For a night Heat solve Pacers’ rebounding, defensive puzzle

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For four games the Pacers offense had been fueled by offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line. Those plays and the surprising success of the Pacers offense — averaging 111.6 points per 100 possessions — had the series tied 2-2.

In Game 5 things were different.

Indiana had just six offensive rebounds, grabbing the rebound on just 18.8 percent of their missed shots (compared to 39.9 percent combined in the first four games).

The Pacers had 15 free throws in Game 5, well behind the 35 a game they had averaged in the first four games.

The result of all that (along with the Pacers turning the ball over 20.5 percent of their possessions) was just 79 Pacers’ points — or 90.2 points per 100 possessions, if you prefer — and that’s not going to be enough for Indiana to win. Now Miami is up 3-2 in the series and Indiana has a huge mountain to climb to reach the Finals.

“It’s two contrasting styles,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game in trying to describe the series. “If our pressure, speed, quickness doesn’t get to their size, their size will get to us. We learned that the hard way.”

Speed killed on Thursday.

Miami came out from the start with a focus on defensive rebounding. They did it as a team using that quickness and athleticism — LeBron James led the Heat with 8 defensive rebounds, Chris Bosh had 5 and both Dwyane Wade and Chris Andersen had 4. The Heat don’t have a dominant rebounder, they have to do it as a pack and did in this game.

Andersen and Udonis Haslem were more physical with Roy Hibbert on the block, also the Heat doubled Hibbert and that made it harder for the big man to get his own rebounds.

“They made a concerted effort to send to me when I went to the offensive glass,” Hibbert said in his post-game press conference. “I couldn’t create as many offensive putbacks as I wanted to. It’s a credit to them adjusting on the fly.”

Hibbert, David West and Paul George carried the Pacers — they had 66 of their 79 points. But the easy putback buckets went away.

And they got no help from the starting backcourt — Lance Stephenson and George Hill were 2-of-11 for 5 points.

In the second half, the Heat really cranked up their ball pressure, and that bothered the Pacers — outside of George, the Pacers shot 31.8 percent. Miami was forcing turnovers (9 in the second half) and turning those into fast break points. It was the best defensive half of the series by Miami.

“In the second half we played much more aggressively and true to our identity,” Spoelstra said.

Miami’s aggression exposed Pacer flaws, for example they can have some terrible post entry passes. Under pressure those became turnovers. Also, with George Hill on the sidelines with foul trouble D.J. Augustin was exposed. The result of all of it was long possessions deep into the clock for Indiana then there would be a rushed and contested shot.

The Pacers will be at home where their role players will be more comfortable in Game 6 — and they are going to need a lot more out of them. Because the Heat are going to bring that same pressure to try and close the series out.

How Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza complicate Rockets’ pursuit of third star

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After pairing Chris Paul and James Harden, the Rockets are reportedly chasing a third starPaul George, Carmelo Anthony or someone else.

But Houston parted with significant assets to land Paul from the Clippers. And the Rockets will have a tricky time dealing two remaining players, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Unloading Ryan Anderson to sign Paul outright would have helped Houston keep one of their outgoing guards, but the market for the three years and $60 million left on Anderson’s deal was frigid. Not even the Kings wanted him for free. At least two teams would have demanded two Houston first-round picks in exchange for absorbing Anderson, according to several league sources.

The salary filler probably can’t be Trevor Ariza, by the way. Ariza and Paul are close after years together in New Orleans, and playing with Ariza factored at least a little into Paul’s decision, per league sources. The Clippers had tried to trade for him in prior seasons, sources say. Ariza is also still good at a coveted position, and his Bird Rights will be valuable to a capped-out Rockets team next summer.

Anderson would be dangerous as a stretch four in pick-and-pops with Paul and Harden. Even if he’s overpaid, might be better to keep him than surrender more assets to dump him.

Likewise, Ariza is a nice two-way player and can play small-ball four. There’s a use for him on this team.

But beyond them, Houston is left with Eric Gordon and Clint Capela as movable players. Gordon, with a higher salary and less obvious fit with Paul and Harden, would almost certainly be a key cog in a trade for another star. Capela is younger and more valuable, though the Rockets would probably want to keep him as a defensive anchor.

That might not be possible while trading for a third star, though. Houston can’t even guarantee sending out another first-round pick in a trade after sending a protected first-rounder to the Clippers. (The Rockets could agree to convey a first-rounder two years after sending one to L.A., which would is highly likely to convey next year.) Including Capela in a trade might be the only way to assemble a suitable package.

Even then, Houston would be hard-pressed to surpass an offer from the Lakers or Celtics for George. Plus, if Indiana is rebuilding around Myles Turner, Capela is an awkward fit. That trade might require a third team – causing further complications.

Hoping Anthony gets bought out by the Knicks then signs for the mid-level exception is much simpler – though that route returns the lesser third star.

But Daryl Morey just brought Chris Paul to Houston before free agency even began. Now is not the time to underestimate the Rockets general manager.

Report: Knicks won’t consider Isiah Thomas to run front office

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A couple years ago, Knicks owner James Dolan said there was no scenario Isiah Thomas would return to the Knicks.

But Dolan also said a few months ago he’d keep Phil Jackson for the duration of Jackson’s five-year contract.

With Dolan effectively firing Jackson today, could Thomas become the Knicks’ next president?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

The Post also learned Liberty president Isiah Thomas would not be considered for Jackson’s successor.

It’s sad that this needs to be reported. It’s even sadder that, even if this the Knicks’ plans right now, there are no assurances Dolan holds steady.

Dumping Jackson is a reason to celebrate. But as long as Dolan owns the team, it must be a reserved celebration.

At least the Knicks’ next step won’t include Thomas. Probably.

Raptors promote Bobby Webster to general manager

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TORONTO (AP) — With rumors swirling about the Knicks chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have promoted Bobby Webster to general manager.

Webster, 32 years old assistant the youngest GM in the NBA, replaces Jeff Weltman, who left Toronto in May to become president of the Orlando Magic.

A former staffer at the NBA league office in New York, Webster joined the Raptors in 2013 and was named assistant GM in 2016.

He’ll help decide what to offer All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who opted out of the final year of his contract last month after Cleveland swept Toronto in the second round of the playoffs.

Forwards Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson are all unrestricted free agents.

Also Wednesday, Toronto promoted Dan Tolzman to assistant general manager.

The Raptors have posted consecutive 50-win seasons and made four straight playoff appearances.

Jason Williams out 6-8 months after injury in Big3 debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former NBA point guard Jason Williams will miss six to eight months after suffering a knee injury in the opening game of the Big3.

Corey Maggette, also injured in the opening week of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players, had surgery for a leg injury. There is no timetable for his return.

The injuries were announced Wednesday during a conference call with Cube and Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz, who also detailed a couple rules changes starting with this weekend’s game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Games will be played to 50 points, instead of 60, with halftime coming when the first team reaches 25 points. Cube said that would help the four games per day move more quickly.