April 03, 2016

Loria making progress but still has room for growth; Eagles discuss Dolphins trade; Fins, Heat, Panthers, UM nuggets

 

BUZZ COLUMN

As Jeffrey Loria begins his 15th season as Marlins owner, one that he hopes will be nothing like the last six --- when they were a combined 110 games under .500 --- we offer some gentle advice:

• Refrain from telling your manager what to do. Loria's friends believe he’s not going to throw his weight around with Don Mattingly and meddle in lineup decisions. But losses will test him, to be sure.

 Associates who were loyal to former manager Dan Jennings said Loria called with strong lineup “recommendations” on several occasions, including making clear Loria's desire not to play Marcell Ozuna in center field at times because he was out of shape.

Jennings did as he pleased, which soured their relationship, according to a Jennings associate. Such an approach isn’t going to fly with Mattingly, and Loria appears to recognize that.

• Show more patience. Yes, Mattingly can do no wrong with Loria now. But if the team doesn’t win to the level of Loria’s expectations, do not immediately question the manager, as Loria did with Jennings and Mike Redmond and most of his managers before them.

Loria still must recognize it’s not usually the manager’s fault; he drew the opposite conclusion with every manager he has hired except Jack McKeon, who won him his only World Series.

One source who spoke to the Marlins front office this past offseason said Loria was so furious about last season that he wanted to trade much of the roster. But Loria listened to his baseball people --- something that he has done more of the past two years.

• When you’re sitting in the ballpark, near the dugout, do not make critical or strategy-questioning comments that can be heard by the manager and at times, players.

From what we’ve been told, those comments include remarks such as questioning the manager for not pinch-hitting or asking why a Marlins pitcher is still in the game or opining that a player cannot hit a particular pitch.

Loria utters the comments aloud as a fan would, not intending them as instructions to his manager. But the manager often hears, and that isn’t a healthy situation.

“It’s like witnessing a car crash,” said one local non-Marlins official who sat near Loria last season. “I was uncomfortable. Look at the physical proximity between his seat and the manager’s. Jeffrey is barking comments the manager can hear, and it’s very uncomfortable. Let him manage.”

Another associate of multiple former Marlins said players have complained about this to him. “Players hear it and don’t like it.”

• If this team contends, be willing to augment the roster at the trade deadline. Even though the $70 million payroll ranks among the lowest in baseball, a source assures us that Loria will take on salary this summer if the Marlins are in the race. Let’s hope so.

With a new stadium, it’s tough to stomach this low a payroll, even with the worst TV contract in baseball. The Marlins believe they’ll be able to afford a $100 million payroll eventually when they get a new TV deal, but the contract doesn’t expire until 2020.

There are several things to say in Loria’s defense that need to be said: Anybody who knows him says he genuinely wants to win. He has been more willing to listen to his baseball people the past two years and deserves credit for that.

He has served a helpful role in free agency. “Jeffrey Loria, the manager and the general manager all called me when I was a free agent [in January] and I was blown away,” infielder Chris Johnson said. “I’m not Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes.”

And we’ve heard confidential stories of Loria’s generosity that speak very well of him. He quietly helped the family of an ill acquaintance, without seeking any credit, publicly or privately. He paid for a staffer’s surgery, when he wasn’t required to do so. We’ve heard other examples that show his decency and spirit of philanthropy.

Let’s hope Loria shows more growth and self-awareness as an owner. He has made progress, but there’s more to do as the custodian of a franchise with the second-longest postseason drought in baseball.

CHATTER

• Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, who orchestrated the Dolphins’ big trade with Philadelphia, said he initially went to Miami looking to move into the top 10 of the draft.

“It's not like we started off by offering [Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso and the 13th pick for the 8th pick],” Roseman told me.

"[Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum] is a tough negotiator. He needed to get value for that.

“I think that narrative of [Maxwell] not playing well isn’t accurate. He did play well. You're talking about him being a solid starting corner. It's so hard to find guys with that kind of length. He's a starter on two Super Bowl teams. He’s a good player.

"Kiko Alonso, you talk about explosiveness. The first game of the season, he made an interception that few people on Earth can make. He's got unbelievable physical talent, unbelievable upside. Don’t forget: Kiko was Defensive Rookie of the Year [in 2013].

“This was a situation where we gave up a lot. We gave up two starters but that's the cost of doing business to get into the top 10.”

But also keep in mind that if the Eagles thought either player would be a star, they very likely wouldn't have given them up. 

• One Dolphins official cautioned not to overlook Neville Hewitt in the team’s linebacker assessment; Miami is high on him. And there's also still eagerness to see more of Zach Vigil.

• Though the Dolphins plans to add a running back to share the load with Jay Ajayi, Adam Gase likes Damien Williams. The No. 3 job will be his to lose against Isaiah Pead, Daniel Thomas and others.

Superagent Drew Rosenhaus said on his WSVN-Fox segment tonight that he believes Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott (not a client of his) would be too good to pass up for Miami if available at No. 13 and said he's in the same class as Todd Gurley, who caught Miami's eye last year.

• How much has Hassan Whiteside validated being used late in games? He entered the weekend leading the league in average blocks and rebounds in the fourth quarter and has the NBA’s highest shooting percentage in the fourth (70.8).

• Heat opponents have shot at least 50 percent in five of the last 10 games, and Miami has fallen to ninth (still solid) at 44.2 percent field goal percentage allowed.

When I asked Erik Spoelstra on Saturday where his defense is now compared to where he wants it, he said: "We need to get better. There's times where it's what we want. But we still need to strive for that consistency and getting it to a level that's necessarily what we're capable of. So now our only focus is getting rest and getting ready for a big one on Tuesday against Detroit, and we have some work to do."

Here is a breakdown of the remaining schedules and tiebreakers for the teams in the mix for the third to sixth seeds. Also, here's an update on where the Heat stands in its search to eventually fill two open roster spots.

• The Panthers, who clinched a playoff berth today, are two points ahead of Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division but Tampa holds the tiebreaker at the moment by virtue of more regulation and overtime victories.

The Panthers have an easier schedule than Tampa. Florida has four non-playoff opponents: on the road against Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa before hosting Carolina. The Lightning have four road games: Islanders, Rangers, New Jersey, Montreal.

And remember the NHL seeds differently than the NBA. The division leader in each conference with the most points plays the wild card team with the fewest points. The division leader with the second highest amount of points plays the wild card team with the most points. The second and third seeds in each division face one another in the first round.

• Brad Kaaya, who was very impressive in Saturday's closed UM scrimmage, told me Mark Richt wants him to go through his progressions faster as he drops back and Kaaya has been studying lots of tape of former Georgia quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Aaron Murray… 

UM indicated it hasn’t pursued ex-Gators QB Will Grier, who’s transferring. Miami has two 2017 quarterback oral commitments (Cade Weldon and N'Kosi Perry) and four 2017 returnees on scholarship if Kaaya doesn’t turn pro.

R.J. McIntosh said he has been getting first team reps at defensive tackle (with Courtel Jenkins), but he will need to impress to hold off Kendrick Norton and hard-charging Gerald Willis... With Darrion Owens out, UM coaches seem less than thrilled with the other veteran linebackers except Jermaine Grace, of course. Peter Ariz noted that early enrollees Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney played with the first team (with Grace) at Saturday's scrimmage.

A look inside the battle for 3rd through 6th in the East; Heat mulls open roster spots

The battle for the third through sixth Eastern Conference playoff seeds seems destined to remain unsettled until the season’s final day, with Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston and Miami all bunched tightly.

And unless Detroit, which is 3.5 games behind Miami, surges late and one of the other teams unravels, that means the Hawks, Hornets, Celtics and Heat will likely play each other in the first round.

“Every time we take control of the third spot and control our own destiny, we have a tendency to not have a great performance,” Joe Johnson said after the Heat fell to sixth momentarily with Saturday’s 110-93 loss in Portland. “We would love to have homecourt advantage in the first round.”

UPDATED AFTER SUNDAY'S RESULTS: After Charlotte's loss to Cleveland today and Boston's win at the Lakers, Atlanta and Boston are both 45-32 and in third and fourth. The Heat and Charlotte are 44-32, with Miami 5th and Charlotte 6th at the moment.

“We believed the whole time we’d be in the playoffs, so it’s good to clinch but it’s not a surprise,” Heat forward Luol Deng said. “We’ve really got to focus on us and trying to figure it out right now. How can we go into the postseason being at our best?”

Finishing third (or sixth) would mean not having to face likely top seed Cleveland until the conference finals, should the No. 3 or No. 6 seed make it that far. Other key points to keep in mind:

• Remaining schedules: Boston would seem to have the easiest of the four and Charlotte the most difficult.

In order, Miami plays at home against Detroit and Chicago (both on TNT), at Orlando, home against the Magic, at Detroit and at Boston.

After today's Lakers game, the Celtics meet both New Orleans and Milwaukee at home, then play at Atlanta, and finish at home against both Charlotte and the Heat.

Atlanta plays Phoenix, Toronto and Boston at home, then closes at Cleveland and at Washington.

And Charlotte (after this afternoon's Cleveland games) plays at Toronto and at the Knicks, then home to the Nets, then at Washington and at Boston, and then home to Orlando.

• Settled tiebreakers: The Heat already has clinched a tiebreaker against Atlanta, by virtue of its 3-1 season series edge. Miami is assured of losing a tiebreaker to Boston, who won the first two meetings between the teams, with one game remaining.

Atlanta and Boston have each clinched tiebreakers against Charlotte.

• Unresolved tiebreakers: The Heat and Hornets split their four games, and any tiebreaker between those teams will come down to division record. That, at this point, would favor the Heat, which is 9-5 in the division with only two games left (both against Orlando).

Charlotte is 7-7 in the division, with games left at Washington and against Orlando. If the Heat and Hornets finish with the same division record, conference record would be the next tiebreaker, and that would  favor Charlotte.

• Three-team tiebreakers: A multi-team tie would favor a division winner, regardless of whether all the tied teams are in the same division. In several scenarios, this would favor the Heat.

Say Miami, Charlotte and Boston tie for third through fifth. If the Heat can win one of its last two against Orlando, the Heat would be guaranteed a better Southeast Division record than Charlotte and thus would be the division champion if the teams finish tied. And Boston already has lost the Atlantic Division to Toronto. So that three-team tiebreaker would favor Miami, according to the NBA.

HEAT MULLS ROSTER SPOTS

The Heat plans to fill its two open roster spots between April 9 and 13, once it’s assured of not passing the tax threshold.

The Heat has been strongly looking at signing one established player and one developmental project, though the thought of signing two developmental players hasn’t been ruled out.

We’re told Miami has been giving legitimate thought to ex-Heat forward Dorell Wright, back from playing in China, but he’s one of several on Miami’s list. The Heat also is considering D-League point guard Briante Weber but has not given him a commitment.

• The Heat flew home on Sunday and will get a better sense on Monday about how soon Dwyane Wade can return from back and neck soreness after missing two games.

• For tidbits on Josh McRoberts, the Heat's draft situation and more, please see this....

• And here is my story that apparently upset some Cavs fans.

• And check back later for more on the Dolphins, Marlins, Panthers and Canes. That post is now up.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Postscripts, locker-room reaction, details from Heat's loss in Portland and Miami clinching playoff berth

PORTLAND --- After one year out, the Heat is back in a familiar spot: the NBA playoffs.

Despite losing 110-93 at Portland to end a three-game West Coast swing, the Heat clinched the franchise’s 19th playoff appearance in 28 seasons earlier Saturday evening by virtue of Chicago's 94-90 loss to Detroit.

And if you’re keeping track, that’s now 17 postseason appearances in 21 years since Heat owner Micky Arison hired Pat Riley to run the franchise. Riley coached 11 of those seasons and controlled personnel all 21.

For Erik Spoelstra, it’s his seventh playoff appearance in eight years as coach.

“When you step back, you don't want to take it for granted, getting in there, how tough it is in this league,” Spoelstra said. “We always have big expectations. That doesn't change from year to year. Getting [over] that hurdle does mean something to us but we still have more we're working for.”

Keep in mind Miami advanced to postseason without the services of leading scorer Chris Bosh for the past 23 games because of a blood clot that has since dissipated.         

“Making the playoffs is a big deal,” Hassan Whiteside, who will be appearing in his first playoff series, said after Saturday’s game.

The Heat will open the postseason on Saturday, April 16 or Sunday, April 17, against an undetermined opponent, with playoff tickets set to go on sale Thursday.

It will be Miami’s first postseason game since a Game 5 NBA Finals loss to San Antonio in 2014, which ended LeBron James’ four years with the franchise.

The Heat entered the day third in the East but ended it in sixth at 44-32, thought bunched closely with No. 3 Charlotte (44-31), No. 4 Atlanta (45-32) and No. 5 Boston (44-32), which already has clinched a two-team tiebreaker with Miami.

Charlotte also clinched a playoff berth with Chicago’s loss on Saturday, and the Hawks clinched earlier last week.

The postseason achievement came on a day that the Heat shot errantly (38.6 percent) and often seemed a step slow defensively on the second night of a back-to-back set.

Only Whiteside (20 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks) played particularly well for Miami when the game was still close in the first half.

The Heat offered little resistance defensively, with Portland closing at 51.9 percent from the field and 10 for 16 on three-pointers.

Saturday’s loss also put the Heat in the slightly awkward position of celebrating something significant on a night it lost handily.

“That's hard to enjoy off a loss like this,” Joe Johnson said. “Every time we take control of the third spot and control our own destiny, we have a tendency to not have a great performance. We would love to have homecourt advantage in the first round.”

Said Luol Deng: “To be honest with you, we believed the whole time we’d be in the playoffs, so it’s good to clinch but it’s not a surprise. I think right now, instead of just looking at the standings and where we’re going to end up at the end of the year, we’ve really got to focus on us and trying to figure it out right now. How can we go into the postseason being at our best?”

Playing without Dwyane Wade, the Heat trailed by only two after a quarter, but was blitzed 39-20 in the second and went to the half down, 59-42.

“Our offense was a little bit sluggish,” Spoelstra said. “We hadn't played like that in a while, where it looked like we were in mud. It was a disappointing game.”

Portland led 87-67 after three and Miami never drew closer than 16 in the fourth quarter.

“Our defense wasn’t where we wanted it to be,” Deng said. “We’re disappointed with the way we played. I really think they played harder than us. I don’t want to make any excuses, like West Coast trip, last game, back-to-back. We still have got to be professional.”

Gerald Green, starting in Wade’s absence, followed Friday’s 30-point eruption in Sacramento by scoring just seven points on 3 for 9 shooting. Goran Dragic had 15 points but just one assist and three turnovers.

Portland’s starting backcourt of Damian Lillard (18 points) and CJ McCollum (24 points, six-for-six on three-pointers) outscored the Heat’s starting guards, 42 to 22. And Portland guard Gerald Henderson scored 17 off the bench.

Deng missed eight of his first 10 shots and closed 5 for 13, with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Johnson added 13.

On the second night of a back-to-back, Spoelstra expanded his rotation to nine, giving first-half minutes to Josh McRoberts, who scored eight.

“He brings us passing [and we’re] a little bit bigger when we do that,” Spoelstra said. “I wanted to go a little bit deeper in the rotation tonight; just felt like we needed some energy. I like what J-Mac brings. We always become a smarter team when he's out there. But I don't think his minutes were indicative of anything.”

The Heat finished 1-2 on its West Coast trip and 17-13 overall against Western Conference teams this season.

“I'm not into grading a road trip,” Spoelstra said. “That’s for you guys. I'm trying to get my ball club better. Our only focus is getting rest and getting ready for a big one on Tuesday vs. Detroit. We have some work to do.”

Miami now closes the regular season with six games against Eastern Conference opponents: Detroit and Chicago at home, a home-and-home with Orlando, and games at Detroit and at Boston.

• Miami's playoff appearance means that its first-round pick will go to Philadelphia to complete a 2010 sign-and-trade with Cleveland when Miami acquired LeBron James. The pick was top 10 protected again this year but would not have been next year.

The Heat has no second-round pick either, having surrendered that to Orlando last summer as motivation for the Magic to take Shabazz Napier’s contract.

• The Heat and Trail Blazers (41-36) are rare examples of teams that lost All Stars in free agency and still remained playoff-caliber.

Please see the last post for UM football scrimmage news and nuggets from Saturday... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 02, 2016

Heat makes playoffs; Heat doing what Cleveland, post-LeBron, couldn't; Heat notes; Richt's thoughts on Saturday scrimmage

 

PORTLAND --- After one year out, the Heat is back in a familiar spot: the NBA playoffs.

Chicago's loss to Detroit on Saturday night clinched a playoff berth for the Heat, Miami's 19th playoff appearance in 29 seasons overall and 17th in 21 seasons under the stewardship of Pat Riley.

The Heat entered the night third in the East but just one half game ahead of No. 6 Boston. So seeding will need to sort itself out in the next 11 days. 

Miami's playoff appearance also assures that its first round pick will go to Philadelphia to complete a 2010 sign and trade with Cleveland when Miami acquired LeBron James. The pick was top 10 protected again this year but would not have been next year. The Heat has no second-round pick either.

Meanwhile, the Heat and the Portland Trail Blazers, who met here at Moda Center late tonight, share a common and unusual bond that should be an immense source of pride for each.

Both organizations have overcome the loss of All-Star players in their prime to remain relevant and playoff-worthy.

In fact, Miami and Portland are this decade’s models for that.

“A lot of times, when a player leaves, they go through an organizational change, a GM change, the front office, executives change. It takes a while to get over the hump,” said Heat center Amar’e Stoudemire, who watched the Suns plunge in the standings after he left for the Knicks in 2010.

“But teams who have stayed consistent with their front office have always been able to bounce back. [The Heat and Portland] are Class A organizations who… know what it takes to get back to that level.”   

After an initial post-LeBron decline to 37-45 last season due largely to injuries and illness, the Heat entered Saturday at 44-31.

Despite losing second-team All-NBA forward LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs last July, the Trail Blazers enter the season’s final week-and-half at No. 6 in the Western Conference, at 40-36 and one game behind No. 5 Memphis, and with better records than several teams picked by pundits to finish ahead of them, including Houston, Dallas and New Orleans.

So just how difficult is it to lose a free agent coming off an All-Star season and stay relevant? Consider:

• After James fled to the Heat in 2010, the Cavaliers plummeted from 61 wins to 97-215 over the next four seasons.

• After Chris Bosh signed with the Heat in 2010, Toronto went from a 40-win team to 79-151 over the next three. 

• Since Stoudemire left for to the Knicks in 2010, the Suns went from 54-28 (and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals) to not making the playoffs any of the six years since.

• In the wake of losing an All-Star but albeit declining Steve Nash to the Lakers in 2012, the Suns went from a .500 team to 25-57 the next.

• After Dwight Howard left Los Angeles to sign with Houston in 2013, the Lakers went from 45-37 to 27-55 and 21-61 the next two seasons.

So how have the Heat and Blazers done it? With smart personnel decisions by their respected top executives (Riley/Andy Elisburg and Portland general manager Neil Olshey), strong coaching (from Erik Spoelstra and Terry Stotts), and an ideal mix of veterans and youth.

More than anything, it helped that other All-Star caliber players remained after James and Aldridge left: Dwyane Wade and Bosh with the Heat, Damian Lillard with Portland.

Luol Deng and Goran Dragic were significant Heat additions, too, of course. And Portland made savvy pickups in Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson, among others.

It also helped that both franchises infused young talent: Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson with the Heat; and in Portland’s case, 2013 draft picks CJ McCollum and Alan Crabbe (the latter acquired from Cleveland during the draft), plus center Mason Plumlee (acquired on draft night last June from Brooklyn).

“It starts up top,” Udonis Haslem said. "The guys up top, since I’ve been here, Coach Riley, Mr. Arison and the whole organization make it clear we want to win now. We’re not about three years, four years. They don’t waste any time. If we lose a big part of our team, those guys get to work. As players, if it’s someone we know, we reach out and do our part as well [to lure free agents].” 

Among teams that have lost “defending” first-, second- or third-team All-NBA players in free agency in the past decade, the one other --- besides the Heat and Portland –-- that rebounded quickly was Detroit, which lost Ben Wallace to Chicago in 2006 but returned to the Eastern Finals the next year.

But this is perhaps most impressive: If the Heat wins 49 games, it will have won 86 in its first two years since James left --- just 11 wins fewer that the Cavaliers produced in four years after LeBron joined the Heat.

“Miami, I think, is going to be a good team,” Kings coach George Karl said after the Heat's 112-106 win Friday night. “That’s a top-eight team, I think, in the NBA. I hadn’t seen them since the beginning of the year, but they do a lot of good stuff.”

WADE OUT

The Heat said Dwyane Wade will be out Saturday because of back and neck soreness sustained in a fall against the Lakers on Wednesday. It's the second game in a row that Wade will miss and the eight overall this season. His status for Tuesday's game against Detroit is uncertain.

• The Heat was originally under the impression that it would clinch a playoff berth tonight with a win against Portland or a Bulls loss to Detroit. But the NBA informed the Heat this afternoon that only a Bulls loss would clinch a postseason berth for Miami today.

GREEN'S EMOTION

Even though he scored 30 points, Sun Sports couldn’t air some of Gerald Green’s postgame comments because of the use of an expletive that rhymes with, um, trucker.

“I read all those comments, mother [expletive] be talking about me,” he said of unspecified media members. “I just use that [expletive] as motivation, man. Like the last two months, man, the media been killing me.

"So every day, I go to the gym at night, I run, I read y'all comments, and go back to the gym, read y'all comments, go right back to the gym. So I'm just motivated. My teammates motivate me. So I'm just doing whatever I can to just keep myself together."

• This, courtesy of Elias today: Green went 6-for-6 from the field and scored 15 points in the first quarter. Green entered with a .333 field-goal percentage in the first quarter of games, which was the fourth lowest among players with at least 100 attempts in the opening quarter. That's ahead of only Isaiah Canaan (.293), Kobe Bryant (.330) and Wesley Matthews (.332).

• When Luol Deng hit a huge three with 46 seconds left Friday, pushing Miami’s lead to six, it made him 10 for 16 this season on clutch threes. (The NBA defines clutch as the final five minutes of games with a margin of five points or fewer.) That’s a remarkable 62.5 percent.

Among players who have attempted at least 10 clutch threes this season, only Philadelphia’s Hollis Thompson (8 for 11, 72.7 percent) has a higher accuracy rate.

UM SCRIMMAGE

Some postscripts and comments from Mark Richt after today’s closed UM scrimmage, courtesy of Canesport and UM:

• On Brad Kaaya, who went 12 of 21 for 186 yards and four touchdowns: “Super accurate. There may have been a dropped ball here or there. His accuracy grade will be higher than his percentage, meaning I’ll grade [on] did he hit his target. If he’s 0-for-10, but he hit his target, [and] they dropped 10 in a row, to me his grade is 100 percent accuracy….

“I’m thankful Brad is smarter than me; there was probably two or three times that I called the wrong formation and I’ve been running the system for, like, a while. And he’s real polite, like `Hey coach, don’t you mean this?’ `Oh yeah, Brad.’ Or `Don’t you mean this protection?’ `Oh, yeah, that’s right.’ Maybe two or three times he helped me out. But that’s the first time I’ve called plays in about 10 years.”

• The backup QB job remains open. Evan Shirreffs was four-for-seven for 33 yards. Incumbent Malik Rosier was 3 of 7 for 66 and two interceptions.

Of Rosier’s two picks, “One was thrown right in the belly; you can’t do that,” Richt said. “He made a flat-out bad decision. It was just a bad decision all-around.

“Malik, like everybody, they have to understand we can’t turn a bad situation into a catastrophe. Sometimes a bad thing happens, protection breaks down or guys get covered or whatever. Don’t turn that bad situation into something awful - throw it away, take a sack if you have to. … I want every drive to end with a kick, either a punt or an extra point or a field goal.”

• Defensive tackle Gerald Willis, the former Gator, had two sacks. “Willis is playing well, he’s had a good spring,” Richt said.

 Kendrick Norton and Jermaine Grace also had sacks. Grace led Miami in tackles with five and scooped up a fumble that he returned for a touchdown.

• Juwon Young, Robert Knowles and Terrance Henley had interceptions.

• Running back stats. Gus Edwards 7-32 yards… Joe Yearby 4-28 yards… Mark Walton 6-30 yards… Trayone Gray 9-47 yards.

• How did the offensive line do against the defensive line? “I thought it was probably pretty close to being even,” Richt said. “We protected pretty good. Brad threw it 21 times, would have got sacked two or three, so decent. And it’s not just line play, it’s backs blocking. Sometimes the QB just doesn’t get rid of the ball fast enough, in my opinion. Usually the sacks are on the quarterback in my opinion. Pretty good match today….

“Two days ago the defense splattered the offense, really. The practice before that the offense - `hey, here they go. The line’s starting to block, getting long runs.’ Then the very next practice the defense just took control of it.”

• Miami is still committing too many penalties. “We were still penalized too much on both sides of the ball,” Richt said. “You just can’t win like that…. It’s early. We’ll discipline for that. The other thing is just having officials here every day. We have ACC officials, so that’s quality people giving their time for us, helping us learn what’s right. … Way too many [penalties].”

• Stacy Coley caught four passes for 94 yards, including a long TD. But when asked if receivers are showing more speed, a concern of Richt’s, he said: “Not really. We still need speed. We have some speed. I can promise you we need more speed.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Check back tonight before and after Heat-Blazers here in the Pacific Northwest.

Postscripts, reaction, details on Heat's late-night win in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO --- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra insisted Friday morning that even through Gerald Green’s prolonged shooting struggles this season, “his minutes have been positive.”

But the Heat signed Green primarily for his sweet shooting stroke and ability to score in bunches. And on Friday, more so than anytime this season, Green offered up the ignitable vintage version of a mercurial player who was spectacular in preseason but often erratic since.

Green’s 30 points powered Miami for three quarters, and the Heat survived a furious Kings rally to escape with a 112-106 win, a critical stand after Miami opened the road trip with an unexpected and particularly aggravating loss to the 16-win Lakers.

Miami’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot is now one – either one victory or one Chicago Bulls loss. The Heat wraps up this three-game Western swing Saturday in Portland.

“Ultimately, down the stretch, three minutes to go, I just wanted to see us rise to the occasion,” Erik Spoelstra said of a game that turned harrowing late. “We got some defensive stops when we needed to.”

A maniacal Kings comeback sliced their 24-point deficit to one with 2:18 left.

After Kosta Koufos’ hard foul against Hassan Whiteside, Green picked up a technical when he walked toward Koufos.

Green said he never made a comment to the referee and was merely putting his hands up to motion for everyone to “get out of the way to make sure [Whiteside] was all right.”

Seth Curry hit the technical, pulling the Kings to within 103-102. Whiteside then hit two free throws, pushing the lead to three.

After the Kings again cut it to one, an 11-foot pull up from Joe Johnson made it a three-point game, and Luol Deng’s huge three stretched it to 110-104 with 46 seconds left. The Kings never again drew closer than four.

The Heat made 12 of 22 threes (54.5 percent) and shot 51.2 percent overall.

Before Friday, Green’s season high was 25, achieved on Nov. 27 against the Knicks. He had surpassed 20 points just twice all season.

But his timing Friday was fortuitous, became it came in the absence of Dwyane Wade, who sat out with back and neck soreness that he expects will also keep him out of Saturday’s game at Portland.

Starting for the 13th game this season, Green finished 11 for 19 from the field and 5 for 9 from three-point range. This was his 10th career 30-point game, but he fell short of his career high of 41 for Phoenix in March 2014.

Green, who scored all 30 in the first three quarters, said he has been motivated by critical things written about him, without specifying what.

“Every day I go to the gym, read comments, go right back to the gym, read comments, go right back to the gym,” he said.

This was undoubtedly the highlight of the season for Green, who began the year in the rotation but fell out of it since Joe Johnson’s signing.

Green had played just 45 minutes over the previous eight games and entered shooting just 38.3 percent overall and 31.4 percent on threes, well below his 36.1 career average beyond the arc.

“I hadn’t been playing well,” he said. “I’ve always had confidence in myself. I was missing shots the last two months. Everything was flowing. It was good to see some shots going in.”

Green opened six for six, scoring 15 in the first quarter and going to the half with 20. He added 10 more in the third, reaching the 30-point mark on three free throws after being fouled by Rudy Gay on a three-pointer.

Green sat out the first 6:29 of the fourth, leaving with the Heat ahead by 16 and returning with Miami up three. He went scoreless over 4:16 fourth-quarter minutes, missing his only shot.

Spoelstra said he told Green three weeks ago that “you’re the next guy. I love it because he’s done it with great work. Every single night he’s in there working, after games, staying ready, staying in shape. He’s the first guy on the floor before practice, the last guy to leave.”

Everyone with a meaningful role chipped in. Deng, who has played very well in the first two games of this road trip, delivered 17 points and 4 assists.

Goran Dragic had 18 points and 7 assists. Amar’e Stoudemire began the game with a dunk and closed with eight.  Joe Johnson added 14 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds but also had six of Miami’s 18 turnovers.

Justise Winslow added 12 points and five boards. Josh Richardson, coming off an 0 for 8 shooting game, hit one of two threes and 3 for 8 overall on a seven-point night.

And then there was Whiteside, who got some motivation before the game when Kings coach George Karl critiqued his shot-blocking.

Whiteside had three blocks and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes. He attempted only four shots from the field on a six-point night but hit the two big free throws late. He also had a couple of nifty passes, his two assists giving him 29 for the season.

While the Heat played without Wade, the Kings were without leading scorer and rebounder DeMarcus Cousins, who received his 16th technical foul, triggering an automatic one-game suspension, because he sarcastically clapped in the face of a referee late in Wednesday’s game against Washington.

The Heat, at 44-31, moved back into third in the East, holding a tiebreaker against No. 4 Charlotte, which is also 44-31, with both teams percentages points ahead of No. 5 Atlanta (45-32). Boston is in sixth at 44-32 after winning at Golden State on Friday.

Down 18-13, the Heat unleashed a blistering 29-6 run, including Winslow’s 28-foot running bank shot at the first quarter buzzer that put the Heat ahead 39-24 after one. Miami opened 22 for 28 from the field and led 66-48 at the half.

Trailing 92-76 after three, the Kings drew as close as one, fueled by Darren Collison (26 points), Gay (20) and Curry, who tied his career high with 21.

Whiteside said “it was good for us” to be challenged late.

Deng said “obviously you don’t want to give up a big lead, but it happens. It’s the NBA. Instead of playing a simple game, we rushed it a little. But after they made their run, we managed to keep the lead.”

But Dragic said the Heat must be “more focused” when it has a big lead. “It was a strange game because they blitzed every pick and roll,” he said. “They play fast.”

The Heat swept the two-game season series, having won 116-109 on Nov. 19 in Miami. Cousins was suspended for that game, as well.

This was the Heat’s final game in suburban Sleep Train Arena, which opened in 1988 and was called Arco Arena for much of its existence. The Kings move to a downtown arena next season.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please see the last post for a lot on Winslow's offensive development, Wade's injury, Karl's comments about Whiteside and Whiteside's response and Friday Dolphins news.

April 01, 2016

Friday 9 p.m. Heat update: Wade out, Whiteside responds to Karl comment; Exploring Justise Winslow's offensive growth and Heat mentoring of their rookies; Dolphins CN news

9 p.m. Heat update: As expected, Dwyane Wade will miss tonight's game against Sacramento with a sore back and sore neck sustained in Wednesday's loss at the Lakers. And he says it's "very unlikely" he will play Saturday in Portland.

"[From] the impact I made when I hit the floor, my lower back is real sore," he said. "And my neck from my head hitting the floor is real sore. It's hard to walk normal and it's hard to look left or right fast. Just got to let my body take course. When it's better, it's better.

"It got worse today. The second day was worse than the day after. Hopefully, tomorrow is a little better. There's nothing I can do except take it one step at a time, because it's not just my back. It's my back and my neck. [It's] equally bad [with both]. When I feel like I can move around, do things I need to do, I will jump back out there. I don't want to miss any time. But if I can't play, I can't play."

Erik Spoelstra said Wade is "walking like Frankenstein."

The Heat announced Gerald Green would start in Wade's place.

• Kings coach George Karl surprisingly said this tonight of Hassan Whiteside: "I think he is a great off the ball shot-blocker. I don't think on the ball he's that great" a shot-blocker.

Whiteside's response? "I don't really care what George Karl is thinking. My job is to make my coach and team happy. I let my game speak for itself.... Everyone is entitled to their opinion."

Whiteside noted the majority of his seven blocks against the Lakers were on-the-ball, against players he was defending.

##################################

Quick Dolphins update: Cornerback Greg Toler, 31, completed his visit to Dolphins headquarters today, but there were no serious contract talks in the immediate aftermath.

The sides are expected to talk further and he at least remains on Miami's radar. Whether that leads to an offer? We'll see.

Toler, 6-0, started 25 games combined for the Colts the past two seasons.

The Dolphins plan to address cornerback in the draft (there's strong consideration being given internally to taking one at No. 13) but they likely do need a veteran to supplement a draft pick or two, Byron Maxwell, Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett and two others who will be competing for jobs --- Jamar Taylor and Tyler Patmon.

Who's still unsigned, besides Toler? 

There's past-his prime Antonio Cromartie, Jerraud Powers (starter for Arizona last season; visited the Giants Thursday), Alan Ball, Tarell Brown, Jayron Hosley, Trumaine McBride, Cassius Vaughn, Corey White and Mike Jenkins.

There's also Leon Hall, who started four games for the Bengals last season. But considering new Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was Hall's d-backs coach the past two years, and considering Miami hasn't brought him in three weeks into free agency, it would be natural to be skeptical about whether there's great interest. But Hall, 31, is still an option should Miami choose to explore it.

HEAT NEWS

SACRAMENTO --- Dwyane Wade is expected to miss Friday’s game against the Kings with back and neck soreness resulting from a hard fall to the floor during Wednesday’s game against the Lakers, Erik Spoelstra said after the team's morning practice at Sleep Train Arena.

“He’s very doubtful for tonight,” Spoelstra said. “He didn’t want us to say that he’s definitely not playing. But I don’t anticipate a miraculous recovery in the next few hours.

“It’s more sore. More sore yesterday, more sore today.”

Spoelstra said what happened to Wade is “similar to the fall” that former Heat guard Beno Udrih had in mid-January. The ensuing soreness in his neck forced Udrih to miss four games and more than a week of action. Udrih returned, then injured his foot, requiring season-ending surgery.

So Wade's status for Saturday's game in Portland is also seemingly in doubt. He was not with the team at shootaround this morning.

Spoelstra said "there's no way to know" how long Wade will be out.

Friday's game will mark the seventh Wade has missed this season. He missed 20 last season.

Spoelstra stopped short of saying Gerald Green would replace Wade in the lineup.

Green "is doing what he needs to do, and that's staying ready," Spoelstra said. "I made a point to him that we believe in him. We're going to need him. Ultimately, his minutes have been a positive for the team because he spaces the floor, brings energy. Defensively, he gives us that quickness. I know it's easy for Gerald and the average fan to get caught up in his shooting percentage, but he still brings positive things to the team."

Green is averaging 8.8 points and shooting just 38.3 percent from the field and 31.4 percent on threes.

The Kings will be without suspended center DeMarcus Cousins, their leading scorer and rebounder.

ROOKIE GROWTH

For Josh Richardson, the offensive emergence has been sudden and somewhat stunning, at least until the 0 for 8 hiccup Wednesday in Los Angeles. For Justise Winslow, the growth has been more gradual.

Both Heat rookies came to Miami with reputations as stout defenders, a perception that has been reinforced here.

But the offensive development has taken more work. Richardson’s has been rather remarkable: Entering Friday’s game at Sacramento, he was shooting 53.5 percent on threes since the All-Star break, despite missing all four against the Lakers.

Winslow’s offensive growth in the past month has been more modest, but the numbers indicate improvement.

After shooting 41.8 percent and averaging 5.7 points before the All-Star break, Winslow was at 45.8 percent and averaging 8.4 points since, entering Friday’s late game.

On jumpers, he has gone from shooting 28.4 percent before the break to 37.5 percent (30 for 80) since. He had 66 assists and 67 turnovers before the break, but 44 and 24 since.

He said he is “very” encouraged by the growth.

“I wish I could have been this productive earlier in the season, but I'm learning,” he said. “I was a good shooter in college, so it’s just about becoming more consistent. I'm just looking forward to keep getting better every day.”

Winslow, who turned 20 last weekend, said he believes he has made his most offensive progress in the mid-range game.

On shots from 16 to 24 feet, he’s shooting 42 percent since the break, up from 36.7 before.

But the three-pointer remains a work in progress. He doesn’t take a lot, but the percentage must improve. He’s shooting 26.2 on threes overall this season (28 for 107) and 5 for 18 since the break.

“The key for this season will be getting the corner three more consistent,” Winslow said. “Take them within the offense. They don't really encourage the other threes. A guy like D-Wade doesn't shoot a lot of threes and is still effective.”

There is no questioning either rookie’s work ethic.  Winslow and Richardson came in on an off-day last week to partake in an arduous shooting drill, and that’s not uncommon. In that drill, Winslow and Richardson each had to make two shots in a row at various spots on the floor. But generally, their drills differ.

At the urging of coaches, Richardson said he still undertakes one of three difficult shooting drills a few times a week: making 70 out of 100 threes; or three in a row from five spots on the floor in 90 seconds; or 40 threes in three minutes.

Winslow’s shooting drills, by contrast, are “more about the makes, not too much about the percentage. Josh is a better shooter so his stuff is tougher. I try to make 200, 250. It's not 250 all at once. I might do some finishes, some midrange, some postups. We don’t do the same stuff.”

As far as doing the work, “Justise has been great with that,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That's one of his greatest strengths, to stay committed. That's why it's inevitable he'll get better in all facets of his game.”

Now that Richardson has developed his three-point game, he said the next offensive frontier for him is "playmaking and vision, being able to put guys in good spots.”

Heat veterans have very much embraced these rookies.

“It's cool; when I got here, Eddie Jones watched me grow [and] now I can maybe be a part of these young guys’ growth,” Dwyane Wade said. “I haven't been a part of this since I've been here. We had Mario [Chalmers], but this is a little different team,… a little different level of maturity at a young age for these guys.”

Who has been in their ears this most? Winslow cites Chris Bosh and Wade.

“CB is kind of the voice and the leader of our team,” Winslow said. “He sits right next to me in the locker-room, texts me after each game. He got on Josh and me the other day because we weren't the first ones in the gym. The veteran guys beat us in the gym.”

And Wade “forces different situations at me, asks me what I would do,” Winslow said. “Sometimes I'm right; sometimes I'm wrong. We'll just be in the locker-room getting ready for practice or a game and there will be footage or a game on the TV and he'll ask me how I would defend it.”

For Richardson, he said his biggest mentors have been Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Bosh.

“Luol talks about everything, off the court stuff, to little things on the court I need to do better,” Richardson said. “Goran helps me a lot with point guard stuff.

“And CB has helped me a lot lately. He’ll sit me down and help me out with film. He stays on [me] about everything, will point out things I can do better. I am definitely listening real closely to everything he says because I know it's the right things.”

 

SMART MAKES CAMEO

The Heat was buoyed this morning by the presence of assistant coach Keith Smart, who is in remission after receiving treatment for a rare form of cancer that surfaced on the left side of his jaw.

Smart has been in San Francisco receiving six weeks of treatment since stepping away from the team on Jan. 26. Smart, who addressed the team at its morning shootaround, said he expects to rejoin the coaching staff by the playoffs.

Smart plans to return to South Florida in the next 10 days.

"I have to go through this skin regeneration where I'm going to look like a Thriller [Michael Jackson] video. Want to make sure everything is healthy as I start to get through my daily life as a coach," he said, adding he lost 25 pounds during treatment and "formed a kinship with the people I'm going through treatment with. I became the unofficial coach with our team every morning, trying to bring some encouragement to get through it. I had 140 people giving me encouragement every day."

Smart left the team in mid-December, returned Jan. 11 and then left again Jan. 26. He said he returned for two weeks because doctors "were waiting for the right type of treatment we were going to use" because it's a rare form of cancer.

He said the treatment lessened the odds of a recurrence from 50-50 to 1 in 500.

 Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 31, 2016

Dolphins bringing in veteran CB and sign 3 others; Thursday UM football notes; Exploring Hassan Whiteside's offensive evolution, his eye-popping numbers and next offensive frontier

Rounding up three Dolphins signings today that were announced and one visit that wasn't yet announced:

• Veteran cornerback Greg Toler is visiting the Dolphins tonight and Friday, according to a league source. The 6-foot Toler, 31, has eight interceptions in six career seasons --- the first three in Arizona and last three in Indianapolis. He started 15 games for the Colts in 2014 and 10 last season.

There isn't much left on the free agent cornerback market, but Toler, Jerraud Powers and Antonio Cromartie are probably the most accomplished of the bunch.

The Dolphins, at some point, need to add a veteran corner to supplement Byron Maxwell, Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain and Jamar Taylor. They're also looking hard at drafting a corner at No. 13 overall.

• Your old friend, Daniel Thomas, is back after a year out of the league. The running back was drafted in the second round by Miami in 2011 after averaging 5.1 and 5.3 yards in two seasons at Kansas State.

But he never came close to matching that success here. He increased his yards per carry every season in Miami, but only incrementally, from 3.5 to 3.6 to 3.7 to 3.8. He signed with Chicago last summer but was released during training camp.

Only 28, he will have a chance to compete for a roster spot with Damien Williams and ...

• Isaiah Pead! The running back, who signed with Miami today, has just 78 yards on 19 carries over three seasons, mostly with the Rams. 

He also has added 14 receptions for 94 yards (6.7 average) and returned 18 kickoffs for 413 yards (22.9 average).

Pead was suspended for the 2013 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The next August, he tore his ACL on a kickoff return. He spent last November with the Steelers but didn't get a carry.

• Tight end MarQueis Gray, who also signed with the Dolphins today, entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco in 2013 and has played for Cleveland, Minnesota and Buffalo, appearing in 29 games and starting seven. He has 12 catches for 144 yards in his career and caught one pass in four games for Buffalo last season.

 

WHITESIDE'S OFFENSIVE DEVELOPMENT

LOS ANGELES --- Even in suffering one of its most exasperating losses of the season Wednesday in Los Angeles, there was one constant: the usual double-double from Hassan Whiteside, his 17th in 20 games since the All-Star break, all off the bench.

When Whiteside --- who had 18 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks Wednesday --- returns to northern California on Friday night to play a Kings team that gave up on him four years ago, Sacramento naturally will be leery of his shot-blocking (first in the league at 3.75 per game) and rebounding (fourth at 11.8) – two elite skills that he displayed immediately when he took the NBA by storm last season.

But like every team that has played the Heat in recent weeks, the Kings also must now be concerned about his flourishing offensive game.

Whiteside scored just 29 points combined in his first two NBA seasons, as a raw, seldom-used backup in Sacramento.  It took him just two games this week to score 47.

Whiteside’s offensive evolution has been one of many fascinating subplots of the post All-Star break Heat. When TNT’s Charles Barkley spoke earlier this season of Whiteside being about to average 20 points a game, Chris Bosh said even 18 per game for Whiteside, with a full roster, would be unrealistic because of the Heat’s myriad scoring options.

But with Bosh sidelined, Whiteside has averaged 18.5 points on 62.0 percent shooting since the break, including a career-high 27 Monday against Brooklyn.

Whiteside's post-All Star break scoring average ranks sixth among centers and 38th among all players. Before the All-Star break, he was scoring just 12.2 points per game, 13th among centers.

He’s shooting more now, naturally, his field-goal attempts increasing from 8.3 per game in early February to 11.5 since the All-Star break.

“I’m glad I got the opportunity, glad I get to show a little extra offensive things,” said Whiteside, whose 61.8 percent accuracy from the field is second-best in the league, behind only DeAndre Jordan’s 70.2. “I think my team is getting more and more confidence in me. I always knew it was there.”

A look at several aspects of Whiteside’s offensive development:       

Jump shots: He’s shooting 45.3 percent overall on jumpers but 51.2 percent since the break, according to NBA.com.

Since the All-Star break, he’s shooting 54.3 percent from 5 to 9 feet (25 for 46), 50 percent from 10 to 14 feet (9 for 18), 43.8 percent from 15 to 19 feet (14 for 32) and 2 for 3 from 20 to 23 feet.

“I’ve always been a really good shooter; I’m just getting more chances to display that,” he said. “The guards are getting more confident in giving it to me out there.”

Whiteside said he’s shooting jumpers no differently than he did last season but he feels he’s “a little more balanced” when he releases the ball. He said taking 250 a day much of last summer also helped.

• Hook shots: He has shot far fewer of those (110) than jumpers (192) this season. He’s making 44 percent of his hooks and has been studying tape of Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon because “they never shot an off-balance jump hook.” He’s working on developing a pump fake on his hook.

• Dunks: Whiteside, of course, never practices those, but it’s notable that he flubs fewer dunks that any other high-volume dunker in the league.

Whiteside, who is fifth in the league in dunks, has missed only three of 139. Conversely, Jordan and Anthony Davis have missed 19 dunks and Howard 15, according to basketballreference.

• Free throws. His improvement there, Whiteside said, is his biggest source of pride offensively. And he credits it largely to the change he made in mid-January, after Udonis Haslem remarked how well he shot jumpers and said, half-jokingly, that he should shoot free throws like that.

Since he began shooting free throws like jumpers, Whiteside is shooting 75 percent from the line (105 for 140), though he was 6 for 12 against the Lakers.

Before changing his free-throw form, he was 5 for 12 on free throws for the Kings, 50 percent last season for the Heat, and 51.8 percent in the first half this season.

“I read all the analytics and the media where they say if you can't shoot free throws, it's because you're not a good shooter," Whiteside said. "But I feel I'm a really good shooter. I just wasn't making enough [foul shots]. Now, I want to be one of the better free throw shooters in the NBA --- anything over 80 percent.”

• Passing: This is the area where there is still the most room for growth. His six assists last season were the fewest ever for an NBA player who played 500 minutes, compared with 58 turnovers.

This season, he’s up to 27 assists and 126 turnovers, which represents the second-worst assist-to-turnover ratio among centers, ahead of only JaVale McGee. But 10 centers have more turnovers than Whiteside’s 126.

He is determined to improve on “passing it out of the double team, and passing it for a score, not just passing it out.”

Whiteside might not have to face Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 27 points and 11.6 rebounds. Cousins received his 16th technical foul of the season Wednesday for sarcastically clapping in the face of a referee near the end of the team's victory over the Washington Wizards. If the ruling is upheld, it will trigger an automatic one-game suspension Friday against the Heat. The NBA reviews all technical fouls and will make a ruling later.

[UPDATE: The NBA tonight upheld the suspension, and Cousins will sit out Friday's game against the Heat. He will end up missing both games against Miami this season, both because of suspension.]

• Here are the details and postgame reaction from last night’s debacle, a 102-100 overtime loss to the Lakers.

• After the game, Wade and Kobe Bryant visited former teammate Lamar Odom, who attended an NBA game for the first time since being found unconscious at a Nevada brothel in October.

Bryant left two tickets for Odom, who sat in the front row behind one of the baskets, and said his return to health is a “miracle.”  Odom told reporters "it was awesome" to be back and "I got goosebumps."

After speaking with Odom, Wade tweeted: “… Made losing this game not matter "as much" after getting a chance to spend time with my guy LO. #GodisGood” 

Kobe said of the Odom visit: "It was just like old times. We talked before the game and talked after the game. It was great to just talk basketball with him and talk trash. It was good. It was unbelievable.

"To see him walking around now . . . it's as if nothing even happened. It's really a miracle. It's beyond good to see him."

• Wade popped into Bryant's postgame media interview and joked that Wade, 34, "knows he's going to be the oldest guy in the league next year."

Bryant said Wade is a "vicious competitor" and "the hardest player I've ever had to guard in a screen roll. He could come off the screen and just disappear."

• If you missed the crazy details that caused a surreal scene at Staples Center before the game, check this out.

Couple UM football notes:

UM's annual pro day, affected by rain, reinforced the need for an indoor facility.

"It was sad that it was a downpour at the moment they needed to be able to show what they could do," Mark Richt told reporters today, via Canesport. "Now, they fought through the adversity and I think the pro scouts appreciated that and saw that. I did like how they handled adversity. That’s part of the evaluation process.

“Not to have a place where they could have the type of day that they’ve been working so hard for, for so long – not only from the end of the season to now, but really their whole life, they’re waiting for that opportunity, was just tough on them.”

UM originally thought it could build a practice facility for $17 million, but now the cost is likely to top $20 million, according to the administration. Athletic director Blake James said he has approached potential donors. A large gift is needed to make this happen.

• Richt indicated Malik Rosier hasn't stood out as the backup QB. That job is open among Rosier, Evan Schirreffs, Vincent Testaverde and Jack Allison (who could redshirt).

“I’m just trying to evaluate that, that’s why I’m trying to give them as fair an opportunity as I can,” Richt said, via Canesport. “Clearly Brad [Kaaya's] No. 1, but after that I really don’t know.”

• Offensive line coach Stacy Searels said his unit "has days where they’re really, really good, and there’s some days we’ve been really, really bad. We’re looking for more consistency. … We have some good young talent, but we need to grow up.”

With Sonny Odogwu and Nick Linder missing the spring due to injuries, UM has been going with a first team --- from left to right --- of Trevor Darling, KC McDermott, Alex Gall, Danny Isidora and Tyree St. Louis. Searels says Isidora has been the most impressive.

 

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Check back later today for more.

 

Postscripts, reaction from painful late-night Heat loss in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES --- What happens when you take these 16-win Lakers, coming off a franchise-record 48-point loss to Utah, and immerse them in a locker-room controversy that required a pre-game press conference?

What Miami got Wednesday wasn’t roadkill, but instead a resilient, scrappy, high-effort opponent that dealt a surprising and painful 102-100 overtime loss to the Heat at Staples Center.

Julius Randle’s eight-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds left in overtime won it for Los Angeles. Joe Johnson was way off on a long three-pointer at the buzzer.

“I don’t like the way we approached this game,” Dwyane Wade. “It [stinks]. It’s a bad loss for us, no disrespect to them.”

Wade scored eight of his 26 points in the game’s final 2:45 of regulation, including a 15-foot turnaround that broke a tie with 29 seconds left. But Wade missed a 20-foot jumper with two seconds left that could have won the game in regulation.

The Heat ultimately was undone by 18 turnovers that led to 30 Lakers points, as well as 11 missed free throws in 26 attempts.

The Lakers’ young backcourt of Jordan Clarkson (26 points) and D’Angelo Russell (16 points) victimized the Heat down the stretch.

The Heat also was beaten to too many loose balls, surrendered 19 Lakers offensive rebounds, and lost to a team that shot 36.3 percent. The Lakers took 102 shots, 16 more than Miami.

Hassan Whiteside had 18 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks but the Heat (43-31) failed in a chance to move up to third in the Eastern Conference. Its magic number to clinch a playoff berth remains two.

“You generally get what you deserve in this league,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We did not deserve this game. Any kind of effort play, [the Lakers] were winning those battles, especially in the second half. A lot of pain for getting beat to a lot of loose balls.

“Lot of mental breakdowns. This is not who we are. This is not how we’ve been playing.”

In the 20th and final meeting between Wade and Kobe Bryant --- the two best shooting guards of the post-Michael Jordan era --- the soon-to-be retiring Bryant played the first nine minutes, then never returned, sidelined by what the Lakers termed “general soreness.”

Bryant, who entered averaging 16.9 points and shooting just 35.7 percent this season,  shot 1 for 7 and had shots blocked by Wade and Luol Deng during his brief stint.

“I wish he would have played more,” Spoelstra said.

Wade, who entered averaging 19.1 points on 45.3 percent shooting, finished with a double-double (26 points, 10 rebounds).

The Heat, down by as many as eight in the fourth, went ahead by two on Wade’s basket with under 30 seconds left in regulation. But Clarkson was fouled by Whiteside and hit both free throws with 19 seconds left. And Wade’s jumper was off just before the buzzer.

Fast forward to 2:05 left in overtime. With the score tied at 94, Whiteside hit a layup off a pass from Wade but missed a free throw, leaving the Heat ahead by two. Clarkson’s free throws tied it a 96.

Wade then hit a 10-foot floater to put Miami up two with 1:38 to go, but a Clarkson jumper tied it, Johnson missed an open three, and two Randle free throws put the Lakers up 100-98 with 1:04 left.

A Goran Dragic steal and Wade basket in transition tied the game with 22 seconds left, before Randle hit the winner with under two seconds left.

Wade said “we got the shot we wanted” at the buzzer, but Johnson was off.

“Joe shook free; I’ll take that [shot],” Spoelstra said.        

Deng closed with 22 points and 11 rebounds and Dragic had 11 points and nine assists but also four turnovers. Johnson scored 10.

Whiteside, who scored just two in the first half, came alive offensively in the second.

But Josh Richardson, who entered leading the NBA in three-point shooting since the All-Star break, had a rare off game, finishing 0 for 8 from the field and 0 for 4 from beyond the arc, scoring his only point on a free throw in 30 minutes.

“First couple shots I missed, it got in my head a little bit,” Richardson said. “I can’t think as much as I was.”

The Heat, playing the first of three games in four nights, stuck with a tight eight-man rotation.

The Heat blew all of 25-10 lead early, went to halftime ahead 48-41, fell behind, then went to the fourth tied at 67, before digging itself an eight-point hole and then rallying to go ahead before succumbing in overtime.

“This was a bad loss for us,” Deng said. “They really crashed the boards. We’re not happy with the way we played.”

Wade said the team’s focus simply has to be better.

“This ain’t the time of year” to have a letdown like this, Wade said. “This could come back to hurt us later.... 

“I look at it as disrespect to those guys. Those guys are NBA players. You have to play the same way you would an opponent that you fear.”

Before the game, the Lakers tried to diffuse a swirling controversy stemming from a leaked video in which Russell filmed teammate Nick Young while Russell was asking questions about women other than Young’s fiancée, Iggy Azalea. Young did not know he was being taped.

Asked before Wednesday’s game whether he believes he put Young’s marriage in jeopardy, Russell said: “Honestly, I do.”

Russell was booed in pre-game introductions but cheered when he hit a first-quarter basket. Young did not play.

As for Bryant, he ended up playing 33 games against the Heat, averaging 23.8 points on 44.3 percent shooting.

“Just total amount of respect [for him],” Wade said afterward. “It’s hard to be great for so long.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 30, 2016

Bizarre Lakers controversy erupts, comes to head before Heat game

    

LOS ANGELES – The Heat began its three-game West Coast trip with the league’s eighth-best record, on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth and without the off-court controversy that has descended on the other proud franchise that it squared off against late Wednesday night at Staples Center.

The Lakers, stumbling through a 15-59 season after winning 27 and 21 games the previous two, spent Wednesday trying to diffuse a mushrooming controversy stemming from a leaked video in which rookie guard D’Angelo Russell filmed teammate Nick Young while Russell was asking questions about women other than Young’s fiancée, Iggy Azalea.

Young did not know he was being taped.

In the video --- which was filmed two months ago and recently released by a celebrity gossip web site --- Young appeared to acknowledge meeting another woman at a club.

“You was 30 and she was 19?” Russell asked Young in an apparent reference to the age difference between Young and the woman.

Asked before Wednesday’s game whether he believes he put Young’s marriage in jeopardy, Russell said: “Honestly, I do.”

Russell said he never sent the tape to anybody and has no “clue” how a gossip site obtained it.

“I feel as sick as possible,” Russell said. “I wish I could make things better right away but I can’t. This got in the wrong hands. It wasn’t a prank. It wasn’t for anybody to see. The damage is done. The best thing you can do is own up to it.”

Russell said he apologized to Young but “I don’t know if it was accepted.”

Russell said he typically “jokes” around with teammates, and says “thing you don’t really repeat. It was an incident of playing too much gone wrong. Only time can make this really go away. If I’ve lost anybody’s trust, I’m gonna work my tail off to get it back.”

Whereas Russell took questions from reporters, Young did not. Young, appearing at the podium without Russell, spoke briefly, saying: “I think it’s best me and D’Angelo handle our situation outside the media. We have to work on it.”

ESPN reported that no Lakers player would sit at Russell’s table during a recent breakfast, and teammate Lou Williams stood up and walked away when Russell sat down next to him in the locker-room.

“It's bad," one Lakers source told ESPN.com. "It's about as bad as it can get. There were trust issues already. Now there's no trust."

Lakers coach Byron Scott grew irritated when asked about the matter Wednesday morning. “It’s an internal problem; we’ll handle it from in-house,” Scott said, threatening to end his press briefing if questions on the topic persisted.

On Wednesday evening, 90 minutes before tipoff, he answered questions more calmly, admitting he is "obviously" concerned about whether the incident will affect on-court chemistry. "We'll see if it festers during the game," Scott said, adding that he "played with players I didn't like as teammates."

Then Scott pleaded with reporters: "Do we want to talk about Miami at all?" That was met with silence from more than 50 reporters crowded into the Lakers' interview room.

This wasn’t the Lakers’ only embarrassing incident this month. Last week, a woman accused Young and Lakers teammate Jordan Clarkson of harassing her and her 68-year-old mother at a Hollywood intersection, but a Lakers investigation was inconclusive.

The Lakers, who entered Wednesday coming off the most lopsided loss in their history (a 123-75 drubbing by Utah), will have $66 million in cap space this summer and might target Heat center Hassan Whiteside, among others.

• The Heat says Justise Winslow will play tonight. He injured his knee in Monday's game against Brooklyn.

• With Atlanta losing tonight, the Heat can move into No. 3 in the East with a win tonight.

• According to the Heat's calculations, Miami needs some combination of two wins or two losses by Washington and Chicago to clinch a playoff spot.

Please see the last post for more Heat pre-game notes, plus Dolphins items from today.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

March 29, 2016

3 p.m. Heat update from L.A.; 11 a.m. update: Dolphins summon LB; Former GM, scout evaluate Marlins; Did Mario Williams quit?; Heat nuggets; UM football decision on transfers

LOS ANGELES --- A few Heat notes after this morning's shootaround at Staples Center:

1) Goran Dragic, who missed Monday's game with an illness, expects to play tonight but his minutes will be monitored.

"We don't know how tired I'm going to be," he said. "I was feeling bad the other day after practice. Had a fever. Good sweat. No energy, aching. Now it's over hopefully and I can get back on the court."

Erik Spoelstra said: "I'll have to see how he feels as the game goes on."

2) Justise Winslow, who sustained a knee injury Monday, is a game-time decision, Spoelstra said.

"It's still a little sore," Winslow said. "I'll see if I will be able to play through it and be effective like I want to. If not, I might sit out. I want to be able to play my game, be effective, and not feel like I'm hurting the team.... I'm sure there will be a little pain, but as long as I can tolerate it."

Spoelstra said Winslow didn't participate in shootaround this morning because "we didn't want to warm him up twice." He will be re-evaluated after warmups tonight.

3) Tyler Johnson, working his way back from left shoulder surgery, said he is "very optimistic" he will be able to play before the regular season ends two weeks from today.

"I'm definitely not ready yet," he said. "It will depend on if [the Heat] feels comfortable with the process."

Johnson has begun taking jump shots with his surgically repaired shoulder. He said there's no discomfort initially when he shoots, but there is discomfort the more he shoots.

4) Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union agreed to host at least one episode, potentially more, of an HGTV series in which they will "renovate, revitalize and resell a home in a suburban Florida neighborhood." A run date has not been set.

HGTV's working title for the venture: "Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade Project."

Wade said this morning that the project "is something we're excited to take on this summer at some point. We're big fans [of HGTV]." A home has not been selected.

 ##################################

Couple quick 11 a.m. Dolphins notes:

1) USC outside linebacker Su'a Cravens told Pro Football Talk that the Dolphins are summoning him to Davie for a pre-draft visit. At 6-1, 226 pounds, Cravens needs to bulk up a bit to play linebacker. He also could play safety, and many NFL people envision him there. CBS projects him as a second-rounder, in the range of 57th overall.

Said CBS' Rob Rang: "With his long limbs, tapered frame and impressive fluidity, Cravens looks the part of a traditional NFL strong safety. He's at his best attacking the run, showing excellent recognition and terrific closing speed on outside runs to slice past pulling linemen and lasso ballcarriers for big losses. Cravens shows little regard for his own welfare, taking out the knees of oncoming blockers when necessary to create a pile and allow other Trojans' defenders to get the credit. 

"His awareness shows up in pass defense, as Cravens displays impressive route recognition, easing up and accelerating with would-be pass-catchers and showing natural hands for the interception when passers dare test him. Like former USC All-American (and Pittsburgh Steelers great) Troy Polamalu, Cravens can get a little out of control, at times, committing to a lane and lunging for the tackle while leaving cut-back opportunities for savvy runners to exploit. Further, Cravens can get caught peeking back at the quarterback in pass defense."

Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron is Cravens' cousin, it has been widely reported.

2) Will be interesting to see how quality veteran guard Geoff Schwartz does with the Lions (he's signing there today), because he had strong interest in coming to Miami, so much so that his agent took the unusual step of saying it on the record. But after an initial call of inquiry, Miami never pursued him. If he rebounds from injuries, this could be one Miami regrets. This regime's offseason will be judged in part on their decisions at guard (opting for Jermon Bushrod, Kraig Urbik, Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner, Jamil Douglas).

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

With the regular season beginning next week, we solicited input on the Marlins from a former general manager (MLB Network’s Dan O’Dowd) and a respected American League scout who watched Miami a lot this spring. Their feedback:

• On the rotation: O’Dowd: “I saw Jarred Cosart [last week] and that’s the best I’ve seen him throw since he was in Houston. He is crucial for their success, a real key to their season. He can take a big step that other guys with limited ability can’t. Jose Fernandez, of course, can dominate. Wei-Yin Chen will be a valuable innings eater. Tom Koehler is consistently a steady guy. We liked Adam Conley [when O’Dowd was Rockies GM]. He can be a solid contributor to a rotation.”

The scout: “Conley has thrown really well. I’ve seen him twice and he was throwing 94 to 96 [mph] the first and as high as 97 the second. The velocity is there. The stuff is plenty good enough to get guys out…. Cosart is throwing well.  It’s not the stuff with him; he has to locate.”  

• Bullpen: O’Dowd: “AJ Ramos can close but it’s is crucial they fill [the seventh, eighth-inning role]. Even if you ask [Marlins executive] Michael Hill, that would be his question mark… Bryan Morris has a great arm. Mike Dunn has been good for them, but can he throw enough quality strikes?”

The scout: “The bullpen is their issue. Ramos wouldn’t be my choice on a good club to be my closer. When [lefty] Craig Breslow was effective, what he did really well was he was a reverse splits guy; he really dominated righties. He will throw strikes. But they’ve got their work cut out for them. Dunn and Morris are OK but not great. You would like more there. Edwin Jackson, the velocity is still good enough and he was better [as spring went on]. But he always has had trouble finishing off hitters.”

• Outfield thoughts: O’Dowd: “Giancarlo Stanton is an 8 to 10 WAR player [what he’s worth in wins above a replacement player] when he plays an entire season… Last year was a wakeup call for Marcell Ozuna; he has so much talent and I expect him to have a very productive year. Christian Yelich can contend for the batting title at some point. When he gets more comfortable defining his strike zone, he can hit for power, too. It’s a swing I like to show younger players.”

The scout: “Ozuna’s body looks live; he has pep in his step. It looks like he’s going to have a good year. He is driving the ball so you would think there would be some more power [than last season]…. With Stanton’s injury history, you hold your breath when he goes to the wall to make a catch.”

• Infield thoughts: The scout: “Justin Bour doesn’t excite me as a middle of the order threat. I want to see more… [Adeiny] Hechavarria has become really steady. He sucks up everything hit to him… Dee Gordon has been swinging better lately. He'll be fine [off last year's batting title]. But [Martin] Prado hasn’t looked all that good; you could see a decline this year.”

O’Dowd: “With Bour, you can’t expect more than last year (.262, 23 homers, 73 RBI in 129 games). What happens with expectations is people say, ‘Justin did X in 2015, he should be able to do Y in 2016.’ That usually is a killer. Chris Johnson is a low-risk pickup.”

• On manager Don Mattingly: O’Dowd: “What Don brings is an incredible amount of consistency with his approach day in and day out; he never gets too high or too low. Mattingly has been good handling bullpens; he doesn’t overreact. All of the drama and experience gained in L.A. will apply in ways you can’t measure. The wisdom he has gained on handling people and volatile situations will be incredibly important.”

• Overall: O’Dowd: “They are behind the Mets and Nationals going into the season. Those two clubs have fewer question marks. But the Marlins are talented. Sometimes it takes time for talent for show. I expect them to be a sleeper team. They will score runs; their young catcher [JT Realmuto] is one of the better young catchers in the game; they will catch the ball without question. The bullpen is one area that will have to organically come together.”

The scout: He could see them as a .500 team, maybe a bit better if everything breaks right, and third in the division behind the Mets and Washington.

• At the MGM Grand and 11 other Nevada casinos, the Marlins are 20 to 1 to win the National League pennant. Eight teams have shorter odds; six have longer odds.

CHATTER

• The Dolphins insist Mario Williams will set a good example, even though some Bills players said he did just the opposite. So did Williams really quit on his teammates last season, as a teammate told the Buffalo News?

“I didn't see that,” Bills radio analyst Mark Kelso told me. “I saw a lot of frustration. But he did not drop into coverage as much as he thought” --- and should not use that as an excuse for low sack numbers (five in 2015).

• The NFL draft order was announced today, and here are Miami's picks (most of which have been known for months): 13th, 42nd, 73rd, 107th, 147th, 186th, 227th and 231st. The 227th pick, a seventh-rounder, comes via Baltimore in the Will Davis trade.

• The Dolphins brought in Houston cornerback William Jackson for a visit today. He's a possibility for the 13th overall pick. Click here for details.

• Even while he’s sidelined, Chris Bosh has been watching tape with Josh Richardson and offering tips, mentoring Richardson and Justise Winslow and even scolded them last week for not being the first players in the gym one day. That’s genuine leadership.

• How remarkable is Richardson? Ethan explores that in a column on the home page, and here are a few other points to consider:

Not only is he the best second-rounder of last year’s draft but he’s one of only two second-round rookies who has even been in an NBA team's rotation in the past couple of weeks, with Toronto’s Norman Powell....

His 62.3 percent shooting on threes since the All-Star break (38 for 61) leads the league, and only 10 NBA players are shooting better than 62.3 percent on all shots since the break (minimum 50 shots)....

Since threes were implemented in 1979, the NBA rookie record for three-point shooting is 46.7 percent by Anthony Morrow in 2008-09; Richardson is at 50 percent.

• Any thought to the Heat trading Goran Dragic this summer and bidding for free agent Mike Conley has been cast aside because of Dragic’s recent play.

“We love Goran,” Pat Riley said last week. “Now he's playing like The Dragon. His game has opened up. I'm very happy that we have this point guard.”

Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant meet for the final time on Wednesday, if Bryant can play through a sore right shoulder. He's listed as questionable. Here is a look at Wade's thoughts on Kobe and reflections on their history together.

• UM obviously could use help at cornerback. But barring a significant change of heart, UM has decided not to pursue former four-star cornerback JC Jackson (acquitted on armed robbery) or get involved with former four-star Booker T. Washington corner Nigel Bethel (who isn’t participating in spring practice at Texas Tech) because Mark Richt doesn’t want to bring in players who have had off-field issues, a UM administrator said. Bethel had an altercation with a women’s basketball player in 2014.

Bethel remains at Texas Tech but is away from the team this spring while focusing on academics and the staff has been vague on his status.

• Though cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said he would love if Jaquan Johnson moved from safety to corner, that's not happening at least for now, safeties coach Ephraim Banda said.

"Jaquan is doing a great job right now, giving us a lot of confidence in him," Banda said, not ruling out Johnson eventually taking some reps at corner. "He's giving us a lot of depth on special teams. Right now he's doing exactly what he needs to be doing."...

James King has moved from linebacker to safety.... Safety Rayshawn Jenkins cites Ryan Mayes as the cornerback who has particularly improved.  "His mind is catching up with his body," Jenkins said. Mayes was a disappointment to the former staff.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz