5 things to watch for in the NBA Finals’ Game 3

6 Comments

The series is tied, and teams are 11-0 when winning the third game of a 2-3-2 series tied 1-1. The Heat have looked unstoppable and then collapsed. The Mavericks have looked overwhelmed and then charged back to victory. Anyone who thought this series was going to be quick or easy has had a lesson in the realities of just how good these two teams are. This thing is more than likely going the distance, but whoever wins Game 3 will have a huge leg up in the series.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch for in the NBA Finals’ Game 3.

1. Inside Men

LeBron James admitted Saturday that he needs to attack more. He and Wade went into hero mode early in the fourth quarter and the result was a stalled offense for the Heat that allowed the comeback. Wade’s one drive inside five minutes did net points off of free throws. James has to be more aggressive. He made a lot of noise Saturday about how Shawn Marion can’t guard him one-on-one. James needs to prove that to be the case in Game 3 by staying aggressive. Then again, you could replace Marion with just about any defender in the league and you have the same situation that always exists with LeBron. Needing to be aggressive. Too often being passive.

2. A Swift Kick in the Glass

Whichever team won the offensive rebounding battle in this series has taken the game. Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler came out much more active on the glass in Game 2 and it paid off. The Heat need those extra possessions. In particular, Joel Anthony needs to make his presence felt. Anthony is known as the “no-stats All-Star” on the Heat, but he needs to actually fill up the box score with rebounds on both ends. Udonis Haslem has too many responsibilities and James and Wade have too much attention on them. Anthony needs to contribute with effort and know-how.

3. Whoa, Boy

Take out the fourth quarter of the Mavericks and you have a disappointing loss on the backs of a game filled with missed opportunities. The Mavericks had an ungodly amount of turnovers in Game 2 and it very nearly cost them. As much as offensive rebounding was the correction Rick Carlisle talked about before Game 2, turnovers are his sticking point before Game 3. The Mavericks were able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get away with it in Game 2, but that won’t happen again. They have to cut down on mental mistakes and make smarter passes. As the series goes along, both teams are starting to attack the dribble and passing lanes more. Whoever can outsmart the opponent’s attack while not forcing things too much will have an advantage that could tip the series. In particular the Mavericks in the fourth quarter started being aggressive on the perimeter in gambling and attacking passing lanes on the drive and kick. The Heat have their own turnover issues to worry about.

4. For the Love of God, Double Dirk

The Heat chose not to double Dirk Nowitzki at the end of Game 2… or did they? Dwyane Wade bailed out his teammate Chris Bosh by saying the Heat “screwed up” their rotations, which means that someone was supposed to come help. Dirk Nowitzki even said he was surprised to find himself open when he spun around Chris Bosh like he was standing still (as he was standing still). If the situation repeats itself, Udonis Haslem told reporters he didn’t know if they would necessarily double Dirk. If that actually happens again and we have a repeat of Game 2, I’m going to write up a pink slip for Erik Spoelstra just in case Pat Riley needs it, despite the fact that Spoelstra’s done a remarkable job in the postseason. They have to double Dirk Nowitzki and live with the consequences.

5. The Totally Reliable Unreliable 3-point Shooters

Jason Kidd and Mario Chalmers all of a sudden are having a shooting contest. Who saw that happening? We keep waiting to see when Kidd’s 3-point attack is going to stall, but he really has worked to add that part to his game and he’s making defenses pay when they, as above, double Dirk. Mario Chalmers has been the Heat’s zone buster. And had the Heat managed to survive Game 2 in overtime, he would have been a hero for his clutch 3-pointer. All of a sudden this series has become about which set of unreliable shooters gets hot. A key thing to watch will be if one team is cold and gets in a deficit if they keep going for the 3-pointer in the hopes of the home-run ball. The Mavericks did that for three quarters in Game 2 and it almost cost them. The Heat did that for the majority of the fourth quarter and it did cost them. Whoever can adjust gets the cookie in Game 3.

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

AP Photo/Darren Abate
Leave a comment

The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Leave a comment

The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.