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2 posts from May 17, 2014

May 17, 2014

Burden on Bosh, Wade in challenging matchups; Dolphins, UM, Jameis, Marlins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Every time Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade struggles, the predictable narrative follows. Charles Barkley rants about LeBron James needing to carry all the Heat’s “dead weight” on his back. Others say it’s like James is back in Cleveland, wondering whether the lack of support will drive him away in free agency.

And then as is often the case, Wade or Bosh, or both, does something significant, as they did in Game 5 against Brooklyn. How both of them respond in challenging individual matchups in this Eastern Conference finals will be fascinating theater.

Indiana’s David West has thoroughly outplayed Bosh in Heat-Pacers games the past two seasons, and Bosh will defend West a lot in this series.

This issue goes well beyond scoring (West averaged 17.8 against Miami this season, Bosh 11.3 versus Indiana). It even extends beyond Bosh’s dismal 26 for 76 shooting in his past eight games against Indiana (34 percent).

This is especially troublesome: Over the past 14 meetings (dating to the start of last season), West has outrebounded Bosh, 114-60.

“When I coached Bosh [in Toronto], we went to Indiana and he fouled out Jeff Foster and Jermaine O'Neal and he’s going to have to go back in his memory bank and do that,” NBA TV’s Sam Mitchell said off air Friday.

“He’s the key. I’m OK with Bosh shooting jumpers but I also would like to see him put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket. You saw the problems Atlanta’s Paul Millsap gave West and Roy Hibbert. Bosh has to get them in foul trouble. Indiana doesn’t have a good matchup for him. He needs to pick his game up.”

Bosh, often positioned on the perimeter, attempted eight free throws in four games against Indiana; West shot three times as many against Miami.

As for Wade, he generally has played well against Indiana in the past and his 28-point outburst to close out Brooklyn punctuated an otherwise uneven series. But his primary matchup, Lance Stephenson, finished second behind Goran Dragic in Most Improved Player voting, and Stephenson can be an irritant who tries to get under Wade’s skin.

When Wade and Stephenson were on the court at the same time during their matchups this season, Indiana outscored the Heat by 36 points in 90 minutes, and Stephenson shot better than Wade (53.8 to 48.8 percent) and was more efficient (Wade had as many turnovers as assists: eight).

Including their 2013 playoff series (when Wade was slowed by a knee injury) and their games this season (when Wade was healthy),  Wade shot 43.6 percent when Stephenson was in the game, but 13 for 18 (72 percent) when Stephenson wasn’t.

“Lance talks about being an upper echelon player; now it’s time to show it,” Mitchell said. “If you can’t get the best of Dwyane now, with all the injuries and problems he’s had, when will you get the best of him?”

Please see the last post for details about what Stephenson said he wants to do to Wade in this series.

### It's noteworthy that Hibbert shot 1 for 10 against Udonis Haslem this season but 20 for 30 against everyone else on the Heat. But Hibbert had his way against Haslem, Bosh and Chris Andersen in last year’s playoffs (22 points per game, 56 percent shooting), so the Pacers aren’t calling Haslem a Hibbert-stopper.

“Haslem does a great job of using his low center of gravity against Roy to push him out,” Indiana’s Paul George said. “That compensates for Haslem’s [six-inch] height disadvantage.”

### Watch to see how James’ penetrations are affected by Hibbert. James shot 78 percent within five feet of the basket this season. But against Indiana, with Hibbert in the game, it was 65 percent.

### Mitchell insists Greg Oden must play at least 10 minutes a game – “this is what you signed him for!” – but Oden has logged just 13 minutes (and none in postseason) since Hibbert torched him March 26. Oden allowed Hibbert to shoot 5 for 6 against him this season. Everyone else in the league shot 14 for 43 against Oden.

### Among Heat concerns: Ray Allen’s horrendous shooting at Bankers Life Fieldhouse: 9 for 41 there as a member of the Heat.

CHATTER

### Several NFL people (including a longtime former general manager and a respected NFC scout) questioned the Dolphins for drafting this many small-school prospects (five), and even some inside the Dolphins don’t agree with it. The last time Miami selected so many FCS players was 1982 (Mark Duper and four others quickly forgotten).

“It’s risky,” the ex-GM said. “There are enough really good players from other schools to not have to do that. Some of them are not ready for the jump in competition.”

The scout said: “These kids have not faced the intensity, pressure and competition that kids at major schools do. It’s not a talent issue but the psychological and mental preparation to step up every day. FSU and USC kids practice every day against guys going to the NFL. These FCS kids may never see another NFL-type player at a practice or game [until postseason All-Star games]. It often takes them extra time to adjust to the NFL. That would concern me if I’m Miami.”

### If the Dolphins wanted to try to add an All-Pro and sell tickets, they could sign Saints restricted free agent and former UM star Jimmy Graham to an offer sheet. Miami would need to give up two first-round picks if the Saints didn’t match, but imagine a Graham/Charles Clay combo. But Dennis Hickey hasn’t inquired about it.

### Athletic director Blake James said UM intends to play FIU in football sometime after 2015 and that UF athletic director Jeremy Foley was receptive when James recently asked him about renewing the UF series. The Gators will agree only to a neutral site. “I would have to think about Orlando,” James said. “That’s not real neutral but it’s an easy distance to our campus.”

### For those hoping the UM/FSU talent gap closes, it won’t this season. ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s first mock draft includes five FSU players in the first 17 picks and six in the first round but no Hurricanes. The six FSU players: quarterback Jameis Winston, defensive end Mario Edwards, cornerback PJ Williams, receiver Rashad Greene, offensive tackle Cameron Erving and guard Tre' Jackson.

### Eyes rolled at FSU last week when Jameis Winston’s father, Antonor, asserted – in the wake of Winston stealing crab legs from Publix – that FSU “is supposed to have somebody around [Jameis] 24/7. He’s a Heisman Trophy winner so he’s definitely not supposed to be by himself.” FSU, dumbfounded by the suggestion, isn’t inclined to oblige.

### Jose Fernandez’s injury will save the Marlins very little (perhaps $50,000) in 2015 salary and hurts at the gate. His five 2014 home starts (including Opening Day) averaged 28,924 tickets sold. The Marlins’ 22 other home games averaged 19,230. Fernandez’s service time remains unchanged by the injury; he cannot be a free agent until after 2018.   

Saturday report: Lance Stephenson wants to make Wade's "knee flare up"; Heat notes

It’s rare to hear a player speak openly about wanting to exacerbate another player’s health problem.

So it was somewhat surprising when Lance Stephenson today told reporters of Dwyane Wade: “I think his knee is kind of messed up, so I got to be extra aggressive and make him run and have him running around and make his knee flare up or something.” The quote was circulated on Twitter by a reporter for the team's own web site.

Wade, who met with reporters before Stephenson’s comment, has said his knees are not causing him any problems this postseason.

Stephenson said he has no personal issue with Wade. "If I see D-Wade walking down the street, I won't try to get him," he told the Indianapolis Star.

Stephenson also said today: “We’re better [than last year]. We’re smarter. We got more talented players. I think we’re ready this time. And we’ve got to show it. Not talk about it. Show it.”

Despite their struggles in postseason, including a 3-4 record at home, Pacers forward Paul George said: “We’re a better team” than a year ago. “This team ended our season early two times in a row so there’s got to be an edge to come out and take this team out.”

He attributed Indiana’s struggles in March and April to being “fatigued out mentally, emotionally, physically.”

### With Udonis Haslem expected to replace Shane Battier in the starting lineup, the Heat’s top eight players in this series seem set. The question is who will get remaining minutes among Battier, James Jones, Rashard Lewis and perhaps Greg Oden.

Toney Douglas is also available. Michael Beasley could join Justin Hamilton on the inactive list if Erik Spoelstra opts to keep Oden available because of Indiana’s size.

“This series is about the top eight,” Jones said. “We need them to perform. Players nine through 15, we complement.”

### Indiana has one fewer irritant than it did in last year’s series, because Tyler Hansbrough now plays for Toronto. But Stephenson can try to get under opponents’ skin.

“They don’t get under our skin,” Chris Bosh said. “Nobody on that team does. If they’re trying to get under ours, they’ll get under their own skin before it happens with us. There are no mind games to play in this series. We’ve been through that before. I’m sure they’ll try something different.”                   

### Turnovers have often been the Pacers’ undoing against the Heat. Indiana had 121 turnovers in last year’s seven-game Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, compared to the Heat’s 82.

This season, the Pacers had 65 in the four games; Miami had 52. The Pacers committed the 10th-most turnovers in the league this season, at 14.5 per game.       

 ### Roy Hibbert was fourth in the league in blocked shots per game (2.25), posing challenges for players when they attack the basket.

“You can’t let that really affect you,” Dwyane Wade said. “You do want to drive. You don’t want [Hibbert’s presence] to deter what you do because if you are driving, knowing he’s going to come and help, someone is going to be open.

“More so than the drive, it’s about the finish. If he’s there, you’ve got to be smart and understand you can’t just jump and catapult your body into him. Maybe LeBron can and get away with it because athleticism is his strength."

But shortly before Wade spoke, James said: “You don’t want to throw your body in there recklessly, without a thought process.”

### The Heat and Pacers have been the NBA’s best “clutch” teams in postseason, according to NBA.com’s statistical analysis. In the final five minutes of games with a margin of five or fewer, Indiana has outscored its opponents by 27 points in 20 postseason minutes. Miami is plus 12 in 11 minutes.

### Spoelstra and Heat players said they can’t take much from studying the games when Indiana struggled this postseason.

“We know what team we can expect,” Spoelstra said. “The only thing that matters is how they played against us. They played very good basketball against us.”

### One constant in the James/George matchup: James has been significantly more efficient. In the four games this season, James shot 54 percent when George was also on the floor, George 43 percent. That disparity also has been sizable in their playoff meetings.

### Mark Jackson, recently fired from his coaching job with the Golden State Warriors, returned to ABC/ESPN with a multiyear contract on Saturday and will join Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy on the call of the Heat-Pacers series as well as the NBA Finals.