Even in a loss, Rondo's effort was historic

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Even in a loss, Rondo's effort was historic

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Back and forth they went in overtime, Rajon Rondo and the Miami Heat. Rondo scored. The Heat answered. Then again. And again. Eventually, Rondo missed, one of the rare times he didn't deliver on an unforgettable night. Moments later, the Heat took the lead for good, finally able to close out a wild Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored eight of his 23 points in the extra session and the Heat rallied from 15 down to beat the Boston Celtics 115-111 on Wednesday night -- taking a 2-0 lead in the series by pulling off the biggest comeback in franchise postseason history. "One of the best games I've played in, win or lose," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "It's easier said when you win -- but it's unbelievable." Rondo scored all 12 of Boston's points in overtime, capping a 44-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound effort in which he played every second of a 53-minute game. The Heat expected Boston's best -- and the Celtics didn't disappoint, yet still head home for Game 3 on Friday night facing a deficit no Boston team has rallied from to win a series since 1969. "Listen, we played terrific," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I told them, we played extremely hard. I thought we played with great heart tonight, but I didn't think we played smart all the time. And there's things we can absolutely fix, and we'll do that. We'll be ready for Friday." Mario Chalmers scored 22 for the Heat, who took 47 free throws -- 24 by James -- to Boston's 29. "This group had resolve," Wade said of the Celtics. "They came out and played a great game. It was physical early. They brought the game to us. That can't happen. We used our crowd and the energy to get back into the game and we had to play better." Paul Pierce scored 21 points, Kevin Garnett added 18 and Ray Allen 13 for Boston. Rondo finished 16 of 24 from the floor, 10 of 12 from the foul line and made both his 3-point tries. "He showed why he's one of the best point guards in this league," Chalmers said. Rondo shrugged off his night. "We lost," Rondo said. "Simple as that." Allen's 3-pointer with 34.3 seconds left tied the game at 99-all. James missed two shots, first a layup -- he got the rebound of his own miss -- and then a jumper on the final possession of regulation, and to overtime they went. "We had to do it the tough way," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. The Heat had come back to win from 14 points down in playoff games twice before, first in Game 6 of the 2006 NBA finals -- their title clincher -- and again last season against Philadelphia. And this one was slipping away, more than once. James missed two free throws 21 seconds into overtime, and Miami looked in trouble, especially since Rondo was simply taking over. When Rondo missed a layup -- he thought he was fouled, and the Celtics agreed -- with 1:33 left, Miami took advantage, with Udonis Haslem getting a dunk to put the Heat up 105-103. And after a turnover on the next Boston possession, Wade drove the lane, hit the deck and watched as his layup bounced on the rim and dropped through. Garnett stood over Wade and glared, to no avail. Wade hit the free throw, and Miami was up 110-105 with 59.7 seconds left. By then, the no-call on Rondo had the Celtics seething. "It was obvious," Rondo said. Added Allen: "We all thought he got hit. I'll say it. He did, but what can you do about it?" Miami was down by 15 in the first half and by as many as 11 in the third quarter, before a pair of 3-pointers by James started a comeback. Wade made consecutive jumpers midway through the third to shake off a slow start to his night and get the Heat within three both times, and the 2006 NBA finals MVP set up Haslem for a three-point play with 2:55 left that gave Miami its first lead since the opening minutes, 73-71. As Haslem's shot dropped, Wade spun at midcourt and punched the air. More highlights followed. Miami's lead got to as much as seven in the third after James blocked Pierce's shot near the rim, sending the ball high into the air and starting a sequence that was capped by a three-point play from Wade, pushing the margin to 78-71. It capped a 12-0 run for the Heat, who took an 81-75 lead into the fourth. It was the fifth straight game where Miami outscored its opponent by double-digits in the third quarter. In each of the previous four of those outings, Miami never trailed in the final period. That streak ended in this one. "It's been very key for us, whether we're up, whether we're down, to win that quarter," Wade said. "But in the fourth quarter, even when we were down, we felt like we were close enough. ... We never felt like we were out of it." They weren't out of it -- but a call that Boston argued against played a big role in the Celtics getting the lead back. James stole the ball from Rondo early in the fourth, drove down the court and got wrapped up by Pietrus, who was assessed a clear-path foul, meaning Miami got two free throws and the ball. James missed both foul shots, Mike Miller missed a 3-pointer later in the possession, and the lead stayed at 85-81. Barely a minute later, it was gone. Pietrus hit a 3-pointer, Rondo followed with a steal and layup and Boston led 86-85. The Celtics led by five with 3:50 left after a jumper by Pierce, and the Celtics looked to be in control. It was temporary. The Heat scored the next nine points, Haslem's jumper with 1:08 remaining put Miami up 98-94. So of course, back came Boston -- Allen's 3-pointer tying the game a few moments after Pierce fouled out. "Rondo was absolutely amazing," James said. "The performance he put on tonight will go down in the record books. ... It was a battle, and we never felt like we won the game or lost the game when there were zeros on the clock." NOTES: Celebrities in attendance included UCLA coach Ben Howland, rapper Flo Rida and former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, a regular in the Heat crowd. ... Celtics F Greg Stiemsma had four fouls in the first quarter, the first NBA player to do that since 2009. ... Rondo's only other 22-point first half was Feb. 22, 2009 at Phoenix. ... Allen, considered one of the game's absolute best shooters for many years, said he's been getting plenty of unsolicited advice lately on how to get rolling again. "I've only been doing this for 20 years," Allen said at the morning shootaround. ... Haslem (6) had more rebounds than Boston (5) in the third quarter. ... Heat C Ronny Turiaf started, played the first 4:51 and did not return. Joel Anthony started the second half in Turiaf's place.

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Plenty of reasons why Wizards believe Tim Frazier is better than options at No. 52

Plenty of reasons why Wizards believe Tim Frazier is better than options at No. 52

The type of move I've talked about the Wizards making in the offseason -- and having to do so out of necessity -- came to fruition less than 24 hours before the NBA Draft when they traded their 52nd pick and sent their $2.3 million trade exception to the New Orleans Pelicans for Tim Frazier.

Frazier, a 6-1 backup point guard who bounced around the NBA intially after he went undrafted in 2014, has solidified himself as a rotation player. He averaged 7.1 points and 5.2 assists in 65 games last season. He also proved to be a more than competent backup for Jrue Holiday when he was out for personal reasons.

Almost everyone took their eye off the ball hypothesizing about Paul George, a pie-in-the-sky scenario, when it was this kind of move that was the most likely all along. 

Why Frazier? 

He's proven and they needed that type of point guard immediately. Trey Burke wasn't the answer as he couldn't run the offense, that's not a problem for Frazier. Brandon Jennings played with better pace but had a tendency to be erratic and was a turnstile on defense. His contract also is salary-cap friendly for a team that doesn't have the room.

Why give up a pick (again)?

Two reasons: The Wizards won 49 games last season and was one win from the conference finals. Despite these issues, they didn't feel a need to perform a major upheavel. Also, they have enough players to develop in Tomas Satoransky, Sheldon Mac, Daniel Ochefu and Chris McCullough. They didn't need more to take up roster spots. A backup point guard, of all the positions, is the most crucial with John Wall logging so many minutes going into his eighth season. If the likes of Monte Morris or Tyler Dorsey were going to fall and come available at No. 52, maybe they'd reconsider their approach. But those guys will be gone so they had to take the sure thing here. A No. 52 pick will take 2-3 years to develop even if he sticks, and the learning curve could be longer if you're taking the team's quarterback of the offense. Even a fourth-year vet like Burke had issues and he was a No. 9 overall pick in 2013. It wasnt until Year 3 that Frazier, who went undrafted out of Penn State, panned out.

RELATED: THE WIZARDS ARE LETTING A VETERAN WALK INTO FREE AGENCY

How was the deal made?

The Wizards didn't just give up the second-round pick but they used a $2.3 million trade exception that they picked up from the Brooklyn Nets in the deal that sent Andrew Nicholson out of town and brought in Bojan Bogdanovic and McCullough. Frazier was due $2 million from New Orleans which means the Wizards have to send out a close match to that amount in outgoing salary to make the deal work. A second-round pick counts as $0 under salary cap rules because their contracts aren't guaranteed. How do the Wizards facilitate the match? Using the trade exception, a process they were able to implement a few years ago to bring in Jared Dudley in a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. A trade exception allows a team to acquire a player without giving up anything. Yes, they gave up a pick that the odds say is unlikely to pan out. The Wizards gamble that Frazier will be better than whatever point guard they could've otherwise acquired even if that player sticks in the NBA. 

What about predraft workouts?

Every year, I lament about the overanalysis and hype about the process, or any suggestion that a gem was discovered. Teams have scouted players all season, in some cases, for multiple seasons. They've seen them in real-time situations. They already know. There are no epiphanies. Workouts are a getting-to-know-you session that usually includes a sitdown afterwards. If a player makes all 20 of his threes in a workout, he's not going to get drafted because of that. And conversely, if he goes 0-for-20, that wouldn't disqualify him, either. Little to nothing can be read into the actual workouts. A few years ago, a fringe player was defending a 3-on-2 fast break and chose to not stop the ball -- priority No. 1 in transition defense -- and instead went to defend his man. That left a lane wide open for a dunk by the ballhandler. It was a bad look and bad decision which spoke to the player's basketball IQ. It's those type of things that teams look for and not your college stats or awards or how well you played in a workout vs. non-NBA competition. It's a far more cerebral process. The Wizards were doing a final look to determine if anyone caught their eye enough to steal at No. 52. It's not that there weren't good players at Verizon Center but just that they believe those players will be long gone by then or can be snapped up for Las Vegas summer league and/or training camp.

Are they done?

Not necessarily. It doesn't mean they'll definitely do something but they're not standing pat. They can buy a pick and get back into the draft. They had the chance to do this last year but passed because they felt they could get the guys they wanted as free agents. They had Mac and Ochefu locked up immediately for Las Vegas summer league. Under the new CBA, teams get a bump from $3.6 million to $5.1 million for these purposes. They amounts of how much teams pay for picks varies. The Wizards don't have the cap room this year like they had a year ago. Only way a seismic move happens is via trade but Wall and Bradley Beal aren't going to be part of it. The sign-and-trade adjusted rules should take Otto Porter off the table, too, as he loses financially by agreeing to any such deal. It's also difficult to see Markieff Morris, who is on a deal that makes it almost impossible for the Wizards to get equity because of salary inflation, being a trade chip. The best players on the team, Wall and Beal, love him. The three were at Verizon Center today working out with some of the younger guys. This draft is much deeper than a year ago and the Wizards will remain active and will have to get higher than 52 to get someone viable. With Frazier in tow, they don't need another point guard with Satoransky already set. They'll want another shooter. 

MORE WIZARDS: FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TIM FRAZIER

 

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How do the Caps recover from the loss of Nate Schmidt?

How do the Caps recover from the loss of Nate Schmidt?

All of Caps nation is reeling over the loss of Nate Schmidt to the expansion draft. A fan-favorite and budding top-four defenseman, his departure stings not just because of the loss of his personality, but because of the role he was expected to take next season.

Schmidt was ascending to a top-four role on the Caps next season, but that plan is in shambles and rebuilding the defense now becomes one of the team’s top priorities for the offseason.

Among the team’s current defensemen, there is no clear candidate to take Schmidt’s spot. Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson stand as the team’s top three. Behind them are Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney, neither of whom anyone could reasonably expect to take on a top-four role.

In a statement released on Tuesday, MacLellan said, “We feel we have a young group of up-and-coming defensemen who will now have an opportunity in Washington and are ready to make the jump with our club.”

RELATED: Holtby falls short of claiming second Vezina

MacLellan is no doubt referring to Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos. Both players were expected to compete for a roster spot this season, but it was thought there would be room for only one on the third pairing. Now the Caps have two spots in the lineup open.

At the end of the season, the Caps had a choice of what direction they would go in next year. They could start over and rebuild or try to retool the team on the fly. Rather than start over they chose to retool, meaning they are still gunning for postseason success. A rebuilding team can afford two rookie defensemen in the lineup, but a team looking to make the playoffs and push for a deep run likely cannot. That is not a knock on either Bowey or Djoos both of whom have high ceilings and could develop into very good NHL players, there just seems to be a disconnect between the direction the team wants to go in next season and having to play both Bowey and Djoos regularly in the lineup.

If the Caps cannot replace Schmidt internally, what about externally?

With Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov all in need of new deals, the Caps are not expected to have much money to work with this summer and top-four defensemen don’t come cheap. Schmidt was at the end of his contract, but as a restricted free agent, the team could have signed him for much cheaper than any top-four defenseman they can find in free agency. Even if the Caps could make a splash in free agency, there is not a whole lot to work with among the players available.

Does this reopen the door for the team to re-sign Alzner? Washington is the only team he has ever known and he made clear at the end of the season that he is not looking forward to being a free agent. The Capitals, however, will likely not be able to afford what Alzner could get on the open market. He may be willing to take a discount to stay in Washington, but MacLellan must also consider the changing landscape of the NHL. The league is moving more towards speedy, puck-moving blueliners and farther away from stay at home defensemen like Alzner. Can the Caps really afford a top-six that includes both Alzner and Orpik in today’s NHL? Probably not.

So what are the Caps to do? The answer may come in the form of a trade.

Losing Schmidt means that Philipp Grubauer remains in the fold. His position in the team, however, has not changed. Braden Holtby remains the starter and prospect Ilya Samsonov is still seen as the team’s future starter. That makes Grubauer, a high-value asset, expendable.

Having a dependable backup is important, but a top-four defenseman is more so. One will play 20-30 games per season unless the starter suffers an injury, the other will be expected to have a major role every night.

When MacLellan spoke to reporters in May, it did not sound as if he was planning on making any major moves this offseason. The loss of Schmidt may now force his hand.

MORE CAPITALS: MacLellan says prospects 'ready to make the jump' to replace Schmidt