Heat, Thunder lack two things: coaches
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com June 20, 2012 9:16PM
Heat vs. Thunder
HEAT leads series 3-1
All games on Ch. 7, 1000-AM.
G1: at Thunder 105, Heat 94
G2: Heat 100, at Thunder 96
G3: at Heat 91, Thunder 85
G4: at Heat 104, Thunder 98
Tonight: at Heat, 8 p.m.
x-Sunday: at Thunder, 7 p.m.
x-Tuesday: at Thunder, 8 p.m.
Updated: July 23, 2012 7:36AM
MIAMI — How many NBA coaches are watching this year’s Finals and thinking, ‘‘If I was coaching either of those teams, this series would be over’’?
My guess is 27 or 28 — in other words, almost every NBA coach not participating in the Finals. Scott Skiles has to be dying watching this series.
Be that as it may, very few of them would be right. It’s easy to be blinded by the undeniable entertainment value and star power of this series. But beneath that veneer lies a reality that many who worship the NBA might be unwilling to acknowledge: The athleticism of these superstar-based teams has overwhelmed their coaches. Watching Thunder coach Scott Brooks try to coax his team to an NBA championship is like watching a jockey try to carry a horse over the finish line.
It’s not easy because the athletes are more skilled and less coachable than ever. It’s not necessarily that they’re bad guys. It’s that their games are developed at such a high level so early, they come to the NBA too set in their ways.
Russell Westbrook only knows how to play at one speed because that’s how he plays the game. His Finals numbers — 29 points a game, including 43 in a magnificent one-man show in a 104-98 loss in Game 4 — obscure the reality that Westbrook’s full-speed-ahead approach has hurt the Thunder as much as it has helped in this series.
Trying to get Westbrook to slow down is like trying to teach Serge Ibaka some low-post moves.
‘‘Any big man with good low-post skills will impact any game — anywhere, at any level,’’ said Heat assistant coach Ron Rothstein, a former head coach with the Heat and Pistons.
So why don’t NBA teams develop that basic skill?
‘‘It’s easier said than done,’’ Rothstein said. ‘‘It has to start when they’re young. When you get guys in the NBA, they’ve had years and years of doing things one way. So you have to fight those habits. Sometimes, it [reaches a point of] diminishing rewards.’’
Both Finals teams seemingly would benefit from veteran coaches. If Phil Jackson were coaching the Thunder and Pat Riley the Heat, this series might resemble an NBA Finals instead of NBA 2K12.
But maybe not. As Heat president, Riley has had the opportunity to take over the Heat when his experience would have made a difference, but he has let the inexperienced Erik Spoelstra handle the job. When a guy who takes advantage of every opportunity passes on one like this, there must be a reason.
Jackson lost his touch with the Lakers last year. Flagrant fouls marked an ugly and embarrassing end to his 11-year career in Los Angeles.
And he recently said on HBO’s ‘‘Real Sports’’ that he wouldn’t be interested in coaching the Knicks because ‘‘they don’t fit well together. [Amar’e] Stoudemire doesn’t fit well with Carmelo [Anthony]. Stoudemire’s a really good player. But he’s gotta play in a certain system and a [certain] way. Carmelo has to be a better passer. And the ball can’t stop every time it hits his hands. They need to have someone come in that can kinda blend that group together.’’
He could say the same thing for either of these teams. The Thunder was last in the NBA in assists and first in turnovers committed this season. Westbrook dominated the fourth quarter but dribbled a ball off his foot and ill-advisedly fouled Mario Chalmers with one second left on the shot clock.
‘‘He gave us a chance to win in the fourth quarter,’’ Brooks said. ‘‘That’s all you can ask for.’’
That’s the problem in a nutshell. You can — and should — ask for more than that. But nobody seems willing to do it.