Pacers’ starters are controlling the conference finals

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The Miami Heat have the best player in the world in LeBron James and two other top flight players in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh anchoring what is rightfully considered one of the best starting lineups in the NBA.

And they’re getting their hats handed to them by the Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup.

The group of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert has run roughshod over the vaunted Heat and is the main reason this series is tied (and why it should probably be 3-1 in the Pacers’ favor).

In the 4 conference finals games to this point, the Pacers’ starting five has posted an offensive efficiency of 120.0 and a defensive efficiency of 105.1. To put those numbers in perspective, during the regular season the Heat posted a league best offensive efficiency of 110.3 while boasting a stingy defensive efficiency of 100.5.

The Pacers’ starters, then, have turned those numbers on their head by holding the heat to 5 fewer points per 100 possessions while scoring nearly 20 points more per 100 possessions than the Heat allowed during the regular season.

These numbers are meaningful not just because they show the discrepancy in production between the Pacers’ starters and the counterpart lineups they’re facing, but because of how often they’re on the floor. Over the first four games of this series, the Pacers starters have shared the floor for 107 minutes, or an average of a 26.9 minutes per game.

Maximizing the time his starters share the floor is nothing new for Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel. Two seasons ago Vogel deployed his starters for 253 minutes longer than the 2nd most used lineup in the league. This season the Pacers’ starters trailed only the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starters as the lineup with the most minutes shared, boasting an incredible 1218 minutes together as a unit.

Moving forward, there aren’t many ways for the Heat to change this. Save for a possession here or there, Vogel has insisted on not adjusting his lineups to match up with the Heat’s smaller personnel groupings. He’s gone as far as having David West guard Shane Battier or Ray Allen over stretches of games in order to keep his unit intact. So unless one of Indiana’s starters gets into foul trouble, I don’t see Vogel voluntarily surrendering the advantage his starters have proven to have so far this series.

Of all the problems the Heat are having with the Pacers so far – and there are several – solving this one may be the hardest. Vogel seems to understand that his starters, as a unit and over the course of a game, will out produce most any other lineup the Heat can put on the floor and he seems intent on riding this advantage as hard as he can.

Maybe the Heat has an answer with their star studded cast. Maybe this is the game where all five players click and prove they really are the top unit. If they don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised, though.

This is nothing new for the Pacers. They’ve been doing it all year.

*Statistical support provided by NBA.com

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.