Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game Four

NBA Finals Game 5 Heat vs. Spurs preview: Which Heat team shows up?


SAN ANTONIO — Which Miami Heat team will be on the bus to the AT&T Center for Sunday night’s key Game 5?

We know what names will be there — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc. — but the Heat have looked like a different team game to game in this series (and the last one, for that matter). There was the passive, jump shooting team that played Game 3 and got blown out. There was the small ball, aggressive team from Game 4 that played much better defense, forced turnovers, blocked shots and took control of the game in the fourth quarter.

The Spurs are going to be the Spurs — they are a model of consistency. They are going to come out in this game and defend, move the ball and for the most part play smart. The quality varies a little night to night, but you pretty much know what you are going to get — if Miami makes mistakes San Antonio will exploit them and win.

The question is will Miami make those mistakes or come out more like late in Game 4 and impose their will on the contest?

“So I think this team we’ve always responded to a challenge, and right now this is our challenge,” Wade said. “Our challenge now as a team is to see if we can put complete games together, back to back. So that’s got to be our challenge that we have to look forward to.”

As for Xs and Os, the Heat will come out starting Mike Miller again and going small.

“Against this team, we need to create space,” Miami’s Shane Battier said. “And just the threat of having three point shooters does that a little more. I think LeBron and Dwyane had a little bit more room to operate last game. And that’s what we’ve done all year, that’s why we’ve been a very good offense the entire year, league leading, is our ability to create space and make the other team make some tough decisions about their spacing.”

The Spurs will have to adjust, and that likely means a lot more Gary Neal and a lot less Tiago Splitter, possibly even in the starting lineup. But either way they Spurs need more out of Splitter, who had his shot blocked three times and turned it over a few other times in Game 4.

The other key is Tony Parker’s hamstring. It didn’t seem to bother him at all in the first half of Game 4, he was getting in the paint and putting on spin moves, and the game was tied at half. But in the second half a combination of more Heat defensive attention and his hamstring clearly bothering him, that penetration went away. And then the Heat and their defense took over. He says he’s fine, but…

There are no real secrets at this point in a series — these teams know each other well, it’s just a matter of execution. I think we know we will get that from the Spurs. The Heat were a confident bunch on Saturday, but we will see who gets off their team bus Sunday night.

As fans, I just hope we finally get another close game at the end, one that is entertaining to the final minutes (like Game 1).

Breaking news: Leandro Barbosa dunked

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The Warriors became the first team in NBA history to start 16-0.

In the process of getting that record-breaking win over the Lakers, something nearly as historic happened.

Leandro Barbosa dunked.

The 32-year-old Golden State guard last jammed in January 2011.

For a little more perspective, look how Barbosa handled a breakaway layup earlier in the fourth quarter:

You think that man can still slam?

Yes. Yes, he can.

Magic benching Victor Oladipo, starting Channing Frye

Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye
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Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.

But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.

The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.

Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.

“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”

Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the

  • Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
  • New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8

The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.

I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.

If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.

At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.

This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.

Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs

Dwight Howard
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The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.

The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.

Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.

Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth


The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.