NBA Playoffs: Heat destroy Pacers, take 3-2 series lead

90 Comments

The Miami Heat are just one road loss away from facing a Game 7 in the 2nd round of the NBA Playoffs, but they sure did look like a championship team on Tuesday night, when they absolutely dominated the Indiana Pacers en route to a 115-83 win.

There’s really only one way to describe this game: everything went exactly right for the Heat. The Heat haven’t been getting much help from their supporting cast or been able to implement their “Pace and Space” offense throughout this series, but they got contributions from all of their rotation players, made their threes, got out on the break, played great defense, and got great performances from both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade while playing suffocating defense. This is the Miami Heat team that we all imagined when LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade announced that they were joining forces. This is the team that looked like an absolute juggernaut. Even though the Heat have a long way to go before they get out of this series, let alone get to the Finals, but on Tuesday night the Heat looked like they can beat either the Spurs or the Thunder.

Let’s go through it: The game started off with the slumping Shane Battier hitting a few wide-open threes, which was the best possible thing that could have happened for them. Battier was in full “No-Stats All-Star” mode on Tuesday, making 4 of his 5 three-point attempts and playing great defense on David West, which allowed the Heat to effectively mitigate the loss of Chris Bosh for at least one night.

LeBron James was in MVP mode once again — he had every aspect of his game working, and finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists on 12-19 shooting from the field. He made outside shots, he worked in the post, he punished the Pacers on the fast-break, he made pinpoint passes, and he crashed the boards hard on both ends. He also made what could be the best pass of the playoffs when he grabbed an outlet pass one-handed, and, while falling out of bounds, hit Wade with an absolute laser beam pass right on the numbers for an easy fast-break dunk.

Dwyane Wade was in rare form as well — he slithered to the basket at will, made some impossible shots around the basket, and even mixed in some outside shots.

There are times when it looks like the offensively challenged Joel Anthony looks like a waste of a roster spot for the Heat, let alone deserving of the 5-year contract they gave him, and there are times when Anthony looks like one of the best bargains in basketball. Tuesday night was an instance of the latter. Anthony showed and recovered brilliantly on pick-and-rolls, kept the Pacers from getting the ball to their bigs in good positions, got 4 blocks, and even made 3 of his 4 shots from the field.

Udonis Haslem has his mid-range shot working again, and gave the Heat great energy, but was a source of controversy after the game. In the 1st half, Haslem delivered an extremely hard foul on Tyler Hansborough shortly after “Psycho T” was called for a Flagrant-1 foul on Dwyane Wade. Haslem was called for a Flagrant-1 foul and was not ejected, but if his foul on Hansborough wasn’t a Flagrant-2, then I’ve frankly never seen a Flagrant-2 foul in my life, and there may be a possibility that Haslem will be suspended for Game 6.

It was a physical game all-around — Dexter Pittman will almost certainly be suspended for a brutal elbow on the Pacers’ Lance Stephenson in the waning moments of the game, and Danny Granger missed most of the 2nd half after he twisted his ankle after landing on LeBron James’ foot after launching a jump shot. (Some Pacer fans may say that LeBron pulled a “Bowen” on Granger to cause the injury, but it certainly looked unintentional to me — if LeBron slipped his foot under Granger’s foot intentionally, he’s the league’s best actor as well as its best player.)

The Heat shot 61% while holding the Pacers to 34% shooting from the field — the Pacers kept themselves in the game early by making some long jumpers, but they were never able to establish their big men against the Heat’s swarming defense, and the offense fell apart completely after Granger had to go to the trainer’s room.

One game can change everything in the playoffs, and the Heat aren’t done with the Pacers yet, and there are no such thing as “statement games” in the playoffs. Still, this was a darn impressive performance from the Heat, and the Pacers definitely need to find some answers before Game 6.

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

Jae Crowder does salsa dance in Suns-Lakers Game 6
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

WhatsApp's "Naija Odyssey" New York Premiere
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
0 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.