What does it take to beat Miami? Three keys… then pray a lot

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As we watch the Heat during this streak of 27 straight wins, we keep thinking, “Sure the Heat are good, but somebody can beat them one night and end this run.” It’s almost happened a couple times and the Heat have three games this week — at Chicago, against New Orleans (who just ended Denver’s streak) and at San Antonio — that could well be the end.

But does anybody think another team can pull that all together for four out of seven games in a playoff series?

This run has the Heat focused and thinking about their legacy, which makes them tougher come the playoffs. But they can be beat on any given night, and after reading what other players are saying about the Heat at NBA.com three areas leap out:

Match or beat Miami’s intensity. Maybe the most impressive thing about Miami’s streak is that they bring it every night. Rockets coach Kevin McHale talked about how his legendary 1980s Celtics teams would win double digits then just get bored one night and lose to a non-playoff team — Miami has had a couple close calls in those situations but were able to fight back (the 27-point comeback against the Cavaliers being the most obvious). They find enough energy to get the win every night, even with Dwyane Wade out the last two games.

This is the easiest of the three — everybody is up to face the Heat now. But energy and playing with a belief that the Heat can be beat is the start.

Don’t turn the ball over. According to Tom Haberstoh at ESPN, during this 27-game winning streak 18 percent of opponent possessions have ended in a turnover. That would be nearly one in five possessions and the highest percentage in the league.

We know what happens when you turn the ball over against the Heat, it’s LeBron alley-oop dunks in transition over poor Goran Dragic. Or Jason Terry. Or… you get the idea. You have to take away the Heat’s easy buckets and that starts by taking care of the ball.

Which is easier said than done — Miami’s entire defense is predicated on athleticism, pressure, taking away your strengths and forcing turnovers or bad shots. Because of their personnel the Heat can switch a lot of pick-and-rolls or other rubs trying to free a guy up — normally teams want to get their point guard switched on to a forward, but when it is LeBron or Shane Battier it isn’t an advantage. The way to defuse that pressure is with ball movement and player movement off the ball — which is why some basketball people think the Spurs are the team with the best shot against Miami.

But to beat the Heat you have to take care of the ball and make them work for their buckets.

Knock down your threes. As you know from watching the NCAA Tournament lately, the three ball can be the great equalizer — for one game you can beat a team knocking down threes. During this win streak Miami is closing out on shooters at the arc, not letting those easy buckets fall — in their last 20 games teams are shooting just 32.7 percent from three against the Heat.

In the same way a team will need to stop the Heat from getting easy buckets, they will need easy buckets of their own. That means lots of threes.

Miami is going to have to help you out. Miami creates so many problems for a defense. LeBron and Dwyane Wade cam pretty much get to the basket and force help rotations whenever they want. So you double them to take the ball out of their hands and you find they swing the ball well and have guys in Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers (among others) who space the floor and knock down threes. Their bigs — Chris Bosh in particular — can roll to the rim or just space the floor 15 feet away and make it hard to help off them. Defenses have to pick their poison against the Heat.

That’s why the “Miami struggles to rebound” argument holds little water — if they are making their shots, who cares? Plus, they have guys in Wade and LeBron who are very good rebounders for their positions.

Teams need help against Miami — they need guys to just miss shots, throw a couple errant passes, just have an off night. Look at the end of Denver’s streak Monday — not to take anything away from a great New Orleans effort, but a Nuggets team that scores more points in the paint than any other squad in the NBA shot just 42 percent on those looks for a night. Denver got their shots and missed them. It happens. Teams need a little of that against Miami.

But do you think that’s going to happen four out of seven nights?

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.