Heat have a plan for Jeremy Lin… and it’s not who you think

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Jeremy Lin vs. Joel Anthony.

That is the matchup that will determine the highly anticipated showdown between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks Thursday night in South Beach.

Not LeBron James or Dwyane Wade — although they will both get their say — but rather Joel Anthony.

Let me explain. (Tom Haberstroh at ESPN pointed the matchup out first.)

The Heat have been on a tear — seven straight wins all by a dozen points or more — because of their aggressive defense. The Knicks offense is predicated on points in transition and a heavy dose of pick-and-roll. Lin thrives in this system because he has crafty skills at getting to the rim and when he turns the corner off the pick he tends to slow down just a little then make good decisions.

Miami’s defensive plan is to blow that up. Not just against the Knicks, but every night. The Heat don’t have the best defense in the league (seventh in points per possession surrendered) but they have the most aggressive. They come at you, pressure you, try to force turnovers so they can get out and run (James and Wade are unstoppable in the open court). They can do that better than any other team because they are loaded with long, strong athletes.

They are not changing that for the Knicks, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told ESPN’s Heat Index.

“We’re going to try to bring our game to them, not necessarily to react and adapt to their pick-and-roll game,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll continue to play to our identity and to our style, which is to be disruptive.”

That’s where Joel Anthony comes in. Most of the pick-and-rolls the Knicks ran last night were with Tyson Chandler setting the pick. That’s Anthony’s man, and he is going to show out hard and pressure Lin. They are going to trap him and try to force Lin to make decisions under that pressure. Lin is going to have LeBron or Wade on him at many points, two of the league’s most aggressive defenders. Lin has already had some turnover issues, the Heat want more of those — then to turn those into highlight dunks going the other way.

Lin has handled all the pressure thrown at him so far very well. But this is different. The Heat are not Defensive Pressure 101, this is a graduate level course. Maybe doctorate level.

When teams pressure and trap they leave shooters open — Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and the rest of the Knicks have to knock down outside shots. They have to take the lanes they get to the rim and not miss when LeBron or Wade rotate over fast looking for the block. Steve Novak could have another big game.

The Heat are not unbeatable, but the calm decision making of Lin is going to be put to the test like never before. It doesn’t help that the Knicks played last night and traveled while the Heat had the night off at home and are rested.

Just another hurdle for Lin and the Knicks. But if you don’t think they stand a chance to clear it, you haven’t been watching the last two weeks.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.