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3 posts from June 4, 2013

June 04, 2013

Wednesday note: UM loses DT; Pacers, scouts, analysts break down Heat-Spurs; Fins, Marlins chatter

Quick Thursday update: UM has lost out on another defensive tackle that it coveted. Delvon Simmons, who is transferring from Texas Tech (where he was a quality starter), announced this afternoon he has picked USC over UM. Simmons visited here over Memorial Day weekend. He would not have been eligible until the 2014 season. DT remains a UM priority, especially with Curtis Porter entering his senior season.

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

For insight on the Heat-Spurs NBA Finals matchup, we solicited input from two former coaches (Jeff Van Gundy and NBA TV’s Sam Mitchell), two Eastern Conference scouts and four Indiana Pacers players. Some highlights:

### Pacers forward Danny Granger and one of the scouts picked Miami; the others called it a toss-up excluding Van Gundy, who wasn’t asked to pick because he’s announcing the games for ABC.

“The Spurs are absolutely a bigger challenge to Miami than Indiana –- they’re not going to turn the ball over like Indiana did, and they’re a better shooting team than Indiana," Mitchell said. (The Spurs were second in field-goal percentage this season to the Pacers’ 26th.)

What's more, Mitchell said, “The Heat has no deterrent to keep Tony Parker out of the lane. And you have a coach with four championships and he’s had 12 days to prepare. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter aren’t as physical as Roy Hibbert and David West, but they will give them problems because they are just as big and better athletes than Hibbert.”

Mitchell, who coached Chris Bosh in Toronto, added: “I’ve never seen Bosh struggle like this. And if Bosh and Dwyane Wade play the way they’ve played, how can you not pick San Antonio?”

So why does Mitchell hesitate? “If LeBron James was Paul George or just a regular All-Star, it would be San Antonio hands down. But LeBron makes it a tossup. If I had to bet, I would probably go 51/49 Spurs.”

### Granger said “as much as people talk” about Miami’s struggles against bigger teams, “they still keep beating teams with size. We’re probably the biggest team where we have a tandem of Hibbert and West and they beat us. So despite what people say, I don’t see it hurting them in the Finals.”

Granger picks Miami “because of LeBron. He can turn it on when he wants, can create when he wants. He’s making threes now and that was his weakness.”

### But Indiana’s Paul George cautioned: “Tim Duncan is one of those guys you can’t game plan [against] and it will be tough for Miami…. It’s a tossup.”

Pacers and ex-Spurs guard George Hill said Miami “is going to have problems with the whole team. Kawhi Leonard is one of the top defenders in the league.”

### Pacers guard D.J. Augustin said what should most concern the Heat is the Spurs “are just so smart and they’re not going to let great plays rattle them. They’re going to stay composed because they’ve been there before. It’s going to go down to a Game 7.”

### The scouts said they would open with Udonis Haslem defending Tim Duncan. “Haslem’s a better defender on him and it keeps Bosh out of foul trouble,” one scout said.

That scout said though Splitter isn’t as productive offensively as Duncan or West, “Splitter is more willing to go to the perimeter and guard Bosh than West was.” And “Splitter is more mobile than Hibbert,” the other scout said.

### Granger called Tony Parker “an unwinnable matchup” for Miami –-- “he’s playing out of his mind,” Granger said--- and the scouts couldn’t envision James guarding him for more than a few minutes a game.

“I don’t even know if LeBron can keep up with him,” one scout said. “Maybe Norris Cole could bother him a little.”

### On the James/Leonard matchup, Van Gundy said on a conference call: “I love Leonard –- he’s the human mute button. He doesn’t say a lot, but his game talks very loudly. He has improved dramatically offensively. He came into the league an aggressive defender. You aren’t stopping LeBron, but you want to at least reduce his efficiency somewhat. They have a matchup that gives them a chance.”

### One scout said his biggest concern for the Spurs would be who will guard James when Leonard is on the bench: “Maybe Danny Green, but he’s too small. Manu Ginobili is too small. I would put Matt Bonner on him because he’s the same size, but he’ll be exposed by LeBron in isolation.”

### Though Green starts, Ginobili will finish games in a compelling shooting guard matchup with Wade. One scout said he would rather have Ginobili over the diminished Wade “because he’s a much better shooter from distance and just as good going to the rim.”

But the other scout said: “Wade’s the better player, even in this state. Ginobili has lost a little. He’s not as consistently effective.”

### The Spurs have an answer for the Heat’s small lineup because, as Van Gundy said, “the beauty of San Antonio is they can play big with Splitter and Duncan or they can downsize with four [on the perimeter, including] Matt Bonner or Boris Diaw. That flexibility gives them the ability to adapt to whatever the game situation calls for.”

### Please see the last post for my position-by-position breakdown of Heat-Spurs.

CHATTER

### How good was the 37.1 local TV rating for Game 7 of Heat-Pacers – equaling 37.1 percent of Dade/Broward homes with TV sets? Not only did it smash the local rating for Game 7 of the Heat-Celtics Eastern finals last June (a 25.0), but it wasn’t far off from CBS-4’s 40.7 rating for this year’s Super Bowl.

By contrast, the rating was much smaller in Indianapolis for Monday's game (a 21.9). Nationally, the game was seen in 7.1 percent of U.S. homes - the most watched NBA game ever on TNT.

### Two Dolphins free agent pickups -- linebacker Philip Wheeler and receiver Brandon Gibson -- are going through growing pains. Tight ends often have gotten open against Wheeler and other linebackers in practice and Wheeler said he has to “learn the defense, stop making mistakes… so I can cover tight ends like I did last year” with Oakland.

Gibson, adjusting to playing the slot, dropped a pass Monday and has been outplayed by Armon Binns.

### After filing a complaint with the Coral Gables police alleging that an NCAA investigator “coerced" him to provide answers to aid the NCAA’s investigation, UM defensive end Dyron Dye on Tuesday was referred to the state attorney’s office, to whom he will present his case later this week. The state attorney's office then would decide whether to consider filing charges.

### UM remains optimistic about luring Texas guard Sheldon McClellan, who visited last week, but he might check out LSU or Oregon.

### Ballyhooed UM quarterback commitment Kevin Olsen was charged with leaving the scene of an accident after he crashed his car first into a tree, and then shortly after that, into another car, according to a Wayne Hills, N.J. police report. It shouldn't affect his status at UM. Olsen expects to redshirt this season.

### The ACC on Tuesday announced UM's crossover games from 2014 through 2024. UM plays at Louisville in 2014, but many expect Cardinals junior-to-be quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to turn pro after the 2013 season, with Mel Kiper ranking him the No. 2 overall prospect, behind South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney.

For longterm planners, here are the other nine UM crossover games, in order starting with 2015 through 2024: at NC State, Syracuse, at Boston College, Louisville, at Wake Forest, NC State, at Clemson, Boston College and at Syracuse.

### ESPN has the Marlins picking Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley (7-2, 2.77 ERA) sixth overall in Thursday’s draft, but they also would be happy with right-handers Jonathan Gray (Oklahoma/ 10-2, 1.59) or Mark Appel (Stanford/ 10-4, 2.12) if they surprisingly slip.

They would love to take college third basemen Colin Moran (North Carolina/ .351, 13 HR, 85 RBI) and Kris Bryant (San Diego/ .329, 13, 62) – who might not be far off from the majors - but both could be gone by No. 6. The top high-school players in Miami’s range are both Georgia outfielders – Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier.    

Breaking down Heat-Spurs by position and who has the edge

SMALL FORWARD

Spurs: Kawhi Leonard -- a versatile, athletic wing player who can defend, shoot and blends in seamlessly with the Spurs’ stars – displayed impressive growth during the regular season (11.9 points, 49.4 percent shooting) and has been even better in the playoffs (13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 56.5 percent shooting) while averaging 37 minutes --- about six more than the regular season. He served up 17 points, 11 rebounds and 2 steals in his one game against the Heat, albeit without LeBron James playing that night.

Heat: James has authored a magnificent postseason, even more impressive considering he has needed to compensate for a diminished Dwyane Wade and a slumping Chris Bosh through part of this run. He leads the Heat in scoring (26.2), rebounds (7.3) and assists (6.4) while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 38.7 on threes. He embraced defending bulkier David West during fourth-quarter stretches of the Eastern finals and likely will be needed to guard one of the Spurs’ big men at times when the Heat goes small. And he also might draw the assignment on Tony Parker for short bursts.

Edge: Heat

 

POWER FORWARD

Spurs: Evan at 37, future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan continues to perform at an All-Star level. He’s averaging 17.8 points in the playoffs – equaling his regular season average, though his shooting percentage has dropped from 50.2 to 46.1. His rebounding is down very slightly from the regular season (9.9 to 9.2), but that’s much higher than any Heat power rotation player. Duncan delivered 17 points and 12 rebounds in his one game against the Heat but missed a late jumper over Udonis Haslem’s outstretched arms. The Heat hopes to draw him away from the basket, but Bosh or Haslem will need to be swishing jump shots for that strategy to be fully effective.

Heat: With 8 for 9 shooting performances in Games 3 and 5, Udonis Haslem was as responsible as anybody (excluding James) for two of the Heat’s wins against Indiana. His points are up from the regular season (to 6.3) and rebounds down (3.9) while playing about six minutes more per game. Haslem has had some success defending Duncan and should draw the assignment at least part of the time. While Duncan is a more polished offensive player than Roy Hibbert, Duncan is also three inches shorter, leaving Haslem at a three-inch deficit.

Edge: Spurs

 

CENTER

Spurs: Tiago Splitter has developed into a capable starter – a pretty good passer and decent rebounder with touch around the basket, especially with his right jump hook, and the mobility to chase Bosh to the perimeter. His numbers have declined from the regular season in points (10.3 to 6.8) and rebounds (6.4 to 3.7). But he’s shooting 58.2 percent in the playoffs, even better than his 56 percent in the regular season. Some of those baskets come on put-backs, so the Heat must keep him off the offensive boards --- something it didn’t do effectively against Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

Heat: Chris Bosh had a dreadful Eastern Conference Finals (11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds) and ended it with four consecutive games with single digit scoring. But Indiana was also the worst possible matchup for him. Defending Splitter will take less of a toll that guarding Hibbert or David West, and rebounds should come easier, too. And though neither Duncan nor Tony Parker played, Bosh was terrific in his one game against the Spurs this season, hitting the game-winning three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left and closing with 23 points and 9 rebounds.

Edge: Heat

 

POINT GUARD

Spurs: Tony Parker comes off a 37-point masterpiece (15 for 21 shooting) in the close-out win against Memphis. He’s averaging 23 points in postseason, more than he did in the playoffs on the three championship teams he was a part of. His floor game has been very good (7.2 points, 2.7 assists). Even with his Game 4 in the Memphis series, his shooting percentage has dipped in postseason to 47.5, still very good but below his unworldly 52.2 percent in the regular season, which easily led NBA point guards. It’s impossible to envision the Heat stopping him, though James (in doses) and Norris Cole figure to be impediments at times. Mario Chalmers will challenge Parker defensively if he mixes in drives to the basket with his standstill threes, as he did in the Pacers series.  

Heat: Chalmers and Cole haven’t always played well at the same time in postseason, but usually, at least one has given the Heat very good minutes. Cole was a major factor in the Bulls series and late in the Pacers series. Chalmers had some very good moments against Indiana. Chalmers has played the steadier floor game in postseason (56 assists, 20 turnovers) compared with Cole’s 30 and 18. Cole is shooting at a higher percentage: 53.8 to 43.1. Chalmers man-to-man defense has improved, but Cole’s is superior, and will be needed for stretches against Parker.

Edge: Spurs

 

SHOOTING GUARD

Spurs: Danny Green has evolved into a capable starter, allowing Manu Ginobili to continue to come off the bench. He’s averaging 9.6 points and shot 43.1 percent on threes in postseason (28 for 65) after shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc during the season. He can rebound (4.1 playoff average) and has quickness defensively (1.2 steals average), but he must make shots to justify staying on the floor for long stretches.

Heat: We can all accept that Wade --- weakened by his right knee troubles - will not be the vintage version. But to win this series, he must be at least somewhat more than the player who averaged 14.1 points and shot 44.7 in postseason and failed to reach 20 points in 12 games in a row before Monday. His explosiveness comes only in short bursts now and his mid-range game has been spotty, but his Game 7 effort against Indiana (21 points, 9 rebounds) raises hopes that Wade can offer more than his previous string of pedestrian performances. And while Ginobili creates challenges with driving ability, defending Green – mostly a three-point shooter – shouldn’t be too taxing.

Edge: Heat

 

BENCH

Spurs: A pretty deep group, led by Ginobili, who hasn’t had an exceptional postseason by his standards (11.5 points, 38.3 percent shooting, 2.4 turnovers, 5.4 assists) but is the best bench player the Heat will face this postseason. Ginobili will be eager to rebound from one of his worst playoff games ever (six turnovers, 1 for 6 shooting in the close-out win against Memphis). Boris Diaw, 6-8, isn’t a big rebounder (2.5), but has the athleticism and versatility to effectively chase Bosh to the perimeter. Matt Bonner remains one of the NBA’s best-shooting big men and 14 for 28 on threes this postseason. Backup guards Cory Joseph (3.4 points, 46.8 percent shooting in postseason) and Gary Neal (5.5 points) are serviceable, but Neal has struggled with his shot this postseason (just 9 for 36 on threes).

Heat: Chris Andersen has been the Heat’s most consistent bench contributor, making 38 of 46 shots and averaging 4.1 rebounds. But his individual defense was shaky against Roy Hibbert, and he could be vulnerable in stretches against Duncan. Ray Allen’s Game 7 (3 for 5 on threes) suggests he may have snapped out of his shooting slump. Cole should get significant minutes, largely because of his defense on Parker. The unresolved issue is whether Erik Spoelstra returns to Shane Battier, who was benched in Game 7 and is shooting 15 for 66 in postseason, or stays with Mike Miller for a third game in a row.

Edge: Even

 

COACH

Spurs: No active NBA coach has a resume comparable to Gregg Popovich, with his four championships in four appearances and 68.1 regular-season winning percentage. He knows how to push and prod his team, but also when to pull back, and he commands as much or more respect from players as any coach in the league. His lineup decisions have paid dividends this season, including starting Splitter ahead of DuJuan Blair (who has played sparingly in postseason) and using Green as a starter, allowing Ginobili to come off the bench. The Spurs excel at player development, and Popovich is a big reason.

Heat: Erik Spoelstra made sensible moves in Game 7 of the Pacers series, opting for frequent double teams in the post and off pick and rolls. “His even keeled demeanor and humility helps him get the most of his best players,” ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy said. “Erik is still in the phase where he gets blame for their losses than credit for their wins, but he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame.” (And, as Van Gundy said, Popovich is headed there, too.)

Edge: Spurs

 

INTANGIBLES

Spurs: The Spurs come in rested – and perhaps a bit rusty – and unlike the Heat, haven’t had to deal with extreme adversity in these playoffs, having never trailed in a series this spring. This is a confident, savvy battle-tested group that commits fewer turnovers than the Pacers (17th in the league, to Indiana 26th) and possesses the outside shooters to make the Heat pay if Miami doubles Duncan or traps Parker. Consider the Spurs were second in field goal percentage (behind only the Heat) --- while Indiana was 26th -- and ranked fourth in scoring (the Pacers were 23rd). Parker poses problems unlike any guard the Heat has faced this postseason. And Duncan has never lost in any of his four Finals appearances.

Heat: What Monday proved, yet again, is the Heat --- since the 2011 Finals loss to Dallas - can summon every last ounce of energy and intensity and maniacal defensive zeal when faced with an elimination game. The Heat hasn’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 8 and 10, and the rebounding issue should be less problematic against the Spurs. Indiana was the league’s best rebounding team in the regular season; the Spurs were 21st. Dwyane Wade’s Game 7 against Indiana offered encouragement that even if he’s not himself, he won’t necessarily be a shell of himself in this series.

Edge: Even

 

PICK: HEAT IN SEVEN

Notes, quotes, postscripts from Heat's Game 7 win; UM player reports NCAA to police

Please check the last post for the odd story of a UM player going to the Coral Gables Police to report the NCAA.

Meanwhile….

Postscripts from the Heat’s Game 7 win against Indiana that catapults Miami into its third straight NBA Finals:

### Dwyane Wade’s 12-game streak without 20 points is finally over, but this wasn’t merely about Wade’s scoring. Don’t overlook his game-high nine rebounds, and the tone he set from the outset.

“I came out with a different mindset, to be aggressive,” Wade said after closing with 21 points on 7 for 16 shooting from the field and 7 for 7 from the line. Talking to coach yesterday, putting me in different situations. I felt more comfortable, confident in the game plan.”

And he said “I felt better physically.”

Of his struggles earlier in this series, he said: “Obviously, it’s a physical thing [with the knee]. But when the ball doesn’t go through the basket as much as [you expect], it becomes a mental thing. You start hesitating.”

On his legacy, Wade said: “Moments like this can define your career, situations when everyone is counting you out, looking down to see how you respond. I feel like we as a team respond very well. We have individuals on our team that respond very well when adversity hits. We have champions in our locker-room. You don’t become a champion by luck.”

James called the first play for Wade, and told Wade he would defend Paul George.

“They wanted me to be more aggressive early in the game offensively, looking for more opportunities,” Wade said. “LeBron is like a coach on the floor, was able to call sets to put me in situations where he felt I would succeed early on. We weren’t going to win this game with just LeBron being amazing. He’s been amazing this whole series. We needed everyone to really be involved. Early on, everyone was involved.”

### With his 32-point performance (including 15 for 16 from the line), LeBron is averaging 33.8 points in his career in Game 7s, highest of any player with at least two Game 7s. (LeBron has four.)

"I’ve been blessed to be pretty good in Game 7s in my career,” he said. “I dreamed about opportunities like this as a kid to have a Game 7. And that game allows you to advance to The Finals. I have had multiple dreams about it. To see a dream become a reality, I’m just very blessed. Our team is blessed.”

But scoring at the outset wasn’t LeBron’s mindset. The Heat attempted 11 shots before he took his first of 17.

“The first play of the game, I called a play for D-Wade,” he said. “Even though he didn’t shoot, he got a good touch in the paint. Just to make him feel like he was a part of the offense, make him feel in a good rhythm.  Obviously, we’re a much better team when we have everyone clicking at the same time.”

### LeBron, comparing this Finals appearance with his first (with Cleveland) against the Spurs in 2007: “I’m a much better player. I’m 20, 40, 50 times better than I was in the 07 Finals. We’re all better.”

He said the Spurs “are very good, very disciplined, well coached. They’ve got a bunch of Hall of Famers. So I look forward to the challenge.”

### Chris Bosh, who had 22 rebounds in the first six games, had eight Monday, as many as Roy Hibbert. Bosh drove to the basket more than previous games but closed 3 for 13 on a 9-point night.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” he said. “I missed some shots but that was the best way to play for me. It worked out all right.”

### Ray Allen came alive with three three-pointers in five attempts, after shooting 7 for 24 on threes in the first six games of the series.

### The Heat handled Indiana on the boards after being outrebounded by 105 in their previous nine meetings since January.

Not only did the Heat close with a 43-36 edge on the boards, but Miami dominated on the offensive glass, 15 to 8. Nobody could have seen that coming, not after the taller Pacers grabbed 82 offensive rebounds in the first six games, compared with 59 for the Heat. Wade had more offensive rebounds (six) than the Pacers team through three quarters.

“They were relentless in crashing the glass at all positions,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Not just their big guys. They were all coming.

“Look – they just had greater experience and great know-how, and they were able to reach a higher level than we were. They taught us a lesson. They know how to ratchet up their defense at a level that just imposes their will on a basketball game.”

### Paul George couldn’t rise to the moment, and Roy Hibbert didn’t do much when the game was still close. Both entered the fourth quarter with as many combined turnovers (six) as field goals.

George delivered a clunker: seven points  -- well below his 21.5 series average coming in -- and three turnovers. He entered shooting 50 percent in the series but made just 2 of 9 attempts on Monday. And he fouled out with 7:43 left and the Pacers down 21.

George scored 28 points in Game 6 with Dwyane Wade the primary defender against him. Before Game 7, LeBron James told Wade he would guard George so that Wade could concentrate on offense. But George insisted James’ defense wasn’t a big factor.

“I like LeBron guarding me because we’re the same size,” George said.

### Hibbert padded his numbers with the Heat well ahead, finishing with 18 points and 8 rebounds after a four-point, three-rebound first half. He entered averaging 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in the series.

“They were there on the catch and didn’t allow a lot of space, particularly to Roy,” Pacers forward David West said.

### Miami was 33 for 38 from the line, the Pacers 14 for 20. West noted that James made more free throws (15) than the entire Indiana team.

“We failed to counter what they were doing to us,” George said. “It [stinks] to not make it an interesting game, but we did a lot of good things this year.”

### The Pacers committed 21 turnovers, 15 in the first half.

The Heat pressured the Pacers more than previous games by frequently double-teaming in the post and off pick-and-rolls. “That’s definitely what us and forced the turnovers,” Vogel said.

“They doubled consistently, really got us out of our stuff,” George said.

### Mike Miller replaced Shane Battier in the rotation and shot 0 for 3. “It was fun out there,” he said.

### Wade, on the Spurs: “Both sides have great coaches. This is a hell of a team over there. We’re going to have to make adjustments in every game, throughout the series.”

### The Heat became the first team to reach the NBA Finals three straight postseasons since the 2008,’09 and ’10 Lakers, and the first Eastern Conference team to do it since the 96, 97 and 98 Bulls. Five other franchises have reached three straight Finals. 

### The Heat and Spurs will play every Thursday, Sunday and Tuesday until, well, one team wins four game. The Tuesday and Thursday games are at 9 p.m., the Sunday games at 8 p.m. It's a 2-3-2 format in The Finals, as many of you know, with the Heat hosting Game 1 Thursday.