April 27, 2016

Heat Game 5 reaction, with Miami now one loss from elimination; Wednesday evening Heat news, including player return; Fins notes: On the Tannehill/Gase relationship; Gase's new offense; DeVante Parker; Jay Ajayi; Gase's unique approach and more

Reaction after this 90-88 Heat loss that leaves Miami down 3-2 in this series:

• Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, on Miami's offensive shortcomings late (a desperation 27-foot miss from Josh Richardson, a Goran Dragic three that was blocked and a Dwyane Wade layup that was blocked, after a Wade offensive rebound): "Dwyane looks like he got fouled on the offensive rebound. He got fouled. It looked like it was open and Dwyane got blocked... On [the other failed offensive possession late], that's on me. I should have called a timeout once it became a broken play. I didn't call a timeout to get us organized. That one's on me....

"They made big shots going down the stretch. Big threes, pullup threes. And Courtney Lee, two straight games,  had the biggest offensive rebounds.

"It hurts, losing at home. But welcome to the playoffs. The playoffs just started. When a team beats somebody on the road, the playoffs start. As raw as this feels, we have 48 hours to regroup and get ready for a heck of a battle in Game 6."

"I like the minutes Josh [McRoberts] gave us. We had a little more speed defending the pick and roll."

• Wade: On the late play, where he appeared to be fouled: "I haven't looked at it. It's pointless now. No reason for me to look at it. It's not going to change anything. I thought it was [a foul], but it wasn't called."

His wife, Gabrielle Union, tweeted the play and it clearly was a foul.

• Wade, on passing late for two others for shots (Richardson, Dragic): "I tried to trust my teammates in that instance. Instead of [playing] hero ball, I threw it back to the guys who were open. We didn't get great shots out of it. I felt instead of forcing the shot, I felt my teammates had better opportunities. We probably should have got to the drive instead of just shooting the ball. We've been in that situation a lot of times. We've succeeded a lot of times. Just didn't happen for us."

• Wade, on the Heat's predicament: "It's very challenging to go on the road with a team that hasn't won too much on the road and figure out a way to win. Gets no tougher than that. I don't know where this team is at. This is the first time this team has gone through this situation together. We'll have to figure it out as a unit....

"Tonight, you're going to be frustrated. Everyone in the locker-room should be pissed off. But tomorrow we learn from our mistakes and get ready for Game 6. My wife has got to deal with me tonight. I will be pissed off all night until I go to sleep. But when I wake up, as a leader, I will come in with a different mindset, watch the game, see where I can help my team. We were down 3-2 going into Boston. LeBron James had an amazing game to propel us to that win. It will be tougher for this team because we've never been in [this situation] together. We'll see what we're made of individually to go and fight for this win."

• Wade, who scored 25: "My mindset was to be aggressive all night and put pressure on them.They are a good defensive team. You are not going to be able to get anything you want just in a halfcourt set.... I thought we got the shots we wanted, especially after the first quarter."

• Hassan Whiteside had a bandage and ice on his hand -- the result of contact with Charlotte players --- but said X-rays were negative. "Guys were disappointed we lost," he said. "But it's not over."

On the Heat's final two ill-fated possessions, Whiteside said: "I was told to stand under the basket, try to get the offensive rebound."

• Goran Dragic: "Every loss hurts, especially at home, if the game is so close. We were up, but we made some mistakes down the stretch. They made their shots."

Any adjustments needed? "No adjustment. Just try to come up with those plays. We had a good game plan tonight. The game was close. In those pick and rolls, we need to be more focused, especially at the end of the game."

• Richardson, on his late missed three with 43 seconds left: "I saw a shot. It was there. and I took it. There is nothing else really to it. I was setting a screen for D-Wade to get to the basket and they kind of doubled up, so he was giving it back to me. The first look was for Dwyane to get a look at it."

• Hornets coach Steve Clifford: "Their defense was terrific. We made more threes (12 for 24). We were plus eight in the fourth quarter on a playoff game on the road. We did a good job at the end... Having Nic [Batum] back helps us with size on the perimeter."

Clifford, on Courtney Lee getting a huge offensive rebound in the final minute for the second game in a row: "Look, he's made the two biggest plays of the last two games and they've both been offensive rebounds."

Clifford, on a controversial late foul call against Miami: "I don't know if Cody [Zeller] got fouled, but it works for me."

Clifford, on Marvin Williams, who shot 1 for 17 in the first two games but had 17 points (7 for 10) and 8 boards tonight: "His defense and rebounding have been out of sight. We always play better when he's out on the floor. He helps his teammates play better at both ends of the floor."

 

BOSH UPDATE

A few Heat nuggets before tip-off:

• Tyler Johnson is active tonight for the first time since undergoing shoulder surgery in January. But Erik Spoelstra said he would play only in an emergency.

"He's been pretty active doing all of the contact, a little bit of shooting, and for the last month we have been closely monitoring his pain," Spoelstra said. "Basically, it's been over a week and he hasn't had any pain and he's been able to do virtually everything. He's tested it as much as he can possibly test it. We feel he is ready.

"I would still like to see him in another full-contact work, but I've been watching him."

Briante Weber and Chris Bosh will be the Heat's inactives tonight.

• Speaking of Bosh, his wife Adrienne's use of "#BringBackBosh" in a tweet yesterday gained national traction today, with ESPN talking-head shows debating the meaning and whether Bosh should be allowed to play.

As Ethan and I noted Sunday in this piece, there has been disagreement between the Heat and the Bosh camp about how his medical situation has been handled.

Bosh initially sought opinions from multiple doctors about whether it was safe to come off blood thinners and resume playing this season. He wanted to play again this season.

One person with direct knowledge insists Bosh found one doctor who appeared willing to give clearance for him to play. That person said the Heat (and other doctors) disagreed with that assessment, and so he did not resume playing.

The Heat has been exceedingly cautious with Bosh, and understandably so, valuing his health far more than his ability to return and play this season.

Bosh is still intending to play next season, barring a dramatic change of heart.

• Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Nic Batum will play tonight, after sitting out with an ankle injury the past two games, but likely will come off the bench. Batum requested that so as not to disrupt the Hornets' chemistry.

• Clifford noted the Heat has been the NBA's best team offensively since the All-Star break and "when you're better than Golden State, that's saying something."

• Clifford said the two teams have basically taken each other's identity in this series, because the Heat was determined to take away Charlotte's three-point game and the Hornets wanted to take away the Heat's ability to score in the paint.

"Their game is in the paint [and] we've been better in the paint" in this series, he said. "We're saying you don't have range shooters. Shoot. And they're making them."

• Clifford marveled at the job Spoelstra has done, about how Spoelstra changed how the Heat plays on the fly and "this is without two of the three Big Three."

DOLPHINS NUGGETS 

When Ryan Tannehill drops back to throw in practice, Dolphins defensive players haven’t been the only ones chasing him this week.

His head coach, Adam Gase, sometimes joins the fray.

“It’s cool; when I’m throwing, he’s rushing me, making a move around in the pocket, just creating those habits,” Tannehill said Wednesday after the second full practice under Gase. “He’s a hands on coach. When guys see the head guy running around breaking a sweat and doing things to make us better, it creates even more of a level of respect.”

Over the past three months, Gase and Tannehill have cultivated a very good relationship, forged on the golf course and on the field and in meeting rooms and over meals, and Tannehill said he believes he can reach new heights under Gase,  who extracted more from Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler than others could.

“I think so,” Tannehill said. “I believe in myself and my preparation….. He’s easy to communicate with and relate to. We’re off to a great start.”

So what appeals to Tannehill about Gase’s offense?  

“Just the mindset of coach Gase and the way he wants to attack the field,” he said. “The multitude of things we can do whether it’s on the ball, in the huddle, moving guys around, creating matchups. He focuses a lot on that and that’s what this game is – it’s a game of matchups. I’m excited for that. To be able to get on the ball, working with him, get us in a good play and create those matchups where we have an advantage.”

Still, as he enters his fifth NFL season, he admits learning his third new offense is “tough. There’s a learning curve. It’s a real thing to have a learning curve. That’s why we’re here now. We want to speed it up. They are really challenging us with what they’re throwing at us and making us learn. Guys are retaining the information.”

Tannehill also tried to help speed up the process by throwing twice a week to his receivers and tight ends the past few weeks. "Got a lot of work in and I think it’s showing now,” he said.

As early impressions go, it has been positive from the perspectives of both the new coach and the quarterback.

“I didn’t realize how live his arm is,” Gase said. “The more I watch him throw, it’s effortless. That ball travels down the field pretty good. He’s hit some big plays, just underneath having some touch, it’s been good to see things live.”

And from Tannehill’s standpoint, “I’m impressed all around with him, the way he goes about things, the way he thinks of the game, the way he’s progressive in the offense, the way he challenges us. He’s really intuned with his players and the way we need to be challenged every day.”

• Tannehill, incidentally, said wife Lauren is due to deliver their first child in July, before the start of training camp.  “I’ll be around, see the birth, have some time with the baby.”

THIS AND THAT

Keep hearing this week that the Dolphins like Houston 6-1 cornerback William Jackson and Ohio State's 6-1 Eli Apple. Both loom as a real possibility at No. 13. So, naturally, would Ezekiel Elliott or Myles Jack if either surprisingly falls. And a half dozen other names will be in the discussion.

A potential trade-up for Elliott has been widely reported, but whether Miami can afford to do that is highly debatable.

• Tannehill said he isn’t upset about Ndamukong Suh not showing up for voluntary practice this week.

“I’m sure he’s working to get better doing his own thing,” he said. “No hard feelings. He’s done things a certain way his whole career, a process he goes through both mentally and physically. Sometimes you have to go through your own process to feel fully prepared in your own way.”

Everyone other than Suh has been in attendance except Koa Misi (working off the field because he’s sick), Mike Pouncey (missed Wednesday with an illness), Mario Williams (attending to a pre-approved personal matter) and Reshad Jones (unhappy about his contract).

• Though the Dolphins are expected to select a running back at some point in the draft, Jay Ajayi said he’s not concerned and Gase keeps praising him.

“He looks out there right now and he knows he’s the starter,” Gase said. “He’s showing me a lot of great things. I like his skill set. He’s impressed me more both days, from the first day to the second day.”

• Daniel Thomas, back for a third tour with the Dolphins, was with the Bears in training camp last season, playing in Gase’s offense. That knowledge of Gase’s approach is helping him, Gase said.

“He knows the terminology; he knows what we expect and he’s playing fast,” Gase said. “He’s a step ahead of everybody [in meetings]. He knows how I like calling a preseason game and I feel like I know his strengths. When he gets his opportunities in the preseason, we’ll use that to his advantage.”

• Gase on DeVante Parker: “He seems to be a quick study. I know he was well coached in college. We did a lot of homework on him in Chicago. He’s pretty sharp, picking up what we’re doing really quickly. He’s very attentive in meetings.”

• Gase explained his penchant for “talking smack” in practice and and re-routing players during drills and being generally ubiquitous:  

“I kind of got a little bored standing by the defense,” he said. “I went over and bugged the quarterbacks a little bit, just my way of jumping in there, for myself to get involved in their routes.”

And as for his penchant for being talkative with players in practice,  “I think it started more in Denver, when I was the wideout coach there and I had a group there between Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Stokley. Those guys, they never stopped. They rubbed off on me. Once we got Aqib Talib and Chris Harris and those guys going, it was a non stop battle. But it was fun.

“It made practice feel like it was so short because everyone was talking but everyone was working hard.”

"The guy I learned under a lot was Coach [Mike] Martz. He talked about as much trash as I’ve ever seen as far as a coach does to defensive players. Being around him, that kind of fueled my fire to know a coach can talk a little junk."

Does being young help him relate to players?

"I don't know," he said. "I've never been old yet."

For a lot more Dolphins, Heat and UM news (including UM seeking a stadium contingency plan), please click here. And check back tonight for Heat reaction after Game 5.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 26, 2016

Tuesday night: UM explores stadium options; Heat; Panthers; Bayless departs; Nuggets from Adam Gase's first practice: Alonso, Maxwell, CB, OG, two new players and more

A six-pack of Tuesday night notes to supplement our Dolphins post from earlier:

• With upgrades to the stadium formerly known as Sun Life running a few weeks behind schedule (according to Steve Ross associates) and tens of millions of dollars over budget, UM athletic director Blake James said this week that UM is putting contingency plans in place in case the stadium is not playable in time for the Sept. 3 opener against Florida A&M. UM also plays at home the next Saturday, Sept. 10, against FAU.

The Dolphins said they fully expect the stadium will be ready by their Aug. 25 preseason home opener against Atlanta on NBC but nevertheless have their own top-secret contingency plan. Other than Marlins Park (which is hosting its baseball team on Aug. 25 but not Sept. 3), FAU’s stadium would be the next closest option with 30,000 seats. The Dolphins also could look to a city upstate.

From a UM standpoint, FIU Stadium would be available Sept. 3. So that's one of several options. But FAU's stadium is not available Sept. 3.

It's difficult to see the Dolphins not doing everything humanly possible for the stadium to be ready, but they admit a weather disaster, such as a hurricane, could cause a delay. 

• Seemingly unable to stop Al Jefferson, Hassan Whiteside is allowing the player he’s defending to shoot 57 percent this postseason (10 percent more than what those players shoot against other defenders), among the worst for NBA centers this postseason and far worse than the 45.7 percent against him during the season (which ranked 14th best among centers).

"We need Hassan to have a big impact for us defensively," Erik Spoelstra said today. "He needs to play big minutes and be impactful."

Luol Deng predicted today: "I think [Hassan] is going to be great the next game. He always responds well."

As far as his offense is concerned, Whiteside said today: "They're a pack-the-paint team, trying to make it as tough as possible on me. ... We're going to be a different team. We've got the Heat Nation backing us now. We're back in South Beach.... Coach wants me to be the anchor.... At the end of the series, they've got to win in South Beach."

Deng, incidentally, is holding the player he’s guarding to the lowest percentage among Heat players in this series: 27.6 percent, on 8 for 29 shooting.

• Dwyane Wade was asked by Sun Sports' Jason Jackson today whether the NBA has changed so much that you can't be so physical and keep guys deterred in their forays to the rim. "My real feelings cannot come out or I'll be getting a fine," Wade responded.

• Joe Johnson is taking just nine shot attempts per game this postseason (well below his 15.0 career average). This comes after he launched just 10.5 shots per game in 24 regular season games for the Heat, his fewest in 13 years.

Johnson has wanted to blend in, but admits that both teammates and Spoelstra have encouraged him to shoot more. “Coach whispers in my ear a little bit,” he said, adding that his level of aggressiveness on offense “is dependent on the situation, what’s needed.”

Johnson shot 51.8 percent with the Heat during the regular season, third-highest among all NBA forwards since late February, behind only LeBron James and Michael Beasley. 

• Panthers GM Dale Tallon, at the team's end-of-season media briefing today, said he expects free agent Jaromir Jagr to return. He summed up his feelings thusly after the first-round exit: "It's frustrating. This hurts a lot right now but you can't lose sight of the fact we had a great year. Lot of great things happened to our franchise this year. I'm more frustrated for the players because they played well. It's not like we were outmatched. We had chances to win every game. We all have this pit in our stomach today. I'm very confident we'll be back in this situation.

"You can't lose sight of where we're headed and what we have in our system. That's the positive; we are headed in the right direction, have a lot of great assets."

Jagr, who did not have a goal in the series, said: "I thought we played a lot better than the results showed. Sometimes you have to suffer to move forward in the future. I'm very upset about the playoffs. If that happens again, I'm going to be ready."

• Skip Bayless, one of ESPN's most polarizing personalities for the past 12 years and Stephen A. Smith's sparring partner on the popular debate show First Take, is leaving the network when his contract expires in August. He is expected to become a host at Fox Sports 1, which is poised to pay him reportedly in the range of $5 million to $6 million annually, more than ESPN was willing to offer.

SI's Richard Deitsch listed Max Kellerman and Will Cain among candidates to replace Bayless on First Take.

 

DOLPHINS TALK

Dolphins chatter after their first practice under Adam Gase (Armando and Adam cover the contract-driven absence of Reshad Jones in their pieces):

• The Dolphins got their first on-field look at the two veterans for whom they traded out of the top 10 in the draft: cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso. To get fair value for moving down from 8 to 13 in the draft, they desperately need both to return to the form they showed not with Philadelphia last year, but their previous teams: Seattle, in Maxwell’s case, and Buffalo, in Alonso’s case.

 “I’m definitely a No. 1 cornerback,” Maxwell declared after practice. Why?

“Cause I feel that way,” he said.

Maxwell struggled early last season and Pro Football Focus ranked him 75th among all corners. But metrics show he played pretty well the final two months of the season.

The Dolphins expect him to thrive because they will allow him to play the way he did in Seattle earlier in his career. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is “allowing me to press, to get up in a receiver’s face and be aggressive,” he said.

“That’s one of the things I do best. I look forward to doing that…. He wants us to press and play man coverage and be aggressive with the receivers on the line and get them off their routes…. I love it down here.”

Gase said “as long as [Maxwell] is, and as physical as he is at the line of scrimmage, I’m just glad he’s on our side. He enjoys the defense he’s playing in under Vance [Joseph]. He’s a guy we’re really expecting to excel in our scheme.”

Alonso, who’s lining up at middle linebacker, said he has regained everything he had physically before tearing his ACL in the summer of 2014 and spraining it again early last season.

“Didn’t have a great year [in 2015]; I’ve got to get better,” said Alonso, who was rated 92nd among all linebackers by PFF for last season. “I like to think I can do it all. To be a great linebacker now, in this day and age, you’ve got to do it all – stop the run, play in coverage, play man to man.”

Do the Dolphins believe he can regain his 2013 form, when he was Defensive Rookie of the Year?

“I would say it’s tough for me to predict anything,” Gase said. “I mean, it’s been one day. We’ve had eight meetings. Time will tell. We have a long ways to go and we’ll see how it goes for the rest of the offseason.”

• The cornerback room will assuredly add players in the draft this weekend. For now, 6-3 Tony Lippett said he is lining up with the starters, opposite Maxwell, and said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph – who helped develop several defensive backs with the Bengals – is being hands-on with Miami’s young corners.

“He’s always with us,” Lippett said. “He’s always coaching us up on all the little things. He said he likes big corners. [This system] is more defensive back friendly.”

Lippett was beaten on the most notable play from practice – a Ryan Tannehill bomb to DeVante Parker for a touchdown….

• Joseph also believes he can extract more from Jamar Taylor, who really likes Joseph and said “I’m blessed to be here and still be a part of this organization.”… Multiple players, including defensive end Andre Branch and linebacker Jelani Jenkins, said they like Joseph’s attacking defense.

• The Dolphins aren’t sure what they have in 5-9 corner Iko Ekpre-Olomu, who was an All-American and considered a potential high-round pick out of Oregon in 2014 before a devastating knee injury that dropped him to the seventh round and required two major surgeries. Claimed off waivers from Cleveland last month, Ekpre-Olomu worked only on the side Tuesday, and Gase said: “We’re seeing how far we can bring him around, as far as where his injury was. We’ve got to figure out what’s going on with him. Iko was a high guy on a lot of peoples’ draft boards. Unfortunately, he got injured. We’ll see how that progresses.”

• Incidentally, we’re told the Dolphins showed no interest when Josh Norman’s camp was allowed to seek a trade before his release, then was willing to offer less (in years and money) than Washington when he became a free agent.

• With Jermon Bushrod recovering from shoulder surgery, the Dolphins on Tuesday cycled through incumbent guards Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas, plus veteran addition Kraig Urbik.

• Besides Maxwell, Gase was most effusive about Jay Ajayi.

“When I watched him coming out of college and then now I see him in person, I guess I never realized how shifty he was, and today was a great example,” he said. “Just seeing him stick his foot in the ground and change direction, you didn’t see him do that a lot in college. Just being able to see him move around, it was very impressive for me to see him in person. The way he cut in some of the run game schemes … I mean I’m really excited to see what we can do going forward.”

• Gase was happy to add former Patriots starting defensive tackle Chris Jones off waivers. He’s behind Ndamukong Suh (not present today or a lot recently), Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips. “Our scouts and personnel guys were really excited we had a chance to get him,” Gase said.

• Gase is far more demonstrative than Joe Philbin. Maxwell described him as “in your face.” Gase, who will call the plays, said “I went over and talked a little smack to the defense and let them know how many times we were going to throw over their heads.”

• Alonso has been in touch with suspended former Oregon teammate Dion Jordan but declined to say how he’s doing or whether he has applied for reinstatement.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Check back tonight for a lot more.

April 25, 2016

Heat Game 4 postscripts, reaction: Major TV news; Tirico leaves ESPN for NBC; What analysts say the Dolphins should do in first round; Is this football or basketball town? More data

Reaction and a few notes from the Heat's 89-85 Game 4 loss in Charlotte:

• Once again, the Hornets' guards outplayed the Heat's. While Kemba Walker scored 34 and Jeremy Lin 21 and often penetrated without deterrence, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic were combining for just 24 points (12 apiece) and nine turnovers (five by Dragic).

Dragic struggled defensively and sat most of the fourth after picking up his fifth foul early in the quarter. Wade had 10 assists and seven rebounds but shot 4 for 11. Josh Richardson stayed in the game late, instead of Dragic, but against struggled with his shot (1 for 7) and couldn't stop Walker, despite his usual maximum defensive effort. 

Once again, there were too many Heat turnovers (17) and just 39.5 percent shooting.

Hassan Whiteside had one of his least impactful games in recent weeks, with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks (with four fouls) in just 25 minutes.

"The most activity he showed were the last three, four minutes of the game," Erik Spoelstra said of Whiteside, who dealt with a bruised thigh.

Spoelstra played Udonis Haslem ahead of Whiteside for a large chunk of the fourth, partly because Whiteside had four fouls but more so because the unit with Haslem played well for a time. 

Luol Deng (15 points) shot just 4 for 14.

The Hornets' starting frontcourt shot just 5 for 22, but it didn't matter because their guards were so good and the Heat was again mistake-prone and shot errantly. And the Heat allowed two very costly Hornets offensive rebounds in the final minute.

Charlotte had just nine turnovers and 12 combined over the two games.

• Spoelstra, afterward: "It felt more throwback, old school Eastern Conference basketball. Both teams shooting under 40 percent. Physical. It was who could endure and make the last plays.... This is ultimately what you can expect. Two teams with the same records. Nobody said this was going to be easy... Scored 85 points, but sometimes that's the way it goes in the playoffs. We put ourselves in a position to make it a [one] possession game down the stretch.

"They made more plays down the stretch. You had two committed defensive teams that are going to make it tough on each other. Very equally matched teams. You have to find a way to overcome great players and great plays. Even as great a night as [Walker] had, we still had an opportunity at the end. They're being aggressive, really making our pick and roll defense have to contain them and be able to do it without fouling. We probably fouled more in these four games than we have in the last four weeks. But you have to credit them. They're aggressive."

• Wade, afterward: We had two bad moments in the third quarter, a really bad one in Game 3, a really bad one here but were able to go on a 17-1 run. [That Charlotte run] was just awful. It's tough to overcome that on the road.

"Coming out Miami, we were going to have to play different on the road to win the game. We weren't going to score 119 points on the road. We have to figure out other ways to win. We cut it to within one three times, where you believe you had put yourself in position to win but didn't make the final plays to do that..... Kemba, we were fortunate the first few games Kemba didn't shoot as well. He's a handful on the pick and rolls.

"There's only so much you can do with that little guy. He's crafty. Our guards are fighting. We're trying to tire him out. He got it going. We still defensively held them to 40 percent. At the end, he hit a couple of big jump shots. Maybe we'll make a few adjustments. We have got to do a little better job on pick and rolls with him and Lin. But they're good players. We did enough. We just didn't do enough to win the ball game....

"You always are trying to find a spark within a series. Coach gave [Udonis Haslem and Gerald Green and Dorell Wright] a few minutes. It was good to see those guys get in there. Hopefully as the series goes on, they'll get more opportunities. I like what those guys can bring to a team."

• Hornets coach Steve Clifford, afterward: "We have to find a way to carry this defense on the road. They have us on our heels offensively because the way they're playing is so different for our team.... Still, we are doing what we need to do, playing aggressively in driving the ball. But they're making us play differently than we've had to play most of the year.

"They get in passing lanes, which is uncommon for NBA teams. It had an impact on us. You have to be able to drive the ball there.... These guys thought we were better than people think we are."

• Former Wolves coach Sam Mitchell, on NBA TV, said the Hornets are outmaneuvering the Heat because "they kept putting Miami Heat bigs in pick and roll. They know they can get downhill on Miami centers." He called for Spoelstra to make an adjustment.

• Hassan Whiteside, via our Ethan Skolnick (who's in Charlotte): "It's the flop-offs, man. I thought the playoffs were physical. This ain't physical.... We gotta watch out for [Lin], because he likes to throw his arms into people."

And Whiteside (via the Charlotte Observer's Jason Jones) said of Cody Zeller: "Just don't get too physical with him or he'll fall over. I gotta do a better job against Cody floppin."

MAJOR TV NEWS

Mike Tirico is leaving his position as one of the signature voices of ESPN, including the marquee play-by-play job on Monday Night Football, to join NBC Sports, industry sources confirmed to me today.

The story was first reported by Sports Business Journal's John Ourand.

Longtime network announcer Sean McDonough, who has called college football for ESPN and ABC the past 16 years, is expected to replace Tirico alongside Jon Gruden on ESPN's Monday Night Football package, according to industry sources.

McDonough, 53, has previous NFL experience at CBS.

Tirico had been with ESPN since 1991 and the network's Monday Night Football voice since 2006, in addition to serving as the No. 2 NBA play-by-play announcer behind Mike Breen and handling other appealing assignments.

So why would Tirico, 49, leave one of the best jobs in sports television?

Money, quality of assignments and the potential to become one of the faces of NBC Sports very likely factored in.

At NBC, Tirico will work the nine Thursday night games that the network will produce in the wake of the NFL's decision to split the Thursday package between CBS and NBC. Five of those will air on NBC and NFL Network; the other four will air only on NFL Net.

At the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton last month, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus told me that Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who call the network's Sunday night games, "were both concerned about the added workload. It's a full time job to do one game a week. It's not just adding a three-hour broadcast. It's a substantial amount of work. Nobody raised their hand and said I really want to do double the workload. They  were all team players and understand the importance to the company."

Lazarus said one of the two announcers had more concerns than the other --- he declined to say which one --- but it apparently was Michaels, who's 71. Collinsworth will do the entire Thursday and Sunday packages.

Tirico is also positioned to succeed Michaels when Michaels eventually retires, should NBC retain NFL rights longterm. 

It would not be surprising if Tirico assumes a major role on the network's golf and Olympic coverage. And he's also positioned to someday possibly succeed Bob Costas, 64, as the network's prime-time Olympic host whenever Costas retires or tires of the gig.

Tirico will remain with ESPN through the conclusion of the NBA playoffs and could call a Heat game on Sunday if the Hornets series goes to a seventh game or if a Heat second-round series begins that day.

NBC and ESPN declined comment. An announcement is pending.

DOLPHINS DRAFT TALK

With just three shopping days left before Thursday's NFL draft, here's what some draft analysts say Miami should do at No. 13:

• ESPN's Mel Kiper: Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee.  “[Colleague Todd] McShay will give me grief for taking Lee this high, but I like his upside and think he fits in early on as an outside linebacker who can get into gaps as a blitzer, cover in space and be a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball. There are going to be growing pains, but I'm betting on Lee.

“[There’s] a clear need at cornerback and [Baylor's Xavien Howard] is a fit in the second round [at No. 42]. He's not coming in to fix the cornerback situation overnight, but that doesn't happen even with the top corners in the draft, and the physical tools are there to develop.”

• ESPN's Todd McShay: Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson. “Mario Williams and Cameron Wake are both getting up there in age, so the Dolphins need to find a way to infuse some youth along their D-line in this draft. The more I watch Lawson, the more I love his game. It wasn't a fluke that he led the nation with 25.5 tackles for loss; he plays with a combination of quickness, power, technique and relentlessness that is hard to stifle.”

• NBC and SI's Peter King: Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple. "The guy Miami would love is Ezekiel Elliott [as I have reported here], but moving up for him would be extremely hard if he’s coveted by Dallas. Still, Apple’s an opportunistic pick, a pro-ready cornerback on a defense desperate for one, after starting for two years on an Ohio State defense that prepares its players so well for the NFL. Remember one thing, though, about the Dolphins: Mike Tannenbaum always is ready to move on draft day, so I don’t think it’s impossible that he could find a way to move up for Elliott, if Dallas passes on him."

• NFL.com's Charley Casserly: Lawson. "They continue to build their defensive line in an effort to beat New England."

• GM Junior’s Russ Lande: “Probably [Clemson corner] Mackensie Alexander would be my first choice. Sure, you would like to see more picks [he had none in college], but I’ll trade the picks for pass breakups.”

• NFL Net’s Charles Davis: Elliott, if there. If not, “and Hargreaves is still there, Hargreaves would be my highest-rated corner. It’s Hargreaves, Eli Apple, William Jackson, Alexander in that order. Hargreaves has everything.”

• CBS’ Rob Rang: Ohio State LB Lee, an undersized former quarterback and former safety “with outstanding athleticism, including closing speed and explosiveness as a hitter. Miami’s linebackers struggled to make big plays a year ago. Lee remains a bit raw after leaving Ohio State as just a redshirt sophomore but his talent is obvious.”

• NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein: Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd. “Cameron Wake will be a 35-year-old  free agent next season, and Mario Williams appears to be a band-aid addition to the defensive front. In other words, defensive end could definitely be in play here despite the Dolphins' need at cornerback.”

For Mike Mayock's and Cris Collinsworth's advice to the Dolphins, please click here.

And for more draft nuggets on players the Dolphins have shown interest in, please click a different link here

FOOTBALL OR BASKETBALL TOWN

We don't want to re-ignite the debate among a few of my media colleagues in town (you know who you are), but there are two entirely different ways of looking at the question of whether this is a football town or basketball town. And each side has compelling ammunition based on what information it chooses to use in closing arguments, so to speak.

Sports Business Daily reported today that the Heat's average rating on its regional rights-holder this season (Fox Sports Sun) was fifth-best among NBA markets, at a 4.5.

That trailed only Golden State (9.76), Cleveland (9.31), San Antonio (8.71), Oklahoma City (6.7). That means, on average, 4.5 percent of Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market homes with TV sets watched each Heat game, on average, on Sun Sports this season.

One ratings point in our market equals 16,600 homes.

Whereas Heat local ratings have consistently ranked in the top five over the past several years, Dolphins ratings in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV market have consistently ranked among the NFL's worst.

This past season, 15.8 percent of local homes watched a Dolphins game, on average. That was the worst among single-market NFL teams (thus excluding New York and the Bay Area, where loyalties are divided) and much worse than the majority of NFL markets.

Those who say this is a basketball town can say our NBA ratings for our home team are higher than most NBA markets, while our Dolphins ratings are worse.

Those who say this is a football town can say:

1) Dolphins games draw more than three times as many local viewers as Heat games. (The "basketball town" proponents will immediately note that the NFL has much less inventory, meaning regular-season games are more important, and that all the Dolphins games were on free TV, unlike Heat games. Both are fair points.)

2) Even Heat first-round playoff games get nowhere near the audience size of regular-season Dolphins games.

The Heat ratings for the first three playoff games against Charlotte (combining the TNT and Sun audiences for Games 1 and 3) were a 10.4, 8.6 and 8.3.  That means more than 89,640 more homes (and even more people) watched Dolphins games, on average, than the highest-rated Heat playoff game to date this season. That's obviously a big number.

All food for thought and why this "basketball town/football town" argument is completely dependent on which evidence you choose to use.

And for those wondering about the Panthers: After averaging just a 0.25 rating on Fox Sports Florida in the regular season, they averaged a 1.9 rating for playoff games (32,000 homes, on average).

Incidentally, kudos to Fox Sports Sun and Fox Sports Florida for outstanding coverage throughout the Panthers playoff series. Play-by-play man Steve Goldstein is excellent, not only in conveying excitement but also in his diligence in quickly identifying players, penalties and other pertinent information.

Twitter: @flasportbuzz... Please check back later for Heat post game fodder. And please click here if you missed our weekend post filled with UM football nuggets and other snacks.

April 24, 2016

Chatter, postscripts, internal views after first spring under Mark Richt; Dolphins draft; Barry Bonds; Panthers; Heat

 

Reflections and buzz from inside the program on UM’s first spring under Mark Richt:

Richt and other UM coaches say the roster they inherit doesn’t have enough depth, not enough speed at receiver, not a “superman” at defensive tackle and not enough at cornerback.

An NFL scout who covers the Southeast and was on UM’s campus this offseason said there’s still a clear gap between UM’s talent and the talent of top 20 SEC programs at several positions including offensive and defensive lines and running back (where there’s no Todd Gurley or an Alabama-caliber starting running back, as one UM person said).

“Miami doesn’t get the truly elite defensive linemen anymore,” the scout said, noting Ereck Flowers and Brandon Linder (both in the NFL) were, in his mind, the only recent UM offensive linemen who were genuinely the caliber to be able to start on quality SEC teams.

As Richt told WQAM’s Joe Rose on Friday: “Offensive line, it's one thing to have numbers; it's another thing to have guys you really think you can put in the game and be able to protect your quarterback and provide space for your backs.... I don't think that we have a boatload of them. [But] if we stay healthy, we'll be OK.... We're thin at receiver, defensive back as well."

Under Richt, “Georgia was known for elite athletes at pretty much every position,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said Friday, and UM knows there are multiple spots where it lacks Georgia-level talent.

But Richt’s staff is working hard to correct this; Miami’s 2017 class (with 15 oral commitments) is rated third nationally by rivals.com and 247sports.com. And UM emerged from spring feeling very good about several things. Among them:

• UM people who were here last year and watched practice this spring rave about the improvement in Brad Kaaya’s accuracy, in spite of facing a ton of blitzes in practice.

Kaaya, a potential first-round pick in 2017 or 2018, still is in the shotgun some but he’s under center more than last year. Richt told WQAM's Marc Hochman & Co. that he now puts Kaaya in the same tier as other top QBs he has coached: Matt Stafford, Aaron Murray and former Heisman Trophy winners Chris Weinke and Charlie Ward.

“There is no doubt,” Richt said. “All of those guys have different skills sets. Some may move better than Kaaya. Stafford has a stronger arm than anyone I ever coached. [Kaaya] is a super accurate passer. He has plenty of arm to throw any pass you need to throw. He's a student of the game. He gets it. He's a neat kid. I really enjoy him.”

• The staff’s assessment of what they have at linebacker has risen considerably because early enrollees Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney (and to a lesser extent, Zach McCloud) have been nothing short of revelations. “They have body types to run and strike; real pleased with those guys,” Richt told Rose on Friday.

The more UM people see of Quarterman, the more they like: his physicality, instincts, size and maturity. Multiple players used the word “beast” to describe Quarterman.

He exits spring ball with a good chance to start at middle linebacker, playing alongside Jermaine Grace.

Darrion Owens, still slowed after knee surgery, figures to challenge the freshmen (Pinckney, Quarterman) for the third starting job.

• It will be interesting to see what Richt ultimately does with Mark Walton, who was arrested for DUI on Saturday and then suspended. Though he had a much lower per carry average than Joe Yearby in 2015 (3.5 to 4.9), Walton impressed the new staff this spring, hitting the holes faster than he did last season.

Running backs coach Thomas Brown told WQAM's Hurricane Hotline that he and Walton didn’t agree with Brown’s assessment of him before spring ball. But he did everything right this spring until (allegedly) making an enormous off-field mistake this weekend. Though a teammate speculated on social media that Walton will be suspended three games, UM insists length of suspension has not been determined.

One UM person said Gus Edwards came on strong, but UM wants him to play physically and not dance around defenders.

Richt told WQAM's Rose that running back “will definitely be by committee. I don't know there will be four guys getting carries in a game. Probably two and three most of the time.”

If Walton misses time early in the season (again, this is an if), Trayone Gray's role presumably would increase.

• The staff loves everything about tight end David Njoku – including his willingness and aptitude to block more than he did last year --- and see him being a matchup nightmare as a receiver. They’re determined to maximize tight end Chris Herndon’s receiving skills and versatility.

Receiver Braxton Berrios and guard Danny Isidora raised their games this spring, UM people say.

Berrios has fully regained his quickness after knee injuries the past two years; he feels 100 percent healthy for the first time and caught the ball cleanly, with a large volume of catches, all spring. He's poised to have a big year, as should Stacy Coley, if Coley can stay healthy.

• On the defensive line, UM made a smart move shifting RJ McIntosh to tackle; he and Kendrick Norton finished the spring as starters. New defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said moving McIntosh from defensive end was pretty obvious because he looks like a 4-3 tackle.

Tackle Gerald Willis came on strong late (he still needs to polish his technique) and there was clear improvement from ends Al-Quadin Muhammad, Demetrius Jackson (“he has some really good talents as a pass-rusher,” Kuligowski said) and Chad Thomas, the only five-star kid left on the roster. Kuligowski is determined to get Thomas to another level.

• The view internally is Sheldrick Redwine has the tools to be an effective No. 2 corner, but a No. 3 corner needs to emerge behind Corn Elder and Redwine (nobody clearly did this spring). Otherwise, safety Jaquan Johnson might need to shift to corner or at least play in the slot in nickel packages. Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph cracked he has lobbied to get Johnson at corner.

The staff loves cornerback Malek Young, who arrives this summer. But Michael Jackson and Ryan Mayes didn’t make a big jump this spring; Terrence Henley had some good moments.

CHATTER

• Manny Navarro will have more on this later, but Hassan Whiteside sat out Heat practice on Sunday with a bruised right thigh but said he believes he can play in Game 4 on Monday.

• Amar’e Stoudemire said his play for the Heat this season has convinced him he can play another three seasons: “This season has been awesome for me, being able to step into a starting position and showing the rest of the league I'm capable of starting in this league.” Stoudemire would love to re-sign… Dorell Wright said the Heat has given him no indication if he will be brought back next season. But he has impressed the staff with his work ethic, and he can still shoot effectively from distance.

• How much do Heat players appreciate what Beno Udrih did, sacrificing $90,000 to keep the Heat under the tax and allowing the Heat to sign Joe Johnson without having to pay a tax? Dwyane Wade texted and “told him how big that was of him.”

Though Udrih isn’t even on the roster, players say he’s around the facility getting treatment ---“like Chris [Bosh], he's one of our teammates, just not in uniform,” Wade said. “The biggest thing is getting back healthy so he can be back playing basketball, hopefully here next year.”

• The Dolphins have spent quite a bit of time through this draft process with Mississippi defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, a highly talented player with issues swirling around him, including a marijuana arrest after he fell out of a window last December in Atlanta. We're not sure if he's on Miami's draft board, or how high, but the Dolphins have certainly done their due diligence on a player who had seven tackles for loss and three sacks last season....

Among other defensive tackles, the Dolphins also have shown interest in Maryland's Quinton Jefferson; he had a private workout for Miami and met with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

• A few others names the Dolphins have shown interest in: Arizona guard/tackle Lene Maiava (late-round pick or UFA), BYU defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (Dolphins sent a coach to see him; potential second-day pick) and Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett (Dolphins sent a coach to see him; potential mid-round pick).

• When asked how Barry Bonds has done as hitting coach, Don Mattingly offered an eye-opening response:

“Him getting used to the coaching part of it is a work in progress from a standpoint of the amount of time and the preparation," Mattingly said. "You see [assistant hitting coach Frankie [Menichino] still doing a lot of the prep work. Barry is still getting into the routine of the ugly side of coaching — being here at 1, and studying video, and studying on the plane and you don't get a chance to watch movies, and things like that.

“"It just depends how good you want to be as a coach. If you want to be a really good coach, you've got to do the work."

• The 0.25 regular-season average TV rating for Panthers games (one-quarter of one percent of Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV households) is, well, not good.

But they have risen in the playoffs, to a 1.9, 1.3, 2.5 and 2.0 for the first four games. That’s less than a quarter of what Heat playoff games generate and well below the 4.9 for the UM-Villanova Sweet 16 game (which was on free TV, unlike all Panthers games to this point).

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 23, 2016

Postscripts, reaction, chatter from Heat's Game 3 loss in Charlotte; Link to new information on Chris Bosh

Reaction and postscripts from Miami’s Game 3 loss tonight in Charlotte, leaving the Heat ahead 2-1 with Game 4 at 7 p.m. Monday in North Carolina:

• The Heat’s offensive joyride derailed badly Saturday evening, and if you believe in the law of averages, this wasn’t all that shocking.

Disappointing, and troubling, considering the debacle in Boston 10 nights ago, but not shocking for a team that has played much better at home than on the road in recent weeks.

The Heat is 2-6 in its last eight road games, including drubbings in San Antonio (forgivable) and Portland, bad losses against the Lakers and Orlando, and prolonged third quarter collapses in Boston and Charlotte tonight.

After averaging 119 points and shooting 58 percent in its first two playoffs in Miami, the Heat careened, finishing at just 34 percent from the field in a 96-80 Game 3 loss.

With the score tied at 53 in the third, the Hornets unleashed an 18-0 stampede from which Miami never recovered. The Heat shot 0 for 9 during that stretch and 9 for 43 from the field during an extended stretch in the second and the third.

And there was this ignominious stat: Frank Kaminsky nearly outscored the Heat on his own in the third. He had 13 points in the third, just one fewer than Miami’s 14.

• The Heat opened 10 for 15 from the field, then shot 17 for 64 (26 percent) the rest of the way, including 2 for 15 on threes.

• The shooting numbers were ugly for all Heat perimeter players except Luol Deng. Dwyane Wade was 7 for 20 on a 17-point night. Goran Dragic (11 points) was 4 for 13. Joe Johnson (7 points) was 3 for 11. Josh Richardson, off the bench, was 1 for 5, scoring just two. Justise Winslow was 1 for 7, finishing with four.

Luol Deng made four early threes, closing with 19 points (6 for 12) and seven rebounds but a team-high four turnovers.

Hassan Whiteside gave Miami 13 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks but took only six shots. He has 51 points, 42 rebounds and five blocks in his first three playoff games. Per ESPN, the only other players to do that in their first three playoff games in the past 30 years were Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson.

Charlotte shot just 38.9 percent but had just 3 – 3! – turnovers, which was a major factor. The Heat had 14 turnovers.

• Credit Charlotte coach Steve Clifford for going with a big lineup, with Kaminsky replacing injured Nic Batum.

Erik Spoelstra put Wade on Kaminsky in the third quarter and it didn’t work, with Deng shifting to cover Kemba Walker and Goran Dragic on Courtney Lee.

“Size has been an issue for us. But the bigger thing for us tonight is we were more intense, more disciplined,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We played a lot harder, a lot smarter and we were a lot more organized.”

Clifford said assistant coach Patrick Ewing is always saying: “We have to post Frank more.” Hornets owner Michael Jordan expressed the same sentiment. And so Clifford did that in the third, though Wade said only one of those postups came personally against him in the third. Kaminsky holds an eight-inch height advantage on Wade.

Spoelstra’s reason for putting Wade on Kaminsky? “Obviously it didn’t go great, but whatever, we have to be able to defend whatever matchups are,” Spoelstra said. “Goran had three fouls. We didn’t want him to pick up a quick one to start the third quarter.”

Kaminsky said he was surprised that the Heat put Wade on him.

"I've guarded fours before," Wade said, also citing Dragic's foul trouble as a reason for the move.

• Wade, afterward, to Sun Sports’ Jason Jackson and others: “They are a desperate team. They played the way you would expect a team to play 2-0 going home. They got role players to step up. Jeremy Lin early was very aggressive. That’s why they’re a good team….

“We had some shots that didn’t go in but that’s basketball. They protect the paint very well. They continued to pour it on. I’m not going to say we just missed shots. They won the ball game. Their effort was greater. They deserved to win. We have to do a better job of trying to get some deflections, try to make it a little tougher on them. We can’t bank of them turning it over 16, 18 times. That’s out of their character. Lin is dynamic going to the basket. Frank made an impact.

“We came up here to try to find a way to get one ballgame. We have to come back tomorrow and find ways we can get better.... There's a reason we both had the same record. They're just as good a team as we are when they get to their game.”

• The Hornets snapped their postseason losing streak at 12, one short of the NBA record. It was also the first playoff win for this incarnation of the Hornets.

"This organization has been successful in a lot of areas, just not on the court in playoff games,” Clifford said.  “Coach [Pat] Riley gets credit when you say it’s a make or miss league. On nights you make, it looks good. On nights you miss, it looks bad.”

• Couple noteworthy items from Sun Sports: Tony Fiorentino noted Miami had only three assists the entire second half. And Eric Reid noted Joe Johnson has had consecutive single-digit scoring games in the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season. He's played in 90 playoffs games.

• Spoelstra, afterward: “All three games, what it’s been is a big burst of energy and momentum that either side has been able to separate. They were closing out to open shooters, making us put the ball on the floor, doing a good job corralling our drives. We were never able to get into an offensive rhythm. And we weren’t able to have enough stops to keep it close.”

“Kaminsky and [Jeremy Lin] gave them a big boost tonight... We’re going to have to continue to go to school.”

• Besides Kaminsky’s good work, Lin had 18 points and Kemba Walker 17. Marvin Williams --- who was 1 for 17 in the first two games --- rebounded with a 12-point night, shooting 5 for 9.

• Clifford said the swelling in Batum's ankle has gone down but couldn't say his status for Game 4.

• Game 4 is 7 p.m. Monday on Sun Sports. (NBA TV’s cablecast will be blacked out in South Florida). Game 5 is 8 p.m. Wednesday.... Manny Navarro and Ethan Skolnick will have more from Charlotte later tonight.

BOSH NEWS

• Please click here for some new behind-the-scenes information that Ethan and I learned regarding the Chris Bosh situation.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 22, 2016

Who's visited the Dolphins among their 30 allowed non-local visits? Here's the majority of them; Mayock, Collinsworth on Dolphins; Local radio news

 

NFL teams are permitted to bring as many as 30 non-local players to team headquarters to meet with coaches and executives and do medical tests.

Local players, unlike non local-prospects, are able to work out at Dolphins headquarters. And unlike the non-local players, South Florida high school and South Florida college prospects don’t count among the 30 visits.

Last year, the Dolphins drafted three players who visited: DeVante Parker, Jordan Phillips and Cedric Thompson.

Unlike the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Dolphins (and most teams) do not confirm or announce their draft visits. I've independently confirmed 20 of the maximum 30 non-local players who have visited the Dolphins. Here they are, by position: 

CORNERBACKS

Ohio State’s Eli Apple

Houston’s William Jackson

Baylor’s Xavien Howard

Samford’s James Bradberry

LSU’s Rashard Robinson

Southern Cal’s Kevon Seymour

North Carolina Central’s Ryan Smith

 

RUNNING BACKS

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott

Alabama’s Kenyan Drake

Utah’s Devontae Booker

Washington’s Dwayne Washington

Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson

 

LINEBACKERS

Clemson’s B.J. Goodson

 

TIGHT ENDS

UCLA’s Thomas Duarte

California’s Stephen Andersen

 

DEFENSIVE ENDS

Clemson’s Kevin Dodd

 

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Texas A&M’s tackle/guard Germain Ifedi

 

RECEIVERS

Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo

Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant

 

SAFETIES

Middle Tennessee State’s Kevin Byard

 

Note: A couple of visits reported elsewhere did not, in fact, materialize. One of them: USC safety/linebacker Su'a Cravens. He was scheduled to visit the Dolphins, but it was canceled because of a schedule conflict.... The Dolphins also conducted private on-campus workouts with a bunch of players they didn't bring to Davie, including UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.

Regarding our 20-player list, a couple of the aforementioned players broke the news of their own visits. A couple were first reported by NFL Net's Ian Rapoport and our friend Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post and Houston Chronicle. My esteemed colleagues, Armando Salguero and Adam Beasley, also mentioned interest in some mentioned above.

 

MAYOCK, COLLINSWORTH WEIGH IN

Here's what NFL Net's Mike Mayock told me today on a conference call, regarding the Dolphins' pick at No. 13: “If Elliott got to 13, they would have to be excited. He could go as early as 4 to Dallas, 10 to the Giants, 11 to Chicago. William Jackson and Eli Apple are both a little raw for different reasons. I think I know what they want down there. They want long press corners for Vance Joseph. Both of them [Apple, Jackson] can do that.

“William Jackson has got better ball skills than Eli Apple. Eli Apple tackles a little better. Is it too early to take either of them?

"Not really because there's going to be a run of corners. If they believe either can step in day one and compete, either would be really solid picks.”

• Cris Collinsworth, one of the investors in Pro Football Focus, did his mock draft for the site this week and has the Dolphins picking Elliott. His assessment:

"Elliott is the type of running back who can immediately take pressure off of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He's one of the few backs I've seen in recent drafts that you feel comfortable handing the ball to, throwing the ball to and having him stay in and block (he allowed just one pressure in pass protection in 2015).

"In today's spread offenses in college, it's just difficult to find guys coming out like that anymore. Miami still has weaknesses at the guard position that they need to address, but that's something they can do in later rounds and sometimes the best way to protect your quarterback is to run the football. Elliott would be a great replacement for departed free agent Lamar Miller, having ranked No. 1 in yards after contact per attempt in 2015 among this year's RB class."

• Please click here for more of what we've heard on the Dolphins' draft plans.

RADIO NOTES

A few items on local radio:

• 790 The Ticket is still searching for a replacement for 1-3 p.m. co-host Eric Reed, who left the business recently, and there's interest in NBC 6 anchor Adam Kuperstein, who has been filling in on the show in recent weeks.

But here's the problem: Kuperstein has been named a co-host on NBC 6's new 4 p.m. newscast that will debut this summer. So Kuperstein couldn't do the show out of 790's studios. NBC 6 and Ticket GM Doug Abernethy are discussing the viability of Kuperstein hosting the radio show from NBC 6's studios.

"Great talent," Abernethy said of Kuperstein, adding that Kuperstein doing a show off-site "gives me cause for concern."

Abernethy said Leroy Hoard will remain the co-host regardless of who is selected to replace Reed.

• Abernethy said he is not ready to name Chris Wittyngham as Ethan Skolnick's permanent co-host in afternoon drive. But it's clear it's going to happen. "We're high on Chris and what he's done," Abernethy said.

• Abernethy isn't sure who would replace Wittyngham alongside Josh Friedman on the night show. And Friedman remains a candidate for the 1-3 show if the Kuperstein scenario doesn't work out.

• In the March ratings book that Nielsen shares only with subscribers (not sportswriters), 790 The Ticket beat WQAM 560 in the ratings book, with a 1.9 share to WQAM's 1.4 in the key demographic group for the sports radio genre (men 25-54).

From 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (the hours of The Ticket's morning program), The Ticket's show (Jonathan Zaslow, Brett Romberg) and WQAM (mostly Joe Rose) each had a 2.6 share in that men 25 to 54 demo. (Since then, Amber Wilson began work as Joy Taylor's successor on The Ticket's morning show.)

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Dan Le Batard's hours on 790), The Ticket had a 2.0 compared with WQAM's 1.8 (one hour of Rose, three hours of Orlando Alzugaray). Remember: Those are only Le Batard's local numbers and don't take into account not only his large audience from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. nationally, but also the millions who download Le Batard's show.

During the 9 to 10 a.m. hour, Le Batard has a 2.6, Rose a 2.2.

From 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. (Marc Hochman's WQAM hours), The Ticket has a 1.7 share to WQAM's 1.5. 

From 4 to 7 p.m. (Skolnick's Ticket hours), Skolnick had a 2.3 to WQAM's 1.4, which also includes an hour of Alex Donno or other 'QAM programming.

At night, The Ticket has a 1.9 to WQAM's 0.3, largely a function of there being more local interest in hearing Heat radiocasts than Panthers radiocasts.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 21, 2016

Lots of Dolphins draft nuggets on what they're considering; more player workouts and more; Whiteside; Wade; UM, Panthers notes

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

A six-pack of Dolphins notes:

• With Miami not likely to land free agent Josh Norman, cornerback remains a high priority, though we hear a few other players also intrigue the Dolphins with their first-round pick if they fall to their range at No. 13.

If the Dolphins rate a non-cornerback as the best player on their board when they're picking at No. 13, there's a belief they could still land a quality corner at 42 and/or 73, a prospect such as UM’s Artie Burns (if there at 42) or Baylor’s Xavien Howard or Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller or Samford's James Bradberry, among others.

Drafting two corners is very much a possibility.

Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott’s visit here Tuesday went very well, he would welcome the Dolphins drafting him if he slips to 13, and Miami has strong interest, according to someone involved. He already has a lease on an apartment in Miami, though that has nothing to do with any possibility of him landing with the Dolphins.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins recently sent a contingent to Los Angeles to conduct a private workout with UCLA’s Myles Jack, the draft’s best linebacker. There’s Dolphins interest if he surprisingly slips out of the top 10.

• What about UF’s 5-10 Vernon Hargreaves, who could be the best corner available at 13? Though he cannot be ruled out if he’s the best player available, I do know this: There is some resistance to Hargreaves among some Dolphins scouting/front office people who believe he’s undersized and see him more as a nickel back. Miami’s preference is a big, physical boundary corner.

The Dolphins prefer bigger corners in general and are intrigued by Houston’s William Jackson and Ohio State’s Eli Apple, two 6-1 corners who visited. Jackson at No. 13 is certainly a possibility, but analysts disagree about whether Jackson is good value at 13. (Mel Kiper says he’s not.) Most pundits have Apple in the 20s or lower.

One Dolphins official said trading down from 13 for a corner would be a consideration, if there's not a player at 13 that Miami covets in that range and if it believes one of the tall corners would be available later in the first round.

• Besides Jack, Elliott and the corners, the Dolphins have closely studied a handful of first-round front-seven defenders, including Clemson defensive ends Kevin Dodd (visited, but 13 is higher than projected) and Shaq Lawson and linebackers Leonard Floyd (Georgia), Reggie Ragland (Alabama) and Darron Lee (the Ohio State product is Kiper’s choice for the Dolphins, but at 6-1, 232 pounds isn’t their ideal size preference).

Ragland told Sirius XM tonight that he made seven visits in the past two weeks, and the Dolphins, Bears and Saints have shown the most interest in him. And we've also been told the Dolphins like Ragland.

• As one of several fallback options, the Dolphins have discussed taking one of the top offensive tackles if one slips and moving him to guard, though 13 is high for a guard. Kiper said he would take Texas A&M guard/tackle Germain Ifedi (who visited Miami) in the first round. But 13 would seem too high.

• The Dolphins, looking for a skilled returner who could lessen Jarvis Landry’s workload on special teams, have been in touch with several. They summoned Texas Tech’s 5-6 Jakeem Grant to Davie this week; he had four kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career and a 26.2 average last season. At UCLA, they auditioned Devin Fuller (24.2 kickoff average last season), among others.

They’re open to finding competition for kicker Andrew Franks and dispatched special teams coach Darren Rizzi or other staffers to privately audition several, including Texas’ Nick Rose and Albright’s Daniel Sobolewski.

• One team official said the past coaching staff didn’t use tight end Jordan Cameron to his strengths and expects that to change… Dolphins conversations remain ongoing with free agent defensive end Jason Jones, with both sides interested. 

CHATTER

• The latest Hassan Whiteside historic feat: In shooting 8 for 8 in Game 2, he became just the second active NBA player to make all his shots (minimum eight) in a playoff game, according to Elias. The other: Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, who was 11 for 11 in a 2012 postseason game…. What’s more, Whiteside is second this postseason (behind Steph Curry) in ESPN’s complex NBA efficiency ratings, after finishing eighth during the season.

• This is the first Heat team ever to score at least 115 points in two consecutive playoff games. For perspective, do you know how many times the Heat did this in non-overtime situations in four regular seasons with LeBron James? Just once: in November 2012, with 119 against Denver and 124 against Phoenix.

During the LeBron years, the Heat also reached 115 in two games in a row on two other occasions, with one of them going to OT and another going to triple overtime.

• What Dwyane Wade continues to do around the rim, at 34, and his ease in getting there is quite impressive.

He’s 8 for 9 on shots within five feet in this series, best among NBA guards, including one of them created Wednesday by an amazing stutter-step move on Jeremy Lin.

“I felt good to be able to do [that],” Wade said, his body helped by work with new trainer Dave Alexander over the past year.

Wade had 261 of those baskets (within five feet) this season, behind only Andrew Wiggins and James Harden among shooting guards and he made 62.7 percent of those shots within five feet (top five).

And there's this: Of the 100 NBA players who dunked at least 30 times this season, Wade was the only one who didn’t miss any (36 for 36).

“He’s like a big man that plays guard; it’s amazing,” Whiteside said. “Probably the best guard I’ve ever seen around the basket. I joke with him all the time and tell him, 'I think you were supposed to be a seven-footer.' Just the way he maneuvers in the paint. He’s got left and right hand jump hooks.”

• Wade and Courtney Lee were talkative with each other in Game 2, but Wade assures: “Just having a little fun with the game. I like that guy. I respect him.

“The guy's been in the Finals before. Very tough defender. Nothing wrong with a little talking back and forth. No disrespect either way.”

• For an in-depth look at the Heat’s amazing offensive evolution, please click here.

• The Hornets ruled Nic Batum (ankle) as out for Game 3 and said his status will be re-evaluated after that.

• Don’t underestimate the impact that Panthers general manager Dale Tallon’s trades are making.

He clearly got the better of last summer’s Boston deal, with Jimmy Hayes finishing with 29 points for the Bruins and Reilly Smith producing 50 points for Florida (25 goals) and now tied for the NHL lead in postseason points (eight).

Tallon gave up future second- and fourth-rounders for Jiri Hudler (12 points in 23 games here) and a third-rounder for Teddy Purcell (13 in 19 games).

“They've been huge for us,” coach Gerard Gallant said Thursday. “They're veteran players, very skilled and they add a lot of depth and experience to our lineup, especially this time of the season.

“Reilly has been outstanding. I'm pleasant surprised, but it's not a shock he has 25 goals. He’s playing with good players.”

• Some historical perspective on Game 5 of Panthers-Islanders: The team that wins Game 5 of a 2-2 series has won 78.4 percent of NHL playoff series.

• UM coach Mark Richt has no patience for any off-field problems and warned his players last week not to "hang around with fools."...  

Defensive back Jonathan Abram, who left Georgia after Richt left and transferred to a junior college, told Canesport.com that he's considering joining Richt at UM. Abram started four games for Richt last season and can play safety and corner, though some consider him better suited for safety.

He said UM "is up on my radar" along with Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Abram would be required to sit out next season, per NCAA rules.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Exploring the Heat's mind-blowing offensive renaissance and the Heat's and Hornets' perspective on all of this

So how can this be happening? How can a team that averaged more points than only lowly Philadelphia for the first 3 1/2 months of the season transform into the Eastern Conference’s most prolific scoring team after the All-Star break, then generate Golden State-type offensive numbers in building a 2-0 first-round playoff lead against Charlotte? And doing all of this without leading scorer Chris Bosh?

“I don't have that answer. I just know we needed to,” Dwyane Wade said late Wednesday night of the Heat’s faster tempo and offensive renaissance since February. “When we lost Chris, we needed to change what we were doing. Luckily, we had the
personnel for guys to be able to do it fast and it's worked for us. You've got be able to adapt and we've done it.”

The numbers are staggering: The Heat went from averaging 96 points before the All-Star break to 107.4 after, behind only the Warriors, Oklahoma City, Portland and Houston. That's the fourth biggest jump in NBA history (with a minimum of 10 games after the All-Star break), Elias said Thursday. (TNT incorrectly reported it was the largest increase.)

Miami went from shooting 46 percent overall pre-break to a league-best 48.7 post-break, and from 32.3 on three-pointers to 36.5 after. 

The postseason numbers are shock- and awe-inducing, with the Heat entering Thursday night’s slate of games averaging 119 points in the playoffs --- 10 more than any other team and shooting 57.8 percent in postseason and 52.9 percent on threes. Even Goran Dragic, who predictably has thrived playing at a faster tempo, admits he’s a bit surprised by the extent of the Heat’s offensive growth.

“I like the fact the individuals in this locker room, once they realized we had to switch things up when Chris was out, that everyone was comfortable doing it,” Wade said. “To me, it made all of our jobs a lot easier.

“We were able to let go of guys a little bit. We really let Luol [Deng] go, see what he can do. Hassan [Whiteside] was a pleasant surprise offensively. It just all worked out for us.”

With his team sputtering offensively, Erik Spoelstra knew “we had to do something” and implemented offensive changes in late January, then made more at the All-Star break when Bosh was sidelined.

The team’s faster pace has been well-chronicled; Miami went from 94.7 possessions per 48 minutes in the first half of the season (29th in the league) to 97.7 after (18th).

But Miami and Charlotte averaged only 90.4 possessions apiece in the first two games (lowest among playoff teams), and so this offensive explosion goes beyond pushing pace. This is also about peak player performance.

Deng, who shifted from small forward to power forward when Bosh was sidelined, went from averaging 10.6 points before the break to 15.2 after, and 23.5 so far in postseason. Dragic improved from 12.6 to 17.3, Whiteside from 12.2 to 17.5.

Josh Richardson shot a league-best 53.3 on threes after the All-Star break, 20 percent before. And Joe Johnson averaged 13.4 points on exceptional 51.4 percent shooting since joining the Heat. And Wade has been at peak efficiency this postseason, as we explain here with some interesting numbers about his mid-range game and how he does with extended rest.

In the case of Dragic and Deng, in particular, the faster pace has gone hand-in-hand with improved production.

“It's really a credit to the coaching staff to realize that in order to fill in for what Chris brings to the team, it had to be a team effort,” Deng said. “We knew we had to play fast. I realized after the break in Atlanta, by setting quick screens and cutting and being aggressive, I had a lot better looks than in the first half. Then the whole team believed in it. Our energy was a lot better.”

In a lengthy analysis after Miami’s 115-103 win on Wednesday, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said slowing this steamrolling Heat offense isn’t as simple as changing schemes or lineups and some Heat players are making perimeter shots that the Hornets generally would be comfortable with Miami taking.

Keep in mind that the Hornets were ninth in the league in scoring defense this season, allowing 100.7 points per game.

“They aren't running sets that we're having trouble with coverages on; it’s one-on-one stuff,” said Clifford, who has praised Spoelstra for putting different players on the baseline at various times, creating headaches for opposing defenses. “[And in Game 2] they shot the ball really well from the perimeter. They made a lot of shots you can live with.”

Clifford put it this way: “You start every game with what can you live with. Dragic hit three threes, all step-back threes. You go into most games saying if he’s going to shoot step-back jumpers off the dribble from above the break, you can live with that. Justise Winslow shot a high percentage from 17, 18 feet. Most nights you are going to say that’s something you can live with.

“Richardson and Deng you've got to take away. [But] you can't take away everything. My point is that [distance shooting] is not their strength. Is Dragic a guy that’s capable of making threes? Yes he is. Is that what you want him doing versus driving to the basket? Yes. On nights he's going to make three for three [on threes], they’re probably going to win.

“Dragic makes two threes, and all of a sudden we're overextending. We're opening up driving gaps. Winslow hits a couple jumpers, then all of a sudden, we're giving Wade room, [Joe] Johnson room. You have to stay with the game plan. When those guys hit jumpers and we got spread out, that's when Wade got going. If Wade has room, he's getting in the paint against anyone.”

So can this offensive carnival continue when the series shifts to Charlotte on Saturday?

“We can't expect to take this same offensive game on the road,” Wade said. “If that ever happens praise God, thank you. We can't expect that at all.

"We got to expect to win these games with our defense and our defense has to be better. That's our job and the coaches’ job to give us a game plan where we can do a better job defensively to try to hopefully take away some of the things they hurt us with.”

• The Heat is traveling to Charlotte today (no practice) and will practice there on Friday.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Check back tonight for a lot of Dolphins, Heat, Panthers and Canes.

April 20, 2016

Postscripts, Reaction and Wade stuff after Heat's Game 2 win; Dolphins summon ball-hawking safety; Heat notes

Dwyane Wade talk and 10 other notes from the Heat's 115-103 win in Game 2 against Charlotte:

• Wade was asked the other day when was the last time he felt butterflies in a playoff game. He mentioned Game 4 of the 2013 Finals in San Antonio, which the Heat won to even the series at two en route to Wade’s third championship.

 “Always trying to stay even keel in those moments,” he said.

 No Heat player has exuded more coolness, more nerves of steel under pressure than Wade, and his first two games of this 2016 postseason --- while devoid of any late-game drama --- combined high efficiency with highlight-reel stuff.

Wade hit an array of difficult jumpers, electrified the crowd by blocking a Kemba Walker jump shot and once again dominated his matchup with Courtney Lee.  Wade has had life and lift in his legs, looking active and spry and explosive.

The performance was an aesthetic and statistical success: 28 points, 11 for 22 shooting from the field and 6 for 7 from the line, eight assists, three rebounds, two steals  and the block on Walker, which gave him 154 blocks in 154 playoff games, second all-time among NBA guards, behind Michael Jordan, who had 158 in 179 games.

“Wade was unbelievable,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “He was hitting his jumper. If Dwyane has room, he is getting in the paint against anybody.”

And Wade --- who has scored at least 20 points for the 100th time in 154 Heat playoff games --- was big when the game became uncomfortably close late.

He drove to the basket, drew a foul and hit two free throws to push the Heat’s lead to 10 with 3:42 left, then made a dashing spin move on Lee for a jumper to make it a nine-point game with 2:45 to go. Then he scored in transition, off a Justise Winslow pass, to push the margin to double figures with 1:37 to go.

Wade’s mid-range game hadn’t been quite as effective this season, and his overall 45.6 shooting percentage was a career low, well below his 54.5 two years ago and his 48.8 career mark. Wade often has finished as the NBA’s highest-percentage shooting guard in his career but slid to seventh this season, behind J.J. Redick, Klay Thompson, Gary Harris, Evan Fournier, Andrew Wiggins and Alan Crabbe.

He also finished seventh among shooting guards in scoring average at 19.0.

His shooting accuracy slipped to 34.3 percent from 10 to 16 feet this season and 38.7 percent from 16 feet to the three-point range, according to probasketballreference.com.

But Wade’s entire offensive game has flourished in this series, his jumper smooth and silky. On Tuesday, he hit five jumpers of at least 12 feet, as well as several shots closer to the rim, including a snazzy finger roll.

He scored 15 in the first half, then delivered again late. He has 15 assists, just three turnovers, in this series.

“I’m always going to put pressure on the defense,” he said. “I was taking what they gave me.”

Hassan Whiteside, who caught an alley-oop from Wade said: "D-Wade is probably the best guard I've ever seen around the basket. I joke with him all the time and tell him I think you were supposed to be a seven-footer. Just the way he maneuvers in the paint. He's got left and right hand jump hooks. He's like a big man that plays guard. It's amazing."

The extra rest couldn’t have hurt Wade. He had two days rest between Games 1 and 2 and was at his best statistically this season with two days rest, averaging 21.8 points and 48.7 percent shooting.

There will be one day’s rest between games starting after Game 3, and for at least much of the next round, if the Heat advances. With one day rest, Wade was also very good this season, averaging 18.7 points and 47.2 percent shooting.

But Wade shot only 40 percent this season on the second night of back-to-backs (13 games), and there shouldn’t be any of those in postseason.

Wade said feeling healthy this time of year is a huge help. “I feel good. It allows me to penetrate to the basket.”

• Al Jefferson said he would be surprised if Nic Batum (ankle) plays again in this series.

• The Heat's rookies came up big. Josh Richardson was terrific, with 15 points on 5 for 9 shooting. Justise Winslow (4 for 6) had nine points and four rebounds. "It's a confidence boost knowing that coach has enough faith in me to leave me out there," Richardson said. "I cherish moments like that."

• This is the 14th time in franchise history that the Heat has taken a 2-0 lead in a series. They've won each of the previous 13.

• The Heat has won their last 13 first-round games at home.

• Hassan Whiteside's 8 for 8 shooting was the best by a Heat player in postseason franchise history. On his journey, he said: "It's just a testament to hard work. Mentally, I'm really tough. It's just another chapter of my life." He had 17 points and 13 boards.

• This was the first time in postseason history the Heat has scored 115 points or more in consecutive games. Miami has topped 100 points in 17 home games in a row.

• The Heat's 43 points in the second quarter were its most in any quarter in franchise postseason history. The Heat shot 84.2 percent in the second, highest in franchise history.

• The Hornets have lost 12 postseason games in a row, one short of the Knicks' postseason record.

• Marvin Williams is shooting 1 for 17 in the series after going 0 for 10 tonight. Unreal.

• Hornets coach Steve Clifford: "Goran Dragic shot 3 for 3 from the three-point line. Ifhe does that, they are more than likely going to win."

 

DOLPHINS TALK

Adam and Armando have thoroughly covered the Josh Norman story in their forums, so a couple other things here:

On the final day NFL teams were permitted to bring in draft prospects for visits, the Dolphins summoned a ball-hawking defensive back with a knack for interceptions.

Per league sources, Middle Tennessee State 5-11 strong safety Kevin Byard visited the Dolphins today, the last of his 16 visits. He’s a potential mid-round pick after snagging 19 career interceptions. That career total of 19 picks ranks 17th among all college football players since 1976, according to collegefootballreference.com.

Here’s what CBS draft expert Rob Rang said about him: "A four-time all-Conference [USA] choice (including back-to-back first team honors), Byard has consistently stood out, easing concerns about his ability to make the jump to the NFL. He's built like a traditional strong safety but is a fluid athlete with excellent awareness to read the eyes of quarterbacks and set up his blocks on returns, recording 377 yards off interceptions returns alone over his career.

“If he can ease concerns about his straight-line speed, Byard could be the highest drafted Blue Raiders prospect since receiver Tyrone Calico was taken 60th overall in the 2003 NFL Draft…. Does an excellent job reading the eyes of the quarterback and gaining proper position with aggressiveness and timing at the catch point, showing strong hands and hand-eye coordination to pluck the ball….

“Byard's knack for creating big plays has earned him attention throughout his career but there are holes in his game, including a lack of ideal physicality and playing speed. Against the elite competition he'll face in the NFL, the former two-star recruit will once again have to buck the odds.”

Chronologically, Byard had four, five, six and four interceptions in his four seasons and returned two of them for touchdowns (both as a freshman). He has returned only one punt in four seasons, but he scored a 76-yard touchdown on that return.

For a look at the Dolphins' search for a running back, please click here.

PEARL'S PASSING        

On the day of his passing, former Heat coaches on Wednesday remembered Dwyane “Pearl” Washington as a shy, kind person who did his best work at home during the Heat’s inaugural season.

Washington, who captivated college basketball fans with his flair, deft ball-handling skills and creativity as a Syracuse point guard and then scored the most points in the Heat’s first ever regular-season game, died after a battle with cancer. He was 52.

Washington was beset with medical problems since a brain tumor was first diagnosed in 1995. He had surgery last August after a recurrence of the tumor. In recent weeks, he needed a wheelchair to move around and required continuous medical care.

“It's sad,” said Heat announcer Ron Rothstein, who coached Washington in his only season with the Heat. “Way too early for him to have to go.

“I remember him as a high school player… He was a man amongst boys. I heard [Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim] say basically he was a shy guy. You would think a guy who played with his flair and dominance - you would expect something a little bit different. He was quiet, wasn't really that outgoing, wasn't loud in the locker-room."

Washington was born on Jan. 24, 1964 and was a New York City playground legend growing up in Brooklyn. He got his nickname as an 8-year-old when he was compared to former NBA star Earl "the Pearl" Monroe.

He was the nation’s most highly recruited basketball player after averaging 35 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as a senior at Boys and Girls High.

Washington committed to Syracuse and averaged 15.6 points, 6.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds for the Orangemen and --- with Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and others --- were among the brightest stars during the Big East Conference’s halcyon years in the 1980s and 1990s.

His signature move was the crossover dribble that froze defenders.

Washington was drafted 13th overall by New Jersey in 1986, but his game and undersized frame (6-2) did not translate well to the NBA.

He averaged 8.9 points and 3.6 assists in two seasons with the Nets, including 71 starts.

The Heat took him in the 1988 expansion draft and Washington led the Heat with 16 points in the Heat’s first regular-season game, a 111-91 loss to the Clippers.

Washington appeared in 54 games, including eight starts, during the Heat’s inaugural season, averaging 7.6 points, 4.2 assists and shooting 42.4 percent from the field.

“Great guy,” said Heat broadcaster Tony Fiorentino, an assistant coach on Rothstein’s staff. “He had an unbelievable season at home. He didn't play well on the road.

“One time I was at a clinic and he was there with three teenage kids around him and he dribbled and six hands and nobody touched the ball. He was a magician with the ball. He didn't have the best of bodies to play in the NBA and that's why he didn't last in the league very long. One of the best all time high school and college players.”

The Heat did not retain him and he spent the next two seasons playing in the Continental Basketball Association before his career ended.

“I don't think he expected not to succeed as an NBA player,” Rothstein said. “That threw him off for a while. He made something of himself. He got educated. He got a good job with the New York City Board of Education, doing special projects.”

Washington is the second confirmed player who has died from the original Heat team, which went 15-67 under Rothstein.

Pat Cummings, also a member of that team, died of what were reported to be natural causes in 2012, at age 55.

•  Duke coach Mike Krzyewski has maintained a close relationship with Justise Winslow, reaching out several times recently to the player who helped lead Duke to a national title in his one season with the Blue Devils.

Before the Heat-Hornets series, “he told me good luck,” Winslow said. “He texted me Happy Easter the other day... He called me on the phone. We talked. Wished me luck. Just talked about personal stuff.”

This past winter, Krzyewski appeared in an ESPN promotional ad involving Winslow. After watching an ESPN clip of Winslow dunking in a Heat game, Krzyzewski asks one of his grandsons to send Winslow a text complimenting his athleticism and defense during his rookie season.

The grandson then sent Winslow a series of emojis: two flames, a pair of 100s, three biceps and a basketball. Winslow responded with emojis, and one of his grandsons told Krzyzewski: “He says thanks.”

• Game 4 of the Heat-Hornets series was set for 7 p.m. Monday, with Fox Sports Sun and NBA TV televising. Game 5, if needed, will be at 8 p.m. next Wednesday on TNT and Sun.

• For a look at what Mark Richt said today, please click here.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 19, 2016

Wednesday noon: Richt gives thoughts; A look at the Dolphins' search for a RB, including Elliott and other backs they've summoned; Heat/Whiteside; Jagr; Marlins

Wednesday noon update: Some thoughts from UM coach Mark Richt, making his first (brief) appearance on the ACC's regular teleconferences a few minutes ago:

• On Brad Kaaya: "I am very systematic in how I teach quarterback play, timing, progressions of reads, when I want the ball out. He could have been a little resistant or slow to come around to it. He was not that at all. He was super coachable, super teachable. When you cover something in a meeting, and then you take it to the field, sometimes guys will lose it. He is able to take stuff from the meeting to the field as good or better than anyone I've been around. He can tell you after a rep what he saw, why he did what he did, as well as anyone I've been around. His peripheral vision must be very good."

• On having some good skill players: "The former staff did a good job of recruiting these young men. There's definitely a good bit of talent here. I don't know if there's any position I feel we have enough depth. There are guys with great skill sets. There are some midyear kids who came in, very talented, guys I like a lot that I think are going to play."

• "On the field, we're asking them to play with a lot of energy. Every coach has a specific way they want drills to be run. We want them to finish full speed. Every play we run in 11 on 11 type situations, there's a way we want them to finish. There's a certain time we want them to stop, whether it's a whistle being blown. We're expecting them to go full speed until they get to that point. We're trying to define to them what it means to play hard. If guys are loafing, we are going to discipline it and ask them to rise to the level of play we're asking them."

• Richt was struck by how "smoking hot" it was at "8, 9, 10 in the morning. It's good for us. Our players are used to it more than I was as a coach. We practice in the mornings, which I'm not used to. Haven't done that in any place I've been before."

• "Overall, I'm very pleased with what happened [this spring], mostly because of our players and how they responded to us. They're trying their very best to do everything we've asked them to do... We've got a long way to go in a lot of areas. If we've got a good plan, which I think we do, these guys will try with all their heart to get it done."

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The Dolphins need a running back to share carries with Jay Ajayi and plan to draft one. And the draft’s clear-cut best back, Ohio State’s gifted Ezekiel Elliott, visited with Dolphins coaches and executives at team headquarters the past two days, is leasing a Miami apartment (because he likes the region and trainer Pete Bommorito is based here) and would welcome Dolphins interest. The Dolphins really like him.

“They have a hole at running back; I think it would be a pretty good fit,” he told ESPN's James Walker.

But it’s highly questionable if Elliott will be there at 13; ESPN’s Mel Kiper said Tuesday he’s heard talk of the Dolphins trying to move up to get him after previously moving down from No. 8 to acquire Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell.  

One friend of Elliott believes the Eagles are most likely to take him at No. 8, with the Cowboys (4), Giants (10) and Bears (11) also showing interest. Kiper has him rated as the fifth- or sixth-best player in the draft. [1:45 p.m. Wednesday UPDATE: The Eagles have acquired the No. 2 overall pick in the draft from Cleveland.]

The Dolphins were very interested in picking Todd Gurley at No. 14 last year, if he had still been on the board. (He wasn’t.) So is Elliott as gifted as Gurley?

“This guy is not Todd Gurley,” said NFL Net’s Daniel Jeremiah, who has him going eighth. “He's not at that level, but this guy's got a chance to be a Pro Bowl running back for a long period of time.” 

Draft analyst Tony Pauline agrees. While he said by phone that Elliott is “perfect in that middle round one area and can make defenders miss,” he also said he’s "a bit overrated,... doesn't have elite burst [and is] a step down from Todd Gurley."

ESPN’s Todd McShay has Elliott going eighth to the Eagles. He “has the skill set to be an every-down RB from Day 1,” McShay said. “He's an exceptional blocker and a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, while also showing great vision and suddenness in the open field. The Dolphins need some semblance of a run game to take the pressure off Ryan Tannehill.”

Pro Football Focus, which studied every one of Elliott’s carries, concluded that “he isn’t Adrian Peterson or even Todd Gurley as a runner. In extreme nitpicking terms, Elliott doesn’t have the blinding athleticism and cuts of the best runners in the NFL and may not go the distance when a big enough hole opens up.”

 But… he “blocks better than any back in this class,… is a monster after contact and may be the most well-rounded running back to come out in years.” PFF notes he had more than 1000 yards rushing after contact last season. Only one other draft-eligible back did that (Alabama’s Derrick Henry) and Elliott had 106 fewer carries.

• If the Dolphins don’t take Elliott, who else could they land? They’ve summoned Utah’s Devontae Booker and Arkansas’ Alex Collins to team headquarters, and they’re legitimate second-day possibilities, though Kiper said Tuesday he sees Collins as a fourth-rounder.

Booker averaged 4.7 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns last season.

Here’s how CBS’ Dane Brugler and Rob Rang assessed Booker: “Booker has been the workhorse of the Utah offense, averaging over 30 touches per game, but durability has also been a concern due to his high volume of carries and violent run style. Along with questions about ball security and age (will be a 24-year-old rookie), Booker will be dinged by some teams throughout the process due to these factors.”

Collins didn’t count as one of Miami’s 30 allowed visits because he’s a South Florida kid, but Dolphins officials took him to dinner, like a top-30 experience, the night before his workout.

Collins, who averaged 5.8 per carry with 20 touchdowns last season, “is a physical runner, but needs to improve his pad level and ball security to be more reliable at the next level,” Brugler said.

“Although he won't consistently create on his own, Collins has an excellent blend of quickness, patience and power to get what is blocked for him and contribute as an NFL rookie.”

• Other second-day options: Alabama’s Derrick Henry (many rate him the draft’s second-best back behind Elliott), Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, Indiana’s Jordan Howard, UCLA’s Paul Perkins, Notre Dame’s CJ Prosise, Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams (Kiper raved about him today and he's a possibility here) and Alabama’s Kenyan Drake (who was invited to Dolphins headquarters).

Henry averaged 5.6 yards and scored 28 touchdowns on the ground last season and McShay has him going 56th and only the second running back taken in the first two rounds (after Elliott).

“This is a straight-line explosive back, and you see it on tape,” McShay said. “Henry has a ridiculous size-speed combo, running a 4.54 40 at 247 pounds. His game is really about getting downhill. He's a bulldozer when he gets going.”

Drake – Henry’s college teammate who has attracted Dolphins’ interest --- suffered a broken leg and broken arm at Alabama but averaged a robust 6.4 yards per carry in college.

• Besides Elliott, Booker and Drake, we’ve also confirmed two other running backs among the Dolphins’ 30 permitted visits: Washington’s Dwayne Washington and Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson.

Washington, a 6-2, 226-pound potential late-round pick or free agent, averaged 6.0 yards on just 47 carries last season and 12.6 yards on 25 receptions. Washington, who has 21 college touchdowns, turned pro after his junior season… Jackson, 6-0, averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season and scored 14 touchdowns.

• Pro Football Focus studied tape of every running back in this draft. Among all of them, PFF says Henry is best in short yardage; Perkins best in space; Dixon the best receiver; and Elliott the best blocker…. Henry and Perkins were the most elusive backs in the class, forcing 86 and 85 missed tackles. Booker forced 71, Collins 60.

• Later-round options: UF’s Kelvin Taylor, Illinois’ Josh Ferguson, TCU’s Aaron Green, San Jose State’s Tyler Ervin, Western Kentucky’s Leon Hall, California’s Daniel Lasco, Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington, Auburn’s Peyton Barber, West Virginia’s Wendell Smallwood and Navy’s Keenan Reynolds.

• Please click here for a look at a speedy returner/receiver summoned to Dolphins offices this week.

CHATTER

• Goran Dragic said any slight fuels Hassan Whiteside more than most players, and though Whiteside indicated Tuesday that he’s over his initial disappointment about not winning Defensive Player of the Year, Heat players expect him to be driven by this.

“[Look] what happened before the All-Star break, when he got thrown out of the [Spurs] game and everyone was talking down on him, and Chris Bosh goes down and he carries us the way he did,” Luol Deng said. “It speaks to how he reacts when things like that happen. He's going to come out and be dominant.”

Dragic said Whiteside said to teammates that he should have won the award. Erik Spoelstra offered a new goal Tuesday: “He can be Defensive Player of the Playoffs for us.”

Whiteside said he's over the disappointment. "It was yesterday," he said. He said he heard from a bunch of people --- teammates, friends, etc --- and reaction "was mixed. Some people were happy for me. Some people thought I should have won it. But it's yesterday. Ain't nothing I can do about it."

• Whiteside’s agent, Sean Kennedy, told The Charlotte Observer last year that he called every team multiple times in 2013 and 2014 when Whiteside was looking for NBA work, before the Heat signed him in November 2014.

Hornets GM Rich Cho said he never personally got a call, but Charlotte nevertheless opted not to even give Whiteside a tryout. (I believe Kennedy that he reached out to every team, and more teams should have auditioned Whiteside beyond the four who did --- Lakers, Raptors, Grizzlies -- who signed him and cut him --- and of course, the Heat).

Whiteside indicated Tuesday that not getting a tryout from the hometown Hornets was more hurtful “just because it was two blocks away.”

Does he think much about the Hornets not signing him? “I thought about it, but it's a blessing in disguise because I'm here,” he said. “Who knows what would have happened if I went to Charlotte? I've got a great front office, great coaches here, great teammates. Everything worked out.”

• If you missed my story about Heat players explaining why players take less money to play here, please click here.

• There’s plenty of Heat and Panthers support in the Marlins locker-room. Jose Fernandez, who has taken a liking to the Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad, has a Panthers jersey displayed in his locker. Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler has Dragic’s jersey in his locker; they met recently and “I just like the way he plays – hard, fast-paced,” Koehler said.

• Disconcerting entering Game 4 of Panthers-Islanders on Wednesday: The great Jaromir Jagr’s postseason goal drought has now stretched 34 games, and for perspective, his longest regular-season goal drought was 16 games (during November and December 1990, his rookie season).

He’s 0 for 9 on shots in the playoffs after scoring 27 goals on 143 shots during the regular season, with that 18.9 shot percentage ranking sixth in the league among players who appeared in at least 15 games.

• More Marlins history tonight, but not the type they wanted: The Nationals hit four homers off the Marlins in the seventh (two off Adam Conley, two off Chris Narveson). That's the first time that has happened in Marlins history, with Miami falling to 4-8 with this 7-0 loss... Narveson, who came in allowing hitters to bat .357 off him, remains a liability, even worse than nine-lives ex-Marlin Brad Hand (which didn't seem possible). Yes, Mike Dunn is missed... Conley, who entered the seventh pitching a shutout, had eight strikeouts and now had 19 in 13 2/3 innings.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz