Dwyane Wade – older and healthier – could give Heat an edge in NBA Finals

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As the final buzzer sounded in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals and the Miami Heat clinched their second straight championship, Dwyane Wade immediately sprinted to Tim Duncan and congratulated him on a well-fought series.

Later, Wade explained his admiration for the Spurs star.

“At his age, if I can still do that, man I’d have had a hell of a career,” Wade said.

Wade, six year’s Duncan’s junior, doesn’t need to wait until he’s Duncan’s age to understand the challenges of competing with declining athleticism. The 32-year-old Wade has experienced a career full of knee injuries.

He hobbled through last year’s playoffs and had his knee drained before coming up big in Game 7. But in sum, Wade had an unspectacular postseason.

Which was nothing new.

For a few years, Wade had been slipping in the playoffs. It appeared likely he’d have increasing trouble persevering deep into the postseason as his career continued.

But this season, he’s bucked the trend. Whether your catch-all stat of choice is PER or win shares per 48 minutes, Wade has reversed a three-year decline in playoff productivity:

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When LeBron James signed with the Heat, who already had Wade and Chris Bosh, the narrative said LeBron needed superstar teammates to win a championship because he couldn’t do it on his own. And that might be true. LeBron never won a title with the Cavaliers, though he also hadn’t yet developed into peak form in Cleveland.

Much more true: Wade needed help to win another title.

Since leading the Heat to the 2006 championship, Wade hadn’t won another playoff series until LeBron and Bosh arrived. He was still a great player, but all those postseason games were taking their toll, especially considering his physical style of play.

This year, through rest and intensive training, Wade tried to re-set his clock. He played just 54 games and a career-low 32.9 minutes per game in them.

The goal all along was to ensure he peaked at the right moment – and he is.

Round to round in the playoffs, his production has increased.

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These Spurs might be Miami’s toughest Finals competition yet in the Big Three era – and that includes the Mavericks who beat the Heat in 2011. Yes, Wade needs LeBron and Bosh. But they need Wade, too.

They have him.

After a year of careful planning – when it not long ago seemed he would never reverse his postseason slide – Wade is back in the NBA Finals, healthy and primed to excel.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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