TrueHoop: David West

East-leading Indy stays home for Christmas

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
11:44
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- When the NBA schedule came out last summer, the Indiana Pacers players first looked for their opener, then they looked at Christmas Day.

Surely they would've graduated to Christmas Day status -- a trademark sign of national respect in the league -- after going to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat last season.

But Dec. 25 was blank.

"No comment," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said. "I’m going to leave that one alone."

"We expect stuff like that," David West said. "It was the same reason that at the start of the season I saw us getting picked like fourth in the East."

"I wasn’t expecting to play that day, to be honest," Paul George said. "It’s just the way it’s been for us being here."

Ten teams were picked to play on Wednesday, generally the 10 teams the league expected to generate the most excitement on one of the season’s marquee days. The small-market Pacers didn't make the cut.

They will play in the featured game on Thursday night only once this season, in mid-January. They are not currently scheduled to play in a Sunday afternoon national-television game. Of the four games they play against the Heat this season, two were not initially scheduled to be on one of the league’s national broadcast partners.

Monday night they took apart the injury-ravaged Brooklyn Nets 103-86. The Nets are the inverse of the Pacers. After their offseason of flashy moves, they received a huge amount of attention and were given a full slot on the national platform, kicking off Christmas Day against the equally disappointing Chicago Bulls.

The Pacers’ payroll this season is a little less than $70 million. The Nets are paying $80 million … in luxury tax. After blowing a late lead in Miami last week put them on their first losing streak of the season, the Pacers have now come back to win three in a row to improve to 23-5.

"We let our play do the talking," West said. "We understand who we are. We’re still growing our names. Even Paul, he’s getting some attention, but people are just starting to get to know him."

The Pacers, who are about five years into a plan that has seen them build primarily through the draft, may get a taste of revenge when the All-Star Game arrives, though. They might as well book a block of rooms in New Orleans for President's Day weekend now.

With the win over the Nets, coach Frank Vogel suddenly has a magic number of 10 to clinch being the All-Star coach for the East. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is ineligible because he was the coach last season and the Pacers have an eight-game lead on the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Vogel could clinch the honor by the middle of January if the team keeps on this pace.

George appears headed to be voted in as a starter; he would be the first Pacer to get that honor since Jermaine O'Neal in 2003. Hibbert probably won’t get voted in -- the ballot no longer has a center designation -- but is nearly a lock to get there.

"LeBron can start at center," Hibbert said. "He can play all five positions."

West, a two-time All-Star, will get strong consideration, and even Lance Stephenson -- a player who would've drawn laughs when mentioned in All-Star talk a few months ago -- is gaining traction. Or at least the Pacers are trying to give it to him.

Indiana might not lead the league in attention, but it is among the leaders in confidence. Hibbert has been on his own campaign to win NBA defensive player of the year. Teammates have mentioned George as an MVP candidate. And now the vogue idea is to pitch Stephenson as an All-Star.

"He should be in the conversation," Vogel said. "He’s got to be in the conversation."

Stephenson had his third triple-double of the season Sunday against the Boston Celtics, then Monday he put on a show in his hometown in front of about 30 friends and family. He had a career-high 26 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

With each basket, his buddies sitting above the Pacers bench would jump up and pump their fists. As the game got out of hand and Nets fans started leaving, the Stephenson section became more and more audible.

"I was pretty emotionally hyped for this game," Stephenson said. "I couldn't really sleep last night."

In the end, perhaps the Pacers ended up with the best deal in it all. The schedule has them off until Saturday, a break that allowed the team to give the players two days off over the holiday. Stephenson stayed in Brooklyn with family. The rest of the Pacers, at least according to Hibbert’s Twitter feed, spent their bus ride toward their Christmas vacation arguing over who has the better career: Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus.

Meanwhile, the Heat complained in a recent meeting with incoming commissioner Adam Silver that they had to travel to L.A. for Christmas when they’re the defending champs. Flying under the radar can, it seems, have its perks.

"Everything has played perfect for us. We didn’t get distracted with too much attention," said George, who had 26 points of his own in the win. "I feel like that’ll change in the future."

TrueHoop TV: Udonis Haslem's heated moment

May, 31, 2013
5/31/13
1:36
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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A few thoughts about Roy Hibbert

May, 23, 2013
5/23/13
12:29
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Mornings like these make the NBA so much fun, especially when the debate touches on concrete strategy rather than abstractions.

On the surface, whether Pacers coach Frank Vogel should have left Roy Hibbert on the floor during crucial, late-game defensive possessions is a binary decision, but several factors govern Vogel's strategy in that situation. Although I'm strongly with the majority opinion that says when defensive possessions matter most you have your best defenders on the floor, the doubts implicitly expressed by Vogel when he left his 7-foot-2 center on the sideline must also be addressed.

If Vogel decides to not match down to the Heat's smaller lineup, here are a few fun counterfactual strategies to consider -- some more sensible than others.
  • With 2.2 seconds left, an NBA defense is immune from a defensive 3-second call and can effectively zone up against any play. A zone defense is vulnerable to all kinds of hazards, open shots most prominent among them, because the goal is to guard space rather than individuals. Not having a specific guy tasked with defending specific scorers is risky, especially if one of those scorers is named LeBron James. But the Pacers are uniquely equipped to run a matchup zone for 2.2 seconds. Place Hibbert inside the circle, match up Paul George on James and zone the back side of the floor. The Pacers have some of the most capable, long-armed gap defenders in basketball and close space on shooters better than any team in the league. Zoning up would take away just about anything at the rim, though it would leave the Pacers vulnerable to a potential midrange shot from Chris Bosh -- a pretty reasonable trade-off, if not an ideal one.
  • Too dangerous, especially since the most prolific long-distance shooter in history is licking his chops on the weak side? Then how about not guarding the inbounder, Shane Battier, leaving Hibbert underneath and going with a man-to-man defense on the other four Miami players? It's a tough call, because ball pressure is essential and, as every coach at every level preaches, somebody must account for the inbounder once the ball is put in play. But let's replay the possession with Battier passing the ball in to James as he did Wednesday night. James is a willing passer and could conceivably return the ball to Battier, who stands 30 feet from the basket, with 1-point-whatever seconds remaining on the clock. It's safe to say that's a shot the Pacers can live with.
  • If you're not feeling the zone strategy and you also believe, as Vogel did, that Hibbert's lack of mobility was too much of a liability against a fast-moving, screen-heavy set with multiple shooters on the floor, then consider assigning Hibbert to cover the inbound pass. Approximately 2.5 million people were in Miami-Dade last night. If you asked Battier to list in descending order those he'd least like to see standing in front of him as he prepared to throw the ball inbounds to a Heat teammate, it's a good bet Hibbert would have been at the top of that list. The best use of Hibbert is still near the basket, but if he makes you nervous at the top of the circle when you know a back screen for Bosh is on the way, why not put him to some use by allowing him to disrupt an inbound pass then race after the ball for a possible block from behind?
  • Let Hibbert sink or swim. Those defending Vogel's decision have a point -- a down screen for Bosh is a tough switch for Hibbert. But there are creative ways to play it: (1) Have Lance Stephenson switch on to Bosh, as he did. (2) Have Hibbert drop immediately to the paint. (3) Have David West, who was guarding the inbounds pass, switch on to Allen as he sprinted to the sideline since he was effectively there. Again, Battier would be the open man, but at 30 feet or so.

The Pacers outlasted their rivals in the East because they brought length, speed and versatility to the defensive end and had the rim protection provided by Hibbert. For nearly 100 games, Vogel has stayed true to that formula, but he had a crisis of faith when it mattered most. On Wednesday night, perfect defense was the enemy of the good defense.

It didn't help that his best man defender, George, got annihilated so quickly and absolutely. Had Hibbert been standing at the rim, it's easy to imagine James shuttling a pass to Bosh for the duck-in or kicking the ball out to another shooter. Credit James for presenting that kind of challenge. For years, critics have killed him for not wanting to take the last shot, but ask yourself this:

If James were an I'm-shooting-at-all-cost player, would Vogel have been so concerned about the supporting cast that he would leave his rim protector on the bench out of fear of an open shooter?

Building an offense in Indiana

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
2:59
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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David West
Jeff Gross/NBAE/Getty Images
David West knows how to find a mismatch, control a possession and encourage Paul George.

LOS ANGELES -- Things got sticky late for the Indiana Pacers, and there was nothing artful about the conclusion of their 109-106 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. The Pacers let a 24-point third-quarter lead dwindle down to two and their crucial bucket with 49 seconds remaining came on an ugly possession during which the ball never came close to the paint until just before the shot clock buzzer. If not for David West’s step-back jumper over Blake Griffin, the game could’ve been a calamity for Indiana.

But West came through, and the Pacers’ locker room was festive after the game. Certain allowances are afforded to teams that log a 4-0 road trip through the Western conference, even if the landing is bumpy.

The source of the Pacers’ good spirit of late is their invigorated offense. At the outset of the season, scoring was a chore for the Pacers. There’s never been a lack of effort in Indianapolis, but every possession seemed like a grind, and open looks at the basket came hourly, if that.

Since the midpoint of their season on January 21, the Pacers have boasted the 10th most efficient offense in the NBA, a remarkable improvement for a team that ranked 28th on New Year’s Day. During their current five-game winning streak, the Pacers have scored well over 100 points per 100 possessions in each contest, and racked up 109 points against the Clippers in 90 possessions unofficially, good for an eye-popping 121.1 efficiency rating. Indiana’s defense has been the gold standard in the NBA since Day 1, but an offense that can produce at that level should put a scare into any team it confronts in the postseason.

The starting five hasn’t changed, nor has a bench that’s short on offensive punch. So how have the Pacers breathed life into their attack? Five observations from the Pacers' win over the Clippers:
  • Paul George is growing up. The lanky wing has graduated from curio to catalyst for the Pacers, learning not just how to create for himself, but effectively anchor a half-court offense. George is still most comfortable in isolation, but he’s recognized there are opportunities around him if he applies a little vision. “The more room I have, the more comfortable I feel,” George said before the game. “The next level is what I’m working on now.”
  • The Pacers are getting into their stuff more quickly, and delivering the ball to West in the high post is often the departure point. West was a pick-and-roll practitioner for most of his career in New Orleans alongside Chris Paul, but he's developed a firm understanding of where shots will come from in the half court. Twice on Monday, West found a mismatch for himself, using a brush screen on the perimeter in tandem with George to draw Caron Butler. Not considered a mobile big, West nevertheless knows when to leak out against a flat-footed defense, and found a couple of buckets in transition as well.
  • West is doing wonders for George's expanding offensive game, and the two have developed a chemistry that's producing results. "We've been learning each other as the year's gone on and he's in a new role," West said of working with George in a two-man game. One quality that's measurably different about George's game is his awareness of where West is in the half court when George needs help. As teams load up on George, he and West almost telepathically devise a plan to release the pressure. "We talk about passing windows, giving him alleys to make passes," West said. "We pride ourselves on being able to -- if you take away our first option -- get the ball moving to the other side and being able to punish teams on the back side."
  • The mystery of Roy Hibbert's resurgence continues. Ask him, his coach or his teammates where anything has changed about his form or mechanics, and all you get are shrugs. So what's Hibbert doing now that he wasn't at the start of the season? "The tougher question is, 'Why wasn’t he finishing before?'" Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "What he’s doing now is what we’ve come to expect." Hibbert led all scores on Monday night, recording 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting from the field. Hibbert offered his own theories: "Don't force things," he said. "I come in on my days off and try to get better. I try to mimic David West's workouts." Vogel offered another theory prior to the game. When Hibbert couldn't buy buckets earlier in the season, Vogel encouraged the center to focus on anchoring the defense. Sure, be mindful of opportunities on the other end, but do it with less deliberate effort and more in the flow of the offense. After the game, West mentioned that the Pacers were aware of the Clippers' uneasiness about double-teaming down low. That was the cue for Hibbert, and he delivered.
  • George talks about learning to work in the post, given the size advantage he often enjoys against his defensive counterpart. When the Clippers went to Jamal Crawford as their nominal small forward late on Monday, George looked to post him up. The Pacers had trouble finding George, despite the mismatch, but George is eager to keep trying. “[Crawford] fronted me, but [the Clippers] had a big helping, shadowing behind me,” George said. “It was a little difficult, but it’s something we just have to work on. It’s a learning process.” George prefers a layer of space around him when he's working, something post play doesn't accommodate, but his willingness to learn will mean a lot to the offense.

The NBA's hurt locker

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
5:31
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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NBAE/Getty ImagesJust as their teams were hitting their strides, Marc Gasol and Ty Lawson went down.
For a while, the Memphis Grizzlies were the Western Conference’s most intriguing story. During the height of the season, they dealt their most prolific scorer (Rudy Gay) for a less selfish one (Tayshaun Prince). Following the trade, the Grizzlies cratered for a period, as a malaise infected a somber locker room. But once they incorporated Prince into their defensive schemes and worked out their rotations, the Grizzlies rallied with a fury to win 14 of 15 games.

While Memphis was experiencing its Glasnost, the Denver Nuggets cruised through their schedule like a snowmobile through powder. They ran up 15 straight wins with the NBA’s most improvisational and electric offense, paying tribute to Doug Moe’s “organized chaos” of the early-model Nuggets.

For weeks it appeared the Los Angeles Clippers were a lock to finish in the No. 3 slot, but with Memphis and Denver ripping off wins in bunches, the West’s third seed was put back into play -- and the best race for playoff positioning was under way.

Then, just as the drive for the postseason was becoming scenic, the Grizzlies lost Marc Gasol to an abdominal tear and Denver's Ty Lawson was sidelined with a heel injury. As Gasol watched in street clothes, the Grizzlies fell back to earth. The Grizzlies barely held off at home a Celtics team that hadn’t won a road game since March 6 and dropped a game in ugly fashion at Washington. With Lawson out, Denver stole a game at home against a decimated Sixers squad, squeaked by Sacramento (also in Denver) and was blown out in New Orleans.

In an instant, the screen went dark in the Western Conference just as things were getting good. The Grizzlies and Nuggets are still playing games, but at the moment when each team was hitting its stride and making a compelling case that it could play with anyone, the best talent left the scene.

Injuries are an inconvenient reality in pro basketball, and every night coaches and players stand before the media and insist that a depleted roster is no excuse for a drop-off in performance. “Nobody is 100 percent this time of year” is practically a spring sonnet in the NBA.

Consider the implications of this: At the most dramatic juncture of the season when elite players should be putting their imprints on the playoff race, they’re competing at less than full strength -- if they’re competing at all. In addition to Gasol and Lawson, Dwyane Wade and David West are missing games; Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker have missed significant time as well.

It’s tough to draw a direct correlation between the length and workload of an NBA season and player health. Abdominal tears can occur during Game 10, and a player can suffer a heel injury during a summer workout. But when you talk to NBA players and coaches about player health, when you see more and more guys shuffling in and out of the treatment room after practices and games as the season grinds on, it’s clear that an 82-game season isn’t helping. Humans are far more likely to suffer injuries when they’re exhausted, and there’s legitimate evidence that excessive minutes hurt performance while rest improves the well-being of an athlete.

The result is that fans are also deprived of barn-burner basketball. Did you see the Memphis’ new killer lineup and its plus-13.4 point differential per 100 possessions? Or the skid marks left by the Nuggets on a nightly basis at Pepsi Center? There was hardly a trace of all that Monday night in Washington and New Orleans, respectively.

“Nobody is 100 percent this time of year” is a silly way to run a business that’s driven by star power during the latter stages of the season. In what other sector are the highest performing employees absent during the busy time of year when the success and failure of the enterprise is on the line?

Killer Lineup: The Pacers' stingy starters

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
12:30
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Miami Heat
George Hill | Lance Stephenson | Paul George | David West | Roy Hibbert
Minutes Played: 877
Offensive Rating: 107.7 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 93.6 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
Pacers coach Frank Vogel is a man who appreciates uniformity. Last season, his team’s primary lineup logged 1,000 minutes. No other unit in the NBA topped 750 minutes. This season, the Pacers’ starters once again lead all five-man units in minutes played -- only this time it’s George Hill and Lance Stephenson in place of Darren Collison (traded during the offseason) and Danny Granger (made his debut Saturday after missing the first 55 games of the season because of patellar tendinosis).

When newly assembled units struggle to find themselves offensively, coaches often will preach patience and time. In the case of the Pacers this season, that largely has worked. With each passing month in Granger’s absence, Indiana’s starting five have grown more comfortable as an offense, and they’ve been impressively efficient in the past 20 games or so.

For one, they get into their stuff more quickly. That swing sequence at the top of the floor that opens many of their half-court possessions -- wing-to-big-to-wing -- happens promptly and crisply. From here, the Pacers generally go one of a few different ways.

First, there’s George, who’s the unit’s most effective (and only true) creator off the bounce. The Pacers might isolate him inside the arc on the left side and let him work over a smaller defender. They’ll also use Hibbert to pin down for George to pop out to the perimeter. With enough separation, George will take the shot, but if his defender is close, he’ll put the ball on the floor.

Comparatively few of George’s possessions originate from high pick-and-rolls. Every once in a while in early offense, West will set a little step-up screen, but George clearly prefers to rub his guy off West or Hibbert at the foul-line extended area about 15 feet from the basket. Overall, George is a player who likes a layer of space around him while he’s working on offense (it’s not unusual to see George politely wave off a pick). Given that tendency, it’s an interesting exercise to imagine him playing alongside some guys who can actually shoot the ball from distance.

With West and Hibbert on the floor, the Pacers look inside a fair amount. There’s a certain obligation to feed Hibbert if his defender ends up on the high side. He’ll also see the ball if the matchup advantage is wildly in his favor. Despite Hibbert’s struggles to find his hook shot, there’s been no detectable fall-off in his touches.

West at the elbow is a higher-grade option. Big men with the ability to control a possession from the high post are becoming a less common breed. From that spot, West can turn around and fire a jumper, but more often than not he surveys the scene. As West watches the defense, he’s patient, scanning the perimeter. Who’s cheating? Who’s inclined to cheat if I get into my move? If West finds something, he’ll kick the ball out. If not, he might unleash a ball fake or just return it to the top of the floor.

The Pacers do a nice job of using West on the weakside elbow as a sensible release option. When teams load up on George on one side of the floor, the Pacers have increasingly looked West’s way as the logical counter. George is getting better and better at reading the court for his next best option, in large part because he’s learned that looking to West at that spot is generally the answer.

The ball doesn’t spend a great amount of time in the hands of Hill, who’s far more of a cutter than an initiator in the half court. Defenses have universally run under any ball screen set for Hill, and he’s become considerably more willing to shoot the 3-ball if given sufficient space. A couple of times a game, Hill will dribble left of one of those picks, then launch a shot from distance. Overall, he’s 36.9 percent from beyond the arc.

The unit generally plays together in six-, eight-, sometimes even 10-minute stints, and at some point, Stephenson will get a chance to initiate in the half court. Stephenson probably will never be a guy with whom you can create beautiful basketball, but playing with this unit has refined him as a player. It’s not just the shooting percentages, which are way up. Stephenson is a better decision-maker, a better mover and still a beast on the break. Sometimes when a player goes from a bench mob to the junior member of a five-man unit, all of the manual labor and errand-running that come with that job make him value his time with the ball more.

How it works defensively
Exceptionally well, which is an affirmation of some traditional truths about basketball. Even as the NBA undergoes a radical sea change with respect to size and position, being big is still an asset. Virtually every single night they take the floor, the Pacers’ starters have an enormous advantage -- literally. With the 6-foot-2 Hill replacing the 6-0 Collison in the first unit, the Pacers have legitimate length at all five positions and tower over opponents. Logically enough, this group works its strength.

It’s tough to move downhill against the Pacers in the half court because everywhere an offensive player turns, there are limbs blocking his path. For similar reasons, it’s also difficult to shoot over the top, move off the ball and more generally, find open parking spots anywhere on the floor. As a result, defenses have to work hard to get clean looks against the Pacers’ first unit.

Strong defenses tend to rotate well, but the elite ones don’t have to rotate at all. We can confidently place the Pacers’ starters in that group. Individually, each perimeter player contains his man at the point of attack, while West and Hibbert can handle just about any one-on-one matchup they’re assigned. Hill, Stephenson and George don’t have to worry about finding shooters because they’re already on top of them anytime they’re within a couple of feet. Opponents get fewer than 15 3-point attempts per 48 minutes against this unit (among the most frequently used lineups, only Chicago’s top two units do better), and converting only 31.3 percent of them.

George is a useful case study in why opponents can’t access normally reliable second and third options after the Pacers stop the ball on the first. It’s fun to watch George defend on the weakside. When he’s off the ball covering a stationary player on the perimeter, George will confidently run through a sequence of motions -- move toward the action on the ball side, dance back a couple of steps when a passing lane to his man opens up, cheat again once that window closes but not without a quick look back to make sure his guy hasn’t moved to a different spot where he could hurt the Pacers.

There’s no science to measure off-ball defense, but when you observe a player make every step toward and away from the action with so much purpose, when bad gambles and iffy decision occur so rarely, it becomes easy to understand how a unit is surrendering only 93.6 points per 100 possessions.

Now, is this a case of a wing player like George having the luxury of playing alongside two big men who can handle the pick-and-roll? Or do the big guys excel because they play with a point guard like Hill who can corral opposing point guards and fight over screens when necessary, and wings like George (6-8) and Stephenson (6-5) who can hold their own against attackers who might post up or drive against lesser defenders?

In the case of Indiana’s featured lineup, the answer is both. There’s a mutual benefit between big and small that carries over from the perimeter to the basket area. Guys remain in their area, but Hibbert has a lot to do with that. He rarely leaves the paint, and why should he, because at 7-2 he’s far more effective playing goalie than he would be commuting from the top of the floor off a hard show or jamming a screener.

If a guard is able to beat Hill or Stephenson, Hibbert lies in wait and can contain him with his outstretched arms, all the while shading his man, which allows West or a weakside defender to stay at home. With few open targets surrounding him, the guard now has to find a way to magically deliver the ball to the hoop against a deceptively quick-footed, lurching giant -- and if he gets close enough, probably a second long-armed defender.

West might be even be a worse candidate for exploitation in the pick-and-roll for an offense. West meets the ball handler way up at the top of the floor, then chases down his original matchup (or other big man if Hibbert picks up West’s guy, sometimes the case when it’s a power forward with some skills). This is an exhausting anaerobic workout for a big guy, but the 6-9 West never stops moving for a second. His gift is knowing how to time his departures and arrivals. West can launch an all-out blitz on a point guard if Jason Maxiell is his man. But if he’s guarding someone who could potentially cause some trouble, especially as a popper, West will temper his attack.

Sometimes, a frustrated offense will all but abandon a pick-and-roll attack against the Pacers, which is why you see opponents stagnate. If you can’t get anything against the pick-and-roll, can’t capably penetrate by isolating your perimeter guys, and if Hibbert is going to confront anyone who gets within 8 feet of the basket, then what do you have?

Finally, with Granger active again, does Vogel take minutes away from this unit to accommodate Granger's return? The more difficult question to answer for Vogel is whether he can afford to.

History says Heat will advance

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
3:54
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Michael Hickey/US Presswire LeBron James has at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists in back-to-back postseason games.
Game 6 between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers (ESPN, 8 ET) will feature several key storylines to watch, including how the Heat replace a suspended Udonis Haslem. Miami will be without one of its best mid-range shooters, as Haslem has made seven mid-range jump shots (outside paint, inside 3-point territory) this series, trailing only LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Haslem has also been a spark off the Heat's bench in the last three games, scoring double figures in each of the last two. In three games Haslem has come off the bench this postseason, Miami averages 25.7 bench points. In seven games Haslem started, the Heat have gotten only 16.1 points from their bench.

With Dexter Pittman also suspended, the best option for the Heat is likely Ronny Turiaf, as his +13 this series is the highest among the Heat's available big men for Game 6. In this series, Turiaf has played only 65 minutes in five games. However, when he's been on the court, the Heat have outscored the Pacers by 13 points. Miami has also limited Indiana to just 33 percent shooting when he's playing. Also available in the frontcourt are Joel Anthony (+7) and Juwan Howard (+5).

Overall, the Heat appear to be in good position to advance. In NBA history, teams that have held a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 85.9 percent of the time, including 4-0 in the First Round this postseason. In addition, the Pacers have never come back to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-2 (according to Elias they are 0-8 all-time).

James has been a prime reason why the Heat can close out the series tonight. He has recorded at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists in back-to-back postseason games, and if he matches those numbers in Game 6, he will become the first player in NBA history to do so in three consecutive postseason games.

History says James will have another strong performance tonight. According to Elias, James has scored at least 20 points in each of the last 11 potential playoff series-clinching games on the road, the second-longest current streak of any player in the league, behind only Kobe Bryant (19).

Meanwhile, Danny Granger (sprained ankle) has said that he will start Game 6. His play will be crucial, as he has been much better at home this series than on the road (averaging over nine points more at home).

What's more, the combination of himself, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West have outscored opponents by 75 points when on the court together, the highest of any five-man lineup on any team this postseason.

A key for Indiana will be on the boards. The Pacers have outrebounded the Heat 102-76 in their wins in Games 2 and 3, but have lost the battle on the boards in their losses in Games 4 and 5 (outrebounded 96-73). When Hibbert is on the court, the Pacers are +15 rebounding, but with him off are -19.

Pacers' starting five is punishing the Heat

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
1:32
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN.com
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Michael Hickey/US PresswireThe Pacers starting five has given LeBron James and the Heat fits in the first three games.
The longer the Indiana Pacers can keep their starting five on the court, the better chance they have to eliminate the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Indiana’s starting five of Paul George, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West has been the most successful five-man lineup in this year’s postseason. It has a better plus-minus, has scored more points and has a better rebounding margin than any other five-man lineup in the playoffs.

In eight postseason games, Indiana's starting five has outscored its opponents by 79 points and outrebounded them by 68.

During the regular season, George, Granger, Hibbert, Hill and West started just eight games together, and the Pacers were 7-1 in those games. They played just 229 minutes together and outscored their opponents by 72 points.

In the playoffs, they’ve already played together for 176 minutes, and the formula continues to be successful.

This postseason, Indiana’s starting five:

• Has more than double the second-chance points (70) of any other five-man lineup. (Second are the Lakers and Magic with 30.)

• Leads all lineups in points in the paint (152) and points off turnovers (58).

• Has outscored its opponents by 56 points in the paint (152-96), has 30 more second-chance points (74-44) and 18 more fast-break points (42-24).

When George, Granger, Hibbert, Hill and West were on the court in Game 3, they outscored the Heat 68-40.

The starting five shot 52 percent from the field (including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers) and outrebounded the Heat 32-15. That lineup held the Heat to 33 percent shooting from the field and 1-of-10 on 3-point attempts. They also outscored the Heat 13-0 on second-chance points.

Every other Pacers lineup was outscored by nine.

Since the 2008 playoffs, only four lineups have finished with a plus-minus that’s been as good as Indiana’s +79. Three of those teams reached the NBA Finals and two won the NBA championship, including the Mavericks’ lineup last year of Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Flops of the Night: LeBron James and Tony Parker

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
12:40
PM ET
By Beckley Mason and Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Tony Parker, Blake Griffin
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
The cameras caught Tony Parker in mid-flop.

HoopIdea wants to #StopTheFlop. To spotlight the biggest fakers, we present Flop of the Night. You can help us separate the pretenders from the defenders -- details below:

Today we bring you not one, not two, but three egregious flops from two of the game's finest players.

LeBron James is the most dominant athlete in the NBA, capable of leveling an entire team with an inspired run of unstoppable drives to the rim. So his willingness to exaggerate contact tends to drive fans nuts. Last night James found himself trapped against the sideline with David West and Danny Granger closing in on him. Out of any other options, and unprompted by contact, he essentially fell out of bounds (video) to preserve possession.

It happened right in front of ESPN's Mike Tirico, who called LeBron's performance "an extraordinary swan dive."

Not to be outdone, Tony Parker proved to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin that when it comes to flopping they still have much to learn. Parker's first flop came when a nudge from Chris Paul sent him careening to the floor (video).

The call was a big one -- it put Paul on the bench with three first half fouls.

But his best flopping work (Video) of the night came just 20 seconds later, and at the expense of Blake Griffin.

After chasing down a loose ball in the back court, Parker had only a handful of seconds to recover possession and get off a shot before the shotclock expired. Wary of this fact, Griffin chased him along the sideline to force Parker to use up the clock.

Instead, Parker used Blake's effort to draw a foul and rescue the possession.

With the benefit of replay, ABC play-by-play man Dan Shulman explained that instead of being fouled, "Tony Parker initiated that contact. He grabbed the arm of Blake Griffin, and made it look like he was being grabbed."

But the official who made the call was trailing the play, and only saw Parker's "reaction," not the shenanigans that prompted his wild flailing.

When you see an egregious flop that deserves proper recognition, send us a link to the video so we can consider it for Flop of the Night. Here's how to make your submission:
  • Alert HoopIdea to super flops with the Twitter hashtag #FlopOfTheNight (follow us on Twitter here).
  • Use the #FlopOfTheNight hashtag in Daily Dime Live.
  • E-mail us at hoopidea@gmail.com

Flop of the Night: Mike Miller

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
12:14
PM ET
By Beckley Mason and Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Mike Miller
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Mike Miller took to the floor a few times in Game 1.

HoopIdea wants to #StopTheFlop. To spotlight the biggest fakers, we present Flop of the Night. You can help us separate the pretenders from the defenders -- details below:

Even before the Pacers and Heat took the floor in Game 1 of their second round series, we knew that flopping would be a topic. Indiana head coach Frank Vogel's comments about the Heat's habit of flopping -- and the $15,000 fine that followed -- assured as much.

Right on cue, Mike Miller earned his first Flop of The Night by toppling over on the expectation of contact from David West. Watch the video. Miller actually leans into the bump from West -- his plan here is to draw the charge so he needs to ensure at least some contact is made.

The set up is almost as unbelievable as Miller's actual fall, which lasts just under seven seconds. That's an exaggeration, of course, but it's fair to say Miller tips over in slow-motion, rather than falls. Instead of moving his feet to regain his balance, Miller, obviously intent on drawing a call, lets the kind of contact he would normally shrug off knock him to the ground.

Miller's tumble was met with silent whistles.

As Mike Tirico put it while calling the game on ABC, "You could say Frank Vogel's $15,000 paid off, at least for one play."

Runner up: LeBron James takes a shot to the throat, or so it appears.

When you see an egregious flop that deserves proper recognition, send us a link to the video so we can consider it for Flop of the Night. Here's how to make your submission:
  • Alert HoopIdea to super flops with the Twitter hashtag #FlopOfTheNight (follow us on Twitter here).
  • Use the #FlopOfTheNight hashtag in Daily Dime Live.
  • E-mail us at hoopidea@gmail.com

Paul bests Bryant as Hornets take Game 1

April, 17, 2011
4/17/11
7:50
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The New Orleans Hornets provided the second stunner of the day upsetting the Los Angeles Lakers to take a 1-0 series lead.

According to Elias, this is was the 16th time a team coached by Phil Jackson opened their postseason at home, but the first time the team lost.

Chris Paul
Paul
The Hornets were able to pull off the victory thanks to point guard Chris Paul who scored 33 points while dishing out 14 assists.

Paul scored or assisted on 25 of the Hornets 34 field goals while he was on the court.

In the first half he picked up 10 of those assists, getting his teammates involved as the Hornets took an eight-point lead to halftime.

Then after the break Paul picked up the scoring load with 22 points in the final 24 minutes.

He created more opportunities for himself getting to the free throws 12 times in the second half alone after taking no free throws in the first.

It marked the fifth time in his playoff career that Paul notched 30 points and 10 assists, tied with Kobe Bryant for the most such games since 2008.

Speaking of Bryant he scored 34 points, his 79th career 30-point game in the playoffs, but it was Paul who controlled the game.

Combining points scored and points scored off assists, Paul created 63 points for the Hornets compared to just 46 by Bryant.

Kobe took 26 shots for the Lakers -- the rest of the starting five combined to take only 32.

The Lakers fell to 9-9 this season when he shoots 25 or more times.

The matchup to watch for Bryant the rest of this series will be when he’s guarded by former Laker Trevor Ariza.

Game footage showed, through the first three quarters Bryant torched Ariza scoring 20 points when guarded by him. However Ariza won the battle in the fourth holding Bryant scoreless when matched up against him.

While his brother Marc Gasol (24 points) helped the Memphis Grizzlies pull of the first upset of the day, Pau Gasol was held to only eight points, his fewest in a playoff game since joining the Lakers.

He only attempted nine shots despite playing 37 minutes.

With David West out for the season due to injury, the Lakers entered the series with a distinct frontcourt advantage.

However the tandem of Gasol and Andrew Bynum (13 points) were matched by Carl Landry (17) and Emeka Okafor (4) with 21 points, providing the Hornets with an unlikely boost.

Not a Hollywood ending

February, 3, 2011
2/03/11
7:18
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Love
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
The Suns' dreary record will keep Steve Nash from an eighth career All-Star berth.

Editor's note: Updated late Friday to reflect David Stern's choice of Kevin Love as Yao Ming's injury replacement.

The 2010-11 West All-Stars

Starters
Kevin Durant
Carmelo Anthony
Kobe Bryant
Chris Paul
Yao Ming* (injured)

Reserves
Tim Duncan
Pau Gasol
Manu Ginobili
Blake Griffin
Kevin Love*
Dirk Nowitzki
Russell Westbrook
Deron Williams

(* Love replaces injured Yao)

So, who is missing from that list? Let's look at some of the players who will be most chapped to learn they won't be headed to Los Angeles to strut their stuff on Presidents Day weekend.

Kevin Martin
If Yao Ming were healthy and productive, there's a chance the Chinese audience would have voted this guy a starter like it did in the past for Tracy McGrady. To say he scores efficiently is a vast understatement. He shoots 3s as well as any heavy-volume shooter and leads the league in free throws made. And while he has the reputation of a standstill shooter, his game winner last night -- an athletic and-1 over Al Jefferson -- is an integral part of his game, too. Were he more selfish, his scoring totals would make him an obvious pick, but he wouldn't be as helpful to his team.

LaMarcus Aldridge
How amazing is ex-Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard? The team's two best players go down, and a third emerges as a double-double monster and leader of a playoff-caliber team. On sheer production, Aldridge is on the bubble, especially when you factor in how he started the season (and, for that matter, his career). And it sure doesn't help that his team is middling and plays games that start incredibly late for a lot of voters. However, here's what you're missing: All-Star games are about stellar plays, a good hunk of which are lobs. Not sure anybody finishes more lobs than this long, fast leaper. It would have been pretty.

Monta Ellis
Turn off your inner critic for a moment. Speak not of efficiency, nor wins and losses. Take a deep breath. Go to your happy place. Listen to the airy music. And just watch what this guy does: He takes big piles of nothing and turns them into and-1s. He takes your lazy passes and makes them steals and dunks. He takes double-teams and splits them. He takes your slow defender and makes him fall over. He takes your outstretched arms, and, little though he is, shoots over them and hits every time. At least, that's how it goes in the highlight reel. He'd be fun to watch in Los Angeles. (And Commissioner Stern, think how much cheaper the travel would be, sending a guy who lives a tad farther up the coast.)

Steve Nash
The two-time MVP is doing just about everything as well as he ever did. Now the supporting cast and the W-L record are far less impressive. Should that matter? Yes, of course, in some ways. The challenge to every NBA player is to win. On the other hand, if not an All-Star berth, what way is there to honor the otherworldly play of an aging hero doomed by his owner's questionable leadership? Hollinger: "What we're basically saying is that Nash was responsible for having Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion on his team, and now it's his fault that they're gone."

David West
In addition to being the featured big man in Chris Paul's multifaceted attack, West is now the starting forward for a title-quality defense. If the Hornets could upgrade their wing players, Paul, West and Okafor would be a force in the West, and West would be an All-Star.

Zach Randolph
Has anyone noticed that Memphis has been turning it on lately? The Grizzlies have long been a popular pick to be terrible, but ever since getting Randolph, he has been putting up huge numbers and they have been better than expected. At the moment, the Grizzlies have a winning record and are on track to make the playoffs. Surely somebody deserves recognition for exceeding expectations like that. You could do worse than to pick the guy averaging a cool 20 points and 13 rebounds per game.

The 2010-11 East All-Stars

Starters
LeBron James
Amare Stoudemire
Dwyane Wade
Derrick Rose
Dwight Howard

Reserves
Ray Allen
Chris Bosh
Kevin Garnett
Al Horford
Joe Johnson
Paul Pierce
Rajon Rondo

Andrew Bogut
One of Andrew Bogut's problems is that he's in the Eastern Conference with Dwight Howard, who is unlikely to ever miss this game, and, now, Al Horford, who is proving to be quite the stud. As an extra annoyance, players like Joakim Noah (whose Bulls are 14 games ahead of the Bucks in the standings) and Brook Lopez also vie for the title of conference's third-best center. Last year when Bogut was on the All-Star bubble, he offered to switch positions. He can play center, but he swears he can also bring the ball up and zing behind-the-back passes. So, maybe that's something to consider next time.

Carlos Boozer
It was 2004 -- a half-century ago in dog years -- that Carlos Boozer offended the NBA by taking the biggest contract he could get. Sometimes it feels like he gets punished anew for that every year. He's a 20 and 10 guy (and the highest-paid player) on a 34-14 Bulls team that is shattering the assumption that the Celtics, Magic and Heat are the East's three candidates to make the Finals.

Joakim Noah
Charles Barkley's favorite NBA player is beautiful to watch, even if you're not captivated by the flowing curls. He has infinite love -- for the game, for winning, for his teammates, for hustle, for the big moments. It's no coincidence he was part of special teams in college and again in the pros. The man plays his heart out, and any league would be wise to reward that. Meanwhile, his team has been as exciting as any in the league this season. The only real drawback to his candidacy: Thanks to injury, he has played just 24 games, and a lot of Chicago's best ball has come with Noah in funky street clothes.
The New Orleans Hornets can do little wrong these days.

On a night featuring multiple instances of last-second heroics, the Hornets had one of the most dramatic victories, edging the Oklahoma City Thunder, 91-89 on a David West hoop with 0.5 seconds remaining.

The Hornets have won nine straight games and done so with their defensive work. It didn’t look like it was going to be a stellar defensive effort as the Hornets allowed 33 points in the first quarter. That was their first time allowing 30 points in a quarter since January 5 against the Golden State Warriors (38 points in the fourth quarter), and It snapped a streak of 39 straight quarters without allowing a 30-point quarter (three OT included).

The Hornets regrouped and yielded only 56 points in the final three quarters to pull out the win. The Thunder shot 52 percent in the first quarter and committed only one turnover, but shot only 44 percent with 16 turnovers in the final three quarters. The Thunder’s 89 points marked the seventh time in this nine-game streak that the Hornets have held a team below 90 points.

Even superstar Kevin Durant fell victim to the Hornets stingy defense as he was held to zero points in the fourth quarter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Durant’s 0-for-5 effort tied his largest "0-for" in any period of any game this season. He was also 0-for-5 from the floor in the Thunder's win against the Utah Jazz on November 15.

Elsewhere, three teams had dubious accomplishments in defeat:

• The Cleveland Cavaliers tied the franchise record with their 21st straight road loss, losing to the New Jersey Nets on a last-second shot by Brook Lopez. They’ll get a shot at No. 22 on Tuesday against a Boston Celtics team that is 21-3 at home.

• The Washington Wizards lost to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden and lost their 21st straight on the road to start the season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest streak to start an NBA season since the 1997-98 Denver Nuggets started 0-22.

• The Minnesota Timberwolves set a team record for most points in a regulation loss with their 129-125 loss to the Houston Rockets. The only other time they lost when scoring at least 125 points came in 2008, when they lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 129-125 in double-overtime.

Wednesday Bullets

June, 9, 2010
6/09/10
2:50
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
By Marc Stein

Jason Hart was going to be traded Tuesday by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The only question was where: New Orleans or Phoenix.

As a story that appeared briefly on the Timberwolves' Web site earlier in the day confirmed, Minnesota was convinced that it had a deal with the New Orleans Hornets to send Hart to the Hornets in exchange for Devin Brown.

But Brown was able to block that deal from going through, much to the disappointment of the tax-conscious Hornets.

Sources with knowledge of the teams' discussions told ESPN.com that Brown and agent Mark Termini refused to reduce the amount on the 10-percent trade kicker in Brown's $1.1 million contract. Brown was not asked to waive the whole kicker, sources said, but the trade math on a deal with the Hornets would not work unless Brown consented to forfeiting some money.

Brown, though, would have been giving up a starting spot as well as the cash. He's started 23 of his 25 games this season and didn't know what sort of playing-time situation awaited in Minnesota.

The appeal for the Hornets was Hart's non-guaranteed contract. They planned to waive him immediately just as Phoenix is planning to release Hart on Wednesday after the Suns capitalized on the collapse of the Minnesota-New Orleans deal to send Alando Tucker, cash and a conditional second-round pick to the Wolves for Hart.

Meanwhile . . .

The big-picture takeaway from all of Tuesday's drama surrounding a seemingly minor deal is that it's yet another example of the pressure -- some would say desperation -- New Orleans is feeling to get its payroll beneath the $69.9 million luxury-tax threshold.

The wing positions have been major trouble spots for the Hornets all season, but Brown entered Tuesday’s play averaging 10.0 points in just 23.4 minutes per game while shooting a solid 41.1 percent from 3-point range.

Yet the Hornets are currently $3.3 million over the tax line and remain prepared to send away Brown in a deal that brings back no guaranteed money, as seen over the summer when New Orleans felt it had to essentially donate Rasual Butler to the Los Angeles Clippers because of the tax benefits.

There is a belief among some rival executives -- or perhaps it's more accurate to call it a hope -- that the Hornets will not be able to resist moving All-Star forward David West before the Feb. 18 trading deadline to ensure that they get comfortably under the tax threshold.

New Orleans' preference would obviously be moving out player(s) from its list of veterans with contracts that stretch beyond this season. That list presumably includes Emeka Okafor, Peja Stojakovic, James Posey, Mo Peterson, Darius Songaila and Julian Wright.

But a major shakeup with the Hornets would appear highly unlikely without involving West, since we know (as covered in this cyberspace last week) that they're not trading Chris Paul.

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