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.

Report: P.J. Carlesimo not joining Sixers staff despite mutual interest

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This week, the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach, opening up a spot for a lead assistant on Brett Brown’s bench in Philadelphia. Reports indicated that veteran coach P.J. Carlesimo was the frontrunner for the job, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that that isn’t happening.

So the Sixers’ search continues, and one would have to imagine that the Colangelos will be looking for a veteran, only fueling speculation that they aren’t quite sold on Brown long-term. It’s worth keeping an eye on the situation.

Warriors know Game 7 back home for Finals trip won’t be easy

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Stephen Curry #30 and Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors react in the second quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors’ goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won’t matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

“I’ve learned that our players are tough, they’re mentally tough,” Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. “I don’t know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they’ve firmly confirmed that. It’s been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game.”

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered “We ain’t going home!” – and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors’ summer plans.

“We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we’ve got some momentum. But it can work in reverse,” Kerr said. “One game changes everything, and we’ve got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out.”

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday’s winner.

“It’s going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7’s going to be even tougher,” Curry said. “Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It’s win or go home. So we can’t expect just because we’re at home that we can just show up and win.”

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

“Lot of people probably counted us out,” Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

“This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We’ve got to take advantage of it,” Durant said Sunday. “Go up into their building, and it’s going to be great atmosphere. … No matter where you play, you’ve still got to play. That’s how we look at it.”

That’s partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

“We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game,” Donovan said. “We’re disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven’t lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they’re a resilient group.”

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

“I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go and give it everything I’ve got for Game 7.”

Adam Silver on integrity of NBA: ‘It’s the most sensitive issue for me’

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22:  Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association announces that the 2018 NBA All-Star game will be held in Los Angeles at Staples Center during a press conference at Staples Center on March 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The NBA’s decision not to suspend Draymond Green for his kick to the groin of Steven Adams in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals was a controversial one. The league reviewed video evidence and interviewed people involved and determined the kick was not intentional, but upgraded it from a Flagrant 1 to a Flagrant 2, giving Green enough flagrant foul points that his next flagrant foul of any kind will result in a suspension.

The lack of a suspension in this case, though, led to questioning from fans about the NBA’s motivations, something commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged on Sunday in an ESPN radio interview. Silver took exception to the idea lobbed at the league by some fans that they would prefer the Warriors to advance to the Finals over the Thunder, and reiterated (rightly) that that isn’t a motivation for the NBA.

Here’s a transcription of Silver’s comments, via the Bay Area News Group:

Silver acknowledged he has heard the conspiracy theory that the league prefers Golden State reach the Finals instead of Oklahoma City.

“I hear it, and it’s the most sensitive issue for me, and it goes to the core integrity of the league and frankly to my integrity,” Silver said.

“Even from a business standpoint, it would be impossible to predict which Finals would have a greater following. It depends on how many games, how close the games are. I can only thus sort of swear to the world that we do the best we can and that we don’t prefer one market or one team over another.”

The truth is, as popular as the Warriors are, there’s no bad matchup here for the league in terms of ratings. If the Warriors win on Monday, the Finals will be a rematch of last year as Golden State tries to cap off their record-setting regular season with a second straight title against a version of the Cavs with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving healthy, unlike last season. If the Thunder win, the league gets a second Finals duel between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, which hasn’t happened since 2012, when James was in Miami. The Warriors play in a bigger market than the Thunder, but market size doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to. James and Durant do just fine, popularity-wise, playing in the 18th and 43rd largest media markets in the United States, respectively. A lot of people are going to watch the Finals no matter which team wins the Western Conference Finals. And Silver knows that.

Pelicans’ Dejean-Jones killed after going to wrong apartment

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) New Orleans Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones was fatally shot on his daughter’s first birthday after kicking down the door of what he mistakenly thought was his girlfriend’s apartment in Dallas, a death that rattled the NBA over Memorial Day weekend.

“We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life,” the Pelicans said Saturday in a statement.

Dallas police said Sunday they would not have more information about the shooting until after the holiday and did not answer The Associated Press’ question regarding whether the man who shot the 23-year-old Dejean-Jones would face charges. It is legal in Texas for people to use deadly force to protect themselves from intruders.

Dejean-Jones was visiting his girlfriend for his daughter’s first birthday and had gone for a walk early Saturday, according to his agent, Scott W. Nichols. His girlfriend lives on the fourth floor, and Dejean-Jones, who was visiting the complex for the first time, went to the third.

A man living at the apartment was sleeping when he heard his front door kicked open, police Senior Cpl. DeMarquis Black said Saturday in a statement. When Dejean-Jones began kicking at the bedroom door, the man retrieved a handgun and fired. Dejean-Jones collapsed in an outdoor passageway, and he died at a hospital.

Dejean-Jones’s father told KCAL-TV that his son was “tenacious.”

“He has had so many things that have happened to him along his path,” K.C. Jones told the station. “He made up his mind that he wanted to do what he was doing – play pro ball. And whatever it took, he was going to get there. He was going to do it.”

In Dejean-Jones’ only NBA season, which ended in February because of a broken right wrist, the 6-foot-6 guard started 11 of 14 games and averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

Nichols said Dejean-Jones had nearly completed his rehab and was set to begin shooting with his right hand again next week.

“It’s shocking this happened,” Nichols said. “Wrong place, wrong time, I think.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called it a “tragic loss” and said Dejean-Jones “had a bright future in our league.”

Dejean-Jones was signed by the Pelicans last summer after not being selected in the 2015 draft.

“I just lost my best friend/cousin last night enjoy life because you never know if tomorrow is guaranteed,” Shabazz Muhammad of the Minnesota Timberwolves wrote on Twitter.

Dejean-Jones was part of the 2014-15 Iowa State team that went 25-9, captured a Big 12 title and made a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. He also played at Southern California and UNLV; he was suspended late in the 2013-14 season from UNLV for conduct detrimental to the team, and announced that he was leaving USC midway through the 2010-11 season.

Former Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, now the coach of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, added in a statement that Dejean-Jones was a “passionate and talented player that lived out his dream of playing in the NBA through hard work and perseverance.”

Julie Keel, a spokeswoman for Camden Property Trust, the real estate company that owns the apartment complex in Dallas, confirmed that the complex’s apartment manager had sent out an email to residents saying that the person who had been shot had been trying to break into “the apartment of an estranged acquaintance” and that this person had “inadvertently” broken into the wrong apartment.

Black said he could not confirm that Dejean-Jones was trying to access an acquaintance’s apartment.