Will slap across face from Knicks finally wake Heat up?

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The Knicks are legit, give them their due. In Miami Thursday night, even without Carmelo Anthony, they were the aggressors. Raymond Felton attacked and he Heat tried to react. It’s early, but New York is positioning itself to be the threat to Miami in the East.

But let’s be honest — Miami has looked awful. Pretty much all season. Specifically their defense, which is now 23rd in the NBA in points surrendered per possession. They are coasting, acting like they can flip the switch, and they are finding the couple times they do that in games the opponent pushes back. Miami looks like a team not used to having the target on its back.

Maybe the Knicks coming down to Miami and essentially slapping them across the face will get their attention (because somehow losing to the lowly Wizards didn’t.). We think the Heat can turn it around because we’ve seen pretty much this exact roster defend in the past, but they are not doing it now.

After the game the Heat were saying the right things. LeBron went out for an extra workout and to get up some shots after the loss (even though he was one assist away from a triple double and wasn’t the problem) then told this to the Palm Beach Post:

“We’ve got work to do,” James said. “We can’t act like, OK, let’s just sweep this under the rug. We’ve got a lot of work to do. New York is a real team, they’ve got some real good players, and we understand that.”

Udonis Haslem — the elder spokesman for the Heat — was more direct speaking with the Palm Beach Post, saying the Heat need to get back to playing angry, like they did when everyone seemed to hate them with a white-hot passion.

“You watch teams on film, and they play a certain way, and then they come in against us, and it’s completely different,” Haslem said. “Teams are going to play at a high level when you’re the defending champions. We’ve got to understand that. We can’t come out and play cool, we can’t just accept the fact that they are making shots. You’ve got to understand that the hardest thing you’re ever going to do is defend this title, and people are going to play their hearts out against us, and we’ve got to play our hearts out. And we haven’t done that for four quarters yet. We have yet to see four quarters of angry, hatred basketball like we used to play when people hated us. And that’s partly my job as a captain. And I carry a chip on my shoulder, and I’ve got to get it back, and it’s going to have to translate to everybody.”

Chris Bosh went a step further, saying the Heat’s style — what Erik Spoelstra calls “space and pace” — may need to be slowed down. From Tom Haberstroh at ESPN’s Heat Index:

“It’s a lot of possessions,” Bosh said. “We should really slow down some and really put pressure on teams. I think sometimes we get into this place where we try to force things by trying to play too fast. Sometimes it is good but it has to be a balance….

“I think we had a lot of success when we were just taking our time,” Bosh said. “We don’t have to put it in our heads to just go. We’re a good team, we can pick you apart, whatever way you want it. If you want to play halfcourt, we can play halfcourt. If you want to play fullcourt, we can play that too. But we haven’t been in situations – I don’t even recall any this year – where we were just like, ‘Boy this is a slugfest out there, this is a heavyweight bout.'”

I’m not sure I agree with Bosh. With defense it’s about effort and energy — last year Miami used their athleticism and length to make you adjust to how they came at you on defense. They pressured you. This year they are reacting. Which means fewer turnovers and fewer easy buckets in transition (Miami is 11th in pace in the league, they are not lighting it up).

At some point this team will wake up. We’ll see if the Knicks were the alarm clock or if Miami just hit the snooze bar again.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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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’

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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:

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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)

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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

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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.