Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder – Game Two

Brooks coaching part of Thunder’s problems vs. Heat


Let’s be clear about this up front — Oklahoma City is not down 2-1 in the NBA finals because of Scott Brooks alone. First and foremost Miami has brought its best defensive focus and intensity for two games now, and when they do they can even slow the Thunder. Plus, Miami has that LeBron James guy and it turns out he’s pretty good.

But Brooks is part of the problem and a big part of the solution if the Thunder are going to come back in this series.

But with how he’s coached in the finals, he may regret shooting down a three-year, $11 million contract offer.

The most obvious mistake was sitting both Durant and Westbrook the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. Durant had picked up his fourth foul and Brooks sat him, as is tradition. (We can debate if that is a good tradition — you are sitting him now so he doesn’t get a fifth foul so you have to sit him, basically you’re punishing yourself now for what might happen.) Here’s an idea — if Durant has gotten in foul trouble the last two games covering LeBron James, don’t have him cover LeBron James.

At the time of that foul Westbrook made a couple bad plays and Brooks sat him, too.

Miami went on a 15-3 run and took the lead.

“I took (Durant) out because he had the foul trouble right there,” Brooks said after the game in a televised interview. “And Russell… Russell had a bad stretch for three or four possessions. I just took him out to kind of calm him down and put him right back in the game. I’ve done it before.”

With those two out the Thunder scored 7 points on their 11 possessions, and one of them was the lucky Derek Fisher four-point play. The offense died and the Heat were right back in the game.

The bigger issue for me goes back to the Thunder’s core lineup that plays Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins at the same time. It doesn’t work. It didn’t work at the start of the last two games because Ibaka wanted to be protecting the rim and not out at the three-point line chasing Shane Battier, and the result was two 17-point games for Battier and fast starts for the Heat.

In Game 3 Brooks didn’t change the lineup but he did get Ibaka out better on Battier to start the game — and the result was a layup line for the Heat in the paint. They got shots at the rim off cuts and penetration, the Thunder could not stop them.

Perkins and Ibaka were +11 together in Game 3 but Ibaka never saw the court in the fourth quarter and the issues with the two big man lineup remain.

Brooks has got to get his best matchups on the floor and think more outside of the box. If Durant is in foul trouble you have to keep offense on the floor with Westbrook. You need to get Ibaka in the paint where he is a feared shot blocker. It’s crazy to think this guy bested Gregg Popovich last round, but it can be easier to do that when you have the best pieces on the board to move around. Now that it’s a real chess match he has to step up his game.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.