pacers definitely need to find some answers before Game 6.

Anthony Davis rattles rim with dunk on Juan Hernangomez (video)

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A sweet-shooting stretch four, Juan Hernangomez has a bright future in the NBA.

It’s not because of his rim protection.

Video Breakdown: How to ICE the pick-and-roll on defense

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NBA teams can defend the pick-and-roll game in many ways, but one of the most common is called ICE. This method sometimes goes by the name of Blue, Down, or Black, and it is ubiquitous as way to defend in the most popular offensive action in the modern NBA.

The basic idea is that the screener’s defender — usually a big man — stays parallel to the baseline and below the screen itself. The goal is to force the dribbler east to west, and to defend the paint while allowing for a lower percentage long range jumper.

The dribbler’s defender — usually a guard or a wing — fights over the top and pressures the shooter from above, ensuring that he cannot take a 3-pointer.

ICE pick-and-roll coverage has two main goals:

  1. Stop the ball handler and force the offense to move to another action.
  2. Stop a shot in the paint or at the 3-point line.

This varies from other kinds of pick-and-roll defense, including the hedge, the show, and the blitz. We’ll cover those in future videos, but you can get a little taste of them in a defensive glossary video I’ve done previously.

Meanwhile, get the full breakdown on ICE pick-and-roll coverage with the video breakdown above.

Rockets’ Patrick Beverley says players “disrespecting game” by resting when healthy

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Former Bulls guard turned agent and podcaster B.J. Armstrong said on our podcast last week that no, players didn’t have DNP-rest days back when he played — but he added that might well have been different if they had the information on injuries that today’s teams and players have. He said they got tired, they got banged up, and they played through it. You can call that tough, but it likely took time, maybe years, off their career.

Houston’s Patrick Beverley is from that old-school mentality and said players are disrespecting the game if they don’t get out there when healthy. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I think that’s bulls—,” Beverley said after the Rockets’ 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. “I think that’s a disgrace to this league. I think that fans deserve better.

“I could care less about coaches asking players to rest or not. It’s up to you to play or not, and if you don’t, you’re disrespecting the game. And I don’t believe in disrespecting the game, because there was a time where I wasn’t playing in the NBA and I was trying to get here. So me resting, I feel like, is disrespecting me, disrespecting the name on the front of the jersey and disrespecting the name on the back of the jersey.”

It’s the coaches and the organizations telling players to rest, it’s rarely the players themselves, and the teams are doing it because they want their guys at their peak come the playoffs. If the goal is winning a title in June (or at least going deep into May) then not wearing guys down matters.

Everyone has their opinions on it, Gregg Popovich did a good job trying to explain the nuances, but the simple fact is player rest games are not going away. They did it back in Armstrong’s day too, they just called a sore ankle or back rather than rest. What helps lessen games stars have off is building more rest and days off into the schedule, which the NBA is trying to do. But that’s a challenge that will continue to be discussed.

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Westbrook, Harden showdown leaves MVP race same as it ever was

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How many teams did you get right in your Final Four bracket? For the record, I have one (North Carolina). Which is why I was watching a lot more NBA on Sunday than NCAA (that and it’s my job). Here are the big takeaways from Sunday.

1) Russell Westbrook gets 36th triple-double. James Harden lifts Rockets victory. The MVP race is the same as it ever was. If you wanted to make a case for Russell Westbrook as MVP, he gave you reason on Sunday in a showdown with James Harden and the Rockets. Westbrook dropped his 36th triple-double of the season with 39 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, and the Rockets could not stop him.

Harden put up numbers — 22 points on 15 shots, plus 12 assists — but his team got the win because he got help: 31 from Lou Williams, 24 from Trevor Ariza, and 24 from Eric Gordon. Williams had 18 points in the first half. As a team, the Rockets shot 63.3 percent overall and 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Harden has better teammates around him, but he is orchestrating them beautifully, he’s more efficient, and he’s lifting his team to higher heights. Westbrook is almost single-handedly carrying the Thunder offense by putting up historic numbers.

This game offered no clarity in the MVP race. In one of the closest, most interesting award races in years, your pick for MVP depends on how you want to define the award and its criteria. (And we’re not even getting into the legitimate case that can be made for Kawhi Leonard here. LeBron James is in the mix, too, although the recent stumbles of the Cavaliers may hurt his case.) We know where the Rockets organization stands.

Sunday’s Thunder/Rockets just an MVP showdown, it was a potential first round playoff matchup. On that front, the Rockets led by as many 25, and while the Rockets made a late push to get the lead down to single digits in the final couple minutes, but the Thunder couldn’t get stops, and the result was never really in doubt. It’s hard to see a playoff series going much differently, the Thunder just don’t defend well enough to slow Houston.

2) Celtics beat Heat, move into tie with Cavaliers for top record in the East. Boston just keeps on grinding, keeps on making enough plays, and keeps on winning. So much so that with a hard-fought win over the Heat on Sunday Boston finds itself tied with Cleveland for the top seed in the East (Boston has one more win, Cleveland has one fewer loss).

Boston may well finish on top, it has an easier schedule to close out the season. However, the big game — and what will determine who has the tiebreaker between the two — comes when the Celtics and Cavaliers play on April 5.

The Celtics got the win because they made crucial shots down the stretch, like this driving floater by Isaiah Thomas (who finished the night with 30 points).

Then Al Horford‘s block sealed the 112-108 victory.

For Miami, even with the loss they sit as the eight seed in the East, the final playoff spot, but Chicago is just half a game back, and the Pistons one game back. While the race could go any direction, the Bulls have the softest schedule the rest of the way of any of those three teams.

3) Blazers win, Nuggets lose, teams now tied for the eighth seed in the West. The race to be the team destroyed by the Golden State Warriors in the first round out West is heating up — Denver and Portland are now tied for the eight seed.

On Sunday, Denver had a sloppy loss at home as New Orleans came to town without DeMarcus Cousins, and yet Anthony Davis dropped 31 and the Pelicans won.

Portland got 22 from Damian Lillard and pulled away in the third quarter to beat the hapless Lakers, 97-81.

Denver and Portland play Tuesday night in what will be a huge game in that race.