Tag Archives: Goran Dragic

Why Erik Spoelstra should be Coach of the Year

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A few years ago, people would have you believe that the Miami Heat could have anyone coaching the trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to their two NBA championships.

Those voices are eerily silent now, wonder why that would be?

Maybe because Erik Spoelstra has knitted together a group of rag tag players that have rebounded back from an 11-30 start to the season to being on the brink of the Eastern Conference playoffs. If they finish above .500, they will be the first team to recover from a 19-game deficit to be above that average at the end of the season.

It started with the end of an era, as Dwayne Wade decided to say farewell to the south coast and returned home. Combined with the admission that Bosh would likely never play the game due to reoccurring blood clots, Miami looked to be resetting to a rebuild of their roster.

They started by making sure their best prospect didn’t skip town. Hassan Whiteside was tied down to a big deal, anchoring the team alongside the likes of Goran Dragic and youngsters like Justice Winslow.

As previously mentioned, they floundered around early on. What did come out of every defeat, from every coach and broadcasting team, was despite their record the Heat would put in maximum effort for the entire game and never allow anyone an easy night.

Seemingly out of the playoff run by the turn of the year, they all of a sudden clicked into place. The defensive principles that the coach reminded them every night, the system to get more threes into their game and adding that to the effort they were already showing mixed into a potent cocktail.

From January 17th, they rattled off 13 straight victories that included wins against the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors. Including that run, Miami have gone 24-6 which has seen them go a game clear in the eighth spot in the playoffs and they have yet to lose two games back-to-back.

One factor in that has been their defence, which has been stellar all season. They rank 5th in the league in points allowed, they lead the league in three-pointers made in a game against them and every single night, just watching them rush round the court like a pack of Jack Russell’s, you know they play hard on that end of the floor.

What has changed in recent times is their offensive output, with their points per game average going up by a whopping 10 points per game for the months of February and March. The offence is finally clicking, players are believing in their ability and that confidence is flowing throughout the line-up.

Whiteside was a beast all year and is still currently leading the league in rebounds while sitting third in blocks. Dragic is a great point guard in a league filled with them, but those two alone were never going to be enough to push the Heat into the postseason.

Their push starts with Dion Waiters, the odd man out for many years has finally come out of the shadows. Averaging 15.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, all career highs and he isn’t afraid to take that big game shot, hitting huge game-winning threes against the Charlotte Hornets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, his old team.

No wonder he feels he has that Philly Cheese swag.

Add to that the Johnson brothers, Tyler and James, who bring such a burst of the bench. The former is averaging 13.8 points per game, justifying his expensive extension in the summer, while the latter is not far behind on 12.3 ppg.

Both are averaging over four boards and three assists per game and bring so much energy in the second quarters. Neither has started a game all season but when they are on the court, they allow Miami to switch gears but lose none of the intensity.

That’s saying nothing of other role players like Wayne Ellington, who’s been dynamite from three-point range in recent weeks, or Rodney McGruder, who doesn’t fill the box score but brings great defence every night. Willie Reed does plenty in his short minutes to give Whiteside a breather, Josh Richardson is growing into a fine player and they all add something to this time.

When you also think they’ve missed Justice Winslow in that stretch, especially just as he was ascending into the line-up, and the Heat finally have direction. Unlike so many other mid-card teams in the NBA, they have an identity, they have the right kind of players and they have a foundation they can hopefully pull an interesting rebuild into quickly.

Those that are fighting for that first seed are praying that the Heat either finish seventh or fade away. Even if a series goes 4-0, all of those teams know it will be an incredibly hard-fought battle to sweep a team that brings everything night in and night out.

While Mike D’Antoni has done wonders for the offensive juggernaut that is the Rockets but Spoelstra’s efforts, should the Heat get to the post-season, are beyond miraculous. They aren’t just a team, they are a culture and after their boom years of buying big, they now have a network from which they can structure another championship run.

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Has the East finally conquered the West in the NBA?

The Cavaliers lead the charge but the rest of the East has improved.  Source: Bleacher Report

The Cavaliers lead the charge but the rest of the East has improved. Source: Bleacher Report

It has been a running joke for almost the past decade that the Western Conference has held complete dominance over the Eastern equivalent in the NBA. Despite the East winning four of the last 10 NBA Finals, they have been demolished in terms of regular season wins and inter-conference games by those that play a little later here in the UK.

However, the balance of power looks to have shifted this year and in striking fashion.

The Eastern Conference have 10 players over .500 this season, similar to what we saw in the West last season, after just five teams managed that total in 2014/15. Whether that record continues will yet to be seen but adding to that, the team with the best record last season, the Atlanta Hawks, are currently outside of the playoff places despite going 14-12.

So how has this happened? The simple maths tells you that teams that struggled with injuries or chemistry last year have managed to pull it together. Other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were excellent last season too and could get better, most teams have had something that has changed their season.

Going down the confernce standings, the Chicago Bulls have a new coach that emphasises on offence and that’s getting the best out of the likes of Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott. It hasn’t been a rousing success, they are still waiting for Derrick Rose to return to MVP-like form that he may never reach and Jochaim Noah to find himself, but Chicago were pretty good last year too.

Paul George, a certainty for comeback of the year.  Source: Fox Sports

Paul George, a certainty for comeback of the year. Source: Fox Sports

The Indiana Pacers have been dramatically changed by returning All-Star Paul George, who is really playing on an MVP level.  He’s averaging 26.2 points per game, fifth best in the NBA, along with 7.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists. George put the power forward experiment to bed quickly and he’s proving why they should have never considered it in the first place.

Miami have all their pieces they traded for fit and ready to play. They have gelled well, they play some serious defence again and they have enough firepower to deal with any team. Dwayne Wade is ageless, Chris Bosh is still great, Hassan Whiteside is a monster in the making and Goran Dragic is the ideal point guard to add to that great mix.

Toronto haven’t changed too much, with DeMarre Carroll adding some strong defence, but they need to find more offence from somewhere other than DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They are possibly the best backcourt in the league and Jonas Valanciunas was growing into a solid piece until his injury, his return might be the spark they need.

The Hornets have just found their chemistry in Charlotte, especially after Lance Stephenson left. Nicolas Batum was always a good pickup, Jeremy Lin is actually playing good basketball and Al Jefferson is still a beast, before his silly suspension, then add the surprise form of Jeremy Lamb.

Orlando were a solid team just waiting to grow. They have three great guards, Nikola Vucevic is a really solid player and their coach is pulling them together. Detroit Pistons are another team that just needed to reduce the log jam as Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson look like pieces for their present and future.

The Magic, led by Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, have been a nice surprise.  Source: sircharlesincharge.com

The Magic, led by Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, have been a nice surprise. Source: sircharlesincharge.com

Teams like Atlanta are just outside, Boston have a good solid team that are well coached and New York have finally found some traction despite their poor record. Even the Milwaukee Bucks, who everyone thought could make the leap, have shown in flashes real brilliance and are certainly a team to keep an eye on. That’s also considering that Washington Wizards have a good team but just aren’t competing right now.

Looking into the deficiencies of the other conference and it’s the usual mix, big teams underperforming and players injured. The Los Angeles Clippers look to have finally got out of their early hump and the Houston Rockets are hanging in there despite still being in a funk.

New Orleans have had an abysmal injury crisis and Anthony Davis is not playing at his full level. Phoenix and Utah have not met expectations, the Kings are good but only on their day and Portland are really missing the star power behind Damien Lillard.

So is the East better now? On current evidence it’s hard to deny. Back in early December, the East was 57-55 on games against the West and that just shows you that the gap is not as big as it looks on paper comparing conferences.

It is good to see both conferences be competitive but at the same time, it is weighed against the dramatically poor starts from the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the real question becomes that come playoff time, can anyone knock off the Cavs? I’m not so sure yet.

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