Fil-Ams in hot NBA start

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson are off to a strong start in the NBA this season with both Fil-Ams providing a lift to their teams. Spoelstra, 49, is currently the second longest-tenured NBA coach behind only San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich but his job teetered on the line when the Heat failed to make the playoffs last campaign, its third miss in the last five years. Miami posted a 39-43 mark, the team’s second worst record since Spoelstra took over the coaching reins from Pat Riley in 2008.

But this season, Miami got a boost with Jimmy Butler’s arrival, blunting Dwyane Wade’s retirement and raced to a 5-1 mark, tying the best mark in Heat history over 32 years. The streak included a five-point overtime win over Milwaukee and a 29-point romp over Houston. Since then, Miami has lost two of three on a tough road grind but remains in the league’s top five in net ratings (the difference between offense and defense over 100 possessions) behind the L.A. Lakers, Bucks, Boston and Toronto. The Heat is third in opponents’ turnovers (18.8) and seventh in turnover points (19.8).

Spoelstra joined the Heat organization in 1997-98 and was a video coordinator, advance scout, director of scouting and assistant coach before his appointment as head coach. Rick Carlisle was named Dallas coach less than two weeks later. Popovich has been the Spurs coach since 1996, making Spolestra the second most senior coach in the league and Carlisle the third. For four straight seasons under Spoelstra, Miami reached the Finals, winning twice but the run ended with LeBron James’ exit.

Six players are averaging in twin digit points for Miami this year with Butler showing the way, hitting at a 19.3 clip. Slovenia’s Goran Dragic (16.7), rookies Kendrick Nunn (16.6) and Tyler Herro (13.1), Justice Winslow (13.8) and Bam Adebayo (12.8) are the others. The team has an average age of 26 and a salary budget of $136.9 million, topped by Butler’s $32.7 million. Veteran Dion Waiters hasn’t played a game – he’s suspended – and isn’t likely to stay with the squad. Aside from Wade, the Heat lost Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside from last season’s roster but Spoelstra has managed to reassemble a lineup that’s focused on defense and teamwork. Miami is No. 7 in assists (25.0), No. 7 in points allowed (105.4) and No. 1 in three-point percentage allowed (.280).

Clarkson, 27, is averaging 14.7 points and connecting at a career-high 94.1 percent from the stripe in nine games so far. Cleveland has a 4-5 record, winning over Washington, Chicago, Indiana and New York but bowing to Orlando, Milwaukee, Indiana, Dallas and Boston. Since moving to Cleveland from the Lakers in February 2018, Clarkson hasn’t started a single game. But last season, he averaged a career-high 16.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 27.3 minutes. Clarkson is in the last year of the $50 million contract he signed with the Lakers in 2016, later assumed by the Cavs. He’ll earn $13.5 million this year.

Like Miami, Cleveland went downhill after LeBron left. With LeBron, the Cavs went to four straight Finals – like Miami – and won once in 2016. Last season, Cleveland fell to a 19-63 record without LeBron from 50-32 the year before with LeBron. New coach John Beilein had a brilliant career in the NCAA, posting a 754-425 record in 28 years but whether he can turn things around for Cleveland in a hurry is a big question mark. Clarkson appears to be fitting nicely in Beilein’s system so that’s a positive sign.

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