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.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.