LeBron James, Kevin Garnett

Eastern Confernence finals preview: Celtics vs. Heat

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami 46-20 (No. 2 seed)
Boston: 39-27 (No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES

Boston won the season series 3-1. In their second to final game before the playoffs the Heat did not play any of their big three against the Celtics, so toss that one out.

KEY INJURIES
Celtics: Starting two guard Avery Bradley is out after having surgery on both shoulders last week, and his defense will be missed. That moves Ray Allen into the starting lineup but he battling through ankle pain that may need surgery after the season. Paul Pierce has a sprained knee that will not be right until this summer.

Heat: Chris Bosh is still out with a strained abdomen and you shouldn’t expect to see him this series. Dwyane Wade has a knee issue and had to have it drained during the last series. Mike Miller has more things wrong with him than that guy on the table in the game operation, but he will be out there.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Heat: Offense 106.6 (8th in NBA); Defense 100.2 (4th in NBA)
Celtics: Offense 101.0 (27th in NBA); Defense 98.2 (1st in NBA)

THREE KEY CELTICS:

Rajon Rondo: When the pressure was on he played his best late in Game 7 against Philly — now he’s going to have to replicate that every game against the Heat for the Celtics to have a chance. They need his penetration to set up the other Celtics, particularly Brandon Bass cutting baseline or knocking down the midrange jumper. They need his jumper to fall. They need his defense. They need him to have the best playoff series of his life

Kevin Garnett: The Heat don’t have the size to exploit the Celtics when they go smaller and play KG at the five, which is good for Boston. Garnett’s offense was good against Philly but Boston needs more — he simply has to get deep post position and bring it on offense. Without Bosh to defend him Garnett has to put up big numbers for the Celtics to score enough in this series.

Paul Pierce: He had Andre Iguodala on him last series, if he gets hot at all in this one he’ll get LeBron James. Great. But again it comes down to scoring — we know the Celtics will defend well and as talented as the Heat are they will not score as much as normal. The problem is that Boston needs to put up more points than they have in the playoffs and they are about to face the best defense they’ve gone against yet.

THREE KEY HEAT:

LeBron James: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pulled no punches the other day — LeBron and Dwyane Wade are going to have to play at the level the duo did for the last three games of the Pacers series for the Heat to have a chance in this one. Boston plays great team defense but LeBron can get his and has to get his for the Heat to be successful. Also, he likely will have Paul Pierce to defend late in games, he has to shut down The Truth.

Dwyane Wade: Read what Spoelstra said above — the Heat need his scoring. They will need his defense and steals that create transition offense. They need the Wade that is one of the elite players in the NBA, anything less and they are thin.

Udonis Haslem: He’s got work to do at both ends of the floor. Defensively he’s going to get some time matched up on Garnett, and that could include key times in the game. They need his defense (and not his flagrant fouls, because the Celtics will be physical). On the other end, they need him to space the floor, to knock down the midrange jumper when Wade drives the lane and kicks it out. Like Haslem did in Game 5. They need that guy.

OUTLOOK

In their regular season meetings, the Celtics offense torched the Heat defense. Even if you throw out the final meeting when the Heat just rolled out the subs for 48 minutes.

Boston put up 117 in a game on Miami and racked up incredible shooting numbers in the regular season. The Celtics hit 76 percent of their corner threes against the Heat, with Ray Allen and others getting good looks (Boston shot 44 percent from there for the season). In their four meetings Boston shot 66.7 percent on long twos (20 feet to the arc). That’s the worst shot in basketball and they killed it from there. (Stats via NBA.com).

I don’t think they can come close to replicating that for four out of seven games. First off, two Boston wins came in April when they caught Miami during its “we’re just waiting for the playoffs to start” malaise. Also, against the Sixers last round the Celtics were not hitting those shots consistently. Ray Allen is not shooting like Ray Allen right now because of that ankle injury.

Instead I expect the Celtics will work hard to establish Garnett on the block, especially with Bosh not there to defend. He is going to have to have a monster series for the Celtics to have a chance. Also, Rondo is going to have to get into the teeth of the defense and create open looks for Garnett and Bass, who need to knock them down.

Miami’s defense is like a better version of the Sixers — they just have athletes all over the floor that pressure, gamble and try to force you into mistakes they turn into transition points. If Boston is to have any chance they have to break that pressure and put up points.

On offense, Miami is going to count on huge series from Wade and LeBron, who are attacking off the pick and roll. Boston lacks someone the size of Roy Hibbert on the back line but still no team was better during the regular season at containing the ball-handler coming off the pick. The Celtics need to get the attack-minded duo to hesitate and ultimately give up the ball.

What makes Miami dangerous is when Wade and Lebron can trust guys like Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mike Miller to knock down kickout shots (this is also where they miss Chris Bosh). And it should go without saying, you have to slow the Heat’s transition game. Well, you can say it but doing it is something else entirely.

PREDICTION

Miami in 5.

The truth is the Heat already beat the second best team in the East last round (after the Derrick Rose injury changed the landscape). Boston if they were healthy all the way around would have some pieces to challenge Miami but without Bradley’s defense and a steady Allen they don’t have the guys on the wings to defend the Heat. Boston’s defense is good, but their offense will not be able to keep up with what the Heat put on the board.

Late turnovers, dubious foul call on DeMarcus Cousins sinks Kings vs. Bulls (VIDEO)

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The Sacramento Kings committed a costly turnover during a tie game with just 14 seconds to go to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Thankfully, they were gifted with a missed Dwyane Wade layup to give them another possession!

Well, they would have been if DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t called for one of the softest fouls you’re likely to see this NBA season.

That gave the Bulls a chance to convert two free throws — of which Wade hit one — and then an opportunity at the other end to tie or win.

Unfortunately, Cousins lost the ball on the next Sacramento possession, which sealed the game for Chicago, 102-99.

Cousins was not happy with the outcome of the game, thrashing a garbage can in the hallway of the United Center and giving some interesting quotes to reporters.

Everyone set your mobile notifications for tomorrow’s L2M report.

Marcus Morris tips in game-winner over brother Markieff as Pistons best Wizards (VIDEO)

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Marcus Morris scored 25 points and tipped in the winning basket at the buzzer, leading the Detroit Pistons to a 113-112 victory over Washington on Saturday night for their third straight win.

Reggie Jackson had 19 points and eight assists, while Tobias Harris added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who let a 16-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter before Morris’ big bucket.

John Wall finished with 19 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and Markieff Morris added 19 points and nine rebounds for Washington, which had its four-game win streak snapped.

The Wizards took a 112-111 lead on Bradley Beal‘s two free throws with 1:13 left. Detroit had numerous chances to win on its final possession before Marcus Morris tipped in Harris’ missed runner with no time left.

The Pistons led 98-82 after three quarters, but the Wizards fought back, getting within six at 105-99 on Markieff Morris’ layup. The teams traded baskets over the next few minutes before Washington gained a 110-109 advantage on Morris’ dunk with 2:14 remaining.

Washington scored the first nine points of the game, but the Pistons took their first lead, 20-19, on Marcus Morris’ 3-pointer and led 30-26 after the first quarter.

Detroit took its biggest edge of the half, 41-30, on Reggie Bullock‘s 3-pointer. The Wizards got within three points on two occasions, but trailed 61-55 at the break.

The Pistons controlled the third quarter, building their lead to 16 points on Ish Smith‘s free throw to end the period.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Danuel House Jr. (right wrist fracture) and Ian Mahinmi (knee) did not play. … Washington played its third straight close game, beating New York 113-110 and Memphis 104-101 in their last two. … G Trey Burke played college basketball at Michigan. He finished Saturday with seven points off the bench.

Pistons: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (left rotator cuff strain) did not play. … Detroit capped its five game West Coast trip with a 102-97 win over the Lakers and beat Atlanta 118-95 in their first game back at the Palace. … Pistons F Marcus Morris and Washington F Markieff Morris are brothers and former teammates in Phoenix.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Monday at Charlotte.

Pistons: Host Sacramento on Monday.

Watch Nik Stauskas — yes, Nik Stauskas — posterize Thabo Sefolosha (VIDEO)

Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) of Canada, reacts after making a shot while being fouled as Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha, of Switzerland, looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
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Nik Stauskas — sometimes better known as Sauce Castillo — is mostly known for shooting 3-pointers for the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s why, when he dunked all over Atlanta Hawks wing Thabo Sefolosha on Saturday, it was even more surprising.

The play happened late in the second quarter, and it really was all Kent Bazemore‘s fault. He tried to hack at Stauskas instead of using lock and trail defense at the 3-point line, leaving poor Sefolosha to unexpectedly help out down low.

Via Facebook:

Yeah, nothing you can do about that. Saucy.

Blazers C Meyers Leonard dunks on Celtics’ Mickey twice in five minutes (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic young guy who has made a name for himself as a fade man off the pick-and-roll. But against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Leonard decided to roll to the hoop instead, and it sort of worked out.

Unless you’re Jordan Mickey, in which case it didn’t.

The first poster dunk came during the final minute of the first quarter in Boston, where the Blazers were running a sideline out of bounds play.

Via Twitter:

The second came at 9:51 in the second quarter, with Leonard again rolling to the rack on a play with Allen Crabbe. Mickey again wound up as the help man, and again found himself on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

We’ll just forgive that off arm for now.