Pacers find their offense, find balance, find Heat’s respect

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Coming into this series, the Miami Heat gave the proper lip service to respecting the Indiana Pacers, but did they really respect them? The Heat had gone 45-3 since Feb. 3, you had to wonder if the Pacers really had their attention

They do now.

The question going into this series wasn’t if the Pacers defense could make life challenging for Miami — the Pacers were the best defensive team in the NBA this season and we had seen their size and length push Miami before. They could hold their own on that end of the court

The question was on the other end — how would the Pacers score enough against Miami’s pressure defense?

Friday night they figured it out — balance. The Pacers adjusted to the Heat’s aggressiveness, had just 13 turnovers, they got the ball to Roy Hibbert and he put up 29 points to lead all five Pacers starters in double figures. The Heat couldn’t stop that balance. And we now have a 1-1 series.

The Pacers had an offensive rating of 112.7 points per 100 possesions — 11 points higher than their season average. If the Pacers keep this up, they will have more than just the Heat’s attention.

Indiana got the Game 2 win thanks to their starters — their starting five was +23 on the night (every other Pacers lineup combined to be -19). Paul George held his own with LeBron James and the Pacers gave their star better support.

While the Pacers starters were a great unit, the Heat had three guys in double figures — LeBron had another monster night 36 points, but after that you had just Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in double figures (and each shot a pedestrian 6-of-14). All of the rest of the Heat were 8-of-25 (32 percent) and 2-of-10 from three.

“Take nothing away from their big three, but we’ll take a big five any day. That’s what we have,” Paul George said after the game (via the twitter of Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post).

Hibbert was a big part of that with his size and how he fought for position much harder this game.

“He’s giving great efforts on the offensive glass, six offensive boards,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after the game. “And he goes every single time, he doesn’t take a possession off on the glass. He gives us a lift in the post, efficient scoring, passing. Just making winning plays.”

But the other key to that was much improved play from George Hill and Lance Stephenson as the guards (Stephenson was very up and down, brilliant one moment and a mess the next). The Pacers had just 13 turnovers down from 20 in Game 1 (although it was still near 1-in-five trips down the court) and that limited the easy transition baskets for the Heat.

Miami has depth — they won 66 games this season because of great ball movement and solid play from guys like Ray Allen and Shane Battier. But outside the energy of Chris Andersen off the bench, Miami feels like three stars and some guys right now. The ball isn’t moving side-to-side — and when LeBron tried late in the game David West got his hands on them. Miami’s offense looks stagnant. They got a win with play from Andersen, but the Heat need other guys to step up.

As the game moves back to Indiana, if this series remains three on five — and two-thirds of the Heat’s three playing up and down — Indiana will have more than the Heat’s attention.

Magic Johnson: “The only player that we… would probably not move is Brandon Ingram”

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The Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had flashes, but he largely struggled through his rookie season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor, he had a true shooting percentage of 47.4 and a PER of 8.5, and he finished with the fifth worst “value over replacement player” number in the NBA. Watch him play, and he looked better than those numbers — he did better with the “eye test” — showing some tenacity, and his offense improved toward the end of the season. Still, his rookie season tempered expectations somewhat.

Except amongst the Lakers’ front office.

They have been high on him all the way through, higher than D'Angelo Russell, and that’s what Lakers president Magic Johnson said on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

“I would say probably the only player that we would say, hey, we would probably not move is Brandon Ingram,” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPN Los Angeles. “I think that we’re excited about Brandon, his length, his size, his agility, his athleticism. And then when you think about, you know, he was a baby coming in, in his first year last season and we see that he really has a high ceiling and we’re excited about what he can possibly turn into.”

First off, no this doesn’t mean if the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball No. 2 (as expected) they will look to trade Russell. Expect them to see if those two can play together. It means the Lakers think just one of the guys on the roster is a potential key piece of a contender. Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and on down the line may fit into the rotation, but they are not seen as cornerstone pieces that can’t be moved.

Is Ingram really a cornerstone? The jury is still out, but does anyone feel as confident he will be a star as they did a season ago when he was drafted?

Ingram certainly needs to get stronger, something the team and he have worked on (and will focus on this summer). He also was young coming into the league, and with his style of game it was going to take him a little time to find how he fit in the NBA. He wasn’t going to come in and just overwhelm opponents with athleticism, it was going to be a process for him. Like nearly every rookie, his shooting needs to be more consistent.

The questions are how high is his ceiling, and can the Lakers develop him?

This summer and into next season those will come into focus more, but the early returns don’t have some of us as optimistic as Magic.

Josh McRoberts opting into final year of Heat contract

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Heat power forward Josh McRoberts has missed 165 games over the last three years due to injury.

So, the 30-year-old sure isn’t turning down a guaranteed $6,021,175 salary.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Any long shot chance of Josh McRoberts voiding his Heat contract was eliminated Tuesday when agent Mike Conley told The Miami Herald that McRoberts will exercise his opt-in and return to the Heat for $6.021 million next season.

Miami will have major cap space this summer with Chris Bosh coming off the books. At this point, McRoberts’ salary is just an impediment to even more room to add an impact player.

The Heat could again try trading McRoberts, but they’ll likely have to attach a positive asset just to dump him. They could also waive and stretch him.

But if his salary doesn’t come between Miami and a big-time free agent this summer, perhaps McRoberts returns for one last chance at helping the Heat on the floor with his passing and outside shooting.

Mike Brown thinks it’s “cute” Tyronn Lue thinks Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors

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Celtics’ coach Brad Steven is already one of the best in the NBA. His out of time out plays are brilliant, and his Boston team’s flow of ball and player movement is among the best in the league.

It’s those things that were giving the Cavaliers trouble in the first half of Game 4 Tuesday, and ultimately prompted this comment from Tyronn Lue.

“We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me.”

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle asked Mike Brown about that.

You can certainly make the case that the Celtics have a wider variety in their offense, and that with Isaiah Thomas out the rather balanced, anyone can score nature of the Celtics is challenging to defend for a team with inconsistent help defense like the Cavaliers.

But Boston is running these sets with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk. Golden State will use ball and player movement to create space for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Which is to say, Golden State is tougher to defend because the space they need to make you pay is much smaller. And even if you do everything right the Warriors may just score anyway.

I get what Lue was trying to say, but don’t give the Warriors more motivation.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat valuable.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.