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'Hockey assists' all the rage with the Heat

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'Hockey assists' all the rage with the Heat

MIAMI (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.''

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The Kerrigans are having a baby and, WOW, this is all so very exciting

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@kerrigan91

The Kerrigans are having a baby and, WOW, this is all so very exciting

The Kerrigan family is about to make a big-time addition to its roster.

Ryan and his wife, Jessica, already have two very, VERY, very, very cute bulldogs in their household. 

But on Tuesday, the two announced in separate Instagram posts that Jessica is 18 weeks pregnant and that a third human Kerrigan will arrive in 2019.

"Can I eat dis sign aftur da picturr iz over?" George the bulldog said when reached for comment on the news.

"How did dey gett such a smawl jerzey for da baby alreddy?" Franklin the other bulldog added.

This is all very wonderful.

Come next March, the world is about to get a little precious-er.

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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

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USA Today Sports

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”

 

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