NBA Finals: Miami balances star power with rebounding grit in Game 1 win

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All that it’s taken for the Miami Heat to win games in this year’s playoffs is the ability to maintain reasonable margins. They go on runs, they shut down their opponents’ offensive options, and they stretch their legs with displays of supreme athleticism, but the body of the single-game narrative — the initial 43 or 44 minutes, as it were — is merely a precursor for the ludicrous feats of strength to come. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and co. aren’t merely closers, but the wielders of an unthinkable power; they keep games reasonable so that when the game dwindles to a close, their fundamentally unreasonable level of talent and ability can win most any game outright.

The Dallas Mavericks witnessed Miami’s explosive closing power firsthand in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, which was competitive until James and Wade said otherwise. The Heat sealed the game with insane shot-making and excellent chemistry, as the possibility of a Maverick comeback faded suddenly and violently despite the best, futile efforts of Dirk Nowitzki. Neither team played well enough offensively to dominate the initial game of the championship round, but Miami’s brutally effective late-game execution put a winnable game just out of reach for a Dallas team accustomed to late game heroics of their own. The result was a 92-84 Heat win and a 1-0 series lead.

There are elements at work in the game of basketball worth putting under the microscope, but the powers that enable James and Wade to do what they d are hardly worthy of such scientific examination. There are so few answers to be found in the dissection of expert shot-making; the cliché that big players make big plays is only so out of necessity, as the defining moments in sports of all ilks so often escape the bounds of logical analysis. “Sometimes it’s not about the schemes,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said following Game 1. “Sometimes it’s about transcending that with your effort, your athleticism, and your ability.” Wade and James are certainly no strangers to such transcendence, and their collective excellence provided the enduring snapshot of the 2011 NBA Finals’ opening salvo.

Still, if the Heat’s showing in Game 1 could have been distilled down to the performances of Wade and James alone, the Heat would be left looking for answers after a disappointing home loss. Miami was only in a position to win by way of their offensive rebounding (Miami collected an offensive board on roughly 35 percent of their misses) and scrambling defense (Dallas shot just 37.3 percent from the field overall), two aspects of the Heat’s performance that often go unnoticed thanks to the glare surrounding the team’s brightest stars.

“I think rebounding killed us tonight,” Shawn Marion said. “For the most part, we think we had chances to get a hold of this game and we let it get out of our hands.”

However, Marion’s diagnosis isn’t as simple as pointing a finger at the Maverick big men. Tyson Chandler may have had just four rebounds and Dirk Nowitzki a decent but insufficient eight, but the Mavs’ approach requires a better team-wide effort in attacking the glass. James, Wade, Mike Miller, Chris Bosh (who was especially effective on the glass, and grabbed a game-high five offensive boards), and Udonis Haslem are all strong positional rebounders, which makes the battle on the glass far more complicated than simply how well Chandler boxes out Bosh and Nowitzki boxes out Joel Anthony.

Plus, the defensive scheme that the Mavs are forced to rely on due to the slashing brilliance of James and Wade creates a position of inherent rebounding disadvantage, regardless of whether Dallas is working man-to-man or in their vaunted zone.

“Our bigs have to be active, containing their great players on the perimeter,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. “So it draws them away from the basket some…Look, a lot of the game is a scramble. We have to keep five guys in there. We can’t have that kind of deficit [on the glass]. You leave too much to chance.”

That was precisely the problem for the Mavs in Game 1. Dallas may execute their offense better than any team in the entire league, but they are still victim to chance; to the probabilities of a ball falling through a metal rim. Even with the near-robotic muscle memory of a talented shooter — like Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, or Peja Stojakovic, for example — and the patient ball movement of a well-run offense, nothing is guaranteed. Shots will still be missed, and in the Mavs’ case in Game 1, plenty of makeable shots were. Dallas shot just 38.7 percent on shots within nine feet of the basket, and while Miami’s defense certainly played a role in challenging many of those attempts, not every floater, layup, or short jumper was contested enough to expect a miss. The Mavs just didn’t convert on a lot of the attempts they usually make (or draw fouls on), and the fact that a lot of those errant attempts came from an area of the floor that usually yields highly efficient looks only made matters worse.

The Mavs know where they need to improve. They know that the rebounding deficit needs to be slashed, and that their shooting percentages need to shoot upward. Yet while some of that is imminently fixable (if nothing else, we should expect the Dallas offense to return to its sweet-shooting form as Carlisle devises even more ways to create open looks for his team), the connection between the defensive coverage and rebounding troubles presents a legitimate quandary. Contesting the penetration of James and Wade is a full-time job in itself for any defense, but committing too heavily to that prevention puts bigs like Chandler out of position to compete on the glass. The Heat have an ideal combination of defense-drawing talent and hard-working rebounders, and though the riddle that such a combination produces isn’t necessarily unsolvable, it should give Carlisle and his staff plenty to think about between now and Thursday.

Miami reportedly not interested in Ryan Anderson trade with Houston

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The rumor had been out there for a few days, the Houston Rockets would be interested in trading Ryan Anderson — a contract and player they have tried to move for more than a year now — to the Miami Heat for Tyler Johnson or James Johnson. Rockets’ fans liked that idea, for good reason.

The Heat… not so much. From Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Regarding rumors about a Heat trade involving Houston forward Ryan Anderson, that’s not something that interests Miami at this time, according to a league source.

Both USA Today and ESPN have floated the idea of Houston trading Anderson and a draft pick to Miami for Tyler Johnson or James Johnson. But while that would appear to interest the Rockets, it’s not something the Heat has found appealing.

Acquiring Anderson would increase Miami’s luxury tax bill, because Tyler Johnson is making $19.2 million each of the next two years compared with $20.4 million and $21.3 million for Anderson. James Johnson is due to make $14.4 million, $15.1 million and $15.8 million the next three seasons, but the Heat values his skill set.

This is often how rumors get more momentum among fans than they have traction with teams. The USA Today’s Sam Amick is incredibly well connected and doesn’t publish things frivolously, and this was clearly something that the Rockets kicked around. As they should. However, to make a trade work both sides need to feel they are winning it, and it’s hard to make a good case the Heat thought they were going to be in a better position after this trade. So it dies. As do 98 percent of trade talks between teams.

It takes two sides in getting something they want (or, in some cases, can live with) to make a trade actually work. Which is why they are hard to pull off.

 

 

Oscar Robertson’s 1971 championship ring sells for $75,948 at auction

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Oscar Robertson, one of the NBA’s all-time greats and one of only two men to average a triple-double for a season, was recently given the NBA’s Lifetime achievement award. And with good reason — he was a legend on the court, but off the court his lawsuit paved the say for the NBA/ABA merger and the freedom of modern free agency.

In his career, he won just one title, with the Bucks in 1971. (He got it when he joined the Bucks and paired with a young Lew Alcindor — not yet Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — just a reminder for the “count the ringzzzz” crowd that basketball is now and always was a team sport that requires multiple stars and quality role players, plus a little luck, to win a title. Nobody can do it on their own and context matters.)

Robertson recently put his championship ring up for auction, and it fetched $75,948.

That was one of 51 items from The Oscar Robertson Collection put up for auction, which also included game-worn jerseys, his Indiana State championship ring from high school, and more.

Jahlil Okafor says he’s “learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety”

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Jahlil Okafor is trying to take advantage of his chance with the New Orleans Pelicans this season.

He talked about it in an Instagram post, and most people focused on the pictures of his improved physique. Which is improved.

My summer of transformation: First off I want to thank @idanwan & @dzandertraining for getting after it with me the moment my season ended. Grateful to have two of the best in their respective fields work with me all summer. Although the physical changes in this photo are evident, their has been extreme growth unbenounced to the eye. I’ve learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety. Learning how to identify certain stressors has also allowed me to over come them. Often times because of my size and profession people may view me in a certain way, but in reality I deal with the same struggles as countless others. Mental health awareness is a cause I will fight for the rest of my life and if you’re struggling today don’t be afraid to speak with someone and seek help. I would like to thank @kevinlove and the @playerstribune for helping me identify my feelings and informing me what I was dealing with was in fact normal. 6 weeks left in the off season; with a lot more work to do!

A post shared by Jahlil Okafor (@jah8) on

However, the text was interesting:

I’ve learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety. Learning how to identify certain stressors has also allowed me to over come them…. Mental health awareness is a cause I will fight for the rest of my life and if you’re struggling today don’t be afraid to speak with someone and seek help. I would like to thank @kevinlove and the @playerstribune for helping me identify my feelings and informing me what I was dealing with was in fact normal.

NBA players stepping forward and admitting they need help dealing with mental challenges and illness is a good thing. Kevin Love helped Okafor, and hopefully Okafor talking about it will help others.

Okafor has a clean slate in New Orleans. He missed much of last season due to injury, and between his time with the Sixers and Nets he was on the court for just 353 minutes total. In New Orelans there are bench minutes available (behind Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, and Julius Randle, but Okafor needs to show he can run the floor and play the up-tempo style the Pelicans employ. Okafor’s below the rim, back-to-the-basket offensive game, plus he poor defense, have held him back. If he’s got his body and mind right, maybe some of that can change.

Rockets waive R.J. Hunter, he’s a free agent. Again.

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R.J. Hunter has just not been able to find a home and stick in the NBA. He was a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2015 and expected to be a sharpshooter at the NBA level. He went on to play in 35 games for Boston his rookie season, but during the following training camp they cut the former Georgia Tech shooting guard. The Chicago Bulls picked him up on a non-guaranteed minimum contract, he played a total of three games for them, then was cut loose. Houston eventually had him on a two-way contract the second half of last season, where he played five games for the big club and spent most of the season in the G-League.

He played for the Rockets at Summer League and averaged 11.2 points a game on just 40 percent shooting. Now, the Rockets have cut him loose, too. Via Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (for now, he moves over to The Athletic in the coming weeks).

Hunter will look for another chance in the NBA via the G-League, although he may be at the point he considers the overseas money he could earn.

In the G-League last season, playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he averaged 20.4 points per game with an impressive 60.4 true shooting percentage, and shot 37.7 percent from three. However, he has never been able to transfer those numbers, or anything close to it, over to the NBA level. He has tried to broaden his game and be more than a shooter, but the consistency has just never been where he needs it to be.

He has talked about learning and maturing through all of this. Hopefully he has, and it pays off for him at his next stop. Wherever that may be.