NBA Finals: Heat, Mavericks five keys to victory


Miami always seemed like they had a chance if they just came together — and they did at the right time.

Dallas has been a surprise. We all knew they were good but we had been conditioned to expect them to fall flat in the playoffs. Instead Tyson Chandler gave them defensive toughness and Dirk Nowitzki has been playing the most efficient basketball of a Hall of Fame career.

This is going to be one interesting finals with a lot of questions to play out. Here is what each team needs to do.

Five Keys For Heat

Slow Nowitzki. Dirk Nowitzki has flat out been the single best player in the playoffs, not only scoring 28.4 points per game on but also doing it while shooting 51.7 percent and 51.6 percent from three. He is too good a scorer to stop, but they have to make him less efficient. A lot of that may fall to Udonis Haslem — who was able to hound Nowitzki into being just good during the 2006 finals — but look for Joel Anthony, Chris Bosh and LeBron James to get shots, too. The Heat have to work to deny Nowitzki position, front him and generally just make him work. Nowitzki is a more complete player now and better at getting his spots on the floor than he was five years ago. The Heat have to find a way

Bosh on the perimeter. If this meeting is anything like the regular season games, Tyson Chandler will be assigned coverage of Chris Bosh. Look for the Heat to use Bosh to set high screens for Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and everyone else, then have him pop out for the shot. Chandler has to respect Bosh from the midrange and stay out on him, pulling him away from the basket. And when he’s not blocking shots at the basket and that falls to Dirk Nowitzki the Mavs defense is far less threatening. Look for the Mavs to counter with zone.

Wade at end of games. The Mavs bring Jason Terry off the bench to providing scoring that few teams can contain. Then Terry stays out on the court during crunch time and will be asked to guard Dwyane Wade. That is a matchup where Wade is taller, stronger and more athletic. Dallas coach may try to hide Terry on defense by having Jason Kidd on Wade, but Wade is far quicker. Either way, Miami needs to exploit that matchup in end game situations.

Get transition points. There is no more fearsome sight in the open court than LeBron James bearing down on you. Just ask Kyle Korver. Maybe second on that list is Dwyane Wade. The Heat are nearly unbeatable if they get easy points in transition and are in full attack mode. They need to get the turnovers and run on the older Mavericks off misses. They need the easy buckets.

Get to the free throw line. This is twofold. For one thing, this is like transition points in that if the Heat can get easy points off fouls they become difficult to beat. Second, you tend to get those fouls when you are attacking. The Heat need to attack — they won Game 5 against Chicago because Wade and James hit jump shots late, but they cannot play like that all series.

Five Keys For Mavericks

Get shooters open looks. Like Chicago, Dallas really only has one guy who can create his own shot any time he wants. The difference is what is around him — Derrick Rose had no consistent shooters around him, allowing the Heat to trap him in key moments. Dallas is loaded with shooters — Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Kidd. Miami is an athletic team that recovers quickly, but either Nowitzki has to make them pay for not doubling or quick ball movement and knockdown shooters have to make them pay. The Bulls could not do it, but the Mavs have been much better at it.

Zone defense. The Mavericks defense this playoffs has been average, but they are about to run into the best team they have faced and it has to be better than that. Because Chris Bosh presents matchup issues that could pull Tyson Chandler away from the basket, look for the Mavs to use their matchup zone at key moments. Wade and James struggled against the Mavs zone in the regular season, but this is a much better Heat team. Miami will figure out how to attack it, but the Mavs may be able to get key stops out of it for a while.

Do not foul — especially you, Tyson Chandler. If Miami gets easy points the Mavericks cannot beat them. Not turning the ball over is part of that. But if you let the Heat make a parade to the foul like you have done the same thing. Dallas did a poor job of this against Oklahoma City, they must do better here. Chandler in particular has to stay out of foul trouble, the Mavs defense is much worse when he sits.

Crashing the boards. During the regular season, Dallas was a good defensive rebounding team, eighth highest percentage of defensive rebounds grabbed in the league. They have not been nearly as effective in the playoffs. The Heat are not usually a great offensive rebounding team, but this goes back to the “do not give up easy points mantra” the Mavs need. They have to control the glass – and get some offensive boards themselves, Chandler is not somebody anyone on the Heat can contain. The Mavs need to recreate Game 1 of the Bulls series, when Chicago dominated the glass and won.

The J.J. Barea factor. The diminutive guard has become a cult hero in the playoffs with his curving cuts through the Lakers and Thunder defense. It is the kind of bench scoring the Mavericks must have, and his high pick-and-roll with Nowitzki has been very deadly. Against Miami Barea and the Mavs will run into the most athletic and active set of big men they have seen. Dallas still needs to get those points if they are to win.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

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Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.