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NBA Finals Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami 66-16 (First seed in East)
San Antonio 58-24 (Second seed in West)

PLAYOFF RECORDS

San Antonio 12-2 (swept the Lakers 4-0, beat the Warriors 4-2, swept the Grizzlies)
Miami: 12-4 (swept Milwaukee 4-0, beat Chicago 4-1, went 7 to beat Pacers)

SEASON SERIES

This was the most meaningless 1-1 season series ever. The first game was the Thursday night national television game where Gregg Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home early (it was the second night of a road back-to-back) and got the team a $250,000 fine for embarrassing David Stern. Next time these teams met the Heat rested LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but the Heat were sensible enough to lie to the league office in advance about why they had to sit. So no fines.

KEY INJURIES

Both teams are playing through some minor injuries, but nobody is expected to miss games. Dwyane Wade will be the biggest question mark — he looked grounded through six games of the last round then suddenly reminded everyone of his old self in Game 7. So which Wade shows up this series?

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

Miami: offense, 108.4 (1st in postseason); defense 97.6 (4th in postseason)
San Antonio: offense 106.5 (2nd in postseason); defense 95.4 (1st in postseason)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

Spurs ball movement vs. Heat pressure defense. If you saw Game 7 Monday night when the Heat wiped the floor with the Pacers, you see what Miami’s athleticism and pressure can do to even a good offense. Miami is big, athletic and they use that to force turnovers (which become alley-oops going the other way). But do you really think Tony Parker is going to melt from that? San Antonio’s ball movement could break the Heat’s pressure not totally unlike Dallas did to them in the finals two years ago. If Miami’s traps disrupt the Spurs ball movement Miami wins. But if the ball moves to open shooters and Danny Green or Matt Bonner are knocking down threes, advantage Spurs.

LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard. No one man stops LeBron James… but one man can make his life more difficult (Paul George did a respectable job last round). . Kawhi Leonard will be the best defender LeBron will see these playoffs, and if Leonard can just make LeBron have to really work for his points, that’s a huge plus for the Spurs. The help defense behind Leonard also needs to be sharp — Tim Duncan is smart about this, but Tiago Splitter can be a step slow at times, he does that this round and he’s in a LeBron poster.

Who controls paint/can the Heat rebound? Gregg Popovich is a smart man, he was taking notes on what the Pacers did to push the Heat to a seventh game — Indiana worked the ball inside, drew fouls to get to the line and dominated the offensive glass. The Spurs don’t have the raw size of the Pacers, but Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan are both smart, aggressive and a still bigger front line that will be able to hurt the Heat inside. In the games it won the Pacers grabbed around 40 percent of their missed shots as offensive rebounds, if the Spurs can keep that number above 30 percent they will give the Heat fits this series.

OUTLOOK

This is a great matchup on paper because San Antonio should do things that really bother the Heat.

For one, they are strong inside, too. While San Antonio doesn’t have anyone the size of Roy Hibbert they do have two legitimate, physical big men in Splitter and Duncan and the Spurs will get points inside. The Spurs can play physical; they just dusted the physical Grizzlies in four games.

What is more, Tony Parker is going to be a real problem for them. Miami has struggled at times against teams with top point guards — and right now Parker is playing at an MVP-like level. He’s averaging 23 points on 47.percent shooting (37 percent from three), plus dishing out 7.2 assists per game these playoffs. If he can get past the first-line of defense and into the paint the Heat will be in trouble. If he can deal with the aggressive traps of the Heat and move the ball to open shooters (who hit their shots) the Heat could be in trouble.

For the Spurs, the question these playoff was always could they beat a very athletic team? They didn’t last year, falling to the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. But this year, due to the Russell Westbrook injury, the most athletic team the Spurs faced getting to the finals was Golden State, and while they have a couple good athletes on the roster they don’t compare to the Heat that way.

How does San Antonio deal with that? Which is another way of asking, what do they do when the Heat hit that extra gear they showed in Game 7 (and a couple other times against the Pacers)?

PREDICTION

Heat in six. The Spurs have a shot in this, they have the tools to exploit the Heat’s weaknesses and we know they are not going to melt down in the moment. But in the end this is a close series where a handful of times the Heat will hit the turbo button and go play on another level that the Spurs cannot stop. That will be enough to put Miami over the top.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder attempts a free throw against the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
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Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.