From Comcast SportsNetMIAMI (AP) -- There's nary a pair of skates visible in the Miami Heat locker room, no bucket of pucks in the practice facility and no Zamboni following the team around, either.Still, there's at least one hockey principle that's in the mind of the reigning NBA champions so far this season.With emphasis on ball movement, the Heat are currently into what's known as "hockey assists" -- essentially, the pass that sets up the pass that sets up the score. In hockey, it's typical for two players to be credited with having passes to set up a goal, and while it's hardly an NBA statistic, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is working it into his team's repertoire as well."If anything, it's a compliment to the game of hockey," Heat center Joel Anthony said. "We're recognizing the different types of ways they reward players for making the extra pass. Hockey acknowledges it a lot more. There's no stat for it in basketball but we still acknowledge that. Spo recognizes that and wants to make sure we know it's extremely important."Anthony would seem to be the resident Miami expert in this field.After all, he's the Heat player who hails from Canada -- hockey's epicenter."That extra pass, it means a lot for us," Anthony said.The Heat begin a six-games-in-nine-days trip in Atlanta on Friday night, a game followed by contests at Memphis, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver and Phoenix. Miami doesn't play at home again until Nov. 21.Miami's ball movement this season is beyond statistically impressive. In their four wins so far, the Heat have 109 assists against only 43 turnovers. Even with their lone loss taken into account, the Heat assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.98-to-1 leads the NBA entering Thursday's games."Our team assist-to-turnover ratio is important," Spoelstra said.As a team, Miami reached the 25-assist mark only 12 times in 66 regular-season games last season; this year, the Heat have gotten there four times in five games."It's all about getting somebody the better shot," Wade said.Take Wednesday's 103-73 win over Brooklyn as an example. LeBron James finished the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in only 30 minutes, getting the fourth quarter off. A triple-double was easily within reach, though with the game in hand, there was no need for the NBA's MVP to play in the final period.So, no triple-double. That is, unless one takes into account the manner Spoelstra and the Heat chart certain things."He could have had more assists if he was thinking ego during the course of the game, if he was hunting down his own pass," Spoelstra said. "But again, I think he probably had three or four or five hockey assists, where he knew that it was going to be a rotation, that the next guy would be open. That's how fast his mind is going, thinking of the play after the play after the play. But that's the point."While it might be one of the go-to terms for the Heat these days, it's not a new concept.James said he began thinking about the parallel between hockey assists and smart basketball passing in high school. Chris Bosh credits Paul Hewitt -- his college coach at Georgia Tech -- with introducing him to the concept. Dwyane Wade had similar sentiments, saying it was a term that Tom Crean used when he was in college at Marquette."Making the pass to the guy who makes the pass is just as valuable," Bosh said. "We're unselfish. We don't care. From night to night, (statistics) will be different. From time to time, we're going to have guys with a hot hand. But as long as we're playing together and it's spread out, we're playing well."The first Miami basket of the game on Wednesday night had four players in key roles.Bosh got a steal, threw the ball to Mario Chalmers, who found Wade, who tossed a perfect lob to James for a dunk. The entire play took five seconds -- one steal, three passes, one dribble, one dunk. And in the "hockey assist" formula, Chalmers' nifty one-handed flick to Wade would have gotten as much credit for the score as the lob did, since it took defenders away from James' sprint down the left side to the rim."I'm all-in," Chalmers said. "I like it, since I'm usually the one that gets the hockey assist. As long as we're winning, everybody's happy."
BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.
A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.
Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.
Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets:
Cora not happy with clubhouse laughter after another #Mets loss. Yells out, "A little respect please. They stuck it up our ---!"— David Lennon (@DPLennon) July 21, 2010
Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:
“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.
“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”
Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it?
Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different.
But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems.
There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage.
Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real.
Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.
The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.
A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.
Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.
"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.
“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."
Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE
On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...
0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.
2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.
6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.
10:00 - A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.
14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.