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2 posts from May 25, 2014

May 25, 2014

4:30 Sunday: Lance says LeBron shows 'sign of weakness'; Dolphins CBs Taylor, Davis ready; Dolphins, UM buzz

A quick 4:30 p.m. Heat-Pacers news update from Sunday:

Asked about his trash-talking with Lance Stephenson in Game 3, LeBron James said Sunday: “One thing I’m not going to do is give you all a storyline with LeBron and Stephenson," who mocked James with the choke sign after James missed a free throw during their 2012 playoff series.

“I’m not going to do it.”

Leave it to Stephenson to throw gasoline on the flames.

About an hour later, Stephenson said the fact James responded to his trash-talking in Game 3 “is a sign of weakness.”

Said Stephenson: “He never used to say nothing to me. I always used to be the one that say, ‘I’m going to get under you. I’m going to do something to get you mad.’

“Now he’s trying to do it to me. So I feel like there’s a weakness. I feel like I’m doing something right, and I’m getting under his skin. I’ve got to keep stepping up to the plate and be more aggressive when he do that…. It’s definitely a sign of respect. I don’t have no beef with him. It’s just basketball. When you’re on the court, it’s no friends.”

James said earlier in the day that he never starts trash-talking:  “I’m not much of a talker, but I can. I don’t ever start it. But I can get involved in it and am still able to keep my head and understand what still needs to be done to help our team win.”

Does trash-talking make him more engaged? “Sometimes,” James said. “Eastern Conference Finals, the competition is already high. You don’t need it.”

But Dwyane Wade said James got “closer” defending Stephenson after the trash-talking. “It gives him a challenge, a game within a game,” Wade said.

Considering Wade’s comment, isn’t it counter-productive for Stephenson to trash-talk James?

I’m going to say whatever it takes,” Stephenson responded. “I’m not afraid of him if he’s going to be more aggressive on defense on me. I’m going to keep taking it to him. That doesn’t bother me at all.  I love it when someone challenges me.”

Other Pacers reacted to Stephenson’s trash-talking:

### Coach Frank Vogel said: “You don’t want it to be counter-productive, to give him a spark.” But… “I don’t think it matters one way or the other, if he’s silent or if he’s talking. Both guys are playing as hard as they can. I’ll say [he should do] whatever he feels he’ll be at his best.”

### David West: “There’s a time and place for it. Your mind has to be clear.”

### Paul George: “I’m not a trash talker. That’s his deal. I try to play the right way. But I like it as a fan of the game.”

Stephenson said the Pacers are like the “little brother” tired of being beaten by their “big brother.” Vogel used that analogy with his team Sunday.

“These guys have beat up on us so many times,” George said. “It’s about time we get angry.”

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SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Beyond offensive line, no Dolphins position has more uncertainty than cornerback, excluding Brent Grimes. Cortland Finnegan hasn’t had a good year since 2011, and Jamar Taylor and Will Davis played just 110 defensive snaps as rookies last season and allowed 12 of 14 passes to be completed against them, for 17.3 yards per reception.

Because Miami made no effort to keep Nolan Carroll (now with Philadelphia) and Dimitri Patterson (Jets), Taylor and Davis project to be among Miami’s top four corners. Joe Philbin said both will be given every chance to beat out Finnegan for a starting job.

“Those are guys we thought highly of; they had injury issues,” Philbin said.

Taylor, selected 54th overall out of Boise State, was inactive for seven games, partly because of a groin injury related to offseason hernia surgery. He played just 45 snaps and allowed all four passes thrown against him to be caught, for 100 yards.

“I felt down plenty of times,” he said late last season. “It’s frustrating. When you’re healthy, you don’t play much. When you’re not healthy, you don’t play. It’s tough when you see teams like Buffalo playing their rookies. I had great guys in front of me. [But] I got drafted here to help and I haven’t.”

He said “stuff that worked in college isn’t going to work here. [But] I know I’m damn good.”

Taylor told The Idaho Statesman recently: "It was to the point last year I thought I was done playing football. I didn't want to play anymore. I was out of it. Coming back, not being myself, being slower, not as quick, not as agile -- watching on Sunday, knowing you're better than some guys. I'm healthy and ready to take over the world. I’m going to turn a lot of heads.” 

Davis, selected 93rd out of Utah State, flashed  ball-hawking skills during training camp. “He made a lot of plays during practice,” quarterback Matt Moore said. “You would like to see that in a game.”

The Dolphins haven’t yet, not in a small sample size that included 65 regular season defensive snaps. Pressed into service against New England because of injuries, Davis struggled and finished 2013 allowing 8 of 10 passes thrown against him to be caught, for 108 yards.

“When I came here, I gambled more,” he said. “Now I’m a little more disciplined. The coaches love my aggressiveness and they don’t want to take that away from me.” One Dolphins receiver said Davis needs to improve coming out of his breaks.

Davis said his frustration never reached the point of Taylor’s. “That’s more of my personality, a happy-go-lucky kid who enjoys life,” he said. “The higher the draft pick, the more frustrated you get. And Jamar had injuries. And it’s not like we’re playing behind chumps.”

### At the NFL owners meetings in Orlando in March, two front office executives with other teams told me that Finnegan’s physicality and feistiness should help Miami if he’s disciplined and provided his skills do not diminish.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher insisted Finnegan hasn’t lost speed and St. Louis wanted him back as a nickel-back. One NFL executive said then-Rams coordinator Tim Walton (since fired) didn’t use Finnegan to his strengths. (Walton previously was d-coordinator at UM.)

“I’m on my worst behavior, in a modified way,” said Finnegan, 30, once a Pro Bowler when he played for Tennessee. “Just stay tuned. I won’t hurt the team by any stretch. I’m back. I lost that edge, but it’s back.”

Incidentally, the Dolphins’ fifth and sixth cornerbacks are rookie fourth-round pick Walt Aikens and journeyman Jalil Brown, who played 34 games with two starts for the Chiefs and Colts.  

CHATTER

### A close associate of LeBron James has made the Heat the heavy front-runner to retain James next season, with Cleveland a distant No. 2. And though the Cavaliers winning the draft lottery could help them lure James back several years from now if they draft a future star, it probably won’t help them land James this summer because his No. 1 priority is winning championships now, and Cleveland is unlikely to be in position to do that next season. James can opt out of his six-year contract this summer or next summer.

### Content with Matt Moore, the Dolphins decided not to inquire about a trade for Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon, and the Buccaneers say they want to keep him anyway…

Though they’re already deep at receiver, the Dolphins conveyed interest in moving running back Marcus Thigpen (who has been sidelined with back problems) back to receiver and want him to have competition for his return jobs, with rookies Jarvis Landry and Aikens and ex-Titans receiver Damian Williams among potential challengers.

### Among undrafted Dolphins rookies worth keeping an eye on: LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (“A lot of people thought he was better than [fellow LSU tackle] Ego Ferguson, who was picked 51st by the Bears,” Sporting News analyst Russ Lande said. “He has most of the traits you look for in an NFL starter”) and Marshall tight end/H-back Gator Hoskins, whose 15 TD catches last season led the nation. “Hoskins knows how to get open,” Lande said.

### Please see the next-to-last post from earlier Saturday for 10 more Dolphins notes.

### It’s too soon to tell if the Dolphins erred by not signing Colts pickup Erik Swoope, who’s trying to follow another UM alum, Jimmy Graham, in the transition from basketball player to tight end.

But Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Swoope, so far in practice, “has exceeded our expectations way beyond anything that you’d ever imagine for a guy that never played. Off the charts. He looks natural running routes. Great hands. High ceiling.”

### UM is among several schools that reached out last week to quarterback Jake Rodrigues, who is transferring from Oregon after attempting just six passes there. A California native, Rodrigues was rated Rivals.com’s fifth-best pro style quarterback in the 2012 class. He has two years of eligibility left but must sit out this year. Michigan and San Diego State are among others that have inquired.

Rodrigues reportedly prefers a school with a senior starter, allowing him to come in and play in 2015. Here, though, he would need to beat out Kevin Olsen and Brad Kaaya, among others, in 2015.

### The Marlins’ Jacob Turner is closing in on unfortunate history: He hasn’t won any of his first 18 big-league road starts (0-11). Since 1921, only two pitchers have opened their careers with a longer road drought: Rube Fisher (20) and Dewon Brazelton (19). Turner won his first game of the season on Saturday, pitching 6 1/3 scoreless innings against Milwaukee at Marlins Park.

### An interesting study by Scout.com’s Jamie Newberg revealed that a remarkable 7.5 percent of all NFL Draft picks the past three years (57) are from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. UM had nine of the 57. The Los Angeles area produced the second most with 42. Miami-Dade and Dallas Fort-Worth tied for the most from one county (27).

### Best wishes to Miami Herald recruiting guru and WQAM host Larry Blustein, 58, who had a kidney transplant recently (a longtime friend donated one) and then suffered a heart attack five days later, which will require quadruple bypass surgery in a few weeks. 

### Again, a reminder to please see the last post for Heat-Pacers chatter.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

Postscripts, reaction to Heat's Game 3 win

Postscripts, reaction in the wake of the Heat's 99-87 Game 3 win over Indiana, which gives Miami a 2-1 lead in this Eastern Conference Finals:

### Even at 38, Ray Allen is still capable of moments like this --- 13-point fourth quarter, including 4 for 4 from beyond the arc. The Pacers had power forward David West defending him in the fourth.

“Whenever I see a big on me, I salivate,” Allen said.

But West said he’s fine with that defensive assignment, which he has handled in games the past two years when the Heat uses a small lineup.

“That’s not a problem for me,” West said of defending Allen. “He got free one time. It was a breakdown on my part.”

LeBron James said Allen "creates so much for our team --- he shifts the defense by himself. It's great that we have that. He's one of the few on the team that can create two on the ball. He's always in constant motion. I was able to find him for the majority of the shots he got in the fourth quarter."

### Dwyane Wade, who entered shooting 26 for 38 in this series, was again highly efficient, shooting 9 for 16 on a 23-point night. Wade has now scored 28, 27, 23 and 23 in his past four games.

Wade hit two threes, equal to his total of the entire postseason before tonight.

### LeBron scored 16 of his 26 in the second half, with six turnovers but also seven assists, five rebounds and four steals. James went to the locker-room briefly in the third quarter with cramping, the result of dehydration.

"We hate the way we played to start the game," James said of falling behind 17-4 early. "We can't play that type of basketball. We have to play like we're down 15 to start the game or it will bite us in the butt."

### Lance Stephenson (10 points, 3 for 9 shooting, 11 rebounds) downplayed his trash-talking with LeBron.  “Nothing personal between us,” Stephenson said. “There are no friends on the court. We’re just playing hard basketball.”

Asked if he tries to respond every time LeBron scores, Stephenson said: “I’m not trying to go back and forth with him.”

### Several Pacers bemoaned their 19 turnovers, which led to 26 Heat points. David West had five, George Hill four.

“They pressured us and we collapsed,” Stephenson said.

### The Heat closed at 54.4 percent from the floor, scored 33 and 28 points in the last two quarters and hit 10 of 18 three-pointers.

“Their guys were getting the shots they wanted every time down the floor,” West said. “We have no ball pressure. They got us on our heels. They’re not doing anything special. They’re just moving the ball, we’re allowing them to do it and they’re teeing off on us right now.”

### The conventional thinking before the season was that Greg Oden would be the Heat’s best way to counter the Pacers’ frontcourt size advantage.

The conventional thinking (and Erik Spoelstra’s) after the first quarter of Game 1 of these Eastern Conference Finals was that starting Udonis Haslem alongside Chris Bosh would be the best way to open games against the Pacers’ combo of Roy Hibbert and David West.

Turns out, neither has turned out as Miami envisioned.

But nobody could have predicted this: The Heat did some of its best work in Game 3 when using a power forward, Rashard Lewis, who didn’t even play in the first two games.

And Hibbert and West, after strong starts, combined for just four points in the fourth.

With Haslem and Bosh on the court together, the Heat was outscored by nine points in nine minutes on Saturday and by an obscene 37 points in 34 minutes in this series.

But with Lewis on the floor, the Heat outscored the Pacers by 21 points in 17 minutes on Saturday, including a terrific close to the third quarter, when Lewis played alongside Chris Andersen, who had a team-high seven rebounds in 23 minutes. The Pacers shot 30.4 percent when Lewis was on the court.

LeBron and Wade praised Spoelstra for inserting Lewis. "If you look at the stats, it doesn't look like he did much. But he did a great job defending David West and on pick-and-rolls," Wade said.

Lewis’ numbers (no points, rebounds or assists and 0 for 2 shooting) don’t tell the story of his contributions. He blocked a shot and capably defended West, who made his first three shots but then went 27 minutes of game time before his next basket. And ball movement was crisp with Lewis in the game.

### West closed 5 of 8 from the field, with 13 points, five turnovers and five rebounds.

### The Pacers were outscored by 21 with West in the game and by 21 with Hibbert in the game.

### With 1:10 left in the first quarter, Hibbert had as many points as the Heat (10). But Hibbert scored just six points the rest of the game, had just two rebounds overall and took only two shots in the fourth quarter.

“I got my chances,” Hibbert said. “I got to do a better job finishing. I got to be more effective.” In the fourth quarter, “we just couldn’t get into a rhythm and couldn’t score. We weren’t defending at a high level.”

### Pacers backup power forward Luis Scola gave Indiana a big lift with eight first half points. But he missed his only shot of the second half.

### Spoelstra insisted before the game that the Heat never signed Oden “to be a Roy Hibbert stopper.” And he didn’t play Saturday, despite being active for the first time in this series.

### The Heat got more strong work from Norris Cole, who had nine points (4 for 6 shooting), two assists and more stout defense on Stephenson.  "Norris is great for our team," James said. "He changes our tempo. That's what you need coming off the bench, energy guys. He makes his mark defensively. He attacks the rim."       

### More struggles for Bosh, who had 9 points, missed 8 of 12 shots and was limited to 23 minutes because of foul trouble. He is averaging 7.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and shooting 29.9 percent in his past seven playoff games against Indiana.