NBA Finals Preview: Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami 46-20 (2 seed in East)
Oklahoma City 47-19 (2 seed in West)

SEASON SERIES

The teams split their two meetings. Miami won the last meeting on April 4 98-93 because LeBron James had a monster game and Heat players were knocking down their spot up looks. In the meeting just more than a week before (March 25) the Thunder won handily when they got 19 points from Serge Ibaka and 16 from Kendrick Perkins.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession/NBA rank)

Miami: offense 106.6 (8th); defense 100.2 (4th)
Oklahoma City: offense 109.8 (2nd); defense 103.2 (10th)

THREE KEY HEAT:

LeBron James: He deserved to be the MVP in the regular season and he has continued that level of play into the playoffs — 30.8 points a game on 50.8 percent shooting with a PER of 31.2, plus playing a key role on defense. Incredible. And none of that will matter for his legacy if the Heat don’t win it all — no matter how he plays he will take the blame with many fans if the Heat come up short in this series. He was not comfortable being painted as the villain last season and this finals will be contrasted as the “good” Thunder against the “evil” Heat by many. Wrongly, but that will be the perception. He will have to deal with that, or at least tune it out.

Bottom line for Miami — LeBron simply cannot be good in this series, he needs to be spectacular for the Heat to win.

Dwyane Wade: He has been good in the playoffs — 22.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting — but he also needs to elevate his level of play if the Heat are to win the series. OKC brings a lot of long, athletic defenders to the table and Wade will have Thabo Sefolosha draped over him. He needs to get into the paint, break down the Thunder defense. At the other end of the court he needs to help Miami create a pressure defense that slows the Thunder’s powerful offense or this series will go poorly for Miami. Normally we’d expect this from Wade, but he’s clearly been slowed by something (knee injury still bothering him?) and he has to get back to his elite leve of play at both ends to win this series.

Chris Bosh: We saw in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against Boston why he is key — defensive big men can’t hang near the basket and defend the rim if they have to respect Bosh out to the three point line. As Erik Spoelstra has long said, Bosh may not be the best player on the Heat but he is the most important — he opens up driving lanes for Wade and LeBron. Expect Bosh to get a lot of touches as the Thunder use both Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins to defend him, but both of those guys want to be in the paint. He also needs to crash the boards this series.

THREE KEY THUNDER:

Kevin Durant: The best pure scorer in the game today, he has a silky smooth jumper with an impossible to block release point and seemingly unlimited range. (That said, he was not the MVP this year — LeBron put up similar offensive numbers with more efficiency and had to do more on defense. This was not Durant’s year for that hardware, move on.) Miami is going to have some athletic, long defenders on him — including LeBron — and Durant is going to have to continue to score at a high rate. He is going to have to make plays late in close games. He is the heart of the Thunder offense.

James Harden: He is more than just a stunning beard. He is is the Thunder’s big advantage in this series — Miami gets no production out of its bench, Harden is the NBA Sixth Man of the Year averaging 17.6 points per game through the playoffs. He is their best playmaker and is shooting 44 percent from three in the post season. Miami has to find a way to account for him because when Miami goes to its bench they get worse, while Harden makes the Thunder better. If he has a big series Miami will struggle to match him.

Serge Ibaka: He has become an amazingly efficient shooter in these playoffs — his midrange jumper is falling consistently and that just gives Oklahoma City another offensive weapon. And they don’t need one. When OKC beat Miami in the regular season he had 19 points, do that again four times and the Thunder will win. But his real key will be on the defensive end — the long armed shot blocker will spend time on both Chris Bosh and LeBron James this series. If he can slow them down, make them less efficient (particularly James), it will be hard for the Heat to keep up with the Thunder’s scoring.

OUTLOOK

This could be an epic finals. These are two very athletic teams who have guys that can simply take over a game and not be stopped. These are two very entertaining teams to watch, two teams who wouldn’t mind a track meet at times. Miami’s ability to defend can be key, but they have been inconsistent with execution at both ends all season and all playoffs long — if they have lapses against Oklahoma City the price will be severe.

Oklahoma City has been a great offensive team that plays enough defense to win, but when Miami has the ball the Heat will face some challenges. Oklahoma City brings some very long and athletic defenders to the table in Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, plus they have the very aggressive Russell Westbrook and the long arms of Kevin Durant. They contest everything and get in the passing lanes with that length. Then they use those turnovers to get out and run. Miami has to get into the teeth of the defense with penetration — if they settle for contested midrange shots they will lose. Well, one game LeBron will go off and drain those like he did against the Celtics in Game 6, but the Heat cannot sustain their offense that way. They need to get inside and kick out to Bosh and Chalmers to knock down shots.

Role players knocking down jumpers is key for the Heat – when they beat OKC in the regular season they shot better than 50 percent on their spot-up looks, when they lost the week before they shot 7-21 on spot up looks. Those have to fall for the Heat.

Oklahoma City will put up points, this is a powerful offensive team, but they have not run into a defense this athletic before. If Miami can pressure rushed shots and create turnovers to run on they will have an advantage. But they have to finish those transition looks — Oklahoma City has athletes that will run and challenge you on the break. This series is going to see some great chase down blocks, just watch.

Miami is in the same boat it has been the last two rounds of the playoffs — they can win this series if LeBron James and/or Dwyane Wade is playing exceptional basketball, but if those are merely good it is not enough. Miami has to play great defense, they need a role player to step up. But they can win this. The problem is the margin for error against the Thunder is much smaller than they have seen all playoffs. They cannot take halves off, they cannot coast. If Miami plays up to its potential they can win this, but are they capable of that?

PREDICTION

Thunder in six.

In the last round, down 2-0 to the Spurs, Oklahoma City was able to make defensive switches called for by coach Scott Brooks and turn the tide of that series. San Antonio hadn’t lost in 20 games and the Thunder swept them the next four. OKC’s ball movement improved. They did what contenders do. They are playing at a very high level.

Miami has been good enough to move on, beating a resilient team with good defense in Boston, but they have done it with spurts of execution and good defense. They slumped the second half of the season and did not build good habits to bring into the playoffs, and this is where it will cost them. They will fall in the finals to a better team for the second straight year.

One reason Markelle Fultz happy to be Sixers over Celtic? Philadelphia has Chick-fil-As

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For about a month, from the day of the NBA Draft Lottery until less than a week before the draft, it was assumed Markelle Fultz would be a Celtic. And he said he was good with that — he’s the No. 1 pick going to a 53-win team that is thinking title contention. That doesn’t happen often.

Then that top pick was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, and suddenly Fultz was going to be paired with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Fultz liked that a lot, and he liked the city a lot.

Why? Because they have Chick-fil-A restaurants. Check out what Fultz wrote in the The Players’ Tribune, an article titled “What’s Up, Philly.” (Hat tip Inceptions at NBA Reddit)

Then (Fultz’s agent) Keith hit me up and said, “New plan. Philly.”

I was just waking up. So I was like, “O.K., cool. Do they have Chick-fil-A there?”

A crispy chicken sandwich for breakfast. It’s kind of like my good luck charm. Keith never got back to me about that important question. So I found out for myself. I googled it immediately.

Philly does have Chick-fil-A. It has six, actually. Seven if you count the one at the airport. Boston has zero Chick-fil-As, for what it’s worth.

Are restaurants becoming a new recruiting tool? “I know you’re thinking of signing in San Antonio, but we have far more Chipotle’s per capita.” “There’s a Cheesecake Factory just down the street from our practice facility.”

I give it four years, max, before Fultz switches to a slightly healthier breakfast choice, at the requestion of Philly’s training staff.

Warriors newbie Jordan Bell gets call from Draymond Green

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Jordan Bell knows he will most certainly get an earful from Draymond Green come training camp as a Golden State Warriors rookie.

Green came looking for him on draft night with a FaceTime attempt after acquiring his new teammate’s digits from general manager Bob Myers. But Bell – out with friends celebrating – didn’t answer because the number was unfamiliar.

Bell decided he would text back instead.

“I was like, `Who is this?”‘ Bell recalled Friday, when he was formally introduced and given his new No. 2 Golden State jersey at team headquarters.

“He didn’t reply so I called the number and said, `Who is this?’ Then he was like, `Yo, I FaceTimed you, hang up right now and FaceTime me right back, don’t call me,”‘ Bell said. “I FaceTimed him and he didn’t answer. I was like, all right. I waited like five seconds and I called him back FaceTime and he answered … and we started talking about it. He was like, `Enjoy this night, celebrate, it only happens once, but after this time we have to get back to work, we’re trying to get rings over here.”‘

The NBA champions began the night Thursday without a draft pick but acquired Bell in a trade with the Bulls. The 6-foot-9 forward and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year out of Oregon was the 38th overall selection by Chicago.

Bell had been upset he dropped so far in the draft, then everything changed once the Warriors made a move for him. Green was drafted 35th overall out of Michigan State in 2012 and still has a chip on his shoulder about it. In fact, he can name every team in order and its selection above him that draft year.

“Draymond will be a fun challenge for you,” Myers said. “Draymond texted me as I was driving home and he said, `What the’ and then expletive `is your problem’ to me? So you can fill in the blank. Then he said, `I have to hear about this’ expletive `on the internet, you didn’t’ expletive `tell me about it.’ So I couldn’t text and drive so I called him and I said, `OK, all right, calm down.”‘

Green demanded he be able to talk to Bell, so Myers obliged with the new rookie’s contact info.

Green’s teammates are accustomed to his intensity. He even yells at them from time to time.

“He’s like our team mom in a way,” joked Myers. “He’s the one that you have to kind of get through him.”

 

Rumor: Cavaliers could wait to chase Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony after buyouts

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The first reaction to hearing Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota on draft night was “the Bulls only got what back?”

The second reaction was “does Dwyane Wade still opt in?”

Yes, he does, and as he said there are 24 million reasons to do so. Hard to argue with that logic. Which leads to the next question: Will the Bulls buy him out? Or, more likely, when will the Bulls buy him out?

Carmelo Anthony could be in the same boat. Phil Jackson wants to trade him but Anthony has a no-trade clause. The number of teams willing to give up anything for ‘Melo where he would waive that clause is very, very limited. You might be able to count them on one finger. And that might be generous. So a buyout could be in order.

Which leads to this interesting note from Brian Windhorst, via Marc Stein, of ESPN.

This makes sense for the Cavaliers. They need roster upgrades and they are capped out. They tried to find a deal to move Kevin Love to get space to chase Jimmy Butler or Paul George, but those three team deals never came together in part because of a lack of trade value for Kevin Love. Adding either or both of these two players to the roster for minimum salaries while giving up nothing is a perfect scenario.

Wade, obviously, has played with LeBron. Even though he is not the player he once was, if his knees are rested he is capable of stretches of fantastic play that can help carry a team. He would be another offensive weapon in a deep arsenal of weapons the Cavaliers have stockpiled.

Anthony would be the same in some ways — he remains a strong scorer in isolation (sets the Cavaliers run more than any other team in the league) and he makes difficult shots. The problem would be elite teams — Golden State, Boston, etc. — could expose his defense against the pick-and-roll. Still, he would be an upgrade if nothing is surrendered for him.

There’s a lot of “what if” still to happen before we get to this. However, the idea of one or both of these guys being in Cavaliers uniforms by the start of next playoffs is not out of the question.

Alec Peters’ tearful reaction to being selected what NBA Draft should be about

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The NBA Draft production in Brooklyn is entertainment. It’s glitz. There’s stage with changing graphics. The NBA Commissioner comes out and announces the picks, then guys who have realized for a while now they would fulfill their dream of playing in the NBA come up on stage in their expensive suits, put on a baseball cap from their new team, shake the Commissioner’s hand, and next get interviewed on national television. It all feels rehearsed and staged, with very little feeling genuine.

I prefer how it went for former Valparaiso star Alec Peters better. He was in his hometown, with family and friends, unsure if his name would be called until just before it happened at spot 54 — and he still didn’t believe it until he heard it.

That is authentic.

The Suns are a good place to land for a young man wanting to develop and prove he belongs in the league. Peters is a 6’9″ power forward who shot 36.9 percent from three. Can he develop into a stretch four/pick-and-pop threat? He’s got a high IQ and will need to prove he can hang with NBA bigs, but he’s going to get his chance.

(Hat tip Ball Don’t Lie)