NBA finals: Miami will execute at the end of Game 6 or the season ends

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One stat sums up why we are one more Mavericks win away from seeing David Stern hand the Larry O’Brien trophy over to Mark Cuban:

In the final six minutes of Games 2 through 5, Dallas has outscored Miami 60-26.

These have been incredibly close games, but with everything on the line Dallas and its veteran lineup have executed better. The Mavericks have gotten the shots they wanted and hit the shots they’ve gotten. Dallas — with a ferocious Tyson Chandler in the paint — has reduced Miami to a jump-shooting team.

Thing is, late in games, Chicago reduced Miami to a jump shooting team, too. Remember the Game 5 comeback against the Bulls by the Heat? What shots do you remember? LeBron James and Dwyane Wade draining 3-pointer after 3-pointer.

But that is not their forte, they are two of the best penetrators the game has seen and when both are settling for jumpers they can be beat. Not always, just ask the Bulls, but the odds improve because when they get inside they are nearly unstoppable.

It is possible that Game 6 in Miami on Sunday night will see one team break out for a comfortable win, but based on the last five games it’s hard to expect. And even if a team — especially Miami — does get hot and pull out to a double-digit lead, you know the other team will come roaring back at some point.

Dallas has come back because it is hitting its shots late — you expect that from Dirk Nowitzki, but in Game 5 Jason Terry and J.J. Barea and seemingly anyone else in a Mavericks uniform could not seem to miss. Terry has LeBron in his face and drains the dagger three. They run a beautiful staggered screen set that Miami has yet to figure out how to defend. They mix in a little zone, just enough to keep the Heat off balance. You know, when the pressure is on, Dallas is going to make plays at the end of the game.

Can Miami? That ends up being the only question that matters coming into Game 6. Will LeBron come off the high-pick and bull his way to the basket rather than see the double team and become passive, looking for the pass but not imposing his will on the game? Will Wade take over at the end of the game and make it his own? Will one of them work to get open off the ball rather than stand around in the corner like a jump shooter. Or, if they do settle for jumpers, will the shots fall like they did against Boston and Chicago?

Dallas wants no part of a Game 7. They could well win it, but Game 7s are unpredictable — the Lakers’ Ron Artest was the best player on the court in last year’s Game 7. Anything can happen. Dallas needs to close it out now to make sure they win the title.

Which means they need to close out the final six minutes like they have the last four games. If they continue to play like that, well, it will be fun to see the look on Stern’s face when he has to hand Cuban the most cherished prize in the NBA.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.