Roy Hibbert

Did Roy Hibbert break out? No, but Indy may have found a way to help him out


It hasn’t been pretty, but the Indiana Pacers ‘survived’ to advance to the second round of the playoffs and in the process Frank Vogel has stuck with Roy Hibbert in his starting lineup.

Given the big man’s struggles on both sides of the floor, it wouldn’t have bothered most Indy fans if Vogel had made a change to tap Ian Mahinmi into the starting unit.

Prior to Game 2, Vogel let Hibbert play more than 20 minutes in just 3-of-8 playoff games, but the increasingly embattled coach has been clear that he won’t nail the coffin shut on his big man’s fragile psyche.

This paid off in a big way in Game 2 Wednesday night when Hibbert finally caught some breaks in a 28-point, nine-rebound performance, though when we go back to the tape it wasn’t nearly the breakout game that many are making it out to be.  The Wizards still targeted him relentlessly in the pick-and-roll and continued to rain jumpers over him at an alarming rate, going 10-of-16 for 20 points on shots created against Hibbert in space.

Offensively, the Wizards are fine with the way the Pacers entered the ball into Hibbert, who hit 42 percent of his shots in the post this season.  He’s not bending the defense and the Wiz will welcome anything to keep Paul George and Lance Stephenson from snapping out of their 16-of-55 shooting start.

Wednesday’s result was more about everything working in the big man’s favor on offense, with an early long-range hit setting the tone for a fortunate night.  Between teammate penetration, better positioning and some lapses by Washington, Hibbert took what the defense gave him and got the monkey temporarily off his back.

The good news is that Hibbert showed a different gear playing defense on the interior, which was still a mixed bag, but he changed a number of shots, fought for position and grabbed nine rebounds after securing four or less in 6-of-8 games before the Pacers’ Game 2 win.

Now in perhaps the most evenly matched series remaining, the question for Indy isn’t so much if Hibbert is back on the offensive end (that question falls on George and Stephenson against athletic wings Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal).  The question is whether or not Hibbert can hold his own on the defensive end, and Vogel might have tipped his hand on how he plans to assist in that development.

Here you see Marcin Gortat, a primary screener for the Wizards, is set to head up to familiar territory to execute the high pick-and-roll with Bradley Beal. But seeing that he is covered by David West, he motions for Nene to execute the play instead.


As noted, Hibbert has been a defensive liability on this action not just in the playoffs but for the second half of the year.  Typically, the Pacers have chosen to deal with the consequences rather than change who they are, and in the playoffs when teams expose weaknesses this has been their undoing.

But here, the Pacers decide to change things up.  Instead of following Nene up to the top of the pattern, Hibbert and West switch with the Wizards applying no pressure on the exchange:


Beal runs the pick-and-roll against a more mobile West, who keeps the action in front of him long enough for George to recover, and Stephenson pinches in to give help when the ball is passed back to Nene:



Nene arguably can take the 18-footer but it’s going to be contested, so he instead decides to put the ball on the ground and go to the hoop.  Instead of West securing the paint, the Pacers have their seven-foot rim protector waiting in the lane:


Typically, looking at a still showing Hibbert going straight up like this is going to result in a miss or a block, but Nene made the conversion.  In fact, the three times the Pacers made this switch the Wizards were able to convert.  But as coaches constantly say, it’s the process that matters and not the result.

Having West handle pick-and-roll duties in space or forcing Nene to take contested jumpers on the perimeter makes a whole lot more sense than watching Hibbert feebly chase players that are half his size. When the switch results in keeping Hibbert anchored in the paint it’s a no-brainer.

It’s unclear if the adjustment is a realization on Vogel’s part or a card that he felt pressured to play when facing the prospect of an 0-2 start.  Should Vogel continue to go this route, the Wizards will need to find a way to keep Indy from switching the big men without a penalty, and Randy Wittman and his group aren’t known for their imagination or late-game execution on the offensive end.

Vogel can keep this card in his back pocket as a change-up or he can play it right away, but he needs to do something to mask Hibbert’s deficiencies and keep him in a position to defend and clean the glass.

If that doesn’t happen, Hibbert can score all that he wants and it’s not going to make a difference.


LeBron James says he can still win MVP with reduced workload, cites Stephen Curry

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 02:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The door is open for LeBron James to win a legacy-altering fifth MVP.

But his Cavaliers could also win another championship, leaving Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue planning to limit LeBron’s minutes in preparation of a long playoff run.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN

“No,” James said Saturday when asked if he was concerned that planned rest could affect his MVP case. “Because Steph played 31 minutes a game and he won the MVP.”

“Well, I’ve never set into a season saying I want to win MVP,” he said. “I’ve always thought of the season saying I want to be MVP for my team and it’s resulted in me getting four of them. So I’ve been available, for the most part, every night and I’ve been available on both sides of the floor. I’ve been healthy.

Curry won 2015 MVP while playing 32.7 minutes per game, the fewest by any MVP. He played 34.2 minutes per game last season, third-fewest by an MVP – ahead of just himself and 1978 Bill Walton, who played 33.3 minutes per game.

To contrast, LeBron has set career lows the last two seasons with 36.1 and 35.6 minutes per game. So, LeBron could get a reduced workload and still play more than Curry did.

But Curry, to some degree is an anomaly. He often sat late in games with his Warriors on the right side of blowouts. The Cavs aren’t good enough regularly rest LeBron as much in those situations.

It’s not that voters care directly about minutes. But the less LeBron plays, the lower his per-game averages will be and the less Cleveland will win. Those factors matter significantly.

LeBron can overcome that. He’s darned good, and there could be a push to reward him after the last two Finals have shown he’s still better than Curry when it matters most.

Playing fewer minutes per game won’t eliminate LeBron from the MVP race, not even close. But it will – and should – hurt his case. After all, MVP should reward the player who does the most to help his team win. MVP-caliber players don’t significantly help while sitting on the bench.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder prepare for life without Kevin Durant

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 11, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Maybe life after Kevin Durant won’t be so bad for the Thunder.

After the longtime face of the franchise left for Golden State, crestfallen Oklahoma City fans were worried it was just a matter of time before the team’s co-star, Russell Westbrook, would follow suit. In a move that shocked many, Westbrook re-signed with Oklahoma City. The former scoring champion and two-time All-Star MVP’s return gives the team hope.

New faces such as shooting guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis, both acquired in the deal that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando, might take some time to fit in. Westbrook believes the team is talented enough to succeed if it is focused and the new pieces blend with the old ones who helped the Thunder reach the Western Conference Finals last season.

“Just play hard, man,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know, win or lose. The only thing I know is that as long as we play hard, we give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

Westbrook could post historic numbers. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds last season and had 18 triple-doubles, the most since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. Without Durant, more of that could be on the way.

Sabonis, a rookie out of Gonzaga who played for Lithuania’s Olympic team, played with the starters throughout the preseason. Oladipo averaged 15.9 points and 4.0 assists in three years with Orlando. He joins Westbrook to form arguably the most athletic backcourt tandem in the NBA.

“Defensively, I think we can be the best defensive backcourt in the league because we can do different things with our size and using our length and our speed,” Westbrook said.

Here are some things to watch for the Thunder:

Steven Adams

The 7-footer from New Zealand was already a top-notch defender and rebounder before stepping up his offense and averaging 10.1 points during the playoffs last season. In his final two preseason games, he scored 20 points against Minnesota and 17 points against Denver. He could be a breakout star.

“I think we’ve had an opportunity these last two nights (against Minnesota and Denver) how good he is around the basket, how smart he has become and how much of a presence he is in the middle,” Westbrook said.

Enes Kanter

The natural expectation was that Ibaka’s departure would prompt coach Billy Donovan to move Kanter, who finished third in balloting for the league’s sixth-man award last season, into the starting lineup. Instead, Donovan started Sabonis throughout the preseason. Perhaps Donovan knows best – Sabonis showed he can hang with the starters, and Kanter averaged 17.8 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 61.7 percent in the preseason.


Oklahoma City’s defense could slip with Ibaka in Orlando. Sabonis has great potential, but he’s young, and NBA defense takes some time to learn. Donovan said Sabonis has caught on quickly, but there still could be a dip early because Ibaka’s level of play is difficult to replace – he was a three-time first-team All-NBA defender and a two-time blocks leader.


The Thunder added several foreign players to the roster who will add depth – Spain’s Alex Abrines, France’s Joffrey Lauvergne and Turkey’s Ersan Ilyasova. Donovan said he likes the maturity foreign players add to a team. Abrines played for Spain’s national team that earned bronze medals at the Olympics. Lauvergne played for France in Rio.


Andre Roberson has shifted from the starting shooting guard to starting small forward. That means the Thunder still have Roberson’s dynamic athletic ability, defensive prowess and nose for the ball on the boards in the lineup. He was a liability on offense in the past, but he started becoming more of a factor on offense during the playoffs last season.

“I think he feels more comfortable and confident offensively,” Donovan said. “He’s put forth effort in that area. It’s just him continuing to grow offensively and trying to put him in situations where he slashes to the basket and he can cut and he can get out in transition and he can take his open corner threes.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP

Raptors’ Jared Sullinger to have foot surgery, miss “extended time”

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics looks on from the bench against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Raptors are counting on Jared Sullinger to cover for the loss of Bismack Biyombo by crashing the boards, helping them space the floor on offense, and just being solid.

But they are going to have to get by without him for a while, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, and confirmed by the team.

There is no timeline for Sullinger’s return, but it’s going to be a while. Sullinger had battled a stress reaction in his foot a year ago, this is likely an extension of that problem.

This certainly hurts the Raptors’ depth up front, but it’s also not a massive setback for a team with lofty aspirations this season. Patrick Patterson will get more minutes, which is a good thing, plus the Raptors need to play DeMarre Carroll more at the four. They can wait for Sullinger (who they signed this summer after Boston let him walk in the wake of signing Al Horford.

Heat waive Beno Udrih, Briante Webber, two others to keep Rodney McGruder

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  Beno Udrih #19 of the Miami Heat drives on Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs during a game  at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Beno Udrih sacrificed $90,000 last season to get the Heat an additional $2.7 million last season.

They repaid him with more than $1.5 million this season (though less than $1 million of it from their own pockets).

And that’s all they gave him.

Miami won’t even give Udrih a regular-season roster spot, waiving him to allow Rodney McGruder to make the team.

Heat release:

The Miami HEAT announced today that they have waived Vashil Fernandez, Luis Montero, Beno Udrih, Brianté Weber and Okaro White.

To recap: Out for the rest of the final season of his guaranteed contract due to injury, Udrih took a buyout that lowered his compensation by $90,000 last season. That brought the Heat under the luxury-tax line, preventing them from paying the repeater rate and allowing them to receive about $2.5 million given to non-tax-paying teams. Miami then re-signed Udrih this offseason, giving him a one-year, $1,551,659 fully guaranteed contract. Most players with guaranteed salaries stick into the regular season, but it seems the Heat paid Udrih for a reason other than their faith in him as a backup point guard.

Here’s the kicker: Because Udrih was a 12-year veteran on a one-year minimum contract, the league – funded by the very teams that rightfully protested Miami’s arrangement – has to fund $571,228 of his salary.

The Heat seemed high on Briante Weber, but he’s young and needs polish. McGruder, who went undrafted out of Kansas State in 2013, is probably more capable of helping now.

This leaves Miami without a clear backup point guard behind Goran Dragic, but combo guards Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson can handle the role.