Five keys for Miami to become NBA champions

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No doubt, Miami can win these NBA finals. They may be mild underdogs, but they are in this. LeBron can get the ring he craves.

Yes, I picked Oklahoma city to win (in six). It’s not that the Heat don’t have the talent, I’m just not convinced that for four out of seven games they can execute for 48 minutes at the level it will take for them to win this series.

What do they need to ex? Glad you asked. Here are the five keys to Miami beating Oklahoma City in the NBA finals.

1) LeBron James needs to be exceptional. This is not the “LeBron James needs to be clutch” argument, unless (like me) you consider the entire finals clutch. Besides, like Game 6 against Boston, you can be clutch from the opening tip and not need to make a shot late.

But right now the Heat cannot score enough points to keep up with the Celtics — let alone a team with an powerful offense like the Thunder — unless LeBron James puts up monster numbers. He has to play like the MVP and then some. It’s what they’ve become. He needs to be getting those points in attack mode driving the lane, but if he wants to have one of those “I can’t miss from the midrange” games like he had in Game 6 against Boston the Heat will take it.

2) Miami needs focused, intense defense. All the time. Miami has the best defense that Oklahoma City has seen this playoffs — they are athletic, they are long, they can clog passing lanes and force you into isolation plays. Miami loves to switch on pick-and-rolls and they can do that without creating some of the mismatches that the Thunder exploit against other teams. The Heat can force turnovers and instantly spin those into dramatic transition points the other way. Miami can slow the Thunder down.

Except…

Boston — the 25th best offense in the NBA during the regular season — put up more than 100 points twice and more than 90 points two other times on that Heat defense in the last series. Miami did not bring much focus and intensity on defense every game, or even every quarter of every game.

Miami can’t do that in this series — you give the Thunder offense a crack in the door they will blow it open and run you over. Miami just needs to be focused, they need to use whatever emotional edge they can to bring that defensive effort every game.

3) Heat spot up shooters have to knock down shots. When Miami beat Oklahoma City at home on April 4, their spot up shooters hit 9-of-18 looks, 6-of-10 from three (they were 7-of-21 on spot ups in their loss to this team). Oklahoma City made a point of really showing out on the pick-and-roll, the big jumping out very early and hit to cut off driving lanes. The Thunder were very aggressive. The price for that is the Heat are one or two passes away from someone else getting a good look. LeBron and Dwyane Wade are willing passers, but the Heat shooters have been hit and miss these players. They have to knock down those looks to win.

4) Chris Bosh needs to play more minutes, step up on court. Bosh is huge for the Heat’s offense and you saw that in Game 7 against Boston — when LeBron and Wade are driving the lane, Bosh puts pressure on the opposing big because you can’t cheat off him to protect the rim or he will knock down threes. He needs to do that in an expanded roll against the Thunder. He also will need to be big on the boards — in their two regular season meeting the team that controlled the glass won and this series will see more of the same.

5) Dwyane Wade needs to physically and mentally be ready to go. Dwyane Wade has been good these playoffs, but has been battling a left knee problem and has not been outstanding, other than for spurts. He needs to have some better-than-good offensive games, which will not be easy with Thabo Sefolosha getting time on him. What’s more, he needs to be good on defense again — he gambled a lot against the Celtics and at times that was exposed. Do that against the Thunder and they will make you pay fast and every time.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.