Heat’s Kitchen Too Hot For Hawks In Atlanta

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Luol Deng makes a pass against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, February 19, 2016. 

Without All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the shorthanded Miami Heat took on the Atlanta Hawks last Friday in Atlanta. In a game that was within five points for a majority of regulation, the Heat were able to make clutch stops along with big shots to win 115-111. With only nine players available, the Heat were able to come out with intensity and tenacity on both sides of the floor to tie the Hawks for the number four seed in the Eastern Conference. The win also ties the Heat with the Hawks for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Luol Deng broke out and had a huge game with 30 points. Goran Dragic also had a  big night for the heat in the absence of Wade, chipping in 17 points and 10 assists. Off the bench, Heat forward Josh McRoberts contributed 19 points and 10 assists as well. As a team, the Heat were able to take a step up in the absence of their top two scorers and franchise players.

For the Heat, it was a true team effort. With each reach of the team stepping up on the road, one position that stepped up especially well were the Heat’s forwards. Justise Winslow and Luol Deng led the team in minutes played with just over 37 each. Josh McRoberts added a double-double off the bench. For Deng, the game was an especially efficient one. With his 30 points on just 17 shots, Deng was able to solidify a Heat offense that had struggled before the all-star break.

Looking forward, the Heat need to continue this solid play to move up as a top-4 seen in the East. With the return of Hassan Whiteside, Dwyane Wade, and hopefully Chris Bosh in the future, the Heat can become a team that no one wants to match up against in the playoffs.

Heat – Hawks Preview of Friday Matchup

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This Friday, February 19, the Miami Heat will take on their division rival Atlanta Hawks at the Philips Arena in Atlanta. Teams in the middle of the pack of the Eastern Conference are in need of a big push for the postseason. For the Miami Heat, the situation is no different. At 29-24, the Heat find themselves positioned at the 5 seed in the East.

To give an idea of how congested the standings are, the Heat are only two games out of the 3 seed and two games ahead of the 8 seed. As the season wears on, every game holds an immense amount of weight. The Heat’s upcoming game against the current 4 seed Atlanta Hawks carries extra importance for their division race as much as their conference race.

The last time the Heat matched up with the Hawks, the game was played at American Airlines Arena in Miami. The Heat came out with fire and intensity, leading to a spirited 105-87 win on their home floor. Chris Bosh led all Heat players with 18 points while also adding seven rebounds in his 34 minutes played.

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As the Heat look forward to their Friday matchup, the team is coming off a rough game against the Spurs. The Heat were handily beaten 119-101, and Heat Center Hassan Whiteside was ejected for elbowing Spurs Center Boban Marjanovic.

The team has much to improve on in order to beat a Hawks team coming off of a big win in Chicago against the Bulls last week. For the Heat to win, they will have to make three point shots, rebound, and not commit an excess number of turnovers.

In terms of health, the Heat will officially be without backup guard Tyler Johnson, who may miss the rest of the regular season due to shoulder surgery. Johnson is a key component of the team as one of the only two consistent three point shooters along with guard Gerald Green. The Heat will also be monitoring the minutes of Chris Bosh, who had to withdraw from participating in All-Star Weekend due to a strained calf.

Important Note:

The NBA Trade Deadline is set for this Thursday, February 18. A number of Heat players have been featured in trade talks, such as Center Hassan Whiteside, Forward Luol Deng, Forward Jarnell Stokes, and Guard Beno Udrih. As a result, a major trade could change the outlook of this game along with the Heat franchise’s outlook on the rest of this season.

Deirdre Pearsall Profile

While you may leave the game, the affects the experience has on you can linger in a positive way for years to come. That can be said about 20 year old Deirdre Pearsall, currently a third-year public relations major at the University of Florida. As a soccer player growing up, Pearsall quickly showed that she was a gifted athlete and a natural fit on the soccer pitch. In the 8th grade, she began to play travel ball. Her freshman year of high school, Pearsall already found herself on the Women’s Varsity High School team. From that point, she got better. After playing on the Varsity team her sophomore year, Pearsall was named and acted as the Varsity team captain both Junior and Senior year. At the end of her senior year, she had a decision to make: Continue pursuing soccer as a college athlete, or focus on being a student and betting on her work in the classroom and not on the field.

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Sometimes, it’s best to go out on top.

 

Pearsall decided that the life of a collegiate athlete was not one she wanted to live while also trying to manage her academics, her job, and her overall development while at UF. As a PR major, Deirdre has shown initiative and a robust work ethic that has allowed her to graduate in August 2016, two semesters early. When asked what she looks forward to as a Public Relations professional, Pearsall said she loves the world of branding. Whether it’s building someone’s personal image, or helping them create a profile that appeals to the line of work they are going into, she loves having the ability to make tangible change in a a difficult field.

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As Pearsall looks forward, she gains confidence from an internship she completed in the summer of 2015. While working for Orchid Island Events in North Carolina, she learned the ins and outs of event management that fit in perfectly with her minor in that field. After working for a few years, Pearsall believes that a graduate program, maybe even law school, could be a real option. As of now, she is ready to move on from the classroom and put her experiences and education to the test. All of the hours spent studying, working, and training have molded her into exactly the type of individual who could finish school early and never miss a beat.

1 TIMOTHY 4:12

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

RAFA BENITEZ: Race Against Time

It is the question on everyone’s lips at the moment. Ever since Real Madrid’s 0-4 defeat at the hands of a rampant F.C. Barcelona side, speculation over the future of the man at the helm has been incessant.

Was he ever the right man for the job? Can he truly get such a talented group of individuals to work as a cohesive unit and regularly produce the sort of football that saw them win an unprecedented tenth Champions League title under the tutelage of the universally adored Carlo Ancelotti?

The questions persist, but only time will have the answer. However, the clock is ticking, and while it may be to a tune that most Madridistas are used to, there may yet be an added casualty on this occasion.

As the managerial merry-go-round in Madrid continues to rear its ugly head, there is an air of dissatisfaction at the inevitability of what is to come for yet another manager in Madrid.

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Rafa Benitez boasts the distinction of having won a trophy or achieved promotion with every team he has managed since 1997, as well as the only coach to have won the UEFA Cup, UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. He is a product of the Real Madrid system, having joined the ranks at the age of 26 as a youth team manager, and eventually earning the position as assistant manager for the senior team.

Benitez would eventually move away from Madrid for a managing position at Tenerife in which he achieved promotion to the first division in his only season there. An astonishing achievement. He then went on to have successful spells at Valencia, a top La Liga side, and then Liverpool where he won a Champions League title in one of the most dramatic finales of all time. His Liverpool team had gone 3 goals down in the first half against a dominant A.C. Milan side, but clawed their way back miraculously to equalize in the second half, and eventually win during the penalty shootout. It was to be the biggest success of Benitez’s career to date, and one that marked him as one of the top managers in world football.

Today, the man who is at the helm for the biggest football club in the world does not command quite the same respect as he once did. He joined Real Madrid on the back of a rather underwhelming stint at Napoli in the Serie A, and was heavily linked with a job in London with West Ham United before a surprising move to the Spanish capital. His time at Madrid, while seemingly relatively successful on paper, has been largely unconvincing on the pitch. Defeats at the hands of Barcelona and Villarreal, as well as uninspiring displays against lesser opposition have cast massive clouds over Benitez’s future.

The statistics don’t tell the full story. While Benitez’s side may be faring well on paper, the football is lackluster, and the morale of the squad as a whole seems to be at an all-time low.

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Cristiano Ronaldo is not at his prolific best, and general belief is that the Tendinosis he suffers in his right knee may finally be hindering his play. He currently sits at 3rd top scorer in the league, but the majority of his goals have come against lesser opposition, and his failure to produce in the bigger matches this season has not gone unnoticed. Karim Benzema is dealing with legal issues, and the squad as a whole has been plagued with injuries from top to bottom.

At the weekend, in the league match against Rayo Vallecano, the pre-match announcement of Benitez’s name was met with discord from the Bernabeu faithful who then followed with chants of “Florentino dimisión” directed at Club President Florentino Perez. Real Madrid fell behind by 2 goals to 1 in the first 15 minutes of the match, but a massively controversial penalty and eventual second red card decision against the visitors from Vallecas turned the match on its head and set the home side on course for an absurd 10-2 victory.

A glance at the score line may tell us that Benitez’s side is flying high and scoring at will, but a closer analysis shows a side that may have otherwise struggled to comeback against a terrific Rayo side. It proved to be one of the least satisfying victories of all for the fans and players alike, as each goal was hardly celebrated by fans and players alike.

It doesn’t bode well for Benitez, despite the fact that he has been dealt a very difficult hand. Ultimately, it may prove to be the end of his turn on Real Madrid’s managerial merry-go-round, but such a decision would may have some collateral damage and Club President Perez may feel the effects. Perez already came under massive pressure after his dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti over the summer after his failure to win any of the 3 major trophies, despite producing the highly coveted ‘Decima’ just the summer before.

A decision to dismiss Benitez after a poor run of form would essentially be a concession of a mistake on Perez’s part, making it all the more unlikely. In the past however, his decisions have not exactly reflected rhyme or reason, and those hoping for Perez’s dismissal may hope his is so rash as to rid Benitez of his position as well.

Kristaps Porzingis and the NBA’s Obsession with European Players

151030013928-kristaps-porzingis-new-york-knicks-v-atlanta-hawks-1200x672In recent years, the NBA has become increasingly obsessed with finding the “next great European big-man sensation”. Each of these bigs with presumably untapped potential usually fits the Pau Gasol – Nikola Mirotic – Andrea Bargnani (pre-collapse) model of a front court player with outstanding perimeter skills that allow him to spread the defense thin and pose un-guardable mismatches for opposing teams. With the league shifting towards a more perimeter oriented style, favoring three-pointers (as evidenced by the now 20-0 Warriors), teams are increasingly interested in finding the players with traditional Power Forward size and range that extends out past the three-point line. Dirk Nowitzki, now on the tail end of his career, was seen as the epitome of this model: a seven-footer who could light up teams from the outside and leave the paint free for slashing guards to drive and kick. Since Nowitzki took the Mavericks to the Finals in 2006 – ultimately falling to the Miami Heat – teams have searched frantically for the Next Great European, and several players have failed in living up to that hype. Most notably, Andrea Bargnani – drafted number one overall in 2006, failed miserably in pursuit of this excellence. Following seven middling seasons in Toronto, the Raptors tired of waiting for their star to develop and traded him to New York, where he had a disastrous two years before finally landing with the Nets this season. Bargnani is just one of a long list of “next great European sensations”. Alas, there finally appears to be hope for the NBA’s European obsession.

The Knicks received significant backlash from fans after picking Kristaps Porzingis fourth overall in 2015. Many thought Phil Jackson had made a dire mistake taking the unknown European over known NCAA-produced commodities like Willie Cauley-Stein, Justise Winslow, Frank Kaminsky, and Stanley Johnson. Flash-forward to today, and you would be hard-pressed to find a Knicks fan who didn’t like the lanky Latvian – and for good reason. Take a look at the following two stat lines:

Player 1: 35.8 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, .461 FG%, .379 3PT%, .830 FT%, 17.5 PER.

Player 2: 28.0 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, .438 FG%, .357 3PT%. .836 FT%, 20.2 PER.

The first stat line represents Dirk Nowitzki’s second season in the NBA, when he finally became the nightly starter and was tasked with spearheading the Mavericks’ Offense with Michael Finley. The second line is Porzingis’s this season, as he has taken the league by storm with surprisingly strong play and amazing highlight plays on some of the league’s best big men, including Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Porzingis’s play has more importance to the Knicks than a couple put-back slams, though. He is currently third among rookies in Player Efficiency Rating, and tied with Karl-Anthony Towns for Estimated Wins Added at 2.4. John Hollinger also ranks him as the rookie with the highest Value Added, with a rating of 73.4, just topping Towns’s 73.1.

Porzingis’s scoring is one of the biggest reasons why he appears to be making his splash with the Knicks. According to the NBA’s Sport VU Player Tracking Data, 39.6% of Porzingis’s attempts are catch-and-shoot shots, and almost 69.8% of his shots are taken without taking a single dribble. Furthermore, a majority of his shots come with 15 seconds or less remaining on the shot clock. All the above data appears to indicate that Porzingis’s shots come as a result of ball movement within Head Coach Derek Fisher’s offense, and come off of passes from his teammates. Virtually all of his three-point attempts come off passes from teammates – an indicator that he isn’t forcing his own shots and instead shooting in the natural flow of the offense. He exhibited this exact strength in the Knicks’ December 4th win over the Nets, in which he scored 19 points while going 3-4 from deep.

Porzingis is defying the expectations set for him by fans all around the league, and appears poised to compete for Rookie of the Year with more expected candidates Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor. Porzingis’s style of play – very similar to that of Nowitzki – isn’t as grinding as those of Towns or Okafor, as he attacks more off face-ups than using back-down post moves. If he is able to sustain his level of play even half the length of Nowitzki’s career, the Knicks will have found a solid foundational piece for their franchise. The question European players, though, still remains: is Porzingis the standard for European bigs or simply an anomaly? NBA GM’s will hope that they can continue to tap into the market of big men in Europe looking to come to the United States to play, and hopefully, find more gold mine players like Porzingis, Mirotic, Nowitzki, and the Gasol Brothers. However, questions still plague many of the other European players in the League: Mario Hezonja showed promise in the Summer League, but has yet to make his mark with the Magic; meanwhile, Andrea Bargnani is attempting to revive his career after a catastrophic two years in New York that included this play:

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Time will only tell if any other European bigs pan out, but one thing is certain: Porzingis has made his mark and renewed the NBA’s obsession with European players.

What’s the status of the Timberwolves’ Rebuild?

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The Timberwolves’ rebuild has been an ongoing process now for almost ten years. The last time the team made the playoffs was 2004, behind then-28 year old MVP Kevin Garnett. Since then, the Timberwolves have had just one winning season, zero playoff berths, and have experienced front office failures in both the draft and free agency that leave outsiders scratching their heads. Is the rebuild working, or is it a lost cause?

The Good

Minnesota is a really young team. When looking at the average age of NBA rosters, they rank somewhere in the middle with an average age of 27.6. But if you look at the roster, no one in the team’s long-term plans is above the age of 30. Garnett is on his farewell tour and looking to transition into a front office or coaching role with the ‘Wolves; Andre Miller, amazing as he is, looks to be on his last legs at age 39; Tayshaun Prince is 35 and long-removed from his prime days with the Pistons; and Kevin Martin, at 32, has just two years left on his deal and will become a valuable trade chip next season.

Meanwhile, the remaining core of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and sidekicks has an average age of approximately 23 and a half – which would qualify as the second youngest roster in the league, trailing only the Sixers’ fledgling collection of rookies and D-Leaguers. However, the Timberwolves’ youthful core has significantly more talent than that Sixers squad. Led by Wiggins and his rapidly developing offensive game, the ‘Wolves have jumped out to a surprising 4-3 record and currently sit at 5th in the Western Conference.

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The Wolves’ core of Wiggins, Towns, Rubio, and LaVine looks to give opposing teams fits for years to come. Towns already looks at home in the NBA, with five double-doubles in his first seven games. Additionally, he has a PER of 22.1, which leads all rookies. He’s also shown that he can score efficiently in the NBA, with a True Shooting Percentage of .548, and he’s knocking down 91.3% of his free throws.

Wiggins’ offensive game has expanded over the offseason, and he’s displayed an eagerness to shoot jump shots early on in the season. Wiggins is scoring 19.8 points per game this season, up from 16.9 last season. His increased scoring has come from an increased use of pull-up jump shots, which make up about a third of his shots this season, per the NBA’s Sport VU Player Tracking System. He’s also upped his shot attempts per game from 13.9 to 17.8 and getting to the free throw line 6.5 times per game, indicating greater aggression on the offensive end and greater shouldering of the scoring burden.

Rubio is the perfect point guard to play with this young core: as one of the longest tenured players on the roster, his job will be to lead the team and get the ball to each of his offensive weapons in the best position to score – something he does extremely well. Rubio’s assists per game average has increased to nine per game, while averaging 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, and cutting his turnovers per game down from three to two. He’s averaging a double-double per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference, and the adjustments he’s made this year to his game have increased his PER from 15.2 last season to 21.5 this season. Towns and LaVine are shooting above 50% following a pass from Rubio, while rookie Nemanja Bjelica is shooting an ungodly 66% following a pass from Rubio, including 75% from three (Sport VU).

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio, left, of Spain, drives as Memphis Grizzlies’ Mike Conley pushes him in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Wolves’ bench units are equally intimidating. Gorgui Dieng has been solid at backup center, providing defense, rebounding, and the ability to knock down the midrange jump shot. Shabazz Muhammad has shown the ability to come in and provide an offensive spark off the bench. He also showed flashes of the offensive game he was expected to have coming into the 2013 Draft, and Minnesota will only hope his game will continue to develop.

The Not so Good

It’s tough to understand what direction this franchise wants to go in. Coming off a 16-66 season, it’s obvious that championship aspirations aren’t realistic this season. With the last two #1 picks in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the ‘Wolves hope that they’ve found their stars of the future, and now just need to put the pieces around them to win. However, the pieces they currently have around their stars leave one questioning what the plan is.

The Timberwolves’ young core has tons of potential, and obviously needs time to grow. This glaring need for experience is exactly what makes the team’s starting lineup so confusing: why does Tayshaun Prince start for this team? Starting LaVine at shooting guard and sliding Wiggins to small forward would allow a team that has no championship aspirations anyways to gain some valuable experience and develop skills that they don’t currently have. Garnett’s sentimental farewell tour in his 20th season presents another issue. Garnett clearly thinks of Minnesota as home; after all, it is where he got his start out of high school. And the organization obviously sees him the same way.

However, Garnett still starts, despite only playing 15.5 minutes per game and averaging 2.3 points and five rebounds in those contests. Sentimental value aside, starting Garnett takes away valuable minutes from younger players who need them. Adreian Payne, who was traded from Atlanta to Minnesota midseason last year, averaged 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 25 minutes last year with the Timberwolves. While those numbers aren’t too impressive, he did show potential to grow into a solid contributor and possible starter moving forward. However, following Garnett’s return to Minnesota, he’s seen his minutes per game fall to just 10.3 per game this year, and he’s fallen victim to far more “DNP – Coach’s Decisions” as a result.

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The Verdict

The old guard in Minnesota is valuable (Professor Andre Miller continues to serve up beautiful passing and displays of basketball IQ, even as he nears his 40th birthday this coming March). But, the young players need time to play and develop. The Timberwolves have done a good job rebuilding from the disaster that was the Kahn Era. The pieces collected by the late, great Flip Saunders appear to be gelling more and are young enough that they should be able to stick together for the foreseeable future.

However, the organization now finds itself at a crossroads: about half of Minnesota’s rotation depth is made up of the 30+ year olds who have no hope of improvement. This team does not have championship hopes this season – but it could in the not-so-distant future. In order to increase their chances of winning, Minnesota should shift minutes towards their younger players and fully commit to the rebuild.

Everybody Drops The Ball

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By Fernando Juncadella

The whole basis of this website is to make sense of the numbers on the field of play. However, this time I’m going to look at alarming numbers off of the field. So for those of you reading this to escape the real world, I suggest you stop now. What you are about to read is going to make you think, or at least I hope so.

What sparked my interest to write this piece was the national debate about Greg Hardy. To put it in a nutshell, Hardy was arrested and found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend (he appealed and the witness in the case never appeared in court), was suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and was controversially signed by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2015 offseason.

Recently, images from the police report of Hardy’s ex-girlfriend were leaked and displayed the severity of her injuries from the domestic dispute Hardy was found guilty of. This stirred the national media into a frenzy of outrage and disapproval. A whole other article can be written about the Hardy situation and its’ public reaction, but let’s focus on college football.

In each of the past three years, athletes in college football were arrested, charged or cited 100 more times than any other sport, professionally or collegiately. Yes, the numbers are skewed toward athletes playing college football, but that is still alarming considering the fact of how structured these athletes’ schedules are.

Very similarly to what people are saying about Greg Hardy, opposing college football fans love to rag on each other about how many “criminals” the other team has. The bigger the school, the bigger the criticism.

That’s especially true for the Florida State Seminoles. In 2014, eight football players were either arrested, charged or cited with a crime. None were bigger than Heisman trophy winner, James Winston, who was accused of rape (not calculated as an arrest/charge/cited). What was calculated, however, was his theft of crab legs. Head coach Jimbo Fisher and the entire Florida State football program was the center of national scrutiny for having an atmosphere where bad behavior was tolerated. But keep this in mind:

Most College Football Players Arrested/Charged/Cited By School In 2014

University of Tennessee – 11

Texas A&M University – 10

University of Georgia – 8

University of Kentucky – 7

University of Mississippi – 7

Florida State University – 7

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Did Butch Jones, Kevin Sumlin, Mark Richt, Mark Stoops, or Hugh Freeze receive close to half the criticism as Fisher did? No. Obviously, the severity of each crime ranges. The profile of each player ranges, the significance of each crime ranges, and a host of other factors. But, the gist of this piece is to understand something much bigger.

A part of college football that makes it special is how high schoolers all over the country play for their respective colleges and become one common force on the football field. Everybody has different nuts and bolts installed in their brain that make each person unique. Next time you attempt to dish out blind criticism at someone, try to understand everything about that person’s life. Certain people and programs get highlighted, but there is a greater sense of disappointment to be shared.

We all make mistakes. Just because some are bigger than others and are made by people who make a ton of money doesn’t warrant unrelenting criticism.

All statistics were recorded by Arrest Nation, The Sports Arrest Database.