03/22/2014

Saturday 6 p.m. report: Heat starters adjusting to Oden; Olsen gets first-team reps; Heat, UM chatter

7 p.m. update: As expected, Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden will sit out tonight at New Orleans, the second game of a back to back to set. The Heat listed rest as the reason for each and is being cautious with their knees, which is sensible.

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

Saturday 3 p.m. report:

The upshot of Erik Spoelstra’s decision to move Greg Oden into the starting lineup recently, on nights that he’s available, is that it gives the Heat’s other starters a chance to adjust to playing with the hulking 7-foot center.

And that adjustment remains very much a work in progress, especially offensively.

Oden has started three games since March 16 and has 11 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks but also eight fouls in 39 combined minutes in those games.

Oden was expected to sit out tonight’s game in New Orleans, with the Heat continuing its pattern of resting his knees on one of the nights of back-to-back sets.

“It’s a challenge because we haven’t played together,” Dwyane Wade said late Friday night. “For three years, [Udonis Haslem] was in the starting lineup and that’s what we were comfortable with. It’s been a challenge this year. Shane [Battier] was in it. We tried to put Michael Beasley in it and are trying to work Greg Oden in it.

“It’s a little different. We’re trying to get used to it and adjust to it on the fly, especially in March, [with] no practice time and a game every other day. We want him to continue to get comfortable and better in our system. We have to figure it out.”

Miami outscored Houston by one point in Oden’s 13 minutes in his first start and outscored Cleveland by eight in Oden’s 14 minutes in his second start, a contest that Wade missed.

But Memphis outscored Miami by 12 in Oden’s 12 minutes on Friday, though Oden wasn’t directly to blame for that. (He had five points, two rebounds and two blocks during his time on the court.)

Of Oden’s 24 field goals (in 42 shot attempts) this season, 17 are dunks.

Wade said the Heat isn’t trying to force-feed him the ball.

“He lets us know when he wants the ball, the way he ducks in,” Wade said. “I think he’s still trying to figure out when he can be aggressive, as in duck in, and sometimes getting out of the way. It’s not there yet. Even though he’s started a few games, he hasn’t played that many minutes with us.

“That’s something we’re just going to have to learn on the fly, learn each other. He doesn’t talk much, so it’s hard to go to him and see kind of what he likes. So we kind of got to figure it out on the court.”

ALLEN’S REVIVAL

Even during the midst of an extended shooting slump earlier this season, Ray Allen insisted he wasn’t worried because there was nothing off with his mechanics.

Still, it’s reassuring to see what the NBA’s all-time three-point king has done the past two weeks. Allen has led the Heat in scoring in three of the past five games, including an 18-point night Friday against Memphis.

Just as significantly, he’s shooting 50 percent, including 43.3 percent from three-point range, in 12 games in March, while averaging 12.4 points.

Allen had shot 32.6 percent and averaged 7.0 points in January, and 42.4 percent and 7.9 points in February.

“He’s playing well, playing with a lot of confidence,” Wade said. “He’s back to being Ray. We’re doing a better job of finding him, running more sets to him. But he’s being aggressive.

“Even when he doesn’t have his shot, Ray can still put the ball on the floor at times and finish, which he has been doing a very good of. He changed his mindset a little bit and understanding we’ve been struggling and we need that extra jolt. He’s given us that.”

### According to Elias, Friday’s game marked the first time that LeBron James (15 points), Wade (14 points) and Chris Bosh (11 points) all scored 15 or fewer points in the same game in any of the 227 regular-season contests they have appeared in together since becoming teammates in 2010.

### The Heat had a meeting scheduled with center Andrew Bynum on Feb. 1, the day he decided to sign with Indiana instead. But Bynum has played in only two games since, and the Pacers announced Friday he’s out indefinitely with soreness and swelling in his right knee.

### Wade, on the Heat losing six of its past nine before Friday: “It probably surprised us a little bit. Before our struggles, we won eight in a row. You understand throughout a season you’re going to go through bumps. We’re not above that. I don’t care how many Finals we’ve been to. It’s a different year. For us to win a championship, we understand we have to win it different.

“Hopefully, the struggles we’re going through are lessons for our team and hopefully that will prepare us for those moments later in the postseason.”

CANES CHATTER

Ryan Williams said after Thursday’s practice that he had received all the first-team reps through five days of spring ball. That changed Saturday, with Kevin Olsen working with the starters on one possession early in the day. He led the offense in a two-minute drive, culminating in a TD pass to Herb Waters. He then resumed working with the backups for the rest of practice.

“We're going to mix him in a little bit,” Al Golden said. “We gave him the two-minute today and didn't tell him. We wanted him to just keep his poise and try to assess the situation. He had no timeouts, needed a touchdown. I thought he did a good job. We were up against it there on fourth-and-eight and he came through and made a play, which was good."

Golden mentioned that Olsen's approach is "drastically different" from last season. How so? "His maturity, his energy, getting ready to play," Golden said.

Golden said Thursday that Ryan Williams remains ahead in the quarterback competition. Coaches and players have praised his maturity, improved arm strength, accuracy (which has been off at times this spring), knowledge of the offense and ability to make pre-snap adjustments. Williams threw a 35-yard TD pass to D’Mauri Jones on Saturday.

### Among those eliciting praise from Golden on Saturday: freshman cornerback Ryan Mayes (“he’s done a great job; as smart as can be; long”); safety Jamal Carter “light years” ahead of last year in regard to “maturity, preparation” and is a “physical, explosive player”); linebacker Thurston Armbrister (“playing well and fast”); linebacker Raphael Kirby; ends/outside linebackers Tyriq McCord and Al-Quadin Muhammad (“growing up right now”); and Dallas Crawford (adjusting to safety and “done a lot in a very short period of time.”)

### McCord and Muhammad have been competing at one end spot on first and second down, but both are being used together on third down. "We're not afraid to put Chick (Anthony Chickillo) inside and get him in a one-on-one matchup against a guard, (Ufomba) Kamalu is doing well in that instance as well," Golden said. "We're going to find the best grouping."

### Injured Olsen Pierre is expected to resume practicing next week. 

### Check back late tonight for more Canes, Heat, plus Dolphins and Marlins in the Sunday buzz column.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

03/21/2014

Friday afternoon update: Alarming trend continues for Heat; Fins candidate takes other job

Erik Spoelstra said late this afternoon that LeBron James is feeling better after experiencing back spasms earlier in the week and will play tonight. Greg Oden also is available. Dwyane Wade is, too.

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

Concerns about the Heat’s March Malaise – now six losses in its past nine games entering Friday night – shouldn’t be overstated. But as ESPN’s Doug Collins noted, if there’s one troubling sign, it’s the dramatic drop in the Heat’s defensive numbers.

Miami has never been this poor statistically in the Big Three era. Six of its past nine opponents have shot between 49.3 and 51.4 percent, which is disturbing.

The Heat can overcome ranking last in the league in rebounding, as it was last season and again this season, when it’s disruptive and stout defensively. But it can’t consistently overcome that under these circumstances. Consider:

### The last Heat team to allow more points per game than this one was the 2007-08 group, which finished 15-67 and permitted 100 points per game. This Heat team is relinquishing 98.7, good for seventh in the league but much worse than Indiana (92.2) and worse than the first three seasons of the Big Three era (94.6, 92.5, 95.0).

### More telling is field-goal percentage against. The Heat was second, fifth and sixth the past three seasons, finishing between 43.4 and 44 percent every year. This season? Miami is 18th at 45.7, with lottery-bound Orlando, Cleveland and Boston all stingier. Only twice in the past 14 seasons has Miami finished out of the top 10 in that category.

### The Heat gives up the highest shooting percentage both in the paint and on corner threes, according to NBA.com.

### SynergySports.com, which analyzes every play, said two Heat players have been “excellent” defensively in terms of points allowed on possessions that end against them: Chris Andersen and Norris Cole. The Big Three and a few others are ranked good or very good.

Ray Allen, Michael Beasley and Rashard Lewis grade out “average” defensively, and Udonis Haslem and Toney Douglas are given “poor” marks. Shane Battier is rated “good,” but Synergy notes that players he’s guarding are shooting 41.4 percent against him, up from 37.5 last season.

TNT’s Steve Kerr said off air, earlier this season, that the Heat’s defense at times “has been jarring to watch because this is Pat Riley’s creation. Defense is in their DNA. Defense is so much about effort. It’s not schemes. You watch and say, ‘Jesus, how does he get that open?’

“Too many open shots. That’s effort. One thing that’s important in how they play defense is blitzing pick and rolls, causing havoc. To play that style, three or four years in a row, and exert that kind of energy is almost impossible. It’s not like Indiana, where they are bludgeoning you.” Kerr said Allen “is weak defensively” and James “turns it on and off defensively.”

Off the air, NBA TV’s Isiah Thomas said at times this season, the Heat has been “a step slow. I see late reactions. There is a fatigue factor that can’t be ignored. It’s a mental fatigue.” But he expects the defensive sharpness “to come back.”

The Heat is assuming/hoping that once the playoffs arrive, its defense will return to the level of last postseason, when it held opponents to 90.7 points and 43.6 shooting.

Couple other quick notes:

### Former Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik took a studio job with ESPN on Thursday instead of accepting an offer to join friend and former colleague Dennis Hickey in the Dolphins’ front office. This was a lifestyle decision, not a slight against the Dolphins.

### The Marlins better hope that what we’re seeing this spring from three of their four new starting infielders isn’t a harbinger: first baseman Garrett Jones (.146), second baseman Rafael Furcal (3 for 18, injured hamstring) and third baseman Casey McGehee (.209)… The Marlins, who lowered every ticket price, have sold more than 20,000 tickets to their March 31 opener against Colorado. Season ticket sales are approaching 5000. They sold 12,000 season tickets in year one in the new ballpark, 5000 last season. 

03/20/2014

Thursday night update: Tidbits on Dolphins visitor Knowshon Moreno; UM notes

A half dozen tidbits on running back Knowshon Moreno, who will visit the Dolphins on Friday:

### Moreno is a productive back coming off his best season (1038 yards rushing, 4.3 per carry, 10 rushing touchdowns, 3 receiving touchdowns and 548 receiving yards playing behind a good offensive line and with a Hall of Fame quarterback).

But the metrics suggest he’s not clearly better than Miami’s other backs in breaking tackles.

Last season, Moreno averaged 2.0 yards after contact, which was tied for 39th among 55 backs, according to Pro Football Focus.  Who was he tied with? Daniel Thomas, whom Moreno presumably would replace. Lamar Miller was 31st at 2.1.

### Moreno broke or avoided 21 tackles --- the same number as Thomas and one more than Miller, despite having considerably more carries than both. Those 21 were 29th most among running backs. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, conversely, had 75 broken or avoided tackles.

### Moreno doesn’t break a lot of long runs, either. He had five carries of 20 yards or more, which tied for 17th, but needed 241 carries to do it. Miller and Thomas each had four such runs in substantially fewer carries --- 177 for Miller, 109 for Thomas.

### Moreno’s 4.3 per carry averaged tied for 21st among 55 backs. By comparison, Miller averaged 4.0, Thomas 3.7.

### PFF ranked Moreno eighth among all running backs as a pass blocker. For perspective, Miller was 33rd, Thomas 34th.

### Moreno had only one fumble in 241 rushing attempts last season. He’s young (26) and coming off his best season, albeit in an offense loaded with talent. He’s a more proven back than Thomas and a Miller/Moreno tandem would be serviceable at the very least and potentially much better than that, depending on blocking and other issues.

Keep in mind that Miami has signed every player who has visited since the official start of free agent. (D'Qwell Jackson visited here before free agency and got an offer but signed with Cleveland instead.)

Please check last night's post on Dolphins' cap issues if you haven't yet.

UM TIDBITS

### UM got a good oral commitment today, from Dade City Pasco High’s three-star prospect Bowman Archibald, who is ranked 14th among all tight ends by rivals.com. Alabama, FSU and UF were among his other offers. He was used mostly as a blocker last season but also caught eight passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He’s big (6-6) and physical.

### Kevin Olsen has looked sharper than Ryan Williams at times in spring practice, but Al Golden made this very clear after the fifth session of the spring on Thursday: "Obviously, it's Ryan right now. Ryan is ahead right now. Ryan is experienced and smart and doing a good job with the football." But he added that Olsen "is having a good spring."

### Olsen throws with more zip, but it was encouraging to see Williams complete a 50-yard pass to Stacy Coley late in today's session. "It feels good to stretch the defense," Williams said. "I've played good."

### Alex Figueroa, back healthy, is being disruptive from his outside linebacker position. "We missed that last year," Golden said. "He made three or four plays today. Played with a lot of energy."

Figueroa, whose two parents have military backgrounds, said his playmaking results from "the trained killer in me." OK then.

### The first-team linebacker group has remained consistent: Denzel Perryman in the middle, flanked by Raphael Kirby and Figueroa. Thurston Armbrister, Jermaine Grace, Darrion Owens and Juwon Young are behind them, with defensive ends Al Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Trent Harris also able to play outside linebacker when Miami uses a 3-4.

### With Clive Walford missing the spring, Standish Dobard got first team reps at tight end. "Standish is fast, can make plays after the catch," Williams said.

Golden said his linebackers "can run and we're explosive and we're bigger than we have been."

### Much improved receiver D'Mauri Jones also got some first team reps with Rashawn Scott and Coley.

### Because UM has been kind enough to allow reporters and fans to watch practice, we've heard some interesting on-field exchanges this spring.

Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio, trying to encourage his unit, told them Thursday: "The young linebackers are the weak link right now."

Linebackers coach Micheal Barrow later told his group: "We're supposed to be the strength of the unit, not the weak link."

D'Onofrio encouraged players to "over-exaggerate your communication."

Coaches implore players to focus. Barrow said Thursday: "Think you are on vacation out here like we're still on spring break. Wake up!"

Earlier this spring, defensive line coach Jethro Frankin told players he wants them to "pay attention" and not be "looking at the damn birds in the damn sky."

Check out Manny Navarro's blog later for more UM notes today. He'll have good stuff, as always.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

03/19/2014

Financial challenges await Dolphins; Heat-Celtics postscripts

So here are the Dolphins sitting on more than $19 million in cap space (according to the NFLPA web site), with needs to fill, but apparently no great urgency to burn through much of their remaining financial resources.

Part of the reason is simple: The list of remaining free agents at guard and tackle isn't impressive, and the Dolphins aren’t going to spend money if they don’t have a conviction about the players available or aren’t comfortable with their contractual expectations. Miami can try to fill some of those needs in the draft, including right tackle, presumably.

But there’s another incentive for the Dolphins to sit on some of their cap space: They will get needed financial relief by carrying a chunk of their cap room over to the 2015 offseason, when the Dolphins will have far less space than the past two offseasons.

Consider that for 2015, the Dolphins already have $129.78 million in cap commitments, according to overthecap.com, a figure that doesn't include an option for Mike Pouncey or allotments for Jared Odrick and Charles Clay, who will both be free agents after next season. This year’s salary cap is $133 million, a $10 million increase from a year ago.

If next year’s cap settles in at $140 million or so, that wouldn't leave Miami with much room unless the Dolphins can shave off a substantial amount by cutting players or restructuring contracts --- both of which likely will be very much in play next offseason.

Look at some of the Dolphins’ cap numbers for 2015:

Mike Wallace: $12 million

Branden Albert: $10.7 million

Brent Grimes: $10 million

Dannell Ellerbe: $9.8 million

Cameron Wake: $9.7 million

Reshad Jones: $7.8 million

Brian Hartline: $7.3 million

Cortland Finnegan: $6.4 million

Randy Starks: $6 million

Dion Jordan: $5.6 million

Earl Mitchell: $4.5 million

Koa Misi: $4.4 million

Philip Wheeler $4.4 million

Brandon Gibson: $4.2 million

Ryan Tannehill: $4 million

Brandon Fields: $3.9 million

Shelley Smith: $3 million

Nate Garner: $1.8 million

Some of those players would carry high cap hits if they’re cut. For example, if the Dolphins part ways with Wheeler after next season, the 2015 cap hit would be $4.2 million --- barely below the $4.4 million hit if he’s on the team.

But in the case of a few players signed this off-season, it wouldn’t be difficult to part ways. For example, if Finnegan bombs, Miami would sustain only a $1 million cap hit by cutting him. (Not great, but it could be much worse.) Same for Starks, if --- for some unexpected reason --- his play falls off. Shelley Smith’s hit would be just $250,000 if he’s cut after this coming season.

HEAT-CELTICS POSTSCRIPTS

Notable from Miami’s 101-96 loss Wednesday night in Boston:

### On a night LeBron James sat out to rest a sore back, the Heat hardly could afford Dwyane Wade shooting 2 for 9 in the second half on a 17-point night, or Chris Bosh shooting just 3 for 11 on a six-point night.

Nor could Miami afford Boston shooting 13 of 28 on threes, including 6 for 9 from Avery Bradley and 3 for 7 from Jeff Green. The Heat, conversely, shot 4 of 17 on threes. Even without LeBron, this was a disappointing loss, considering the competition, with the rebuilding Celtics entering on a five-game losing streak.

### And so Miami lost for the 11th time against a team with a losing record, lost for the sixth time in its past nine games, and for the 11th time in its past 12 regular-season games in Boston. The Celtics closed the game on a 9-4 run, including a three by Green that put Boston ahead for good (97-94) and two crafty baskets from Rajon Rondo, who had 15 assists.

“They started to get some open jump shots… in the second half, and our execution down the stretch was not where it had been,” Erik Spoelstra said.

### This one started so promisingly, with the Heat scoring 34 in the first quarter and 59 in the first half. But Miami mustered just 37 points in the second half. And it’s troubling to allow 101 points and 50.6 percent shooting to a team that’s usually offensive-challenged.

The Heat entered 17th in the league in field goal percentage against, uncharacteristic and somewhat worrisome for a franchise that typically finishes in the top 10 in that category.

### Udonis Haslem, who had started the Heat’s first six games and none since, started in place of Greg Oden, who sat out the second game of a back-to-back. By midway through the first quarter, Haslem already had established a season high in points with eight. He scored 10 of the Heat’s first 20 and closed with 14 points and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes.... Haslem surpassed Glen Rice for second place on the Heat's all-time games-started listed.

“He’s been terrific, incredible bottled up energy and toughness,” Spoelstra said. “That’s what this group needs.”

### Mario Chalmers had eight first-quarter assists (one off a franchise record) and 11 for the game. Thousands of miles away, he was being inducted in the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. The Heat outscored Boston by 12 with Chalmers in the game.

### Conversely, Miami was outscored by 21 with Wade in the game. He shot 5 for 8 in a 13-point first half, but his jumper was off in the second half and he played with a bloody nose throughout after being hit inadvertently early in the game.

“I didn’t feel right the whole time I was out there,” he said. “I felt like a boxer. I was just off. My nose was bleeding the whole game.”

### Bosh had seven first-quarter rebounds and closed with 11 boards but could never get untracked offensively, shooting 0 for 4 on threes.

### Chris Anderson scored 10 in the fourth quarter, and 16 for game, with eight rebounds in 20 energy-packed minutes, before being replaced by Haslem with two-plus minutes remaining.

### Michael Beasley started in place of James and had 12 points (5 for 11 shooting) and four rebounds and four assists --- but also four turnovers --- in 28 minutes.

### Spoelstra said James' back "was a little sore in the walk-through today, and it just didn’t get better by game time. It was a pretty easy decision. We’ll see how we feels when we get back to Miami.”       

03/18/2014

Scouts evaluate Marlins; Dolphins book draft visits; UM personnel moves; Heat chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN    

Random thoughts on the Marlins from four veteran big-league scouts who have evaluated them this spring:

### There’s more optimism than I expected, based primarily on the pitching staff. “They have some of the better young starters in baseball and a decent bullpen,” one said. "Their pitching is better than Atlanta’s.”

Said another: “Their team is better than the Phillies and Mets. Their pitching is very deep, and they have a power staff. All high quality starters.”

And another said: “I like their team. There’s a lot more positive energy now. I think they can get to .500 and maybe [better] because Philadelphia and New York are in disarray.”

### Among players that have impressed the most this spring: Pitchers Brad Hand and Tom Koehler. Each has allowed one run in 12 innings; one will be in the rotation, one likely in the bullpen. “Koehler’s stuff has gotten better,” one scout said. “He’s already a No. 4-type starter and could end up being a No. 3.”

### Prized lefty prospects Andrew Heaney and Adam Conley, both sent to minor league camp on Monday, also drew plaudits. One scout said: “Heaney can be really special, and Conley had got a good arm; he can relieve or start. I’m very impressed with the amount of good arms they have coming.”

### Concerns were voiced about Marcell Ozuna, who is 5 for 36 this spring. But manager Mike Redmond said today he still expects him to start in center field. 

“Last two weeks will be key for him, because this is the time pitchers break out their breaking stuff, and he’s vulnerable to that,” one scout said. “He’s a wild swinger. The tools are there, but he’s had a bad spring.  If they go with a [Brian] Bogusevic/Reed Johnson platoon instead, those guys are serviceable.”

Johnson (13 for 29 this spring) has been much better than Bogusevic (6 for 29). Jeff Baker also could see time in left field. And Jake Marisnick can’t be ruled out if he keeps hitting like this (.375 this spring).

Said another scout: “Ozuna has that big Gary Sheffield pump going, and it seems like he’s late getting his hands back and foot down.”

### From a scout perspective, there aren’t many doubts about Christian Yelich, even though he’s hitting .222 this spring. Though Ozuna has the stronger arm, “Yelich looks like a little better center fielder to me,” one scout said. “His range is better. Good instincts. He’s going to hit .280 to .300 in his career.”

### One scout worries about Rafael Furcal, 36, who has battled a hamstring injury this spring after missing all of 2013 with shoulder surgery. “When he has played, I haven’t been impressed,” one scout said. Another said: “Furcal looks heavy to me.”

Donovan Solano (.364 this spring) and Derek Dietrich (.371) are decent options at second base if Furcal misses time in the regular season, and both have hit well this spring. “Dietrich has played better than the Marlins probably expected,” one scout said. “He’s become more disciplined at the plate.”

### One scout said the Marlins are making a mistake if they start the season with Garrett Jones playing every day at first base, instead of platooning with Jeff Baker. Jones is hitting .158 this spring, Baker .296. “Jones can’t hit left-handers, and he’s got a very long swing right now,” one of the scouts said.

### One scout said the Marlins’ biggest worry should be “first, second and third base. Not very good. Casey McGehee [hitting .225] is a stopgap at third. Free-swinging guy. Hasn’t been great. He’ll play a representative third base.”... Another said: “One thing you learn in Japan is how to learn to hit breaking balls. It should make McGehee a better hitter.”

### On the Carlos Marmol experiment: “So far, he has been OK. He has thrown the ball over the plate, which for him is quite a challenge. But can he ever be trusted?” Two scouts said reliever Carter Capps, acquired for Logan Morrison, hasn’t thrown as well as they expected, at least not yet.

### Relievers Henry Rodriguez and Arquimedes Caminero have impressed. “Rodriguez might be a hidden gem,” one scout said. “Throws 98, decent curveball.” Another said Rodriguez “pitched this week as well as I’ve seen in a long time."

CHATTER

Teams are allowed to bring 30 non-local players to their headquarters for draft visits, and the Dolphins are summoning two University of Arizona players to Davie on Wednesday: cornerback Shaquille Richardson (good mix of size at 6-1 and speed, having run a 4.38 in the 40) and outside linebacker Marquis Flowers (a former safety with four interceptions and 6.5 sacks over the past two years). Neither was invited to the NFL Combine, but both have created a buzz.

XL Sports Management’s Marco Marciano, who represents both players with Frank Gaitan, said Flowers’ versatility and ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield is appealing to teams. Players cannot work out during visits to team headquarters but can meet with coaches, management and staff.

### One agent said the Dolphins told him they will be looking for a running back in the draft, and they feel they can find one in the mid-rounds if necessary. The top prospects --- all potential second-rounders --- include Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Auburn’s Tre Mason, Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk and Washington’s Bishop Sankey.... ESPN reported that Denver free agent running back Knowshon Moreno would love to join the Dolphins, but it's unclear if the interest is mutual.

### Though the Dolphins have inquired about Devin Hester, his agent said they hadn’t booked a visit as of Tuesday. Hester made his first visit to Atlanta today…. Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin continues to make the most sense for Miami at No. 19, but ESPN’s Mel Kiper said Pittsburgh might take him at 15.

### Houston’s Dwight Howard, after battling the Heat’s Greg Oden on Sunday: “He’s got to get his timing back, and it takes a while to do that. He can’t get frustrated.”

But does Oden need to be more of a threat offensively by the time the Heat faces Indiana in the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup? Dwyane Wade insists no: “He does a great job of screening and doing the small things.” The Heat has been outscored by 21 points with Oden on the court this season (entering Tuesday), but he’s much better playing with Chris Bosh --– which is why starting him makes sense.

Oden played well in his third start of the season Tuesday, with six points (3 for 6 from the field) and three rebounds in 14 minutes, his season high. Miami was plus eight with Oden on the floor.

### Couple of other postscripts from Miami's 100-96 win at Cleveland: LeBron James was magnificent, with 43 points (including 25 in the first quarter), six rebounds, four assists and three blocks... Chris Bosh has been Miami's best shooter late in close games this season (topping 54 percent), and he nailed a three to break an 88-88 tie, then hit a jumper to extend the lead... 

Udonis Haslem got rare late-game minutes and made the most of them, including a key block of a Dion Waiters shot down the stretch. Haslem had six boards in eight minutes. "He really can make an impact in those short burst minutes with some rebounding and energy," Erik Spoelstra said... With Dwyane Wade (rest) sitting out on the first night of a back-to-back, Toney Douglas started and had nine points and five assists... The offshoot of Oden entering the starting lineup has been Michael Beasley's departure from the rotation. Shane Battier is getting those minutes off the bench.

### UM coach Al Golden said he has given thought to moving Ray Lewis III to running back (where he excelled in high school) but will leave him at cornerback if he’s one of Miami’s top four corners (which doesn’t seem very likely to me)… Golden said he wants to give Corn Elder, recovering from a knee injury, some playing time at receiver this season in addition to cornerback duties… Anthony Chickillo, left off the field on a lot of third downs last season to the surprise of many, said he spoke to coordinator Mark D’Onofrio about that and expects that to change. “I want to be in on third down,” he said. 

### Quick plug for a good cause: Merchandise being sold on Superfansportsfundraising.com this week is being used to help raise money for Pembroke Pine Charter Schools, with the school raising the most money getting a visit from Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers. The web site sells all sorts of pro sports and college merchandise.

Tuesday afternoon UM football update: More encouraging signs from Olsen, news and notes

Quick hits from UM spring football practice, which resumed this morning spring break:

### In the Canes’ fifth practice of the spring, Kevin Olsen continued to show clear improvement from the fall. His accuracy has improved, and he appears more decisive in the pocket, though he did throw an interception to linebacker Juwon Young today.

"Kevin right now is having a really good spring,” Al Golden said. “He's really mature, doing all the little things you need a quarterback to do and it's showing on the field. He's distributing the ball really well for us, running it. He has to continue to raise his confidence level and continue to lead, but that'll come the more comfortable he is with the offense."

Ryan Williams was up and down Tuesday and at one point missed a wide open Standish Dobard in the end zone on a short throw. But Golden said: “He’s having an excellent spring. Ryan’s accuracy is evident on the field. Not a lot of balls on the ground. His percentage has been high. That’s what he can do. Every guy we have has a different talent; his is his ability to read it conceptually, diagnose it and get the ball out quickly.”

Williams remains the front-runner for the job, but this is far from a slam dunk. This battle likely will extend well into August, and Olsen continues his ascent, it will be a more difficult decision than UM envisioned.

### Though Dallas Crawford has had growing pains adjusting to safety, Golden said he still believes that’s his best chance to get on the field and there's no thought of returning him to running back.

### Golden said tight end Jake O'Donnell "has had a really good spring. He's up to about 254. Clive (Walford's) absence has benefited him. He's getting a lot of work and is really coming through for us. Jake's one of our fastest tight ends."

### When Anthony Chickillo returns from a foot injury, Ufomba Kamalu and Al-Quadin Muhammad will battle for the end spot opposite him. Chickillo is resting the foot as a precaution.

With “(Anthony) Moten in the wing we have a chance to really improve that position in the fall," Golden said. "Right now we have Quan and Tyriq McCord at the other end with Trent (Harris) and those other guys behind them. Demetrius Jackson can play that spot too. That's probably the best depth we've had there from start to finish. It's going to be a lot of competition."

### Chickillo is pleased he decided to return to UM instead of going pro: “I’m happy. It’s a chance to raise my stock.”

Golden said he’s encouraged by the play of the defensive tackles, but we want to see it for ourselves in September. “Jelani Hamilton has to keep coming on,” Golden said. “It’s time for him.”

What stands out about defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, an early enrollee? “His strength,” Golden said. “Oh my God. Really strong.”

Chickillo said Heurtelou reminds him of former Cane Micanor Regis.

Golden reiterated he hopes to get a big contribution from summer arrival Michael Wyche at defensive tackle. Earl Moore continues to get first-team tackle reps opposite Olsen Pierre, who’s the best of the group. Olsen and Wyche assuredly will be in the tackle rotation; at least two others must emerge.

### For those looking for encouraging morsels about the defense, there’s this, which shouldn’t be overstated: “They were more physical and tougher than the offense today,” Golden said. “The offense is going to have to regroup."

### Golden said Hunter Knighton, out of the hospital after collapsing and losing consciousness on the practice field several weeks ago, "is being integrated right now. Our biggest concern right now is getting him caught up on school. The next step is getting back to football." Golden declined to speculate on a timetable.

### Cornerback Artie Burns made it clear he hopes to unseat an older player for a starting job: “I feel I can go in and start.”

### Tim Harris said his new role at UM is almost identical to the one he had at UM under Randy Shannon “but I feel more comfortable doing it. I understand the roles.”

He needs to graduate from college to be able to coach, and Harris said he is two semesters away from doing that. “I know I can coach,” he said. “My record speaks for itself.”

By the way, Erik Spoelstra said Greg Oden will get his second straight start for the Heat tonight, in Cleveland. Check back tonight for Heat, Dolphins, Marlins and a few more Canes items I heard today.

03/16/2014

10 a.m. Dolphins item; Dwyane Wade at historic shooting level and LeBron James close

Now that the Heat is back on track with Sunday's win against Houston, let's take a minute to acknowledge something remarkable that has gone somewhat under-the-radar regarding LeBron James and Dwyane Wade:  

### Wade is poised to post the highest shooting percentage by any shooting guard in the past 29 years and the highest of any starting shooting guard since the NBA implemented the three-point shot in 1979-80.

Wade is shooting 55.1 percent from the field --– something Michael Jordan never did over a full season. Jordan’s high: 53.9 in 1990-91.

And if he stays above 54 percent, it would be the highest by a shooting guard since Atlanta backup Mike Glenn shot 58.8 in 1984-85. The highest field-goal accuracy by a starting shooting guard in the three-point era was Otis Birdsong, at 54.5 percent in 1980-81.

What’s more, Wade is on pace to lead all shooting guard in accuracy for the fifth time in the past six seasons. (He was beaten out by Wilson Chandler in 2009-2010). Wade has topped 50 percent only once before – 52.1 last season.

Shooting 54 percent, let alone 55, “is something I’ve never done before, so it would be great,” he said. “I take pride in my field-goal percentage, have always cared about it. I was 49.6 percent in college. I wanted to be at 50. I try to take good shots.”

For perspective, only one other NBA guard has shot better than 50 percent this season: Phoenix's Goran Dragic at 50.8.

So what’s the biggest difference? Wade said he worked on his mid-range game and post game during the offseason, and the results are dramatic.

Consider that Wade is shooting 53 percent from 3 to 10 feet, well above his 46.4 career mark. From 10 to 16 feet, he’s at 47.5 percent, a huge jump from 38.1 in his career.

He’s shooting 55 percent when he posts up, up from 48 percent last season: “I’m pretty good on the post game. I added that. I didn’t have it in college.” He also has diversified his game by polishing his Eurostep move and adding a hook shot.

Wade has taken only one heave at the end of a quarter after shooting 17 over the past five seasons. Will he avoid those shots to keep his percentage high?

“I haven’t been in that position [to take them],” he said, with Wade usually on the bench at the end of the first and third quarters. “It depends on how I’m going. Sometimes, I’ll want to shoot. Sometimes, I’ll dribble it out.”

It also helps his percentage that he shoots three-pointers sparingly (he’s 9 for 27), after launching 243 in his final season playing without James. Wade noted the Heat already has enough three-point shooters without him lofting a lot of them. But Indiana coach Tom Crean, his friend and former coach at Marquette, said last summer that it’s a part of his game he will need to polish as he gets older.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said “the No. 1 factor” in Wade’s remarkable shooting percentage is his shot selection and “not settling” for bad ones: “Most players aren’t capable of that type of maturity. It becomes about them.”

### James stands at 56.9 percent from the field, even after shooting just 45 percent over the past six games. He needs an exceptional close to post the highest shooting percentage of any starting small forward (and better than any guard, for that matter) since the three-point shot was implemented.

Cedric Maxwell shot 58.8 percent for Boston in 1980-81 but attempted only one three-pointer. Conversely, James has attempted 240 and made 89, which would naturally drag down a high shooting percentage.

In the three-point shot era, 11 starting small forwards have shot at least 55 percent in a season. James seems likely to do it twice in a row, after shooting 56.5 percent last season.

For perspective, the highest Larry Bird ever shot in a season was 52.7, Scottie Pippen 52, Rick Barry 51, Alex English 54, Julius Erving 54.6, Chris Mullin 55.3. Dominique Wilkins, Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek never shot 50 percent.

“Do you realize his field goal percentage, literally since his first season, every year has gone up?” TNT’s Greg Anthony said. “That’s unbelievable. How can a perimeter player shoot 58 percent?  When you’re the focal point of the defense, and you’re playing at an elite level, to shoot that high of a percentage is absurd.”  

DOLPHINS ITEM

Right tackle Zach Strief, who declined an invitation to visit the Dolphins --- re-signed with New Orleans today. "Saints are his home," agent Ralph Cindrich explained of his decision not to pursue Miami.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have expressed preliminary interest in Houston free agent right tackle Ryan Harris but no visit has been set up, according to Herald colleague Adam Beasley. Harris and Eric Winston are the top remaining right tackles available. The Dolphins instead might choose to draft one, potentially Notre Dame's Zach Martin at No. 19.

 

Please see the last post for Dolphins, Marlins and Canes items Twitter:@flasportsbuzz

Dolphins free agency, Heat notes, Riley/Shula/LeBron moment, Marlins, UM chatter

Sunday morning tidbits:

### Keep this in mind about new Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was a very good player before declining and battling hamstring and orbital injuries the past two years:

One recurring issue is that he has allowed simply too high of a percentage of passes to be completed against him: 66.7 and 63 percent in 2010 and 2011 (his most recent very good season), 73 percent in 2012 and an absurd 76 percent last season (26 of 34).

By comparison, Nolan Carroll (who left for Philadelphia) allowed just 47.8 percent last season, and Dimitri Patterson (who was released) just 58.1.

The problem is Finnegan’s per-catch average has ballooned, from 8.8 in 2011 (fourth-best among all cornerbacks) to 13.6 last season. At his best, Finnegan, 30, is a feisty corner who gets under the opponent’s skin. But the Rams thought he had lost a step. “It’s the first job I’ve ever been fired from,” he said of the Rams cutting him recently. “I have a chip on my shoulder.”

### Here’s how Pro Football Focus evaluated new Dolphins guard Shelley Smith, who started only two games last season but played in 14: "In Smith’s 371 snaps this season he put up a run blocking grade of +12.3. He had the fifth-highest percentage of [running play] snaps graded positively among all guards. Those kinds of numbers are too impressive to just be a fluke. The Rams’ guard plays with great leverage at 6-foot-3 and was a terror pulling all year.

"The only problem is in Smith’s 731 career snaps he has a pass blocking grade of -10.1. A lot of teams aren’t willing to sacrifice that much pass protection for a good run blocker and Smith could have a tough time winning a starting job wherever he goes.”

### The Dolphins have been giving thought to having Koa Misi play middle linebacker, which would shift Dannell Ellerbe outside. But they’ve also toyed with that before.

### Though the Dolphins remain interested, right tackle Zach Strief's priority remains trying to get a deal done with New Orleans... 

Though the Dolphins could do worse than Bryant McKinnie as a veteran tackle backup – and he would welcome a return – Miami has not discussed that, according to his representation. Incidentally, McKinnie will host a celebrity basketball game at 7:30 Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena to benefit underprivileged students in the Miami area. Cost: $25 for adults, $15 for kids. (The arena will be cleared after the 3:30 p.m. Heat game).

### Pretty neat tonight to see Pat Riley and Don Shula on stage together at Heat announcers Eric Reid's and Tony Fiorentino's outstanding annual charity event, which benefit's Lauren's Kids. "There's nobody I respect more than coach Shula," Riley said, on stage at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. "Don Shula for me is an all-time, all-time."

### Riley flew in from Atlanta, where he was scouting the SEC Tournament, to give a testimonial to LeBron James, who was honored at the event. "I just got off the plane from Atlanta; I was looking for somebody to help LeBron," Riley quipped.

Riley said there are ups and downs in his career but "with LeBron, it's been nothing but great. He's not just an incredible player. He does so much for other people." Riley called James "a person I admire and love." (Top that, Phil Jackson!; a New York Daily News column speculated today that Jackson will try to lure James to the Knicks, which is a major longshot.)

Riley said the arrival of LeBron in Miami in 2010 and the Heat's two subsequent championships "has changed the state. It has changed the city. I knew somewhere along the way, the impossible could really happen. And it did."

### James gave a classy speech. "So blessed and excited," he said. "I represent more than myself. I represent every single kid that looks up to me as a role model, a superhero... I take that role very seriously."

Then he said the "real superhero" is Lauren Book, who was the victim of sexual abuse by her nanny as a child and is the founder of an organization that educates kids and adults about sexual abuse and raises awareness. (She's the daughter of prominent lobbyist Ron Book, who also has been instrumental in helping his daughter's organization.)

 ### After showing promising signs earlier this month, Greg Oden's play has leveled off in recent appearances, raising questions about how much can be realistically expected as he works his way back from four years of injuries. In the last four games, spanning 20 minutes, Oden has four points, two rebounds, five fouls and three turnovers, and Miami has been outscored by 27 points during his time on the floor.

Overall, Miami has been outscored by 22 in Oden's 138 minutes. The other Heat players with a negative plus/minus: Michael Beasley (minus 9), Toney Douglas (minus 80) and Udonis Haslem (minus 106).  

### One Marlins official said if center fielder Marcell Ozuna continues to struggle offensively and doesn’t make the team out of spring training, one good possibility is moving Christian Yelich to center and have Brian Bogusevic and Reed Johnson platoon in left. The Marlins also could opt for defensively-gifted Jake Marisnick if he is absolutely exceptional offensively all spring, which they aren’t necessarily expecting. But they’re still hopeful Ozuna will turn it around.

### What led to UM offensive lineman Hunter Knighton losing consciousness earlier this month? According to multiple people, he had been sick for a few days, hadn’t eaten much and tried to participate in the U-tough training program before collapsing. It was very scary, “touch and go” for a few days, but he’s now out of the hospital and doing well.

### UM is no longer pursuing four-star football/basketball standout Derrick Griffin, who couldn’t make it academically. 

 

03/14/2014

Heat makes roster move; Encouraging outlook for UM hoops; Heat, Dolphins, Marlins chatter

2 p.m. update: The Heat signed center Justin Hamilton, its former second-round pick out of LSU, and waived guard DeAndre Liggins, who was working under a second 10-day contract. Hamilton averaged 19.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.5 assists and shot 49 percent for the Heat's NDBL team in South Dakota. Hamilton is playoff-eligible, by the way. He signed for the remainder of this season, with a non-guaranteed team option for next season.

 

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

UM's basketball season ended Thursday (barring some postseason invitation that Jim Larranaga has said is not going to happen). But good news looms for Larranaga's program: Next season’s team should be considerably better, more potent offensively, and more interesting to watch.

UM will get a boost from high-scoring guard DeAndre Burnett (who missed this season with a wrist injury) and two transfers who were ineligible this season: former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez and ex-Texas guard Sheldon McClellan.

McClellan, who averaged 13.5 points for the Longhorns in 2012-13, is “a very, very talented offensive player --– kind of a combination of Durand Scott, Rion Brown, Trey-McKinney Jones,” Larranaga said. “He has size, length, jumping ability, shooting ability, driving ability, can make free throws. He hasn’t become the defender he should be. Most of the really good offensive players rest on defense. We can’t afford that.”

Senior guard Rion Brown calls McClellan “a freak of nature. He’s athletic even just passing and dribbling!”

McClellan said he came to Miami because of Larranaga and “how he handles players. And transfers have done well here” – include Shane Larkin and McKinney-Jones.

He said “motivation and time management” were problematic for him at times at Texas, but he has improved in both areas. “I’m in the gym more now,” he said, adding that a backcourt duo of himself and Rodriguez “can be pretty scary.”

Players rave about how Rodriguez has become the team’s vocal leader even though he wasn’t eligible to play this season. He has corrected players when they do something wrong at practice, even yelling when needed.

Rodriguez, who averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists at Kansas State last season, “can create for a lot of people,” freshman guard/forward Davon Reed said. “He’s a guy you want to play with because he makes the game easier for you.” And he’s a skilled defender.

UM is expecting a lot from Burnett, who averaged 36 points for Carol City as a senior two years ago. “He's a great scorer,” Reed said. “He can catch and shoot, can go off the dribble.”

Larranaga said UM will play a lot of small ball next season, because most of its best players will be guards: Rodriguez, Reed (who will see a lot of time at small forward), Burnett, McClellan, Manu Lecomte (improved considerably as the season progressed) and two newcomers: four-star point guard JaQuan Newton (rated the nation’s 35th-best recruit by rivals.com) and three-star shooting guard James Palmer (rated the 114th-best player). “Scoring will not be an issue next year,” senior Erik Swoope said.

UM’s incoming class has two three-star power forwards (6-8 Omar Sherman and 6-9 Ivan Cruz Uceda), but no natural center unless UM finds one with its last scholarship available, which Larranaga prefers to use on a senior transfer.

Larranaga said it’s “impossible" to find a big man "with skills who knows how to play.”

“There are not a lot of those guys out there. Those guys are so highly recruited. There are not a lot of those guys in the NBA anymore, guys like Dwight Howard."

Sophomore seven-footer Tonye Jekiri hasn’t progressed as much offensively as UM hoped.

“Last summer, he worked at it, but he didn’t kill himself,’ Larranaga said. “He really needs to become fanatical if he wants to score at all. The only baskets he’s really getting are right at the rim. He makes a jump shot once every five games.”

Larranaga privately has said his biggest regret was not playing Swoope more earlier this season. But Swoope said: "What we did this year was a testament to his coaching. We could have been way below .500. He got the most out of this team."

CHATTER

### Besides the drop-off in defensive metrics from last season, the biggest change in Heat performance this season has been Miami’s play late in close games. Last season, in the final five minutes of games with a five-point margin or fewer, Miami was 32-8 and outscored teams by 131 in 176 minutes.

This season, Miami is 19-13 in those games and has outscored teams by nine (12th in the league) in 139 minutes. (Indiana is plus 54.) Last season, the Heat shot 49 percent in the clutch, with 88 assists and 40 turnovers. This season, it’s 43 percent, 40 assists, 33 turnovers.

Chris Bosh is shooting 58.5 percent in the clutch and LeBron James 48.6, but each has had turnovers in the final seconds of close games in the past week, and every Heat guard in Erik Spoelstra's rotation is shooting below 40 percent in the clutch.

### The Dolphins, who hope to sign guard Shelley Smith after his visit today, still had $26 million in cap space as of 4 p.m., according to the NFLPA web site. [UPDATE: The Dolphins have signed Smith to a two-year deal. They also have reached a two-year deal with cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was one of the league's top corners for Tennessee before a decline in play the past two years with St. Louis. He missed the final nine games last season with a fractured orbital bone.]

### Free agent right tackle Zach Strief declined an offer to visit the Dolphins. Indications are that he prefers to return to New Orleans.

### In exchange for Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins will get a seventh-rounder in the 2015 draft, but only if he’s on the 49ers opening day roster. Though Stephen Ross repeatedly said he planned to meet with Martin, they never did, according to the Martin camp. No Dolphins official called Martin directly when the trade was made, though that's not unusual.

### The Dolphins envision new defensive tackle Earl Mitchell as an every down player. He received an identical four-year, $16 million offer from San Diego but liked Miami’s defensive system better…. Though New England-bound Darrell Revis has a home in South Florida and likes the Dolphins, he wanted to play on a short contract with a Super Bowl contender. So Miami wasn’t a serious contender, despite an inquiry.

### Marcell Ozuna, who the Marlins have projected as their starting center fielder, is hitting .179 this spring (5 for 28). Conversely, center fielder Jake Marisnick surprisingly has hit well (7 for 21, .333) after seeming overwhelmed offensively in his Marlins stint late last season. Ozuna's offensive game is far more advanced than Marisnick's, and the Marlins are counting on Ozuna's bat coming alive at some point this spring. If it doesn't, an interesting decision looms in center field.

03/13/2014

4 p.m. Thursday afternoon Dolphins free agent chatter; Heat, broadcast notes

Couple quick items on remaining priority positions of need as the Dolphins plow through the first week of free agency:

### Right tackle: Zach Strief, 30, remains by far the best unsigned player at the position, and the Dolphins called his representation earlier in the week, expressed interest in Strief and spoke of setting up a visit. But Strief had been committed to a banquet in Cincinnati and was unable to take any visits.

UPDATE: The Dolphins reached out to Strief again on Thursday and asked him to visit. A decision is pending. The leaguewide sense has been that he prefers to return to New Orleans, but the Saints and Strief haven’t been able to come to an agreement. And he is now receptive to talking to other teams.

Pro Football Focus rated him seventh among all tackles last season, based on his 2013 performance.

Mel Kiper reiterated today that Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin makes the most sense for Miami with the 19th pick in the first round, though he wonders if Pittsburgh might take him four spots earlier. Martin could slide into the starting right tackle job.

Beyond Strief, the list of other remaining free agent tackles isn’t extraordinary --- a group include Michael Oher, Eric Winston, Ryan Harris and J’Marcus Webb.

[UPDATE: Tampa announced at 2 p.m. that it's releasing Donald Penn, who Dennis Hickey knows well from his time in Tampa. But he's a natural left tackle and Oakland and Washington could have interest in him at that spot.]

### Guard: Shelley Smith is visiting with the Dolphins tonight after visiting with the Patriots at this hour, and his camp is hopeful there will be an offer from Miami. The good news: PFF.com ranked him 21st among all guards for 2013 and fourth as a run-blocker. But he has started just eight games over the past two seasons.

Miami has called to express some level of interest in several other guards, including Daryn Colledge and Wade Smith and center/guard Even Dietrich Smith. Davin Joseph remains a possibility. Figure on the Dolphins signing at least one veteran guard.

### Cornerback:  The Dolphins have considerable faith in Jamar Taylor, and he figures to join Brent Grimes and a to-be-determined veteran among their top three corners. The Dolphins haven’t ruled out a return by Dimitri Patterson, but nothing was imminent on that front as of Thursday afternoon.

Miami has expressed interest in Tarell Brown and Walter Thurmond, and there are decent other options: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cortland Finnegan, Brandon Browner, Terell Thomas, Josh Wilson, EJ Biggers, Antonio Cromartie, Antonie Cason, Jabari Greer, plus past-their-prime Champ Bailey and Dunta Robinson. Several of those players have been taking visits elsewhere, including Browner and Thurmond with Washington and Cromartie with Arizona (among a bunch of others with other teams).

[5 p.m. update: Finnegan will visit the Dolphins on Friday, according to NFL.com's Albert Breer. He was cut by the Rams after this past season. He played in only seven games because of injury, starting pick and picking off a pass. PFF ranked him 109th of 110 cornerbacks last season.]

Nolan Carroll signed with Philadelphia today, and Miami didn't tender RJ Stanford.

### Random stuff: Since his 61-point outburst, LeBron James has scored 22, 19, 17, 23 and 19 points over the next five games. Only twice before during his Heat tenure (early in year one, late in year two) had LeBron scored so few points over a five-game stretch… With his team having lost four of five, Erik Spoelstra wants to give his players a mental break. So he scheduled no practice for today and no shoot-around on Friday, when Miami plays Denver. It’s unusual not to have one or the other when games aren’t back-to-back... As we mentioned yesterday, ESPN/ABC wants Chris Fowler to replace Brent Musburger as the network’s lead play-by-play voice on college football. And ESPN/ABC made it official today, announcing Fowler would assume those duties, paired with Kirk Herbstreit, in a new contract that runs through 2023.