NBA Finals Game 6 Preview: Will we see the best of the Heat?

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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra asked the most pertinent question about Game 6 just after the end of Game 5:

“Can we put together our best game on both sides of the floor in Game 6?”

Over the course of a long NBA season the San Antonio Spurs built very good habits as a team — make a mistake and they exploit it. They move the ball, they move off the ball and they exploit your weaknesses, your mistakes. Sunday night in Game 5 when they went with Manu Ginobili in the starting lineup San Antonio did to Miami what Miami did to other teams all season long — force them to make tough choices then exploit any mistake. They are the best in the NBA at it.

Over the course of a long NBA season the Miami Heat coasted, then played with focus in spurts. Their raw talent and those spurts got them 66 wins, they showed a powerful defense for stretches, they showed great ball movement at times. But it came and went, good habits were not built to fall back on when things got challenging in the playoffs.

Things are challenging now — the Spurs lead 3-2 and if they win Game 6 Thursday night San Antonio will deservingly hold up the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champions.

When the Heat have played with focus and force — as Eric Spoelstra likes to say — they have outscored the Spurs and put on impressive runs. They did that several times in Game 5 to dig out of the hole they put themselves in with careless defense early.

This is not to say the Heat have lost three games — the Spurs have won these games with their play. The Spurs do not wilt. The Spurs fight back. They are too talented, too disciplined, to battle hardened. They are too good. They will continue to exploit your mistakes; they will not just fold like so many others under the pressure of Miami runs. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are special players.

Miami only has a chance to win if they are at their very best, consistently all game. The Heat have yet to show they can do that.

Why do you think Danny Green has set the NBA record for three pointers in a series? Because he’s good, certainly. But also because he’s getting good looks as Dwyane Wade and other Heat players sag off him, lose track of him. It’s an unfocused Heat defense and what the Spurs do is exploit mistakes.

“I mean, this is the kind of team that I feel capitalizes on any mistake you make,” Wade said after Game 5. “So if you’re half a second late, they capitalize on it. “

Wade has been more than half a second late plenty. All the Heat players have now.

For weeks now, the Heat have bounced back from losses because they only seem to play their best when challenged. This will be their biggest challenge — the Spurs will play well, they will not make mistakes. They will not beat themselves.

Miami has to play its best to beat them.

So Spoelstra’s question is the real question of Tuesday night.

“Can we put together our best game on both sides of the floor in Game 6?”

If they can we will see a Game 7. If not, the Spurs are champions.

Former Knicks, Warriors F David Lee announces retirement from NBA

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One of the NBA’s more under appreciated forwards has announced his retirement from the NBA.

David Lee, who spent time in his career with the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs, told the NBA world about his retirement via his Instagram page on Sunday.

Lee, 34, played last season with the Spurs. He averaged 7.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists for Gregg Popovich’s team.

Via Instagram:

Lee played 14 seasons in the NBA, the majority of which came with the Knicks. During his time in New York, Lee was seen as an unsung hero, nabbing rebounds and doing yeoman’s work from the power forward position.

The Knicks traded Lee to Golden State in the summer of 2010 for Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and two second round picks. He was part of the Warriors’ 2014-15 NBA Championship before eventually being traded to Boston in 2015.

Sixers say injured Markelle Fultz will be re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks

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We were all waiting for supposed “good news” about injured Philadelpia 76ers guard and No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. And it looks like we’ve got it? It’s hard to tell with this one.

On Sunday, the Sixers announced that Fultz — suffering from a sore right shoulder — would be re-evaluated in two to three weeks.

That’s at least some kind of timeline, which is more than we got when Fultz was originally ruled out indefinitely at the end of October.

Here’s the announcement from the Sixers.

Via Twitter:

Fultz has reportedly been working out and shooting left handed, which one can only hope is adding to his dexterity.

No doubt Sixers fans just want to see him on the court again as quickly as possible. The saga of the imbalanced shoulder has been a strange one, we’ve all got our fingers crossed that it settles normally.

Damian Lillard defends Blazers’ coach Terry Stotts on Instagram

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It’s far too early for panic in Portland. This is a team most outside Portland thought would finish a little above .500 and maybe grab one of the back-end playoff spots in the West, and at 9-7 they are on that pace.

But after an ugly Portland loss to Sacramento (just a few games after a loss to Brooklyn where coach Terry Stotts benched center Jusuf Nurkick for most of the fourth), Trail Blazers fans were restless and started to slam coach Stotts on the Trail Blazers’ Instagram page.

I doubt Stotts noticed, but Damian Lillard did and jumped in to defend his coach.

Lillard added this (hat tip Mike Richman at the Oregonian).

“Because people think they know more about what it takes to get things done at this level … For our team than they actually do,” he said. “We’re in this position for a reason. And coach Stotts had two 50-win seasons here and four straight years in the playoffs for a reason –because he knows what he’s doing. They mention … our record is 8-7 and we’re having breakdowns late in games. Well those breakdowns are a missed shot here, a turnover there, a defensive breakdown here, giving up extra possessions, missed free throws. It’s things that players control. If we were down 30 every game, that’s different. But we’re in position to win games. And when it’s time to win games, that’s the players’ job. “

Lillard is loyal to those around him and has had the back of teammates and his coach before.

Lillard and his teammates went out Saturday night and got some revenge on the Kings, winning 102-90.

Portland’s defense has been surprisingly good this season, second best in the NBA. It should have been better with Nurkic in the paint, but this has been a radical turnaround for a team where that end of the floor held them back in recent years. While that lofty ranking may not stick all season, the Blazers are defending.

Now the Blazers are just having trouble scoring efficiently (18th in the NBA), which is a little about a less-efficient Lillard and a rough start on that end for Nurkic.  That end of the court should come around, Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too good for it not to.

 

Teammate spoke to Lonzo Ball about walking away from “fight”

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We see these posturing/shoving matches all the time in the NBA, and they’re pointless. Late in Friday night’s Phoenix win in Los Angeles the Suns called a timeout, then Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one a shoving match. As happens, players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up… except for Lonzo Ball, who looked at it and kept moving along.

I have defended Ball’s actions as mature (he’s right, nothing was going to happen), while others (fans and media) have questioned his leadership for not rushing to stand by teammates, pull guys out of the pile, and having a “band of brothers” attitude.

None of that matters, the only opinions that carry any weight are the ones in the Lakers’ locker room. What did his teammates think? Lakers coach Luke Walton said a teammate did talk to Ball, quote via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Someone on our team talked with him,” Walton said after the Lakers’ practice Saturday, without disclosing who it was. “It’s all part of the learning process.”

If his teammates were bothered, then there’s an issue. It’s more about perception than anything, again nothing was happening in that “fight,” but perception matters. It’s a small issue, but an issue. With young players this gets discussed, and everyone moves on.

Ball’s passing and energy on the court are things teammates love. As his game matures — and he eventually finishes better around the rim and, hopefully for him, finds his jumper — and he grows as a bigger threat on the court, his teammates will forget this ever happened. As will fans. But when you play for the rabid (and not always rational) fan base of the Lakers, and when your father invites publicity and with it scrutiny, things get blown out of proportion. Welcome to Lonzo’s world.