Heat's James and Spurs' Parker follow the play during Game 2 of their NBA Finals basketball playoff in Miami

Can the upstart Spurs topple the aging Heat?


Does this old, run-down, over-the-hill team still have what it takes to win a championship?

The question never stops lurking and will play a prominent role in discussion of the 2014 NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, it will usually be applied to the wrong team.

The Miami Heat – not the San Antonio Spurs – are the old team in these Finals.

The Heat have an average age* of 31.0 in the playoffs, second only to the Mavericks (31.3).

The Spurs (29.5) rank fifth in average age.*

*Weighted by minutes played, using a constant of a player’s age on Feb. 1 of that season

This is not a revelation. Merely, it’s a repeat of last year and a continuation of a half-decade trend.

Miami and San Antonio have both made the playoffs each of the last five years. Though the Heat started considerably younger, they’ve aged since signing LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The Spurs, meanwhile, have fluctuated while trending younger.

Here’s each team’s average age during the playoffs in the last five years – the Heat in red and Spurs in black:


Miami’s three most-prominent players – Wade (32), Bosh (30) and LeBron (29) are collectively much younger than San Antonio’s three most-prominent players – Tim Duncan (38), Manu Ginobili (36) and Tony Parker (32) – and that’s why the narrative is often backward.

But those six alone don’t tell the entire story.

The Spurs have given prominent roles to Kawhi Leonard (22), Danny Green (26) and Patty Mills (25). The Heat, on the other hand, have turned to Ray Allen (38), Chris Andersen (35) and Rashard Lewis (34) to fill out their rotation.

Miami has also continuously depended on its big three as they’ve aged a year each season. San Antonio has deemphasized Duncan, Ginobili and Parker as they’ve aged. When evaluating age by weighing for playing time, that matters a great deal.

The Heat aren’t too old to win a title. The Mavericks were even older when they won in 2011.

But if we’re going to question anyone’s age in these Finals, it should be the fogeys in Miami.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.