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?

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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 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!

NBA Free Agency Roundup – 7/4/12

Another day, another hundred rumors and moves of NBA free agency. Here’s everything that went down today to keep you up to speed heading into Independence Day:

Deron Williams Staying With Nets:

Deron Williams came to his ultimate decision today, choosing to stay in Brooklyn over leaving for his hometown of Dallas to play for the Mavericks. Williams’ contract is a five-year, $98 million deal that will team him up with Joe Johnson for the time being. Williams coming back is great news for the Nets, but for now, he is just a piece of the puzzle that is still missing Dwight Howard.

D-Will decided to stay in Brooklyn in the hopes the Nets continue to brighten their future.

Trade Could Still Bring Dwight Howard to Brooklyn:

According to league sources, the trade for Joe Johnson didn’t quite put the Nets out of contention for Orlando superstar Dwight Howard. A possible trade that would send Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, and first-round picks in 2013, 2015 and 2017 to Orlando in exchange for D-12 is being discussed although nothing is set in stone. The Nets are looking for a third party to facilitate the trade, but the Magic are also looking into possible trades with the Lakers, Hawks and Rockets. The Mavericks are also in the running to get Howard, but only if he waits to explore free agency next year. If the Nets were able to swing Howard down to Brooklyn, they would be giving up a lot, but they’d be looking at a potential nucleus of Howard, Deron Williams and Johnson as well as Gerald Wallace, who signed a four-year extension for $40 million, according to league sources.

Is this still a possibility for the on-the-rise Brooklyn Nets?

Eric Gordon Wants to be a Sun:

The Suns have offered Eric Gordon a four-year deal for $58 million and after visiting Phoxenix, New Orleans’ star point guard feels that it is the place for him. The Hornets can easily match the offer as they have been saying they would if Gordon received any max offers, but Gordon’s comments about wanting to play in Phoenix might mean that New Orleans chooses to let him go. Gordon was supposed to form a solid nucleus with rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, but it remains to be seen what the Hornets’ plan of action will be.

The Hornets could match Phoenix’s offer, but will they do it now that Eric Gordon made his desire to be a Sun clear?

Jason Terry Agrees to Three-Year Deal with Celtics:

Jason Terry and the Celtics reached an agreement to a three-year deal worth $5 million annually. Although the deal certainly strengthened the bench with a wily veteran sixth man, Boston remains adamant about their desire to resign Ray Allen and Brandon Bass. The Mavericks can match Boston’s offer, but might not do so if they continue to look into point guards and the possibility of Dwight Howard next year.

Unless the Mavericks match the Celtics’ offer, the Jet will be landing in Boston.

Ray Allen to Visit Miami, LA Clippers:

Boston free agent Ray Allen will be visiting the Miami Heat this week as he continues to take his time with his options. The Celtics are committed to resigning their 3-point shooting veteran and can offer him a two-year, $12 million deal. However, the lure of winning another championship is certainly going Miami’s way after LeBron James and the Heat defeated Boston in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals before winning the title. Allen will also visit Los Angeles this week to hear offers from the Clippers, who view him as a starter. A few other teams are also still pursuing Allen, including the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Timberwolves and Hawks.

Ray Allen is still exploring his options between Boston, Miami and Los Angeles.

Jeremy Lin to Visit Houston Rockets:

A few weeks ago, it was very likely that Jeremy Lin would be returning to the New York Knicks. Now, the breakout star point guard is heading to Houston for a visit. The Knicks are certainly looking to resign Lin, but were unsure they’d be able to match other teams’ high offers and said they planned on playing it by ear. Other teams interested in Lin include the Raptors, Nets and Mavericks, although he is seen as a backup for each of these teams.

Jeremy Lin and the Knicks want to stay together, but Lin is still checking into his options.

More Point Guard Activity:

Now that the Mavericks failed to get their hands on Deron Williams, Dallas is looking for quality point guards, turning their sights on Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin. The Mavericks still haven’t made up their minds about Goran Dragic, who is reportedly having problems working out a contract with the Rockets and visited the Phoenix Suns Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have also taken an interest in Nash, while free agent Jason Kidd has narrowed his decision down to either Dallas or the New York Knicks.

Goran Dragic and Steve Nash are still on the market as point guards for multiple teams.

Raptors Offer Landry Fields Three-Year Deal:

The Toronto Raptors have verbally agreed with Knicks’ guard Landry Fields to a three-year deal for nearly $20 million. Fields cannot sign a new contract until July 11 (when all free agents can sign new contracts), but the Knicks can still hold on to him if they match Toronto’s offer. It remains to be seen whether or not New York would spend that kind of money on a role player with Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith all potentially coming back, however.

The signing of Landry Fields in Toronto may be a play to get Steve Nash to join the Raptors as well.

Pacers Agree to Five-Year Deal with George Hill:

Indiana point guard George Hill signed a five-year extension to stay with the Pacers, though details of the deal were not disclosed. The Pacers will also be looking to keep Roy Hibbert, who was offered $58 million in a four-year deal with the Blazers. Indiana will have to match that offer to retain their All-Star center. However, if they don’t match, league sources say the Pacers will pursue Denver’s JaVale McGee and New Orleans’ Chris Kaman.

George Hill signed an extension with the Indiana Pacers, ruling out any possibility they had for Nash or Dragic

Nets Add Bosnian Forward Teletovic and Reggie Evans:

The Nets have verbally agreed to a three-year deal with Mirza Teletovic worth just under $16 million. Teletovic, a Bosnian forward at 6’9″, averaged 22 ppg and six rpg in the Euroleague this season. Since the Nets gave away almost their entire bench to get Joe Johnson and would have to give up even more for Dwight Howard, this signing could prove to be a very helpful addition if his game can translate decently into the NBA. The Nets also acquired the Clippers’ Reggie Evans from the Clippers in exchange for a future second-round pick. Evans was signed to a three-year, $5 million deal.

The Nets added LAC’s Reggie Evans and the Bosnian Mirza Teletovic.

Dwyane Wade Leads Miami To Eastern Conference Finals

After Larry Bird called his team “soft” following the Game 5 rout in Miami, the Pacers responded early in Game 6, jumping out to a 13-3 lead and dominating the Heat in the paint. But a spectacular playoff performance from Dwyane Wade and way too many Indiana turnovers gave Miami a 103-95 win on the road to end the series in six (like I predicted) and send the Heat to the Eastern conference Finals.

Wade exploded for 41 points on 17-of-25 shooting while also adding 10 rebounds, singlehandedly keeping the Heat relatively even with the Pacers in the first half by scoring 20 points in the second quarter. The Pacers had taken an 11 point lead in the first quarter as they out-rebounded Miami 14-3 and got 22 of their 28 first quarter points in the paint. But Wade’s brilliant second quarter performance had the Heat down by just two at half. The Heat also got some big help from Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller, who combined for 27 points and seven 3-pointers. LeBron James wasn’t much of a factor early, but helped close out the resilient Pacers down the stretch and finished with 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds. However, as great as Wade was and as helpful as it was for Miami to get a big game out of LeBron, Miller and Chalmers, the Pacers killed their chances with an atrocious 20 turnovers. They also got absolutely nothing out of their bench, who gave up Indiana’s 11 point first quarter lead within minutes and then allowed the Heat to extend a four point lead to 10 before the start of the fourth quarter. Indiana’s starters had a combined +/- of +13; their bench was at -73.  It’s true that the +/- stat doesn’t work cumulatively, but just looking at those number sheds a little bit of light how awful the Pacers’ bench was in this game. Indiana’s starters build leads up, but those leads evaporated as soon as the subs came in, and because those subs had to be taken out right away, the starters didn’t have enough gas left in the tank at the end from playing so many minutes.

Dwyane Wade was simply unstoppable and led the Heat past Indiana and on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

David West led Indiana with 24 points, George Hill had 18 and Danny Granger added 15, but it wasn’t enough to match Wade’s prolific night. Roy Hibbert continued his streak of underperforming, finishing with just 12 points and eight rebounds. Some of the disappointment in Hibbert’s inability to dominate a Miami side without Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem has to fall on Frank Vogel, who didn’t get him enough shots, but the majority is on Indiana’s “All-Star” (don’t even get me started on how Hibbert made the cut but Granger was snubbed as an All-Star). West was dominating the paint and getting good post position against Shane Battier, but Hibbert couldn’t establish good post position against Ronny Turiaf or Joel Anthony, often catching the ball out of the paint and far away from the basket. You combine Indiana’s awful bench, the 20 turnovers, Hibbert’s ineffective post game and his lack of a presence in the paint on the defensive end (Wade was on fire but if you’ve got a 7-footer protecting the basket, a lot of Wade’s drives to the rim shouldn’t be so easy), and it’s no wonder the Heat got the win and the series.

I said all along that without Chris Bosh, the Heat were in trouble (and I still stand by that, Miami doesn’t win the Finals without Bosh on the floor). I said the balanced scoring of the Pacers would give them an advantage over two superstars, and although the Heat advanced, I was pretty much right. Without Miller and Chalmers going off tonight, the Pacers force a Game 7. But the brilliance of Wade and LeBron cannot be denied in the last few games of this series. They simply overpowered Indiana and with a mediocre Hibbert failing to make this series his, the Heat advance to the next round. Indiana should be proud of what it accomplished this year and even in this game, never quitting and staying resilient until the end. They have a bunch of solid pieces, a great coach, a promising future and they gave the Heat a good series. Hopefully Hibbert is more aggressive next year as Danny Granger and Paul George continue to develop. But unfortunately for my sleeper team, two elite superstars look like they’re about to waltz into the NBA Finals.

Danny Granger and the Pacers had a great season, but they killed themselves in Game 6 and Wade took over.

Heat Punish Pacers In Physical Game 5

After the Pacers took a 2-1 series lead, it looked like Indiana was going to be able to run away with this series. Now momentum has completely flopped after the Heat won two games in a row in punishing fashion to take a 3-2 lead. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put on another two-man show, Danny Granger and David West went down with injuries and Miami physically abused the rest of the Pacers in a 115-83 rout in Game 5.

LeBron James led the Heat with 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Dwyane Wade added 28 points. Indiana was in the game in the first half as Danny Granger knocked down three 3-pointers early, but after he landed awkwardly on his ankle on another 3-point attempt, he didn’t return and Miami blew the game wide open. Granger had 10 points before leaving the game and no one other than Paul George and David West reached double digits in scoring. George led the Pacers with just 11 points and West had 10. The Heat ended the half on a 8-2 run after Granger went down and then outscored Indiana by 10 in the third as West left the game right before the fourth quarter.

If Granger’s ankle injury hinders him in anyway for Game 6, the Pacers have no chance.

This was Indiana’s worst playoff game by far. They were out-rebounded 49-35, and whoever has won the battle for the boards in this series has won the game. Almost half of Miami’s 43 field goals were in the paint. The Heat racked up 10 blocks compared to Indiana’s three. Roy Hibbert has completely regressed into a non-factor despite his extreme height advantage over anyone on the Miami Heat. The Pacers shot 33 percent from the field compared to Miami’s 67 percent. Shane Battier outscored Indiana’s leading scorer by knocking down four 3-pointers to finish with 13. Granger and West went down with injuries and Granger is now questionable for Game 6 in Indiana. And to top it all off, the Heat banged up the Pacers even more with a couple of cheap fouls that earned suspensions from the league. In the first half, a hard foul from Tyler Hansbrough on Wade appropriately earned a flagrant one foul, which was the correct call because it was harsh, but Hansbrough made a play on the ball. That foul earned retaliation from Udonis Haslem, who clobbered Hansbrough and made no play on the ball. For some unknown reason, the foul didn’t earn a flagrant foul of any kind, even though it was clearly flagrant two material. And later on in the game when the outcome was all but decided, Dexter Pittman found an opportunity to retaliate on Lance Stephenson for making the choke sign in Game 3 as LeBron missed a free throw. Pittman nailed Stevenson in the throat with an elbow as he was crashing the boards and was seen on camera winking after the foul. Haslem earned a one-game suspension and Pittman was given three.

Losing Pittman is pretty irrelevant since he was only playing in garbage time but losing Haslem might be significant if Roy Hibbert ever wakes up. Haslem has been scoring and rebounding pretty well for the Heat off the bench in the last two games, especially in Game 4 when he helped finish off Indiana in the fourth quarter. However, if Granger and West aren’t at 100 percent for Game 8 in Indiana, the Pacers are finished even without Haslem. Although the Pacers’ bench gave them everything they could ask for in Game 5, Indiana’s starting five couldn’t get the job done. George Hill disappeared with only six points and Hibbert was just as bad with eight. The Pacers need to make serious changes in their play for Game 6 or they will be the sleeper team of the 2012 NBA Playoffs that fell short of accomplishing anything truly impressive.

Udonis Haslem was rightfully punished for his dirty foul on Tyler Hansbrough with a one game suspension.

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.