San Antonio is team best suited to challenge Miami coronation

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What none of us really want — outside of a few diehards in South Beach — is the NBA playoffs to be a leisurely stroll to a Heat coronation. We want Miami tested, pushed, challenged at the very least. We want them to prove they have earned it (if they can). That starts with Indiana (which will have a better showing in Game 4).

But the team best suited to challenge if not outright beat Miami comes from San Antonio — and is now team now awaiting the Heat in the Finals (if Miami finishes off the Pacers as expected).

That doesn’t mean the Spurs can beat the Heat four times out of seven. But more than any other team in the NBA they have the right tools for the job.

1) Experience. As much as we may root for underdogs like Memphis or even Golden State to make it to the Finals, the bright lights and big stage can overwhelm, or at least give pause, to teams not used to them. And any team coming out of the West has no margin for error like that against the Heat.

But the Spurs are not going to wilt in that setting — their core has three rings, they have been to this dance before. They have the best coach in the business. They have been good on the road. They will push Miami with everything they have.

2) The Spurs system can diffuse the Heat’s pressure defense. Mimi is long, athletic, they pressure the ball and to make you turn the ball over (then they turn that into fast transition points). It’s a kind of pressure you think you are ready for after studying it on film, but it’s something else entirely to face in person. It’s hard to get into your sets.

But teams can diffuse that pressure with good point guard play combined with ball movement and moving off the ball. And that is exactly what the Spurs do.

Parker is not going to become a turnover machine — he and the rest of the Spurs ball handlers can handle pressure. What’s more the Spurs system can exploit a team that overplays passing lanes and tries to force turnovers — backcuts and quick ball movement could lead to open shots if not layups. The ball will move to the open guy quickly, and go ask the Grizzlies if San Antonio can knock down threes. Maybe the most obvious example of team play frustrating the Heat defense like this is the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. This is a different Heat team in a lot of ways, but the same principles can be applied.

3) San Antonio has the size to hurt Miami inside. You need to score inside, you need to punish Miami for playing small if you are going to beat them. Tim Duncan, and to a lesser degree Tiago Splitter, can do this. San Antonio is not a low post team in the same way Indiana is, but they have real size and muscle inside and they can find some clever ways to exploit and take advantage of that.

There are still a lot of reasons Miami will be and should be favorites in the Finals (again, if they beat the Pacers).

For one, the questions about San Antonio have been how they would deal with a very athletic team — except they never had to face one to get to this point in the postseason. Oklahoma City was their matchup problem but the Russell Westbrook injury changed everything. Golden State was the most athletic team San Antonio faced, and they are average by NBA standards. Miami is wildly athletic and could just overwhelm the Spurs.

Second, this is a much better Heat team — one with a real sense of identity — than the one that won it all last year, or the one lost to the Mavs a couple years ago. This is a very good Heat team that can defend, moves the ball on offense, and it’s a team where the stars make smart basketball plays. They may just be better than the Spurs.

Finally, there is LeBron James. Having the best player on the planet in your uniform is a good thing.

But we want to see the Heat pushed. See LeBron tested. Make them really earn a ring if they can. And no team is better positioned to do that than San Antonio.

Three questions the Detroit Pistons must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 37-45, missed the playoffs following Detroit’s first postseason berth in six years

I know what you did last summer: The Pistons paid the price of Marcus Morris to upgrade from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Avery Bradley, who’s still on a relatively cheap old-TV-money deal for one more season. Detroit also seemingly spent well above market rate (three years, $21 million) for Langston Galloway, who plays the same position as No. 12 pick Luke Kennard. Anthony Tolliver returned after a season with the Kings.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PISTONS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Reggie Jackson revert to form? Two years ago, Jackson was a solid starting point guard propelling the Pistons on an upward track. He started last season injured then never found his footing.

Jackson wasn’t exactly the Pistons’ problem last year. But he was central to all the Pistons’ problems last year.

He just didn’t attack the rim the same way, which hindered Andre Drummond‘s abilities in the pick-and-roll and Detroit’s other players getting as much space on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Jackson stuck with the heavy-dribble, high-usage style he had grown accustomed to. Considering he was far less effective while still dominating the ball, that might have contributed to some infighting.

But if the worst thing about Jackson is that he doesn’t know how to adjust when not fully healthy, that doesn’t matter if he’s fully healthy.

2) Will Avery Bradley make the Pistons eager to invest in him long-term? Instead of paying Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this summer, Detroit set itself up to pay Bradley next summer.

This could go a few ways. Bradley could play poorly and not be welcomed back, which would be troubling very soon. But as long as he plays at least moderately well, the Pistons will probably pony up. They’re on track to be capped out even if he leaves in unrestricted free agency, and they’ll also likely want to save face on this summer’s moves as long as it’s feasible.

If Bradley merely meets the lowest expectations Detroit has for him and then re-signs on a lucrative contract, that wouldn’t be so bad. He’d probably be overpaid, but that’d likely be a manageable deal for the Pistons.

If Bradley truly thrives, though, that’d be a boon for Detroit in the short and long terms. In this cap environment, his salary probably wouldn’t climb much higher, and the Pistons would have a really good player.

The 26-year-old Bradley will get his chances. A lockdown perimeter defender, he’s likely in line for an expanded offensive role. This is a great situation for him entering free agency.

3) Will Andre Drummond take the next step? Drummond’s flaws are glaring. He’s an all-time bad free-throw shooter. He posts up far too much with ugly post moves. His effort and focus can wane.

But he’s still darned effective. With elite physical tools and a nose for the ball, Drummond is an elite rebounder. He finishes well in the pick-and-roll, and he can be disruptive defensively.

Despite the complaints of his detractors, Drummond is worth having on the floor. The good outweighs the bad.

That isn’t enough, though. The Pistons have treated him like a franchise player – max contract and a roster built around him. For their season to truly be a success, they need him become a star.

That starts defensively, where Drummond has shown flashes but taken just baby steps overall. If he locks in mentally and plays more energetically on that end more consistently, Detroit would be in far better shape.

Kevin Durant YouTube comment presaged Twitter/Instagram fiasco

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Kevin Durant admitted he went too far on social media, though he didn’t quite admit to the clear revelation: He has additional Twitter and Instagram accounts he used to anonymously fire back at his critics.

Who does that? More specifically, what kind of millionaire NBA-champion superstar does that?

Durant provided a glimpse into his mindset last week, when he replied to this YouTube comment about the insoles of his Finals shoes:

Who cares what people think . Just do you. Someone of stature, shouldn’t worry about stuff like that.

Durant:

of my stature, I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, in still figuring myself out in my late 20, I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think

That Durant was interacting in YouTube comments – YouTube comments! – says plenty on its own. That’s the cesspool of internet commenting.

But the content of the reply is also illuminating. Durant is insecure. I think that’s pretty clear at this point.

There will always be people who accept nothing less than the ruthlessness of Michael Jordan from NBA stars. But maybe, once this scandal passes, some will find Durant’s vulnerability endearing.

Steve Kerr: Warriors haven’t been invited to White House, to meet on plan

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Steve Kerr reportedly stated a plan for the NBA-champion Warriors to decline an invitation to visit President Donald Trump’s White House. Then, Kerr espoused the virtues of going.

Kerr, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“We will meet as a team to discuss it and make a decision,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told ESPN.

“The league isn’t going to tell us what to do. They know it’s our decision and that, for me, really, it’s the players’ decision.

As yet, Kerr confirmed that no such invitation has been extended by the Trump administration.

If the Warriors commit to attending, they’d probably get invited. It seems the White House just doesn’t want egg on its face by extending an invitation that could get declined.

Regardless, Golden State almost certainly isn’t going.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala have publicly stated their opposition. Even if there’s a player in that locker room who wants to go – and I’m not sure there is – who has the clout to stand up to those three? The tone has already been set.

Knicks say they expect Carmelo Anthony to open training camp with them

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Carmelo Anthony trade rumors have picked up steam the last couple days, the talk centered on the Knicks trading him before training camp opens Monday.

They clearly want to move on. He wants to move on – at least if he can join the Rockets. But a Houston deal appears to have dead-ended.

So…

Ian Begley of ESPN:

This is, by far, the most likely outcome.

There’s always a chance Anthony, who holds a no-trade clause, approves a trade to a team outside Houston. The Knicks might be attempting to gain leverage for that scenario. But I’m unconvinced he’s eager to leave the New York market for just anywhere, and that’d still require two teams agreeing to terms. It’s a lot to overcome.

Anthony has remained professional amid the chaos, and I expect he’ll remain so. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said Anthony would still hold a major role on the court, even if the focus is long-term (the reason Mills gave for omitting Anthony from his offseason write-up).

It’s not ideal to have a highly paid 33-year-old who can still contribute at a high level on a rebuilding team, but that’s where Anthony and New York are – and probably will be next week.