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.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

Kyrie Irving-LeBron James saga featured in hilarious parody of Eminem’s ‘Stan’ (video)

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What’s going on between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James?

I’ve seen better explanations.

But I haven’t seen more entertaining explanations.

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.