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.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.