Dwyane Wade

Five things that will be different in 2014 Spurs vs. Heat Finals rematch


It’s not going to be the same.

We can hope that it’s as good, as dramatic and compelling, but it’s not going to be the same.

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are getting together for an NBA Finals rematch of one of the best Finals series we had seen in a long time. This is the first Finals rematch since 1998 (Bulls and Jazz) but this one is going to feel a little different.

Here are five reasons why.

1) The 2-2-1-1-1 format. Last season the NBA was still using the 2-3-2 format for the Finals, a throwback to when the NBA players used to have to fly commercial between games. Back then there were good logistic (not so much basketball) reasons to go to 2-3-2, but nobody liked those three games in the middle in one city. Both teams complained about it and said it was an advantage for the other side. Now the Spurs have home court and get Games 5 and 7 on their home court. Think of it this way: If the NBA made this switch one year earlier the legendary Game 6 — with Ray Allen’s step back three — would have taken place in San Antonio. Does it end differently if it does?

2) Dwyane Wade’s knees are healthier. Wade averaged 19.6 points a game on 47.6 percent shooting in the Finals last season, but he was dragging some bad knees around. He had spurts of great play but he was not his vintage self. In these playoffs, Wade is averaging 18.7 points per game on 51.9 percent — you can thank the season-long knee maintenance program for that. Eric Spoelstra rested Wade, to the frustration of LeBron James at times, but he got what he wanted — Wade has been strong through these playoffs. That is going to put more defensive pressure on the Spurs.

[MORE: Three keys to winning the series]

3) Miami’s defense hasn’t been as consistently sharp. In the 2013 playoffs the Miami Heat allowed 102.9 points per 100 possessions and held teams to 43.6 percent shooting, with the Heat forcing turnovers on 15.6 percent of opponent possessions. They won with defense. In 2014 opposing teams are scoring 107.7 points per 100 possessions and shooting 46.2 percent, with Miami forcing turnovers on 14.1 percent of possessions. They haven’t been as good, in part because they haven’t had to be (the competition in the East didn’t push them as hard as San Antonio was pushed). In their last three games against Indiana Miami started to show some of that defensive energy. But how are they going to react now that they face a team that will actually pass out of a double team?

4) Manu Ginobili looks much better. Manu Ginobili was up and down last playoffs, and that showed in the Finals — he dropped 25 in Game 5 and sparked the Spurs in to go up 3-2, then he had a career-high eight turnovers and was a mess in the Spurs devastating Game 6 loss. Ginobili was a negative in the Finals last year. San Antonio seems to be on a mission for revenge but no Spur is more focused than Ginobili, who had a fantastic series against the Thunder and through the playoffs is averaging 14.3 points per game with a PER of 21.1 (he had a just above average 16.5 last year). If this Ginobili shows up for the Finals it will put a lot more pressure on the Heat, particularly its up-and-down bench.

[MORE: What’s next for Thunder, Pacers?]

5) Tony Parker has a sprained ankle. This has to be San Antonio’s biggest concern — they can get through a half against the Thunder without Parker and be just fine, but if he isn’t playing the Tony Parker who should be in the conversation for best point guard in the game this series San Antonio’s dreams of revenge will be sprained as well. Parker sprained his ankle in Game 4 against OKC, played through it then aggravated it in Game 5, and by the second half of Game 6 it was Gregg Popovich who pulled the plug on him. He gets five days off, five days of treatment, the Spurs need that to be enough starting Thursday night at home. Otherwise this series could remind the Spurs of last year’s.

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Stories to be thankful for this season

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson
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Happy Thanksgiving. In the spirit of the day, our five takeaways have become five storylines we should be thankful for this young NBA season. We at PBT are thankful to you for being here, reading our work, and, of course, we’re thankful for stuffing (the best part of the Thanksgiving meal). 

1) Record-setting Golden State revolutionizing the game. The Warriors’ revolution will be televised. And copied by half the league or more. Golden State put together the personnel to take full advantage of the current rules (zone defenses, no hand checking on the perimeter), to take what Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash started to do in Phoenix and win with it. Golden State is at the forefront of the small ball revolution sweeping the league because they can make it work — but nobody can quite copy it because nobody has Stephen Curry or Draymond Green. Those guys are the lynchpins. Curry is the perfect modern point guard, one who can shoot the three comfortably out to nearly 30 feet, but can also recognize the defense and set guys up. Green is his dangerous pick-and-roll partner who makes going small work because their defense doesn’t suffer when they do.

Golden State is kind of like Brazil in international soccer — they’re everybody’s second favorite team to watch because they play such a beautiful and entertaining game. And in the case of Golden State they are winning doing it — they are a record-setting 16-0 to start the season after they won the NBA title. They are the bar to clear in the NBA right now.

2) Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns lead an impressive rookie class. Even Porzingis’ biggest supporters on draft night thought it would be a year or two before he could contribute at the NBA level. Nope, he’s good right now with the potential for greatness. Karl-Anthony Towns had great offensive moves and vision but back at the draft was seen as a defensive project (especially off the ball). Nope, he is an effective rim protector and pick-and-roll defender now who looks like a franchise cornerstone big man (to go with franchise cornerstone wing Andrew Wiggins) in Minnesota. Justise Winslow is already a good NBA defender who can get some points for Miami on offense. Jahlil Okafor is as advertised, a scoring machine when he gets the ball in the post. Emmanuel Mudiay is improving and showing strong NBA potential up in Denver. Stanley Johnson and Frank Kaminsky are already contributing in Detroit and Charlotte, respectively. And the list goes on.

This is a great rookie class that is going to be fun to watch for a long time.

3) Highlights like these. The NBA’s highlight factory is back in full session with plays like these from Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin — and these were just Wednesday night’s plays. It’s like this every night.

4) Paul George is back. This is maybe my favorite story of the young season — I was not sure we’d ever see peak Paul George again after his horrific leg injury playing for Team USA. He is all the way back and more. George has scored at least 25 points in nine straight games, he has developed a much more reliable jump shot, and he can still play lock-down defense. He is back to being an elite player, and with him the Pacers are back to being a good and potentially danger ous playoff team (9-5 so far, with a top five defense). 

5) Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan are defying Father Time. Nowitzki’s jumper seemed to be deserting him in recent seasons, and then this season he has gone and gotten it back — he’s shooting 51 percent from three this season. Teams have to game plan for him again like it’s 2011. Duncan and Manu Ginobili are playing their best ball in years for what felt like it could be the final run for this era of the Spurs — San Antonio has been the second best team in the NBA so far. Duncan is playing great defense and understands what he can still do efficiently on offense. Duncan and Nowitzki could well be All-Stars in the West — and they will have earned it, they deserve it for their play.

LeBron James calls Cavs players’ only meeting after loss to Raptors

LeBron James

Yes, the Cavaliers are 11-4 on the season and on top of the East. Yes, they are outscoring teams by 6.7 points per 100 possessions, which is fourth best in the NBA. They have the third best offense in the league. All that without their starting backcourt (Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert). There are reasons to be optimistic.

But the Cavaliers have a middle-of-the-pack defense and their efforts have been up and down. Wednesday night was one of those down nights, they lost on the road to Toronto, dropping the Cavs to 3-4 outside Quicken Loans Arena. All those losses are to teams in the East.

It was enough for LeBron James and James Jones to call a players-only meeting, reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

Following a 103-99 road loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers held a players-only meeting during which LeBron James and James Jones got on the team for its inconsistent play through the Cavs’ 11-4 start to the season, multiple sources told ESPN.com….

“It’s all mindset,” James said after the game, still visibly frustrated. “It comes from within. I’ve always had it; my upbringing had me like that. It’s either you got it or you don’t.”

When asked whether fatigue was a factor, James said, “No. It’s not an excuse.” When another reporter asked whether injuries were to blame, James repeated, “It’s not an excuse.”

Injuries and fatigue did play a role, this was a team without four regular rotation players and that puts more of a burden on everyone else. Players can’t look at it that way, but injuries are a reality and they are impacting the Cavaliers right now.

But I get it. LeBron is trying to set a tone, one he learned in Miami and is now trying to instill in the Cavaliers. It’s about effort, it’s about attention to detail, it’s about building good habits over the course of a season so they can pay off in the playoffs. The Cavs are winning, they look clearly like the best team in the East once healthy, and yet LeBron rightfully isn’t convinced they could beat Golden State or San Antonio right now. The good news is they don’t have to beat them right now, but they need to beat them eventually. The building blocks for that are laid during the season. He wants that building to start going up.

But getting guys healthy would solve a lot of those problems.

Jason Kidd ejected; shoving match ensues between teams after Kings beat Bucks

Jason Kidd

Jason Kidd is going to miss a game or three (and some dollars to go with it), and he could not be the only guy in trouble with the league after a tension-filled end to the Kings’ win over the Bucks Wednesday.

There wasn’t a ton of drama at the end of the contest itself. The Bucks played a “defense optional” game that led to 36 points for Rudy Gay and 13 dimes for Rajon Rondo, and the Kings won their first game this season without DeMarcus Cousins (back issue). That frustrated the Bucks to no end.

Jason Kidd expressed that frustration by slapping the ball out of referee Zach Zarba’s hands, a move that rightfully earned him an instant ejection.

You can be sure a suspension is coming for Kidd — the league can’t let that slide. This was not a Budenholzer incidental bump. After the game here is what Kidd had to say.

After Kidd had gone to the showers, there was a little jawing on the court between Cousins (in street clothes) and the Bucks’ O.J. Mayo. That spilled over after the final buzzer into the tunnel, where there was at the very least some jawing, maybe a little shoving, and a lot of security stepping in before anything serious happened.

Whatever happened in the tunnel is going to be a lot harder for NBA disciplinarian Kiki Vandeweghe (technically the vice-president of basketball operations for the NBA) to sort out. Who started what, and did it rise to the level it calls for a fine or more, is going to be tricky, especially since this was out of site of the arena cameras.

Cavaliers stand in middle of Raptors dancers’ routine (video)

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The Cavaliers were ready for their game against the Raptors tonight, and Toronto’s dance team wasn’t going to change that.

The last time I remember something like this happening, Grizzlies guard Tony Allen walked through the Warriors’ kid dancers. This video doesn’t show how the Cavaliers got to that point, but they might have the defense of being there first. Allen definitely didn’t have that.