Tag:Erik Spoelstra
Posted on: January 19, 2012 11:37 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2012 11:41 pm
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Report Card: Lakers-Heat Grades



Grades from the Heat's 98-87 win over the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night. 

LeBron James


Well, he was on 4-9 in the fourth quarter. But then, that didn't really matter, since he scored 31 points (but needed 27 shots), had 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. That's about as complete a game you're going to find in a game with this kind of pace. James had pretty much everything working. A teardrop, a hook shot, threes, mid-range, dunks, the works. His team needed him to step up with flu-like symptoms and he got it done. It's not the flu game, but it is very impressive.

Erik Spoelstra


Spoelstra managed a pretty magnificent stratagem against the Lakers. He doubled Kobe Bryant as aggressively as you can, daring the Lakers' perimeter shooters to hit shots from range. When they couldn't, the Lakers' offense fell apart. Bryant was forced into either deferring or poor shots. The Heat's defense was in fine form. They funneled the ball where they wanted and when it went where they didn't (Andrew Bynum), they hammered the Lakers and made them hit free throws. Masterful game by Spo.

Mario Chalmers


Didn't shoot well, but ran the offense effectively and was disruptive on defense. Chalmers made no boneheaded plays and wound up with six assists. He did what the point guard on this kind of team needs to do. His job, and nothing more.

Chris Bosh


Bosh was charged with a brutal task. Score against two of the best big men in the league and defend them when they have multiple inches and tons of weight on him. Yet Bosh was effective in deterring entry passes and being active on the weak side. He spaced the floor with 15 points and set the tone.

Pau Gasol

The lone bright spot, Gasol should have gotten the ball much more in this game. He had the mid-range and was aggressive driving. It was a vintage performance wasted by a terrible Lakers offense.


Kobe vs. LeBron


The record is 11-5 and James just beat him with flu-like symptoms (Bryant obviously dealing with a torn ligament in his wrist that is arguably much more severe). James has won five straight against No. 24. Those that feel regular season games are meaningless won't be affected by these games (or anything short of James winnning six rings). But if we're buying into head-to-head to any degree, James' dominance is clear.

Kobe Bryant


Some poor shot selection, which you expect. But a lot of shots he usually hits just weren't falling. He controlled his shooting, controlled his turnovers, and tried to get the Lakers back in the game. Bryant's biggest problem Thursday night was not being as good as LeBron James. And really, on a night like Thursday, how do you blame him for that?

The Lakers mystique


Note that James didn't have an A game, Bosh didn't have an A game, the Heat didn't have Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant scored 11 straight in the fourth.... and they lost by eleven. The Lakers can still win a title this season. But no one's scared of this team right now. The menace is gone.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:39 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 5:58 pm
 

Eddy Curry to debut vs. Lakers on Thursday?

Posted by Ben Golliver eddy-curry-mia

In what is surely the most anticipated moment of the 2011-2012 NBA season, veteran center Eddy Curry could reportedly make his season debut for the Miami Heat on Thursday.

The Palm Beach Post reports that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Curry could "possibly" make his debut in a nationally-televised Thursday night game against the Los Angeles Lakers

Curry, 29, has battled chronic weight problems -- reportedly pushing past 400 pounds -- and has not played in an NBA game since December 17, 2009. He was traded by the New York Knicks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in February 2011. The Timberwolves promptly bought him out and he began embarking on a weight loss program with trainer Tim Grover that eventually helped him land a roster spot with the Heat during the December 2011 free agency period.

The paper reports that Curry will not reveal his current weight.
How light? He still won’t say.

“I stopped keeping track,” said Curry, who has played just 10 games the past three seasons. “It’s a great number, but it’s not where I want it to be. When it is, I’ll put a sticker on.”
FoxSportsFlorida.com reports that Curry is getting excited.
"I can definitely touch it. I can feel it," Curry said of whether the light is at the end of the tunnel regarding his comeback. "This is when you got to push hard. You got to push through it. You got to expect setbacks because nothing is going to be easy. I'm going to continue to push through it and persevere."
Curry has posted career averages of 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 25.4 minutes per game during his 9-year NBA career, which has included stops with the Chicago Bulls and Knicks.

The Heat also returned forward Mike Miller to the lineup on Tuesday after he missed the first three weeks of the season following sports hernia surgery.
Posted on: January 10, 2012 6:55 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2012 8:58 pm
 

LeBron James: New master of the post-up game



By Matt Moore

Let's pretend for a minute that LeBron James isn't LeBron James. Let's take away his massive ego which has risen up and taken control of his cerebral cortex more than once a week over the past two years. Let's take away the polarizing nature of "The Decision" and the epic failures in the fourth quarter during the Finals (after Game 3). Let's remove him teaming up with too much talent, from premature talk of his greatness, from all the things that make us recognize LeBron James as the professional athlete or media entity we associate him with. Let's pretend, just for a moment, that he's just another basketball player. 

If we assume for a minute that we want all players to reach their potential, because that makes for the most entertaining games possible, even if fans hope for their particular team's best to be better than everyone else's best, then there's something to be noted about James this year. He's doing it. Particularly in the biggest area of criticism for him, outside of clutch play. 

For years, people have marveled at James' athleticism. To put it simply, the dude's a truck that moves like a jackrabbit. He's got so much power and speed packed into that 285 lb. (a rough number, he drifts between 295 and 260 and protects the number like his bank account) frame, but there's the hitch. He has never really exerted it in the post. He's bigger than any 3 that can guard him, faster than any 4. So why not just pound guys into oblivion in the post instead of drifting into those pull-up perimeter shots?

I've long thought that James' fascination with Michael Jordan had a lot to do with it. After all, kids of LeBron's generation didn't grow up emulating Kareem's sky hook or even the Dream Shake. They idolized "The Shot,'" worshipped Jordan's turnaround jumper, the push-off jumper against the Jazz. His game always seemed to take on the impression of trying to conform to what we think of as a star scorer. "Rise and fire" as it were.

But that's changing. As ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst noted Tuesday:  
Meanwhile, Spoelstra is growing a little fatigued of answering questions about James’ post game. He knows quite well that James posted up on seven percent of his offensive plays last season and now it is more than 15 percent. He knows that James is shooting 65 percent on those post plays, the best in the NBA so far. He also knows has that James averages 1.219 points per play from the post, another in-depth stat that Spoelstra specializes in.

Those stats and the ones fans are much more familiar with – like James’ 30.1 point scoring average and his 60 percent shooting percentage – say the obvious: keep doing it. They are a major reason the Heat are 8-1 and looking like a juggernaut offensive team.

Still the James in the post talk is what the coach calls “a storyline,” an easy idea for the media to ask and write about. In a new city, the questions about it are coming and Spoelstra answers them without much feeling behind it.

“It’s making us much more dynamic and efficient,” Spoelstra said. “We’re able to do it in different ways. Not just the post. People want to compartmentalize what we’re doing. There’s actually been a lot of tweaks.”
via LeBron's transformation into an inside man - Heat Index Blog - ESPN.

And that's definitely true. From the wide-open, Oregon Ducks-influenced changes in transition to the alterations to Chris Bosh's approach, to what Mario Chalmers is doing on and off ball, the Heat are a wildly different team. And yet the changes to James can be most impactful. In the post, there is no one that can guard him one-on-one. When single covered, James is unstoppable, scoring 68 percent of the time. But there is still a weakness. When doubled, James has turned the ball over 20 percent of the time. It's still a tiny sample in this young season, but at least it shows there is a weakness. 

More to the point than numbers and figures, however, is the philosophical change this demonstrates in James and what it means. Players are defensive of their game. After all, it's their craft. They have dedicated their lives to it and no one wants to have their job performance ripped apart, most often times by people who could never replicate it. There's a pride that goes with it. Consider for a moment, Kobe Bryant's comments to Yahoo Sports this week about how he will not be changing his game, despite struggles with his shot before this week's 3-game hot streak as well as continuing issues with turnovers while dominating the field goal attempts of the Lakers
“I shoot, I shoot,” Bryant said. “You’ve known that for 16 years. I’m not changing my game. If the defense is not doubling, I’m going to score. If I’ve got a good look, I’m going to score. My teammates know that. But I also give them the ball, too, and set them up.

“But at the end of the day, I’m a scorer first.”
via Kobe sees few cracks in championship foundation - NBA - Yahoo! Sports.

Now, it should be noted that Bryant has radically altered his game throughout the years, adapting a face-up game and then becoming one of the deadliest post players in the league. But these adjustments were largely extensions of his pre-existing skill-set. Turnaround-jumper, off-hand layup, driving dunk. What James is faced with is a need to become more than what he's been. And what he's been has been an MVP caliber player. So from that perspective it's easy to see why he may have resisted change. But alongside his work in the post, James has done much more in transition. His decisions are quicker when he's running point. He has arguably the widest skillset of any player in the league, but for the first time, he's putting all of them to use.

This could fade away. James could suffer a serious injury and return to pull-up threes and tentative jump-passes. But the work in the post stands for more than just the changes the Heat have made to their offense. It represents an extension of James' self-awareness and exploration of his own game, and hints at the possibility of him becoming the player he was so undeservedly crowned to be so early in his career. If it was any other player, you'd want to pull for that, you'd want to urge him to keep it up.

But then to take that blind approach is to ignore elements as plain as the nose on his face, a transgression as blatant as James' own avoidance of the post game.

James has to change his game before people change their minds.
Posted on: December 16, 2011 1:48 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 1:50 pm
 

Heat extend contract of coach Erik Spoelstra

Posted by Ben Gollivererik-spoelstra

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra can breathe a little easier.

The Sun-Sentinel reports that Heat president Pat Riley has extended the contract of his head coach so that he can guide the development of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh without fearing for his job security.
Erik's contract has been extended," Riley said, declining to give the length of the extension. 

"We have one of the great young coaches in the league," Riley said. "He's the perfect coach for this team. He never would have been a lame-duck coach."
Spoelstra came under fire at the start of the 2010-2011 season, when the newly-formed Big 3 got off to a slow start. He weathered that storm, thanks to Riley's steady backing, and guided Miami to the 2011 NBA Finals, where they collapsed in dramatic fashion against the Dallas Mavericks.

Spoelstra, 41, is entering his fourth season as coach of the Heat. His career record is 148-98.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:29 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 3:11 pm
 

7 lost stories from canceled NBA preseason

Posted by Ben Golliver

silver-stern-2

On Friday, CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reported the dreadful news that we've all been fearing: the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have failed to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in time, meaning training camp and portions of the preseason schedule have been indefinitely postponed and/or canceled.

Preseason is always a fun time of the NBA calendar, guaranteed to be chockfull of "Player X added 15 pounds of muscle" and "Lottery team Y finally seems poised for a playoff push" stories. Of course, no preseason means no preseason stories. No hype, no hope. More Adam Silver, more David Stern. What a bummer. 

So here's a rundown of seven stories you would have been reading had the NBA and the NBPA gotten their collective act together in time to save the schedule. These stories are lost everywhere, except for here.

1. Security Detains Eddy Curry Outside AmericanAirlines Arena

MIAMI -- It appears that Eddy Curry will not be joining the Miami Heat after all.

Following nearly a year of reports indicating that Curry had lost an NBA-record 468 pounds since he was released by the Minnesota Timberwolves at least year's trade deadline, the free agent center was forcibly removed from AmericanAirlines Arena property by a cadre of four security guards on Tuesday. The use of force was deemed necessary after direct requests to leave from Heat president Pat Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra were not heeded. 

"We didn't want to do it but we really had no choice," said Joseph Watkins, the guard assigned to carry Curry's left leg. "I was just following orders."

"What can I say? I got my hopes up," Curry explained. "I kept reading over and over that Miami was interested in me and I thought I could help LeBron [James] win a ring finally. I thought they would change their mind if I showed I was determined. I guess they wanted to go a different direction."

After the trimmed-down center had been dragged to an auxiliary parking lot, Riley briefly asked a reporter who Curry was before returning to the Heat's training session, which was closed to the media. When practice broke, Spoelstra indicated that the defending Eastern Conference champions were comfortable with their center rotation of Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Dexter Pittman, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, and Bill Wennington, and are not in the market for another big man.

"We like our guys," Spoelstra said.

Curry told the Associated Press that he isn't sure when or where his next basketball opportunity will come but did indicate that he would like to have the plastic handcuffs removed from his wrists, or at least loosened, as soon as possible.

2. Bloody Prank Signals Rift Between Thunder Stars?

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- A severed head was discovered inside a backpack belonging to Kevin Durant on Friday.

The Thunder's All-Star forward pulled the ghoulish, plastic mask -- which bore an uncanny resemblance to coach Scottie Brooks and had been doused in ketchup to simulate the appearance of blood -- out of his signature carry-all following an evening workout. With a look of bewilderment, Durant tossed the mask into a nearby trash can before returning to the team's practice court to work on his free throw shooting.

"I'm just out here trying to get better," Durant said, shrugging off his unsettling discovery.

It's not yet known who placed the mask in Durant's backpack, although suspicion was immediately cast upon Russell Westbrook. The mercurial guard led the NBA in postseason technical fouls in 201, rarely passes the ball because he's so self-involved and sometimes has a "funny look" -- according to multiple teammates -- in his eyes. Center Kendrick Perkins apparently implicated Westbrook in the incident when he stormed out of the practice facility, repeatedly yelling the words, "I told y'all! I told y'all!" 

The incident raises anew the question of whether Oklahoma City's two All-Stars will be capable of coexisting as their careers and games develop.

"Halloween is Monday," Westbrook said, cryptically, before rushing a free-throw extended jump shot and completely hurdling teammate Eric Maynor to claim the offensive rebound.

Thunder president Sam Presti did not offer an alibi for himself, but what else is new?

3. Rivers: More Needed From Rondo For Green To Succeed

BOSTON -- Nine months after the most controversial trade in recent Boston Celtics history, coach Doc Rivers continued to defend forward Jeff Green from media criticism.

A lightly sprained ankle for starting center Jermaine O'Neal caused local sports talk radio hosts and callers to go into hysterics on Monday, rehashing the ill-fated swap that brought Green to Boston in exchange for starting center Kendrick Perkins, who was sent to Oklahoma City.

"Jeff is still getting acclimated, and [president] Danny [Ainge] and I still believe he will be a key piece for us," Rivers said.

During the portion of practice open to the media, Green dribbled the ball off of his foot, missed three three-pointers, was late on two defensive assignments and appeared to frustrate aging forward Kevin Garnett, who was seen shaking his head sadly rather than barking instructions like usual.

When pressed, Rivers said that the eventual solution to what he called Green's "learning curve issues" will have to come from All-Star starting point guard Rajon Rondo.

"Rondo gets him wide open jumpers, wide open lay-ups, makes 10 plays a game defensively, and he leads by example," Rivers said. "But I have eyes, you have eyes. You can see it. It's clearly not enough. We're looking for Rondo to keep leading and to do even more, to carry all of us. [But] especially Jeff."

Pausing for a moment, Rivers, to the surprise of the media present, chose to vividly underscore his previous point.

"I don't care if Rondo dislocates both of his elbows at the same time so his arms are hanging off of his body backwards, he will need to carry Jeff."

Asked to respond to Rivers' comments, Rondo stared ahead blankly, as always.

4. Greg Oden No-Shows At Day One Of Blazers Camp

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Once again, the gym is full of NBA players and hopefuls.  Once again, the biggest one among them is missing.

The Portland Trail Blazers opened training camp to the media for the first time on Monday, only to reveal that center Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, was nowhere to be found. Oden, who signed a 5-year, $70 million extension during the early-October free agency period, has played just 82 games in his 4-year NBA career and has rarely been available to the media since suffering his most recent in Nov. 2010.

Through a spokesperson, Blazers president Larry Miller refused to comment about Oden's status, leaving new GM Brandon Roy -- who was promoted to the position after Miller used the amnesty clause to rid the Blazers of the four years remaining on his contract -- to face the media scrutiny alone. Roy said the team would not rush its center back to the court, noting that Oden's recovery from microfracture knee surgery was still "on schedule," although he did not divulge further specifics.

Blazers coach Nate McMillan looked irritated by the questions. "I've got 18 guys here fighting hard to grab one of our roster spots, let's talk about them," McMillan said.

Mike Conley, Sr., Oden's agent, offered a possible explanation by email. "Rehabilitation has kept Greg off the court for almost a year. During that time, in addition to completing a multi-disciplinary strength and flexibility training program, Greg has worked hard on improving and honing his invisibility. I'm pleased to hear that his work has evidently paid off. How many 7-footers do you know that can literally disappear in the blink of an eye? We feel this will make him even more valuable in the years to come."

Oden's whereabouts are not currently known at this time. His status for Portland's season opener is also up in the air.

"We'll just have to see," said McMillan.

Or not.

5. Kings Guard Completes First Pass

SACRAMENTO -- Kings coach Paul Westphal couldn't help but beam. After all, he had just witnessed an important milestone for his young team.

"I've been preaching unselfishness and ball movement all week and it was great to finally see these guys take that message to heart and execute it," Westphal said, his shirt soaked with sweat.

After back-to-back-back two-a-day practices and a morning session that yielded no progress, Jimmer Fredette became the team's first guard to complete a pass during scrimmage play on Thursday night. Prior to the pass, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and free agent signing Jamal Crawford had each managed to take a shot, draw a foul or commit a turnover on all of their possessions. Meanwhile, rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas, arguably the team's best playmaker on paper, left the practice facility on Tuesday after being frozen out for 263 straight trips up the court and hasn't been heard from since. A team official assured CBSSports.com that the organization is "not alarmed."

Fredette's pass occurred when he inadvertently took the ball out of bounds following a made basket by Evans. Looking confused, and with no other option other than committing a five-second violation, Fredette reluctantly inbounded the ball to Thornton, who promptly dribbled coast-to-coast, only to have his running lay-up attempt swatted out of bounds by center DeMarcus Cousins. Westphal shouted encouragement -- "That's what I'm talking about!" -- and blew his whistle, briefly stopping practice to single out Fredette for praise.

"It was nothing, really," Fredette said, afterwards, looking a touch sheepish.

6. Adelman Closes Practices To Timberwolves Executives

MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- Two hours after a minor shouting match erupted between Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and president David Kahn on Monday, the two men pledged publicly that they had put the matter behind them.

"Direct communication is integral to creating a winning atmosphere," Kahn told a group of reporters on Monday afternoon. "Rick and I exchanged ideas, as we often do, and we were able to come to a resolution that is amenable to both parties. We thank you for your interest but this matter has been resolved. We look forward to a successful year."

The dispute, two league sources said, began when Adelman chided Kahn for openly cheering for rookie point guard Ricky Rubio, while wearing a Rubio jersey, in front of the entire team. That exchange escalated when Adelman decided to play veteran Luke Ridnour with the starting unit, instead of Rubio, prompting Kahn to yell loudly, "Come on!" 

According to the sources, Adelman then threatened to quit on the spot, issuing a "you go or I go" ultimatum just weeks after formally accepting the position and signing a 4-year contract.

"This is my team and I make the coaching decisions," Adelman told reporters bluntly after practice. "That's it. Any other questions?"

The resolution, according to sources, will keep Kahn and other team executives off the practice court for the rest of training camp, although indications are that Kahn and Adelman have agreed to revisit the matter once the regular season begins.

Rubio, who competed for the Spanish national team at this summer's EuroBasket tournament, finished Monday's scrimmage with 0 points and two assists in 37 minutes.

7. Thibodeau Thanks Fans, Admits They Could Be Right

CHICAGO -- The Bulls held an intra-squad scrimmage at the United Center on Friday, allowing fans and season ticket holders the rare opportunity to watch the team go through its paces free of charge.

NBA MVP Derrick Rose drew the loudest cheers and the longest line of pre-game admirers, Luol Deng pledged $10,000 to charity at halftime, and new free agent signing J.R. Smith, who bought his own way out of a one-year contract he signed to play in China, autographed a diehard fan's neck with a tattoo gun. But the clear highlight of the festivities came when the NBA's reigning Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, took a microphone at center court just before tipoff to thank Bulls fans for their loyal support during the team's run to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.

"You guys are the best fans in the league," Thibodeau said, to wild applause. "We hear you loud and clear every night. You give us a true home court advantage and we, all of us, from me to the players, appreciate it."

Seemingly overwhelmed by the extended standing ovation he received, Thibodeau shuffled quickly to the sideline before catching himself and returning to the microphone to offer a final thought.

"Just to let you know," the defensive mastermind continued, "We also hear you loud and clear about Carlos Boozer."

The simple mention of the power forward's name elicited instinctive and ravenous booing from the fans, who were in no mood to forgive Boozer's disappointing showing in the 2011 NBA Playoffs and the team's controversial decision not to use the Amnesty Clause to shed his massive contract during free agency.

"Yes, we've received thousands of letters, text messages, phone calls and emails. For the sanity of Illinois' hard-working postal workers, please stop sending them. We understand that you think he is soft, that he isn't good enough to be a No. 2 guy, and that he isn't clutch enough to put us over the top against Miami."

Here, the second-year head coach drew a breath and exhaled, the long, lonely nights in his office preparing schemes and reading the fan correspondence clearly weighing upon his heart.

"Look, you're probably right about all of it. But how the hell are we going to trade him?"

Boozer, who mysteriously broke his hand for the second consecutive offseason, was not medically cleared to play in the scrimmage and was not available to provide a statement. Nobody noticed or cared.

Posted on: September 10, 2011 2:20 pm
Edited on: September 10, 2011 2:48 pm
 

Shavlik Randolph: hype, hospital & heartbreak

Posted by Ben Golliver

shavlik-randolph-heat

Professional basketball players on the fringes of the NBA, those without the certainty of a guaranteed multi-year contracts and forced to compete over and over with others to land a coveted roster spot, understand that control gets cede sooner or later, that relentlessly chasing opportunity wherever it may be is the only way to make a living.

For Shavlik Randolph, a former McDonald’s All-American who battled injury and illness while at Duke, sticking in the NBA has been a whirlwind process, one that began when he wasn’t selected in the 2005 NBA Draft but wound up catching on with the Philadelphia 76ers. The last five years have been a blur of spot minutes, 10-day contracts, try-outs and workouts, but his whirlwind has never spun faster or with more force than the last 12 months. In a year that he won't soon forget, Randolph found himself in the eye of the Miami Heat’s hype hurricane, in a skier’s paradise rehabilitating alongside a No. 1 overall draft pick, and finally in the Caribbean tropics, where he had a courtside view of one of the most tragic events in basketball in 2011.

Miami

The story begins just months before LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwyane Wade in Miami. Randolph had just finished filling in for the Portland Trail Blazers when a string of injuries had decimated their roster. Miami, merely a slightly above-average team at this point, was looking to add a little depth in advance of a playoff run and also, knowing that big offseason changes would be in store one way or another, to get a look at a potential hard-working, low-cost, no-ego role player. Randolph appeared in just three games for the Heat but was encouraged to stick around for summer workouts.

What happened next won’t soon be forgotten in the NBA. Bosh and Wade committed to the Heat, James announced his “Decision,” the trio held a parade to predict multiple championships and the basketball world’s attention honed in on South Beach.

“It was definitely crazy,” Randolph remembers. “I was there through every step of it. The circus, the hype.”

To get away from the scrutiny, the Heat, with Randolph in attendance, moved their training camp to a Florida Air Force base.

“It was all business,” Randolph said. “Hardest training camp of my life. Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra did an amazing job of creating a situation where [the distractions] didn’t affect them or the players. Just keeping a family atmosphere.”

A family atmosphere, at least off the court, anyway.

“LeBron, D. Wade and Bosh are three of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” Randolph said. “They went at each other like they were enemies every day in practice. They might have been the most talented, people gave them crap for all the hype, but no team practices harder.”

James, in particular, stood out. Randolph was born and raised in the heart of basketball country, Raleigh, N.C., the grandson of an All-American. He was a highly-regarded prospect as early as his mid-teens and he even broke his high school’s single-game scoring record set by Naismith Hall of Famer Pete Maravich. But nobody along the way made the kind of impression that James did during that training camp.

“The only word for it is ‘overwhelming,’” Randolph said. “His talent level is overwhelming. I had played against him [before[, but at camp I finally understood why he has the phrase ‘witness’ associated with him because until you step on a court with him and you see him, you can’t understand. That guy is the fastest player on the court, the strongest player on the court and the highest jumping guy on the court every time he plays.

“I would just say overwhelmingly impressive,” Randolph repeated. “He works hard. He works on his body, he works so hard.”

Ultimately, Randolph was one of Miami’s final roster cuts, released by the Heat in mid-October. A 6-foot-10 forward with a versatile offensive game, his skillset didn’t fill Miami’s biggest frontcourt need: bulky, veteran big men to provide depth in the middle.  

Vail

In truth, Randolph had actually dropped a significant amount of weight simply so he could keep up with the pace of play. A hip problem that he had dealt with since high school and that had required surgery while he was at Duke had resurfaced. He participated in a group tryout for the Blazers in early November, after Jeff Pendergraph was lost to a season-ending knee injury and his replacement, Fabricio Oberto, promptly retired due to an ongoing heart condition. Free agent Sean Marks won the job, though, leaving Randolph to face a difficult decision regarding his health.

“I’m 27 and I’m not getting any younger,” Randolph said. “My hip was so prohibiting. My flexibility, my explosiveness weren’t the same. I was playing at 220 pounds to be able to maintain a pro level of athleticism,” Randolph explained.

Admitting that he had put off surgery for “three or four seasons,” Randolph finally decided, in late-November, to undergo another procedure. Corrective hip surgery, he knew, would cost him most, if not all, of the 2010-2011 NBA season and, because he wasn’t on an NBA team, it would cost him money out of his own pocket. Still, it was worth it.

“If you’ve ever run around with a rock or a pebble in your shoe, that’s what my hip felt like,” Randolph said. “It twinges you. It doesn’t stop you from running and you can still do stuff on it, it just affects you and throws you off from being able to do what you normally do at 100 percent.”

Randolph travelled to the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, where he could be operated on by Dr. Marc Philippon, an orthopedic hip surgeon who has treated the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Greg Norman and Mario Lemieux.

“It made all the difference in the world,” Randolph said of the surgery. “My explosiveness is back, my ability to box out, being able to play above the rim. It really affects you in every aspect. Now I'm back up to 245 or 250 pounds and moving with much more mobility. It brought all the fun back to the game too. My hip was pretty messed up and it was something I wish I had done a long time ago. I'm really excited.”

Rehabilitation work continued in Vail and, within days, Randolph was joined by another NBA player and former teammate: Blazers center Greg Oden.

Oden was in Vail to undergo microfracture surgery on his left knee after suffering a non-contact injury while working to get back on the court for the Blazers after fracturing his left patella in December 2009. In the months since his surgery, Oden, the 7-foot-0 and 285 monster whom the Blazers selected over All-Star forward Kevin Durant in 2007, has been as invisible as a man his size can be. He has consented to only a few media interviews, made one television appearance and has otherwise been content to remain totally out of the media’s critical spotlight.

But, in Vail, Oden wasn’t as withdrawn.

“He was very upbeat and very excited,” Randolph recalls. “I think he has a huge chip on his shoulder. He's looking forward to getting back on the court. I could see a sense of refreshment in his eyes after his surgery.”

A picture of the two players, side-by-side, confirms that account. Oden, his giant body balanced on crutches, smiles from ear-to-ear. His stay in Vail was brief, as he left town soon after his procedure to return to Portland and continue his rehabilitation. The encounter between the two left Randolph worried not for Oden, but for his future opposition.

“I feel bad for the centers in the NBA when he does get back on the court,” Randolph said, chuckling. “He’s so big. And he has a new sense of purpose.”

Puerto Rico

As if heading to training camp with the NBA’s best player and rehabilitating next to the man some have called the league’s biggest “bust” wasn’t enough for one year, Randolph wound up in one of basketball’s most remote locales, a by-stander to one of basketball’s most shocking tragedies of 2011.

With his rehab complete, the NBA regular season winding down and a lockout on the horizon, Randolph sought out an opportunity to play competitively and regain his professional bearings. In April, he signed with Gallitos de Isabela, a professional team in Puerto Rico.

The gyms in Puerto Rico are hot, loud and small and extra security attends rivalry games to protect against crowd violence. Players have even been known to issue threats to opponents on the court. The whole thing combines to create a bit of a Wild West atmosphere. But the geography and climate makes it a convenient, pleasant location for former or future NBA players to make a pitstop.  

“Puerto Rico is a very competitive league,” Randolph said. “Every team had NBA caliber players. I think that league is on the come-up.”

Randolph was able to find his old form, averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds in 27 games for the Gallitos, earning recognition as the league’s “Import of the Year.”

But his time on the often overlooked island would be marked by sad news that travelled quickly throughout the international basketball community. In May, former University of Michigan basketball star and journeyman NBA big man Robert “Tractor” Traylor was found dead at his apartment in Puerto Rico after suffering a heart attack.

Traylor was on the island playing for Vaqueros de Bayamon, one of Gallitos’ competitors.

“I played against him the week it happened,” Randolph said. “I had never met him until my team played his team. I had to guard him, he had to guard me, the week before that happened. He was the nicest, most upstanding guy. He couldn't have been a better sportsman. When that happened, the level of respect, the other teams, his teams, it was unbelievable. I was privileged and honored that I had the experience of meeting him.”

The Gallitos and Vaqueros played again shortly after Traylor’s death. Randolph and his teammates took courtside seats as the Vaqueros honored Traylor’s memory.

“They retired his jersey, brought his whole family in and had an hour-long presentation,” Randolph remembered. “They lifted his jersey up, had a video collage. It was very touching. I don't think there was a dry eye in the place.”

China?

As spring turned to summer, league play in Puerto Rico concluded and Randolph returned to North Carolina to plot his next move. Playing in the thriving pro-am scene, Randolph played with or against North Carolina and NC State players and recruits as well as a host of current NBAers. As with everyone playing professional basketball, though, the lockout cast a shadow over his next move.

A few years removed from his most recent full-time NBA paycheck and still getting used to life post-surgery, Randolph must decide whether to wait on the NBA and take another shot at cracking a roster or heading overseas, where the pay and playing time will be more immediate. Until this summer, Randolph had always postponed the international option, content to take his chances and hope for an NBA call.

After receiving some “very, very good” offers from Europe and going through a workout process, Randolph now says he is in the “advanced stages” of negotiating a one-year deal with a team in China. He’s scaled back on his pick-up play to avoid injury in recent weeks and considered, but decided to pass on playing in the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series in Las Vegas for the same reason.

He says he is “very close” to signing and expects to make a final decision within the next week. The offer on the table is “equal to or greater than” what he would make signing a veteran minimum deal in the NBA.

“It's important for me to play this season,” Randolph said. “I just want to put myself in a situation where I can play. That's the most important thing for me. I miss playing.

“I'm not a player who will have a large, multi-year contract on the table. I know that's not my situation. My goal is to play in the NBA but, first and foremost, to play. It may be in my best interest to go play overseas in a situation where I know I’m going to play and play a lot because there is so much uncertainty here.”

Following a year that took him from hype to hospital to heartbreak, Randolph admits there would be an adjustment in heading to China, but that won’t guide this decision.

“I know some guys who have already signed to play and other guys in talks, considering going over there,” Randolph says. “I've talked to a few people who have played there. A few people who are going there this year. It's such a culture shock going over there but the bottom line is that you're playing basketball. I went and forfeited this past season by having surgery so I could go out and take advantage of any opportunity that's presented to me.”

Because it’s always about that next opportunity. No matter how wild and crazy the ride, or how long and winding the road, to get there might be.

“It's basketball,” Randolph concludes. “The only way you get better is by playing.”

Posted on: September 1, 2011 10:21 pm
 

The top NBA defensive systems



By Matt Moore



Stop me if you've heard this one before. Defense wins championships. That's not actually true, as some of the best defenses never win titles because their offense can't muster enough points to outscore a college team. But it's certainly vital. You'll never find a modern NBA team win with terrible defense. But who have the best systems? We know who the great defenders are, but how much are they a product of the system, and how much is the system a product of them? We sought to answer those questions with our own form of the defensive system power rankings. 


1. Chicago Bulls:
There's a reason Tom Thibodeau is considered a defensive genius. Look no further than the fact that the Bulls were the defensive icon of the league despite considerable injuries last season and the fact that Carlos Boozer was a heavy-minutes starter. The key to Thibodeau's system is help and precision attack. There's no anticipation of meeting the player at the point of field goal attempt, the initial penetration is deterred by a series of help defenders cutting off multiple options. It's a system that masks individual defensive weaknesses. That's why players like Omer Asik, Boozer, and C.J Watson suddenly become strengthpoints.

An interesting component is that the Bulls are so focused on preventing scores, they manage to avoid fouling. They had the 22nd lowest free throw rate in the league. Compare that with Boston's 10th rating, and you find a much cleaner defense. That's partially attributable to the different personnel but it's also indicative of the Bulls' approach. They attack the dribble, cut off the lane, and contain, contain, contain.

Their cohesion is nearly perfect, their communication is nearly perfect, their approach is nearly perfect. Guarding LeBron James nailing long-range threes? You've got be perfect to beat that.

2. Boston Celtics: The ugly older brother of the Bulls' defense. The Celtics use the same help mechanisms to deter penetration and attack the rim, but are far more willing to commit to a club to the head to make their point. Intelligent design matched with brute force. Another key difference is their reliance on their individual personnel. Kevin Garnett is of course the field general, and its his willingness to commit to any assignment or range that fuels the system. But Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo are all equally essential along with the rest of the team. The problem is that the central reliance on personnel gives way to vulnerability. Eventually age catches up with the Celtics.

What bolsters them, though, is a philosophical dedication. The Celtics are willing to do the hard job, no matter how tough. It's not just a matter of professional dedication, its a prideful philosophy, an extension of the family unity they've tried to instill in the team. That's really what separates the Celtics, their almost militaristic dedication to the defensive discipline they try and execute for 48 minutes.

The Celtics' defense is only going to continue to slide as the players' abilities downgrade with age. But until then, they're still stocked with the most experience, ability, and knowledge of their system of any team in the league.

...

Again, with the LeBron thing.

3. Miami Heat: If the Celtics and Bulls both rely on system built on systemic fundamentals and philosophy, then the Heat's concept is a bit different, if nearly as effective. Their strengths begin with their talent. Having three of the most athletic players in the league gives you a basis. LeBron James' ability to play on the perimeter, on the wing, in the post, and battle for rebounds gives them versatility. Chris Bosh is never going to win anyone's heart over with toughness, but guarding those stretch fours in a league where they can torch you is important, and Bosh does it well. Dwyane Wade still gambles more than he should, but he also makes plays more often than you want if you're facing him.

This isn't to say the rest of the Heat are schlubs. Udonis Haslem is a big, tough, difficult defender who has the savvy to arm wrestle a weapon to the proverbial ground. The Heat have veteran players who don't lack for experience, and it helps tremendously.

The most interesting wrinkle in their defensive system, though, is one of their anticipation. Consider that the Bulls and Celtics both react to where the ball goes. They're always playing a game of stop what's in front of them. It's a very Eastern-philosophy, "stay in the moment" kind of mindset. But the Heat look to anticipate. They run to the corner shooter before the ball arrives. They play on a string, but not just in terms of shutting down one option and then reacting, but getting ahead of the offense to prevent the quick open look opportunity. The result is a load of shot clock violations.

The problem is personnel. They have neither the wing stopper they can commit at the cost of offense, nor the body in the paint at center to defend the rim. There's a reason why Shane Battier and Eddy Curry reportedly top the Heat's list of targets in free agency. A few better options defensively in terms of personnel might have won them two more games in the Finals, which was all that stood in their way of vindicating all that premature boasting.

4. Orlando Magic: It's good to have the best. Dwight Howard makes more of an impact defensively than any other player in the league, the reason he's the defending Defensive Player of the Year (again), and why he was an MVP candidate last season. If you don't believe me, watch just the Orlando Magic defensively some time. A team with Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu in prominent roles was a top five team defensively last season, and that impact begins and ends with Dwight Howard. Howard reacts to the baseline, swats the weak side, covers both the ball handler and roll man on the pick and roll, and is big and tall and super-athletic. He's a freak of nature, and one that's learned to be smarter on defense every year.

But to say that it's all Howard does a disservice to Stan Van Gundy's work. Van Gundy, after all, is the coach that has brought Dwight Howard to the defensive level he's at, making it a priority for the young big man since 2007. And it's Van Gundy who manages to pull this kind of defensive effort out of a team with that roster. That Van Gundy is able to generate cohesive defensive efforts with Brandon Bass, Jameer Nelson, and Jason Richardson in key roles along with the others speaks volumes of what SVG is capable of.

His biggest weakness is that personnel, which has gotten worse each season since 2009. Howard's hit his ceiling defensively. Unless SVG gets better supporting talent, there's only so many rabbits he can pull out of his hat.

5. Los Angeles Lakers: It's good to be tall.

The Lakers' defensive system is a question mark as Mike Brown takes over. But if we look at what the Lakers have done well in the past, it's pretty simple. Be tall, be active, apply pressure. The Lakers will talk about experience and veteran savvy, but their biggest asset is the fact that Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum combine to create a redwood forrest down low through which passes cannot flow. The result is a lot of perimter passing just to get the ball to the other side, or wild looping cross-court volleys. Combine that with Derek Fisher's ability to counter his slowness with pestering opposing point guards into personal fouls, and Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest's proficiency in perimeter defense, and you have quite the set.

Honestly, this roster probably has a lot of upside in defense, still. Jackson was too busy handing out novels and waxing poetic on what other player or coach he was degrading that week to really focus defensively other than to talk about, well, focus. The Lakers with Brown could be the best defensive unit in the NBA next season. Whenever that is.

Also considered:

Milwaukee Bucks: Skiles continues to struggle with offense, but his teams always attack the ball and stay disciplined. It's sloppy at times, but Skiles' grinding approach is a proven tactic.

Dallas Mavericks: Rick Carlisle talked in the Finals about "defending with five guys" and that's the best part of the Mavericks. They use any and all weapons at their disposal. Their defense isn't why they won the NBA championship, but it was why they won the Finals. Versatility combined with determination and good chemistry with sound principles made them formidable enough to compromise teams enough for their offense to do the rest.

Memphis Grizzlies: Unconventional is the word, here, as the Grizzlies run counter to every defensive tradition in the NBA. They don't play position, they attack the ball. They don't focus on misses, they swarm for steals. They don't deny layups, they pester and pressure until the offense collapses. Out of nowhere, Lionel Hollins turned one of the worst defenses in the league into one of the best. Tony Allen's influence helps, so does Shane Battier's, but it's Memphis' adoption of the blue collar ethic of the town that helped them make their playoff run.

Posted on: July 19, 2011 4:16 pm
Edited on: July 21, 2011 3:18 pm
 

Miami Heat 2011-2012 NBA schedule breakdown

A breakdown of the 2011-2012 Miami Heat NBA schedule. Posted by Ben Golliver.

heat-lost

After the 2011 NBA Finals, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Miami Heat were fresh out of answers. The Dallas Mavericks were too much for them, a tough, balanced, steady team that overwhelmed and wore down South Beach's talented trio.

On Tuesday, the NBA officially announced its 2011-2012 schedule, which means it is time to turn our attention to the Heat's quest for redemption. 

First, a few notes. The Heat play just 17 back-to-backs, a bit below average. They're scheduled to appear on national television 25 times, tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for tops in the league.

Without further ado, here are 10 games worth keeping an eye on, assuming there is a full 82-game season with no games lost to a work stoppage due to the ongoing lockout.

Season Opener

The Miami Heat's road back to the Finals begins in Madison Square Garden, where they open their season against the New York Knicks on Wednsday, Nov. 2. Most likely, the Knicks still won't be any good, but they do look good on paper thanks to the tandem of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. The Heat were 2-2 against the Knicks last year and they lost their 2010-2011 season opener to the Boston Celtics, so this won't be a cakewalk. Still, with vision of J.J. Barea running through them and Jason Terry bombing over the top of them, the Heat should come out motivated and take care of business. 

First Loss

No one can forget Miami's slow start last year. The Heat began just 9-8 and rumors circulated that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra could be in danger of losing his job. This year, the opening schedule is fairly easy. The Heat do have to endure a back-to-back against the Knicks and Orlando Magic to start the season, but four of their next six games are against lottery teams and they play nine of their first 13 games at home. Only three of those 13 opponents won more than 46 games last season (the Celtics and the Magic, whom they play twice). Look for the Celtics to draw first blood again this year. Boston travels to Miami for a rematch of their second round playoff series on Nov. 16. Rajon Rondo will be healthy by then.

Return To Cleveland


LeBron James gets his first visit back to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland out of the way early in 2011-2012, as the Heat travel to face James' former team, the Cavaliers, in their 8th game of the season. Will James and his entourage be allowed in the parking garage this time? Will the cheers for No. 1 overall draft pick Kyrie Irving eclipse the boos for James? Will he do the chalk toss? Will he have to use the bathroom during introductions again? These important questions and more will be answered on Friday, Nov. 18.

The Lake Show 

A regular season rendition of the Finals match-up that everyone anticipated but never materialized takes place on Thursday, Dec. 8 when the Los Angeles Lakers travel to South Florida. The last time Kobe Bryant and company were in town, the Heat held the Lakers to just 80 points and Bryant released his frustrations by staying at the arena for hours afterwards, getting up some extra shots. The X-factor will be how much damage Andrew Bynum can do (and who the Heat will find in free agency to guard him).

Holiday Appetizer

In a welcome run-up to the Christmas Day showcase game, the Heat will visit the young and super talented Thunder in Oklahoma City for the first of two meetings this season. The game will be nationally televised on Friday, Dec. 23, and feature five of the most athletic and exciting NBA All-Stars in the Heat's trio plus Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It will be awesome. There really better not be a work stoppage.
 
Christmas Day


The 2011 NBA Finals will have its first official rematch on Christmas Day as the centerpiece of a triple-header. The Heat will head to Dallas to face the Mavericks and confront their late-game collapse demons. Really, I can't imagine a worse way for James to spend Christmas than in the building where he saw his best chance for a ring slip away while playing some of the least effective basketball of his recent career. Kinda brutal, but those are the breaks.

Road Warriors

On Friday, Jan. 6, the Heat travel to the Sacramento Kings to begin their longest West Coast swing of the season. The Heat will play the Kings, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets over a one-week period. That sounds pretty tough, but it's possible that all five of those teams will miss the playoffs next year and there's only one back-to-back, meaning things could be a lot worse. If the Heat are able to stack up wins on this trip -- and perhaps sweep the quintet --it could be pivotal in determining Eastern Conference playoff positioning. 

Running Of The Bulls


The Heat face the Chicago Bulls, their Eastern Conference Finals opponent, four times this season, but all four games will take place in 2012. The first chance Derrick Rose will have to redeem himself will be Thursday, Jan. 19, when Chicago travels to Miami. The Bulls come back to Miami again later in January before the Heat travel to the United Center for games during March and April. If these two teams are duking it out for the top seed in the East, as expected, they'll get four solid head-to-head chances to settle things directly.

Playoff Push


February 2012 is highlighted by another five-game road trip, this time against all Eastern Conference teams, beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 8. This trip is great news for the Heat: four of their five opponents (New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers) missed the playoffs last season and the fifth, the Philadelphia 76ers, were dismantled fairly easily in the first round of last year's playoffs. It's not often a team has the opportunity to sweep two separate 5-game road trips in a single season, but the Heat definitely have the possibility. Best of all, none of the games in this stretch are back-to-backs.

Season Finale

The Heat close out their season at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, April 18. There's always a decent shot that playoff seeding and pairings will already be set, meaning this game could be a Miami fan's best bet to see the odd assortment of end-of-the-bench guys that president Pat Riley assembles to fill out his roster. Good times. 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com