Heat's James congratulates Wade after scoring against the Mavericks during fourth quarter in Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Miami

LeBron, Wade able to share “alpha dog” role just fine

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Because some people just need to criticize LeBron James no matter what he does, there were ridiculous columns out about LeBron James shrinking from the spotlight after the Heat won Game 3. Questions LeBron just shot down in his press conference.

But, this situation in Miami is different than what we saw with the Lakers the past few years, when that was Kobe’s team unquestionably. It is different than the current archetype of what a championship team should look like, based on Jordan’s Bulls teams. When Jordan was the alpha dog. When the game was on the line for those teams, you knew the play was an isolation for their star and he would make things happen.

The Heat are not LeBron’s team. They are not Dwyane Wade’s team. They share the team, the spotlight, the alpha dog role. At the end of Game 3, they got together to run a pick-and-roll rather than an isolation for one of them. At other times they each have taken over at the end of games. They each have called out teammates.

They can share top billing. That was the entire point of this “big three,” so that one guy did not have to carry the load every time. That has worked out well for them, even if some fans struggle to get their arms around it.

At one point in the fourth quarter Game 3, Wade yelled at LeBron, and when Wade was asked about it this was his response (reported by our man Ira Winderman at the Sun Sentinel):

“Them guys understand. They know me. I understand them. If things are said to each other, it’s all in the better for the team. It’s all about winning. I want it. LeBron knew that. The things I was saying to him, I was saying to Chris, wasn’t nothing they wouldn’t say to me. It was something they would say to me in the Chicago series and vice versa. We have enough respect for each other… I don’t know if I got in his face, but I was just trying to do what leaders do and do what captains do. Step up and say what you feel at that point in order.”

Wade is telling how it looks in the Heat locker room — there is not one unquestioned leader. Nor does their have to be for this to work. There is a belief from that Jordan/Kobe mindset that the best players not only have to dominate their opponents, they have to dominate their teammates as well. Jordan lashed out in practice, when Kobe came into the league he wanted to play and beat all his teammates in one-on-one games.

A mythology grew up around that. Fans bought in. As if that was the only way to win. But it is not.

This is not some new idea — Tom Ziller was writing about it a couple weeks ago, our own Rob Mahoney had a post on this same topic back in August. Mahoney noted out that the whole science behind the alpha dog in a pack of wolves was faulty in the first place.

The Heat are close to winning a title and doing it their way. LeBron, for all the perception that he has to be the center of the universe, has set that aside. Wade welcomed in a co-leader. They both took less money to make it all happen. They both have taken over at the end of games, and in Game 3 they both passed to the open man when the game was on the line.

They are sharing the alpha dog role, and because of their relationship that works well for them. You don’t have to like it, but you had better get used to it.

Four Things to Watch in two Game 7s Sunday

during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:

1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.

2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.

3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.

4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.

Spurs demolish Thunder to take Game 1 of second-round series

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 30: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs scores over Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 30, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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The second round was supposed to be when things got exciting. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs put on an absolute clinic at home, blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 124-92 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Just about everything went in for San Antonio, particularly for LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, who combined for 63 points. How dominant were they?

Aldridge in particular got anything he wanted against the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s stars were quiet, with Kevin Durant scoring just 16 points and Russell Westbrook 14. San Antonio controlled the game from the start and Oklahoma City never recovered from the opening punch.

It’s hard to imagine Durant and Westbrook are this ineffective again, and hopefully the rest of this series will be a little more competitive. But the Spurs did what the Spurs do, and did nothing to shake the feeling that they’re the favorites to win the west, now that Stephen Curry‘s status is unknown.

Hawks get another playoff shot at King James and Cavaliers

at Philips Arena on April 1, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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ATLANTA (AP) A year ago, Atlanta’s magical season ended with a resounding sweep by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference final.

Now, the Hawks have another shot at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Feeling confident after an opening-round victory over Boston, the Hawks returned to practice Saturday to begin preparations for the best-of-seven series.

Game 1 is Monday night in Cleveland.

The Hawks were the top-seeded team in the East last season after a record 60-win campaign. It didn’t do them much good against the Cavaliers, who steamrolled Atlanta in four straight games.

Even though they slipped to 48 wins and fourth in the conference, the Hawks actually sound a bit more confident heading into this matchup, largely because of their improved defense and rebounding.

Report: Warriors to replace Luke Walton from outside the organization

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 12: Interim Coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors talks on the sideline during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 12, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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For the second consecutive year, the Warriors have lost their lead assistant to another team. When the Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry during last year’s playoffs, Steve Kerr promoted Luke Walton to associate head coach and added former journeyman big man Jarron Collins to the bench. Now that Walton is headed to the Lakers as their next head coach, the Warriors will go outside the organization to find a replacement, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. And one name that will likely not be in the mix is David Blatt, who very nearly became an assistant under Kerr in 2014 before being offered the Cavaliers’ head job.

Given Walton’s success this season as interim head coach while Kerr recovered from back surgery, this will undoubtedly be the most attractive assistant job in the league.