Game of the Night: LeBron, Miami outclass Stoudemire, Knicks

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Even if you believe your city has a legitimate reason to hate LeBron James, it might be best to drop it when the Heat come to town. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned this season, it’s that you won’t like LeBron James when he’s angry. LeBron, who has always played well at Madison Square Garden, absolutely rained sulfur upon the Knicks on Friday, finishing with 32 points on 14-23 shooting from the field and a triple-double. Just like he did in Cleveland, LeBron responded to an extremely hostile crowd with an absolute virtuoso performance. Amazingly, LeBron did most of his damage with his jumper — 23 of LeBron’s 32 points came from outside of the paint, and LeBron only shot three free throws the entire game. The Knicks weren’t playing terrible defense on LeBron, but he was simply determined to silence the MSG crowd.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, their big free-agent acquisition and MVP candidate had no answer for the Heat on either side of the floor. After allowing the Knicks to score 57 points in the first half, Miami’s top-ranked defense clamped down. They trapped the pick-and-roll effectively and didn’t allow the Knicks to keep the floor spaced the way they had in the first half. They executed on offense, forcing the Knicks to play more half-court basketball.

Those two factors forced the Knicks to rely on Amar’e isolations at the elbow for most of their offense. Those isolations work against most teams in the league, but on Friday night the Heat were able to keep Amar’e from beating them by collapsing on him when he drove and stripping the ball without fouling him and unleashing Joel Anthony upon Stoudemire. Anthony’s defense on Stoudemire was absolutely superb. He got a hand in Stoudemire’s face when he pulled up, made him take jumpers from further out than he wanted to, stayed in front of Stoudemire at all times, and was strong enough to prevent Stoudemire from bullying him inside.

When the Heat had the ball, Stoudemire’s defensive issues were exposed. Coming into this game, the Heat were 29th in the league at 33.6 points in the paint per game, while the Knicks ranked 4th at 45.4 points in the paint per game. On Friday, the Heat outscored the Knicks 46-38 in the painted area, and that happened with LeBron only scoring eight points in the paint all game. Chris Bosh, who was met with “O-ver-ra-ted” chants when he went to the free-throw line, was as aggressive as he’s been all season. He repeatedly drove right at (and then through) Stoudemire, and finished with 26 points on 11-16 shooting from the field. As brilliant as Stoudemire is offensively, I’m not sure if it would be possible for him to be a key part of the stifling defense that held him to an 11-28 shooting night on Friday.

Friday night’s game was, of course, only one game, it’s still December, and Amar’e has had stretches of brilliance while LeBron has had some rough patches. But during that one game, Stoudemire’s limitations were exposed while James played the kind of game that suggests he doesn’t have any.

Report: Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau, owner Glen Taylor unaligned on Jimmy Butler trade

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Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau reportedly initially expressed no interest in granting Jimmy Butler‘s trade request. Then, owner Glen Taylor reportedly ordered Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden to deal the star. Yet, Thibodeau was still reportedly trying to convince Butler to stay in Minnesota as of yesterday.

Does that mean Thibodeau was defying his boss? Not necessarily. Thibodeau could be trying to persuade Butler on one front while Thibodeau and Layden also explore trades on another front. There’s room for simultaneous strategies.

But it doesn’t sound as if the Timberwolves are all on the same page.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, who is the point man for trade conversations, continue to leave rival executives and owners unclear about both the specific players and broader kinds of assets that the Wolves value in a deal, sources said. Even more doubt exists about whether there’s even yet alignment between Taylor and Thibodeau on a structure and a timetable for a deal, league sources told ESPN.

From starting the week insisting to other teams that Minnesota wouldn’t trade Butler to slow-playing return phone calls and failing to share guidelines for the kind of deal that Minnesota wants to execute, Layden has graduated to the next phase of negotiations with teams: Asking for stars, starters, draft picks and salary-cap relief for the chance to acquire Butler, league sources said.

there’s a belief among interested teams that Thibodeau is reluctant to bring strong offers to his owner for examination because he’s still holding out hope to get Butler on the floor for Minnesota this season.

As the trade process grinds along, some interested teams are working to bypass Layden and go directly to Wolves ownership with trade offers. Teams dealing with Minnesota describe an unusual level of confusion. Some have heard separately from Taylor and the Layden/Thibodeau management team, with little apparent coordination between the two levels of Minnesota’s organization.

This all sounds believable. Thibodeau can be stubborn. He feuded with Bulls management until he got fired, and there’s a rumor he’d rather leave the Timberwolves than trade Butler for lesser young players and picks. There’d be a selfish logic to that approach, as missing the playoffs next season – more likely without Butler – could get Thibodeau fired, anyway.

But a dose of skepticism about this report: If you were a team trying to trade for Butler, would you rather deal with Thibodeau – a basketball expert who is adamant about getting a good return – or Taylor, a businessman who built his fortune outside basketball then bought an NBA team? The answer is probably Taylor, and a way to do that is sow discord in Minnesota with leaks like this. This report could cause Taylor to take over Butler-trade negotiations completely.

Kings, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks team up to “Rally the Vote,” push voter registration

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Voter participation numbers in the United States can be depressing. In 2016, during the last presidential election, an estimated 61.4 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, and in non-presidential election cycles that number can fall way, way off. Voter apathy in the USA is a real issue, one that hurts our democracy.

To help counter that a number of NBA teams — Kings, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks — as well as teams from other sports are teaming up to “Rally the Vote,” a new drive to push voter registration among sports fans. The goal is to get the message out before the deadline to register for the upcoming November elections (in most states that is in October).

It is an effort from teams that falls in line with what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has encouraged players to do — speak out on social issues, be involved, try to make the world a better place. The idea is a simple one: to make sure everyone’s voice is heard through the ballot box, where it can make a real impact on our country.

“If we can make buying a ticket to a sporting event accessible in a few clicks, there is no reason why registering to vote shouldn’t be the same,” said Vivek Ranadivé, Owner and Chairman of the Sacramento Kings, who spearheaded this project. “Voting is one of the most important things we do as Americans and is central to our democracy, yet tens of millions of people are not registered to vote. Sports teams have a responsibility to enact positive change in their communities, and I’m proud to see so many of us coming together to help fans register to vote so that they can have a voice in elections.”

The teams are partnering with Democracy Works, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses technology to make voting easier. Teams involved in Rally the Vote — which also includes the MLB’s White Sox, Giants, and A’s, plus the NFL’s 49ers — will encourage fans to register to vote this election season. Through team mobile apps, websites and social media platforms, fans will be directed to TurboVote, a Democracy Works tool that allows voters to register, file for an absentee ballot and receive election reminders. 

Kings’ rookie Marvin Bagley III even recorded a PSA for the project. Fans attending games for these teams in the coming weeks will see that PSA and hear about it though arena announcements, plus the teams will make pushes on other platforms to get people involved.

It’s an important cause, and good on Ranadivé and the Kings for spearheading this push. More people voting, more people taking advantage of their rights and expressing their voice, the better. Like at a sporting event, it’s just more fun with more people involved.

 

 

Ted Leonsis’ goals for Wizards: Win 50 games, make conference finals

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Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis is setting the bar high. Incredibly high.

Las Vegas set the under/over on wins for Washington at 44.5, which was sixth highest in the East. That sounds about right (Washington won 43 games last season and did not make big moves this off-season, the team’s hands tied by the salary cap). Three of the past five seasons this team has been solid but not spectacular, winning in the mid-to-high 40s during the season, then reaching the second round before bowing out of the playoffs.

While this team has talent, John Wall and Bradley Beal have never really meshed (and both have battled health issues), now Dwight Howard is the starting center, and a lot of is asked of Otto Porter, Markeiff Morris, and other role players. The Wizards have never been more than their parts, they have never added up to as much as it looked like they should on paper.

Leonsis expects that to change this season as they move into a new practice facility. He set the bar for this team higher than it’s been in years, as he told Ben Standig of TheSportsCapital.com (a fantastic site covering Washington D.C. sports).

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins* and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round^ then we didn’t meet our goals. We have to improve upon last year, but this is a really good team practicing in a world-class building. I think it’s the most complete team and we want to focus on everyone’s health. John (Wall) last year missed half the season. Otto (Porter) struggled at the end of the season (with hip, leg injuries). If we can keep them healthy and they’re well-treated and well-tended and well-compensated, we should have high expectations for them.”

(* The Wizards last won at least 50 games in the 1978-79 season.)

(^The franchise hasn’t advanced to the conference finals, the bar now set by Leonsis, since the Washington Bullets lost in the 1979 NBA Finals.)

Beating out all but one of Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Indiana to make the conference finals seems… unlikely. I get that Leonsis sees reaching the conference finals as the next step forward, it’s just hard to see how this roster does it. The Wizards keep changing the pieces around the core — this year it’s Marcin Gortat out, Dwight Howard in — and still coming up short, which suggests maybe it’s not the pieces around the core that’s the problem.

The Wizards are locked into this core for another year after this — Wall will make $38 million the season after this, Beal, and Otto Porter will make north of $20 million, plus don’t forget Ian Mahinmi will make more than $15 million each of the next two seasons. If Leonsis is frustrated with this squad, it will not be easy to change, not for a while.

Report: Tom Thibodeau met with Jimmy Butler Monday, tried to convince him to come to camp

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Tom Thibodeau REALLY wants to keep his job doesn’t want to trade Jimmy Butler. In fact, he was going to refuse to honor Butler’s trade request, but owner Glen Taylor stepped in and told him and GM Scott Layden to get it done. Sooner rather than later.

Butler was not participating in media day Monday and will not take part in camp this week. Thibodeau is still trying to get Butler into camp, hoping that time around the team can fix issues, and said he expects Butler to show up if no deal is struck quickly. More than that, he met with Butler and tried to convince him to show up.

This is not going to work on Butler, who is as stubborn as Thibodeau. Plus, the Timberwolves owner does not want the drama, he wants this resolved. Add to that that Karl-Anthony Towns wanted this resolved, he’s the future of the franchise, and he’s about to sign a massive max extension to his rookie deal.

There are a number of teams at least testing the water on Butler — the Heat have been very aggressive, most sources I talk to around the league like the Clippers’ chances, but the Cavaliers, 76ers, Pistons, Wizards, Blazers, and others have at least checked in on a trade. Teams, however, are being cautious about what they will offer — Butler can be a free agent this summer, and even if a team can re-sign him (the Clippers were on his short list) there is concern from them about how well he will age through that next deal considering Thibodeau has played him heavy minutes for years, and he was already battling some injuries last season.

Still, expect a deal to get done sooner rather than later. Despite what Thibodeau would prefer.