HoopSpeak Live 51: The Clips

On Episode 50 of HoopSpeak Live, your hosts react to last night’s ECF game and then talk about the West with the esteemed Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN and Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. Paul Flannery of WEEI was meant to drop by as well, but a Doc Rivers conference call got in the way. Hope to have him back on the show soon. Here’s the whole show:

Here’s how it breaks down:

:00 – :20 – Reacting to Heat/Celtics [Rondoooo/Dooling/Chalmers/LeBron]

:20 – :42 – Person of Interest: Kevin Arnovitz [Spurs/Thunder]

:42 – 1:03 – Person of Interest: Lee Jenkins [More Spurs/Thunder]

Note: You can find the audio-only version of HoopSpeak Live on iTunes. If you subscribe and/or write us a review, I promise that we’ll send you a green screen like Ethan’s.

HoopSpeak Live airs every Thursday right here on HoopSpeak.com. You can follow the show with the #hoopspeaklive hashtag, and you can follow our guests at @kevinarnovitz and @SI_LeeJenkins.

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HoopSpeak Network

HoopSpeak Live 51: Kevin Arnovitz, Paul Flannery and Lee Jenkins

Today’s guests:

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com

Paul Flannery of WEEI

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated

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If you’re having trouble viewing HoopSpeak Live here, try it on Vokle’s site.

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Whither the Grin?

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

“He had a smile on his face as he was waiting for the pass!”

With two minutes and thirty nine seconds left in last night’s game and Miami trailing Boston 91-94, Shane Battier gathered a defensive rebound, dished the ball to LeBron James and ran up the right side of the court to the right corner, where he spotted up for an entire possession.

Elsewhere: A LeBron/ Haslem pick and roll fizzles and dies, Dwyane Wade surveys the defense, LeBron half-heartedly posts up Rajon Rondo—through it all, Battier sits in the corner, twitching his fingers with his hands ready for the pass. Finally, LeBron swings the ball across the court to Mario Chalmers, and Chalmers finds Battier in the corner. Tie ball game. As they run down the court, Mike Breen tells us Shane Battier was smiling as he received the pass.

Video evidence is inconclusive. None of the angles available capture his face. As we see Battier running down the court, he is once again focused, stoic. So we’ll have to take Breen’s word. Some how, for some reason, Battier found some private well of contentment, joy even, while he waited for the pass. So what was he thinking?

Battier often plays with a knowing joi de vivre that borders on the haughty. Those opalescent teeth, that canyoned chin, his yearbook smile. If the NBA were a live production of the Beauty and the Beast, Shane Battier would be the waffle-headed Gaston, toothily unshaken in his confidence. But why? He’s been slower than most of the league for years, and the apex of his career came when the New York Times wrote about him for being, like, way better than he looks, you guys. Now, he is a

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Enough about LeBron and his fouls

LeBron James and his lack of fouling has (again) become a talking point, mostly thanks to a much-bemoaned Dwyane Wade no call on Rajon Rondo (Well that, and Miami’s 47 free throws to Boston’s 29 FTs). This is quite similar to how LeBron gets blamed for not taking a buzzer beater that Wade misses. If Dwyane catches a cold, LeBron gets the flu–while also getting ridiculed for starting the bubonic plague of AAU-me-first-passivity-shrinkingism.

The “He doesn’t get called for fouls! superstar non call!” trope has resonance because it riles up those who feel that LeBron James was presumptuously marketed to them, that his is a false reign, propped up by NBA puppet masters. This is a deranged, paranoid way to think. So of course, it’s quite a popular sentiment.

I’ve read a bit about how James only had three (Three!) fouls in the Indiana series. The charge is spat as though it’s a self evident uncovering of malfeasance, as though the mere existence of this data is something on the level of basketball’s Pentagon Papers.

Show me some visual evidence and then we can discuss whether David Stern’s pointing the real JFK murder weapon at his refs and demanding they follow Maverick Carter’s orders. Show me something compelling, because LeBron James averages a mere 1.5 fouls in the regular season. Against Indiana, he averaged .5 fouls in the small sample size of six games. One foul fewer per game isn’t exactly a dramatic shift from what you’ll see on League Pass in January.

Six games against the Pacers would have projected to yield James roughly nine fouls. That he notched only three isn’t exactly setting my hair ablaze, considering the paucity of minutes. Remember, LBJ had a combined nine fouls over just two consecutive playoff games versus the Knicks.

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Dwyane Wade’s free pass

Nobody knows exactly when the narrative of Dwyane Wade’s persona reversed its direction, and one can only guess why he transformed from a commercialized dimple to the oversensitive guy who lost his cool during the NBA lockout in the face of David Stern’s finger. What is the explanation for someone to change so drastically, and, on a more important level, why is it nobody seems to care?

At just 24 years old, Wade was the toast of professional basketball. He’d just been named MVP of the NBA Finals (a series in which he averaged 34.7 points per game and walked away with a 33.8 PER, making it the greatest performance in NBA Finals history), had the league’s number one selling jersey, and was only a few months away from being named Sports Illustrated’s 2006 Man of the Year. The accompanying article revealed an adolescent life filled with unimaginable adversity—Wade was raised by his sister, hardly shaped by a mother addicted to drugs and alcohol—that had a real-life happy ending. He’d overcome it all, marrying his high school sweetheart along the way, donating 10 percent of his then $3 million salary to a Chicago church he regularly attended.

He embraced his status reluctantly, at first, telling Time Magazine he found it “weird” and “crazy” whenever he saw people wearing his shoes or jersey.

Today, things are different. He’s still an elite player with moves so slick that imitating them in your backyard would leave you physically injured, but Wade is no longer an angel. For one reason or another, gone is the high-school sweetheart (replaced by a heavenly movie star), the carefully sculpted self-awareness and humble outlook.

In those first few years he was buoyant, free, and fearless. He looked so happy, like everything in his life was work except basketball.

Today his smiles

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Did James Harden travel?

Screen shot 2012-05-30 at 4.43.42 AM

The play is now of little consequence, but it seemed important at the time. OKC was making a run, and this could have been the difference between three points and a turnover. James Harden got the ball at the top of the arc and blurred a zig-zag around Tiago Splitter–like a Road Runner animation. Harden ended his journey on Matt Bonner’s shoulder, laying the ball in while looking to be a shuttle attachment to the red rocket below. And one.

Steve Kerr was initially impressed by James Harden’s slaloming foray to the rim, but he noted that, upon replay, a travel call probably should have taken away that which took his breath.

Was Kerr right? I’ll admit that I do not have the answer to this question, though the question may well have an objective answer. My uncertainty stems from this: At what point does a man pick up his dribble?

The easy answer to this question is, “When he stops dribbling.” But the quick transition from “dribbling” to “holding” cannot always be perceived as it happens. And that transition comprises a grey area between “dribbling” and “holding,” where it’s not quite one and not quite the other. James Harden certainly does not make it easy on referees, as he dribbles deep into his armpit, a cradle from which the ball probably emerges gasping for air, desperate for an action-interrupting travel call.

In the meantime, foot falls are occurring a few feet below this action. A lot can happen during a fraction of a “drold” (invented term). LeBron James manages three steps between bounces on this zooming breakaway dunk. Below, I snapped some freeze fames of the Harden transition that took a fraction of a second.

In the first frame, Harden appears to be in mid-dribble.

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Calling this club a spade

The Indiana Pacers’ past few seasons have been a slow march back to national relevance. The trail has snaked through a few dark groves, but their emphatic Game 3 win over the Heat carried them over the crest, with the summit firmly within reach.

Despite the ultimate outcome, for the first time in years, the Pacers unequivocally matter in the NBA. And they could matter more soon. With a slew of free-agents, both restricted and unrestricted, the roster will look different next season, but no matter the impending changes they have firmly taken up residence in the national consciousness.

As a Pacers fan, it was incredibly gratifying to have people finally notice the progress a devoted handful have been watching for the past few seasons. However, it was equally grating to see misnomers and mischaracterizations zinging back and forth in almost every national commentary on their series against the Heat; uninformed opinions built on other, equally uninformed opinions.

If you had never watched a Pacers’ game this season until the playoffs, you’ll have left this series thinking you saw the Heat get the better of deep, defensive team that completely overlooked their obvious advantage in the post. Unfortunately, there are truths, half-truths and outright falsehoods all wrapped up in that burrito of certainty.

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Depth. This mischaracterization, perhaps because the Pacers excellent starters aren’t big names, has doggedly trailed the Pacers all season.

The Pacers’ were deep this season, but only in the sense that they had a mostly full roster. In terms of meaningful basketball contributions, they were as shallow as any team in the league. The Pacers’ starting lineup for most of the season was Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West and Roy Hibbert. That group played 986 minutes together, by

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Thoughts and Adjustments for SAS-OKC Game 2

Time to choose offense over defense

If Oklahoma City is to advance to the Finals, it will be due to some shrewd work by Scott Brooks. The rotation, play-calling and execution all must be top notch if the Thunder hope to derail the basketball juggernaut that is the San Antonio Spurs. But if Game 1 was any indication, Kevin Durant and the rest of his teammates will find themselves enjoying a summer vacation rather quickly.

Brooks’ decision to stick with Kendrick Perkins has received the most ardent criticism and it certainly is not unfounded. It wasn’t exactly of the same ilk as Doug Collins steadfastly sticking with a horrendous Evan Turner against the Celtics but it might have cost OKC a victory Sunday night.

Offensively, since his knee injury, Perkins has been an abomination and that’s probably putting it mildly. His shooting numbers have dropped while his rate of turnovers have increased, which, as most can surmise, is not a good combination. We do know that this past season Perkins positively impacted the Thunder’s defensive numbers. But it is there that we see the flaw in Brooks’ decision-making.

The Thunder, thanks to the uber-talented trio of Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, are not a defensive team. Their regular season and postseason rankings reflect as much. Yet Perkins, whose main value is mildly improving a team’s defense, saw the floor during the Spurs impressive 4th quarter rally and for 28 minutes all together.

The saying “Defense wins championships” has been the rallying cry around the league for years despite a better understand (and use) of statistically efficient shots (like the corner 3), rule changes (eliminating hand-checking on the perimeter) and the introduction of a European based philosophy (spread pick-and-roll) that has opened up the game. The dirty secret in today’s NBA is

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San Antonio makes the foulable James Harden fallible

There is a sense of inevitability-steeped dread to playing James Harden. You know he loves going left and you will plan accordingly. You know he’ll manage to go left anyway, and you will foul him.

But the Spurs pulled off the spectacular in not ceding a single free throw to the flopper savant in Game 1. I don’t mean “flopper,” in the denigrative sense. I am in awe of James Harden’s ability to frame opponents through a sleight of hand and a self-imposed whiplash that points his beard at the accused like a quivering courtroom index finger. To evade Harden’s flop space is to be magnificent, and the Spurs are magnificent space evaders. Popovich’s teams have been among the least-fouling for years and they were especially keyed on the awkward lefty’s mission.

To over-simplify, San Antonio forced Harden to make the drive of least resistance. On the right side of the floor, they enticed him right. On the left side of the floor, Harden’s man guided him left. This latter strategy may have been a bit counterintuitive, because, as previously mentioned, he loves to go left. But this at least meant JH couldn’t draw a foul in the way he loves to: By bumping into a drive-blocking defender.

Suddenly, Harden was unhindered, but he didn’t entirely know how to capitalize. The Spurs knew exactly what to do, sending help over and jumping straight up, palms to the heavens. This is a beautiful, underrated element of Spurs basketball. They make a big show of just how disinterested they are in fouling. Defenders somehow contest shots while making the universal “I surrender!” battlefield gesticulation.

When Harden predictably slashed towards his open strong-side lane, he was easy to time-up, easy to thwart. When Harden attempted to go against the grain on

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The Miami Heat’s “Occam’s offense”

The Miami Heat closed out Indiana with their most brutally frank offensive gameplan of the postseason. For all the talk about how Miami needs to develop proper ball and player movement — when isn’t there too much standing around and holding of the ball — Game 6 showed us that sometimes, keeping it simple is the right solution.

Erik Spoelstra ran virtually every single Game 6 possession through James or Wade. There were none of those curious Mario Chalmers possessions or wild shots from Norris Cole. One got the sense that if Spoelstra could have scripted the game to give Wade or James every shot — and why not? — that’s what he would have done.

But that isn’t to say Spoelstra just handed the keys to the offense to James and Wade and backed away. Rather, the efficiency of their performance was made possible by his work under the hood, tinkering with spacing and teaching the Heat’s big men how to become the most relentless and effective ball screen corps in the NBA. And as dominant (of the ball and of the game) as the Heat stars were, they did so in perfectly prescribed positions on the court — Wade in isolations on the left side of the court, James in the midpost from either side, and both in a constant barrage of pick-and-rolls.

When the play called for Wade or James to receive the ball in the post, the Heat used simple but effective actions to help them establish position. For James, this usually meant a cross screen from Mario Chalmers. Switching a point guard on a player who routinely outmuscles power forwards is not an option, so Chalmers could peel away James’ defender, allowing James to set up shop with a defender on his back.

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