Six things Miami needs to do to win Game 2

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This series is not over. From the Memorial Day Massacre to the Heat winning Game 1 last season, there is a long history of Game 1 of the NBA finals not mattering.

But Game 1 also gave hints of what could be the Heat’s undoing. They can no longer just expect to be the most athletic, fastest team on the court and overwhelm teams. They need to execute.

Here is a list of six things that need to change for Miami in Game 2.

1) Stop coasting. What we saw in Game 1 is what the Heat do all the time — they had a good first half with Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers stepping up, and they got comfortable. They took their foot off the gas and coasted for a while. Every time they do that this series the Thunder will pounce — to use Erik Spoelstra’s word, the Thunder are relentless. Miami is going to have to play its best basketball of the season for 48 minutes a game, not just in spurts. There are no more possessions off, no more quarters off.

2) Transition defense — try it. There was a moment in the second half of Game 1 where Derek Fisher — 37-year-old Fisher who has make a career out of being solid in the half court — led a fast break, beat every Heat player down the court, attacked the rim with Dwyane Wade there and scored over him. Lakers fans everywhere laughed. Fisher leads about three successful breaks a season and if he beats you down the floor and scores it’s on your defense. Miami was terrible in transition.

The best way to slow the break is to score more. But you’re going to miss and you need to get back, communicate and find your guy. The Heat didn’t do that in Game 1.

3) Defend in general, and stop switching everything. In the first half, the Heat trapped a lot off the pick-and-roll and that worked pretty well. But near the end of the first and at the start of the second half the Thunder started to adjust, so the Heat went to switching every pick. OKC ate that up and destroyed it. No more LeBron James on Kendrick Perkins (even if you are thinking about the switch).

And more energy on defense for the full 48. Please see item No. 1.

4) A couple guys from the bench needs to play quality minutes. That was essentially a six-man rotation for the Heat, who need to expend a lot of energy at both ends against the one team that can match them athletically. Scott Brooks could sit Sixth Man of the Year James Harden most of the fourth quarter because guys deep off the bench were playing well. LeBron and Dwyane Wade will wear down if they have to be the best players at both ends for 48 minutes.

The problem for Erik Spoelstra is: Who is that? Mike Miller is so injured he can’t play near the level needed. Joel Anthony doesn’t exist on the offensive end. A rookie in Norris Cole? Eddy Curry? When you sink all your money into three players it’s hard to get quality around them. (Don’t laugh Thunder fan, your cap/tax issues are just about to kick in big time.)

5) Get more out of LeBron James. This is a bit unfair as he was one of the few Heat players to show up ready to go for Game 1, but this is the reality of Miami right now — LeBron needs to have a legendary, epic game for the Heat to compete. That doesn’t mean he needs to score more — Erik Spoelstra needs to put him on Kevin Durant and have him defend. LeBron isn’t going to shut Durant down, nobody can, but you can make him less efficient, make him work for it. The problem is if you expect LeBron to expend that kind of energy on defense, somebody needs to step up the offense.

6) Get Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh involved in the offense. Nobody with the Heat will come clean about it, but does Wade look healthy to you? He shot 7-of-19 from the field and was just 1-of-5 at the rim — he can’t elevate and finish like himself. Spoelstra needs to find a matchup he can still win — get Wade matched up on Derek Fisher off a switch — and get him going.

Bosh — start him. Stop playing around. Next, get him in the paint. He took 10 of his 11 shots from beyond 10 feet — he has value stretching the floor, but he’s also a 6’11” post player. He can score on Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka from the block. In the regular season Bosh was about 50 percent in close, 50 percent from distance and Miami needs that balance again.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.