Russell Westbrook, LeBron James

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.

Larry Sanders asks in Twitter poll what team he should play for next season

Larry Sanders
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Larry Sanders is talking about getting back into the NBA. He walked away in 2015 to say he needed to deal with anxiety and depression, to find a balance in his life. Recently he told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders this:

“But I feel like I’m in a much better place right now and I’m equipped to be able to put myself in that situation again.”

But where? A lot of teams could use an athletic big who averaged 1.4 blocks per game over the five years he was in the NBA, although with the conservative nature of NBA front offices they will not want to take much risk (Golden State reportedly thought about it and decided not to offer him a contract).

Sanders decided to ask Twitter where he should go, putting Twitter’s poll feature to good use.

The question becomes, where is there mutual interest from any of these teams?

If Sanders and his agent can win a team over in an interview, the contract will be small and the number of guaranteed years is not exceeding one (if even that). From the perspective of an NBA team, Sanders has to prove himself again.

But never underestimate how many chances big men get in this league.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

Warriors’ just re-signed Anderson Varejao leaves Brazil to have back examined in USA

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16: Anderson Varejao #18 of the Golden State Warriors warms up prior to Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Anderson Varejao was spending the past couple days helping his nation prepare to host the 2016 Olympics in less than two weeks, including carrying the Olympic flame.

#tochaolimpica #varejao #olimpiadas #rio2016 #brazil #sampacool 😍⚾⛳🎾⚽🏀🏁🏂🏆🏊🏇

A video posted by Marcus Bado (@marcusbado) on

But now he is on his way back to the United States to have his chronically bad back examined. Again. From Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group.

The Warriors re-signed Varejao on a one-year, veteran minimum contract where he will make $980,431. He is expected to back up Zaza Pachulia at the five spot, although his run would have been limited (which is good, he’s not terribly effective anymore).

A variety of injuries — back, Achilles, wrist — have meant the most games Varejao has played in a season since the 2010-11 season is 65. Last season that number was 53, the final 22 of it with the Warriors.

If Varejao can’t go or is limited, the Warriors may look around at other options. But the pickings are slim at this point.

Thunder guard Cameron Payne has surgery to repair Jones fracture in right foot

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Cameron Payne #22 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates his three point shot in the second half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 26, 2016 in New York City.The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the New York Knicks 128-122 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Hopefully, this does not develop into something chronic.

After a promising rookie season and an impressive Summer League in Orlando where he averaged 18.8 points per game, Thunder second year player Cameron Payne had surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot, the team announced Monday. Here it is from the Thunder’s press release.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Cameron Payne underwent a successful procedure today to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti.

The team is optimistic he will be ready to go by the start of the season (there is usually a 6-8 week timetable), but Payne and the Thunder need to be patient here. The fifth metatarsal is the bone that runs from the base of the little toe up to the ankle on the foot. While surgery can repair it, healing can be slow because that is not an area of the foot with great natural blood flow. The Thunder were down this road before with Kevin Durant, he came back eight weeks after the surgery but ended up needing a couple more to get everything fixed and missed 55 games because of it.

Payne played well as a rookie and is expected to see a healthy bump in playing time next season as a scoring guard off the bench behind Russell Westbrook. He just needs to get right first.

Report: Cavaliers reach five-year, $35 million contract extension with Tyronn Lue

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers speaks onstage during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Coaches who win rings often get a pay bump. Guys who break a 52-year championship drought deserve one.

That includes guys who only coached half a season — especially ones working on the same contract they had before taking the big job.

Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers just agreed to a healthy contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

That seems fair.

What Lue got that his predecessor David Blatt never could was real buy-in from LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers. Blatt came off as wanting to be the smartest guy in the room at all times — and don’t you dare discount his experiences coaching in Europe — while Lue was more humble and more direct. He didn’t get to put in everything he wanted, and the team didn’t play faster for him (statistically) as he wanted, but there was better chemistry.

This isn’t rocket science for Cleveland — if you have a coach that your franchise player backs, and said coach has proven he can win, you keep him.