Heat players obsessed with 'hockey assists'

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Heat players obsessed with 'hockey assists'

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."

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

SAN FRANCISCO -- At some point over the next four days, Madison Bumgarner will pick up a baseball, stand a few feet across from a member of the training staff, and simply play catch. It'll be a huge step in Bumgarner's rehab, and should it go well, a boost to the psyche of a struggling team.

In the meantime, another lefty is making sure the Giants don't suffer too much without their ace, as improbable as that first seemed.

Ty Blach took a shutout into the eighth Saturday night and in true Bumgarner fashion, he added a pair of hits and an RBI. The Giants beat the Braves 6-3. They've won Blach's past three starts, and even with a 10-run outing in Cincinnati mixed in, he has a 3.71 ERA since taking the spot left open by a dirt bike accident.

"Because of what happened he's in the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said, "And he's taking full advantage."

Blach has shown that long term, he might be a big part of this rotation. It's been years since the Giants locked a young, cost-controlled starter in, and Blach has backed up his big cameo last year. It's possible -- likely even -- that at some point the Giants will need to trade a veteran, perhaps Johnny Cueto, for young bats. Blach provides needed insurance. 

Short term, he's providing a huge boost to a team that doesn't have much going right. Blach has thrown at least seven innings in his past four starts. He has allowed just eight earned runs in four starts since the one in Cincinnati, throwing 28 2/3 innings. 

"I feel good," Blach said. "I've always been a starter, so it's been a pretty easy transition to make. I feel comfortable."

The Giants are comfortable behind him, as evidenced by a half-dozen strong defensive plays Saturday. 

"He's been consistent and he works quickly," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's just a great guy to play behind."

Blach even joined in at the plate. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat -- his first big league hit off Not Clayton Kershaw -- and later roped another single. Blach even showed off his wheels, busting it from first to third on Denard Span's ball to the corner before Phil Nevin held him up. 

"I worked into some good counts and I was able to get fastballs," Blach said of his night at the plate. "It's definitely a big confidence booster when your spot comes up and you're able to drive in runs."

The night was straight out of Bumgarner's playbook, and it was needed. The Giants had dropped five of six, but Blach was backed by homers from Nick Hundley and Brandon Belt. It got a little hairy late, but the bullpen held on, clinching Blach's third win of the season. He looks poised for many more, and Bochy is happy to keep running him out there.

"I'm not surprised by what he's doing," the manager said.

 

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — This spot in the rotation is the one reserved for the stopper, the pitcher who takes a game by the throat when his team really needs it. 

Ty Blach took the mound Saturday for a team that had lost five of six, and just as Madison Bumgarner often has, Blach ended the skid. The young lefty was dominant into the eighth and the bats finally provided enough support. The Giants won 6-3, tying this weekend series with the Braves.

Here are five things to know from a night we were reminded that Emilio Bonifacio is in the big leagues … 

--- Blach pitched 7 2/3 innings. He has thrown at least seven innings in his last four starts, and five of seven starts overall. Jeff Samardzija (6) is the only Giants starter who has gone that deep more often. Blach is tied with Johnny Cueto for second-most seven-inning starts on staff, and Cueto has made three additional starts. 

--- Blach’s RBI single in the fourth was -- at the time -- the fourth hit of his career, and the first against a pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. The ball had an exit velocity of 101 mph. Blach tried to score from first on Denard Span’s double, but Phil Nevin held him. Still, the way he was moving, it makes you wonder if Samardzija really is Bruce Bochy’s best pitcher-pinch-running option. In the seventh, Blach picked up a second single. 

--- Blach’s only bad start has been the one he made in Cincinnati, where the Giants played like a Double-A team. If you take that one out, Blach has a 2.21 ERA since taking over Bumgarner’s rotation spot. 

--- Even though he gave up just two earned in 7 2/3, Blach’s home ERA actually went up. It’s 1.75, which ranks seventh in the National League. The sellout crowd gave Blach a standing ovation when he was pulled in the eighth. 

--- Blach had a season-high five strikeouts. When he got Nick Markakis to end the first, Blach ended a streak of 37 left-handers faced without a strikeout. He later struck out another lefty, Matt Adams. The new Braves first baseman came up as the tying run in the eighth but Derek Law got him to ground out to first. 

--- Bonus sixth “thing to know” ... on Blach of course: His first name is Tyson, not Tyler. It’s Tyson Michael Blach.