TrueHoop: Luol Deng

Unbroken Bull

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
12:26
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Joakim Noah says losing Derrick Rose to injury and Luol Deng to trade has been a challenge, but he still believes Chicago is on the path to a title.

video

Melo's performance not enough for Knicks

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
12:49
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Gary Dineen/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony went 0-for-5 on shots from 20 feet or longer against the Bulls. In his previous five games, he was 27-for-46 (58.7 percent) from 20-plus feet.
The Chicago Bulls became the second team in NBA history to stop two win streaks of at least 13 games in the same season after snapping the Miami Heat's streak at 27 earlier this year and the New York Knicks' 13-game win streak on Thursday.

The 1990-91 Phoenix Suns snapped 16-game win streaks of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony did his best to keep that streak alive with his sixth straight 35-point performance, breaking soon-to-be Hall of Famer Bernard King's franchise record. But here's four things you might not have realized after his 36-point, 19-rebound performance:

• Anthony made six of his 12 shots from 10-19 feet, but had less success from other distances. He was 7-for-17 inside 10 feet and 0-for-5 on shots from 20 feet or longer. In his previous five games, he was 27-for-46 (58.7 percent) from 20-plus feet.

• Anthony had 53 touches against the Bulls on Thursday. He attempted 34 shots and passed the ball 12 times, with only five of those passes coming in the second half, when he touched the ball 27 times. Anthony's last assist came at the 5:58 mark of the first quarter.

• Anthony shot 38.2 percent from the field (13-for-34) and failed to make a 3-pointer. He had shot less than 40 percent just twice during the Knicks' 13-game winning streak. The last time he didn't make a 3-pointer was March 27 against the Memphis Grizzlies.

• Anthony was 6-for-17 when guarded by Jimmy Butler, including 2-for-10 outside five feet. He was 4-for-10 in the first half against Luol Deng, and Deng didn't guard him at all in the second half.

Inside the shot charts: Lin, Deng, the Magic

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
12:49
AM ET
Simon By Mark Simon
ESPN.com
Archive
Lin gets into the lane
Jeremy Lin made it a great return to Madison Square Garden, with 22 points and eight assists in the Houston Rockets easy win over the New York Knicks on Monday.

Lin's 22 points were his second-most this season and matched the total number of points he scored in the previous three games combined.

As you can see in the image above, Lin was a perfect 8-for-8 in the paint. He entered the day shooting 45 percent (59-for-130) on shots in the paint.

Lin had a good night in the pick-and-roll, making all four shots as the ballhandler on pick-and-roll plays.

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Deng has all sorts of trouble
Luol Deng was 4-for-17 in the Chicago Bulls loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, continuing a run of struggles from the field.

In his last six games, Deng is shooting 36 percent from the field. In that span, he's 11-for-43 on shots taken from outside the paint.

Nice night for the Magic
In the first 19 games of the season, the Orlando Magic did not have a game in which they shot better than 50 percent from the field.

They've now shot better than 50 percent in three of their last five games after their win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, in which they shot nearly 54 percent from the field.

The Magic won this game inside. They made 27 of their 40 shots in the lane. The Timberwolves made one fewer shot, but had 14 more shot attempts.

Glen Davis led the way with 10 baskets in the paint. He's 20-for-28 from the field in his last two games, 13-of-19 in the paint.

Wednesday Bullets

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
3:10
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Chris Palmer breaks down why Carmelo Anthony (and not Kobe Bryant) has been so good in the Olympics (Insider): "Saying Kobe Bryant is a brilliant scorer isn't news. But in the fast-paced FIBA game, he takes eons to get his shot off. Many of Bryant's shots come on isolations in which the floor is lopsided with four players standing on the opposite side. If Bryant's initial move doesn't work, the U.S. is looking at a wasted possession. The approach works for the Lakers' offense, but not on Team USA with its awesome firepower and emphasis on teamwork. Anthony, on the other hand, has been far more direct and decisive with the ball than Bryant. With a clearly defined scorer's role, Anthony has done an excellent job of picking his spots and letting others create for him. He's getting clean looks off kickouts and ball reversals and racking up huge numbers by simply hitting open shots without so much as a dribble."
  • The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding sympathizes with Andrew Bynum, who has good reason to question the Lakers' commitment to him: "Put yourself in his size 18s, and remember trudging out there with the new knee brace in winning the Lakers’ 2009 championship against Howard and fighting through a surgery-requiring knee injury in winning the Lakers’ 2010 championship over Boston. Imagine reveling in your breakthrough season and then feeling unwanted despite your 30 rebounds in San Antonio in the Lakers’ best regular-season victory and unappreciated despite your 10-block triple-double against Denver in the Lakers’ best playoff victory. It’s not hard to feel the frown begin and the head start to shake."
  • One Clipper fan is feeling the love from childhood hero Ron Harper.
  • He hasn't received a ton of recognition, but Chris Paul has been vital on both sides of the ball for Team USA. Though he's mostly posted understated stat lines, his two-way play has been excellent. The Americans' half-court offense has looked sharpest when Paul is pulling the strings in high pick-and-rolls, and his ball pressure has disrupted opposing offenses and allowed his rangy teammates to get in the passing lanes. Paul is a control freak, so it's probably not easy for him to relinquish his role as the primary creator, but it speaks to his basketball smarts that he knows when to float to the wing and hit a 3, and when to take control of the offense.
  • France's Nicolas Batum winds up and blasts Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin with a closed fist. After the game, Batum told Adrian Wojnarowski, "I wanted to give him a good reason to flop." That's not exactly what HoopIdea had in mind when we asked for recommendations on how to prevent flopping.
  • Who will root for the Brooklyn Nets? Professor and author Michael Shapiro, for one: "'The greatest gift for the Brooklyn Nets is the fact that James Dolan owns the Knicks,' Shapiro said. 'I don’t live in Brooklyn anymore. I live in Manhattan. But I really want to root for the Nets. After (Dolan) let Lin go, I called my son and he said to me, ‘Fine. Brooklyn. I get it dad.'"
  • The Pistons acknowledge likelihood that their jerseys will soon carry ads.
  • On CelticsBlog, Jeff Green talks with Josh Zavadil about his long recovery from heart surgery: "'The surgery itself was probably the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life. I had to start from, basically, double scratch. Walking was an issue -- just being able to have the stamina was a problem. Everything just kind of shuts down. The nervous system breaks down, and it's kinda like a jump-start. You have to get it going, and it was just difficult. You take for granted all of the little things -- whether it's just an easy crunch or ab exercise, or moving to the left or moving to the right. I couldn't lay on my stomach for the first two-and-a-half months. I couldn't lay on my side. The first couple of weeks I couldn't drive. I couldn't do a lot of things, but it helps you appreciate the little things.'"
  • An ambivalent reaction to Trail Blazers' decision to hire Dallas assistant Terry Stotts as head coach.
  • Luol Deng says he doesn't expect to have surgery on the injured ligaments in his left, in part because he felt so good during the Olympics.
  • As a kid in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, Kevin Durant would sprint up this hill as part of his self-motivated training regiment.

Absent Derrick Rose, Bulls become Pacers

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
3:16
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive

Lineups that are killing it in the East

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
2:31
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Chicago BullsChicago Bulls
PG Derrick Rose  SG Ronnie Brewer  SF Luol Deng  PF Carlos Boozer  C Joakim Noah
Minutes Played: 284
Offensive Rating: 111.6 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 91.8 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
In 2010-11, the Bulls were a middling offensive team that relied on one dominant mode of attack -- a dynamic Rose at the top of the floor. This season, Rose is still the prized asset in the Bulls' scheme, but he's orchestrating a deliberate, savvy offense that's expanded its breadth.

This unit plays at a plodding pace of 90.9 (which would rank them last in the NBA), but it's a tight, killing-you-slowly kind of assault. How many teams pressure you with a point guard like Rose, who collapses the defense anytime he works off the dribble, but can also feed the post and have three quality options from there? When you watch these Bulls move around the court with purpose, it's hard not to see hints of the best of the Deron Williams-Boozer era in Utah -- only better, because Noah's screens and ball skills are so exceptional for a big man.

This group also features two world-class athletes in Deng and Brewer who understand how to play off a penetrator, as well as a couple of big guys who know how to hit a cutter. Ever since Derrick Rose arrived on the scene in Chicago, we've been hearing about how the Bulls have a fatal hole at shooting guard. Bulls fans, you have your shooting guard. His name is Ronnie Brewer.

The rap on Brewer has always been that he can't space the floor. Fair enough, because Brewer is a subpar shooter from beyond 10 feet. But elite teams find workarounds for flawed players, and the Bulls have maximized Brewer's many strengths beautifully. Spacing is a nice attribute to have in an offense, but movement is woefully underrated in today's game. And you won't find a lot of players who move more intently off the ball than Brewer. He might not hit a shot for you from 24 feet, but he never stops moving. Feed, clear, cut and repeat.

Would there be more space for Rose to work if he had a couple of wings who were better conventional shooters than Brewer and Deng? Possibly, but there are more ways to bludgeon an opponent than a drive-and-kick. Putting bodies in motion and forcing opponents into bad decisions with endless actions has its virtues.

How it works defensively
The vaunted Tom Thibodeau defense is no longer an exotic mystery cooked up in some lab in Cambridge, Mass. It's simply standard operating procedure for several NBA defenses -- but few, if any, of the imitators run it with the precision this unit does.

On nearly every half-court possession, the Bulls' defense has one objective -- keep the ball out of the middle of the floor. Once they have you confined to the sideline and you try to, for example, run a pick-and-roll, the Bulls will strangle you like a python by trapping, then bringing a third defender to the ball side of the paint to add further pressure.

What makes this unit particularly deadly when they implement this defense? Let's start with Joakim Noah. Bringing three guys to the ball is all well and good, but it doesn't help if you don't have two defenders who can cover the rest of the floor in what's essentially a two-man zone. There isn't a big man who performs this task better than Noah. He instinctively knows where the offensive threat is coming from -- when the ball will be reversed out of that pressure, to whom it will go to and how to best help without compromising the system.

Throw in two lanky defenders like Brewer and Deng, whose length, agility and smarts allow them to both stifle defenders on the ball or work as Noah's partner in that backside zone, and you have the components for the most difficult defense to score against in the NBA.


Orlando MagicOrlando Magic
PG Jameer Nelson  SG J.J. Redick  SF Hedo Turkoglu  PF Ryan Anderson  C Dwight Howard
Minutes Played: 178
Offensive Rating: 118.3 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 98.4 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
How good has this group been with the ball? There isn't a five-man unit that's recorded a higher offensive rating or a larger point differential in its favor. This isn't Orlando's most-used unit -- that would be the starters with Jason Richardson at shooting guard instead of Redick (402 minutes on the floor versus 178). The starting five aren't chopped liver, but the Redick-at-the-2 unit blows them away.

In many respects, this unit evokes the halcyon days of the Magic, circa 2009. Stan Van Gundy is one of the great pragmatists in the league. He deftly appraises his personnel on the floor and always seems to find a way to maximize those players' strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. These are familiar schemes that leverage Howard's presence down low to open up the perimeter for the Magic's snipers along the perimeter -- specifically Redick and Anderson.

Many times it starts with a high pick-and-roll with Nelson and Howard. The Magic get penetration or a deep feed to Howard in the paint, which forces the defense to collapse. When that happens, you know the drill -- a kickout to Redick or to a lifted Anderson for a clean look at a 3-pointer. Nelson has also developed a nice pick-and-pop rhythm with Anderson to find him open shots.

Other times, they initiate offense through Turkoglu on the left side. Turkoglu's efficiency numbers have fallen off since 2009 (he's shooting poorly and turning the ball over too frequently), but he's still capable of putting the ball on the floor and finding shots for others, and getting Howard the ball where he likes it. Redick is in constant motion in the Magic's half-court sets, breezing around baseline screens, getting free via pin-downs and using his escape dribble along the perimeter to find space.

And that's how an NBA unit chalks up a gaudy true shooting percentage of 60.5 percent, even with a below-average free throw rate.

How it works defensively
This unit earns its money on the offensive end -- a 98.4 defensive rating isn't anything to be ashamed of, but doesn't qualify as elite. Still, these five are getting a sufficient number of stops.

Unlike their contemporaries up in Chicago, Orlando places more of a premium on chasing shooters off the 3-point line, and they have the luxury of staying at home because they have a very large man with very broad shoulders manning the basket area and cleaning up any blow-bys that might occur. How is that going? Opponents are shooting 24 percent from beyond the arc against this unit and converting only 4.8 3-pointers per game. That is what chopped liver tastes like.

As imposing as Howard is under the basket, altering shots and intimidating, his pick-and-roll defense is also a key ingredient to this unit's defensive success. The Magic don't need to rotate all that often and, when they do, Howard recovers promptly to the back line and those rotators can immediately dash back to the perimeter where they can contest long shots with a close out, or just stagnate the offense.

One-on-one defense can occasionally be problematic, but Redick's tenacity -- both on-the-ball and chasing rabbits like Ray Allen around screens -- is vastly underrated. Turkoglu is no Tony Allen, but his length and awareness of where Howard is lurking makes him an adequate defender, as well. Finally, Nelson is a sturdy fireplug who can use his strength to bother opposing point guards, though he does yield his share of blow-bys.


Miami HeatMiami Heat
PG Mario Chalmers  SG Dwyane Wade  SF LeBron James  PF Chris Bosh  C Joel Anthony
Minutes Played: 389
Offensive Rating: 109.9 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 94.7 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
This past summer, Erik Spoelstra immersed himself in a single exercise: Examine how he could make life easier for the Heat's offense by diversifying their attack. In 2010-11, Spoelstra grappled with several strategies -- elements of the Rick Adelman's corner offense, "elbow sets" run through Bosh with multiple triggers and even some old Hubie Brown sets to free up shooters. The Heat finished the season as the NBA's third-ranked offense.

Spoelstra came to a realization, one that didn't necessarily conform to his natural instincts: The Heat could do better, and to achieve that improvement, it would require less conventional structure. He has freed up James and Wade, made transition opportunities and early offense priorities (Miami has gone from 21st in pace last season to 12th this season) and found new ways to space the floor.

So far as Wade and James, they have one imperative -- catch the ball and attack and don't allow the defense to set. No more dawdling at the top of the floor, waiting for stuff that never materializes. Off that, the Heat have found gold with Chalmers' vastly improved outside shot. The Heat were assembled with the idea that James and Wade would have quality shooters primed for kickouts, and with Chalmers, they have a teammate shooting 44.3 percent from 3-point-land.

Fewer sets are being run through Bosh at the high post with this unit, though he's still able to facilitate when the pace settles into a more deliberate, half-court game. Many of those sets that started with Bosh at the high post are now being initiated with James at the "Karl Malone" spot off the mid-post. Meanwhile, Bosh and Anthony screen with the best of them -- especially to lend space for Wade to attack -- and Bosh is still superb at lifting to a spot 18 feet away from the hoop for a no-dribble J.

How it works defensively
Spoelstra is still experimenting and tinkering with the Heat's schemes. Many a night, Miami is flirting with a Thibodeau-style strongside strategy, but one with a bit less structure and more freedom for James and Wade to rove. This isn't coming without costs: This unit is giving up 19.2 3-point attempts per 48 minutes, and opponents are shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc in the process.

The Heat are aware of the shortcoming and seem willing to tolerate a few gimmes on the perimeter in service of their larger defensive goal -- create chaos. That means more ball pressure than ever from Chalmers, and Bosh and Anthony jumping out with impunity on every ball screen. When it comes to defending the pick-and-roll, Bosh and Anthony might be the best big man tandem in the business at showing hard and recovering to the right spot on the back line.

Most of all, Spoelstra is encouraging James and Wade to operate as free safeties in what can be described as a quasi-two-man zone. Spoelstra's nature favors order over chaos and he traditionally has discouraged gambling, but he's come to appreciate that doubling-down on his team's athleticism makes good sense.

The results are there. Opponents are turning the ball 16.8 times per 48 minutes against this group. More impressive, the unit generates 23.3 points per 48 minutes off these turnovers and 22.5 fast-break points per 48 minutes. There simply isn't a defense in the world that can stop James and Wade in the open floor and the Heat's newfound guerrilla defense has maximized these opportunities.

Six first-time All-Stars headed to Orlando

February, 10, 2012
2/10/12
5:16
PM ET
By Ernest Tolden, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
A look at the six players making their first All-Star Game appearance this season.

• Luol Deng, who is averaging 16.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, is one of two All-Stars from the Chicago Bulls. Deng has been arguably the most valuable defender on one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.

When Deng is on the court, the Bulls are allowing just 90.9 points per 100 possessions. When he’s off the floor, that number jumps to 99.9 and opponents are shooting almost three percentage points better from the field.

• At 18-8, the Philadelphia 76ers are off to their best 26-game start since the 2000-01 season, a year they went to the NBA Finals. A large part of their success this season has been due to the play of Andre Iguodala, who is averaging career highs in 3-point percentage (39.0) and rebounds (6.7).

Iguodala has been most productive in transition this season where he’s collected 86 points, the most he’s recorded among all play types.

• In his fourth season, Roy Hibbert has blossomed into one of the best young centers in the NBA. He’s averaging career highs in points (13.6), rebounds (9.9) and field goal percentage (50.9). Hibbert’s biggest improvement has been in the post.

• Andrew Bynum is averaging careers highs in points (17.1) and rebounds (12.6), and is one of only three players in the NBA averaging at least 17 points and 12 rebounds this season. Bynum has done his damage close to the basket; his 5.5 field goals per game inside five feet are second in the NBA only to his All-Star teammate Blake Griffin (6.1).

• LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging a career-high 23.3 points per game, fifth in the NBA. He’s been dominant in the halfcourt offense where he’s scored 564 points this season, second behind only Kobe Bryant.

• Despite older brother Pau being left off the team, little brother Marc Gasol will be a Western Conference reserve as the only All-Star from the Memphis Grizzlies.

Gasol has established himself as one of the elite post defenders in the NBA; he’s averaging a career-high 2.2 blocks per game (fourth in the NBA), and among players who’ve defended at least 50 post-up plays, he’s allowing the third-fewest points per play this season (0.58).

Why Bulls fans needn't worry about injuries

January, 29, 2012
1/29/12
12:51
AM ET
By Ernest Tolden, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Over the past few weeks, some of the Chicago Bulls' key players have been hit with the injury bug. Starting point guard and reigning league MVP Derrick Rose has been nursing turf toe on his left foot. Big men Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are nursing ankle injuries and starting small forward Luol Deng has a torn ligament in his non-shooting wrist that has kept him sidelined the past few games, and maybe longer.

The Bulls, who currently lead the Eastern Conference by two games over the Miami Heat, should be able to stay afloat. Below are three reasons that Bulls fans shouldn’t be worried.

Bench mob
Kyle Korver
Korver
The Bulls are one of the deepest teams in the league with reserves who play specific roles on both ends of the court.

Kyle Korver continues to be one of the best shooters in the NBA, primarily in spot-up situations. His 1.30 points per play leads the team and ranks fifth in the NBA among players with at least 40 spot-up plays this season. Korver is fourth in the NBA in three-point field goals off the bench with 28.

Backup point guard C.J. Watson has developed into a reliable floor general behind Rose. He leads the Bulls’ primary bench players in scoring, averaging 7.7 points in games he’s come off the bench. Watson has also been one of the Bulls’ best spot-up shooters; he’s second behind Korver on the team with 1.22 points per play in spot-up situations.

Inside, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson continue to be the Bulls’ defensive enforcers. Their 26 blocks each are tied for second in the NBA among players in games they did not start.

Defense
The Bulls’ defense remain one of the best in the NBA. This season, they're allowing just 87.0 points per game, the fewest in the league.

Chicago is fourth in the NBA in opponents’ points per play (0.81) and sixth in opponents' score percentage (39.6) in the half court.

The Bulls have also limited their opponents' production close to the basket, allowing an NBA-low 49.6 points per game within 10 feet of the rim.

Derrick Rose
Above all, Rose remains the key to the Bulls holding their season together. His scoring average is down from 25.0 points last season to 21.9 points this season, but he’s become more efficient in the offense, attempting fewer shots and averaging a career-high 7.9 assists.

Being the ball handler in the pick and roll has become Rose’s specialty. He’s scoring 1.02 points per play in that type of offense, ranking fourth in the NBA among players with at least 50 plays. Rose has also increased his shooting percentage (49.0) and percentage of plays he’s scored (48.1) as the pick and roll ball handler to almost 50 percent.

Seats of no particular temperature

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
5:08
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
In a couple of weeks, we'll start hearing the inevitable chatter about hot seats in the NBA. The formula for who rides the hot seat is pretty reliable. The coach's team has underperformed and his critics believe he has been given ample time to succeed. His contract can't be too onerous because most teams don't enjoy subsidizing the salaries of broadcast commentators, which is the landing spot for many departed coaches.

There's a certain allure to death pools and elimination reality shows, but there are far more interesting sideshows this season than the guillotine. Some of the coaching ranks’ highest achievers have fascinating challenges in front of them:

Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Challenge: Use the Bulls' ball-moving big men

Among the unintended consequences of winning 62 games and coach of the year in your inaugural season as a head coach are the expectations that bubble to the surface in Season 2. That's Thibodeau's burden as the Bulls try to topple the Heat for the East's crown.

The Bulls' defense can't get much better than it was in 2010-11, but their offense finished the season as the league's 12th-most efficient. Derrick Rose is a domineering point guard who thrives in isolation and in high pick-and-rolls, so it's tempting to leave well enough alone and allow the MVP to do his thing. But there's something missing from the Bulls' half-court offense, deficiencies that became glaring against Miami (and at times, against Atlanta and Indiana) last spring.

The Bulls' personnel is simply too skilled, too versatile and too big not to finish as a top-10 offense. In Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls feature two of the best and smartest passing big men in the game. Their ability to create opportunities out of the high post should give the Bulls a ton of options. Then there's Rip Hamilton, Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng -- three wings who have the capacity to run a combined 25 miles of cuts, curls and flares over the course of a game.

With a team populated with this combination of talent, there's really no excuse for stagnation. Can the Bulls find their groove this season?

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Challenge: Life in a world in which Tim Duncan doesn't warrant a double-team

There's still no better technician in basketball than Popovich, and last season's 62-win regular season was a testimonial to that.

So much of what the Spurs have been running over the past decade or so revolves around the Spurs' guards looking for Duncan on the block early and late in sets. Traditionally, defenses have been so attuned to Duncan's presence that either A) they end up leaving seams through which Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can glide to the rim or B) they front Duncan, which leaves the back door open or C) they're forced to double-team Duncan on the block, which opens up clean looks on the perimeter for the Spurs' snipers.

The Spurs have been adjusting to a world in which Duncan's rim rum, deep seal and quick spin no longer compose the league's most deadly attack, and haven't missed a beat. They finished second in offensive efficiency last season by putting more of a premium on spacing and creating double gaps for dribble penetration. Watching that process continue this season will make for compelling basketball.

Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Challenge: Keeping the faith

There isn't a coach in the NBA who took a more sober look at his playbook during the offseason than Spoelstra.

As narrated by Tom Haberstroh last week, the Heat's cerebral head coach went on a coaching tour that included a couple of visits with the architect of the Oregon Ducks' spread offense -- which is played on the gridiron. Take that spread offense, add a few parts Rick Adelman and a dash of John Calipari, and you have the Heat's new high-octane offense that has racked up a scintillating 207 possessions in two games against slow-pokes Dallas and Boston.

The Heat's early success must be liberating for Spoelstra, as his team has taken to the change in philosophy like pigs in slop. Spoelstra is one of the league's most resourceful coaches -- a coach whose strength has always been preparation, precision and tactical strategy. But what happens if the Heat struggle?

Spoelstra thrives on order, and might be tempted to impose a little of it on his team. The trick for him will be finding that equilibrium between structure and freedom, a place where the Heat can still exploit teams with speed and athleticism but have a sense of purpose when the game situation demands it. That will mean remaining faithful to the principles of pace and space and keeping his foot off the break -- but also figuring out how to slip wrinkles into the offense so that it doesn't fly off the rails.

Wednesday Bullets

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
4:23
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Whither the franchise tag -- or designated player -- that was one of the major talking points last summer when a discussion of the next collective bargaining agreement was just getting underway? Zach Lowe of Point Forward revisits the idea, and looks at the repercussions of such a rule.

    My general feeling is that, no matter how much you incentivize a player to stay put with his existing team, it's still inordinately difficult to convince a guy to stay in a place he deems undesirable. As Lowe points out, eliminating the sign-and-trade and extend-and-trade will prevent suitors from manipulating the system so that they can offer a defector more money and more years, but it's still hard to imagine a world where Top 20 players stick around for a extra dollars and an extra year. Regarding the latter, locking in an extra season isn't all that compelling to a young superstar. In many cases, he's likely to score a heftier salary in the first year of his next deal (To wit, look at how many superstars are negotiating opt-outs after the third year of lengthier deals). And as Miami's superstars proved last summer, superstars are willing to take less money in a more desirable locale.
  • Given how well Lamar Odom played during his stint with Team USA, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times says Odom would be wise to look overseas during the lockout.
  • Charles Barkley takes a victory lap for his clairvoyance (at 1:21:40 mark of interview with ESPN Chicago): "Oh I was the first one. If you go back and look, I remember I was on a TV show last year when the season was going on; they asked me about next year, and I said ‘dude, I don’t think there’s going to be a season at all next year.’ And everybody looked at me like ‘that dude’s crazy.’ What I always knew was the owners were going to get the deal they wanted or they were not going to play."
  • Politicians, restaurant owners and a vodka company's CEO will issue demands to the Knicks that the team has already granted -- full refunds with interest for season ticket holders.
  • Did Tyson Chandler's injury history coupled with his free agent status inform his decision to reportedly turn down an offer from the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions?
  • I was supposed to be at the Wizards-Celtics game in Washington last night. Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus continues his Sim Season series and tells us that I didn't miss anything, apart from a 3-for-14 night from John Wall. Doolittle's simulation doesn't track the keystone cop moments JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche had on defensive rotations along the back line, but the 108-94 final score in Boston's favor suggests they were plentiful.
  • Twenty-eight years ago tonight, the Trail Blazers beat the Nuggets 156-116. After the game, Nuggets head coach Doug Moe confessed that, once the rout was on, he told his team to let the Trail Blazers score. Via the Oregonian: "'Our defense was getting so tenacious, I was afraid they (the Blazers) wouldn’t get to 150,' Moe said in laughing off his actions afterward. 'And they (the Portland fans) wanted it bad. I just told the team to back off and let them have it. I said, "Part the seas."'"
  • Luol Deng is loving Arsenal veteran Alex Song.
  • Metta World Peace: Courting danger on the dance floor.
  • Life after the Association for Lamond Murray.

Tuesday Bullets

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
1:28
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Heat can't go cold from outside in Game 2

May, 18, 2011
5/18/11
2:52
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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The three regular-season games between the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat were decided by a combined 8 points -- and LeBron James did not play in one game. But, the fact still remains:

The Bulls are 4-0 this season against the Heat.

The Heat are down 1-0 in the Eastern Conference finals following their 21-point loss in Game 1. And, although it’s a small sample of just two games, the Heat were 0-2 during the regular season in games immediately after a 20-point loss.

• On Jan. 13, the Heat lost by 28 points at Denver then lost their next game, which was at Chicago, 99-96. (LeBron James missed both games with a sprained ankle.)

• On March 4, the Heat lost by 30 at San Antonio, and followed that up with a 1-point loss at the Bulls.

A bigger sample is this, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau: Each of the previous 23 teams that lost Game 1 of a best-of-seven playoff series by more than 20 points ended up losing that series.

One more note working against the Heat is that LeBron James has lost four of the previous five postseason series in which his team (the Cleveland Cavaliers) lost Game 1. Dwyane Wade and the Heat have lost five of the seven playoff series when losing Game 1, although one of those series wins came when they were down 2-0 in the 2006 NBA Finals and came back to beat the Dallas Mavericks in six games.

Game 2: What To Watch
The Bulls’ ability to rebound at the offensive end (19 offensive boards in Game 1) not only resulted in 31 second-chance points, but put the brakes on Miami’s transition game. In the first two rounds, 52 percent of the Heat’s transition opportunities came from defensive rebounds, and they scored 54 of their 114 transition points on those plays. In Game 1 against Chicago, Miami was able to generate transition opportunities on only two of their seven defensive boards, scoring just two points.

Miami will have to shoot better from the perimeter tonight. The Heat made just seven field goals outside 15 feet in Game 1, matching the fewest they made from that distance in a game, regular season and playoff games combined. Conversely, the Bulls shot 44.2 percent from the perimeter in Game 1 (19-43).

James was not able to attack the basket in Game 1, thanks in part to Luol Deng’s defense. James averaged 14 points per game in two regular-season games when he was guarded by Deng, but was held to just six points against Deng in Game 1.

Although Deng was able to stop James for one game, no one this postseason has been able to shut down Derrick Rose. He’s averaging nine points per game inside of five feet -- only Dwight Howard has averaged more this postseason (12.7).

Unlikely combo leads Bulls in fourth

May, 11, 2011
5/11/11
12:38
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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It must have seemed like déjà vu for the Chicago Bulls, with 69 points through three quarters and entering the fourth with a slim lead. But, after being outscored by 14 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4, Chicago bounced back to defeat the Atlanta Hawks with a strong finish in Game 5.

In the fourth quarter of Game 4, the Bulls allowed the Hawks to shoot 65 percent from the field and got sloppy, committing five turnovers. On Tuesday night, Chicago held Atlanta to 31.3 percent field goal shooting in the final frame thanks to an unlikely combination of players.

At 1:58 of the third, Carlos Boozer joined Joakim Noah on the bench, where the two would remain the rest of the game. The Bulls trotted out a five-man unit of Derrick Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. They played the next 12 minutes and 53 seconds together, turning a one-point lead into a 12-point lead. Prior to Game 5, that unit played just four minutes together in the playoffs.

Gibson scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, while Asik grabbed three rebounds and added a blocked shot. They led a bench that contributed 13 fourth-quarter points in Game 5 after scoring just four points in the last quarter of Game 4.

Rose (33 points) continued his strong postseason play, notching his third consecutive 30-point performance. He really turned it on to begin the fourth, scoring or assisting on eight of the Bulls' first nine baskets. He finished with 11 points and three assists in the fourth.

For the Hawks, their struggles shooting from distance hurt them in Game 5, particularly the duo of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford.

In order for Atlanta to have success against Chicago, the Hawks need Crawford and Johnson to make jump shots. The two were just 3-for-14 from 15-plus feet on Tuesday.

In the Hawks two wins this series, the pair have shot over 53 percent from 15 feet and beyond. In the three losses, they have shot only 30 percent from that range, scoring less than 10 points per game from that distance.

The Hawks struggled from deep, going just 1-for-12 from 3-point range, with Johnson and Crawford combining to go 1-for-9. Atlanta is just 10-for-40 from 3-point range in its three losses during the series, while 11-for-24 in its two wins.

Writing was on the wall in Bulls win

April, 16, 2011
4/16/11
4:56
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
On the surface, the Chicago Bulls' comeback in Game 1 on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers was jarring.

But a look deeper proves that you should have expected it all along.

The Bulls had the NBA's best fourth-quarter scoring differential this season at +187 -- 68 points better than any other team in the league. Meanwhile, the Pacers were -126 in fourth quarters, ranking 28th in the NBA (only the Raptors and Timberwolves were worse).

Chicago won four games this season when it trailed by eight or more entering the final quarter. Combining the regular season with this very young postseason, the Bulls are now tied with the Mavericks for the most wins this season when trailing entering the fourth, with 12.

The Bulls began their closing run with two Luol Deng free throws with 3:28 remaining. From that point forward the Pacers didn't make a field goal while the Bulls went 5-of-8 from the field and 5-of-6 at the free throw line.

The Bulls took their first lead of the game when Kyle Korver hit a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left. That's classic Korver. The former Creighton star made 58 three-point field goals in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, tops in the NBA.

But you want to hear about Derrick Rose and how he put his team on his back for the win while pouring in 39 points. Nineteen of his points came from the charity stripe, the most by a player in a playoff game since Kobe Bryant in 2008 (21).

With 4:52 remaining in the game and the Bulls trailing by five, Luol Deng picked up a technical foul. Deng appeared to spark his All-Star teammate as Rose single-handily outscored the Pacers the rest of the way. He either scored or assisted on 14 of the Bulls' final 18 points.

There's still room to improve for the 2011 MVP candidate. Rose scored 35 of his 39 points either at the free-throw line or on field goals inside of 10 feet of the basket. He was 2-11 from outside 10 feet Saturday and came up empty on all nine of his three-point attempts. Only two other players in the last 20 postseasons have attempted at least nine trifectas and made none. Rashard Lewis was the last in 2008 and the other was John Starks, who famously went 0-11 in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

James homecoming 'king' in Cleveland

December, 3, 2010
12/03/10
12:15
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Picking up their first road win since Halloween, Thursday’s victory at Cleveland was one of the most complete games of the season for the Miami Heat.

LeBron James
James
In his much-anticipated homecoming, LeBron James scored a season-high 38 points. He made 10 field goals beyond 15 feet, two shy of his career high in a game. Entering play Thursday, James was averaging just 2.8 field goals made per game beyond 15 feet.

The Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to outscore the Cleveland Cavaliers through three quarters, 73-65. Despite playing just 19 minutes together, Miami was +25 when the Big 3 were on the floor.

As a team, the Heat shot 56.6 percent from the floor, their second-highest percentage of the season.

James also did not commit a turnover, the most points he's ever scored in a game without committing a turnover. He’s the second player this season to score at least 38 points without committing a turnover. On Nov. 1, Luol Deng scored 40 against the Trail Blazers without turning the ball over.

It’s also the first time in five instances this season that Heat won both games when playing on consecutive days.

Half of Miami’s 12 wins this season have been by at least 20 points -- that's the most in the NBA this season. No other team has more than three 20-point wins.

From the Elias Sports Bureau: This was only the fourth time in NBA history that a player scored at least 38 points in his first game against a former team. The other players to do that were John Williamson against the Pacers in 1978 (38 points), Danny Ainge against Boston in 1989 (39) and Stephon Marbury against Minnesota in 2000 (39).

More From the Elias Sports Bureau: James shot 15-for-25 from the floor, the seventh game of his career in which he took at least 25 shots from the field and connected on at least 60 percent of them.

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