NBA@2: Are NBA Teams Solving The HEAT?
Last season the Miami HEAT won most games before they even stepped out on the court. The sheer firepower of a team with three stars like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh was enough to make opponents uneasy, and when Miami came out of the gates with a knockout blow, as they did on many nights, it was more than the opposition could handle. The team struggled to find their identity early but after a players-only meeting following a beating at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks on November 27th, Miami went on a stretch where they won 20 of 22 games, 15 by double-digits.
This year the HEAT are taking no one by surprise. Every team in the NBA has had a chance to scout them for a season and a half, and every night another coaching staff is dreaming up new ways to stop LeBron James and company. For much of this season it didn’t matter; most teams simply aren’t constructed in a way that will allow them to compete with Miami. Over the last month, however, something has started to change. Since March 2nd the HEAT have had their problems, going 9-6 over that span. Teams have made a concerted effort to get very physical with LeBron, and in March he averaged just 24.8 points per game while shooting 51% from the field and 27% from three. Those are still great numbers, but when you consider that through the first month and a half of the season James averaged 28 points per game while shooting an ungodly 58% from the field and 42% from three, it could be that teams are onto something.
You’re not going to stop LeBron, but if you can make life harder for him, specifically, Miami seems to be beatable.
That hypothesis worked especially well for Boston (Miami was -30 with LeBron on the court and he managed just 23 points), Indiana (-14, 24 points on 9-for-21, six turnovers), Oklahoma City (-10, 17 points on 8-for-18, four turnovers), and Orlando (0, 19 points, 7-for-20, six turnovers).
Significantly, those are all teams the HEAT are likely to see come playoff time.
“We’re mentally tough, we’ll figure it out,” James said after his team managed just 72 points against Boston on Sunday. “Do we have the answers right now? No.”
As things stand today there are only two teams in the NBA with better records than Miami. The Chicago Bulls, with 11 losses, maintain the East’s top seed despite Derrick Rose’s ongoing groin issues, while the Thunder have just 12 losses and sit atop the Western Conference. There are very few teams that have the personnel to even match up with Miami, much less beat them. Rest assured, though, that if roughing up LeBron continues to be a way for teams to gain some sliver of an advantage over Miami, it will be exploited to the maximum possible degree come playoff time.
It will be up to LeBron to adjust to the new strategy, and for all of his amazing stats, adjustments have never been his strong suit.
Faried: Denver’s X-Factor?
Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl isn’t exactly known for playing rookies. In fact, it’s just the opposite. To Coach Karl rookies are like window dressing, to be paraded out only when the game is either safely put away or desperately lost. So when Kenneth Faried made his way to Denver he might have expected not to play much, if at all.
True to form, Karl played Faried just twice in the month of January, both times at the end of blowout wins, and that pattern would likely have continued had the injury bug not taken a huge chomp out of Denver’s front line in February. Thrown into a bigger role, Faried recorded four double-digit rebounding games and six double-digit scoring games. By the end of the month he was a regular starter, and in March he averaged 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 60% from the field.
“It’s a long journey. It’s difficult,” Faried tells HOOPSWORLD of his rookie journey. “I first got into Denver and the altitude, it’s tough, you have to get used to it. The practices are hard and difficult. I didn’t really know what Coach wanted from me or what to do, but I kept playing hard and kept my focus. Then my opportunity came a couple of games, I played hard and I brought my energy and enthusiasm to the team, which helped. That’s when one of our best players went down, Nene. Unfortunately, he’s been traded now. I jumped on the opportunity and I brought so much to the team that Coach kept me in the rotation and kept me starting as a player and now I’m here and I’ve been doing well. The coaches believe in me and the team believes in me, the players and everybody believes in me and I just keep staying focused, keep staying humble and hopefully we make this playoff run.”
He may not have planned to play Faried much, but now that his hand had been forced Karl likes what he’s seeing from his rook.
“He’s an energy guy, a young kid that has shown us that he’s going to be really good. He’s earned the right to get on the court,” Karl admits. “I think the last couple weeks he’s been picked on a little bit, but I think that’s the normal process for NBA rookies. He’s still hanging in there. He’s given us good numbers. I think he and I and everybody’s a little disappointed with how our defense has been playing and some of it falls on his shoulders.”
“I pretty much proved him wrong,” Faried says of Karl’s approach to rookies. “I showed him how I can play as a player and it doesn’t matter if I’m a rookie or if I’m a ten-year vet, I can play. He believed in me and he gave me the opportunity to start and he saw that I produce at a high rate. I started leading the team in rebounding and just the effort plays and the little things I did got me on the court and it keeps me there now.”
In truth, Faried’s play made Nene expendable, and this just weeks after the Nuggets made a long-term commitment to Nene in free agency. Not that the rookie will allow himself to get a big head over that fact.
“I really don’t want to hear anything like that, but since they did believe in me then I’ll let them tell you how to balance that one. Personally, I just stay focused and keep being hungry.”
Faried really made a name for himself as a rebounder, and he explains his unique approach to that part of the game.
“That’s my pass. I don’t get many touches on the post, but when I do I try to produce. When they shoot it I look at it as a pass. I go get it, get my pass and try to score it. I know my teammates shoot it in order for me to just go and get it,” says Faried, smiling.
So far, so good for Faried, who couldn’t ask for much more out of his rookie season in the NBA.
“This is everything I dreamed it would be. I missed the All-Star rookie game, but right now this is a great dream I’m living and I’m staying focused and I’m staying humble and I’m going to keep on being that hungry, active and energetic player I’ve been.”
That’s all the Nuggets ask, and with Faried in the mix Denver should be one huge step closer to postseason glory.
The Top NBA Draft Pick
This time of year there’s always mounting speculation surrounding the top pick in the NBA draft. Today, in particular, there will be a great deal of buzz on the subject, as the player who will absolutely be the top pick in this summer’s NBA draft will take the court in the NCAA National Championship game.
As fun as it might be for Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats to imagine Anthony Davis playing alongside Bismack Biyombo, however, the fact is that the team with the worst record rarely gets the top pick in the draft.
The Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2011 NBA draft lottery, despite having just a 22.7% chance to do so. The Minnesota Timberwolves had the league’s worst record, and thus the best chance to win the lottery, but wound up picking second. Kyrie Irving went to Cleveland, while Derrick Williams landed in Minnesota.
The New Jersey Nets owned the league’s worst record in 2010, but it was the Washington Wizards with the fifth-worst record who got the top pick. Washington got John Wall, while New Jersey landed Derrick Favors with the third overall pick.
The 17-65 Sacramento owned the worst record in 2009, yet it was the 19-63 Los Angeles Clippers who won the draft lottery and Blake Griffin. The Kings would go on to select Tyreke Evans with the fourth overall pick.
In 2007-08 the Miami HEAT managed to win just 15 games, yet the 33-49 Chicago Bulls won the draft lottery with just a 1.7% chance to do so. They selected Derrick Rose, while Miami settled for Michael Beasley with the second overall pick.
The 2006-07 Memphis Grizzlies won just 22 games, making them the league’s worst team, yet they didn’t get their crack at the draft board until pick #4, when Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Al Horford were all off the board. The Blazers had just a 5.3% chance of winning the lottery, but win it they did.
In 2006 it was the fourth-worst Toronto Raptors who won the lottery and chose Andrea Bargnani. The 21-61 Blazers had to wait until fourth, though they did acquire second overall pick LaMarcus Aldridge via trade from the Bulls.
In 2004-05 the Atlanta Hawks won just 13 games, but it was the 30-52 Milwaukee Bucks who won the lottery and selected Andrew Bogut with the first pick in the 2005 draft.
We actually have to go all the way back to the 2004 NBA draft to find a year in which the team with the worst record – the Orlando Magic – won the draft lottery. The Magic took Dwight Howard with the first overall pick that year.
Having a bad record is one way to improve a team’s draft position, but it is certainly no guarantee. They call it a lottery for a reason. Someone’s going to win it, but there is no surefire method for determining which ping pong ball is going to pop up first.
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