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Rashard Lewis Must Produce To Keep Heat From Elimination

While Boris Diaw has been vital for the success in the San Antonio Spurs' offense to run so flawlessly, Rashard Lewis has been the mirror to that for the Miami Heat offense. Several years ago, both players were on the cusp of being out of the league, yet here we are in late June of the 2014 season, and both are very much relevant. 

As mentioned here back in March, the loss of Mike Miller’s productivity has left the Heat role players with inconsistent play throughout the season. Outside of the Big Three, there has not been a reliable fourth option that has been able to knock down the three and provide an adequate defensive presence. Enter Ray Allen’s former Seattle running mate, Rashard Lewis.

After Chris Anderson was unable to suit up in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana, Lewis was thrust into the starting lineup at the four, and immediately provided the offensive spark and proper floor spacing that quickly bounced the Pacers.

“Rashard has been huge for us ever since he’s been inserted into our starting lineup, from the Indiana series.” LeBron James said. “He’s been in this position before. He’s been to the Finals with the Orlando Magic. He’s been in huge playoff games, and his experience and ability to knock down shots helps us out a lot. It spreads the floor for us, and every time he catches the ball, we tell him just to shoot it. Don’t think about nothing else besides shooting the ball, and we live with his results.”

Since then, Lewis has played in 25 plus minutes and scored in double digits, five of the six games—minus Game 4 of the Finals. He converted 18 of 39 three-point attempts (46 percent) during that span, and has been the cohesive piece that has kept the Heat afloat. 

As a team, the Heat are plus six on offense (per 100 possessions) and allow nine points less, when Lewis is on the floor. Over the past two weeks, Lewis leads his team in positive net rating.

Let’s not forget that Lewis’ tenure with the Heat has not always been this great. This is his second year with the Heat. He only played in 55 regular season games and averaged 14.4 minutes last season. In the playoffs last season that number dropped to 4.3 minutes, as he mostly watched from the sidelines. During the regular season of this year, Lewis merely averaged 16.2 minutes in 60 games. 

“You always want to stay mentally prepared,” Lewis says. “I knew, especially with Mike Miller not being here anymore, I knew we would have to go to someone on the bench who would need to step their game up and go win ball games. On any night, it can be someone different – it can be Shane Battier, James Jones, Toney Douglas or myself. I think we all know that, and all stay prepared and ready.”

With how great of a lift Lewis has provided for his team, the Heat still find themselves in a 3-1 deficit to the Spurs. Game 4 was where the wheels came off for Lewis, as he was an afterthought, playing in only 15 minutes and missing both three-point attempts he took. Lewis must knock down perimeter shots and react faster on defensive switches, if the Heat are to extend this series. 

As everyone knows, the Heat success is dependent on LeBron getting to the rim and either attacking the rim or kicking it out to open shooters. James can only do so much, and it is up for the role players to knock down open looks. With Lewis’ emergence, Shane Battier and James Jones have been bumped from the rotation and the Heat success is contingent on Lewis continuing to knock down open shots.

All the blame and praise LeBron gets is either unfairly misconstrued or largely embellished. Michael Jordan could not win titles without the proper steady support from the likes of Kerr, Paxson, and Rodman. Kobe and Shaq could not have won three straight titles without the help of Fisher, Fox, and Horry. The same applies to the Heat in this instance.

Zach LaVine: Everything's Contextual

- The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for just $3.99.

The other little part came from the one time out of two hundred when you would walk into the ballpark, find a seat on the aluminum plank in the fourth row directly behind the catcher, and see something no one else had seen - at least no one who knew the meaning of it. "If you see it once, it's there," says Erik. "There's always been that belief in scouting."

- Moneyball

Zach LaVine did not have an incredibly productive season as a freshman. There was no real reason he needed to declare for the draft - he was the second guard off the bench for UCLA and he averaged nine points a game. The Bruins lost in the Sweet 16 and his playing time decreased as the season went on. He’s the Platonic ideal of the one-and-done mentality, a guy who viewed college basketball as a pit stop to the NBA and became a pro as soon as he possibly could. 

Season

G

MP

FG

FGA

FG%

3P

3PA

3P%

FT

FTA

FT%

RB

AS

ST

BK

TO

PF

PTS

2013-14

37

24.4

3.4

7.8

.441

2.1

5.7

.375

2.1

3.1

.691

4.2

1.8

0.9

0.2

1.1

1.9

9.4

If you caught him on the wrong night, when he played only 10-15 minutes and spent most of his time spotting up off the ball, you would have wondered what the big deal was. He didn’t have a very consistent role in the UCLA offense. He was the fourth or fifth option and he didn’t have the chance to play with the ball in his hands  often. LaVine took more than 10 shots only 8 times all season, but if you caught him on some of those nights, he was doing some wild stuff.

I’ll never forget a game they played against Arizona State in early January, when he absolutely went off. He had 15 points in a 10-minute stretch in the first half - it was one of the most incredible stretches of basketball I’ve seen in a long time. He was effortlessly stroking step-back 3’s, doing windmills on the break like it was nothing and going wherever he wanted to go on the court. After a season’s worth of highlights in one half, he took one shot in the second.

That’s how it went for LaVine this season. He was backing up Jordan Adams, a high-level NBA prospect in his own right. When he was on the floor, he was usually playing with Kyle Anderson, another first-round pick in this year’s draft and Bryce Alford, a fellow freshman who scored 31 points in a game. Norman Powell, the Wear Twins and Tony Parker all got shots too. It was Anderson and Adams team and LaVine was one of many players in their supporting cast.

The only other game where he was given a chance to be a primary option came against Oregon, when Adams and Anderson were serving a one-game suspension. LaVine had 17 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in a 2OT loss - the only time all season where he played more than 30 minutes in a game. With Adams and Anderson gone, he would have played a ton as a sophomore, but he chose to go pro anyway, to the consternation of the college basketball media.

The assumption is that a guy with such a limited role as a college player is a long way from helping an NBA team, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Everything is contextual - a player can only be as good as the minutes and the role he’s given on a team. Not every freshman gets to walk into a situation like Kentucky and play 30-35 minutes a night. Some guys end up in situations where they can only get a certain amount of minutes, regardless of their talent.

From a tools perspective, LaVine is one of the most talented guards to come into the league in a long time. He’s not as big as Andrew Wiggins, but he’s every bit as athletic and he’s far more skilled. This is why I don’t trust high school recruiting rankings - I don’t understand how you could watch LaVine and think he is the No. 50 player in his class. He’s 6’5 180 with a 6’8 wingspan, he can jump out of the gym, shoot from anywhere and handle and pass like a PG.

He ran point for his high school team and that’s the position he might end up playing at the next level. He’s not nearly as thick as Russell Westbrook, but he’s a better shooter who can have a similar impact on the game. He would be bigger and faster than nearly everyone else at the position, which makes your life as a player pretty easy. LaVine may not be a pure PG, but he had a 1.81 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, a sign he makes good decisions with the ball.

He will need to gain some weight if he stays at SG, but he will be in the top 1% of athletes in the league regardless. While I doubt he will be given a starting spot right away, I think he’s much closer to helping an NBA team than his college stats suggest. His ceiling is Goran Dragic with Gerald Green’s athletic ability - I really don’t think there’s a limit to how good he can be. In my opinion, he has stardom written all over him. I’ve seen it once, so I know it’s there.

- This was an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for $3.99.

LeBron's One-Man Show Given Championship Lessons From Spurs

MIAMI – On perhaps his final march out of an NBA title run in the American Airlines Arena, LeBron James paced arm and arm with Dwyane Wade, matched attire and jaded eyes to a co-star regressing when the moment has called for his stardom. Inflicted a lesson in championship cohesion and historic levels of offensive potency, the cart ride out of the building couldn’t come swift enough, and so James greeted his two sons outside the locker room and he and Wade simply wore practice gear into a clear address on the state of mind, on the brink of Finals defeat.

James and Wade walked side by side as the clock eclipsed midnight, honest and stricken over consecutive annihilations conducted on the home floor of the Finals, and behind them an onlooker hollered the strangest remarks. “Keep it up, guys,” the man said. “Keep it up!” James had committed to his path forward, but Wade creased his face to the side, as if to grasp vision of the scene out of the corner of his eye. Nothing to keep up here, nothing to counter after a 107-86 loss on Thursday, and Wade continued his walk and caught up to James.

The San Antonio Spurs captured an insurmountable 3-1 lead in this Finals series, orchestrating the essence of the sport with selfless passing and constant movement – with, as Heat players privately said in the locker room, a flood of constant running and pitching of the ball. Run and pitch pass. Pitch and run.

Everyone played and everyone scored for the Spurs. Everyone furnished enthusiasm and everyone contributed to the cause.

As San Antonio amplifies its team morale, its team play, a back-to-back champion and the Earth’s best basketball player have been knocked into submission. James was Miami’s greatest advantage of all. The Spurs are cliché destroyers: The most talented, most reveled player in the NBA won’t tilt a championship, but rather succumb to waves upon waves of shot making and disruption.

“We need to go home, do soul searching and guys have to find out what they have to do for the team,” Chris Bosh said. “I’ll think about how we got our ass kicked. We’re not even giving ourselves a chance.”

All of these aging future Hall of Famers, all of these discarded parts, and purer basketball is found nowhere else. Shot clock running down, and only these Spurs become absolutely dependable, swinging passes side to side, plotting into the paint and exhausting every angle, every millisecond, for the optimal shot. James scores 28 points – 19 in a quarter – and strokes four three-pointers, and it’s all rendered useless. The rest of the starters missed 23 of 34 shots, and the bench was rudderless.

The Spurs are a machine, easing the game at the peak of their powers, teaching Miami a lesson in championship coherence. Suddenly, Boris Diaw has turned into a point guard, a 6-foot-8 specimen schooling Wade on defensive turns, on the low post and blowing past him. Suddenly, the Finals MVP award is up for grabs – a surging Kawhi Leonard and the steady Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in competition – a testament to sheer well roundedness and a brilliant roster design.

“I don’t think any of us were expecting this type of performance,” Erik Spoelstra said.

It was Miami receiving the clutch shooting and critical rebounding a year ago in this series, but Spoelstra’s reliant on dry production now. He’s desperate to gain a defensive control, for turnovers to create havoc in the open court. Through four games, Miami still hasn’t scored 100 points, unable to run the way that the Western Conference trained the Spurs.

The end is near now, no Finalist ever recovering from this 3-1 pit. No one in the Miami organization places any scenario past Pat Riley come July. James needs more reliable shooters around him, needs fresher players to crash the rebounding glass and provide flexibility on defense. He needs his co-stars reliable in the most important times. Just within the past week, the Heat held a free agent mini-camp, including bringing last June’s draft pick, James Ennis, to Miami, and Ennis and Justin Hamilton will headline the franchise’s summer league team.

In the corridor of their home arena, James and Wade walked shoulder to shoulder, no sharp suits or mountain hats or designed outfits crafted by stylists. They had wanted a quick resolution to the press conference, had no time to waste. Given the NBA’s dress code, Wade and James decided upon the Miami Heat’s official gear, a team official told RealGM, and then hopped onto the cart ride to the team bus, onto a plane to San Antonio.

Here was a one-man show in the ultimate must-win game, and a flurry of no-shows. The beauty of team basketball is knocking the generation’s best talent to the brink of title failure, the fate of his youthful 2007 Finals all over again. One more game to stand on now, one more opportunity for a championship cast to support LeBron James.

“If not, then it’ll be over,” Wade said.

The Updated Stepien List

While daunting at first, the Stepien Rule boils down to one thing: an NBA team cannot be without a first round pick for two consecutive years looking forward and completed drafts do not matter.

The Present And Future Of Lance Stephenson

For all the trouble and ‘lines-crossed’ that Lance Stephenson brings to the table, it is easy to overlook that he is only 23 years old and still learning how to be a professional. In this day and age in the league, young talented swingmen don’t grow on trees, especially not one in the second round.

Previewing NBA Finals Game 3: Adjustments Over Time & On The Fly

Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich have made a series of adjustments over a period of several years to get to this point of sophistication in their offense and as this series advances into Game 3, their ability to find viable Plans B and C will be the difference with these two teams so evenly matched.

Finals In Their Prime

The Heat don't have an answer for Tim Duncan and the Spurs don't have an answer for LeBron James. The difference between the two all-time greats at this point is age and stamina.

Masters Of Space

If the last two NBA Finals are any indication, there's no stopping the trend of the corner three-pointer. A generation from now, you may not be able to play in the NBA if you can't shoot 3's.

The Big Mistake: Measurables Vs. Situation

When you are scouting a player in college, you have to scout his teammates and his coaching staff too. Just look at what's happened to Thomas Robinson and Andre Drummond in two NBA seasons.

The Tools: Five Basic Areas To Identify

The key to evaluating young basketball players and how their game will translate to the NBA is developing a universal framework that can be applied to every prospect.

Why Lance Stephenson Will Be Worth Every Penny

Just like Lance Stephenson, James Harden excelled in the role he was forced to play on the team that drafted him, but he was ready for a much bigger role. Don’t mistake opportunity for talent, especially not with a 23-year-old.

Heat Throttle Pacers, Who End Once-Promising Season Miserably

The Pacers owned the first four minutes of Game 6 before the Heat turned on the jets and coasted into the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.

George Erupts In Fourth, Pacers Hold On To Force Game 6 Against Heat

Paul George scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and LeBron James was hampered by foul trouble as the Pacers topped the Heat to force a Game 6 back in Miami.

The Gospel Of Length

The Thunder are the Oakland A's of the NBA, a franchise determined to build a perennial contender without breaking the bank in terms of payroll. The Heat sign ring-chasing vets; the Thunder run a finishing school for guys with supersized arms.

Is The Sophomore Leap Real?

The sophomore leap is real, but it is largely about freshmen correcting mistakes. For polished and skilled freshmen, don’t expect the same huge jump in efficiency.

Pacers Wallow Through Game 4 Loss, Face Early Elimination Against Heat

Chris Bosh scored the game's first eight points and the Heat never looked back in Game 4, pushing the Pacers to the brink as the series moves back to Indianapolis.

Pacers Lose Control In Second Quarter, Heat Dominate Second Half To Win Game 3

After the Pacers built a 15-point lead in the second quarter, Ray Allen helped the Heat put them away with a three-point barrage midway through the fourth.

Euroleague Final Four MVP Interview: Tyrese Rice Of Maccabi

Tyrese Rice is one of those players who had to advance through his basketball career the hard way, but he's now been named the MVP at the second best club championship competition in the world.

NBA Mock Draft, Version 1.0

With the Cavaliers, Bucks, 76ers, Magic and Jazz owning the first five picks, we can begin to examine what will go into the decision-making process of the the first 14 selection.

LeBron, Wade Dominate Late, Pacers Miss Chance To Take Commanding Lead

The Pacers were a few minutes away from taking a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade went on a game-winning run to save the Heat.

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