NBA Rumor: Three-Point Line Debate
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Is the prevalence of the 3-point shot a positive or a negative for the current quality of play? “I think it’s improved the game. It’s opened the door for more guys to play, because now all you’ve got to do is pick up the pace and find space. … Now everybody is participating in (the 3-point shooting revolution): the catch-and-shoot, open looks versus contested looks. The pace of the game becomes important, because if you push it down the floor early, you give yourself a chance to score because the defense is not set. So there’s a strategy to it, and you have to have shooters in order to take advantage of it. So that brings back a lot of kids who are too slow (and) maybe 6-3 or 6-4. It brings all of them into play. So I think it’s a better game. You have more nationalities, more mixing. It’s truly an international game. The pace of the game is a beautiful thing to watch.” — a player who played predominantly in the ’70s
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Drew Hill: Jaren Jackson Jr. said if he was NBA commissioner he would put in a 4-point line. And if you get fouled you could shoot free throws or shoot a 3, but you only get one shot.
Daryl Morey expects league to modify corner three-point line
According to NBA.com’s official statistics, the Brooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz — both first-place teams — are the only teams so far with a non-corner three-point percentage above 39 percent. However, half of the league shoots the corner three-pointer at 39 percent or higher. Evidently, it’s a little bit easier. So will the league do something about it? “I expect that to happen,” Morey said. “…A corner three is basically the same as getting a rim shot, a medium-guarded rim shot, which is sort of insane when you factor in fouls and everything else. So yeah, it’s too big of a positive.”
Daryl Morey: “I mean, I would be fine if we could reconstruct arenas, having the court be wider, push the line back and keep the corner three. Well, it’s just you’d have to change out arenas and… I mean, it would take like 25 years.”
“A three-pointer is such a devastating shot, especially if it’s a high percentage shooter,” Morey said, adding that he thinks it may be creating a one-dimensional game. “I don’t think it’s less aesthetically pleasing, but I think as someone who’s really into games and winning in general… you can tell a game that’s not well-structured is when there’s only like one path to victory. Everyone knows it, and you know, we’re getting there in the NBA.”
NBA insiders concerned with overabundance of three-point shooting
For a growing number of NBA executives and coaches, the problem isn’t that NBA offenses are wrong for firing up an average of 35 attempts per game from long distance. The problem is that they’re right. It would be tactical malpractice for any team to swear off the 3-pointer. There are a handful of players whose midrange 2-point attempt represents a high-percentage shot, but for the vast majority of players, the best shot is one from behind the 3-point line or at the rim.
Recent conversations with multiple league insiders about the state of the game reveal a consistent theme: As the rate of 3-pointers has exploded, the NBA might finally be reaching a critical mass. Some raise concerns because they believe the 3-ball has created a monotonous rhythm to each game, while others believe it has distorted the scoring system that determines wins and losses.
There’s also the compounding effect of all these deep looks. Just the consistent threat of a 3-pointer allows the spacing for creators to find the other hyperefficient way to score — a shot at the basket. As offenses now field four or even five shooters on the floor, and dynamos such as Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard must be accounted for at 30 feet or beyond, defenses simply have too much ground to cover to properly challenge the barrage of long-range shots. Efficiency begets efficiency. “It often looks like no defense is being played,” Casey said. “But when there are four shooters on the floor and a big man at the dunker [spot], spacing is inflated and a defense is stretched to its limit. Guys are working, but it’s impossible to cover that much ground against NBA speed, quickness and power.”
Changes to the way the NBA was officiated — first with regard to illegal defense in the early 2000s, then by severely limiting contact between a defender and a ball handler — liberated perimeter players and put a newfound premium on outside shooting. The result was a generation of players, irrespective of size, who had to expand their games if they wanted to achieve at the next level.
If it wanted to, the NBA could afford defenders more latitude in impeding penetration. At the beginning of the 2018 season, “freedom of movement” was a point of emphasis for game officials, with the intention of almost eliminating any hint of grabbing and arm wraps. The return of handchecking is a non-starter, but finding a happy medium between aggravated assault and a spa day could give NBA defenses a fighting chance to impede today’s shot creators. Fans would still be treated to Luka Doncic’s unconscionable crossover and step-back 3, but they would also be spared more than five breezy attempts per night from Darius Bazley.
NBA power broker suggested capping amount of three-pointers teams can take per game
A more radical proposal from a longtime league power broker who wishes to remain anonymous (unless the idea gains traction) would curb inflation by limiting supply: Cap the amount of 3-pointers a team can take over the course of a game. Over the first 42 minutes of the game, each team would have the chance to attempt 20 shots from beyond the arc that would count for three points. Once an offense runs out of those 20 attempts, it can keep shooting from behind the line, but each subsequent make would count for only two points — until the 6:00 mark of the fourth quarter, when attempts would once again worth three points until the game is over. The 3-ball is still the most reliable and entertaining way for teams to mount comebacks at all levels of basketball, so it’s smart to showcase them at the game’s most dramatic moments.
“I don’t think the game would look the same,” Kerr says, “because I don’t think anybody would have figured out or really schemed the type of space that exists now. That’s the biggest thing I see when I watch a game today versus 20 years ago is everybody’s set up at 10 feet farther out than they were back then. And if those shots are all still two points, I don’t think we pay any attention to those people out there.” Those same shots would no longer be a threat; there would be no reason to work on the pull-up 25-footer in transition — a thing the Warriors totally do — because there would be no reason to take that shot, and thus no reason to stretch out and guard it.
Consider this: For the first time in NBA history, 3-point shooters are outscoring paint scorers. Coming into Tuesday’s games, playoff scorers had yielded 4,602 points via 3s and 4,512 points in the paint. This fact is more than just trivia. It reveals that games are being won and lost far away from the rim — and that represents a paradigm shift in pro basketball. For years, we’ve known 3-point shooters are streaky characters who impact wins. Over the past two seasons, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has made 46% of his 3s in playoff wins and just 26% of them in playoff losses. His hot streak helped lift the Raptors to the title last year, and as teams continue to assign more shots to these volatile perimeter threats, their importance skyrockets.
When LeBron James won his first NBA championship in 2012, playoff scorers literally scored twice as many points in the paint as they did from 3-point range. Eight years later, we’re living in a world where 3-point shooters are more prolific. It’s an incredible shift in a short time, driven by personnel changes, tactical adjustments and the basic analytical idea that 3 is greater than 2. Also, keep in mind these wild 2020 numbers are happening without the Golden State Warriors playing postseason ball. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson aren’t logging bubble minutes. Yet even without the Splash Brothers, this year’s playoffs are more likely than ever to include the kinds of massive 3-point shooting differential the Dubs made famous.
Based on Second Spectrum’s shot quality metrics, the Milwaukee Bucks’ 3s in their playoff losses were only 1 percentage point worse compared to their wins, based on expected eFG. But the Bucks actually shot 6 percentage points worse than expected on average in their five losses. Call it a lack of confidence or a total fluke. Call it whatever you want. But it’s enough to help explain why two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is heading home right now.
The game has changed, and if you can’t shoot 3s, you can’t win playoff games. Check this out: Per Second Spectrum tracking data, the eight 2020 conference semifinalists have logged around 39 3-point attempts per 100 possessions in both their wins and losses. They’ve also logged nearly identical shot quality metrics in those wins and losses. The expected effective field goal percentage for all of their 3s based on shot location, shooter movement and defender distance has hovered around 52% on average. That ticks up to 53% if you’re taking into account the quality of the shooter.
It still eats at D’Antoni that he listened a little bit to the doubters, both from outside and inside the organization. “It just pecks away and erodes your confidence,” D’Antoni said. “You forget all the great things and how you got there. You think about that one game and change things. “No, just keep at it and persevere.” History and, of course, analytics tell us that D’Antoni’s Suns pointed the league in the right direction. They also tell us that those Phoenix teams were indeed way too conservative as far as letting it fly, especially considering that those Suns shot at least 39.3% from 3-point range each season, hitting a league-best percentage in all.
“Everyone was telling us you can’t win shooting all of those 3s,” said Nash, a career 42.8% 3-point shooter who never averaged more than 4.7 attempts per game, a number that would rank 97th in the league this season — as many as Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. “Now we realize that we didn’t shoot enough, especially when we’re playing small. I think Mike is right. I regret it, too, but it really wasn’t in my personality. The culture of the game wasn’t ready for that.”
Whether it’s good for the game is a matter of personal taste. But with teams averaging about 34 attempts per game, there’s not likely to be a contraction to the old days. The game has changed forever. “It’s a game I barely even recognize when I think about my time as a player about 75 years ago,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, 54.
Wolves President Gersson Rosas, who grew up in Houston and spent most of his career working for the Rockets, said Tomjanovich helped revolutionize the game by transforming the 4, or power forward, position. By using shooter Robert Horry in that slot, Tomjanovich spaced the floor in an era when teams might otherwise have two post players on the court at the same time. “That had rarely been done in the NBA. It was more European,” Rosas said. “It changes the floor and changes the spacing. The horizontal impact on the game — it went from two bigs in the post, maybe some pick-and-roll, execution action, to now you open up the floor.”
“Players just got so good at it and they’re getting better at it. We’ve got guys shooting almost at half-court now and that’s probably where it’ll go,” D’Antoni said. “Players usually, they’re trendsetters and they lead the way.” Rosas, meanwhile, has brought the philosophy to the Wolves and is trying to get the personnel to match. He made wholesale changes to the roster and loves that the franchise centerpiece, Karl-Anthony Towns, is one of the most accurate three-point shooters in the league, let alone as a center. That’s something that seemed unfathomable decades ago. “I’m fortunate to have that advantage here in Minnesota that we have maybe the best big for that style of play,” Rosas said.
During their half-hour interview, Wojnarowski also asked Young about the possibility of the NBA adding a four-point line, which the point guard unequivocally supported. “It would help me,” Young laughed. “We would get a lot more four-point plays. And then if I get fouled on the four-point line it’s an and-1, so we’re gonna get five points per possession. That would help us for sure. I’m down to get a four-point line.”
Tom Orsborn: Bertans was asked how far the NBA could extend the 3-pt line and still not hurt his percentage, he said: “I would be okay with the 3-point line being 29 or 30 feet. You would have a lot less shooters in the league. My value would go up probably.”
Tom Orsborn: Like Pop, though, Bertans said he would be against a 4-point play: “(That) would be too much. You would lose the beautiful game we have now…I don’t think it would really help the game of basketball.”
Chase Hughes: Davis Bertans says he would be okay if the NBA pushed the three-point line back to “29 or 30 feet.” “There would be a lot less shooters.”
The origins of the 3-point line go all the way back to 1945. Howard Hobson, the famed Oregon coach who won the first NCAA tournament in 1939, conducted an experiment. He had Fordham play Columbia in an exhibition game, with a twist: He added a 3-point line. So on Feb. 7, 1945, a Fordham player named John Cahill unofficially hit “the world’s first 3-point field goal,” as a reporter wrote. Hobson, described as a “progressive young strategist,” had studied 23 games at Madison Square Garden during the 1944-45 season while stationed nearby with the Army. His observations convinced him that the game needed the 3-point line. Not only would it create excitement, but it would reintroduce the art of the “long shot” and, most important of all, ease the congestion and brutishness the game had taken on.
The most radical coach was Gene Shue of the San Diego Clippers. Shue’s team shot a league-high 543 3-pointers in 1979. And while many coaches only attempted 3s at the end of quarters or in blowouts — “That philosophy is in the dark ages,” Shue argued — Shue incorporated them in his offense. He understood then what would become an accepted truth: That even if a team hits a lower percentage of 3-pointers, the true field goal percentage is much better. San Diego, however, won only 35 games, and Shue was fired. In the next three years, no NBA team shot more than 407 3s. The league was so dismissive of 3-pointers that in March 1980, the Los Angeles Times wrote that the Lakers “missed a chance to tie Phoenix because they didn’t even try for a three-pointer while trailing by three in the closing seconds.”
Pitino said he wanted his team to take at least 10 3s a game. One of his best shooters, Trent Tucker, told Pitino he had to warm up to shooting 3s. Pitino told him to warm up by taking them. He hated shots in the 18- to 22-foot range. He often raised his hands when one of his players fired a 3, then pumped his fist when it went in. One game, the Knicks went 0 for 7 from 3-point range, which was part of a prolonged drought. Pitino wasn’t fazed. The Knicks made an NBA record 11 3s in their next game. “They’ll know I’ll be upset if they don’t take the 3s,” he said. This was at a time when most of the NBA still ignored the line. Sports Illustrated wrote that “most coaches get queasy even talking about the 3-pointer and consider it a kind of guilty pleasure at best.”
The ensuing discussion lead all the usual places about why the 3-pointer is bad, but there was also a somewhat new argument to me: people don’t like the three because they don’t like watching all the missed jumpers that result from the increase in 3s. Which is an odd reaction, because it’s not true. As I’ve talked about in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail, the shots replaced by the additional 3-point attempts have been long two pointers, and primarily assisted long 2s. Catch-and-shoot 19 footers and the like. And those shots have been replaced because despite being worth a point less, the NBA as a whole doesn’t make them much more frequently than it does the slightly longer 3-pointer, and this trend has held fairly steady over time
In 2003-04, the NBA was 4.2 percent more accurate on 2-point jumpers (defined as shots from 15 feet and out) than it was on 3-pointers. So far this season, that gap is 5.0 percent. Meanwhile, over that time, the proportion of total shot attempts from 15 feet and out has risen all the way from 46.1 percent of shot attempts in 2003-04 to 47.8 percent this season, with this number actually peaking in the 2007-08 season at 49.1 percent. Now, the increase in pace of play across this time period – there are about 20 more shots per game now than in 2003-04, means that the total number of jumpers taken per game has risen from around 73.5 per game in 2003-04 to just over 85 per game this year.
That cold-blooded stunner was years in the making, helping accelerate one of the biggest trends in the NBA: the rapid rise of the deep 3. Along with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Luka Doncic and Trae Young, Lillard is among a small group of long-range specialists who are quickly changing the way we think about acceptable shots in pro hoops. “That’s not by accident,” Lillard told ESPN. “Guys are spending time doing it and getting comfortable and confident with that shot.”
Here’s how it works: You have to make 10 shots from five different spots around the 3-point arc, keeping track of how many attempts it takes you at each spot. So the best score you can get is a 50, with no misses at all. At a 50% shooting clip with 20 attempts from each spot, you’d score a 100. Like in golf, lower scorers are better. Generally, the best shooters at any level of basketball can sometimes log a 60. Beckner recalls first getting Lillard doing the drill in college, behind the shorter line. He was stunned watching Lillard drop a 51 — two different times. Just a single miss on Lillard’s entire run. As Lillard racked up consecutive makes, Beckner did his best to act normal and avoid a jinx.
According to Lillard, the hardest part about preserving good shooting form from deep range isn’t about the arms or legs. “If you keep your core tight and your body strong, then the ball flies out stronger,” he said. “If your body is weak, you come up not as strong and the ball will waver when you’re that far out.” The deeper the shot, the harder it gets to keep the ball straight. “The ball can go left or right,” Lillard said. “You can air-ball. It’s far out, so there’s more room for error.”
First things first — 3-pointers barely produce any more points than 2-pointers, on average. The league hits 35.2 percent of its 3s and 52.0 percent of its 2s last season, meaning both shots produced nearly identical expected returns – 1.04 points for 2s, 1.06 points for 3s. From that perspective, giving an additional shot for a shooting foul on a 3-pointer compared to a 2-pointer makes no sense — the shooter wasn’t likely to score more points on the initial shot.
In fact, check this out: That return on a three-shot foul is so excessive that, on average, committing one is about as bad as committing a flagrant! The second shot on a flagrant can’t be rebounded, so the two shots on average are worth 1.53 points for the offense. The team then inbounds on a dead ball, which is the lowest efficiency initial condition for offense – yielding 1.07 points per possession last season, according to our Seth Partnow. That brings our total for the trip to 2.60 points. So a three-shot foul hands the offense 2.56 points on average … and a flagrant gives it 2.60. It’s basically the same. Yikes.
So, summing it all up: The three-shot foul creates a massively disproportionate penalty to the crime committed, on a play type that officials have difficulty calling correctly. It also likely creates more contact and injury potential rather than reducing it, and incentivizes both boorish behavior and stylistic monotony that make the game less entertaining. The league can go back to three shots in the final two minutes to eliminate intentional fouling incentives late in games; we already have several other rules that change in the last two minutes. But for the first 46 minutes, it’s clearly a bad rule.
Pop is right. Not only has the analytics era of the NBA dramatically reshaped shot selection across the league, but shooting is by far the most important component of winning games. Teams with a higher effective field goal percentage (eFG%) than their opponents won 81 percent of their games during the regular season, and they’re winning 90 percent of them in the playoffs. When most of us talk about how analytics has changed hoops, we hone in on the dramatic increases in 3-point scoring. But in a zero-sum game, if you’re doing a lot more of one thing, you must be doing less and less of something else. The rapid rises in perimeter shooting necessarily come at the expense of other basketball behaviors. As we continue to be increasingly seduced by the 3, what parts of basketball are we leaving behind?
Consider this crazy stat: During the 2018- 2019 regular season, NBA shooters made 27,955 3-point shots. That’s more than they made during the entire 1980s (23,871). Historically, the league has demonstrated an impressive willingness to change its rulebook and its playing surface to keep game play diverse and interesting. In 1947, when the league outlawed the zone defenses that were stagnating flow, one of the main defensive tactics in the sport disappeared.
But is this interesting? Is it good for the league to place such a high value on two stationary shooting specialists camping out in the corners? Maybe, who knows. But one thing is for sure: Outside of dunks and layups, rooks in the corners are yielding the cheapest points on the chessboard, and the numbers leave little doubt that the league is now chock-full of guys who can drain these shots at such high rates that teams would be crazy not to station them every time down the floor. Moreover, the ability to make that shot is now a prerequisite for almost every off-ball player in the NBA. But does anyone go to NBA arenas to watch these guys stand still in the corners? One simple way to bring more movement back into the game and breathe more life into the 2-point area is to make it a little harder on these loitering bros along the baseline. Drawing a consistent 23.75-foot 3-point boundary wouldn’t completely eliminate baseline triples, but it would get rid of the the loophole 3 — the corner triple with a shot distance of between 22 and 23.75 feet.
It’s official: In the NBA, this was the year of the 3-pointer. Again. The NBA has set a record for 3-pointers made for the seventh consecutive year, after the 25,808th of the season was made Saturday night. The league is on pace for about an 8 percent rise in 3-pointers over last season — and 3s are getting made a staggering 57 percent more often than what was the case just five years ago.
And with the NBA’s ongoing emphasis to make players think efficiency and spacing, Brown installed one extra line on the Sixers’ practice court in February 2017: a phantom gray 4-point line. Since then, others have followed suit. The Chicago Bulls taped a white 4-point line to the floor of the Advocate Center over the summer. Pierce, who was an assistant coach in Philadelphia prior to this season, brought the line south when he was hired to coach the Hawks this offseason. The Brooklyn Nets have also had one since the 2016-17 season. “We are all thieves,” Brown says, smiling slyly and noting that he, too, has stolen precious coaching goods. “It is a copycat league. I look at it as a compliment that other people value that.”
The 4-point line might be the most famous and easily recognizable game-ification marking, but there are others. When Mike Budenholzer was named coach of the Milwaukee Bucks this offseason, he instructed the video coordinators to tape five blue squares on the team’s practice courts. The 1.5-foot-by-1.5-foot boxes are arranged outside the 3-point arc: two in the corners, two at the angles and one at the top of the key. Taping down the squares (with special court tape) took nearly an hour and a half and five people. The Bucks used video coordinator Schuyler Rimmer’s size-16 shoes to make sure the squares had enough space for an NBA player’s oversized feet.
Game-ifying in practices can produce clear results in game. This season, the Hawks rank second — behind the Houston Rockets — in corner 3 attempts. In Chicago, reserve guard Antonio Blakeney has made 14 3s from the left corner, tied for the fourth most in the NBA, despite playing just 16.6 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Budenholzer’s squares have helped propel Milwaukee to the highest-scoring team and the third-highest offensive rating in the league, and 7-foot center Brook Lopez is earning attention for his deep 3-point shooting while making a career-high 2.5 triples per game. The 76ers’ transition defense appears to be benefiting from their 12-foot arc, as Philly is allowing 1.05 points per chance (fifth best in the NBA) on transition plays this season, according to Second Spectrum data.
Now with the Rockets, the astronomical numbers being produced provide the veteran coach with some satisfaction that he was right: Pace and space can work. “I think we were kinda tip-toeing, we didn’t know in a sense,” D’Antoni said. “There was no one out there saying you can win like that. We shoot 30 3s and somebody would say, ‘Oh that’s too many.’ Maybe it is. ‘You need to post up.’ Since the dawn of analytics and people in Golden State showing what you can do, we pushed the envelope. We probably could have done that in Phoenix, we could have been even better.”
The rise is stunning to many who believed the West would be nothing more than a two-team race between Golden State and San Antonio. It has even surprised D’Antoni. “A little bit. We just got a lot of good shooters, and James is one of the better point guards I’ve ever seen,” D’Antoni said. “Just how he orchestrates things. I didn’t think we shot well the other night and we still put up 140 so we can get a lot better and hopefully we will. Just lucky to shoot with a lot of shooters.”
According to statistics charted by NBA.com, 50 of Frye’s 71 shots this season were taken with at least four feet between him and a defender. Four to six feet of space is considered “open,” more than six feet “wide open.” He’s been “wide open” for 29 shots; 15 of those found their way through the hoop. All of those 29 shots have come from at least 10-feet away from the basket. In other words, opposing bigs aren’t really chasing him out to “Frye-land.” Not yet. “Centers are not going to get out and show, they’re not going to be able to rotate to him,” Lue said. “Then centers at the 5 position, they’re used to helping around the rim. When guys are penetrating, they’re coming to help and now you’ve got a 7-foot guy out there shooting 3s. It’s unfamiliar territory for big men.”
HoopsHype: The three-point line debate is a thing now. Danny Granger: Obviously they don’t realize how hard it is to consistently make a NBA 3 pt shot. Guys that never played always have dumb input.
Over the weekend, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he believed the league should consider moving the three-point line back. On Monday, Haralabos Voulgaris, a prominent NBA gambler who occasionally appears on Bill Simmons’s podcast, tweeted his thoughts on the three-point line and, specifically, on how the frequent use of the three-pointer has created a worse product to his nearly 95,000 Twitter followers. Voulgaris believes the line should be pushed back to 25 feet and/or until the average shooter is making 25 percent of his three-pointers to eliminate players — particularly stretch-fours — whose main skill is shooting three-pointers and he used Dudley as an example.
I asked Dudley about the take late Monday after the Wizards’ win over the Philadelphia 76ers. “Name me someone who’s more talented that’s not getting the opportunity,” Dudley said. “Blake Griffin’s getting an opportunity. So maybe to a point but I would argue that’s a terrible comparison because someone like Blake is getting touches on the low block. It’d be like Jerami Grant. He’s not a stretch four. He’s athletic. High potential. But is he skilled enough?”
Tim MacMahon: Mark Cuban says the NBA should consider moving the 3-point line back to open up the court more. He thinks it would also encourage players to develop a midrange game.
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May 27, 2023 | 8:06 pm EDT Update
Bobby Manning: Malcolm Brogdon was sitting in his locker in street clothes around the time the #Celtics announced him as out. He normally warms up around this time. Between missing 2nd half in G5, sitting on the side at shootaround & not progressing too far pregame, seems like arm is that bad..
Tim Reynolds: Matthew Tkachuk, who went to school with Jayson Tatum, on who he’s rooting for tonight: “I’m rooting for my two favorite players, Jimmy Butler and Tatum. I hope they both go off tonight. … But for the whole Florida vibe, I hope this building is electric all night.”
May 27, 2023 | 7:35 pm EDT Update
Jared Weiss: Joe Mazzulla on whether Malcolm Brogdon will play tonight with his forearm soreness: “He’s gonna warm up, do his shooting time and see how he feels from there.”
Wes Goldberg: Shaquille O’Neal and Stan Van Gundy cutting it up before the game. pic.twitter.com/ZCwcP1PCvA
May 27, 2023 | 7:02 pm EDT Update
Anthony Chiang: Gabe Vincent (sprained ankle) will warm up to see if he can play, Erik Spoelstra says.