Roy Hibbert

Pacers’ coach Vogel explains decision to bench Hibbert late, says ‘we’ll probably have him in next time’

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The Heat came away with the 103-102 overtime victory over the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, thanks to a triple-double performance from LeBron James, which included hitting the game-winning layup as time expired.

The words “game-winning layup” should never be a relevant phrase this deep into the postseason; teams normally defend the rim at all costs, especially in late-game situations. But Pacers head coach Frank Vogel made a curious decision not to do so, and it may have been among the main reasons that his team was unable to prevent James from scoring so easily on that final possession.

Vogel made a decision not once, but twice near the end of overtime to bench his biggest and best interior defender in Roy Hibbert to match up with the Heat’s smaller lineup.

With just over 10 seconds remaining, James was able to get a switch on a screen, trading Paul George for George Hill defensively. Against the smaller defender, James was able to blow by him and get to the rim for an uncontested layup.

In that situation, with still a couple of possessions remaining in the game and with Hibbert saddled with five fouls, maybe Vogel’s decision is a bit more understandable. But after seeing the disastrous results, it’s tough to justify making the same mistake twice, and doing so on the game’s final possession.

George had hit three free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining after being fouled on a three-point attempt from Dwyane Wade, which gave the Pacers a one-point lead. Once again, Vogel had Hibbert placed firmly on the bench, and as soon as James received the inbounds pass, he sprinted past George to his left to get the uncontested shot at the rim to go as time expired.

Vogel was asked about his decision as soon as his postgame press conference began, and said that the lineup the Heat had on the floor dictated his response.

“That’s the dilemma they present when they have Chris Bosh at the five spot and his ability to space the floor,” Vogel said. “We put a switching lineup in with the intent to switch, keep everything in front of us and try to go into or force a challenged jumpshot. We pushed up a little bit too much, LeBron was able to beat us off the bounce.”

It’s true that George was out of position defensively, and that was the reason James was able to have such a wide open lane to the basket. But with Hibbert there, it’s possible James might have had his shot altered (or, at the very least, contested), and he may have even been forced to get the ball to someone else.

Vogel explained in further detail what he was trying to accomplish.

“They’re hurting us on the small pick‑and‑rolls where we’re trying to blitz and get back,” he said. “So you have a couple of alternatives. The intent is to try to switch and just, you know, hope that a point guard can keep him in front of us, and both situations we just pushed up on him a little bit too much, and he was able to beat us off the bounce.”

But still — why no Hibbert?

“We expected [Chris Bosh] to be a spacing option,” Vogel said. “If Roy were in the game, he probably would have been first or second option, if it didn’t come to LeBron, if LeBron could one‑bounce, draw Roy to the rim and have Bosh spot it up.

“So it’s the dilemma that they present. Obviously, with the way it worked out, you know, it would have been better to have Roy in the game.  But you don’t know.  If that happens, maybe Bosh is making the jumpshot, and we’re all talking about that.”

Maybe. But any way you look at it, a wide-open jumpshot is a far lower percentage play than an uncontested shot at the rim will ever be. Which is why if Vogel gets another chance, he’s likely to change his philosophy.

“We’ll have to evaluate and see what we’ll do the next time,” Vogel said. “I would say we’ll probably have him in next time.”

Pacers unveil 50th anniversary patch for their uniforms (PHOTO)

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 28:  Leandro Barbosa #28 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. 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 Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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The Indiana Pacers have been a franchise for 50 years — 10 in the ABA and 40 in the NBA. To celebrate this anniversary, they’ve unveiled a new patch that they will wear on their uniforms this season. You can check it out below:

It looks pretty sleek, combining the Pacers’ logo with the zero in “50.” It’s subtle and well-designed.

Kobe Bryant pays tribute to Kevin Garnett on Twitter

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts a shot up over Kevin Garnett #5 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 12, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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This summer, three of this generation’s defining NBA players, and three of the greatest players of all time, called it a career: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The latter two in particular had a lot in common, as psychotic competitors and polarizing personalities. They had many memorable battles over the years, including the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 and 2010 (they each won one) and the playoffs in 2003 and 2004, when Garnett was in Minnesota. On Saturday afternoon, a day after Garnett officially announced his retirement, Kobe paid tribute to him with a tweet.

The next time they’ll be together is 2021, when they go into the Hall of Fame together.

Doc Rivers calls anthem protests “the most patriotic thing we can do”

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 23:  Head coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers shouts to his team during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 23, 2016 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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With the NBA season around the corner, there are a lot of eyes on how teams and players will handle the national anthem protests that have become prominent in the NFL. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wholeheartedly supports the notion of his players participating, and hopes the whole team can figure out a statement to make together. Via Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“Listen, we need social change. If anyone wants to deny that, they just need to study the history of our country,” he told the Southern California News Group on Friday. “… I’ve said it 100 times. There’s no more American thing to do than to protest. It’s the most patriotic thing we can do. There are protests I like and protests I don’t like. It doesn’t matter. …Protests are meant to start conversation. The conversation, you hope, leads to acknowledgement, and the acknowledgement leads to action. We’re, right now, still in the conversation.”

“I hope we do it as a group. I know whenever you protest as one solid group, the protest has more teeth if you want to protest,” he said. “… I’m supporting our guys’ right to protest. I’m saying that up front. My hope is you believe it and do it for the right reasons and not just because it’s a hot topic on Instagram.

Rivers has a unique perspective — his father was a police officer, but he’s seen plenty of racism in his life. This won’t be his first time leading a team when it comes to social issues — he was able to unite the Clippers in the spring of 2014 when the Donald Sterling racism scandal broke. It’s encouraging to see NBA coaches trending towards fostering open dialogue on their teams about these issues.

Harden focused on helping Rockets improve after tough season

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets warms up before playing the Golden State Warriors in game four of the first round playoffs at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden was second in the NBA with 29 points per game last season and his 7.5 rebounds were a career high.

Still, it was a disappointing year for Harden and the Houston Rockets, who were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State, and the star knew he had to adjust things to take the team farther this year.

“Last year was frustrating, numbers individually was pretty solid, but just the love and excitement wasn’t there,” he said. “So I had to look in the mirror this summer and realize that I got to change and I got to get back to how I was.”

To that end, he refocused this offseason and put an emphasis on becoming a better leader. He organized players-only training and outings in both Miami and Las Vegas in an attempt to create cohesiveness within the group before camp.

“Just getting to know somebody and hanging out … it was really good,” he said. “That’s going to carry over onto the court.”

The way his embraced his role as the undisputed leader of this team has impressed everyone in the organization, starting with owner Leslie Alexander.

“It shows that James wants to win very badly,” Alexander said. “He’s a winning player … James is one of the top three or four players we’ve ever had here and he wants to win as much as (Hakeem) Olajuwon and (Clyde) Drexler and everybody else.”

Trevor Ariza is entering his 13th NBA season, but had the excitement of a rookie on Friday as he talked about how much better things feel entering this season than they did last year. It was a season that saw coach Kevin McHale fired after just 11 games and the Rockets take a step back after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2015.

“I think just last season was frustrating for everybody because we just couldn’t figure it out together,” Ariza said. “I don’t even know how to explain. It was just a weird, weird, weird year.”

So how have things changed now?

“The vibe has just been totally different,” Ariza said. “Everybody is excited to show what they’ve worked on and excited just to be around each other.”

These positive-attitude Rockets enter the season with new coach Mike D’Antoni and without eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason. A big question for this team will be who will step in to make up for Howard’s absence.

Their top options are Clint Capela, a third-year player who saw limited action the past two seasons as Howard’s backup, and Nene, who played 53 games for Washington last year before joining Houston in the offseason.

General manager Daryl Morey raved about Capela’s improvement in his first year, but knows he’ll have to do more this season if the Rockets hope to be a force in the Western Conference.

“Clint is going to have to take a big step forward and it’s not an easy step,” Morey said. “To go from playing 15-20 minutes against often not the starting center to playing 25-plus minutes against front-line guys, that’s a big step forward. It’s more physical. It takes a big toll on your body to do that night-in and night-out.”

Along with Nene, the Rockets also added outside shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon this offseason. Houston expects the addition of those two to fill a void that this team has had in recent years.

“We were able to upgrade our shooting … for the style we want to play,” Morey said. “I don’t feel like we had enough shooting (before). We do have that.”

Everyone is saying the right things and Morey believes he made the upgrades necessary for the team to succeed in D’Antoni’s system. But with all the improvements other teams made in the West, it’s hard to know what to expect from this team.

Alexander was confident, yet tempered when asked about his expectations.

“I think we’ll win more games than people anticipate,” he said. “But when the season rolls on we’ll see how well we do.”