After winning their second straight championship last season, the Miami Heat weren’t exactly in a position to go out and reload in free agency, and in fact, it was actually a case of the opposite.
Miami cut ties with Mike Miller using the amnesty provision built into the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, and by doing so saved itself $17 million.
With guaranteed contracts on the books totaling over $81 million for next season, the only players the Heat may have been interested in would have been those willing to play for a veteran’s minimum salary.
Often times, a team’s star players will be involved heavily in recruiting free agents to their team, especially those that are veterans of the game who may provide an immediate boost off the bench. But given Miami’s salary situation along with the lack of game-changing options out there, Dwyane Wade was able to remove himself from that process this summer.
Among the rumors swirling during free-agency was a clandestine meeting involving Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley with Lamar Odom. Not only didn’t it happen, but Wade said he removed himself from the team’s free-agent recruitment this offseason.
“I left that all to them,” Wade said, aware of the luxury-tax limitations of the Heat’s efforts. “I got away, understanding that we have little that we can do. And Pat Riley is the best at what he does, so he’s fine. We all understand the nature of the beast, what we’re dealing with.”
What the Heat are dealing with, as Wade put it, is trying to win a third straight championship with a little less talent in place than was on the roster the past couple of seasons due to salary constraints.
A completely healthy version of Wade in the postseason would be a pretty substantial upgrade, however, and if Greg Oden can give them anything during a potential matchup against Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers, that might be enough of a combined boost to get the Heat back to the Finals — without any recruiting required.
Russell Westbrook goes from ‘Next question’ to ‘That’s a good question. Not sure’ (video)
Sometimes, it seems Westbrook even takes pride in being a jerk. Which is fine. His cutthroat attitude is part of who he is, and it has gotten him a long way.
Lately, Westbrook has clashed with Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. For months, Westbrook has answered all Tramel’s questions with, “Next question.” Yet, Tramel keeps asking them – as he should. Westbrook has earned control over a lot of things. Tramel shouldn’t cede control of his job to Westbrook.
The back-and-forth has gotten increased prominence during the playoffs, when postgame press conferences are nationally televised. Both sides have found plenty of support. Westbrook’s fans love that his intensity never relents. Many also respect Tramel’s professionalism.
Tramel asked how the Thunder’s defense of Damian Lillard changed from the first half to the second half.
“That’s a good question,” Westbrook said. “Not sure.”
Tramel asked about the lessons learned about overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the Grizzlies in the 2014 playoffs. (Oklahoma City trailed 2-1 and 3-2 in that series, but never 3-1).
“Really don’t know,” Westbrook said.
For Westbrook, those answers were a huge breakthrough. They surprised everyone, even Tramel. Just a few days ago, the columnist predicted Westbrook wouldn’t change his two-word answers anytime soon: “He’s not going to give in this playoff series.”
Maybe this means the series is over.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse leaves mouth agape a loooong time after odd call (video)
ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Milwaukee Bucks can wipe away 18 years of frustration on Monday night.
They haven’t won a playoff series since the 2000-01 season, when they reached the Eastern Conference finals. That drought can end in Detroit if they complete a sweep of the Pistons.
The top-seeded Milwaukee cruised through the first three games, winning by an average of 24 points. If they lose in Game 4, the Bucks would have three more chances in the best-of-seven series to end their streak of eight straight first-round exits. The earlier the Bucks eliminate eighth-seeded Detroit, the more time they’ll have to prepare for the conference semifinals.
“It’s going to be nice if we can finish it here and get six days of rest,” superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said.
In Game 3 on Saturday, Antetokounmpo had a quiet night and the Bucks still led by double digits most of the way. Antetokounmpo finished with 14 points, three assists and four turnovers and only played 27 minutes due to foul trouble. The Pistons couldn’t take advantage of his off night, though, as Milwaukee had six other players in double figures in its 119-103 victory.
“It’s good to see my team doing really well out there without me,” he said. “It means a lot to me. There’s going to be nights like this. My teammates did a great job of picking me up.”
The Bucks were up 13 points when Antetokounmpo sat early in the third quarter after getting whistled for his fourth foul. When he re-entered late in the quarter, they were leading by 22 points.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to build all year,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re a team that plays together, tries to take what the defense gives us. Guys have a lot of confidence to make plays. It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is. If and when we need more from other people, it’s a credit to Giannis to let his teammates carry him some nights, carry him some stretches.”
The Bucks will try match their regular-season feat against the Pistons. Their four-game sweep was the first by either team in the all-time series. They have met in the postseason four other times, with Detroit winning each time.
“We might be the number one seed and best team in the NBA (record-wise) but at the end of the day, we haven’t won a playoff series in a while,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re hungry, everybody’s hungry.”
The Pistons’ best player, power forward Blake Griffin, made his debut in the series after sitting out the first two games with a sore left knee. Griffin toughed it out for 31 minutes and posted 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists. His teammates let him down, as Detroit shot below 40 percent for the third straight game.
“That young man is giving us everything he has,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He said he was feeling good. I was concerned about his conditioning with as much time as he’s missed. You can’t really simulate 5-on-5 basketball when you’re rehabbing. But he came in and gave us what he could. He just has a presence that we can’t replicate.”
The Pistons haven’t shown enough of a defensive presence against a team that averaged a league-high 118.1 points.
“We had some situations where we make a mistake or miss a shot, now we go down to the defensive end and don’t carry out our assignments,” Casey said. “That’s part of growth. That’s a team that makes you pay for mistakes that you make.”
Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Not just Lillard, CJ McCollum outplaying OKC, too
The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) It’s not a one-man show, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum outplaying Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Coming into the series, both Portland and Oklahoma City faced a question: Could their stars help overcome weakness with their depth and support players. Through four games, one team’s stars are outplaying their counterparts.
That played out again on Sunday: Russell Westbrook was 0-of-7 shooting in the second half, 5-of-21 for the game, finishing with 14 points. Paul George was 8-of-21 shooting but at least was getting to the free throw line on his way to 32 points. Meanwhile, Damian Lillard had 15 points in the third quarter alone when Portland started to pull away, CJ McCollum hit some critical threes in the fourth (he was 5-of-9 from three for the game) to help the Trail Blazers stay ahead on his way to 27 points.
A lot of the attention this series has gone to the heads-up matchup of Westbrook vs. Lillard duel — and with good reason, it’s been bad blood and entertaining. However, that has left McCollum in the shadows and he deserves some spotlight for averaging 26.3 points, shooting 51.6 percent from three, plus having 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game against the Thunder through four. Oklahoma City has not had an answer for him.
Oklahoma City has had to play a lot of Dennis Schroder this series because he’s been efficient on offense (17 points on 6-of-12 shooting Sunday) but either Lillard or McCollum can just take him in isolation whenever they want and get buckets. It also helps Portland when Al-Farouq Aminu is giving them 19 points, as he did Sunday.
The big picture lesson in this series: Shooting matters. Oklahoma City’s stars are not finishing well enough inside, settling for more midrangers than they should, and unless it’s from the right corner the Thunder struggle from three. You’re not going to win a lot of games with the shot chart the Thunder had on Sunday.
2) Boston sweeps past Indiana to advance, East races shaping up as expected. The playoffs in the East are going to be a dynamic show, but we knew that was really going to start in the second round. One could make a case for Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Boston to come out of the conference, but after those four there was a talent drop off. There was the first round to get through before the real fireworks began.
Boston advanced Sunday with a sweep of the Pacers, winning 110-106 behind 20 points from Gordon Hayward, who had himself a night.
Frankly, this series was decided back in January when Victor Oladipo went down with a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. Without him the Pacers — who played hard and smart in his absence, and were brilliantly coached by Nate McMillan — just did not have the firepower to score enough to make this series interesting.
Also in the East on Sunday, Toronto overwhelmed Orlando 107-85 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead as things head back north of the border for Game 5. That loss by the Magic all but sealed this series, which might have been a sweep if not for the rider in every Toronto player contract that they have to stink in the first game of every playoff series.
Milwaukee likely sweeps Detroit out of the playoffs on Monday night, setting up their showdown with Boston in the second round. Brooklyn has put up a fight against Philadelphia — down to their GM breaking NBA taboos and going into the referees’ locker room to discuss how they officiate Joel Embiid — but with the Sixers up 3-1 and having game 5 at home Tuesday, this series also feels inevitable.
Then we can get on to the main course in the East.
3) Klay Thompson goes for a swim, comes out of the ocean and destroys the Clippers, Warriors go up 3-1. Klay Thompson hadn’t played poorly through the first three games of the Warriors’ first-round playoff series with the Clippers, he’d played impressive defense and averaged 13.7 points on 44.4 percent shooting. But he hadn’t had a breakout game, the kind we expect from one of the game’s best shooters.
“I told Jonas [Jerebko] yesterday when we went to the beach to play some volleyball, like, ‘Yo, I’m just going to jump in the ocean. I know that will reset my mind.’ And it worked.”
Sunday Thompson had 27 points in the first half, going on to finish with 32 on 12-of-20 shooting (6-of-9 from three). The Warriors won 113-105 to take a 3-1 series lead heading back to the Bay Area for Game 5.
“The Pacific Ocean is undefeated,” said Stephen Curry after the game (he struggled with 12 points on 14 shots, the Clippers have defended him well this series).
Golden State has a showdown with Houston coming. With all due respect to the other teams still in the dance in the West, that is your Western Conference Finals, it’s just taking place in the second round. Houston has dominated Utah and can sweep them out of the playoffs Monday night.
Houston is playing its best basketball of the season, it is defending at a high level, and the Rockets have a shot against the Warriors. They believe they can win, but we’ll find out starting next weekend (most likely, dates for the second round are not public yet).