Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game Three

Preview: Pacers know what to do. Heat know it’s coming. Whoever executes wins.

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Somewhere around Game 4 or 5 of a series there are no more secrets. You know the other team’s plays, the tendencies, the adjustments they made, the matchups they are trying to force. You take away everything you can and try to leave your opponent with only the worst options.

We are at this point in the Eastern Conference finals, basically. It’s 2-1 Heat. For Game 4 there will be adjustments but the Heat have a really good idea what is coming. You can bet the Pacers are going to start throwing different looks at LeBron James in the post, fronting, doubling from different angles. LeBron is a gifted passer so the Heat will have shooters out spacing the floor, the man of whomever doubles will cut to the basket.

And it comes down to who executes.

Expect Game 4 to be a whole lot closer than Game 3, expect a genuine desperation from the Pacers. If they can slow LeBron in the post and still run Ray Allen and Shane Battier off the three-point line, they can even up the series. If Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh are knocking down midrange jumpers and the Heat are moving the ball and hitting threes, the Pacers can’t stop them.

This is really about defense for the Pacers. Offensively they have actually scored well above their season average in points per possession in this series — they are putting up points on a good Heat defense. It’s just not enough because they haven’t been able to stop Miami.

After Game 3 it’s fair to ask if the Pacers can play at the Heat’s level? But it’s just as fair to ask if the Heat can maintain that level? This is a much grittier, tougher, better Pacers team than the one the Heat vanquished a year ago and you can expect their defense to be more physical tonight, as will their efforts to establish Roy Hibbert and David West on offense.

But again, if Haslem is near perfect and Chris Andersen remains perfect (he’s 13-of-13 in this series) — basically, if the Heat are getting serious contributions from players not named LeBron there is not much the Pacers can do.

Game 4 is now less about strategy and more about execution and intangibles. The Pacers have made big strides from a year ago in those areas.

But will it be enough to even this series and make it a best of three.

Doc Rivers: If Paul Pierce retires, Clippers would let him join Celtics first

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3:  Head coach Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics share a laugh at the end of the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons during the game on April 3, 2013 at TD Garden 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 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Clippers forward Paul Pierce is mulling retirement, which would mean another franchise icon could leave the NBA this summer — Lakers great Kobe Bryant, Spurs great Tim Duncan and Celtics great Pierce.

However, unlike Kobe and Duncan, Pierce left his original team.

Personally, I don’t think stints with the Nets, Wizards and Clippers do much to diminish Pierce’s Boston bona fides. Everyone will remember him as a Celtic. Fifteen years and a championship in Boston will do that.

But just in case you need more reason to tie Pierce to the Celtics, Clippers president/coach and Pierce’s former Boston coach Doc Rivers has a plan.

Rivers, as transcribed by Jay King of MassLive:

“If Paul decides to retire then we’re going to make sure that Boston picks him up for one day and he retires a Celtic because that’s what he should retire as,” Rivers said during an episode of The Vertical podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski, which was released early Thursday. “So we have all that in place. We just don’t know what he’s going to do.”

Apparently, Amar’e Stoudemire is a trendsetter. Stoudemire signed with the Knicks to retire, the first NBA player in memory to sign with a team for that ceremonial reason. Previously, it’d mostly been done in football and baseball.

If Pierce wants to follow that path, kudos to Rivers for allowing it to happen.

Rivers just has to make sure he executes the transaction wisely.

The Clippers would waive Pierce, and presumably, nobody would claim him to interfere. Pierce could then signed an unguaranteed contract with Boston. Pierce would retire, and the Celtics would waive him to clear his salary from their books.

But Pierce is due $3,527,920 on his current contract this season, and $1,096,080 of his 2017-18 salary is guaranteed. If the Clippers just waive him, they’ll be on the hook for that money. They can pay Pierce as a retirement gift, as the Spurs did with Duncan. But that seems foolish for a team facing the hard cap and without such deep ties to the player.

Before waiving Pierce, the Clippers should renegotiate the guaranteed portion of his salary (a buyout) — all the way down to $0. If Pierce is retiring, his team no longer has to pay him. Reducing his guaranteed salary would just hasten the process of getting him back to Boston.

This isn’t that complicated. It just requires Rivers to get the details of cap management correct. Actually…

Carmelo Anthony predicts Knicks-Bulls on Christmas or opening night

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks shoots over Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 23, 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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Carmelo Anthony said the Knicks should have gotten a Christmas game last year. In hindsight, the NBA reportedly agreed.

So, Anthony expects New York to get a marquee matchup — against the Bulls — on either Christmas or opening night.

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

The storylines are overflowing.

The Knicks added Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — two former Bulls — to join Anthony, who strongly considered Chicago in his last free agency. The Bulls answered with a couple big names: Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. They’ll join Jimmy Butler, whose stature is only growing — just like Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Those are plenty of attention-drawing players, and the league will want to capitalize, even if we’re talking about a couple middling Eastern Conference teams.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that New York and Chicago are huge markets.

Newspaper uses crying Michael Jordan photo with article on his race statement

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Jordan to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame speaks during an induction ceremony on September 11, 2009 in Springfield, 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 Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Michael Jordan issued a statement on race in America and donated $2 million to a couple worthy causes.

That drew international coverage, including one curious photo choice:

Only in Malawi.

Watch Amar’e Stoudemire’s top 10 career plays (video)

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When Amar’e Stoudemire retired, I said history will treat him better than present-day analysis — maybe even to the point he gets legitimate Hall of Fame consideration.

Get past Stoudemire’s injury-caused decline with the Knicks and his wayward years with the Mavericks and Heat, and Stoudemire was a heck of a player with the Suns (and in his first year in New York).

Thanks to the NBA, the process of remembering Stoudemire for his peak can begin immediately. I was blown away by the first few highlights before realizing they were just the introduction for the top 10.