Pacers find their offense, find balance, find Heat’s respect

21 Comments

Coming into this series, the Miami Heat gave the proper lip service to respecting the Indiana Pacers, but did they really respect them? The Heat had gone 45-3 since Feb. 3, you had to wonder if the Pacers really had their attention

They do now.

The question going into this series wasn’t if the Pacers defense could make life challenging for Miami — the Pacers were the best defensive team in the NBA this season and we had seen their size and length push Miami before. They could hold their own on that end of the court

The question was on the other end — how would the Pacers score enough against Miami’s pressure defense?

Friday night they figured it out — balance. The Pacers adjusted to the Heat’s aggressiveness, had just 13 turnovers, they got the ball to Roy Hibbert and he put up 29 points to lead all five Pacers starters in double figures. The Heat couldn’t stop that balance. And we now have a 1-1 series.

The Pacers had an offensive rating of 112.7 points per 100 possesions — 11 points higher than their season average. If the Pacers keep this up, they will have more than just the Heat’s attention.

Indiana got the Game 2 win thanks to their starters — their starting five was +23 on the night (every other Pacers lineup combined to be -19). Paul George held his own with LeBron James and the Pacers gave their star better support.

While the Pacers starters were a great unit, the Heat had three guys in double figures — LeBron had another monster night 36 points, but after that you had just Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in double figures (and each shot a pedestrian 6-of-14). All of the rest of the Heat were 8-of-25 (32 percent) and 2-of-10 from three.

“Take nothing away from their big three, but we’ll take a big five any day. That’s what we have,” Paul George said after the game (via the twitter of Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post).

Hibbert was a big part of that with his size and how he fought for position much harder this game.

“He’s giving great efforts on the offensive glass, six offensive boards,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after the game. “And he goes every single time, he doesn’t take a possession off on the glass. He gives us a lift in the post, efficient scoring, passing. Just making winning plays.”

But the other key to that was much improved play from George Hill and Lance Stephenson as the guards (Stephenson was very up and down, brilliant one moment and a mess the next). The Pacers had just 13 turnovers down from 20 in Game 1 (although it was still near 1-in-five trips down the court) and that limited the easy transition baskets for the Heat.

Miami has depth — they won 66 games this season because of great ball movement and solid play from guys like Ray Allen and Shane Battier. But outside the energy of Chris Andersen off the bench, Miami feels like three stars and some guys right now. The ball isn’t moving side-to-side — and when LeBron tried late in the game David West got his hands on them. Miami’s offense looks stagnant. They got a win with play from Andersen, but the Heat need other guys to step up.

As the game moves back to Indiana, if this series remains three on five — and two-thirds of the Heat’s three playing up and down — Indiana will have more than the Heat’s attention.

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.

Lakers saw what happened to Jazz, Clippers, say they will not let up vs. Nuggets

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ASSOCIATED PRESS — With one comeback after another in the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets showed themselves to be a team that falls down but doesn’t stay down.

The Los Angeles Lakers noticed.

They watched the Nuggets repeatedly rally from big deficits against Utah and then the Los Angeles Clippers – and, obviously, are aware that the Jazz and the Clippers are no longer in the NBA bubble because of Denver’s comeback abilities.

So the Lakers knew that when it was their turn to face Denver, there would be no letting up no matter what the scoreboard said.

Game 2 is Sunday night. The Lakers know the job is far from over.

“No lead is safe with this team, in the game or in the series,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said. “They have proven that they are a second-half team, where they come out and just destroy teams in the second half and prove that even if they are down a series, they are a team that’s going to be resilient and keep fighting no matter what the score is, what the situation is.

“When we have a lead, we have to lock in even more.”

The Lakers did that in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, turning an 11-point halftime lead into a 27-point bulge in the second half before easing to a 126-114 victory.

“That’s a historic type of resilient team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve got to understand that, both with the series lead 1-0 right now and wherever it goes, but also within games.”

Denver reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009 by becoming the first team in NBA history to erase two 3-1 deficits in one postseason. The Nuggets trailed by 15 points in Game 5 against Utah in their first game facing elimination, then were down 16, 19, and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers.

The Nuggets are the first team with three 15-point comebacks while facing elimination in one postseason since play-by-play began being recorded digitally in 1997.

“This is an opponent we all greatly respect,” Vogel said. “Save for the comebacks, we respect what they are capable of doing on both ends of the floor.”

It won’t matter how resilient the Nuggets are if they don’t make things tougher for the Lakers defensively.

Davis shredded them so easily on his way to 37 points that the Lakers didn’t even need much scoring from LeBron James, who took only 11 shots and had 15 points and 12 assists. Los Angeles got plenty of opportunities in transition and in the paint, which were areas of emphasis for Denver.

“We were giving up layups after we scored baskets ourselves. So that indicates to me that our sense of urgency to get back was not anywhere remotely close to where it needed to be tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game.

When the Nuggets do get back, they need to do a better job of defending without fouling. They sent the Lakers to the line 24 times in the second quarter – Denver shot only 28 for the entire game – and both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had to go to the bench with three fouls in the period.

“We’ve just got to be better,” Murray said. “We’ve just got to be on point. We’ve got to talk more, talk earlier, point, whatever we’ve got to do.”

This is the first time in this postseason the Lakers will take the lead into Game 2, having dropped their opening games against both Portland and Houston. They didn’t lose again in either series.

Going into Sunday, the Lakers will have the second-best record in the postseason at 9-2, trailing only Miami. It’s a big turnaround for the Lakers, who struggled at times during the seeding games in the bubble – but, as James’ teams tend to do in the postseason, are hitting their best stride when the games matter most.

Denver is also used to playing from behind – much further behind. So even though things looked bad Friday, the Nuggets have been in much worse spots in the bubble and found their way out of them.

“We have proven it time and time again that we can learn from our losses and figure out what we need to do better going into the next game and give ourselves a much better chance to win,” Malone said.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

Leave a comment

“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).