Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs

Tune in early to see if Heat can hang with Spurs late Monday

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Last time the end of the game had all the suspense of a North Korean election. It was over before it started. Back on March 4, the Spurs walked out of the locker room draining threes while the Heat had just 12 first quarter points. Miami was down more than 20 less than 12 minutes in and never seriously changed after that.

Ten days later, the Heat seek redemption. After beating the Lakers last week by out executing the defending champions at the end of the game, the Heat get another shot at this season’s end-of-game execution champions in the Spurs.

But the Heat need to be in at the end for that to matter.

And that’s why you need to tune in early Monday — the teams that have beaten the Spurs or had a shot to at the end usually grab big leads early. The Spurs, in the regular season, will fold up the tents pretty early and rest guys if they think there is no point in mounting a comeback.

Getting out to a fast start means the Heat have to do a better job defending the three-point line. Which is easier said than done — the Spurs run a lot of high pick-and-rolls with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili slashing into the defense, forcing rotations, then they make you pay with good spot up shooters. The Lakers defended this by having Andrew Bynum lay back and protect the paint from slashing guards.  While the Heat do not have a guy who can defend the rim like Bynum look for them to take something out of playbook.

The Heat also need to get some points in transition — they are beasts when they steal the ball or get out and run off long rebounds. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are otherworldly forces of nature in the open court. Last meeting it was the Spurs — and Parker in particular — that was controlling the open court and getting the transition points (a lot on secondary break stuff). The Heat need to get back better in transition defense while getting out more and running themselves.

The Heat also need to get another big game from Chris Bosh, making Tim Duncan really work on the defensive end of the floor. The Heat need to get inside the Spurs defense.

Do all that… and the Heat still better hope they are up comfortably at the end of the game. Because if it comes down to end-of-game execution it is the Spurs that have to be the favorites.

But if the Heat come out and play with the desperation they showed against the Lakers, maybe once again it will not come down to the end of the game. And the Heat will get the win this time.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.