IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY, PLEASE SEE THE POST UNDER THIS ONE FOR NOTES, QUOTES AND POSTSCRIPTS FROM HEAT-PACERS GAME 6.... WE'VE INCLUDED SUNDAY HEAT NEWS (INCLUDING HIGHLIGHTS FROM ERIK SPOELSTRA'S AFTERNOON MEDIA BRIEFING) IN THE COLUMN BELOW.
[PLEASE SEE THE NEXT POST FOR A UM/NCAA UPDATE, INCLUDING A PLAYER REPORTING THE NCAA TO THE CORAL GABLES POLICE]
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
As Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland sits back and assesses his team, he feels confident the Dolphins “have closed the gap” with New England.
But how much? That’s where Ireland still isn’t sure.
“Hard to say how much,” he said. “Right now, we have really high-profile names on paper.... We've got to go perform. We have to jell. That sometimes takes time. Expectations are high.”
Ireland addressed a few topics in two recent interviews – one joint session with me and Dolphins.com – and another with NBC Sports Network. Among his musings:
### He said winning the AFC East remains the goal and “anything short of that is probably in our mind not successful.”
### He gives himself and his front office high marks for the offseason moves: “We did as good a job as we could have done in the draft and free agency. That’s what I’m so proud of. We wanted to be more physical and more explosive on defense. We wanted to be faster and more experienced on offense. We did what we had gone out to do.”
But he also conceded: "We didn't get everything we wanted." He declined to offer specifics, but tight end Jared Cook and left tackle Bryant McKinnie took better offers elsewhere, as did Jake Long, of course.
### He believes the Dolphins are now better equipped to “run the offense [we] wanted to run – a high tempo offense.”
### He predicts if rookie end/linebacker Dion Jordan develops as the organization expects, he ultimately is “going to be something to reckon with.”
### He predicted Ryan Tannehill “is going to make a big jump this year. He has a lot of room to grow. He’s brilliantly smart. The upside is tremendous.”
### Why did he opt to go exclusively with running backs with less than three years of NFL experience, which is very unusual?
“I feel very comfortable with Daniel Thomas,” citing his “power,” and with Lamar Miller’s “speed and explosion. I thought we had a good combination there.
“We feel very good about Jonas Gray coming off the knee. Then [rookie] Mike Gillislee. There’s youth at the position. There’s special teams value there. We feel very good about their skill set. Obviously, we need to see them play a little more and solidify the position.”
### On why he replaced Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler: “Really fell in love with the two players we got. Nothing against Karlos and Kevin. They’re very good players.
“[But] I felt like this gives us a chance to get a little bit faster, a little bit more physical at the point of attack. Like their style of play.”
### Despite losing Long -– who accepted a slightly better deal with St. Louis and never gave Miami a chance to match, which it might have -– Ireland said: “I feel we’ve got a very good unit with Jonathan Martin, Mike Pouncey and Richie Incognito. [Right tackle] Tyson Clabo stabilizes it on paper. That group has to solidify itself over the next four weeks.”
### On Tim Tebow: “I don’t believe we’ll be looking into that.”
### For those interested in only the Dolphins and nothing else, please scroll down to chatter for a bit more, including news in the Mark Duper arrest.
SUNDAY HEAT BRIEFING
### On the eve of the Heat’s second Eastern Conference finals Game 7 in as many years, an upbeat Erik Spoelstra delivered the same six-word message three times during his briefing with the media on Sunday:
“We’re not above a Game 7.”
Many expected the Heat’s run through the Eastern Conference playoffs would not be quite as arduous, but Spoelstra said: “It’s not a failure. We’re not above having to earn it.
“We’re not entitled to anything. There have been plenty of champions before that have had to go through Game 7s. Nobody just runs through the playoffs” – although a few have come close, including the Lakers’ 15-1 sprint through the 2001 postseason.
The Heat is 11-4 in these playoffs. But Miami is just 4-5 against the Pacers this season, including 3-3 in this series.
Aware of rampant criticism about the Heat’s play in the Eastern finals, Spoelstra said: “Come on! We’re tied. It’s not like anybody is up in this series. That’s where the narrative on the outside is skewed.”
### The Heat didn't practice Sunday, but Spoelstra said Chris Bosh came into AmericanAirlines Arena to watch tape and do on-court work, as he and the staff try to figure out a way to get him going. When Spoelstra met with reporters at 1:30 Sunday afternoon, he said he expected Dwyane Wade to come by today, also. Spoelstra reiterated his priority will be coming up with ways to put both players in spots where they can be "comfortable" and "aggressive."
"It's on me," Spoelstra reiterated for the second day in a row.
### Spoelstra said Mike Miller “gave us good minutes” in the fourth quarter of Game 6 – including two three-pointers – but stopped short of saying he definitely would play in Game 7.
“Everything is on the table,” Spoelstra said. “In a Game 7, our guys understand anything goes.”
### In the second half Saturday, Spoelstra opted for Miller instead of Shane Battier, whose four minutes all came in the first half. Battier didn’t attempt a shot and is 15 for 66 (22.7 percent) in the playoffs.
“The rotation we [had] been playing has been extremely successful,” Spoelstra said. “That might be the way we still go…. Shane will be there [Monday] and have an impact.”
Spoelstra said he didn’t go sooner to Miller – who played just seven minutes in the first five games – because “we were up 3-2 and we won a lot of games and already won two series with a rotation we were playing all year.”
### Spoelstra indicated his confidence hasn’t wavered in guard Ray Allen, who is shooting 13 for 46 in the series. “Ray will be there,” he said. “He’s hit some big ones when we needed.”
### The Pacers confirmed they are packing for eight days and will fly straight to San Antonio if they win Monday.
“We believe we can win there,” coach Frank Vogel said Sunday. “We believe we can win the series. We always have.”
### The NBA fined Pacers center Roy Hibbert $75,000 for using "inappropriate and vulgar language" during his postgame media session Saturday night. "While Roy has issued an apology, which is no doubt sincere, a fine is necessary to reinforce that such offensive comments will not be tolerated by the NBA," Commissioner David Stern said. Please see the last post for an account of what he said.
### At the MGM Grand and 11 other Nevada casinos, the Dolphins’ odds of winning the Super Bowl have improved from 50 to 1 in February to 30 to 1 now. But not many people are taking that bet, according to an MGM official. Thirteen teams have shorter odds.
### One UM football player said the team finally has purged itself of players who can’t be counted on and don’t buy in.
“It’s a very mature group,” Al Golden said. Former UM running back “Mike James spoke to the team after the NFL Combine about why these things we preach every day are so important."
But with the defense’s problems last year, there’s disappointment about the decision to part ways with Gabe Terry, Eddie Johnson and Gionni Paul after multiple team violations (and Thomas Finnie for his arrest). “Terribly frustrating,” Golden said of the missteps he hopes are now over. “To lose a kid because of poor choices off the field is disappointing.”
### Former Canes point guard Shane Larkin declined to work out for the Knicks, who pick 24th, because his agent now feels he will not be on the board when New York picks. Most expect him to go in the teens or low 20s at worst.
### Though some of the Marlins’ younger players are injured or struggling, the disappointing play of the veterans has been especially hurtful on a team that remains on pace to break the 1968 Chicago White Sox record for fewest runs in a 162-game season.
Here’s where several veterans ranked at their position entering the weekend: Juan Pierre (last among all left fielders in OPS – which is on base average plus slugging percentage); Placido Polanco (last among third basemen in OPS), Justin Ruggiano (23rd among 25 qualifying center fielders with a .210 average). And Greg Dobbs, at .219, is well below his .279 average in his first two years here.
“Pierre’s bat has slowed down, but at least he battles his [butt] off – doesn’t give away at-bats like half their lineup,” a National League scout said. Ruggiano said earlier has been thrown more breaking pitches than last year.
Incidentally, Giancarlo Stanton (.227 in 20 games) said he hopes to return from his hamstring injury before the All-Star break. The Marlins hope it will be much sooner than that in light of the progress he has made the past two days. And the good news is that Chris Coghlan has revived his career the past month, pushing his average to .297 after a poor start.
### An update on one of the most shocking former Dolphins arrests ever:
Two months after former Dolphins great Mark Duper was arrested in Jacksonville for battery on his son, the Jacksonville state attorney’s office and a judge have given to go-ahead for the 17-year-old to return to the family house with Mark and his step mother. The court order says “Mark Super Duper” – that’s his legal name – can have “contact with the victim” but cannot administer corporal punishment.
“A psychologist recommended it – we thought it was in everyone’s interests to re-unite them,” assistant state attorney Alan Mizrahi said. “The child had nowhere else to go.”
The son had been staying in a treatment facility but was recently discharged. Duper was charged with misdemeanor battery and one count of felony child abuse at the time of the arrest, but formal charges have never been filed, and Mizrahi declined to say if they would, though that appears unlikely.
“There are ongoing discussions with the state attorney’s office, and we cautiously anticipate an appropriate resolution,” said Duper’s attorney, George Cholakis, who said the facts in the arrest report are not accurate. “Mark is concerned about the welfare of his son. Mark has never placed his son in danger.”
Former Dolphins linebacker Hugh Green witnessed the March incident and told the Florida Times Union that Duper, who caught 59 touchdowns in an 11-year career that ended in 1992, learned his son had sent a text to his girlfriend, threatening violence, and Duper began to discuss it with his son. The son disputed that and “challenged his father,” Green said.
The arrest report said Duper “punched his son several times and “slammed him to the ground” and when the son returned to the house after being ordered to leave, “Duper threw him on the bed and punched him in the face and head.”
Green said he came in and stopped the fight, but it resumed outside after the son rammed his father’s car with a bicycle. The arrest report said Duper then again punched his son and started choking him, and that the son -- by the end of all the altercations -- had a cut lip and scratches on his elbow and ear.
But Green said: “There were no punches. It was more wrestling as Mark defended himself.”
### The lighter side: Rapper/Heat hater Lil’ Wayne -- who was told he was not welcome back at AmericanAirlines Arena after his mean-spirited, obscene anti-Heat tirade at a Houston club in February, a week after he argued with fans and security at a Heat game -- paid thousands of dollar to root against the Heat from a courtside seat at Saturday’s game in Indiana.