Kawhi Leonard ,LeBron James

Three match-ups to watch closely when Heat take on Spurs in NBA Finals


Playoffs series are all about match-ups — can you get a favorable one, exploit it and gain an edge. Can you force a player into something he doesn’t do well — drag a slow-footing big man out to defend the pick-and-roll, or post up a smaller defender and pound him with size.

The team that can win the key match-ups in a series usually wins.

Miami and San Antonio are in the NBA Finals starting Thursday night in part because they create and exploit mismatches better than most. The Spurs do it through system, the Heat because LeBron James is a walking mismatch.

Here are three match-ups to watch in these Finals.

LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard. This is the one in the spotlight — Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will have their moments but LeBron James doesn’t just drive the Miami bus, it is his bus. Last Finals Kawhi Leonard had success on LeBron by going under every pick, playing back and daring him to take jump shots, and that carried over to the team’s two regular season meetings — LeBron was 5-of-22 outside the restricted area in those two games. Also this regular season, Miami scored 87.9 points per 100 possessions when Leonard was on the court and 114.5 when he sat. In Game 7 of the Finals last season LeBron took 20-of-23 shots outside the paint — he’s going to hit some, LeBron is good like that, but he’s the best finisher at the rim in the game. Better to have him fire away from the outside if you are the Spurs. Watch where LeBron is shooting from in this series.

[MORE: Five things that are different in this rematch]

Danny Green vs. Dwyane Wade. Another matchup where the Heat had some success last season, although that speaks more to the state of Dwyane Wade’s knees at the time than some magical defensive formula. When Wade was on the court in the 2013 Finals (254 minutes) the Spurs were +10.2 per 48 minutes, when he sat the Heat were +27.4 per 48 (just 86 minutes). Dwyane Wade is moving and playing much better these playoffs, shooting 51 percent, and he is more aggressive in getting to the rim. The Spurs will try to make him a jump shooter as well, but he will put more pressure on them this year. On the other end, Danny Green has been huge for the Spurs offense with his ability to hit threes and the Spurs are +15.2 per 100 possessions when he is on the court these playoffs. Remember he hit seven three pointers in one Finals game last season, the Heat need to track him better.

Chris Bosh vs. Tim Duncan. Bosh will be one of the biggest keys for the Heat at both ends of the court and he is going to have to have a big Finals for the Heat to threepeat. On offense, he had two monster regular season games against San Antonio, scoring 24 in each on a combined 19-of-26 shooting. His ability to pull Duncan away from the basket defensively and defend the arc will open up driving lanes for LeBron and Wade. On the other end, the Spurs are going to make Bosh defend the pick-and-roll and he has to cut off Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili’s path into the paint — when those two get in the lane they can break down any defense, Bosh has to slow them at the point of attack. But he just can’t focus on them, Duncan averaged 23 points a game in the two regular season meetings this season and was knocking down midrange shots as well, plus exploiting some post up opportunities. If Duncan is abusing Bosh it will force Spoelstra to change lineups early.

Marc Gasol heads ball into basket after drawing foul (video)

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This was not Marc Gasol‘s first attempt to head in the ball after a whistle, but this time, he converted.

Here was his January try:


James Harden’s defense: Stop and point while opponent flies to rim (video)


As Rockets general manager Daryl Morey once noted, cherry-picking James Harden‘s worst defensive plays to create a video is unfair. Many players would look awful by that measure.

But Harden provides serious ammo for these worst-of videos.

This non-attempt to stop Lance Thomas is just brutal.

At least Houston buckled down to beat the Knicks, 116-111 in overtime. The Rockets have climbed to 26th in points allowed per possession.

Jerry Colangelo says Kobe Bryant could still make 2016 U.S. Olympic team

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So, Kobe Bryant‘s NBA career is officially going to come to an end after the 2015-16 season. That part he announced on Sunday.

What’s still up in the air is Bryant’s participation in one last Olympics. Bryant has been in consideration to make Team USA this summer at the games in Rio de Janeiro, and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo tells ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he hasn’t ruled that out yet:

Kobe was asked about this at his post-game press conference Sunday and said it was not a goal, but if it was offered he’d consider it.

“I’d be honored if that was there, it would be fantastic to be around that group and spend kind of the last journey with them,” Bryant said. “That being said, it’s not something that I’m obsessing over.”

‘When Bryant made it known that he wanted to play in Rio, he made it clear to Colangelo and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski that he wanted to earn a spot, not be given one as a lifetime achievement award. Watching him so far this season, it’s almost impossible to imagine him making the roster on merit.

But nobody should begrudge him if he wanted to extend the farewell tour just a little bit longer.

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Kobe Bryant makes it official, shows why it’s time

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It’s time. If you’ve watched Kobe play at all the past couple years, you could see it was time. But it took a while for Kobe to realize that. His announcement that he would step down after the season became the story of the night in the NBA Sunday. By far.

1) Kobe Bryant makes it official, he is going to walk away from the game after this season. Kobe Bryant’s body has been telling him for a while it was time to hang it up, but Kobe is as fierce and stubborn a competitor as the league has ever seen and he wasn’t going to listen. The man who willed himself to be one of the game’s greats was going to will away 37 years, 55,000 NBA minutes, and the effects of a torn Achilles and blown out knee.

Except he couldn’t. And now he has come to accept it is time to retire at the end of the season, as you could see from his postgame comments on Sunday night.

“I’ve known for a while. I’ve always said if anything changes, I’ll change my mind. The problem for me, you can’t make a decision like this based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision. Finally, I just had to accept it, I don’t want to go through this anymore. And I’m okay with that….

“I honestly feel really good about it. I really do. I’m at peace with it… I’ve worked so hard and I continue to work really hard even though I played like s—, I’ve worked really, really hard not to play like crap and I do everything I possibly can. And I feel good about that.”

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak was honest about the Laker organization needing to rebuild and that being tough on Bryant.

“Well, we didn’t make it any easier on him with the team we have on the court — and that’s not to say that they’re not a talented group of players, but they’re certainly young and unaccomplished. And at an advanced age, I think we witnessed it’s difficult to play this game, and I think he’s struggled at a tempo and a pace that I think younger players (prefer).”

2) Then Sunday night Kobe shot 4-of-20 and showed why it was time for him to step down. His game against the Pacers Sunday summed up where Kobe is right now with his game. He was struggling from the field against a good Pacers’ defense, shooting 2-of-15, yet Byron Scott kept him out there, so Kobe kept gunning.

Then suddenly for a flash it was vintage Kobe — he hit two late three-pointers that made it a game and brought the Lakers within two points of the Pacers late.

Then vintage suddenly looked old. With the chance to tie the game and Staples Center on its feet willing the storybook ending, Kobe popped out off a down screen, caught the inbounded ball, curled around the top of the arc and…. air balled it. Pacers win. Kobe finished the night with 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting, bringing him to shooting 30.5 percent for the season.

3) Meanwhile, Paul George remains a beast, showed it against Lakers. The Pacers’ star was nothing short of brilliant wearing the Hickory High throwback uniform against the Lakers. He was pressuring on defense and had a couple steals (and disrupted more plays), plus poured in 39 points on 21 shots.

4) The Sixers lost, falling to 0-18, setting up a “showdown” with the Lakers on Tuesday. This has happened a few times lately: The Philadelphia 76ers hustle, scrap, play hard and are in a game, only to get crushed late in the game because when the other team cranks up the defensive pressure and gets serious the Sixers are overmatched. It happened again Sunday, the Sixers led by three going into the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies, but Memphis won the fourth 28-17 and the game 92-84.

That drops the Sixers to 0-18 on the season, tying the NBA record for the worst start ever. It also sets up a showdown on Tuesday night — the Lakers come to town. A “showdown” game. These are the two worst teams in the NBA, and the Lakers don’t have the talent (or comfort with their style of play) to crank it up and just out-talent the Sixers late, so this could be a real game — and a real shot for Philly.

5) Stan Van Gundy called out Andre Drummond’s effort after Nets beat Pistons. Andre Drummond put up another big line — 20 points and 18 rebounds — but after a loss to the lowly Nets, Pistons’ coach Stan Van Gundy was not impressed:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight. Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

I get the idea of calling out your star in the media to both motivate him and light a fire under the rest of the team. It’s a solid tactic. But I’ll add in some ways it seemed a more mature performance from Drummond. A couple of seasons ago, when he got frustrated as he did early in this one, he would have hung his head and mentally checked out of the game, he fought through it to put up numbers Sunday. That’s a start.