Heat-Thunder Game 1: Miami didn’t choke; worse they were themselves

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The easy mantra out of Game 1 of the NBA finals is that the Heat choked. LeBron choked in the fourth quarter. Again.

But that’s not what happened. The reality is scarier for Heat fans.

Miami was exactly who they are. Who they have been all season, all playoffs. And unless they can find a way to grow and evolve past it this season will end just like the last one.

From Christmas Day until Tuesday night the pattern had always been the same for Miami — they didn’t need to bring it for four quarters to win. They were always the most athletic team. The faster team. The team that could overwhelm you with effort on defense and turn that into fast break points. And they’d do all that in spurts of great defense and ball movement and transition offense. Then they’d revert to stretches of stagnant ball and good defense. And that was enough to win.

That’s not good enough anymore.

Oklahoma City is up 1-0 in the NBA finals because they were the more athletic team, the faster team. The team that overwhelmed with defense and turned that into fast break points in the second half while Miami went into it’s shell. OKC won 105-94.

OKC can match Miami athletically and they execute for Scott Brooks for 48 minutes in a way the Heat simply do not for Erik Spoelstra. As they did against the Spurs, the Thunder showed an ability to elevate their game to the moment, to adjust and attack. Can Miami match that?

Miami is nowhere near out of this series — more teams than you can count lost Game 1 of the NBA finals and came back to win it all. Including Dallas last year.

But to that Miami has big questions to answer — how do they get Dwyane Wade attacking in the paint not settling for jumpers? (I’m still not convinced his knee is bothering him more than he is letting on.) How do they get LeBron James some rest so he is fresher and more aggressive late? How can they get Chris Bosh going? Is it time to take LeBron off Kendrick Perkins at times and just sick him on Durant the whole game? How can they improve their transition defense so the Thunder don’t run them out of the building on Thursday?

The Heat looked slow in the second half Tuesday — they looked like a team on a regular season-back-to-back, fading as the game went on. They settled for jumpers and as a team were 2-8 shooting outside 10 feet in the fourth.

Part of it are Xs and Os adjustments — Miami had great success trapping off the pick and roll in the first 20 minutes, and when the Thunder had a little success breaking it the Heat went switching the picks. OKC ate that up. The Thunder ended with 56 points in the paint. LeBron was on Kendrick Perkins so he could be on Durant to trap off the pick, to switch onto KD. Not that it mattered to Durant in the second half who was defending him.

Miami’s defense, by design wants to push you into isolation plays. A good strategy against 28 other NBA teams, but Oklahoma City thrives with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in isolation. The Heat need better team defense.

“When we’re not defending we don’t get opportunities in the open court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Then when we don’t attack we don’t get as many opportunities in the paint or at the free throw line.”

The other way to slow down the Thunder attack is to make them take the ball out of the basket.

LeBron James simply can’t be good — ne must be exceptional. Tuesday night he was simply good, scoring 30 points, He was 2-of-6 for 7 points in the fourth. That’s not enough. Wade doesn’t look right and Bosh is coming off his injury, LeBron has to do more. Which is hard when Thabo Sefolosha is crowding you. But it’s the reality of where the Heat are — LeBron has to be a monster. Game 6 vs. Boston monster.

Shane Battier needs to hit shots again. Mario Chalmers needs to hit shots again, and other guys need to step at both ends. For 48 minutes.

But the Heat really haven’t done that all season or playoffs long. Can they change now?

Watch the Knicks and Lakers make every shot for 2 straight minutes of game clock

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Tuesday night’s game between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers was a good one, with the teams going-back-and-forth all night. In an OT game that came down to the wire, a sequence in the third quarter was perhaps indicative of the kind of contest it was in Madison Square Garden.

Starting with a little more than six minutes to go in the third the teams traded eight consecutive baskets while MSG rose to an accompanying fever pitch.

The whole sequence was pretty hilarious, and lent to that feeling you get sometimes while watching competitive NBA games of complete exhilaration.

Via Twitter:

The gap spanned from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s missed 3-pointer with 6:21 left to Brook Lopez‘s missed shot with 3:51 to go.

New York wound up winning in OT, 113-109.

Joel Embiid says he thinks people are about to start hating him

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Philadelphia 76ers have been the Twitter darlings of the NBA for the past few years. Thanks to former general manager Sam Hinkie and the tanking process, guys like Joel Embiid have become even more admired now that the team is in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Of course, players like Embiid are part of the generation that is always online, and the fact that they play in the NBA doesn’t keep them from participating in social media with their contemporaries. Embiid has a great Twitter feed, and is often out on it trying to get dates from the likes of Rihanna while trolling other NBA stars on Instagram.

Of course, as we’ve seen with players in the past, good fortune does not always shine forever. Indeed, conscious of this fact, Embiid as much to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne during a recent interview.

Via ESPN:

People love you at the beginning,” Embiid explains. “But at some point they’re gonna start hating you. LeBron. Russell Westbrook. All the superstars. Even Steph. He’s so likable. He does nothing wrong, but some people still hate him. It just comes with the nature of it. I’ve seen it.

“I feel like I’m about to go through it. I think it’s coming. People always want something new.”

The ups and downs of how NBA fandom changes the perception of certain players is fascinating, and some even try to directly manipulate that. And indeed, while Embiid is certainly hilarious on social media, the best thing to keep fans at bay will be him staying on the floor and playing games for the Sixers.

Let’s hope that keeps happening and nobody turns on him anytime soon.

Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge

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LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.

That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.

The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.

Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.

Via NBA.com:

“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.

“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”

Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.

God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.