Miami Heat's LeBron James looks at a replay as he walks up court with Spurs' Duncan during the fourth quarter in Game 6 of their NBA Finals basketball playoff in Miami

Game 7 between the Heat and the Spurs: Seven things to watch


MIAMI — The Heat and the Spurs have engaged in an epic Finals battle which will crown one of them as champions by the time Thursday night is through.

In a series where neither team has been able to string together two consecutive victories, it’s even more impossible than usual to predict how one game that will decide the title will ultimately shake out. But we can look for some signs, so here, in no particular order, are seven of them to watch.

1. Aggressive LeBron: When LeBron James is bringing up the ball, and attacking the paint either on straight dribble drives or from the post, the Heat are extremely difficult to stop. The fourth quarter of Game 6, as well as stretches of Game 4 are recent reminders of just how dominant the game’s best player can be when he exerts himself.

The trouble for the Heat is, from a pure energy standpoint, he can’t do it for 48 minutes. Dwyane Wade explained as much before practicing on Wednesday.

“I mean, [LeBron] is in unbelievable shape,” Wade said. “Unbelievable. “But he can’t do it four quarters that way. That’s why he has a team. A lot of people always say, why he can’t play like that every day? It takes so much out of you, so much energy to be able to do that. If he does, then he’s not playing any defense on the other end. He’s not making incredible blocks, [grabbing] incredible rebounds. It takes a lot of energy to be able to do that every time.”

2. Dwyane Wade’s effectiveness: The lineup data in this series says that when LeBron and Wade are on the floor together, it’s not a good look for the Heat. With James and without Wade, however, it’s a completely different story. How effective Wade can be, and whether or not Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has the guts to go away from him for extended stretches if he’s not may have a lot to do with how things play out for Miami. Don’t expect Spoelstra to change too much, however, no matter Wade’s performance.

“I don’t really give a whole lot to those numbers,” Spoelstra said. “We’re going as far as they take us, along with the other guys. You can’t win this series or the last game with a statistic. You have to compete and win those battles on the court.”

3. The Heat’s “other guys”: Speaking of the others, we know Miami is going to need someone outside of the Big Three to step up and contribute. History says LeBron wins when that happens, and remember, it was Ray Allen who made the season-saving shot in Game 6. Guys like Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller will be huge to the Heat’s chances; look at last year’s Finals closeout game, where Miller was 7-of-8 from three-point distance. In a one-game-for-the-title situation, a single, unexpected, outlier performance can be the difference.

4. Health concerns, specifically with Tony Parker: We know how banged up Wade has been, and he missed the start of the second half of Game 6 because he needed to remain in the locker room getting treatment on that ailing knee. But the health of Parker might be an even bigger issue for the Spurs.

Parker was clearly struggling in Game 6 — he was 6-of-23 from the field for the game, but he did make two ridiculously huge plays with about a minute to play that had his team on the brink of the title. The Spurs can’t afford to be without Parker’s services for the majority of Game 7, especially if their role players are nonexistent.

5. A role player for the Spurs needs to materialize: Over the course of the series, we’ve seen gigantic performances from San Antonio’s system players who produced when called upon. Danny Green was in the MVP conversation at one point, after setting the record for three-pointers made in the Finals through the first five games.

The Heat shut Green down in Game 6, and Manu Ginobili and Gary Neal were similarly unable to impact the game in any meaningful way. Tim Duncan was magnificent, but was only able to dominate for a half. Just like the Heat, San Antonio will need a total team effort, or at the very least, a standout performance to help its stars secure a title.

6. The level of play: The last time we saw a Game 7 to decide the NBA title back in 2010, the Lakers and Celtics engaged in more of a wrestling match than a basketball game for the majority of the night. Both teams competed incredibly hard, and were intent on making every possession a physical battle. That made the shooting percentages plummet (the winning team shot just 32.6 percent), and aside from the insane level of competitiveness, the game was anything but aesthetically pleasing.

We’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the highest levels of play in Finals history in this series, in terms of offensive execution and defensive cohesiveness between these two teams. If Game 7 comes down to a slugfest, the Spurs would have the advantage.

7. The pressure of Game 7: The Heat won the title just last season, and the Spurs core of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili have won multiple championships over the years. The veteran experience should serve both teams well in a deciding game, but should there be any nervousness or tentative play, it could be a factor in one team seeing the opportunity to pounce.

But James and Duncan are both well aware of what’s at stake.

“I understand the moment for me,” James said. “I’ve been pretty relaxed, though. I’ve been pretty relaxed throughout the playoffs. I’m going to be antsy, I’m going to be excited. I’m going to have some butterflies. I’ll be nervous. Everything. That’s how I should be. The moment is going to be grand, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

“Our core of guys have been through a lot together,” Duncan said. “We have some young talent here, but they’re going to feed off of what we do. And Tony, Manu and I have been in this position before. We’re excited about the opportunity.

“We just want to see what happens and be able to leave everything out there. We feel that obviously we like our chances, and to be in this situation, a Game 7, we’re just going to leave it all out there and see what happens.”

Warriors’ interim coach Luke Walton’s car stolen

Luke Walton
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If you’re looking for a “when are things going to go wrong for the Warriors” moment, we have one for you. But it may not be what you had hoped for.

Warriors’ interim head coach Luke Walton — the guy on the sidelines for the 15 (soon to be 16) game winning streak — had his car stolen during a crime spree, reports

One of the cars stolen during an Oakland Hills crime spree belongs to Golden State Warriors coach Luke Walton, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said late Monday.

Walton’s Mercedes Benz was stolen Tuesday by two suspects, who police believe are also responsible for a violent attack on a 75-year-old woman outside her home on Thursday. The suspects also took the woman’s car during the attack, according to police.

Yikes. That’s serious.

I’m sure Steve Kerr has like 14 cars, he can loan one to Walton.

Pacers guard George Hill returns Tuesday against Wizards

Paul George, Marcus Morris
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Pacers guard George Hill returned to the lineup Tuesday night against Washington after missing three games with an upper respiratory infection.

Hill is averaging 14 points and just under 37 minutes in 10 games this season. He was on the bench in case of emergency in Saturday’s victory over Milwaukee.

Coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday Hill’s infection had improved “to the point where he’s fine to play,” but would keep an eye out for fatigue after an 11-day layoff.

Hassan Whiteside on intentional fouls: “It’s not working, so keep fouling me”

Hassan Whiteside

Remember how Adam Silver was preaching that the league didn’t want to change the intentional foul rule — the hack-a-Shaq strategy — because it was really about two players (DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard) and a handful of others now and then. The fact that it’s not basketball didn’t matter.

Well, it’s not just two — Miami’s Hassan Whiteside has gotten the treatment this season. He’s a 53.4 percent free throw shooter this season.

And he says bring it on. From Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:

“I’m enjoying this,” he said. “Foul me so I can get a double-double and we can win. It’s not working, so keep fouling me.”

He’s even smart at not getting fouled.

Whiteside also is liking that teams are looking at their options against the best defense in the NBA — yes, Miami at 94 points allowed per 100 possessions, is the best defense in the NBA right now — and deciding to attack Whiteside.

“There’s teams that’s out there that say ‘Stay away from Hassan,’ and there’s teams that say, ‘We don’t care if Hassan’s down there. Attack Hassan.’ I love them teams that do that. God bless them coaches. I love them teams.”

Whiteside is not as great a defender as the block totals would indicate — if he doesn’t see a block in it, his rotations can be a bit slow. One scout recently called him a selfish defender to me recently, suggesting he is in it for the numbers, not the sacrifices needed for an elite defense. True or not, the Heat have an elite defense and Whiteside is at the heart of it.

And if the strategy is to try to exploit him, Whiteside plans to make people pay.

LeBron James: Spend less time comparing, more appreciating the greats

Michael Jordan, LeBron James

Monday night, LeBron James joined Oscar Robertson as the only two players in NBA history to be in the top 25 all-time in assists and scoring. Somewhere this summer (maybe late last season), Stephen Curry passed LeBron James and the best player walking the face of the earth. Don’t even get started on trying to compare LeBron or Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan.

No, seriously, don’t. LeBron thinks we spend to much time comparing and not enough time appreciating the great players of sport, such as comparing him to Robertson (or Magic). Here is what LeBron said to Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“I think what we get caught up in, in our league too much is trying to compare greats to greats instead of just accepting and acknowledging and saying, ‘Wow, these are just great players,'” James said. “I think in the NFL when you talk about great quarterbacks, they don’t really compare great quarterbacks. They say, ‘Oh, Joe Montana is great.’ You know, ‘Tom Brady is great. Aaron Rodgers is great. Steve Young is great.’ (Terry) Bradshaw, all those great quarterbacks they never compare them as much, but when it comes to our sport we’re so eager to say, ‘Who is better, Oscar or (Michael) Jordan?’ or, ‘Jordan or LeBron or Kobe (Bryant) or these guys?’ instead of just accepting greatness.”

He’s right.

I admit I can get as sucked into this as the next person, it’s a fun barstool argument to have, but in the end it can suck the joy out of watching great players. This is not a new position for me, I was a Laker blogger back in the Kobe/Gasol era and tried to tell those fans to enjoy it while they could. Be a fan of the game has been my mantra.

No player has had to deal with this level of scrutiny like LeBron, the first NBA superstar of the social media age. LeBron is a lock Hall of Famer, he will go down as one of the greats to ever play the game, maybe the most physically gifted ever (him or Wilt), yet while he is still just 30 years old we try to rank him against MJ, Dr. J., Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and a host of others. It’s been going on since he was 24. Probably earlier.

Can you imagine the online heat Jordan would have faced online when the Pistons rolled him and the Bulls in the playoffs three straight years, up to his age 26? But now in the mythology of Jordan those times are almost forgotten. They were dissected at the time, but not with the venom found on twitter. Not with the level of scrutiny LeBron faces.

Does Kobe suck this season? Maybe. But there are flashes of the great player and as fans we should try to savor those moments (even if we question now Byron Scott uses him). Same with Tim Duncan (who doesn’t suck). Or Kevin  Garnett. Plus there are all these great players on the rise like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns and on and on, yet the NBA world is critical first.

We all need to savor these players, these moments more.

Even if we know LeBron is not MJ, it doesn’t mean LeBron isn’t special.