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NBA AM: HEAT Trying to Restore Mario Chalmers’ Confidence

Mario Chalmers has been struggling mightily, but his teammates are standing by him and trying to restore his confidence.

Alex Kennedy

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He was wide awake. Every time he tried to close his eyes, the errors and mistakes would replay in his head. It was 5 a.m. on Wednesday and rather than sleeping off the Miami HEAT’s Game 3 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Mario Chalmers was up watching film, trying to pinpoint what he’s been doing wrong.

“I am a little bit [of a perfectionist],” Chalmers told Basketball Insiders. “I dwell on things too long and I just need to let them go.”

Chalmers is struggling mightily right now, averaging just 3.3 points, three assists, four fouls and three turnovers through the first three games of the 2014 NBA Finals. He’s shooting just 25 percent from the field and 20 percent from three-point range. In the last 30 years, Chalmers is the only Finals starter who has totaled 10 or fewer points and shot 25 percent or worse from the field after playing 50 or more minutes, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

While his disappearance in the Finals has led to widespread criticism, his poor play actually started earlier in the postseason. Chalmers has now scored in single-digits in 12 consecutive games, and his highest scoring game of the playoffs was a mediocre 12-point outing in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets.

Chalmers doesn’t seem like himself, on or off the court. The 28-year-old point guard, who has made a name for himself with his swagger and clutch plays, is lacking confidence and questioning himself. After Game 3, a dejected Chalmers stood in front of his locker, shaking his head and taking the blame for the loss.

“Everybody else is doing their job, and it’s me that’s not helping the team right now,” Chalmers said. “I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t know what it is right now, but I have to figure it out.”

Chalmers’ teammates have noticed his change of attitude, and they’re trying to build up his confidence again. Chris Bosh has been sitting down with Chalmers in recent days and trying to get him to remove all of the negative words from his vocabulary. LeBron James has been laying off the point guard, who he normally criticizes endlessly (to the amusement of people on social media). The HEAT are trying to help Chalmers get out of this rut, but they aren’t sure what’s going on with their floor general.

Chalmers hasn’t offered an explanation for his struggles. He has said that he’s going “through one of the toughest challenges” of his life, but he hasn’t elaborated on that. His teammates aren’t sure what’s going on either.

“Whatever he’s holding on to, just let it go; it’s basketball,” Bosh said. “We have things going on – pressure and things off the court – but when you get on the court, it’s about nothing else but the game. We try to take as much pressure off of Rio as possible, but he has to do it himself.”

“We’re going to continue to give him confidence,” Dwyane Wade said. “Mario is a big piece of what we do and we’re missing that piece right now, for whatever the reason is. But as a team, we’re going to continue to give him confidence so when he has his shot, shoot it, take it. Defensively, Mario is someone who we depend on to cause havoc and we need him to do that. He’s our guy. He’s our point guard. Obviously, we’ve all been to the point where we’ve struggled before and we’re not going to leave him out on the island at all. We’re going to continue to pull him in. It just takes one. It takes one performance, it takes one shot and things can turn around. As long as he stays confident in himself, he can bounce back from it.”

“You want him to know we still have faith in him, trust in him and we need him,” Erik Spoelstra said. “We have trust in Rio. I don’t want him to shoulder the full responsibility. This is a team game. We had enough breakdowns on both sides of the ball where defensively we weren’t defending five men the way we were capable of, and offensively we weren’t helping each other get in rhythm and get the type of shots that our guys need to get to get going. So we have trust in Rio, and we want him to be confident, want him to be aggressive. He’s a big part of what we do.”

“He’s been our starting point guard in our back‑to‑back championship runs and he played a key role in it, and he can’t lose confidence in himself,” James said. “At the end of the day, you can give a guy as much confidence as you want, but when a guy loses confidence in himself, it can be all downhill, and that’s one thing he can’t do. He can’t lose confidence in himself or his abilities. … Obviously, it’s weighing on him. It’s in his head right now, I think. He hasn’t said much. His confidence may be a little shaken, I’m not quite sure, but he can’t lose confidence in himself. As a leader, I’m going to give him as much confidence as I can, and I’m going to stay on him. Obviously, I’ve been [laying off him]; maybe I need to get back on him like I used to do in the past when you guys used to see me really get on him. I’ve kind of laid off of him. Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do. But he can’t lose confidence in himself. That is the number one thing, and as teammates, we’ll make sure we keep him up.”

As James pointed out, these struggles are out of character for Chalmers, who has stepped up in key moments throughout his basketball career. In college, he became a household name after leading Kansas to the 2008 national championship and hitting a clutch three to force overtime in the title game. He has thrived on the NBA’s biggest stage, willing Miami to victory in a number of Finals games. He scored 25 points in Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, taking over the game late to score 12 of his points in the fourth quarter. Last year, Chalmers was a key cog in the Finals, leading Miami in scoring with 19 points in a Game 2 victory over the Spurs, and then coming up big with 20 points in the HEAT’s thrilling Game 6 win that kept their title hopes alive. Chalmers isn’t someone who typically disappears in crucial moments, and certainly not for this long of a stretch.

There has been some speculation that Chalmers’ contract situation could be affecting his play, as he will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Chalmers says that isn’t the case, and his teammates hope that’s the truth.

“No, I’m not thinking about that at all,” Chalmers said about his upcoming free agency. “When the summer comes, whatever happens, happens.”

“It can’t be [on his mind],” Bosh said of Chalmers’ free agency. “We all have contract situations. People ask me about my contract situation every other day, but that doesn’t mean anything. If I don’t produce on the court, there won’t be a contract. So you just have to focus on ball. You move past that [contract talk]. Maybe it’s because I have experience with that. I can’t say that I’ve handled everything perfectly, but ever since coming here I’ve learned to just focus on the game, pay attention to detail and everything else will take care of itself. You can’t worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow when you’re missing right now.”

“I mean, I would hope [his contract situation isn’t affecting his play], but I’m not Mario Chalmers and I’m not sure what goes through his mind,” James said. “I mean, this is the NBA Finals, but also it is his livelihood that he’s playing for as well, with him being a free agent this summer. So I’m not quite sure.  All I can do as a leader of this team is try to maintain and let him know what the job is at hand.  I understand that he’s a point guard on a championship team and we need him. We do. I mean, he’s been key for us throughout these runs.  But obviously right now he’s been struggling a lot. But the number one thing is he can’t lose confidence in himself. Before we can give him confidence as a teammate, he has to believe in himself that he can make plays and just be out there and be reliable.”

Chalmers said some specific adjustments he wants to make heading into Game 4 is “being more patient on pick-and-rolls, moving the ball better, cutting more and being more active on both ends.”

While Chalmers’ struggles have certainly made things tougher on the HEAT through three games, his teammates are confident that it’s only a matter of time until he bounces back and plays at the level they’re accustomed to seeing from him.

“He’s struggling right now, but he’ll come through,” Norris Cole said. “He always does. We’re confident in him. I’m always there ready to play.  I’m always encouraging him, so he’s struggling, but he’ll have a breakthrough. I’m confident that he’ll come through for us like he always does.”

“We don’t need him to be Superman, we just need him to be Mario Chalmers – a solid defensive player, a solid offensive player who doesn’t force anything and gets guys involved,” Bosh said. “[We just need] our point guard.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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