Notebook: Heat–Round 2, Granger’s First Live Action, Stephenson’s Resurgence
Whenever any NBA team looks at their calendar and sees “Miami Heat” as their next opponent, it’s something special. They’re going to downplay it and say it’s just another game but in reality, it’s not. Just read what George Hill had to say about their nationally televised matchup.
“It’s just another game. Unfortunately, they’re the one’s on the schedule. We got to continue to do what we’re doing–playing together, playing defense, communicating and just have fun out there.”
The Heat may not be the best “team,” but they have the world’s best player, as Frank Vogel described LeBron James, and a couple other superstars with a worldwide following that put on a show every game.
Just about wherever they are play, it’s the most anticipated game of the year. Just look at other team websites throughout the league. It’s highlighted, used in promotional materials and often the most expensive ticket. There is no overlooking the Heat and their opponents usually take their game to another level because it is something special.
The Pacers were ousted by the Heat in the playoffs last season and a deep run this year will likely have to go through them again. In the first g0-round, more than three weeks ago, the Pacers’ recipe to their 87-77 win was containing James, controlling the glass and holding the Heat to just one point in transition. They led by as many 17 points, held James to 22 and Wade to seven points in the second half after 23 in the first two quarters.
There will be no extra pep talk or motivation. Facing the Heat, on national television nonetheless, is incentive enough. They want to prove that the first meeting was no accident, and that their team effort can outshine Miami’s superstars.
“I know Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are the top athletes,” All-Star Paul George said, “and they’re definitely going to be gunning for me on the simple fact that they lost a tough one here and I know the competitiveness in them is definitely going to make them play even harder. I’m ready for it, I’m up for the challenge and I know this team is up for the challenge.”
“They’re going to remember (last meeting) and they’re going to bring it,” Vogel said.
“They get after it and beat you in so many ways. We definitely want to try to pound the glass as much as possible but it really comes down to turning the ball over. If we limit our turnovers like we did in game one, that limits their ability to get out on the break and that’s our best defense against them.”
Daily Danny Update
There’s nothing earth-shattering going on with Danny Granger, but his progress continues to be encouraging. For the first time Thursday, Granger played about 20 minutes of half-court live action during practice. He is now doing something every day and doesn’t appear to be in any real pain. He has increased his activity level while decreasing the amount of rest in between.
“We’re still hoping to see him in uniform before the All-Star game but there’s no guarantees with that,” Vogel said.
Granger has been traveling with the team for a while now and helps the team in whatever ways he can off the court. Paul George said Granger has been in his ear and is a big reason why his game and confidence is at an all-time high.
After practice ended, Granger, George and Hill competed in a half-court shootout with a little money on the line. Granger knocked down his shots with ease, and maybe even hustled those two.
“I’m not happy,” Hill said with a smirk on his face. “He stole a lot of money from us today shooting half-court shots. Other than that, it’s great seeing him back out there. He was a great passer today. Maybe because we thought he was going to shoot the ball a lot and we tried to double team him and he was making great passes. To see him back out there moving gives us high hopes.”
“We didn’t forget about what Danny could do, but we didn’t know he could do it at that level right now,” George said. “He had a good day. It was good to see him back on the court, taking some contact and being able to play.”
What’s Gotten Into Lance?
Lance Stephenson, who’s started 38 games this season in place of Granger, seemed to hit a wall while on their recent four-game road trip. He went 1-of-5 for two points in 40 minutes against Portland and then went scoreless (0-for-4) in Utah.
That’s when Frank Vogel pulled him aside for a meeting to talk about his role and importance to what they’re trying to do.
“We talked about his value on this team,” Vogel shared. “And that he’s not a guy that’s just filling in for somebody; he’s a big reason for our success this year on both ends of the basketball. He’s an in-your-face defender, who’s improving with his discipline and he’s a beast in the open court offensively…We want him being extremely aggressive and when he’s at his best, we’re awful tough to beat.”
So what went wrong?
“I wasn’t very aggressive in those games that I played very bad,” Stephenson explain. “I had no points, I ain’t do nothing. I felt like I was just on the court doing nothing. Coach told me what I do is very important to the team and that I need to be more aggressive and play with an edge.
Since his discussion with Vogel, where his value to the team was laid out, he’s looked focused and confident in what he was doing on the floor.
“I felt good,” Stephenson said Wednesday night after registering his first career double-double, 12 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, in a win over Detroit. “I was just being very aggressive, trying to get my teammates involved and look for the open play.’