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48 posts from January 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

No Rising Stars game? Won't get a rise out of Justise Winslow

It seems like Justise Winslow, at age 19, takes an analytical approach to everything he does. 

That's what he did when it came to getting snubbed by the NBA's assistant coaches for the Rising Stars Challenge, on Friday night of All-Star weekend in Toronto.

Only three rookies were selected for the 10 spots on the U.S. team, the same number that were selected for the World team. 

So was he upset?

"No, not when I looked at the way it's set up," Winslow said, referencing the U.S. vs. World dynamic, which crowded the U.S. field. "Look at the three U.S. guys that made it."

That's Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, D'Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers. Those were the top three picks in the 2015 draft, whereas Winslow went 10th.

"It just speaks for itself," Winslow said. "Those guys have been playing well, they have the best numbers. But they also are on some of the bottom teams in the league."

The Timberwolves, Lakers and 76ers entered Sunday's play with a 30-115 record.

Miami ended Sunday's play with a 27-21 record.

"So it's kind of, not pick your poison, but it's a tradeoff," Winslow said. "You know, I'll be in the playoffs and, most likely, those guys won't be. It's just the system. Those guys deserve it, the way they've been playing this year. But those teams, the makeup of those teams are different. Not as good as some other teams. But I'm not disappointed. Once I saw that guys like myself, Stanley (Johnson of Detroit), Devin Booker (of Phoenix), us three in particular, I saw that those three didn't make it, I was like, oh, it's just the system." 

Winslow also said that he would "take the rest."

Oh, and that "I'll make up the money at playoff time." 

Tyler Johnson out again, and surgery is still on the table

This is from Herald writer Aric Dilalla:

Heat guard Tyler Johnson was ruled out for Sunday’s game against Atlanta as he continues to battle a sore left shoulder, but he said there are currently no plans to undergo surgery.

“If I have the possibility of making it worse by playing,” Johnson said, “that would be a time when I just shut it down. Other than that, I think we just got to take it game by game.”

Johnson said expects to have conversations about surgery with doctors as the season progresses. For now, he said he plans to continue to play when he feels healthy. He said his current goal is to make it to the All-Star break, when he’ll get some extra rest.

As he fights the injury, Johnson said the pain isn’t the main thing keeping him out of the Heat’s rotation. Rather, the nature of the injury restricts his shoulder movement, which in turn affects his play.

“Without those movements, I can’t be the player they expect me to be when I’m out there,” Johnson said. “If you go out there and play, it’s not like, ‘oh, his shoulder’s hurting, so we’ll give him a pass.’”

Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen, who was also ruled out of Sunday’s game, will continue to rehab his sore left knee with cardio work on a bicycle, Erik Spoelstra said. Andersen has yet to resume impact work and Spoelstra does not expect Andersen to travel with the Heat on its upcoming three-game road trip.

Center Hassan Whiteside was out again with an injured hip.

“We’ll just keep re-evaluating him,” Spoelstra said. “He was able to do a little bit more today.”

Friday, January 29, 2016

On verge of comeback, Goran Dragic's next challenge is to rekindle his chemistry with Dwyane Wade

After the Heat lost at Toronto last Friday, Dwyane Wade told Goran Dragic he probably missed him more than his own wife did. 

The Heat had lost five of its previous six games to that point without its starting point guard and was averaging only 84.7 points per game (10 fewer than anybody else in the NBA) and 18.2 turnovers per game (most in the league). And Wade himself had been ailing, the result of sore shoulders. 

But fast forward a week, and the Heat and Wade are no longer struggling. Miami has won two in a row. And with backup point guard Beno Udrih healthy again and running the point, Miami has averaged 95.5 points (the Heat was averaging 97.1 before Dragic was hurt) and only 12 turnovers a game (less than 13.7 it averaged before Dragic was hurt).

Wade, meanwhile, has been on a tear. He's averaged 25.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals and shot 50.8 percent of the field over his last three games, the kind of numbers that prove that even at 34 he's still capable of playing at an elite level and worthy of the starting nod he received from fans for the All-Star Game.

So what's going to happen when Dragic likely returns Friday in Milwaukee? The Heat are hoping for more of the good stuff.

"It’ll be a good little jolt of energy," Wade said after Thursday's practice. "But nothing guarantees us anything."

That wasn't a shot at Dragic at all. It was really just honesty from Wade about the state of inconsistency this Heat team has shown throughout the season even when its fully healthy.

You might remember the first month and half to two months of the season when Wade and Dragic never really seemed to be on the same page offensively. Before Christmas, the Heat's starting backcourt was a collective minus-4 on the court together (the sixth best two-man lineup on the team) and the Heat put up only 48.9 points and 10 assists in the 24 minutes they averaged together.

But in the 11 games Wade and Dragic played together beginning with the Christmas Day win over the Pelicans, Wade and Dragic were a collective plus-12 and the Heat averaged 55.1 points and 11.5 assists in the 27.4 minutes they averaged on the court together. So, Wade and Dragic were not only playing better together, but coach Erik Spoelstra was keeping them on the court together more too.

Now the question becomes: Can Wade and Dragic rekindle that recent chemistry again? And, can Dragic get back into the comfort zone he was in collectively with his teammates? 

“We’ve got to start from scratch. Not totally from scratch, but kind of from scratch," Chris Bosh said of the Heat's rhythm with Dragic at the point. "He’s going to have to get his feet back under him, but things are going to work. I’ve said that since the beginning of the season. I truly believe that this team is going to be a very good team, if not a great team. That part’s on us. But it’s there for us."

Spoelstra agrees.

"Right when Goran went down, that was the most [comfortable] he had been playing," he said. "The two of those guys getting on the same page, that was probably the best it’s been. But it took a lot of work to get to that point, and I think they’ll get that back quickly.”

Dragic, who has been focused on his conditioning over the last two full practices he's participated in, said Thursday he expects to jump back in and run the offense just fine. He says he's been "going through the motions" on the sideline even when he hasn't been playing. And he said he's learned from his mistakes earlier in the season. When the time calls for it, Dragic said he knows he has to be aggressive.

“I think my main problem early in the season was that I was trying to get everybody involved and I didn’t play my game," Dragic said. "As soon as I figured out those things – that I can be myself in this offense and play with my teammates – then the offense was great. I still believe that I’m not going to have any problems coming back. I know the team, I know how D-Wade is playing. I don’t see any problems.”

With Dragic out, Wade certainly got to play with the ball in his hands more.

When Dragic was running the point through Jan. 11, Wade was averaging 57.5 touches, 3.7 minutes of possession and 18.5 points per game to Dragic's 80.8 touches, 6.4 minutes of possession and 12.3 points per game. With Dragic out, Wade's touches increased to 66 touches per game (Udrih averaged 75.5), 4.9 minutes of possession (Udrih was 5.5) and 19.5 points per game.

Will Wade be able to slip back into that mode where he's touching the ball less again?  As long as he doesn't have to run the point -- as he had to at times with Dragic and Udrih out -- Wade seems fine with it. Plus, he'll get to rest a little more with the added depth in the backcourt. 

"It’s going to be great," Wade said. "We get to have our starting point guard back. Who doesn’t want that? He’s someone who can play and score 16-20 points a game when things are right. So I look forward to him coming back out there and getting in the groove.”

Longtime NBA writer Rick Braun attended Thursday's practice in Milwaukee and provided the quotes for this blog. Braun will be covering Friday's game for The Miami Herald.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pat Riley speaks on LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Heat's chances

Pat Riley was honored Thursday night as an American Icon, an award previously given to former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson.

But Riley's work goes on.

And in a brief interview prior to the event, the Heat president addressed a number of topics:

-- On a report, originating from a translation of minority Heat owner Ranaan Katz, that LeBron James asked Riley to fire Erik Spoelstra: "Not from him to me, ever. I've been in that situation twice. I left Los Angeles and a lot of stuff followed me out the door to New York. And obviously when I left New York, a lot of stuff followed me down here to Miami. It took about 10 years to sort of get out of that storyline. So a lot of stuff is following him out the door. Whether it's right or wrong, it's just the nature of it. But as far as that goes, no, he never, ever walked in and said anything." 

-- On Dwyane Wade: "I'm so proud of him. Every now and then I'll send him a text. And the subject line, we keep texting back, it's 'I'm so proud.' I'm so proud of Dwyane, and the way he has led, and the fact that he is playing every night. And getting himself ready to play every night. He knows as well as I do that nobody ever is 100 percent. And his leadership, along with Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem, has kept us afloat right now during a very trying time."

"But I'm so proud of Dwyane and how he has come back and changed the narrative about himself and worked on his body. And I pray every night that he's ready to go, and he's going and he's playing. Some nights he might not play well, but other nights he plays like he did in 2006." 

-- On state of the team: "I think we're right in the middle of the pack. It seems as though there's one team in the East that might be, not head and shoulders, but better than everybody, that being Cleveland. But I think two to 12 (seeds), it's going to be a fight. Unless we do something very well here in the next four or five games on the road to be able to get more of a cushion, that it's just going to be a fight from two to 12."

"We have a very good team. A very good team. And you can see some nights, the team plays at a very, very high level, from an effort standpoint, from an efficiency standpoint, an energy standpoint. And most importantly, the players that got to play, and the players you pay to play, are having great nights. Then every now and then, you get one or two other guys that are stepping up to the plate and having very good nights. We're going to need more than Chris (Bosh) and Dwyane, there's no doubt. We're going to need contributions from other guys. But I think we're going to be right in the thick of things. I think our team is who they are right now, and they're a contender in the East. And I think from there, we just let it go from there."

-- On Chris Bosh making the All-Star team: "That's great. I would broken a few locker room doors if he had not gotten named. He's the best big man in the Eastern Conference. I think he's had the best season of any big man in the East. Maybe you can hit me with another name in the East. The most efficient, versatile, dependable, durable big in the East." 

Proceeds from the event went to the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Justise Winslow not chosen for Rising Stars Challenge

Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson both expressed interest in participating in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend in Toronto.

Winslow, a rookie, will need to wait a year; Johnson, an NBA sophomore, is out of opportunities.

Winslow appears to have had two things working against him.

First, as strong a defender as he is, his raw offensive statistics aren't especially strong. 

Second, the NBA's switch to a U.S. versus the World concept last season, rather than rookies vs. sophomores, crowded the field, and put some players on the World team -- like Utah's Raul Neto -- that don't seem to be at Winslow's level. 

The NBA's assistant coaching staffs do the selections, they  picked only three rookies for the U.S. team, to go with seven second-year players. Those three rookies were the three top picks in the most recent draft: Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns, the Lakers' D"Angelo Russell and the 76ers' Jahlil Okafor. All have more impressive offensive than Winslow, though you can argue he's made more of an impact that Russell and Okafor, in particular, on a team that's actually competing. 

The seven second-year players: Boston's Marcus Smart, Orlando's Elfrid Payton, Milwaukee's Jabari Parker, Philadelphia's Nerlens Noel (who is actually three years removed from being drafted), Utah's Rodney Hood, and the Lakers' Jordan Clarkson. 

Again, Miami currently has a better record than all but Boston, the only other team that is over .500.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Zaire Wade sent his Dad during Dwyane's 27-point game

Dwyane Wade looked exhausted after scoring 27 points in Miami's 102-98 win against Brooklyn, but not exhausted enough to keep from smiling. He did so after the media finally left his locker stall, waiting for Udonis Haslem, a couple of seats down, to finish reading from his phone. 

Haslem then handed the phone back to Wade, and Wade called me over to take a peek, giving me permission to post the message that Haslem had been reading.

It was from Wade's 13-year-old son Zaire.

I'm posting it almost entirely as is, with just a couple spelling corrections, since it should be read as a father would, from an adolescent son. (And nobody uses perfect grammar in texts.) 

You can also find a photo of the texts on my Instagram account ejskolnick

Here's the message, all sent in one take:

"Hey man, you won't get this message until after your game but i wanna say sum. These last few away games I have been watching to see if I can help you with anything. In the game you struggled you of course shot bad from the (field). The games you played good you got to the bucket. Last night vs. the Bulls was I (think) your best game of the season. When you are attacking the rim that causes (the) defense to suck in and opens up and ones for you, wide open treys for your teammates or etc... all I'm saying is stay on attack mode big dog. When you attack they will play you with a lil extra room so that's when u use that killa instinct and shoot your midrange. And stop being so hard on yourself, most important play for a passion. It seems your playing like someone is making you. No go out there and play like it's your last game of the season and give it all and trust your teammates." 

Seems like pretty solid advice. 

Keith Smart, assistant, taking another health-related leave from Heat

As reported here last night, Heat assistant coach Keith Smart has taken a second leave of absence from the team, for another round of treatment for a rare form of skin cancer.

He was not with the team in Chicago.

Smart, who has been a head coach for three NBA franchises, missed about three weeks starting in mid-December, after the cancer was found on the left side of his jaw. Upon his return, he declared himself "in the clear."

The Heat doesn't have a definitive date set for his return, though the absence is likely to be measured in weeks, not days. 

Smart joined the Heat prior to last season, in a staff shuffle in which Bob McAdoo and Ron Rothstein took other jobs in the organization. 

The Heat continues its road trip Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

Keith Smart, assistant, taking another health-related leave from Heat

As reported here last night, Heat assistant coach Keith Smart has taken a second leave of absence from the team, for another round of treatment for a rare form of skin cancer.

He was not with the team in Chicago.

Smart, who has been a head coach for three NBA franchises, missed about three weeks starting in mid-December, after the cancer was found on the left side of his jaw. Upon his return, he declared himself "in the clear."

The Heat doesn't have a definitive date set for his return, though the absence is likely to be measured in weeks, not days. 

Smart joined the Heat prior to last season, in a staff shuffle in which Bob McAdoo and Ron Rothstein took other jobs in the organization. 

The Heat continues its road trip Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tyler Johnson hoping to take part in All-Star weekend

Tyler Johnson still can't believe what happened Friday night. 

He was all alone. He spun. He slammed.

He clanked. 

Monday, when asked about it, he laughed. 

"Yeah, I don't know how you can even miss a dunk when you're up above it," Johnson said. "Like, it's weird. I know if I get that again... I'm definitely going to do it again to redeem myself. I did the turn, but I kind of glided into the turn, so like I jumped and then I tried to turn in the air, as opposed to really rotating myself. It just happened. I think that's the first fast break dunk I've ever missed. I'll be all right." 

Johnson would also be all right with an invitation to the dunk contest, though he's not sure if it would be "responsible" with his chronically sore shoulder, "doing herky-jerks and all that." But he said if "it came down to it," he'd probably rationalize participating.

The second-year guard wouldn't hesitate at all to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, the All-Star Friday night competition between the NBA's rookies and sophomores.

If, of course, the former undrafted free agent gets an invite, ahead of some more heralded players. 

"Yeah, Lord willing," Johnson said. "Yeah, it's definitely a possibility. If they let me in, that'd be great. I'd definitely do it."

So what about the Heat's other high flyer, 2007 Slam Dunk champion Gerald Green?

Green became irritated when asked if he'd take part again.

"Hell no!" Green said. "I'm so done with that! That's a wrap!"

Then he stormed off. 




Miami Heat's still holding onto playoff seed, but barely

At 12-6, the Heat was the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Now, as the injuries have mounted and the schedule has stiffened, Miami is just trying to hang onto one of the eight playoff seeds in the East.

The Heat enters Monday's game in Chicago in a four-way tie -- with Boston, Indiana and Detroit -- for the fifth seed but, due to tiebreakers, Miami is actually in eighth.

That's just 1.5 games ahead of Washington, which has righted itself some after a slow start, and two games ahead of New York. Charlotte and Orlando.

Still, it could be worse. Several teams have been choppy of late, with Toronto and Cleveland the only two teams in the East that are better than 5-5 in their last 10. Miami is 2-8.

Here's how Dwyane Wade sees it:

"There's a lot of season left. You're not too too far out of it. It's still tough. But because the East is so competitive this year, that teams are beating other teams, and you're seeing it. And you're like, 'OK, we still got a fighting chance. 'But you got to right the ship at one point to have that fighting chance. And the thing in this league, you can't necessarily just wait on guys to get back. That's not going to guarantee anything and it might not happen when you think it will. So you got to do enough with what you have, with what gameplan you put together to try to hold the fort down. Right now, it's tough, no doubt about it. But if we get one guy back, that will be better. If we get two guys back. But if we don't, we've got to find a way to hold the fort down."

Miami expects to get at least Beno Udrih back tonight. But it still figures to be without three starters. 



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