NBA finals: Aggressive LeBron not enough, must find groove with Wade

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We all kept talking about it and marveling at it during the Heat’s defeats against Boston and Chicago to reach the NBA finals — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were playing together. Not next to each other, they were working off the ball to get open when the other had the ball, they were running pick-and-rolls, they were playing as a team not as individuals.

Lost in the “LeBron has to be aggressive” narrative (which is true) remains this fact — LeBron and Wade need to start playing with some synergy again in Game 5 or Dallas is going to take a lead in this series.

Dallas has brought fantastic defensive pressure on the Heat this series, and in the wake of it LeBron and Wade have gone back to playing next to each other not with each other. Wade has the ball because he has the hot hand, LeBron is standing in the corner, not working to get open.

Early in this game Erik Spoelstra should call the Wade/LeBron pick-and-roll a few times — they use that play shockingly little considering how devastating it can be (they went to it with the game on the line in Game 3 and it worked). If it is again Jason Kidd matched up on LeBron, he needs to be the playmaker with the ball in his hands and attack. But whether it is LeBron or Wade with the ball, they need to set up each other. They need to work off the ball. They need to be teammates again.

That will be part of this critical Game 5, but there are a couple other factors as well.

One is Tyson Chandler — he dominated inside in Game 4. His offensive rebounds, and rebounding in general, have been key for Dallas so far. And he will remain a huge advantage for Dallas — Miami has no big man who physically matches up with him. For Dallas, another big night from Chandler will be key.

So will be having a healthy Dirk Nowitzki back. Dallas compensated for his illness last game by getting contributions from Chandler and Jason Terry, and they will need those again. But expect a big night from a healthy Dirk, scoring 30-plus points and continuing to be unstoppable.

Dallas also now has a go-to play if they need it — a staggered screen set. Mimi has struggled to stop it since the end of Game 2 and you can expect to see it again when Dallas needs a bucket.

The one other thing to watch is turnovers — when Dallas makes them, and Miami can get out and run, the Heat take big leads. The Mavs have been able to get out of those holes, but life would be easier if they didn’t have to.

But Miami has two guys who can simply impose their will on a game, and if they work together to do that in Game 5 it could be all the difference.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?

 

 

 

Pelicans’ Tony Allen out 3-4 weeks with fibula fracture

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The injuries just keep hitting the Pelicans. Guys like Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca are out for extended periods of time. Anthony Davis has missed four of the team’s last six games and is questionable for Wednesday night due to a left adductor injury.

Now comes the news that reserve guard Tony Allen will be out three to four weeks due to a nondisplaced left proximal fibula fracture, the team announced Tuesday. This is the part of the bone near the ankle.

Allen has played a limited role for New Orleans off the bench this season, averaging 12.4 minutes a game, and averaging 4.7 points. His reputation is that of a defensive stopper, and when he is on the court this season the Pelicans’ defense has been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better. However, father time has started to catch up with him and he is not the defender he once was.

Expect the minutes to bump up for Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore with this injury, which is not a bad thing as they have played well (they were knocking down threes against the Rockets Monday like they were named Curry), plus Ian Clark could get a little more run.