Miami’s biggest problem after Game 2? Dallas now believes.

8 Comments

“Hang in. Hang around. Keep believing.”

Those were the messages that Rick Carlisle was preaching to his Mavericks in the timeout huddle, with his team facing a 15-point deficit with just over seven minutes remaining in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Apparently, Carlisle’s guys were listening.

Dallas put together a stunning comeback, closing the game on a 22-5 run that ended in a 95-93 victory, which evened the Finals at a game apiece. And the turnaround might not be limited to just this one game, either.

For a large portion of Game 2, it looked as though the Mavericks were simply overmatched. As Dirk Nowitzki struggled to find his shot, going just 6 of 15 from the field for 15 points through the game’s first three quarters, Dwyane Wade was having a monster of a game, and he and LeBron James were turning Mavericks’ mistakes into spectacular, momentum-seizing plays on the other end of the floor.

One of these plays, and the celebration that followed by Wade and James, might have been enough to spark the comeback. As the Heat were rolling in the fourth quarter and leading by 12, James found Mario Chalmers along the baseline, who kicked it to Wade in the corner. Wade drained the three, and honestly, it felt like a game-clinching dagger, even with so much time remaining.

Wade left his shooting hand up for several seconds, and as Dallas called timeout, James and Wade exchanged excited pleasantries on the sideline in front of the Dallas bench.

Since the Mavericks began their amazing comeback immediately after this occurred, it was only natural for a Dallas-based media member to play up this “celebration” in questions to players from both teams in the post-game press conference that was streamed live on NBA.com. Not surprisingly, Wade downplayed the reaction.

“A celebration is confetti, a celebration is champagne bottles,” Wade said. “That wasn’t a celebration. It had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.”

James was equally dismissive, and I couldn’t agree more with the Heat’s two superstars.

Wade had an absolutely ridiculous game. He finished with 36 points, was seen converting fantastic dunks in transition time and again, and this particular three-pointer seemed like, and really should have been, the nail in the coffin for Dallas. He and James felt it too, and their celebration was no more exaggerated than it would have been had it been done by players that people actually like from any other team in the league.

But because it’s the evil Miami Heat, and because Dallas was able to come back and get the win, now all of a sudden it was too much? Stop it.

That one play, and Miami’s reaction to it, wasn’t the reason Dallas found the motivation to come back. This is actually not a big deal for these Mavericks, who now have come back from double-digit deficits on the road in every postgame series this season. This is a veteran team that has proven it doesn’t give up, and doesn’t need to look long and hard at the other team’s “celebration” of a particular play to find its motivation.

What is valid, however, is the way that the Heat were beating Dallas up until that point. Miami has been deadly in transition all season long, and the Mavs kept turning the ball over, especially in the second half, leading to violent dunks from Wade or James that fired up the Heat and their home crowd.

That’s what affected Dallas, not any puffed-up sense of pride over a routine celebration of a big shot, at least by NBA standards. Jason Terry mentioned this specifically in his postage remarks.

“We looked at each guy in the huddle to a man,” Terry said, when asked what sparked the comeback with his team down 15 in the fourth. “Me specifically, I looked at Dirk, and said there’s no way we’re going out like this. There’s too much time left in this game, and for us to go out in a blowout-type fashion with them dunking on us, shooting threes on us, it would have really been disheartening.”

Instead, all the heart belonged to the Mavericks. As Dallas made big shot after big shot, Miami couldn’t get anything going in their halfcourt sets, after scoring easily and at will for most of the game off of their defense in transition. Once Dallas closed the gap late, the Heat could only launch long, contested three-pointers with the shot clock winding down on their last few possessions.

There are more details to the Mavericks’ comeback, of course, including Nowitzki’s fantastic game-winning left-handed layup after driving around Chris Bosh. But after spending the majority of Game 2 looking like they had no chance to win this series, Dallas changed everything before it was through.

Now, the Mavericks believe, and not only for one game as their coach had instructed them to do in that fateful timeout late in Game 2. The team believes it can win the whole thing. And that might be the biggest problem for the Heat as they head to Dallas for the next three games of this series.

Coach, front office moves update: Pistons make Williams hiring official, Borrego or Stotts to Bucks bench?

0 Comments

There are far from settled across the NBA in both the coaching and front office circles, with news still leaking out daily. Here’s an update on things which have come to light in recent days.

• The Detroit Pistons made the hiring of Monty Williams official.

“A week ago, I was not sure what the future would hold,” Williams said in a statement, referencing reports he had planned to take a year away from coaching. “But, after talking with Tom [Gores, team principal owner] and Troy [Weaver, Pistons GM], I was excited hearing their vision for the Pistons going forward. They had a thoughtful plan and I am so appreciative of the emphasis they placed on the personal side of this business. They showed tremendous consideration for me and my family throughout this process.

“They also showed a commitment to success and doing things the right way,” he said. “As we discussed the team and expressed our collective goals, I realized that this would be a great opportunity for me to help a talented young team and build a strong culture here in Detroit. This is obviously a special place with a deep basketball history, and my family and I are looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of this city and organization.”

Williams has a six-year, $78.5 million contract with the team and that reportedly could grow to more than eight years, $100 million if incentives are hit. He was brought in to help build a culture of defense and discipline for a franchise with some nice young players but many questions.

• Kevin Ollie, the former NBA player and UConn coach who was in the mix for the Pistons’ job before Williams was hired, will be on the bench in Brooklyn next season.

• While Adrian Griffin has not officially signed his contract as the new Bucks head coach, he is sitting in on meetings running up to the draft and has essentially started the job, reports Eric Nehm and Shams Charania at The Athletic.

More interestingly, The Athletic reports the Bucks plan to put an experienced, veteran head coach next to the rookie Griffin, and are speaking to former Hornets head coach James Borrego and former Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. Bringing in an experienced staff to put around Griffin is the smart move, with what we saw this season with Joe Mazzulla in Boston as an example of why this is the smart path.

• The Wizards have hired former Hawks head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk to be the right-hand man next to new Wizards president Michael Winger. This is a quality hire. Schlenk was rumored to have questioned Atlanta’s trade for Dejounte Murray to put next to Trae Young — a move ownership wanted — and by mid-season he was pushed out the door. Having Winger and Schlenk in the Washington front office is a lot of brain power, the question remains will they be given true freedom by owner Ted Leonsis to make moves for the long term and not prioritize just making the playoffs? The Wizards have a big offseason coming up with questions about new contracts/extensions for Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis.

• Aaron Nelson, the training staff guru hired by the Pelicans away from the Suns in 2019 to help Zion Williamson and others, appears to be out of the mix in a restructured staff, reports Christian Clark at the Times-Picayune. Zion did not have a great relationship with Nelson, but the question is was Nelson the scapegoat for players issues beyond his control? From Clark’s article:

Williamson’s relationship with Nelson became strained during his rookie season. At different points, Williamson refused to work with him…

Brandon Ingram sat out 29 consecutive games with an injury the team described as a left toe contusion. Ingram kicked the back of a Memphis Grizzlies player’s foot in November. Two days after the injury, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Ingram was “day to day.” Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Ingram did not play again until Jan. 25 — exactly two months after hurting his toe…

Ingram has sometimes seemed unwilling to play through minor discomfort, to the point where some of his teammates have become frustrated with him over the past two years. The Pelicans thought they had solved their player care and performance problem by hiring Nelson. Four years later, Nelson’s time in charge of the department is over.

When the Pelicans have all their stars on the court, this is at the very least, a playoff team in the West and potentially a dangerous one. I’m not going to speculate on the internal dynamics of the Pelicans front office and training team, but after years of injury issues it’s fair to ask if this is a matter of the training staff, or is this on the players themselves?

Knicks’ Julius Randle undergoes ankle surgery, should return for training camp

2023 NBA Playoffs - 	New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The Knicks’ Julius Randle sprained his ankle with two weeks to go in the regular season. He returned from that in time to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and their massive front line in the playoffs, but he struggled in that series — 14.4 points a game on 33.8% shooting — and injured his ankle again in Game 5. He did make it back for the Heat series after missing Game 1 but was never fully himself.

Now, as he hinted at during the playoffs, Randle has undergone offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Randle is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in the fall.

Randle had an All-NBA season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, and was part of the reason, along with Jalen Brunson, the Knicks were the No. 5 seed in the East last season.

Randle’s name has come up in trade rumors, mostly with him going out if the Knicks get in the mix for a superstar who becomes available this offseason. If someone such as Karl-Anthony Towns or Bradley Beal hits the market and New York wants to be in play, sending out Randle — set to make $25.6 million this season, with two more seasons on the books after that — is the way to match salaries.

Randle should be healthy and ready for training camp for whatever team he is on come September.

Watch Victor Wembanyama highlights from French league playoffs

TOPSHOT-BASKET-FRA-ELITE-ASVEL-METROPOLITANS 92
OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images
0 Comments

Give Victor Wembanyama and his handlers credit — they have got him out there playing. The management teams for a lot of future No. 1 picks would have their guy in bubble wrap by now, not doing anything but solo workouts in a gym, not wanting to risk any injury or risking his draft status.

Wembanyama — the 7’4″ prodigy on both ends of the floor — is on the court in the semi-finals of the French LNB league (the highest level of play in France). His team, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, is one win away from the LNB Finals. While they lost on Friday to Lyon-Villeurbanne (the best-of-five series is now 2-1 Boulogne-Levallois), Wembanyama put up some highlights worth watching.

The San Antonio Spurs will select Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft (June 22). San Antonio — and possibly Wembanyama — will make their Summer League debut at the California Classic Summer League in Sacramento in early July, before heading on to Las Vegas for the larger, official Summer League. While Wembanyama is playing for his French team in the playoffs, how much the Spurs will play him in the summer leagues — if at all — remains to be seen (top players have been on the court less and less at Summer League in recent years).

Spoestra’s biggest Heat adjustment for Game 2? Play with more ‘toughness and resolve’

0 Comments

DENVER — The days between NBA Finals are filled with talk of adjustments. After an ugly Game 1, much of that falls on the Heat — what can Erik Spoelstra draw up to get Jimmy Butler better lanes to attack? How must the Heat adjust their defense on Nikola Jokick?

Spoelstra sees it a little differently.

“Scheme is not going to save us,” he said.

His point is straightforward, the team’s best adjustment is simply to play better. More effort, more resolve. The trio of Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson must do better than 2-of-23 from 3. The Heat can’t settle for jumpers like they did in Game 1, they have to attack the rim and draw some fouls, getting to the line (the Heat had just two free throws in Game 1). Their halfcourt defensive decisions have to be sharper. Those are not scheme-related things.

The Heat saw some of that in the second half, but Spoelstra made it clear the better last 24 minutes (particularly the last 12) was more about effort than the adjustments they made (such as playing more Haywood Highsmith and putting him on Jokić for a while).

“I never point to the scheme. Scheme is not going to save us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve. That’s us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things. That’s what our group loves to do more than anything, to compete, to get out there and do things that people think can’t be done.

“The efforts made that work in the second half, but we’re proving that we can do that with our man defense, too.”

Among the things many people don’t think can be done is the Heat coming back in this series. But Spoelstra is right, proving people wrong is what the Heat have done all playoffs.