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.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.