For Heat, it's one round down, three to go

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For Heat, it's one round down, three to go

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- LeBron James was still on the court, enjoying the moment after ousting the New York Knicks, when the first questions came about what's next for the Miami Heat. For one day, Indiana can wait. Having Thursday off from practice is Miami's first playoff prize, and although a five-game win over the Knicks might have seemed easy, the reigning Eastern Conference champions insisted afterward that it was more grinding than it appeared. James had 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade both scored 19 points and the Heat beat the short-handed Knicks 106-94 in Game 5 of an East first-round series Wednesday night. Miami will host the Pacers in Game 1 of the East semifinals on Sunday afternoon. "Even though it was a five-game series," Wade said, "it was a very tough series." For the Heat, it was only the first step. They have one goal -- getting back to the finals and winning it all -- and that was likely why even beating the longtime rival Knicks prompted, at most, a subdued celebration. "We do not take this for granted," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "This was a tough series. We feel very good about moving on and it'll only get tougher from here." Carmelo Anthony scored 35 points for the Knicks, including a spinning jumper over James at the end of the third quarter that pulled New York within 81-67. It was far from being enough to stave off an all-too-familiar playoff result for Anthony, part of that 2003 draft class that also yielded James, Bosh and Wade. Anthony has played 54 postseason games, being part of wins only 17 times. A misleading stat for certain -- it's hardly all on him -- and no shortage of people in the Heat organization interrupted their celebrating of a series-clincher to tip their caps Anthony's way afterward. "We fought, under the circumstances," Anthony said. "I'm not one to make any excuses for anything. ... But Miami, they're a tough defensive team. They stick to what their schemes are." Head-to-head, Anthony and James both scored 139 points in the series. James shot 48 percent from the field, Anthony 42 percent. James averaged 6.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists, Anthony averaged 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists. "It was fun, man," James said. "He's one of the most competitive players I've ever played against in a playoff series." Amare Stoudemire scored 14 points, Landry Fields and J.R. Smith both added 12, Mike Bibby had 10 and Tyson Chandler grabbed 11 rebounds for New York, which is 1-8 in playoff games since Anthony and Stoudemire became teammates. "Miami is a very good team," Stoudemire said. "You have to give credit to them." Stoudemire fouled out with 4:48 left, and the Knicks put together one more run with hopes of extending the season. New York cut the margin to 11 points four times in a 2-minute span, but Miami answered every time, the last of those a 3-pointer by Shane Battier with 54 seconds left. That sent the white seat covers flying in all corners of the arena, the fans knowing it was finally over. "There's a lot of pride that takes place in this kind of series," Wade said. James had 13 points on only six field-goal attempts by halftime, Wade shook off a scoreless first quarter with 12 in the second, and Miami went into the break leading 55-44. The margin was less than 10 points for only 90 seconds of the third quarter. Stoudemire went to the bench with his fifth foul with 6:41 left in the third, and Miami went on an 11-2 spurt not long after to all but seal the outcome. It was 67-58 when Fields made two free throws with 4:49 left in the quarter -- and then the Heat's "Big Three" needed just 3 minutes to blow the game open. Bosh and Wade combined for six points in that flurry, James the other five, including a 21-footer with 1:29 left to put Miami up 78-60. "We stress moving the ball," Bosh said. "We had some fantastic possessions." For the Knicks, it was not a fantastic finish. New York's season started with great expectations. Not long after the lockout ended the Knicks acquired Chandler from Dallas, a move made possible by using the amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups. Those moves were expected. Just about everything else that happened was not. From the firing of coach Mike D'Antoni to the emergence of Jeremy Lin before he was sidelined by a knee injury, the Knicks had a roller-coaster ride that continued with a debilitating series of injuries against Miami. Rookie guard Iman Shumpert was lost in the third quarter of Game 1 to a torn knee ligament, Stoudemire sliced his left hand after taking out his frustrations on a metal-and-glass fire extinguisher case after a Game 2 loss, and Baron Davis shredded his knee so badly in Game 4 that he is expected to be out a year -- at least. "I thought we played well in spurts," Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson said. "Our guys got a short taste of what playoff basketball's about. It's something this summer we've got to sit and think about and hopefully get ready for next season." He didn't put any extra emphasis on the word "hopefully," but he could have. One of New York's first orders of business this offseason will likely be deciding if Woodson will be back on the sideline, as many expect. "Woody's done a heck of a job with that team," Spoelstra said. Notes: Miami went 7-1 against the Knicks this season, including playoffs. The Heat won three of four games against Indiana this season. ... James had seven points, five assists and zero field goals in the first quarter. Only two other players (Billups in 2007 and Jerryd Bayless in 2011, both in fourth quarters) had done that in any quarter since James entered the league, according to STATS LLC. ... Rapper Rick Ross was among those courtside.

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John Wall on Wizards' search for a backup point guard, whether he will recruit free agents

John Wall on Wizards' search for a backup point guard, whether he will recruit free agents

Each time John Wall and the Wizards have made the playoffs, they have advanced past the first round and fallen in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Each time they were competitive enough in those second round series - against the Pacers, Hawks and Celtics - to have many thinking bigger, about a chance to meet LeBron James in the conference finals. Yet each time they were ultimately defeated over the course of a long and hard-fought series.

Wall believes he knows why they fell short each time. He thinks there is a common theme to all of those series that the Wizards must address this offseason.

"We need to help our bench," Wall told CSN's Chris Miller. "Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played."

For anyone who has watched the Wall-led Wizards over the years, it's not hard to decipher exactly what he was talking about. For years the Wizards have searched for a competent backup to Wall at the guard position and the same could be said about the roster behind his backcourt teammate Bradley Beal this past season. As a result, Wall was asked to play 44 minutes in Game 7 and Beal played 46, respectively.

Even with their season on the line, that is not preferred. Celtics guard Marcus Smart even said publicly that he thought it led to a dropoff in Wall's game.

[RELATED: Wizards hope to sign Wall to contract extension]

The Wizards' quest for help behind Wall took several different turns over the last calendar year. They tried to address the position by bringing Tomas Satoransky over from Europe and trading for Trey Burke last summer. Both were inconsistent through the first half of the season, so they signed Brandon Jennings as a free agent once he was waived by the Knicks. Jennings showed flashes and did some things right, like continue to push the pace when Wall was off the floor. But even Jennings admits he didn't play well against Boston.

Back in the 2013-14 season, the first time Wall made the playoffs, the original plan for his backup was Eric Maynor. That didn't work out, so they traded for veteran Andre Miller in February. The following season, with Miller not working out, they shipped him out for Ramon Sessions, also at the trade deadline.

Now, here the Wizards are, once again trying to find a solution at backup point guard. Wall continues to remain patient, knowing it's not as easy as it looks.

"Every point guard that we have, you can't expect them to go out there and do what I do. Every guy that has backed me up has done a great job, in my opinion. It might not help us as much as everybody thinks, but that's up to the front office to make the adjustment there," he said.

The Wizards have several options to pursue Wall's backup. They could promote from within and expand Satoransky's role. They can use their lone draft pick, a second round selection at 52nd overall. They could try to orchestrate another trade. Or, they could go the free agent route, though depending on what happens to restricted free agents like Otto Porter and Bojan Bogdanovic, their money could be limited.

[RELATED: Top free agent point guards who could help Wizards, Wall]

If it is free agency, don't expect Wall to play an active role in the recruitment pitch.

"I don't think I have to do that. They understand and see what we do as a team over here: how we play together, how we move the ball. I think guys will just come if they want to come," Wall said.

Wall knows the Wizards need help, but believes they are very close to where they want to go.

"We have our main core guys. I think adding a couple little pieces here and there will help us get over the hump," he said. "Even with all that, we still feel like we had a chance by getting to a Game 7. We had a 50-50 chance of getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. We were one game away. We couldn't ask for more."

For more on the Wizards' offseason, listen to the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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20 offseason Caps questions: What direction should the Caps take this summer?

20 offseason Caps questions: What direction should the Caps take this summer?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.     

Today’s question: Another year, another early playoff exit. The Capitals earned the Presidents’ Trophy this season despite playing in the toughest division in the NHL, but once again they could not get past the second round. In the Alex Ovechkin era, the Caps have won three Presidents’ Trophies and reached the postseason nine times and yet, they have never made it to the conference final. Now with Alex Ovechkin set to turn 32 before the start of next season, an aging core with no playoff success to speak of and several expiring contracts, the team looks like it may have reached a crossroads.

After another postseason flameout, what direction should the Caps take?

Sorenson: In one word: Build.  For me, I have to look at the organization which the Capitals have been trying to best for quite some time now, the Pittsburgh Penguins.  I think the biggest difference on the ice between the two teams recently has been depth.  Last offseason, the Caps added to the depth of their bottom six, but that wasn’t enough this postseason.  That’s because the Penguins were able to draw on forwards from Wilkes-Barre throughout the season and playoffs to push them over the edge.  It was constantly next man up, and their supposedly unknown forwards and defensemen constantly stepped up, both in the regular season and especially in the playoffs.  I think the Capitals need to keep their core, and build around players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle, Lars Eller, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, and Brooks Orpik.  Keep the supporting players around them (Nate Schmidt, Andre Burakovsky, etc.) but they have to find a way to build up their foundation in Hershey as well.  They need to find a way to package some players and prospects to get equal players and upgrade their prospects.  As Kuznetsov so aptly put it on breakdown day, “You can’t build big building without underneath, right?”

RELATED: What's next for the Caps? No one seems to agree

Regan: It’s tempting right now to say they should tear it all down and start over, but let’s not let emotions take over. The Caps are not the Vancouver Canucks who are terrible and yet refuse to trade the Sedin twins and start over because of a misguided sense of loyalty. They are not the Detroit Red Wings who held onto a rapidly declining core in the hopes of maintaining their postseason streak as long as possible. The Caps have won the Presidents’ Trophy for two straight seasons. A complete rebuild at this point would be premature. Will their roster be as good as in 2016-17? Probably not, but that does not mean they have no chance of winning the Cup. Having said that, however, they cannot afford to simply bring back the same team and try again. Part of the problem in Washington is clearly mental and if you return much the same roster, the players will have no confidence that things will be any different. Shake things up with a major trade. Trade away a part of the core, a big name player to jolt the team. Even if it is just a one for one trade, look at what trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban has done for Nashville. If the core is rotten, shake it up.

El-Bashir: Let’s begin with the notion that blowing up a roster that’s earned more points than anyone else the past two seasons is a good idea. It’s not. But let me also be clear about this: the time for nibbling around the edges has passed. The Caps need more youth, more speed and, perhaps, a little more pushback, too. As the roster stands now, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen are all under contract or under team control. If GM Brian MacLellan can shoehorn T.J. Oshie back in the fold, that’s a solid start. Add to that foundation a couple of impactful players—a top-six forward and a top-four defender—and the Caps will have made some substantive changes without resorting to a full teardown. It’ll be a challenge, no doubt. After Mac re-signs his restricted free agents (and possibly Oshie) there won’t be much cap space with which to work. Also, he’s got no draft picks until the fourth round and the free agent market doesn’t look all that appealing. So how can he do it? By taking a page out of David Poile’s playbook and swinging a big trade (or perhaps two). Poile retooled the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators on the fly with a couple of bold deals, acquiring Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones and P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. The trade route is a risky one and, of course, it costs a good player to get a good player so a fan favorite and/or up-and-comer would be headed the other way. But it’s the only way I can see the Caps propping the window back open for another run with the current core. I also see it as the Caps' best option.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps release key offseason dates