Mavericks Sign Derek Fisher

With Darren Collison missing time with a sprained finger and lackluster backups in Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois, the Dallas Mavericks are in desperate need of a point guard. And with Derek Fisher on the market, Dallas made a smart decision in signing the aging but experienced veteran to a deal today. Fisher will enter his 17th NBA season in Mavericks’ colors after not being resigned by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who no longer needed him with Eric Maynor healthy and capable as a backup point guard.

Fisher won’t completely turn around Dallas’ recent losing skid, as the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks have dropped 7 of their last 10. But he will provide stability and poise to a team that was never deep at the point guard position to begin with. Even with everyone healthy, Collison is an inconsistent starter at best. Fisher will bring consistency, even if he probably doesn’t have too much left in the tank at this point. And once Collison’s finger is healed, Fisher will make a terrific backup point guard who could make a formidable combination of experience with Nowitzki once he makes his way back onto the court again.

Derek Fisher has signed a deal with the Dallas Mavericks, who desperately need a quality PG.

LA’s Disappointing Debut

The Lakers opened their promising 2012-13 season up on a pretty underwhelming note: with a loss to a Dallas Mavericks squad without Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Kobe Bryant played through some foot pain, Dwight Howard played after having back surgery this summer and Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were both perfectly healthy. So what went wrong? And how worried should Laker fans be about such a disappointing and downright bad first game at home?

To sum it up quickly, not very worried at all. Yes, it’s true the Lakers went 0-8 in the preseason. And yes, there were a lot of evident problems on the floor that Dallas was able to take advantage of. But there wasn’t anything that can’t be fixed by the time April rolls around. But for the sake of being thorough, let’s walk through why the Lakers looked so terrible tonight.

  1. Coaching – I’ve defended Mike Brown in the past for his focus on defense, but his implementation of the Princeton offense for a team with Steve Nash is just plain stupid. Nash is a point guard who needs to get out and run on the fast break. The pace of the offense needs to be up. The Lakers should be shooting with 10-12 seconds on the shot clock and dominate the tempo with fast plays. The Princeton offense is slow and dull. Slowing down the speed of the game completely negates Nash’s impact as an effective point guard, rendering him useless. Nash only had seven points and four assists. I can’t remember the last time I saw such an appalling statline for Nash. Steve Blake had more assists for crying out loud. It also hurts the impact Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol could be having: both big men are efficient at running the floor and Howard in a half-court offense allows teams to foul him and send him to the line, where his dismal free throw shooting (3-for-14 last night) hurts the team. This team’s entire starting five is comprised of superstars who have all been the best player on a team at some point in their careers. Not being able to get a win at home with Howard, Nash and Kobe against an injury-depleted Mavs team goes beyond a lack of team chemistry; that’s just poor coaching and management of your personnel.

    The next problem? The Lakers’ health. Howard had a nice statline, but he clearly looked rusty in his LA debut.

  2. Health – Mike Brown certainly has to change a lot of things to get the most out of his star-studded lineup, but he can only do so much while two of the Lakers’ biggest pieces are still healing. Although Kobe and Howard both played in LA’s opener, you could tell they were either rusty or still ailing. Kobe didn’t play as many minutes as we’re used to, although he still finished with 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Meanwhile, Howard looked like he was completely out of rhythm. He finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but his appalling free throw shooting and a few easy missed shots show he’s not quite back in his groove. Credit Brandan Wright, Elton Brand and Eddy Curry for their defense, but Howard still has to get back into the flow.
  3. Chemistry – Even if they were healthy and had proper coaching for their star-studded personnel, the Lakers need time to develop their chemistry. Steve Nash has to find his place in the offense and free up looks for his teammates. Howard has to figure out what his role on offense is. The offensive pace has to speed up. Kobe has to relinquish some ball control to his All-Star point guard. Pau Gasol was really the only one last night who needs to duplicate his performance every night (23 points, 13 rebounds, six assists).

So all in all, it makes a lot of sense for LA fans to be upset. That was an ugly loss to a team that’s not very good and it wasn’t pretty to watch (no offense Maverick fans, but if you think a Dallas team without Dirk or Kaman will beat LA a few months down the road, you’re dreaming). But as frustrated as fans must be with such an anticlimactic opening night,  it was still only game one. There are bound to be some speed bumps before this superstar cast finds its groove. There’s still a long season to go and Laker haters are kidding themselves if they think this is the LA team we’ll see all year. However, one stat is pretty telling and it’s one that the Lakers may not be able to help down the road: Darren Collison had 17 points for the Mavs tonight. Now Mavs fans were very excited for this acquisition, but I never really was. Here was a guy who was a scrub behind George Hill in Indiana. So if Steve Nash, an eternal defensive liability, is giving up 17 points to Darren Collison, what’s going to happen in the playoffs when the Lakers meet up with Russell Westbrook or Ty Lawson? Just something to think about.

If Nash is getting his ankles broken now, what’ll happen when he faces an elite point guard?

2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

NBA Free Agency Update – July 20

Here’s an update on the latest NBA free agency news via Reup Sports, including analysis on Jeremy Lin becoming a Rocket, updated Dwight Howard trade rumors and recent signings in Los Angeles. Check out the article here.

NBA Free Agency Update – July 16

For the latest news and analysis on all the action of NBA free agency over the last few days, check out my article via Reup Sports. Today’s post includes Jeremy Lin heading to Houston, Phoenix picking up Luis Scola, the ongoing battle for Nicolas Batum and more!

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade Overpower Pacers

Ever since Chris Bosh went down in Game 1, I’ve been saying this series would be a battle between two elite superstars and a team with overall balanced scoring. In Game 4 between the Heat and Pacers, the two superstars won out. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 70 points, 27 rebounds and 15 assists to lead the Heat to a 101-93 win. Danny Granger scored 20 points for the first time in the series, but LeBron and Wade rattled off 38 consecutive points for the Heat during one stretch and tied the series at 2-2.

For Indiana, this was a prime opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 lead with three chances to finish Miami off. Unfortunately for the Pacers, that opportunity was wasted by mediocre performances from Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill. Hibbert finished with an uninspired 10 points and nine rebounds while Hill and West could only muster eight each. It was Indiana’s bench that kept the Pacers in the game, with Darren Collison scoring 16 and Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough adding eight each. But without decent offensive outings from three key Pacers starters, Indiana wasn’t able to take care of business at home and put real pressure on the Heat. Now the momentum has shifted back to Miami for the upcoming Game 5, and the Pacers will be hard-pressed to fend off LeBron and Wade with this sense of renewed confidence.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade completely took over and carried Miami to a Game 4 victory.

Although Danny Granger led the Pacers in scoring, some of the blame for LeBron and Wade’s resurgence in Game 4 has to fall on him. LeBron was rolling early on, but Wade started the game 1-for-8 before a confrontation with Granger (which resulted in a technical on Indiana’s leading scorer) fired Wade up for the second half. Now I defended Granger’s tough guy act at first, because the Pacers needed that “never back down” attitude in this series, which is what he was providing. Indiana doesn’t have the star power that Miami has, but a team with balanced scoring that finds its rallying cry is especially dangerous, and I think Granger’s standing his ground set an example for his teammates. Granger’s confrontations with LeBron seemed petty and pointless on the surface, but since he wasn’t exactly giving his team stellar shooting nights, the macho routine was establishing the tone for the Pacers. Unfortunately for Granger and Indiana, that plan backfired and shook Wade out of his mediocre state of play. Wade came alive after that, scoring 22 of his 30 points in the second half. Adding that to LeBron’s 40-point performance and it’s no wonder the Heat came out on top.

I’ve been saying that without Bosh, it would take a Herculean effort from both LeBron and Wade to overpower the balanced scoring of Indiana. It turns out Game 4 was exactly that. However, Miami also got a big fourth quarter boost to maintain their narrow lead from Udonis Haslem, who knocked down a few open jumpers when the Pacers started double teaming Wade and LeBron whenever they touched the ball. Haslem finished with 14 off the bench, eight of which came in the fourth. The Heat definitely benefitted from subpar performances from Hill, West and Hibbert, but LeBron and Wade showed a great amount of leadership as they put on a complete two-man clinic in the third quarter to reclaim the lead. I still believe Indiana’s balanced scoring and team play will give Miami problems, (even if LeBron and Wade have more prolific nights like this) but they’ve lost momentum and now that the Heat have home-court advantage for two out of three potential games, we could have an extremely competitive series on our hands.

Danny Granger had a better scoring night, but may have been the spark that ignited the Miami Heat in the second half.

Pacers Pound Miami In Game 3

The Indiana Pacers used balanced scoring and offensive depth to rout the Miami Heat at home in Game 3, taking a 2-1 lead on the series as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James struggled to carry the offensive load again. Indiana had big back-to-back quarters in the second and third (outscoring Miami 52-29 over that span) and despite a breakout performance from Mario Chalmers, the Pacers prevailed in convincing fashion at home with a 94-75 win.

The Heat were reeling after LeBron and Wade choked down the stretch in Game 2, but after Game 3 they’re in serious trouble of losing this series. George Hill led the Pacers with 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but the rest of Indiana’s starting lineup wasn’t far behind. Roy Hibbert finally had a terrific all-around game with 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks. Danny Granger also benefitted from playing in front of the Pacers’ home crowd and had 17 points and seven rebounds. David West chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds and Paul George added nine. Darren Collison only had seven off the bench, but his baskets came at a critical stretch in the fourth that kept the Pacers’ lead in double digits. The Pacers also out-rebounded the Chris Bosh-less Heat by a margin of 52-36. Nobody gave my sleeper team Indiana any credit in this series, even after Bosh went down. But it looks like the matchup problems I pointed out in my series predictions are starting to really come to life without Miami’s All-Star power forward on the court.

Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert had improved offensive nights and got the job done defensively, giving Indiana a 2-1 lead.

In the end, the outcome of this game was thoroughly predictable, especially considering how poorly Dwyane Wade shot the ball. Indiana had all the momentum heading into the night after Miami’s complete collapse in Game 2, which made the message known loud and clear: You might have two superstars, but we have balance and depth. Those two things are going to be tough for Miami to overcome if they continue to get so little out of their supporting cast. Mike Miller only had six points, yet another disappointing performance for someone so highly paid. Shane Battier and Dexter Pittman, two starters, put up goose eggs. But the worst was Wade, who was 2-for-13 from the field for only five points while also committed five turnovers. LeBron James, who had a solid first half with 16 points, finished with only 22 after an extremely quiet third quarter. LeBron hit back-to-back shots in the fourth quarter to try and rally his troops, but Indiana kept scoring to keep their double-digit advantage and Miami couldn’t put anything together as the lead extended to over 20. Mario Chalmers led the Heat with 25 points and Joel Anthony pitched in 10 off the bench, but once again, Miami’s supporting cast failed to show up. You combine that with Wade’s appalling offensive night and LeBron being virtually silent in the second half and there’s no question why Indiana turned the game into a rout.

Without Chris Bosh, this series has turned into a battle between depth and two superstars. Since one didn’t show up, Indiana’s balanced scoring completely overpowered the Heat. Home court advantage certainly didn’t hurt, as Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert came out firing and had much greater confidence on their own floor. Hill proved how deadly he can be when his shot is on and West and Paul gave solid contributions. Unless LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put on heroic performances in another tough road game in Indiana, this series could very well be over. A lot of people undervalued Bosh and downplayed his injury, saying it would just clear the way for LeBron and Wade to take over. But they seriously underestimated the impact Bosh had down low, and now that Hibbert and West are both going hard in the paint, the Heat have little chance. But the impact of Bosh’s injury doesn’t stop there. Bosh’s absence means LeBron has been moved to the power forward position to take on the task of guarding David West. It’s true that LeBron can “guard all five positions,” but that doesn’t mean he can shut down the physical West without their being drawbacks. West is physically wearing LeBron down and tiring him out, which explains his second half struggles in the past two games. Plus, LeBron switching to West means that Granger isn’t being shut down by the best defender on the court. West can overpower LeBron and Granger is starting to increase his offensive production at the same time. At this point, it would take a poor shooting night from the Pacers and transcendent games from LeBron and Wade for Miami to have any hope of tying the series in Game 4. But with Granger and Hibbert seemingly coming back to life, the Heat really have their hands full now.

Mario Chalmers had a big night, but without D-Wade it didn’t matter. Can Chalmers bring it again in Game 4?

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade And Indiana Foul Trouble Gives Miami 1-0 Lead

Even with Chris Bosh on the sidelines for the majority of the game, the Miami Heat gutted out a 95-86 Game 1 win over the Pacers thanks to elevated performances from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Indiana’s foul trouble. Bosh suffered a lower abdominal strain late in the second quarter and did not return, but Miami was able to capitalize with a few of the Pacers’ key players on the bench to grab a 1-0 lead on the series.

The Pacers came out swinging and opened up a 13-4 lead early on, but the Heat battled back and were down by just six at halftime. A lot of credit has to go to Mario Chalmers, because although he only had four points, he drew a huge charge on George Hill that shifted momentum in Miami’s favor. As the Heat were making a run and Hill had three fouls, the Pacers tried to get the ball past half court to call a timeout. However, Chalmers stepped in front of Hill’s path right before Indiana could call the timeout and Hill barreled right into him, sending him to the bench with four fouls in the first half. Darren Collison stepped in and finished with 10 points, but with such limited playing time, Hill was never able to fully establish a rhythm and help his team compete in Game 1. Dwayne Wade also had a big night, finishing with 29 points (13 of which came from the free throw line). I’m not a big fan of a few of Wade’s flops that earned him trips to the foul line and Frank Vogel looks like a prophet now after saying the Heat flop and that how the officials call the game would have an effect on the outcome (foul trouble hurt the Pacers), but Wade’s effectiveness was unquestionable either way you look at it.

Chris Bosh went down early, but LeBron and D-Wade carried the Heat to victory.

The most credit has to go to LeBron James, however. James won the game for his team by taking over in the fourth quarter after Danny Granger had done a decent job of limiting him in the first half. James scored half of his points in the fourth quarter and he and Wade outscored Indiana’s entire team 42-38 in the second half. He finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, two steals, a block and just one turnover. James also did another stellar job of shutting down Granger, who is Indiana’s leading scorer. Although Granger is not a superstar or a crunch time hero, he is still the Pacers’ biggest offensive contributor, and without him putting up points, Indiana doesn’t stand a chance in this series. Granger could only muster seven points on 1-of-10 shooting with LeBron guarding him, which effectively secured the win for Miami with so many Pacers in foul trouble. Even though Chris Bosh was out, the Pacers weren’t able to exploit Miami’s disadvantage in the post because Roy Hibbert was in foul trouble early and missed a considerable amount of time in the second half. Hibbert finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but when he was out in the fourth quarter, Miami made their run and didn’t look back from there.

Bosh had 13 points before he was challenged on a dunk by David West, which caused his shoulder to snap back as he was at the peak of his jump. Bosh landed and immediately went to the ground before making his way to the locker room a few plays later. With Bosh out, Hibbert began to excel on offense and defense before getting into foul trouble. West was also able to capitalize on Bosh’s absence with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Unfortunately for Indiana, foul trouble to Hibbert, Hill and Paul George kept them from really being effective, and with LeBron taking Granger out of his game and shutting him down, it was impressive the Pacers were even in the game. Indiana’s bench contributed, with guys like Collison, Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough pitching in crucial points off the bench. If Bosh is out, Indiana has to do three things to stay competitive in the series. First, they must exploit Miami’s posts with Hibbert and West. If Bosh’s MRI reveals that he will miss extended time in the series, Indiana has to pound the ball in down low, because Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony can’t stop the Pacers’ frontcourt for an entire series. Second, they have to get better performances out of Danny Granger. Granger is averaging just 12 ppg against the Heat in five games, a testament to LeBron James’ defense. Granger scored 25 in Indiana’s one win over Miami during the regular season and he had 19 when they lost by two at the beginning of March. In the other three games, Granger put up just over five points a game. Granger has to find a way to score despite LeBron’s stifling defense. Finally, the Pacers’ bench needs to continue to contribute. Staying out of foul trouble goes without saying, but if Indiana’s role players (Collison, Barbosa and Hansbrough) can keep up this production, the Pacers will be tough to beat. I still believe the Heat will advance, but the Pacers have been my sleeper team all year and I hope I’m right when I say this team will give the Heat more problems than most people think.

David West and Roy Hibbert have an advantage down low, especially if Bosh is out for awhile.

Second Round Preview: Miami Heat Vs. Indiana Pacers

After knocking their opponents out of the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs in five games, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers will meet in the second round in a matchup between the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James, who was named the league MVP yesterday, is coming off a particularly dominant series against the New York Knicks, not because he outscored Carmelo Anthony, but because he was more efficient and took over games when he needed to. However, James and the rest of the Heat face a much better all-around team than the injury-depleted Knicks. In what is sure to be a competitive and physical series, the Heat are favorites to win, but don’t underestimate the Pacers.

Indiana has been my sleeper team all year, and now is their time to show whether or not they have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the best player in the world and a defensively intimidating Miami squad. The Heat bested the Pacers three out of four times during the regular season, winning two in routs and one in overtime before losing their final meeting by 15. Indiana will have to improved their defense to have a chance, as Miami is averaging almost 102 points per contest against them. They will also have to make sure everyone comes ready to score, since they Pacers averaged just over 92 ppg against the Heat. The Pacers don’t have a designated crunch time scorer or an elite superstar, but Danny Granger absolutely has to put up points as Indiana’s best offensive weapon. How he matches up with LeBron James, Shane Battier or whoever else Miami throws at him could very well be the difference between competing and being swept. Granger had a tendency of disappearing against the Heat this season, averaging just 13 points per game, a whole eight points below his average for the season. If Granger can’t produce night in and night out, Miami will have no problem here.

This is the first key matchup: Can Danny Granger score on LeBron James? And can Granger have any hope of stopping LeBron on the other end?

There are a few other key factors that will determine who advances to the Eastern Conference Finals. The first is how effective Roy Hibbert is down low. Hibbert has a huge size and talent advantage over Miami’s post players, but against the Magic (with no Dwight Howard), Hibbert was pushed around and outplayed by the shorter, more physical Glen Davis. None of Miami’s centers are talented enough to score on Hibbert, but if they are able to push him around on defense, the Pacers will be at a huge disadvantage. The matchup between David West and Chris Bosh will also be important to watch, as West is more physical but Bosh has more skill and length. Indiana needs West to convincingly win this matchup, because if Bosh starts putting up big numbers, the Pacers will not be able to stop LeBron and Dwyane Wade and Bosh. The final deciding factor will be how Indiana’s guards perform up against D-Wade. George Hill and Darren Collison certainly have to outplay Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller, who have been seen as thorns in Miami’s side all season. If Hill and Collison consistently put up points and prevent the Heat’s guards from getting open looks from beyond the arc, the Pacers will have a chance in the series. LeBron and Wade are going to get their 20-30 points a night, but if Indiana can find a way to limit Bosh, get a few big nights out of Hibbert and have Granger lead in scoring, they will be competitive. Finally, a huge X-factor for the Pacers could be Leandro Barbosa. Believe it or not, Barbosa is Indiana’s leading scorer against the Heat this season. Okay, so maybe it was only one game, but he put up 14 points in that game, and after being practically silent for the first round, the Pacers would love to get something out of him off the bench again. Barbosa and Collison will need to score off the bench to ensure their starters get some time to rest without worrying about falling too far behind.

However, even if Indiana’s guards outplay Miami’s and even if Hibbert and West beat up on the Heat’s bigs, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade could be too much for the Pacers. George Hill and/or Danny Granger will be able to use some length to bother LeBron’s jump shot, but as soon as he starts attacking the basket, the Pacers’ defense is in trouble. Indiana is a much better overall team than the Knicks (and to be honest, the Heat weren’t truly dominant against New York) and they’ll give Miami a battle, but I don’t have enough confidence in Indiana to pick them over LeBron and the Heat.

Prediction: Miami over Indiana in 6 games

If Roy Hibbert can’t take advantage of his size and skill set, the Pacers are in trouble.

Pacers Advance

The Indiana Pacers eliminated the Orlando Magic with a 105-87 win at home in Game 5 last night to advance to the second round of the playoffs. A rocking crowd in the biggest basketball state in the country was there to cheer Indiana on to their first playoff series victory since 2005. The Pacers will now face the winner of the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks in the next round.

Danny Granger led the way for a playoff victory-deprived franchise, finishing with 25 points. Roy Hibbert didn’t have an exceptional game, but luckily for the Pacers, neither did Glen Davis, who had just 15 points and eight rebounds after being the Magic’s best offensive option through the first four games. George Hill and David West both reached double digits in scoring, but it was Darren Collison who ensured the Magic went home empty-handed, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to turn Indiana’s two point deficit after three quarters into a rout. The Pacers outscored Orlando 36-16 in the fourth quarter and ran away with the game despite Jameer Nelson hitting five 3-pointers and leading the Magic with 27 points.

Glen Davis hurt the Pacers all series long, but couldn’t get it done in Game 5.

For Orlando, Glen Davis’ mediocre game really hurt their chances of extending the series, but the majority of these games could have been much closer had Ryan Anderson shown up. Anderson only scored 14 points in Game 4 and averaged just 8.5 ppg for the series on a team with no Dwight Howard and struggling perimeter shooters. The Magic were also hurt by Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu, who didn’t take many shots and missed the majority of them. Orlando surprised everyone with their Game 1 win in Indiana, but after getting that one victory to prove the world wrong and let everyone know they could play without Dwight Howard, they came back down to earth when the Pacers actually showed up for the next four games and revealed who the better team was. The battle between Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy over who will stay will likely be decided over the course of the next few months in the offseason, but Orlando had better hope they pick Superman. As good as Van Gundy is, he’s not more valuable than their superstar, which became clear after watching this series against a Pacers team that hasn’t exactly played lights out yet. While it’s unfortunate to suggest Orlando needs to pick their spoiled superstar over an extremely effective coach, the fact is that Van Gundy couldn’t elevate this team to the next level. Dwight Howard can. And if they do get rid of Howard, they’d better be sure to get another game changer who can lift this below-average squad back into playoff contention.

From Indiana’s side of things, they had pretty balanced scoring and really enjoyed the boost off the bench they got from Collison. They face a tough matchup in the second round, most likely against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. If the Knicks miraculously come back and take the series from Miami, Indiana has a much better shot of advancing, provided they limit Carmelo Anthony. Tyson Chandler will likely outplay Roy Hibbert but if David West can frustrate Amare Stoudemire, the Pacers have a better overall team. However, Miami will most likely advance, meaning the Pacers will have to do a few things to be competitive. Danny Granger will have to play lights out offensively and help with the boards. Paul George will have to find a way to use his length to bother LeBron while still contributing on the offensive end. George Hill and Darren Collison will have to keep up their recent level of production and demolish Miami’s guards. And Roy Hibbert will finally have to exploit his opponent’s lack of size to give his side some sort of advantage down low. David West and Chris Bosh will be a key matchup, but if Hibbert can dominate Miami’s bigs, the Pacers have a chance of competing with the Heat. The Pacers would also benefit from their bench outscoring Miami’s. In their series with New York, the Heat have gotten a small advantage from their bench and supporting cast with guys like Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Mike Miller hitting a few 3-pointers. This can’t happen to Indiana if they want to shock the world by knocking LeBron James out of the playoffs.

Danny Granger led the way for Indiana, but he’ll have to step it up even more next round.