5 Things to Watch, Heat-Mavericks: Christmas revenge

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GAMES. There will be actual NBA games played today starting at noon. To get you pumped, ready, and primed for the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season, we give you five things to keep an eye on today in Heat-Mavericks.

To get you pumped:

The devil you know is worse than the devil you don’t

The Heat would undeniably take this Mavericks team over the one they faced Tlast spring. No J.J. Barea, no Peja Stojakovkic keeping them honest for stretches, no DeShawn Stevenson d’ing up James and generally being an irritant, and most of all, no Tyson Chandler. The Heat still don’t have a quality center (sorry Eddy Curry, sorry again Joel Anthony), so not having to deal with the seven-foot Chandler roaming the paint is helpful. Lamar Odom will be a handful, no doubt, but they’ll still take that over last year’s combo anytime. The Heat have better odds against a deeper but more piecemeal Mavericks team than the cohesive team that took them down in last year’s Finals.

The Wade Conundrum

Dwyane Wade was a huge barometer for the Heat’s success last year. When he was plugged in and engaged, the Heat were hard to stop, especially for the Mavericks. The Mavericks didn’t retain Caron Butler and only brought in Vince Carter one the wing. Jason Terry lacks the size to guard him, Carter the athleticism and toughness. If the Heat are smart, they’ll gear the offense through Wade almost entirely on Sunday.

The Disengaged One doesn’t sound as good as Chosen One

LeBron James vanished in the fourth quarter during the Finals to most people’s delight. The reality is that the Mavericks sent a brilliant blanket coverage at him, using Shawn Marion to over-pursue on the perimeter, forcing James to drive, then bringing two separate help defenders, forcing James to kick out to someone else who couldn’t shoot from the outside. James has to force the issue on Sunday. The result is fouls, which means weaker lineups for the Mavericks and easy points for James. He needs to not worry about making the right play and make the best play. Or he’s going to have flashbacks of June.

Simple percentages

The Mavericks were in fuego in last year’s Finals, hitting 41 percent from the arc. That number figures to drop as Jason Kidd has to come back to earth a bit (right?), Barea is gone,  along with Stevenson. But Odom has three-point range, as does Carter, and there’s always Dirk. The Heat are a great defensive team, but they may have to sacrifice some inside bucket risks in order to keep hand in the face of the perimeter shooters.

Like a Bosh

You know who actually had a pretty good Finals series? Chris Bosh. Bosh used the attention drawn by the Heat’s drivers to get his pick and pop on, and wound up averaging more points than LeBron. He actually neutralized Jason Terry’s impact, if you choose to think of it that way. Bosh is in his hometown, with a crowd that doesn’t like him. He was tagged as being soft and inferior last season. He can set the tone for this year with a strong performance Sunday.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.