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8 posts from May 2012

May 29, 2012

HEAT 'D' HAS BITE: Rondo and Celtics Frustrated as Miami Takes Game 1

RondoBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Heat know all about Rajon Rondo. 

If anyone thought the Celtics point guard would somehow slip Miami's gameplan -- for even a split second -- as it focused on the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Heat showed early in Monday's opener that Rondo was definitely on its radar.

“Rondo is a basketball maestro, he really is,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the Heat won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals with a 93-79 win at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“He's one of the most unique players I have seen in this league. We know what he is. What is part of his greatness is his utter unpredictability. You don't know where he comes up with that great play. He has great timing, knows the moment and what his team needs most. And it can be anything.''

Mario Chalmers was offered up a major key to this series not only from professional pundits – but from his own teammates as well. 

Chalmers had his moments in Miami's semifinal win against Indiana, but is being counted on perhaps a little more heavily against the Celtics because of the Rondo Factor. Chalmers is going to get – and on Monday did receive – a lot of defensive help against the former Kentucky point guard. But a big chunk of the defensive responsibility falls on Chalmers.

“He's the head of their team so we're trying to make it tough on him,'' Chalmers said after he ended the night with nine points. “He didn't shoot the ball well, but you know he's going to come back. You have to be ready.''

On Monday, Rondo didn't get a chance to really get into his game – or at least as much as he wanted too. Rondo was held to 16 points – which is around his season average against Miami. His seven assists were one of his lowest of the postseason. 

That doesn't mean the storm has passed for the Heat. Far from it. Rondo can bring it at almost any time. 

“He's the motor for that team, can make so many plays,'' Spoelstra said. “We have to step up to the challenge. We have a whole heck of a lot of people guarding him with a lot of energy. There's going to be a lot of activity.''

As Spoelstra promised, the Heat did throw a lot more than just Chalmers or even rookie Norris Cole at the shifty Rondo. 

In the opening period, Rondo found space on the hardwood, well, hard to come by as Miami shut things down. Starting center Ronnie Turiaf clogged the lane on a couple of early Rondo drives to the basket and it looked like he was starting to get frustrated in that period and tried forcing things a little too much. 

Rondo's line in the first 12 minutes of the game: Zero points, two assists and four turnovers. 

Things opened up a little bit for Rondo in the second as he was able to drive the lane uncontested for his first points to bring the Celtics within nine at 28-19.

Not long after getting his shot blocked by Chalmers, Rondo recovered and scored on a layup to make it an eight point game. Rondo had a nice second period, later scoring on a jumper and another layup to give him eight points in the quarter.

In the third period, the Celtics looked to make a run at the Heat – but Rondo found Miami's big players getting in the way of what he wanted to do.

Midway through the period, Rondo drove the basket but found Shane Battier waiting for him. Rondo spun and went to post, but LeBron James was behind him and smacked the ball away, the buzzer going off on the shot clock.

It was that kind of night for Rondo and the Celtics. Frustration?

“You could see that on his face a little bit,'' Chalmers said. “He wasn't able to get where he wanted to go, couldn't get his teammates involved. We have to keep doing that.''

May 20, 2012

U.D. IS BACK: Heat Get Boost from Udonis Haslem in Fourth, Leads to Win over Pacers in Game 4

HaslemBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

INDIANAPOLIS – LeBron James and Dwyane Wade carried the Heat for much of Sunday's win against the Pacers, so much so, Indiana's radio voice didn't notice anyone else on the court.

“They have two guys,'' Mark Boyle said during the third quarter, “and that's it.''

Udonis Haslem would later show the Heat had more than just the LeBron and D-Wade show. At least when it mattered most. 

“Every shot he made was big,'' James said of Haslem. “Without him, we don't win this game.''

Haslem, held to a total of just six points in the first three games of the series, scored eight points in the fourth quarter to help the Heat hold off the host Pacers 101-93 and tie up the series at two games each.

The Miami High and UF grad scored 14 points in the Haslemufgame after getting 25 in his first eight games of this postseason. 

“Every shot he made was big,'' James said of Haslem. “Without him, we don't win this game.''

Haslem did the bulk of the scoring for the much-maligned Miami bench, getting 14 of their 20 points.

As Wade and James dominated the third by scoring, the Heat's other three players on the court played strong defensively as Indiana shot 33 percent from the floor and had seven turnovers. 

“We don't worry about what the media says about us, but we're a team, and we're all doing things to help this team succeed,'' center Ronny Turiaf said.

“If it's a block, a charge, it's not just about scoring. It's the little stuff that helps us be successful. A team has layers of different personalities and different pieces coming together. We do the dirty work and [James and Wade] take care of the rest.'' 

Added point guard Mario Chalmers: “We have two of the best players in the game and if they get going, you roll with them. Everyone was doing their thing on defense and shut them down. We won the third and that was huge for us.''

Coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game that he expected a big effort out of Haslem what with the importance of Sunday's game. With a loss, the Heat would be heading home down 3-1 in the series. Instead, things are tied and the Heat have home court advantage back. 

Spoelstra and Haslem have been in must-win situations together many times. Haslem and Wade are Udwadethe only two players left from Miami's 2006 run to the title; Spoelstra was an assistant on that championship team.

“Being around UD for nine years, I know his type of toughness and competitiveness transcends things,'' Spoelstra said. “On a day like [Sunday], I expect he's going to have an impact on this game.''

Haslem sure didn't disappoint. Aside from the help he gave Miami on offense, he was strong defensively as well. “We know what UD is capable of doing,'' Turiaf said. “It's all about teamwork and he took the challenge.''

In the fourth, Haslem took an offensive foul from Indiana's Lou Amundson with 9:37 left in the game. With blood streaming from a cut above his right eye,

Haslem was told he needed stitches. With so little time left in the game, Haslem wasn't having any of it.

“I didn't know I was bleeding at first,'' said Haslem, who took nine stitches afterward and had a large bandage covering his eyebrow. “They told me I needed stitches and there were nine minutes left. There was no way I could get stitches and come back and play. Wasn't happening. I told them to just stop the bleeding.''

Haslem finished the game with a large patch above his eye.

“It may have made me focus better,'' he said with a smile.




#HEAT NOTEBOOK: Howard, Stephenson Meet-and-Greet Before Game 4 ... Confidence No Issue ... Former Dodgers Pitcher Does Anthem Honors Harmonically

PacerssignHEAT NOTEBOOK

BY GEORGE RICHARDSgrichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

INDIANAPOLIS – Juwan Howard had something to say to Lance Stephenson and made sure he did.

A day after searching out Stephenson before the Heat's practice at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Howard walked over to the Pacers' rookie forward as he was warming up before Sunday's game and gave him a piece of his mind. 

Howard was spotted chest-to-chest with Stephenson and at one point put his finger in Stephenson's face.

Former Heat player and current Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw separated the two and walked Howard back toward the Miami side of the court. 

That was about all the action the two saw on Sunday. Neither played in Miami's 101-93 victory in Game 4 of the best-of-7 series. 

“We're just two men who have a difference of opinion. That's all,'' Howard said after the game. “As far as our differences go, it's over with. It's the past now.''

Stephenson has drawn the ire of the Heat throughout the series for his chirping from the Pacers bench – Stephensonand for putting his hands around his neck in a choke sign when LeBron James missed a free throw during Indiana's win in Game 3.

Stephenson apologized to James and the Heat for the gesture the on Saturday.

According to the Indianapolis Star, Howard told a couple of Pacers players to relay a message to Stephenson for him on Saturday. “Tell him I’m going to [mess] him up,” Howard told Dahntay Jones and Paul George according to the Star. 

Howard has a past with the much younger Stephenson as he took a pair of technicals and was ejected late in a blowout win here in February after confronting Stephenson. The two also met again during garbage time during Game 3.

“Right now we said what we had to,'' Howard said. “We move on. It's time to play the games. I said what I had to say. It's over with.'' 

NEWS, NOTES 

Starting point guard Mario Chalmers said the Heat have never suffered from a lack of confidence although Miami looked a little rattled early in Sunday's game. 

Indiana jumped out to a 9-0 run before LeBron James picked up Miami's first points at the 7:42 mark. The Heat would get a little more going after that, but through the first 4:18, the Heat turned the ball over (James, Turiaf and Chalmers struggled with the ball) five times. The Heat had 15 turnovers in the game – nine of those coming in the first 24 minutes. 

“Everyone had confidence whether we were up or down,'' said Chalmers, who scored all eight of his points in the first half after scoring a game-high 25 in Thursday's loss. “It's never a confidence factor with us.''

() Miami became the first team to hit the 100 point mark against the Pacers this postseason. Indiana beat Orlando in five games in the opening round.

() The Heat have had the national anthem performed on guitar before playoff games – and even had the Clemonslate great Clarence Clemons do it on his tenor saxophone a few times.

On Sunday, the Pacers matched that by having it performed on a harmonica. 

And it was done perfectly by former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine. Now 85, Erskine told USA Today he used to fiddle around with the mouth organ during his playing days but never Erskineperformed an anthem in public until he did so before a Dodgers fantasy camp. 

() IndyCar driver and Heat fan Ryan Hunter-Reay missed Sunday's game as he was at the speedway for 'bump day.'

Hunter-Reay didn't need to qualify on this Sunday before the big race as he did last year; the Fort Lauderdale resident turned the third-best average time on Saturday and will start the 96th Indianapolis 500 from the front row.

Hunter-Reay said after Saturday's run that he would Hunterreaybe following the Heat game – from a few miles away. Hunter-Reay attended Thursday's game and watched it from a sponsor's luxury suite.

() Shane Battier on the challenge of playing against David West: “I'm just trying to make him work. I'm giving up about 40 pounds and he's a lot stronger than me. There's not much I can do about that except make him work for everything he gets.''

() As a number of his teammates got dressed for the Hungergamesflight back to Miami, James relaxed in front of his locker while reading 'The Hunger Games.'

May 17, 2012

HEAT NOTEBOOK: Erik Spoelstra's Changing Lineup ... D-Wade Says Bosh in Good Spirits ...

SwaggerHEAT NOTEBOOK

BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

INDIANAPOLIS – Erik Spoelstra's starting lineup for Thursday's Game 3 against the Pacers was a closely guarded secret.

Spoelstra refused to divulge his starting five at the morning shootaround and again at his pre-game press conference less than two hours before tip-off.

“I'll turn in my card in the next 45 minutes,'' Spoelstra said.

If Dexter Pittman starting at center was looked at as some sort of secret weapon, well, it was a short lived one.

Pittman, making his postseason debut, didn't last long Thursday as he played the opening 3:29 and sat through the end of the third quarter.

Pittman, a second-year center out of Texas, missed two shots in those first few minutes of the game and was pulled after committing a loose ball foul under the Heat basket with Miami trailing 7-2.

With Chris Bosh out with an abdominal strain, Spoelstra made it very clear all – or at least most – hands were on deck for the Heat. By the start of the second quarter, the Heat had used 11 of its 13 active roster players.

By garbage time in the fourth, all 13 players made it onto the court.

Pittman was joined in the starting lineup by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier. Joel Anthony replaced Pittman with 8:31 left in the first.

“Everything is going to be open from here on out,'' Spoelstra said Thursday afternoon. “It's not about the lineup for us.''

() Wade said Bosh is in good spirits after being hurt on Sunday – although he would much rather be in Indianapolis instead of rehabbing in South Florida. 

“The next day, Chris was in the locker room with everyone early in the morning,'' Wade said. “He's been around and he's starting his rehab process to get back on the court eventually.

"He's doing good mentally and he obviously wants to be playing. It sucks it came at this time.

"The biggest thing is there is a light at the end of the tunnel; there's a possibility he can come back. So that drives you.''

() James said he watched the second game between the Lakers and Thunder late Wednesday night and didn't have a problem with Steve Blake – a South Florida prep product – taking a 3-pointer in the final seconds of Los Angeles' 77-75 loss in Oklahoma City. 

The night before, Miami's Mario Chalmers lofted up a 3-pointer as the Heat trailed Indiana 78-75 with the clock winding down. Like Chalmers, Blake had a wide-open look. Like Blake, Chalmers missed.

“Those are the same shots Derek Fisher has hit multiple times for the Lakers,'' James said Thursday morning. “If Blake makes that shot, it's a whole different story.''

() Wade said the Heat weren't going to carry Tuesday's loss at AmericanAirlines Arena into Thursday's game in Indiana.

“When you win, you move on the next one. Same when you lose,'' Wade said. “Game 3 is Game 3. We're coming into a tough environment and trying to win. We've been here before. We have to win a basketball game. The edge is there for both teams. We're going for 48 minutes to see who gets it. 

“We're getting to the point in this series where there won't be a lot of surprises on personnel or play calling. There may be some wrinkles here or there, but not many surprises''

() Indiana's David West said complaints about his team's postgame celebration after winning in Miami on Tuesday were a bit overblown. 

“It's a tough game. Anytime you win in the playoffs, especially on the road, you're going to be excited,'' he said.

“I thought, for the most part, we did a good job getting off the floor. We didn't play a great game. It's good to get a win, but not to celebrate after winning like that. We know as a group we can play better.'' 


NOT ENOUGH: Miami Heat Get 25 Points from Mario Chalmers, Lose Big in Indy to Pacers

ChalmersBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

INDIANAPOLIS – Thank goodness for Mario Chalmers on Thursday night. Who knows how bad it would have been for the Miami Heat without him.

As it was, the Heat were run out of the gym 94-75 by the Pacers as Indiana took a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Chalmers led all scorers with 25 points – thisclose to the 27 points LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (five) combined for. 

“It's good to see him be aggressive and that's what we need from him,'' coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We need him to be offensive minded, get into the paint and make plays as another ball-handler and playmaker. He also has to run the team. He has a lot of responsibility. This will help moving forward.''

Chalmers, coming off a rough outing in Sunday's loss in Miami, turned up his game on Thursday as his eight points in the first quarter were almost as many as he scored in the opening two games of the series (nine).

Chalmers' 25 points set a personal postseason record, topping the 20 points he scored against Boston (2010) and Philadelphia (2011). 

With both James and Wade struggling from the field, Chalmers was Miami's unexpected offensive force, carrying the Heat to what was a short-lived comeback midway through the fourth.  

In the fourth, with the Heat down 18, Chalmers went on a personal 7-0 run he kicked off with a 30-foot shot. Chalmers' run – and the nice dish to Wade that the Heat star easily put in for just his second field goal of the night – brought Miami to within 11 points with plenty of time remaining.

Yet Chalmers didn't score again after that – and the Heat watched Indiana retake control of the game. Chalmers said he fell hard on his wrist but X-rays were negative. Although the wrist is sore, Chalmers said he'll be fine for Sunday's Game 4.

“On the plane, I spoke with D-Wade and he told me with Bosh out this was my chance to step up,'' Chalmers said. “The main thing for me was staying out of foul trouble. I did that in the first two games, couldn't get into a rhythm and help my team. That wasn't the case [Thursday].''

With Chalmers playing the way he was, Norris Cole didn't get the looks he did in Game 2. With Chalmers in foul trouble and struggling from the field, Cole was brought in for his most substantive play since Game 1 of the opening-round series against the Knicks. On Tuesday, picked up five fouls and ended with five points on 2-of-10 shooting.

“I have to stay out of foul trouble,'' he said. “That's the bottom line.''

Cole grew up in nearby Dayton, Ohio – about a one-hour drive east of Indianapolis on I-70 – and figured he had at least 30 cheering him on Thursday.

“My family is real close to here so they're coming to show support for myself and the team,'' said Cole, a Cleveland State product. 

“Being in the playoffs, being on the road and having the ability to have family come and watch is great. I'm enjoying this ride. I had a great college experience and now I'm with one of the best teams in the world with some of the best players in the world. This is great.''

After playing 11:37 in the opener against the Knicks, Cole rarely left the bench in the following two games and didn't see any action in the final two of that series. 

Cole was benched for the third straight game in Sunday's series opener against the Pacers, but with Chalmers struggling, Cole played 17:08 in Game 2. Cole was 2-for-2 from the field and dished out an assist.

“As a competitor, you want to play. But you want to do what's best for the team so I just had to stay ready,'' he said. “I prepared as if I was going to play. When my number was called, I was ready to step in and perform. It's all about staying prepared because coaches are making adjustments on the fly. You have to stay ready. This is our job, playing at the highest level.''

Spoelstra said Cole's preparation and mental state will serve him well when called upon. Cole was scoreless on one shot in 9:34 on Thursday.

“He kept himself ready and is tough as nails,'' Spoelstra said before Thursday's game. “You get into a competitive and physical series here, and well, that fits his nature. Because of the circumstances with Chris Bosh being out, it affects every part of our rotation. Everyone has to be ready.''

May 04, 2012

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Jason Garrison

May 02, 2012

OnFrozenPhone Locker Clean Out Day Edition: Erik Gudbranson

May 01, 2012

Florida Panthers 2011-12 Wrap Up: Future Looks Bright

TheocelebrateBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

One of the final – and most lasting visuals – of the Panthers' season came when television cameras focused on the team's box atop the BankAtlantic Center in the seconds following Florida's double-overtime loss to the Devils last Friday morning. 

There was general manager Dale Tallon with his face buried on the table. Team founder and alternate governor Bill Torrey was leaning back in his chair, his face covered by his hand. 

The Panthers played a passionate style of game this past season as their management wore their feelings out in the open.

On Friday morning – after almost 84 minutes of hockey in the 89th game of the season – it all came to a close. 

Tallon can't wait for the ride to begin anew. 

“I get involved, get involved in every game,'' Tallon said in his wrap-up remarks to the local media on Tuesday morning.

“It was a series that the differential through seven games was one goal. That's tough to take. .-.-. It was disappointing but bittersweet. We had a great season but that was a tough one to lose. We'll use this as a motivator for next year. Our players realize how close they were and regret not scoring that goal to get us to the next series. We're not satisfied.''

With the season over, the Panthers brain trust now shifts their focus to the upcoming draft next month and the free agency period which opens July 1. 
No one expects Tallon to be even a quarter as busy as he was last summer.

Tallon signed a number of new players when free agency opened as he completely remade the roster. Tallon also had the third overall pick in the draft, with Jonathan Huberdeau expected to make next season's team after being left to mature a bit more in the Canadian junior leagues. 

This year, Tallon will tweak – not remake. The Panthers core group is in place, for the most part, with no coaching search underway and no roster to fill out. 

What the Panthers want to do is build on what they did in 2011-12. 

“Familiarity is key,'' Stephen Weiss said, “and we haven't had that. The guys know what to expect, what is expected of us. We have the type of group in here that's not satisfied. I'm looking forward to next year and going above and beyond what we did this year.''

Tallon does have some decisions to make with players on his current roster. For instance, backup goalie Scott Clemmensen is an unrestricted free agent, as is defenseman Jason Garrison, Krys Barch, John Madden, Mikael Samuelsson and Wotjek Wolski. 
First-line winger Kris Versteeg is a restricted free agent.

Tallon said getting Garrison and Versteeg back under contract is a priority.

“We want to keep the team together,'' Tallon said. “We're going to start talking to agents now and sign the guys we need to get signed. They want to be here and we want them here.''

With Tallon's leadership – he was the architect of the 2010 Stanley Cup champs in Chicago – the Panthers hope this becomes a destination point for free agents. Although the Panthers have money under the cap, Florida isn't expected to be in the running for big free agents such as New Jersey's Zach Parise or Nashville's Ryan Suter come July 1. 

Tallon does believe he can sell the Panthers and South Florida to anyone after this past season. Gone is talk of the Panthers missing the playoffs for an NHL record 10 seasons; gone is talk of the Panthers being a substandard organization. Winning sure seems to cure most problems.

“We sent a message to everyone in the hockey world that this is the place to be,'' Tallon said. “Why wouldn't you want to be here? Our fans really came on in the playoffs, and were great all season long. .-.-. The message has been sent that this team means business. We're going to be a championship team eventually. This is a fun place to be. This is when it gets exciting.''

Said John Madden: "They changed the culture here. Florida's a great place to play. I never thought I'd say that sitting from the outside all those years in New Jersey.'' 

WHAT WENT RIGHT

() Top Trio: The Panthers got plenty of performance from the top line of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg. The trio combined for 70 goals – or 36 percent of the team's total.

() Theo and Clemm: The Panthers rarely had to worry about their goaltending as Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen were strong all season. Rookie Jacob Markstrom also played well when called upon.

() Strong on D: Florida's defensive corps – led by team MVP Brian Campbell – were a strong suit throughout as only Ed Jovanovski and Dmitry Kulikov missed substantial time. Jason Garrison's 16 goals was third among all d-men. 

WHAT WENT WRONG

() Shoot 'em Out: Florida had the most overtime/shootout loss points (18) of any team to make the playoffs since the end of the lockout in 2005.

() 5-on-5: The Panthers power play was much improved over last year's franchise-worst performance as the Cats were ranked seventh in the league with the advantage. But Florida's 5-on-5 play was weak as its ratio was 25th in the league.