NBA Saturday: So Much For Growing Pains
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So Much For Growing Pains
Raise your hand if you thought the Pacers would’ve been this competitive through the first two games of this series in Miami.
Put your hands down, you liars.
Despite the fact that Indiana won the regular season series 2-1 and carried a 2-1 lead over the HEAT in the Eastern Conference Semifinals a year ago, nobody (including me) gave these guys a chance, but apparently a chance is exactly what the Pacers have in this series.
“This whole team is showing great desire and great heart and great belief,” said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. “And that’s what the only way to put what these guys are doing right now. They believe we can win this series, and they’re giving it all their might, all their might. They’re playing with confidence and they are rising to the challenge. I’m very, very proud of them.”
After receiving loads of heat (no pun intended) for not putting Roy Hibbert back into the game at the end of overtime in the Game 1 loss, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel had his stud center in the game this time around, and his extra little bit of pressure on LeBron James’s final drive helped force the turnover that put the game away for Indiana.
The Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz asked Vogel at the postgame presser, “Was there ever a question Hibbert would be out there in that situation?”
Vogel responded, “No… No doubt. As soon as we got in the locker room the other night, I told the team we tried it that way, but he’s going to be in there.”
And what a difference he made, not just in the final moments but all night long. Hibbert finished the game with 29 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs, and while his defensive efforts weren’t enough to keep LeBron James from scoring 36 points, they were enough to alter some important shots, and there’s no question that his presence has frustrated the entire HEAT team through the first two games of this series.
Now, the Pacers head back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday with homecourt advantage, giving Indianapolis residents the sports day of their lives. In the morning, they’ll be able to watch the Indy 500, and by evening they’ll be ready to go for a pivotal Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the defending NBA champions. In the state of Indiana, you couldn’t ask for much more than a big race and a big hoops game back-to-back.
Paul George, for one, is ready.
“We’ve been a confident group. We’ve been confident all year,” George said after the game. “We know the opportunity we let go (in Game 1). To have so many things go wrong and still have a chance to win the game, to shift the series, we knew we had everything under control.”
Except the young team making their first collective appearance in the conference finals isn’t supposed to have everything under control. They’re supposed to fall apart when it matters, like they did in Game 1, and then a year or two down the road get a second chance to prove themselves, now older and wiser.
But Friday night’s road win proved that Indiana is way ahead of schedule. They’ve already shown that they’re every bit as good and every bit as confident as Miami, which nobody saw coming.
Exec of the Year Masai Ujiri Headed to Canada?
Where does a team looking for a new GM start their search? How about with the most recent Executive of the Year? That’s the approach Toronto is reportedly taking with Denver’s Masai Ujiri, whose contract with the Nuggets expires at the end of June.
According to Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors, has been in serious negotiations with Ujiri for the Raps’ recently-vacated general manager position. Reportedly, Ujiri would make “two to three times” more than Denver’s best offer, and if money talks, that kind of cheddar may prove hard to pass up.
Ujiri won Executive of the Year this past season in large part because he brought Andre Iguodala to Denver in the Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum deal, giving up only Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington in the mix. At the time we all knew he’d snuck in there and gotten his team an upgrade, we had no idea that he’d actually end up the winner of that trade, and that the Nuggets would be the most successful of the three organizations involved in the blockbuster.
The year before he made several equally impressive moves, like drafting Kenneth Faried late in the first round, trading Nene for JaVale McGee, and inking Wilson Chandler to a very reasonable deal upon his return from China last season.
He also was the guy who made the most of an awful situation when Carmelo Anthony wanted out of Denver a couple of years ago. It’s very hard to trade a player like Anthony and come out on top, but Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have been very solid in his absence, and we have yet to see how the draft picks from that deal (Quincy Miller last summer, plus a second-rounder this June and a first-round pick in 2014) will pan out.
Put simply, Ujiri has done an incredible job in Denver, and even though they bowed out of the first round of this season’s playoffs, they were undoubtedly one of the regular season’s biggest successes. It’s no wonder that Toronto wants the guy as part of their own organization.
The Raptors’ roster, meanwhile, is a bit of a mess that will require some creative cleaning. They’ve got no draft picks this summer, and they’ve got around $50 million invested next season in Rudy Gay, Andrea Bargnani, Landry Fields, DeMar DeRozan, and Amir Johnson alone. Throw in another $6.2 million or Lowry and the Raptors are already pretty much at the cap.
With Denver apparently “moving on” from Ujiri because of their unwillingness to match Toronto’s massive offer, it seems likely that Ujiri eventually will head north of the border to begin tidying up the clutter that Bryan Colangelo scattered. Ujiri will reportedly take some time to mull the offer and decide where he wants to end up, but this would be a huge get for the Raptors, and an even bigger loss for the Nuggets.