Barrage of threes, strong defense leads Spurs to blowout of Heat 113-77

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Famed NBA coach and broadcaster Hubie Brown has a theory (that I love) — NBA role players perform better at home.

The Spurs played at home for the first time in three weeks and their role players stepped up and owned the Heat. Owned.

Gary Neal (24 points, 6-of-10 from three) and Danny Green (27 points, 7-of-9 from three) led the Spurs to an NBA Finals record 16 threes in a game. The Heat defense was less aggressive, the Spurs moved the ball to the open man then knocked down shots, and the result was a blowout 113-77 Spurs win. San Antonio won the second half 63-33.

The result is a 2-1 Spurs lead in the series with a big Game 4 Thursday night in Texas.

San Antonio has taken the Heat’s haymaker and come out more focused the next game. The Heat have done the same all playoffs and must again, but they have not taken a punch like this one.

“We got what we deserved,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeated many times after the game. “They played with more force, more focus, the teams that do that typically get what you deserve. They outplayed us, out classed us from the very tip.”

Actually, the first half was much closer. The Spurs led most of the way behind Neal’s 14 points and Tim Duncan getting 10 while attacking the paint. The Spurs were getting the shots they wanted, shooting 61.1 percent in the first quarter. Still, it was a 44-44 game when just before the half Tony Parker hit a leaning three from the corner and Gary Neal beat the buzzer with one, resulting in a six point halftime lead.

But it was already clear where this could be going — San Antonio was outworking the Heat all over the court. The best evidence of that was San Antonio having 19 offensive rebounds on the night — they grabbed the offensive board on 42.2 percent of their missed shots. That is all effort and desire.

Then in the second half the Spurs shooters caught fire — they shot 51.1 percent overall, 9-of-17 from three and Green had 22 of his points in the half.

The Spurs were moving the ball and making the extra pass — 29 assists — and the Heat defense was not making the extra effort.

“When we’re moving the ball like that, trusting each other to knock down shots, make plays, it makes the defense work,” Green said. “It makes them move, rotate. The more you make a defense move, the more they’re liable to make mistakes.”

While no doubt the Spurs shooters were hot, the Heat suddenly less aggressive defense helped them get that way.

“They have great shooters…” Spoelstra said. “If you’re not doing your job, and doing it early, and doing it with focus and discipline guys get open. And that’s what happened. They got all the easy ones they wanted first. And same thing with our shooters when you get easy ones the basket starts to look bigger and bigger.”

The Heat were also passive on offense. The Spurs packed the paint again and did a good job of encouraging the Heat to shoot from the midrange. So the Heat settled — Miami was 7-of-32 from the midrange. That’s 21.9 percent. Not only did the Heat settle, they missed the shots they were settling for. LeBron James was not himself and was 7-of-21 for 15 points.

“I can’t have a performance like tonight and expect to win,” LeBron said.

He wasn’t alone. Chris Bosh was 4 –of-10 and as a team the Heat shot 40.8 percent. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 16 points, the lone real bright spot for the Heat was Mike Miller going 5-of-5 from three.

San Antonio simply outworked and outplayed Miami all night long. If Miami is going to bounce back it is going to have to start with energy on the defensive end of the floor. From there, get some rebounds and make some of their open shots. Then attack the paint with the ball.

What you can be sure of on Thursday night is the Spurs will continue to be the Spurs — make a mistake, don’t make the extra effort and they will make you pay. Miami is going to have to take this one from San Antonio, because the Spurs are not going to beat themselves and hand a win over.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

Kyrie Irving-LeBron James saga featured in hilarious parody of Eminem’s ‘Stan’ (video)

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What’s going on between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James?

I’ve seen better explanations.

But I haven’t seen more entertaining explanations.

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.