THE FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN IS BELOW. FIRST, A REPORT FROM TODAY'S HEAT PRACTICE AND AN UPDATE ON 'THE U' DOCUMENTARY SEQUEL:
The Heat and Indiana Pacers trudged through these meandering, at times monotonous, at times maddening 7 ½ months simply to arrive at the inevitable:
An Eastern Conference Finals showdown that everyone anticipated back in October.
“This is the matchup we envisioned,” Dwyane Wade said Friday, as Miami began preparation for Sunday’s Game 1 in Indianapolis. “It seems like you could have just gotten to this point a long time ago.”
Oh, this matchup might not have seemed so inevitable when Indiana fell behind 3-2 against Atlanta in the first round, and lost to Washington in Game 1 of the second round. But as Wade said, the Heat always suspected the Pacers would figure it out.
At the All-Star Game in February, LeBron James told Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “Looking forward to seeing you in May.”
As Chris Bosh said Friday, “This is what everybody wanted. I know a lot of people will pay attention to what happened lately, but they’re still the best team in the East. We knew we had to beat the Pacers to get where we wanted to go. And same with them. I don’t think one team is head and shoulders above the other.”
The teams split the season series, with Miami scoring eight more points and grabbing two fewer rebounds.
“It’s the best matchup for us because they were the best team in the Eastern Conference this year and we want to be the best team in the East when it’s all said and done,” Wade said.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he felt anxiety watching the Pacers in an earlier playoff series “and I said, ‘I have enough of that in my own series. I don’t have to waste that energy in somebody else’s series.’”
The Heat eliminated the Pacers in six games in the second round in 2012 and in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. But unlike the past two years, the Heat will open this series in Indiana, where the Pacers are just 3-4 in the playoffs.
“I don’t believe the Pacers that struggled at home will be the team we play on Sunday,” James said. “Last year, we had home court [advantage] and they beat us in Game 2. We had home court last year in the Finals and lost Game 1.”
Of having to go to Indiana for a seventh game if the series goes the distance, Wade said: “If we can’t win on the road, we’re not the team we think we are anyway. It’s a different journey for us this year. We’ve got to see if we’re up for this different challenge.”
Several Heat players shrugged off Indiana’s struggles this postseason. Asked about the scrutiny the Pacers have been under, Wade said: “You think we cared about that? We had our own set of problems…. Atlanta was a tough matchup for them. From afar, you knew they would eventually figure it out.”
From a strategic standpoint, James indicated Friday that Udonis Haslem will return to the starting lineup in place of Shane Battier – a move expected because of the size of Indiana’s front line and Haslem’s success defending Roy Hibbert in two late-season meetings.
“You try to make everything as difficult as you can for him, contest everything and live with the consequences,” Haslem said. “It’s not easy” with his six-inch height disadvantage against the 7-2 Hibbert. “You’ve got to be relentless and be ahead of every play.”
Spoelstra was non-committal about whether he would use Greg Oden, who hasn’t appeared in a game this postseason, adding: “I won’t hesitate if there’s a need for him.”
Asked if he’s rusty from playing sparingly over the past seven weeks, Oden said: “I couldn’t tell you.” He said he’s not worried about whether he will play or not, but “I’ve got to be ready. There are going to be a lot of fouls going.”
### The Heat’s three-point shooting. It was awful against Indiana during the season (27.3 percent), with Bosh 3 for 14, Mario Chalmers 2 for 12, Rashard Lewis 2 for 9 and Shane Battier 1 for 6.
“That’s a function of them being a very good defensive team,” Spoelstra said. “If you don’t move the defense and play with appropriate pace and ball movement, they can get you late in the clock taking the shots they want you to take.”
But the Heat has shot threes effectively against the Pacers at times, including 38 percent in last year’s conference finals.
### The James/Paul George matchup. James averaged 28.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists and shot 52.2 percent in the four meetings this season.
George averaged 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and shot 42.9 percent. “He’s a guy you have to account for at all times,” James said.
### Slowing David West. He has tormented the Heat in the past, often seizing on a size advantage against Battier. Bosh figures to get the primary defensive assignment on West, who averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds and shot 22 for 24 from the line against Miami this season.
“I’m sure they feel this is their year,” Wade said of the Pacers. “Rightfully so. But we have a team that feels that way here…. It’s great storylines.”
### Interviews already have begun for ESPN's sequel to "The U" --- another documentary on the UM football program. Bryant McKinnie interviewed this week. ESPN hopes to air it this winter.
FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Ballyhooed Hurricanes commitment Brad Kaaya graduates Chaminade High in Hollywood Hills, Calif., on Friday, and by the end of the weekend, he will be on UM’s campus, ready to enroll in classes and begin challenging Kevin Olsen for the quarterback job at the school that pursued him long before his stock skyrocketed as a prospect.
Whether Kaaya (or fellow incoming quarterback Malik Rosier) can mount a serious challenge against Olsen will be one of the fascinating stories to unfold over the next four months at UM.
Based on high school evaluation of both players, this UM staff loves Kaaya and believes he’s further ahead that Stephen Morris was at the same age. They like his size (6-4), arm, intelligence, work ethic and desire and willingness to study film on his own.
“He’s way different than the [typical] teenager,” Chaminade coach Ed Croson told me. “He’s very mature, very intelligent. He’s a 4.0 student, took seven classes in one of the [top college prep schools in Los Angeles]. There are a lot of temptations and distractions that don’t affect him. He watches practice film at night. He’s way ahead of the normal curve.”
Offensive coordinator James Coley pursued Kaaya long before UCLA and Southern California did, and Kaaya was loyal to Coley and the Hurricanes when those schools started calling him.
UM likes Olsen, too, obviously, but his primary recruiter initially was former Hurricanes offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As for Kaaya, “he has three things that are ahead of his age group,” Croson said. “He’s ahead of kids his age when it comes to throwing mechanics, to reading coverages and to poise. There are a lot of moving parts to our offense. You have to read the safety like receivers do.
“He can throw deep passes, outs, comebacks, has great velocity. Good arm strength. Can throw the ball 70 yards. He throws well on the run, though he’s not super mobile like Drew Brees.”
Croson also coached Erik Kramer, who threw 92 touchdowns and 79 interceptions in a 10-year NFL career. How did they compare at the same age? “Kramer had the poise at that age, like Brad, but not the mechanics.”
Kaaya was 23-3 as a starter and threw for 27 touchdowns and a school-record 3855 yards last season. His rankings, out of high school, were slightly better than Olsen’s, for whatever that’s worth.
Rivals.com rated Olsen the nation’s 12th-best quarterback and 200th-best prospect overall in the 2013 class. Kaaya was tabbed the 8th-best quarterback and 189th overall by Rivals for the 2014 class.
Olsen, who took over as the starter late in the spring following Ryan Williams’ knee injury, has left the door open for Kaaya and Rosier by struggling in the spring game (7 for 21 accuracy).
Rosier, who also arrives this weekend, also was told he will get snaps with the first team (like Olsen and Kaaya) and will be given a chance to win the job. Unlike Kaaya, Rosier set protections at the line of scrimmage in high school.
Rosier, out of Mobile, was rated by rivals.com as the 22nd-best dual-threat quarterback and could give opponents something extra to prepare for if Coley deploys him a few times a game in read-option situations as a freshman.
But Rosier, at 6-1, is shorter than Kaaya and more of a dual-threat quarterback than the prototypical pro-style passer. Kaaya is viewed as Olsen’s most serious competition, more so than current backup Gray Crow, who doesn’t project as a starter.
Olsen remains the favorite, but if he struggles and Kaaya or Rosier is exceptional this summer, Coley has said UM won’t hesitate to play a natural freshman.
UM coach Al Golden said he hopes Williams can return at some point in September, but UM won’t know for sure for awhile, and the Hurricanes aren’t counting on him necessarily coming to the rescue.
“Nobody wants to play with a true freshman,” Croson said. “But if you have to, Brad is the guy to do it. You’ve got him!”
### UM, earlier this spring, sent assistant coach Brennan Carroll to California to do due diligence on Max Wittek, rivals.com No. 3 quarterback in the 2011 recruiting class who is transferring from USC and planned to go to Texas before reports surfaced this week that Texas has “backed away” from offering a scholarship for off-field reasons that have not been publicly disclosed.
Carroll met with Wittek’s high school coach at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, and the coach passed on Carroll’s number to Wittek’s father. UM certainly cannot be ruled out until Wittek signs somewhere.
But Miami, to this point, hasn’t been reported among schools Wittek is strongly considering, among the limited number of media outlets who have spoken to the family. Wittek always has indicated a preference for Texas, with Louisville, Hawaii and Pittsburgh among other schools mentioned.
And UM, while not addressing Wittek specifically, has indicated if feels no great urgency to add another quarterback for this season because it has four healthy quarterbacks on scholarship and a fifth when Williams returns.
### Please see the last post for details on UM's first oral commitment at quarterback for 2015.
### And so we're arrived at where everyone expected for so much of the season: A Heat-Pacers Eastern Finals, with Game 1 at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Indy, Game 2 at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Game 3 at 8:30 p.m. Saturday in Miami, and then games every other day.
Udonis Haslem said the Heat can take nothing from the Pacers' uneven play in postseason because Indiana is a different team against them.
Though there's no fondness between the teams, there is respect.
"It's only going to get tougher; we've been talking about this series all year," said David West, who scored 29 points in tonight's Game 6 closeout win against Washington. "We know who they are, they know who we are. It's going to come down to details, taking care of the ball, handling their pressure."
"We're ready to go," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Nothing but utmost respect for the champs. We're excited to have another crack at them."
When the Pacers visited Miami in April, Lance Stephenson said: “If we start out going inside out [against Miami], they can’t handle us. We match up great. We’re a great team. We’re equal with them [in talent].”
The teams split the four-game season series, with the Heat outscoring the Pacers by eight and each team securing 147 rebounds. Miami eliminated Indiana from the playoffs the past two seasons, as most of you know.
### Charles Barkley, on the Heat’s chances: “They’re not the favorite. LeBron James has to do too much for them to win. In 30 years in the NBA, I’ve never seen a star have to do so much. We’ve never had a player in the NBA under that much pressure." Kenny Smith agreed that Miami isn't the favorite.
### The Dolphins are using North Dakota State tackle Billy Turner, their third-round draft pick, at right guard and left guard. The Dolphins hope he can develop quickly enough to start right away… The Dolphins conveyed to the representation of 2015 unrestricted free agent Charles Clay --– who was named the NFL’s 89th-best player in a vote of NFL players --- that they see him in their longterm future but haven’t started contract talks on an extension, which he would welcome… Though Mike Pouncey took down his Twitter account, the Dolphins did not order that.
### GM Dennis Hickey, speaking on the team-controlled radio show today, said of rookie second-round receiver Jarvis Landry: "Anybody who has watched the SEC has seen Jarvis Landry make plays, clutch plays, big plays, tough plays in traffic, his whole career. I’ve seen him play multiple times live and he always jumped out. He also brings other elements with his toughness, ability to play on special teams, even some abilities as a returner.
"All those things really added to his value and you’re talking about a leader. Whenever you talk to anybody at LSU, they always talked about, ‘This guy is the leader of that group.’ He’s done great here and real excited to have him in our mix.”
Hickey also predicted Ryan Tannehill "is going to really take the next step in a new offense."
### The Dolphins’ off-field issues last season haven’t deterred them from signing players with blemishes. Miami has added several, at low risk, in recent days.
Among them: LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (reportedly a positive drug test at NFL Combine); running back Damien Williams, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry was last season before being dismissed from the Oklahoma team for rules violations; seventh-round Marist defensive end Terrence Fede (suspended all of 2010 for rules violations); fifth-round Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens (previously pleaded guilty to possession of stolen property, though he asserted Saturday it wasn’t his fault); and Temple defensive tackle Kamal Johnson (police say he assaulted and locked his girlfriend –-- who he accused of cheating on him --- in a bedroom for 3 ½ hours against her will 18 months ago, but the kidnapping charge was reduced to disorderly conduct and harassment).
Also, we're told the Dolphins conveyed that they planned to offer a contract to UM’s Seantrel Henderson (who had multiple positive marijuana tests) if he went undrafted before Buffalo took him in the seventh round.