## 29. Do Over: The View from Miami

I've always thought that the assist is the most over-rated statistic in basketball.

Think about it — when's the last time you heard a post-game expert say, "Portland won this game because they out-assisted Denver 19 to 12"?

The answer is never, because assists simply are not decisive factors in winning or losing a game. Assist totals are, at best, a statistic like single game +/- which is indicative of larger trends within a basketball contest. Particularly low assist totals, such as the team-record-low 7 collected by the Blazers on Saturday night in Orlando, might be indicative of poor movement away from the ball or excessive one-on-one play or an inability to hit open-look spot-up jumpers. (To what extent each of these things? Use your eyes and theorize, be an informed critic of basketball art...) Consistently low assist figures may be a warning flag for a self-centered, me first, gunning offensive mentality.

But decisive? No, one can not say that. Bad offensive design or poor hustle or ball greed might be the cause of a loss — but not a low assist total. There are lots of ways to lose a game, but that is not one of them.

Turnovers will lose a game for you. Allowing an opponent a high shooting percentage will lose a game for you. Not closing on open 3-point shooters will lose a game for you. Sending an opposing team to the (very efficient) free throw line too many times with fouls will lose a game for you. Failing to generate points efficiently yourself will lose a game for you. But a lack of assists? Never.

So why do many fans make such a big deal about assists? Why do people go to the work of calculating something as absurd as an "Assists-to-Turnovers Ratio" as if a good A:T ratio or a bad A:T ratio proves something or another? Why not a "Rebounds-to-Personal Fouls Ratio"? At least rebounding is a decisive factor in the question of who wins or loses a game...

After all, you do hear analysts say, "the Blazers won because they killed the Spurs on the glass, 45 to 32" or "Houston beat Portland because they had 8 more offensive rebounds than did the Blazers." If you get the boards, you are able to score points and your opponent is not. Rebounding is decisive. Assisting is not.

Seriously — who cares if a player has 14 assists or 10 assists or 5 assists or 1 assist? Obviously, the nights when Steve Nash has 12 assists are going to go better for the Phoenix Suns than nights when he has 4, but that's just another way of saying that the team hit some shots on the former night and which they didn't on the latter. Express that decisive fact in terms of shooting percentage or total points scored or points per possession — don't try and pretend causation where there is none.

By extension: of what value is a statistic like PER which pretends great value in the simple assist?

That so many otherwise intelligent people are in love with this pseudo-stat continues to baffle me...

Assists may be overrated stats, but that's not to say that there's no such thing as beautiful and productive passing...

### Channel Surfing.

Saturday, Dec. 19.

Los Angeles Lakers (20-4) at New Jersey Nets (2-25).

Wow, what a riveting matchup — the best team in the Western Conference hits the road to visit the worst team in the East.

Hmmm, how can we make this even more one-sided? Oh, I know — the Lakers were on 2 days rest while the Nets were back-to-back, coming off a game in Toronto declared by play-by-play man Marv Albert to have quite possibly been "the lowest point of the season" for the hapless franchise. In the Canadian capital the Nets had fallen behind by 37 at the half (70-33!!!), essentially quitting on their coach, former Blazer Kiki Vandeweghe. After the game Nets players proclaimed their effort "pitiful" (Chris Douglas-Roberts) and "embarrassing" (Rafer Alston) to the assembled media in the locker room.

Somewhere, Lawrence Frank was sipping scotch and smiling.

This Laker visit was essentially a crap game with a predictable result, so some random observations that you might find interesting:

• The Nets at least gave effort in this game, something for which the Nets broadcasters were thankful. Nets even had a 2 point lead at halftime. As many as zero people watching the game figured the final score would end this way.
• I jest you not: this was a home crowd for the Lakers, a fact noted by Marvelous. Every Los Angeles bucket was cheered with all the enthusiasm of the staid Staples Center courtside faithful. In the 3rd Quarter Kobe was on a fast break and got wrapped up by DevIn Harris to send him to the line. The crowd at Izod Center said: "BOOOOOOO!!!"
• Lakers had three guys in double figures for rebounds in this game: Pau Gasol 14, Lamar Odom 12, Kobe Bryant 10. I'm sure it's not the first time ever, but I don't recall ever having seen that happen before in the NBA.
• During the course of his career Phil Jackson played for the Nets, coached for the Nets, and was a broadcaster for the Nets. I rather doubt that any of these contributions to that franchise will put him in the Hall of Fame. PJ has also been the Head Coach of 10 of the last 19 NBA Championship teams, which is doubtlessly more notable.
• In the pregame rehearsal, Nets Power Forward Sean Williams, a big dude, was running backwards and wound up annihilating the chairs on the court that Marv Albert and his partner in crime, Jim Spanarkel, were sitting in, sending the two broadcasters flying. Maybe Marv will put himself on the next episode of his Albert Achievement Awards.
• I said in a previous column that Ben Wallace was the worst free throw shooter in the league. I stand corrected. Nets Forward Josh Boone is 7-for-27 on the season (25.9%) and utterly without hope.
• Lakers are now 14 wins in their last 15 games.

Kobe was game-high with 29, which was just as unsurprising as the final score. Lakers 103, Nets 84.

Well, dang, now I find myself wanting to see Marv Albert in his true native element — narrating sports follies on Letterman. Here's some rare old video of Marv exactly 20 years ago today, Dec. 21, 1989, recapping the sports hi-jinks of the year 1989.

Sunday, Dec. 20.

Portland Trail Blazers (16-12) at Miami Heat (13-11).

This felt like a pretty important game for the Blazers if they were to maintain their quest for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. While the Lakers are running away in the Western Conference, teams like San Antonio and Houston and even Denver look more mortal than ever. The Blazers need wins on the road while they are shorthanded to set themselves up for a stretch run when they're back to full force — and that means sneaking a victory or two against hot teams like the Miami Heat.

Still: starting a road back-to-back just 21 hours after their loss in Orlando, the Blazers had a tough row to hoe. They pulled on their overalls and went to work.

Blazers opened the game red hot, with LMA and Marty both seeking to atone for their Highly Challenged performance in Orlando. Blazers nailed 7 of their first 9 attempts from the field, which was swell. Sadly — and predictably — the jumpers stopped falling. Pryz picked up 2 fouls and hit the bench and the Blazers made 4 big boo-boos that resulted in 8 Miami points and ended the 1st Quarter looking at a 25-21 deficit.

The theme for Portland opening the 2nd Quarter was DEFENSE. Blazers cranked up the intensity and the Miami lead quickly vanished. Nate tried out his new toy, inserting NBADLer Anthony Tolliver at the 9:37 mark instead of The Inferno. Young Miami star Michael Beasley waited about 2 seconds before eating him for lunch, scoring an easy 2 at the rim which put Miami back into the lead. Beasley exposed Tolliver with 3 scores in a row, ending the newbie's 69 seconds of fame in humiliating fashion. By the end of the quarter, the Blazers' defensive energy had dissipated. Wade got to the rack again and again and again and the Heat pulled out to a comfortable 9 point lead. Brandon brought them back with a couple treys and the Blazers went to the locker room trailing by just 3. Whew.

In the 3rd Quarter, the Blazers played 'em gritty, defending shooters and slowing down the pace. Blazers caught them on the scoreboard at the 7:27 mark when Andre Miller hit an AND ONE from the free throw line. The Blazers then heated up and opened up a 10 point lead, going on an impressive 18-2 run which forced forcing not 1 but 2 Miami time outs . Then things turned. At the 4:03 mark came a flagrant foul call, rewarding a dramatic Wade flop into the standard with a 4 point possession. The Heat hit and Portland petered out. Miami's 10-0 run knotted the game with a minute and a half left to play. LMA finally ended the team's scoring drought and the Blazers finished up the 2nd with a narrow lead, 71-69.

The last quarter started thrashy and the sparse South Florida crowd woke up briefly from their slumber. The Heat capitalized on the energy and put PDX on the ropes. Miami was working the ball low and Portland settling for jumpers — and you know how that usually pans out. D-Wade was on fire and Portland didn't have a comparable superstar to score the ball, if you catch my drift. But then Roy got tough and drove it for a killer AND ONE at the 4:28 mark, following less than a minute later with a long trey to tie the game at 89. Down the stretch Nate's insertion of Andre during money time proved to be a small stroke of brilliance and the Blazers managed to pull away, hitting their shots and making some stops. Brandon did what Brandon does.

It was an impressive team effort which produced this badly needed win. The Blazers went to 17-5 all time in Miami with this big victory. Blazers 102, Miami 95.

Well, whip out that Popcorn Machine GAME FLOW SUMMARY, wouldja, and let's see what we can deduce... Click that link, if you please.

Observation 1: The only double-digit lead by either team all night came in the 3rd Quarter, when Portland momentarily held a 10 point advantage. That came to a close when the Precious Dwayne Wade took a little hip check and threw himself into the standard in agony like he got smacked in the head with a crowbar. Pathetic call of a flagrant foul, that was.

Observation 2: It was an 18-5 run down the stretch that won it for Portland. Heroes were the starters: Miller, Roy, Marty, LMA, and Pryz.

Observation 3: Portland's starters rocked the house — all 5 of them were in the black in the +/-, with Marty showing an impressive Plus-24. The reserves didn't fare so well — all 4 were in the red.

Observation 4: Nice scoring from 3 Blazers: Roy with 28, LMA with 23, and Andre with 17. Do it again, guys!

Now please grab your cat (or a small dog, if you're handicapped that way), chuck 'em on your lap, and join me in watching the latest installment of THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD:

Well, kids, it's time to get on with the real point of this exercise — visiting the typists of Miami to find out what they think about the little ol' Blazers-Heat game...

(1)

Miami Heat Scorched in the End of Loss to Trail Blazers: The Heat squandered a six-point lead with five minutes left to play against Portland and fell to 2-3 on its six-game homestand.

by Michael Wallace, Miami Herald

The Heat needed far more than perfection from Quentin Richardson and frustration from Dwyane Wade.

A bit of late-game defense and an ability to finish what it started would have gone a long way Sunday night. * * *

But it was Brandon Roy's shooting touch that torched Miami (13-12) with the game on the line. * * *

The stunning rally was capped by Roy's rainbow three-pointer from the wing over Wade's out-stretched arms. When the shot fell through, it left a feeling of helplessness for the Heat, which fell to 2-3 on its six-game homestand. * * *

(2)

Postgame Breakdown: Blazers 102, Heat 95

by Michael Wallace, On the Beat: Miami Heat blog (Miami Herald)

How can a team that had just turned a corner at home play so well for 42 minutes, carry a six-point lead with five minutes left, shoot 50 percent from the field, hold a sizable edge in points in the paint and have even a diminished Dwyane Wade down the stretch let this one slip away?

How? Easy.

Brandon Roy caught whatever hot flash Quentin Richardson was dealing with Sunday. As a result, Roy led the Blazers back to snatch a victory from the Heat's grasp in a 102-95 come-from-behind clinic at AmericanAirlines Arena. * * *

(3)

Miami Heat's Shaky Homestand Forces Erik Spoelstra's Team to Regroup

by Michael Wallace, Miami Herald

The Heat certainly didn't start its six-game homestand with the level of play coach Erik Spoelstra expected. The focus now is to salvage what it can at the finish.

After losing to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, Miami wraps up a two-week stretch at home by playing the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night.

After opening with blowout losses to Dallas and Memphis, which prompted some introspective team meetings, the Heat routed Toronto and Orlando. * * *

(4)

Brandon Roy Outplays Wade, as Blazers Edge Heat 102-95

by Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun Sentinel

MIAMI - In the end, the percentages got the best of the Miami Heat in Sunday's 102-95 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at AmericanAirlines Arena.

While Portland's Brandon Roy and the Heat's Dwyane Wade each finished with 28 points, Roy's efficiency, particularly at the finish, proved decisive.

Roy not only shot 11 of 14 from the field, but seized control after the Heat took a six-point lead with 5:28 to play, scoring 11 points in the final 4:28.

"I would say four or five of those were about as well-played as you could defend him," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Wade, by contrast, shot 13 of 31, on an odd night that saw him go without a rebound for only the fourth time in his seven-season career. * * *

(5)

Trail Blazers 102, Heat 95

by Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel Heat Blog

Observations from Sunday's 102-95 loss to the Trail Blazers at AmericanAirlines Arena:

• Emotions seemed to get the best of Dwyane Wade late, once as he trailed a play arguing for a goaltend, later with an ill-advised 3-point attempt in the final two minutes.
• It was an awful finish for the Heat, which also managed to squander a timeout in the final 1:59.
• In the end, Brandon Roy was more than just a mere Wade play-a-like.
• All in all, a bad loss, and, now, a bad homestand, doomed to no better than 3-3. * * *

(6)    Be Sure to Click Through to Read All of This One!

Steve Blake: Just Passing Through?

by Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel Miami Heat blog

*  *  *

Considering Brandon Roy also handles the ball for Portland, and that Jerryd Bayless has shown he deserves regular minutes, even if Nate McMillan doesn't necessarily view him as a point guard, Blake faces playing out the final season of his contract in a reduced role.

Unless.

Unless there is a homecoming for the Hollywood native, Miami Senior and Killian product and former teammate of Udonis Haslem.

Earning a reasonable \$4 million, Blake, 29, would fit into the trade exception the Heat received last February in its trade with the Raptors. * * *

(7)

Blazers Edge Heat

by Diego Quezada, Leaving It All on the Court (MVN)

With five minutes and 28 seconds left in the Miami Heat's game against the Portland Trail-Blazers, Dorell Wright had just made a layup to put the Heat ahead, 87-81. Now with some breathing room, Miami could pull out victorious to win its third straight game. But it didn't.

Blazers coach Nate McMillan called a timeout after Wright's layup; his team subsequently went on a run to win the game. Andre Miller made a layup of his own, and after the Heat came up empty on the other side of the court, Brandon Roy completed a three-point play. Suddenly, Miami's lead was just 87-86, and there were still more than four minutes left. * * *

This is definitely a tough loss to swallow. Miami hung in tough, but Wade could not answer Roy's fourth-quarter heroics down the stretch. The Heat can now do no better than 3-3 on its six-game home-stand. Its final game of the home-stand is Wednesday night against Utah.

(8)

Our Coach is Too Stubborn

posted by "GameTime 3" to Real GM Miami Heat message board

Were not going to win anything with a coach this stubborn. Spo needs to return to his tivo duties and leave the coaching to someone who can.

(9)

Terrible Coaching

posted by "DWade No. 3" to Real GM Heat message board

It's a banged up Wade. I mean, the whole defense just focused on him and even in prime shape and totally healthy it's a tough task for every player to take over just like that. Look at how hard Wade had to work to just get a shot off. It's ridiciulous. I could bet a part of Wade's shooting struggles are Spoelstra fault because he makes life harder for Dwyane.

What in the world have Beasley and Magloire done to him?! Why do we waste a big time talent and even if he plays well we don't play him?! Why don't we put Magloire in if we wanna win games?! The coaching right now is so much non-sense, it is beyond me what in the world he's thinking. I could bet Riley is preparing for a comeback next season because if he wants to win titles he either does it himself or gets an experienced coach in here who can adjust to opponents and make his superstar's life easy.

Look at Kobe in L.A.. Yeah he got a great team around him but he doesn't have to work half as hard for his shots as Dwyane has to. I'm so pissed about this terrible coaching. This is why we lost a lot of games already this year!!!

(10)

posted by "Cool D" to Real GM Miami Heat message board

Down the stretch, Wade was taking every shot.

When Wade got swated by Przybilla, which was a clean block to add, he started to go in his pissy moods. Wade looked like he became distracted just because of one call.

Am not even sure it was Beasley sub, it was Chalmers on the floor, he basically just stood there, if Wade is going to dribble the ball, why even have Chalmers, if Andre is going to abuse him. *  *  *

And More

* * *
Brandon Roy was playing like a badass, Is hard to defend the guy, because the guy is quick as hell in a deceptive kind of way.

Also give Portland credit, they stuck around, we had a mini meltdown, and they come out winners.
That is how you win games, you simply stay in the game, and make a run in the most critical moment.

Am honestly more bothered by the fans, they are the worst in the league. Some teams are able to get way more calls, because the fans are able to bully the refs into stupid calls. That is what homecourt advantage is all about, something we don't have.

(11)

posted by "Tim Hardawayy" to Real GM Miami Heat message board

The sad part is that opposing teams fans come on our board to laugh at how stupid Spo is. Is this not proof enough? Yet still you have fans that choose to be super optimists, and defend the coach no matter what goes wrong.

Roy outplayed Wade at the end, but you wanna know the difference? He had other options to go to on the court, including a young kid named LaMarcus Aldridge that was allowed to play 42 minutes and put up 23 shots.

Wade's help is named Michael Beasley, and he was given only 30 minutes and 13 shots, including benched during crunchtime.

(12)

Heat Continue to Struggle at Home on a Very Rough Sunday

by DolPhanDave, Peninsula is Mightier (SBN)

* * *
GAME NOTES

• What more can you say about Quentin Richardson and his value to this team? I hope the Heat find a way to hang on to this guy. 7-for-7 from the field, all from beyond the arc.
• I was pretty surprised when James Jones got off the bench in the 1st half. He hit his first trey, but hey...we always knew he could do that. Obviously there is more to why he can't seem to get any consistent minutes. * * *
• Since missing two games due to family issues, Jermaine O'Neal hasn't gotten his rebounding edge back. In four games he has 16 total boards (4 per game).
• While Michael Beasley did a decent job as the #1 scoring option with Wade on the bench, it was pretty apparent that LaMarcus Aldridge held the upper hand in the matchup. * * *

The Bottom Line:

1. Q-Rich was perfect, D-Wade was dinged, and Beasley was inexplicably on the bench...

2. Our team has lots and lots of trouble at home but are pretty darned good on the road. It's supposed to be the other way around. It's really weird. It probably has something to do with our lame crowd.

3. Drat you, Brandon Roy!

4. So whaddaya want for that Steve Blake guy? Does James Jones light your fire?

5. While you're at it — wanna trade coaches?

Here's something edifying...