The Wrap-Up: Kyrie’s woes continue, while Johnson downs Suns

Keith Firmin brings you The Wrap-Up on all of last night’s NBA games including, monster games from Roy Hibbert and Josh Smith.

Milwaukee @ Indiana

The Pacers weren’t bothered by the visiting Bucks, beating them 104-77 to remain the league’s only unbeaten side.
Roy Hibbert was two blocks away from a triple-double, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 boards along with eight blocked shots. The Bucks’ O.J Mayo had 20 points in defeat.

Hibbert on D

Chicago @ Toronto

The Bulls travelled to Toronto on Friday night and walked away with the 96-80 win. DeRozan torched the Bulls for 37 points but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Rose-less Bulls, who saw Luol Deng step up in Rose’s absence with 19 points and nine boards.

Philadelphia @ Atlanta

Jeff Teague had 33 points and 10 rebounds as the Hawks beat the Sixers, 113-103. Evan Turner led the Sixers with 27 points but also had seven turnovers in defeat.

Teague’s night

Portland @ Boston

Portland continued their sharp start to the season, beating the Celtics on the road, 109-96. LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points and 12 rebounds in the win. Jared Sullinger scored 26 off the Boston bench. Freeland had two points, four rebounds and one block in 12 minutes.

Charlotte @ Cleveland

Kyrie Irving has struggled to rediscover last season’s form and a late turnover against the visiting Bobcats helped condemn the Cavaliers to defeat, 86-80. Charlotte had five players in double-digit points.

No-look dish

Dallas @ Miami

Dallas thought that by sending the Heat to the free throw line late in the game, they might see the Heat choke. But hitting 25-30 at the charity stripe saw Miami take this one 110-104. Lebron James needed to score 39 points for the Heat to win. Nowitzki’s 28 points led the Mavs but weren’t enough for the W. Wade had a career-high eight steals.

Minnesota @ Denver

The Timberwolves were playing well heading into Friday’s game against the Nuggets. But Denver’s balanced offense derailed Kevin Love and Co., 117-114. Love had 28 points and 10 boards on the night. Rubio had 12 assists and zero points.

Brooklyn @ Phoenix

Brooklyn squeaked past the Suns in Phoenix, beating then 100-98 in overtime. Joe Johnson hit the shot to take the game to overtime and then nailed the game winner with time about to expire. Deron Williams played only five minutes before being subbed out with an ankle injury. Goran Dragic had 19 points and 10 assists for the Suns.

JJ wins the game

San Antonio @ Utah

The Spurs beat the Jazz in Utah, 91-82. Derrick Favours’ monster night of 20 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks wasn’t enough to win the Jazz their second game of the season. Tony Parker had 22 points in the win.

Tony’s tough reverse

Memphis @ Los Angeles Lakers

Zach Randolph had 28 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Grizzlies over the Lakers, 89-86. Jodie Meeks scored 25 points for LA as they lost a close one at home.

Ridiculous Randolph bucket

Detroit @ Sacramento

The Kings tried to keep it close late but the Pistons pulled away for the 97-90 win. Josh Smith was one block shy of a 5×5 game, recording 21 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, five steals and four blocks. DeMarcus Cousins had 26 points and 13 boards for Sacramento.

Top 10 offseason acquisitions: 5-1

The O.C. is back to round off the top ten NBA offseason acquisitions of the summer of 2013. We previously counted down from 10 to 6, now here are the final five…

Recap from numbers 10 to 6

5. Brooklyn Nets – Trade for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry

This deal is the epitome of the phrase ‘championship-or-bust.’ The trio of my ex-celtics bring a track record of championship pedigree and competitive grit to Brooklyn, albeit in the twilight of their respective careers. While this deal might seem similar to what Indiana did this year (giving up future assets via picks for past their prime vets) the difference is the immense level of commitment Brooklyn has undertaken. Brooklyn gambled picks for the next five years, meaning the price the Nets will have paid for this team will be exacted far after this roster had been dismantled. Anything less than a championship, which realistically has its best shot at happening either this season or next, will probably result in too high a price. Still, the acquisition promises to make a huge impact on the roster from day one.

4. Indiana Pacers – Trade for Luis Scola

While Indiana’s starting five was one of the best in the league last season, its rotation was one of the absolute worst. This lack of bench production not only erodes the positive work done but the starters on a nightly basis (blowing leads), but it also takes its toll on the starters in a cumulative effect: bad bench play makes starters work harder to maintain wins and work longer to keep the bench of the floor. By trading for Scola, the Pacers managed to bring in a savvy frontcourt scoring vet with an extremely affordable contract, an especially important detail for cap-conscious Indiana.

3. Los Angeles Clippers – Acquire J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley

The Clippers used free agency (via sign-and-trade) and trade (giving up Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe and a second-round pick) to acquire Redick and Dudley. Technically, bringing back Chris Paul was the Clippers’ most impactful move, but you can argue that didn’t really improve the roster so much as maintain it. Redick and Dudley are two proven vets with definable talent – shooting, an area in which the Clippers had the greatest need. They give Paul two reliable targets from beyond the arc, which in turn gives Paul more space to operate in pick-and-roll situations.

2. Golden State Warriors – Acquire (via sign-and-trade) Andre Iguodala

Golden state managed to upgrade its roster with a star-level talent without giving up any of its top five players, which is quite a feat. Iguodala to the Warriors reflects the marriage of compatible needs: a player who needs facilitating talent around him and a team that needs to lift the playmaking burden off its start (Stephen Curry). Golden State will be able to use Iguodala as a de facto backup point guard who also can take the reins while Curry is on the court. Plus, Iguodala improves the defense of a team that wasn’t too bad defensively to begin with. At 29, Iguodala is in the middle of his prime years, meaning that he’ll be able to positively affect Golden State now and in the future.

1. Houston Rockets – Sign free agent Dwight Howard

The Rockets made the proverbial slam dunk move by signing the free-agent of the summer Howard, an elite prospect in the prime years of his career. Howard provides the perfect interior counterbalance to last season’s perimeter-orientated attack, led by All-Star guard James Harden. Moreover, he provides a much-needed defensive anchor and rebounding presence, far beyond what Omer Asik can offer. The cost for acquiring Howard was a maximum allowable contract plus the relinquishing of smaller assets (see Thomas Robinson) to clear cap space. The financial commitment is hefty, but it’s worth it when you know you are bringing in bona fide talent that will make you better today and in the long run.

NBA Trading Places: Winners and losers so far

Two weeks ago everybody’s favourite NBA ‘insiders’ celebrated “Sources Say Day”, a day (July 1st) where the biggest free agents hit the market. Front offices of teams looking to move up in the NBA power rankings attempt to clear up cap space and evaluate the worth of their assets, taking into account the picks they have for coming years and players they feel aren’t contributing.

This year only a few teams have taken in the plunge in spending big. Newly rebranded New Orleans Pelicans have given a big money contract to Tyreke Evans and acquired Jrue Holiday. The Nets have assembled the latest ‘super-team’ in the league orchestrating a trade that brought in Celtics trio Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry to add to their already star studded roster headed by rookie coach Jason Kidd. Detroit have moved to add Josh Smith to their roster luring him away from Atlanta, where at one point it was rumoured that Smith and Native Georgian Dwight Howard could’ve linked up at the Hawks this season.

Howard, however, chose to take his talents to a young and upcoming team and his chequebook to a state where he won’t be taxed, Dwight Howard is now a Houston Rocket, teaming up with superstar in the making James Harden turning the Rockets into genuine contenders in the West.

So who have been the biggest winners and losers from the past two weeks?

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers stretched Lebron and the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Arguably man-for-man in the starting line-up, the Pacers got the better of Miami for long stretches of the game, but failed to sustain any dominance for long periods of time due to a weak bench; a bench where the only players giving them hard minutes were Tyler Hansborough (not a scorer), David West and Jarrett Jack.

The Pacers have been trade winners so far this off-season, they resigned David West despite interest from elsewhere, they traded out Hansborough and in return have brought in good role players in Chris Copeland and C.J Watson and they’ll be boosted by the return of captain and all-star Danny Granger for the 13/14 NBA season. If critics out there truly believed that all they needed was a stronger bench, then you’d have to argue that Indiana are a definite for the 2nd or 3rd seed in the east depending on how this new super team in Brooklyn works out.

To add to the positive vibe floating around the Pacers organisation former player MVP, coach of the year and executive of the year Larry Bird has returned to the front office.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have simply been losers so far this offseason, they failed to convince the best centre in the league to re-sign with (Kobe’s patronising pitch surprisingly didn’t work), Metta World Peace has been amnestied to save even more cash and Kobe himself isn’t even going to be available till at least November.

This team is bottoming out. They owe Kobe $30m this year alone, as well as having to pay a luxury tax bill of $29m; this is a huge amount of money and due to the failure to bring Howard back to Hollywood, the team is now purposefully tanking.

Tanking could arguably prove to be a great move, the 2014 draft class is reported to be the best in terms of depth of talent for over a decade with prospects such as Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker hitting the market and the Lakers seem to be scratching off the upcoming season to gain themselves a potentially franchise changing pick.

The draft however is what it says on the tin – a lottery.

The Lakers front office heading by Jim Buss have made some poor decisions in recent months that has culminated in making arguably the most famous basketball team in the world relying a lucky draft pick and hoping that a 34 year old veteran will return from a ruptured Achilles injury.

It’s tough to call a lot of teams ‘losers’ this off-season due to the obvious tactics being played by front office members across the league to prepare for the big 2014 draft and with Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh set to hit the market as well next summer is going to be five times as confusing, exciting and explosive in the NBA.

Miami still in the driving seat – but only just

Game 5 was a tale of two halves for Miami.

The first 24 minutes saw lack lustre defense and questionable intensity on behalf of the Heat, who returned to the locker room with a 4 point deficit to make up. Courtesy of an aggressive team talk from LeBron and a spat between David West and Udonis Haslem, the Heat upped their energy and vigour in the second half and killed off any hope of an Indiana win.

The Heat stepped up their defensive intensity throughout the 3rd quarter and went on a scoring run that decided the outcome of the game. Indiana failed to match this intensity on both ends of the floor, late or non-existent help defense allowing LeBron to get easy points at the rim didn’t help their case and resulting in the Pacers being outscored 30-13 in the 3rd period

Swingman Lance Stephenson of the Pacers failed to make an impact, his heroic yet questionable shots have added spark to Indiana’s offense at numerous times throughout the series when other players were failing to score the ball, but Stephenson’s performance in Game 5 left a lot to be desired. Fellow guard George Hill –who is usually a sure 8-10 points at least- also provided very little for Indiana. Both players combined for 5 points on 2-11 shooting and committed 10 personal fouls. In fact, Indiana’s entire backcourt scored less than 10 points the whole game, this made the Pacers predictable and unbalanced scoring won’t be enough to beat the Heat in Game 6.

Roy Hibbert again made an impact on the offensive end of the floor, scoring 22 points on 8-14 shooting, however he wasn’t aggressive enough on the defensive end as he recorded just 6 rebounds the whole game. Hibbert was also too slow on help defense and on a number of occasions failed to provide the basket with protection, allowing LeBron wide open paths to the basket.

Paul George made a big impact for the Pacers, tallying 27 points on 11-18 shooting whilst grabbing 11 boards and providing 5 assists for his team mates. He was also only called for 2 personal fouls the entire game despite having challenging defensive match ups and playing nearly every minute of the game. George shot 5-8 from beyond the arc and made numerous key, difficult shots that kept Indiana just within reach for short periods of the 3rd quarter.

Despite what the boxscore might suggest, this game was not a dominant performance from Miami. Head Coach Spoelstra made a key mistake in taking too long to order a double team on Hibbert down low, this is a big reason as to why the big man did so much damage in the first quarter. Eventually the double-team came and was effective with the added presence of Haslem as opposed to a smaller guard which helped reduce Hibbert’s impact upon the game in the second half.

Wade’s niggling knee injury seems as though it is still affecting him as he isn’t treating us to his usual explosive slashes to the hoop and his general energy on the court appears to be a little low. Despite this Wade still managed to add 10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. If Miami make the Finals then Dwyane Wade’s health will play a crucial part in who is crowned 2013 NBA Champions.

The Pacers still have a chance to win at least one more game in this series. If Indiana can get George Hill and Lance Stephenson scoring the ball again whilst remaining vigilant on defense then they have a great chance to win Game 6 at home, and then anything can happen if this series goes to a 7th game.

Can Indiana Pacers beat Miami Heat in a 7-game series?

Indiana gave Miami a run for their money in the playoffs last year when the Heat beat them 4-2, however those numbers do not reflect how close Miami were to losing that series.

During the games in which they played each other last year in the regular season, Miami won three and lost one. This season Indiana have beaten Miami twice in just two games.

There are several major areas where Indiana have an advantage over the Heat.

First of all, the Pacers have a size advantage over Miami. The 7′ 2″ Roy Hibbert and 6′ 10″ small forward Paul George are more than big enough to pose a threat to the Heat who don’t have a player over 7 feet.

Indiana are an extremely athletic team that match up well against the super athletic Heat. Every single Pacer player provides energy and effort that many teams lack, just look at what Tyler Hansbrough does when he comes into the game – his nickname is “Psycho T” for a reason.

There is one key area where Indiana have a big advantage over Miami – rebounding.

Indiana averages the second most rebounds in the NBA, compare this with Miami who rank last in this category, and it becomes clear Indiana have the edge. Such an important factor as rebounding has a huge impact on games, especially over a seven game series.

Another area where Indiana excel is defence. The Pacers are the number one defensive team in the NBA by a long way. This is partially due to the fact that their players are so athletic and long. This season Indiana have held Miami under 90 points in one game and under 80 points in another game – well below Miami’s average scoring rate of over 100 points per game – and beaten Miami by a total of 23 points over the two games they have played this season

The Heat struggle against top defensive teams and have a less than impressive 2-4 record against top 5 defensive teams this season. One of these wins came against a San Antonio Spurs team who were without all five starters and nearly half of their team made up of rookies. This suggests that Miami will struggle in a seven game series against Indiana, the best defensive team in the NBA.

Last season the Pacers were the 10th best defensive team in the NBA and it took heroic efforts from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, (they combined for 70 points, 27 rebounds and 15 assists in one game) along with 14 points from Udonis Haslem to overcome Indiana in the 2012 playoffs. Miami will need scoring from elsewhere but it is not clear who will provide the extra scoring. Ray Allen seems the likely candidate however he has not scored any points in the two games against Indiana this season, whereas Haslem has not scored more than ten points in a game this season.

There are numerous reasons that suggest Miami should lose to the Pacers in a playoff series, particularly since the Heat have been playing worse this season than last. Miami may be saving themselves for the playoffs but it does not look encouraging for them at the moment, even though they have the best record in the East. Nonetheless, you can never dismiss a team with 3 time MVP LeBron James, remember how he single handily carried Cleveland every year in the playoffs and even made the finals on one occasion?