NBA Playoffs: Wade leads Heat to Game 1 victory

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The Miami Heat aren’t the most complete team in the championship hunt. They don’t have a reliable starting center or point guard. They don’t have a deep rotation. They don’t have a lot of guys who can create their own shots. However, the Heat do have a stingy defense, players who can make open shots, and two of the best players in basketball. On Sunday, that was enough for them to hand the reigning Eastern Conference champions their first loss of the 2011 playoffs.

Dwyane Wade was the story of Game 1. Wade struggled mightily against the Celtics during the regular season, but he picked up right where he left off in the 2010 playoffs on Sunday afternoon. Every part of Wade’s game was working perfectly. Wade’s often-unreliable jumper was deadly all game long; he made five of his nine mid-range jumpers and two of his five threes, including a dagger three shortly after Paul Pierce’s ejection that put the Heat up 16 with six minutes left to play. Wade also attacked the basket aggressively, and was effective on dribble-drives, off-ball cuts, and in transition. Wade was also active on defense, and finished the game with three steals and two blocks. Wade allowed Ray Allen to get the few inches of space he needs a couple times, but that just proved he was mortal. This was a masterpiece of a performance from Wade, who finished with 38 points.

Only two other Heat players scored in double digits. One of them was LeBron James, who had a good all-around game even though he “only” recorded 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Celtics were able to take away LeBron’s drives to the rim in half-court situations, which they have often been able to do throughout the years. LeBron didn’t get frustrated, and was still able to contribute by facilitating, grabbing rebounds, working in the post, making big plays on defense, and hitting some jumpers at key moments. LeBron didn’t need to do everything for his team to get the win over the Celtics, which is why he came to Miami in the first place.

The third Heat player to score in double figures was James Jones, who was absolutely crucial. Jones contributed 25 points off the bench, making five of his seven three-point attempts and all 10 of his free throw attempts. Jones kept the floor spaced for James and Wade by draining catch-and-shoot threes, which came off of dribble-penetration and the Heat’s “Hawk” sets designed to free him up off two off-ball screens. He was also able to play his usual brand of good positional defense, and was able to get into Paul Pierce’s head in the fourth quarter by being physical. Given how ineffective the banged-up Mike Miller has been all season, it’s hard not to wonder where the Heat would be without James Jones.

The Heat didn’t get much production outside of those three players. Joel Anthony continued to prove that he’s one of the most valuable defensive players in the playoffs, but he didn’t make a field goal. Zydrunas Ilgauskas continued to look like a complete liability. Mike Bibby made one three, but that was pretty much it. Mario Chalmers provided some energy, but also had a few glaring mental lapses. Chris Bosh managed to play Kevin Garnett to a stalemate, but the Heat would probably like to see their All-Star forward do more offensively.

Fortunately for the Heat, the Celtics’ offense was completely unable to punish the Heat’s lack of offensive depth. The Celtics made threes early and often, firing with abandon in semi-transition and making 12 of their 24 three-point attempts. Apart from that, they had few answers for the Heat’s swarming defense.

Rajon Rondo was unable to push the break, and was completely invisible in half-court situations. Kevin Garnett got few touches in the post, and his normally automatic catch-and-shoot jumper failed to find the net. Paul Pierce made some shots early in the clock, but couldn’t do much against LeBron James when the Celtics had to find some set offense, and lost his composure before being ejected in the fourth quarter. Even a dialed-in Ray Allen wasn’t enough for the Celtics to have any consistent offensive success. Worst of all, the Celtics were sloppy with the ball, which is an unforgivable sin when playing the Heat; Miami scored 23 points on 14 Boston turnovers.

Performances like the one Wade had are ones the Celtics are simply going to have to live with. Great players like Wade are going to have great games, especially when they’re hitting their jump shots. What they can control is their offensive execution. If Boston wants to leave Miami with a win, they will have to push the break more effectively and get better looks in the half-court. If Miami’s defense is good enough for them to need only one of their “Big Three” to be rolling on all cylinders, this will be a very long series for the Celtics.

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Jordan Clarkson urges NBA to allow players to compete in more global events

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The NBA is trying to walk a fine line. On the one hand, the league and its owners want to globalize the NBA — it is the best, most watched basketball league on the globe and they want people in Europe and Asia to follow the NBA the way American soccer fans follow the Barclays’ Premiere League. That will make the owners more money, and never forget this is a business first, second, and third. With that, the owners allow players to compete for their native countries in major events, such as the FIBA World Cup or Olympics.

However, there is a “club vs. country” tug of war in the NBA. Players want to represent their countries — and sometimes are pressured to do so — while NBA teams see injury risk. They look at the story of Dante Exum blowing out his ACL playing for Australia as a cautionary tale.

So when the Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), the NBA shot it down at first saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.). However, the league eventually flipped and allowed a “one-time exception” for Clarkson (plus Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang).

Now Clarkson says he wants the NBA to allow players to compete in more global events, he told Agence France-Presse at the Asian Games.

“After being told no so many times, I refused to give up. I kept fighting,” he said. “I’m here now, ready to compete.”

“I think they get the point — in Asia kids are picking up a basketball. I feel like the NBA is allowing us to do our thing.”

Basketball is a growing sport in Asia — it’s huge in the Philippines already, and it’s growing fast there and in countries such as China. The NBA wants its foot in the door there. It wants to be part of that market — the NBA plays exhibition games in China every year for a reason.

The Asian Games — the second largest multi-national sporting event in the world behind the Olympics — is a good exception to make. Clarkson and other NBA stars playing there — including in the future — is good for the NBA.

However, the league is going to face a challenge trying to find that line in future years between promoting the game and the NBA internationally and protecting its investments in its players.

Watch the top 60 blocked shots of last NBA season

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We love blocked shots. One player is attacking the rim, another gets in his way and rejects that shot. Frankly, we overestimate their importance on defense at points (because it’s a quantifiable stat in a world where defense is hard to quantify), but they matter.

And they are fun.

Check out the top 60 blocks from last season, as put together by NBA.com. It all starts with a chase down block by Kevin Durant (who has improved his rim protection in recent years) and ends with Anthony Davis showing why he is a beast.

It’s Sunday, and what else are you going to do? Watch preseason football?

Grizzlies expected to bring rookie Jaren Jackson along slowly

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Jaren Jackson was one of the standout rookies of Summer League. It started in Salt Lake City at the Jazz Summer League, where he looked like the future of the NBA five — knocking down threes, being athletic enough to run the court on the break, blocking shots, and being physical inside. In Utah, he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night.

Expect the Grizzlies to bring Jackson along slowly, however, once the regular season starts. Jackson likely will come off the bench behind the starting frontline of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. That will not be popular with the fan base, but the Grizzlies want to trust their veterans and make a playoff push.

Look at what Grizzlies executive John Hollinger told the Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

I think whatever happens, we want it to happen organically, and not get ahead of ourselves, and make sure we’re taking all the right steps on him, and not getting too excited and skipping ahead….

“We don’t want to put him into overtly physical matchups yet because he’s 18 and his body is still filling out,” he said.

Strength is almost always the biggest challenge facing young big men in the NBA (and Jackson is still 18, he will turn 19 during training camp). These are grown men they are going against nightly, and while Jackson had plenty of strength to hang with the Summer League crowd, things are very different when the big boys come to play. Even in an NBA moving away from old-school power ball, it still matters.

While the Grizzlies will work to not rush Jackson, that plan is somewhat dependent on players with a history of injury issues staying healthy. Jackson is not going to get 30 minutes a night, he’s not going to get the touches that fellow rookies such as Trae Young and Luka Doncic will receive, and he may not be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. We’ll see how things shake out, but on a Grizzlies team looking to put itself in the playoff conversation, the coach likely will lean on veterans he trusts.

Where Jackson will rank in this draft class three years from now could be very different. He has the potential to be the star of this class (or at least one of a few breakouts, this is an interesting group).

Victor Oladipo: ‘I play nothing safe now’ because ‘that really didn’t get me anywhere’

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Victor Oladipo transformed last season.

Traded to the Pacers, he showed up to camp in better shape than he had ever been before, and with a new confidence in his handles and shot making. Coach Nate McMillan realized what he had, put the ball in Oladipo’s hands, and got out of the way. The result was a 48-win Pacers team where Oladipo was the league’s most improved player, made an All-NBA Team, the All-Defensive Team, and was an All-Star for the first time.

Oladipo, after going to the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, is back in a Miami gym with the same team of trainers and staff who transformed his body and game a year ago. In a fantastic profile by J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, Oladipo talks about the mental transformation he has undergone as well.

“I push the envelope. I play nothing safe now,” Oladipo says. “I’m the guy if we’re down two, I’m pulling up for three. I work too hard to not push the envelope. I used to be conservative but that really didn’t get me anywhere.”

His trainer, Al Watson, talked about getting Oladipo better prepared for defenses that focus on him and late-game situations.

“Last year we started doing a lot of tightening up his ball-handling skills. This year we took it to another level because I watch a lot of film on him,” Watson says. “In the fourth quarter, he’s like the point guard. Wanted to focus on a lot of combination moves, working on traps. It’s no secret now. They’re going to be double-teaming him.

“You look at the great players, Kobe, they had to do a little bit of everything. His shot from the perimeter may be off so he’s got to learn, ‘Let me get myself going, get to the mid-post, get some fouls.’ He’s got to be able to attack with all different facets of the game. We do a lot of sprinting, getting to your spots. Got to get open. I touch everything with in-game situation stuff.”

Oladipo’s team includes an off-the-court group trying to better position himself to make money off his stardom. He doesn’t want to play it safe off-the-court, either.

Indiana is going to lean heavily on Oladipo again. They added some depth — Doug McDermott, drafting Aaron Holiday — and are counting on more from players such as Myles Turner. However, by and large, the Pacers are running it back, and they are sneaking up on nobody this season. Internal improvement will be their key.

Oladipo is ready. He’s not playing it safe anymore.