Sunday, November 29, 2015

Has the Heat seen the last of retiring Kobe Bryant?

It's not part of the #kobesystem to admit defeat easily.

It's also not especially healthy to live in denial.

So Kobe Bryant made the obvious official on Sunday night, crashing Derek Jeter's website The Players Tribune by penning a poem to basketball, and acknowledging this will be his last season. In doing so, he's undoubtedly shifted the narrative from how poorly he's played this season, shooting 31.5 percent for the lagging Lakers, to how much he's impacted the game during the rest of his two full NBA decades.

Heat fans won't get a chance to celebrate him, not after he sat out with the Nov. 9 contest in Miami with a sore back, the third straight season he hasn't suited up in AmericanAirlines Arena. But there may be one more chance to watch him against Dwyane Wade, arguably the closest contemporary at his primary position, and ranked by many just one slot behind Bryant all-time. 

That game is March 30 in Los Angeles.

Here's to hoping Bryant is healthy enough to appear in that one.

If not, the record will stand at 32 games that Bryant faced the Heat, starting 28 of those games, and averaging 24.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists. 

Luol Deng (strained left hamstring) aiming for return when Heat face Kevin Durant, LeBron James later in week

Luol Deng will always try and give it ago. He hates being hurt. 

But he said Sunday after practice that unless he "magically wakes up" feeling a lot better Monday morning he's going miss his third straight game when the Celtics take on the Heat Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat's starting small forward has been dealing with a strained left hamstring since Miami rallied in the second half to beat the winless Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 21. Although Deng played 31 minutes two nights later in a win over the Knicks, he had a setback and the Heat have been patient in making sure Deng gets right.

With Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder visiting Thursday night followed by a visit from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, the Heat obviously would prefer for their best perimeter defender to be back and closer to 100 percent for those games.

Sunday, coach Erik Spoelstra said Deng did more work off to the side at practice than he had done in the past week. But the hamstring is still bothering him, Deng said, when he sprints.

"I'm able to slide and do a lot," Deng said. "My jump shot is fine. It's when I try to sprint, and I'm trying to just take off. That's when it's troubling me.

"I dealt with a hamstring before but it was a lot worse than this one. The one I had before was really bad. This one, I was able to finish the game and then able to play the next game. But it just wasn't going the right way. It just felt like it was getting worse. If it was getting better I would have definitely continued playing. But it's just about being smart."

In the end, if Deng returns Thursday, he'll have only missed three games while getting nine days of rest. The Heat sees that as a win-win if he can come back and guard a pair of league MVPs in Durant and James.

"I want to get back as soon as possible," Deng said. "But when you play teams like that I know that if we have everybody we're a better team. Obviously, defensively, those are games these guys are going to get their numbers. But I'm out there to make them work for it. But, at the same time I'm not going to want to rush it where I'm not out there helping the team. We just got to go day-by-day. If I feel great tomorrow and I could play I'll go. If it's the game after, I'll go. We're just going to be smart about it."

Friday, November 27, 2015

Warming trend continues for Chris Bosh in win in New York

Chris Bosh scored 20 points in Friday's 97-78 win against the Knicks.

That wasn't especially unusual -- it was his seventh 20-point game of the season.

Nor was the way he got it.

Once again, Bosh's scoring picked up as the game proceeded, after a slow first quarter. 

He had just two in the first, both on free throws. 

That brought his first quarter average down to 2.9 points, fifth among the Heat's starters. Some of this is a result of Erik Spoelstra's rotations -- Bosh's 7.6 minutes are also fifth among starters in the first quarter. But it's also clear that Bosh is not getting established early as often as others, with Hassan Whiteside leading with 4.9 points in 8.9 minutes. 

Bosh is playing 7.7 minutes in the second quarter, many with the second unit, and leading the Heat with 5.5 points, just ahead of Dwyane Wade (5.4).

Wade leads in the third quarter (5.5 points in 8.5 minutes), while Bosh is sixth overall, and fifth among starters, with 3.1 points in 8.1 minutes. 

And then he's been, by far, the primary option in the fourth, with 6.0 points in 8.9 minutes. (Gerald Green, largely due to Friday's explosion, is second at 3.8 points, followed by Justise Winslow at 3.5 and Wade at 3.3).

After the game, I intended to ask Bosh about his in-game scoring surges, after the slow start. But, as soon as I said, "Your scoring--", he interrupted.

"Like this?" he said, making a wave motion with his hand.

No, not game-to-game.

Inside a single game.

Is it taking time to work himself into a rhythm?

"Kind of trying to get there, man," Bosh said. "I mean, it's a difficult thing to figure out. Of course, I always want to be aggressive at all times, I want to attack, attack, attack. And it's still getting there. I have a little bit more space with the second group. And we have to get Dwyane involved, we have to get Goran going, we have to get the big fella (Whiteside) going. You know, we have to get different guys going. So it's something to figure out. I'll eventually get there, and it will be more consistent." 

Heat, vs. Knicks, will get another taste of life without Luol Deng

Luol Deng is the forgotten man in the Heat's starting lineup.

Heat fans don't devote as much energy -- and Heat media don't devote as many column inches -- to the Heat small forward as to the other four players, because he's not as familiar as Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, not as fascinating as Hassan Whiteside, and not as (lately) forlorn as Goran Dragic. Few were sweating his opt-out decision last summer, and few, it seems, will fret if he finds another home next summer, especially if Justise Winslow appears ready to start.

But Deng, who has sacrificed shots while willingness guarding opposing stars, still does value to Miami -- he's holding opponents more than 3 percentage points what they usually shoot, and has been especially effective inside the arc; his numbers inside 6 feet are really good. He also allows Miami to go small and still match up, since he's done a solid job in his stints at power forward, including some time against 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis on Monday.

That value may be evident again tonight against New York, when he misses his second game due to a strained hamstring.

The Heat lost the first, badly, in Detroit, though that probably had more to do with Wade and Bosh no-showing on the court figuratively as Deng doing so literally. 

Deng actually would have been more useful tonight, against Carmelo Anthony, taking the early burden so that Winslow doesn't need to do so for 30-plus minutes... and so Gerald Green doesn't need to do so at all. 

Erik Spoelstra doesn't like to break up his bench core, but Deng's absence gives him little choice but to go with Winslow, and hope Green can add some reasonably efficient scoring to the second unit as its small forward, likely with Josh Richardson or Beno Udrih getting some backcourt run. 

Either way, if Anthony goes off, without Deng around, more Heat fans might get back on the Deng bandwagon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson renew friendly rivalry

Justise Winslow was there for the Detroit Pistons at No. 8.

Stan Van Gundy went a different direction.

The former Heat coach, who now holds that title as well as president for the Pistons, passed on the Duke product to take Stanley Johnson, a swingman from Arizona. Winslow then slipped past the Charlotte Hornets, which passed on a six draft pick offer from Boston to take Frank Kaminsky. The Heat then got the same offer from Boston and Pat Riley briefly considered it, but he and his scouting staff agreed to take Winslow.

So far, that's worked out pretty well.

Winslow leads the Heat in plus-minus, and he's getting most of Miami's fourth quarter minutes at the small forward spot. 

How does he compare to Johnson?

Winslow is playing more minutes (28.3 to 20.6), even though Detroit has been without rotation wing Jodie Meeks and former starting guard Brandon Jennings. Johnson is averaging more points (8.1 to 7.5, and 14.1 to 9.5 on a per-36 minute basis), with Winslow averaging more rebounds and assists (but about the same on a per-36 minute basis). 

The big difference, and this shouldn't surprise, is that Johnson is shooting a lot more -- 14.6 attempts per 36 minutes compared to 8.2 for Winslow. What may surprise a little more, because Johnson was considered by most to be a little more offensively polished, is that Winslow is shooting a higher percentage (46.4 to 38.5). Johnson has really struggled from behind the arc, shooting just 21.1 percent.

Johnson, like Winslow, has the tools to be an excellent defender, though Winslow has gotten more notice for his work so far. 

They know each other's capabilities quite well.

After Tuesday's practice, Winslow said he first realized he had a knack for defense during his first year with the Team USA U-17's, on which Johnson was a teammate. 

"I just understood my role on that team," Winslow said. "We had a lot of guys who could score. My job, and a couple of my teammates -- me, Stanley Johnson, some other guys -- our role was just to come off the bench, bring energy and play defense. That was kind of when we understood that, specifically me and him, we had a knack for defense."

They spent some time together during the draft process.

Is Winslow watching how other rookies are performing?

"For the most part," Winslow said. "I would say more guys that I'm friends with, Stanley, Tyus (Jones), Jahlil (Okafor), Kelly Oubre, Sam Dekker, just watching them a little bit closer than other guys." 

Did Winslow expect Erik Spoelstra to give him this much responsibility so early?

"I mean, I don't know," Winslow said. "I'll just accept whatever task they give me, and accept whatever role they give me. I didn't really know what to expect coming into the season. I'm just trying to accept every challenge and meet it." 

That has included matchups with Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Paul George... and LeBron James. Winslow said he's trying to study "the small details" of each superstar. 

"It's great," Winslow said. "Those guys are guys that me and a lot of my friends looked up to growing up. But at this point we're peers. So I don't put those guys on a pedestal." 

Winslow believes that he would have found his role on any team, but knows that he might have been expected to score more early somewhere else. (Aside: Many scouts believe he would have scuffled in one of those other situations.) 

"I think it's a great fit, an organization that has a winning culture, I think that's probably the biggest thing," Winslow said. "I think that's something that really fit me well, coming from high school, coming from Duke, so I think it was a great fit for to land here." 

Winslow wasn't aware that his shooting percentage has increased significantly from the preseason.

More comfortable with looks?

"I don't even know what the jump is, but I think I'm taking the same shots," Winslow said. "I think I'm getting better every day shooting the ball. So I feel confident." 

He's showing more confidence in other ways. He trash-talked Udonis Haslem, of all people, during practice "just to keep things competitive." And he said that the shooting competition was rigged "because D-Wade won. I did once, but he got back to the top, so it's rigged."

And when told of his plus-minus, he smiled:

"Just put me on the court, man." 

He'll be out there against a old -- but still young -- friend Wednesday in Detroit. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Whiteside (illness), Deng (tight left hamstring) make trip to Detroit; Heat reassign Stokes to D-League

The bug that's been going around the Heat locker room finally caught up to Hassan Whiteside.

The shot-swatting center missed Tuesday's practice, but still made the flight to Detroit with his teammates.

Forward Luol Deng (tight left hamstring) was held out of activities coach Erik Spoelstra said, but also made the trip to Detroit.

Deng said after Monday's win the hamstring tightened up on him again Monday during the game. He could probably use a few days off to let the hamstring heal completely. And that's something the Heat could explore. If he doesn't play Wednesday in Detroit or in New York Friday, Deng could have an entire week off before the Celtics visit Miami on Monday.

Deng, though, has played through pain before. He initially injured the hamstring in the third quarter last Saturday against the 76ers. 

> In other news, Miami assigned forward/center Jarnell Stokes to their NBA Development League affiliate the Sioux Falls Skyforce. 

Stokes, acquired along with guard Beno Udrih from Memphis in the Mario Chalmers-James Ennis trade two weeks ago, hasn't played for the Heat yet. He appeared in two NBA games this season totaling two rebounds in four minutes of action for the Grizzlies.

Last season, Stokes played in 23 NBA Development League games (14 starts) with the Iowa Energy and averaged 15.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 32.0 minutes while shooting 61.7 percent from the field.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Hassan Whiteside grateful for teams that challenge him

Hassan Whiteside posted his sixth double-double of the season in Monday's 95-78 win against the Knicks, with 11 points, 11 rebounds and five more blocks. 

Well, the official scorer said he said five. 

"I definitely had like six or seven," Whiteside said. "But it's OK." 

Then he nearly had reporters doubling over with laughter afterward.

Some of his better quotes: 

-- On escaping an intentional foul, on a play that ended with a Dwyane Wade pass for a Goran Dragic layup: "You know, I like shooting the free throws. It was just funny to me, because I saw their whole team running to me. I saw a situation where D-Wade had a layup or Goran had a layup. So I decided to sprint away just to open it up for my teammates to get a wide open layup. And it worked out well... I'm enjoying this. I'm enjoying this. Foul me so we can get a double-double and we can win.... It's not working." 

-- On his assist in this game: "Yeah, to Lu (Deng) cutting. I told the guys, I'm trying to pass it to you. It's just I can't get a lot of assists, because a lot of times I'm the one that's dunking, or I'm the one who is getting assisted to. But I'm a willing passer."

-- On it being his fourth assist of the season: "Oh, man. I'm breaking records all the time, you know."

-- On whether the blocks are coming easily: "No, man, it's not as easy as you might think. You know, it's weird, because there's two different teams. There's teams that are out there, 'Stay away from Hassan.' And there's teams out there, 'We don't care if Hassan is down there, attack Hassan.' And I love them teams. God bless them coaches and bless them. I love them teams." 

-- On the blocks not being as spectacular: "I think you guys are all kind of used to it now. At first, it wowed y'all. And now it's just like, 'Another one.'" 

Deng (tight left hamstring) will be a game-time decision for Heat vs. Knicks

Luol Deng has played through pain before. 

If he suits up tonight against the Knicks he'll probably do so again.

The 12-year veteran forward has been dealing with a tight left hamstring that's been bothering him since the third quarter of Saturday's win over the 76ers. Monday, Deng went through shoot around at what coach Erik Spoelstra described as "a moderate pace."

Deng said he'll run sprints when he returns to the arena later tonight for pregame warm up. If it feels good, he'll definitely play. If it doesn't feel good, he still might play. 

"It's not really a very serious injury," Deng said. "You know I feel it, but we're trying to be smart about it. 

"I've learned to play with certain injuries. Sometimes I may not be as effective as I can be. But I just try to really focus on what I can do. I've been in the league for awhile. I can tell when it's an injury that I can't go. I'll come early, probably do sprints and everything, put myself in that situation and see how it goes."

Deng, who missed all of six games last season and played with injured right wrist for a handful of games last season, is probably the one starter Heat fans take for granted more than any other. Although he hasn't put up stellar offensive numbers (10.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists), he's remained one of the league's best defenders while often drawing the team's toughest defensive assignment.

Deng is holding opponents to 40.8 percent shooting this season and 2.5 percent below their regular average. Last year, opponents made 43.6 percent of their shots while Deng was guarding them, 0.9 percent below their average.

Although rookie Justise Winslow has taken up a lot of Deng's fourth quarter minutes, taking Deng out of the Heat's starting lineup creates problems. Namely, it messes with the Heat's rotation. Winslow has been the first player of the bench most of the season, spelling Chris Bosh, who comes to the bench and usually returns when center Hassan Whiteside exits.

If Deng sits out versus the Knicks, Winslow could be moved into the starting rotation to guard Carmelo Anthony. That essentially could mess up Spoelstra's entire rotation. Usually, Spoelstra goes to the end of his bench when a starter goes out. He did that when Dwyane Wade missed a game two weeks ago, opting to go with rookie Josh Richardson in the starting lineup.

But in this case, Spoelstra may not have any other choice but to go with Winslow. Anthony is the 12th leading scorer in the league and is averaging 22.6 per game. 

"It's a little bit different in this game because you're dealing with Anthony," Spoelstra said. "He's a prolific scorer that's bigger. So that might set some different dominoes in place. But we'll see. I'll make that decision tonight."

How disruptive would it be not to have Deng in the starting lineup?

"Very disruptive," Bosh said. "Any time you have somebody out of the starting lineup it's always kind of a transition where you have to figure out rotation. He brings three-point shooting and defense -- kind of that 3 and D aspect to the team. He gets us quite a bit of easy buckets in transition. We rely heavily on him. We'll see how it is tonight. But, it's always tough without playing at full strength. But we'll figure it out."

> Veteran center and former Knick Amar'e Stoudemire missed Monday's shoot-around due to illness and will be a game-time decision the Heat said. 

> Does the Knicks being 8-6 and off to a good start breathe life back into the old Miami-New York rivalry? Not really, players said.

"A game against the Knicks, a game we need to win," Bosh said when asked what Monday's game means in the series between the two former playoff rivals. "We have a very good opportunity to really capitalize on this home stand. We were saying looking at this homestand, looking at the schedule, it was very important to look back and say that it [wouldn't] come back to bite us in the future. And we have a very, very good opportunity to have a very good homestand. If you tell me 6-1 I'm going to take it every single time. The rivalry thing, that's for everybody else to decide. We're going to play hard no matter what."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dwyane Wade, now a top 50 scorer, should be 39th soon

Dwyane Wade breezed past both Dale Ellis and Reggie Theus in Saturday night's win against Philadelphia, and now ranks 49th on the NBA's all-time scoring list

He won't be in the 40's for long, either.

The next 15 players on the list are all retired, so they're stuck. The next active player he's chasing? That's one of Monday's opponents, Carmelo Anthony, who ranks 33rd. 

Wade has played 11 of the Heat's 12 games this season, and scored 205 points. His only missed game was to attend to his son Zion in the hospital. But with Wade's own health history, let's assume that, best-case scenario, he plays 90 percent of the remaining games, or 63 of 70. That would give him 74 games in all. At his current scoring rate of 18.6 per game, that's 1,376 points for the season.

That's 1,171 from this point forward. 

That would get him to 20,188 by the end of the season.

That means he would pass Gail Goodrich, Eddie Johnson, Bob Lanier, Terry Cummings, Walter Davis, Clifford Robinson, Bernard King, John Stockton, Antawn Jamison and Tom Chambers.

That would put him 39th, and within reach of passing Mitch Richmond, George Gervin, David Robinson, Bob Pettit and Walt Bellamy next season, right up against where Anthony is now.

By then, Anthony will be gone, somewhere in the late 20s, beyond the likes of Hal Green, Gary Payton, Larry Bird and Clyde Drexler.

Still, this is elevated company, with Wade already 9th among active players -- behind Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, LeBron James, Vince Carter and Anthony. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday stat: Which Heat players have most 30-point games?

This Miami team is built on balance, so it's not especially surprising that Chris Bosh has the team's only 30-point game so far this season.

But it's not as if several members of the Heat haven't been capable of cracking that number over the course of their careers.

How many times have the Heat's primary players tallied at least 30, whether playing for Miami or for someone else? 

Dwyane Wade: 210

Amare Stoudemire: 109

Chris Bosh: 80

Luol Deng: 14

Goran Dragic: 13

Gerald Green: 9

Udonis Haslem's career high is 28 points. Hassan Whiteside's career high is 25 points. Josh McRoberts' career high is 24 points. 

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