Miami Heat's James goes to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder's Durant during Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals in Oklahoma City

NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 2: Welcome back, Thunder defense

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I had serious questions about the Thunder defense heading into Game 1. After all, this was a top ten, but not top five defense throughout the year, and it still gave up a ton of points to San Antonio (which granted has the best offense in the league). I had major concerns about how they would react to a tougher, more physical team. In Game 1, they responded beautifully. The rotations were great, their man-attack was spectacular, they did everything right. It was a major response.

“Maybe I was wrong,” I said to a friend. “Maybe they’re just better defensively than I thought they were.”

/clown nose honks

/kazoo

Welcome back, Thunder defense.

A 111 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) for OKC, and that was the difference in the game. You can talk the no-call on an obvious fouls, or the goaltending call, or Shane Battier’s “what in the hell” three. But the reality is that the Heat allowed a Miami offense that everyone left for dead after Game 1 to put up a 111 defensive efficiency. That killed them. That’s the game.

And some of it wasn’t their fault. Thabo Sefolosha’s work has been brilliant. He’s contesting jumpers, and running under layups to disrupt without drawing fouls. James Harden has played better than usual, and Russell Westbrook, surprisingly, has been quite good. He’s been active in passing lanes and creating steals.

But the rest? It was not good. When the Heat offense didn’t fall to pieces as it did in Game 1, it created enough to get the win. Surprisingly, the biggest culprit Thursday night was Kevin Durant, who has been magnificent this year defensively. From the first tip, Durant was just a second off with his timing, just a bit slow on his rotations. And versus Game 1, when he bodied and held his ground against LeBron James in the post, James worked him over in all sorts of nasty ways in Game 2. He was overmatched. That foul trouble he got into? Four of his five fouls were absolutely legitimate. He gave up an and-one to Chris Bosh on a fast break, for crying out loud. It’s a sign of Durant’s development that he’s reached a level where his defense is expected to be better. But it is. And it wasn’t.

But Durant wasn’t the only one. Oh, the Ibaka blocks! What wonders of wonders! Too bad Ibaka also got torched by Chris Bosh and LeBron James because of his tendency to overreact to pumpfakes, and that several times late the Heat found Chris Bosh for dunks because he was too eager in his rotations. Sick blocks, tho, bro. (It should be noted Ibaka genuinely was fantastic in the first half defensively, a big reason the Thunder hung.)

Even Nick Collison, wondrous Nick Collison, was a problem. Chris Bosh abused him by being quicker and more aggressive, and drawing fouls. The Thunder as a defense was just not in a position it needed to be in on Thursday.

Everyone said that it wasn’t a problem after Game 1, that the Thunder could just outscore them. This is a very good Heat defense. That’s a flawed approach. If the Thunder want to regain homecourt and get the lead back in this series, they have to get back to playing defense as they did in the second half of Game 1. Quit worrying about Westbrook’s shots, or fouls, or goaltends. You’ve got to stop the Heat if you’re going to win the title.

Report: ‘Several executives’ believe Kendall Marshall, to be waived after 76ers-Jazz trade, still belongs in NBA

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 13: Kendall Marshall #5 of the Philadelphia 76ers puts up a shot between Justin Holiday #7 and Bobby Portis #5 of the Chicago Bulls
at the United Center on April 13, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Jazz just traded Tibor Pleiss to the 76ers in a salary dump. Utah gets Kendall Marshall in a procedural move and will waive the point guard whose salary is unguaranteed.

What’s next for Marshall and Pleiss?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on Marshall:

several league executives still believe there’s a spot in the league for him as a backup point guard.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

https://twitter.com/JCameratoCSN/status/769204973846589440

If so many executives believe Marshall belongs in the NBA, he’ll get signed. I have some doubts.

Marshall was curiously undervalued when he was younger and healthier. Now, he’s coming off a dreadful season in Philadelphia. A 2015 torn ACL still raises major doubts about Marshall’s ability to play even tolerable defense. His outside shooting has also regressed after blooming with the Lakers and Bucks.

Still, he’s a plus passer and just 25. He has a chance.

Pleiss is also coming off a lousy year, and he’s even older. He’ll turn 27 in the season’s second week, though he has played only one NBA season – and most of it was in the D-League. The 7-foot-3 Pleiss has plenty of size and a little shooting touch, but the 76ers don’t have playing time behind Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid to develop him. Pleiss likely returns to Europe.

Phil Jackson names biggest mistake with Knicks: Not taking Jae Crowder in Mavericks trade

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 25:  Tim Hardaway Jr. #5 of the New York Knicks and Jae Crowder #99 of the Boston Celtics look on during their game at TD Garden on February 25, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Jae Crowderone of the NBA’s most underrated players – went to the Celtics from the Mavericks in the Rajon Rondo trade (which, in hindsight, should be called the Jae Crowder trade). He then re-signed with Boston on an absurdly cheap contract.

But the Knicks could’ve had him instead.

New York traded Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Mavericks for a package of middling assets in June 2014. One of those middling assets was the No. 34 pick in the upcoming draft. It could’ve been Crowder.

Knicks president Phil Jackson, via Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak:

I think the biggest mistake I made was actually this…One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics. In talking with Boston, I was given the option of taking that pick or else taking Jae Crowder. I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn’t get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo, so I took the pick which turned out to be Cleanthony Early. While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us, he still has the potential to be a valuable player. Even so, I should have taken Crowder.

I’m not sure what the Celtics had to do with this. Crowder was with Dallas then, and so was the No. 34 pick that became Early (though that selection was originally Boston’s before a 2013 draft-night trade with the Mavericks). Jackson wouldn’t have been negotiating with the Celtics at all. My guess: Rosen got mixed up in his transcription.

Anyway, yeah, that stinks for the Knicks.

This is definitely an after-the-fact critique. Crowder hadn’t come into his own yet.

But he and Carmelo Anthony could’ve played together as combo forwards. The beauty of Crowder’s game is his ability to fit with anyone. So, Jackson’s logic leaves plenty to be desired. Passing on Crowder because an early second-rounder appeared more valuable at the time is far more defensible.

That Early is already out of the league only adds to the sting.

On the bright side, Crowder would’ve made the Knicks better and maybe cost them Kristaps Porzingis – who’s even more valuable than Crowder.

Report: Jazz trade 76ers two second-rounders to take Tibor Pleiss

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Tibor Pleiss #21 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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You can remove Sam Hinkie from Philadelphia, but you can’t pull the 76ers out of The Process.

Not immediately, at least.

Hinkie slashed payroll so drastically, a spending spree that included Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez still left the 76ers with more cap space than they know what to do with. So, Philadelphia is making another Hinkie-esque move – getting draft picks in a salary dump.

The Jazz signed second-rounder Joel Bolomboy, making him their 15th player with a guaranteed 2015-16 salary. Rather than eating Tibor Pleiss‘ salary to make room for Jeff Withey, an NBA-caliber center on an unguaranteed deal, Utah is sending the 76ers draft picks to handle that financial burden.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

https://twitter.com/WojVerticalNBA/status/769180540842811393

Kendall Marshall‘s contract is unguaranteed until Sept. 2. Expect the Jazz to waive him before then. Then, they can keep Withey – or maybe Chris Johnson (unguaranteed) or Marcus Paige (partial guarantee). Utah can make a final determination in the preseason.

The 7-foot-3 Pleiss was drafted with lofty expectations in 2010, and he remained overseas until last season. After acquiring his rights from the Thunder in the Enes Kanter trade, Utah signed Pleiss last summer to a three-year contract that’s fully guaranteed at $3 million this season and has $500,000 of $3.1 million guaranteed next season. But he looked completely overwhelmed during his rookie year, and he’s nearly 27.

Philadelphia already has a logjam at center with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid. Perhaps, the 76ers take a chance on Pleiss, who’s big and has some shooting touch. But they could easily afford to waive him and eat his salary.

At worst, they got a couple draft picks for their trouble – just like old times.

51 Questions: Will Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard be as cool as we hope?

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 25:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks carries the ball against the Boston Celtics during the first quarter at TD Garden on February 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Will Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard be as cool as we hope?

Yes.

Yes, he will be.

We will get into the details (like he’s a point forward), but there is an easy answer to this question because we’ve seen the results already — and they are impressive. In the final 20 games of the season (after Michael Carter-Williams went down injured and coach Jason Kidd went all in with Giannis Antetokounmpo at the point) he averaged 18.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game. In that time he had a true shooting percentage of 57.2 (well above the league average), and he assisted on 32.4 percent of his teammate’s buckets when on the court.

And there were highlights. Check out his triple-double against the Rockets.

What you see in that game is what makes Antetokounmpo so dangerous and amazing as a point guard. Or point forward. Or as Kidd would say, a basketball player. He’s not a traditional point in that Antetokounmpo is not going to guard Chris Paul or Stephen Curry (except on the occasional switch), he is more like LeBron James (or peak Kobe Bryant) initiating the offense and being the primary playmaker, regardless of position.

What makes Antetokounmpo unfair as the guy with the ball in his hands is he’s 6’11” with a fantastic feel for the game — he can see over the top of most defenders and throw passes to cutters or guys open in the corner that other guards struggle to make.

Try to guard him with a smaller, quicker backcourt player (like the Rockets did in the video above with Ty Lawson) and the Bucks will just post Antetokounmpo up and let him go to work. Or he can overpower them in an isolation set from the wing. Use a bigger player, and Antetokounmpo has the handles and the long strides to blow by his defender and, if the rotation is late, just go the rim and finish. Antetokounmpo can’t shoot the three, but he has a respectable midrange game that is hard to take away. Expect to see a lot of tall wings (around 6’8”) be the defensive choice on him.

Where Antetokounmpo is most dangerous is transition — he can grab the rebound, lead the break, and either finish himself (knifing around a defender with an impressive Eurostep) or finding the open man. You could see the other Bucks adjusting by running to the arc or filling the lanes on the break — they knew if they ran they would be rewarded.

With Antetokounmpo at the point, but Bucks are going to be fun to watch — yes, this is going to be as cool as we think.

Will it mean wins and a return to the playoffs for the Bucks? That may be another question. Last March, with Antetokounmpo running the show, the Bucks were 6-9. Now their offense was about three points per 100 possessions better than it had been during the season, and their net rating said they should have been around a .500 team, but even with that the Antetokounmpo show was fun but not dominant.

The Bucks brought in Matthew Dellavedova this summer to be the new point guard, which should add some defense and feistiness to the backcourt. He can work well off the ball (the man played with LeBron, he knows how this point forward thing works).

Where the Bucks need to improve most is defense — that is the end of the court that got them to the playoffs two seasons ago and made them look so promising. Antetokounmpo is a big part of that — his freakish 7’3 wingspan lets him block shots and make steals that others could not get to. The Bucks need to lock down on that end, force turnovers, then use that to get Antetokounmpo the ball leading the break.

With Dellavedova at the one, Kris Middleton at the two, and Jabari Parker up front, and Antetokounmpo running the show, the Bucks have a solid lineup (especially once they figure out how to use, or trade, Greg Monroe). There is not a lot of depth, but this is a team that should be in the mix for one of the final few playoff slots in the East.

Of that group, they may just be the most fun to watch. Thanks to Antetokounmpo.