2014 NBA Finals - Game Three

Kawhi Leonard showcases next dimension in quest to lead Spurs

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What got into Kawhi Leonard?

After failing to crack double digits in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals, Leonard led the Spurs with 29 points in their 111-92 Game 3 win over the Heat on Tuesday.

“We just want him to be who he’s been the whole year – the regular season and the playoffs,” Gregg Popovich said.

No, seriously, Pop. What got into Leonard?

“He was just himself,” the San Antonio coach said. “I don’t know what you’re looking for.”

Popovich might be incredulous because he saw this coming so long ago, he can’t understand what took so long for everyone else to catch up. Before last season, Popovich predicted Leonard would become the face of the Spurs.

Now, it might be happening before our eyes.

The 22-year-old Leonard has drawn praise from all types, but the analytically inclined have particularly latched onto his all-around production. He led San Antonio in win shares during last year’s playoffs and again during this year’s regular season.

But being the face of a franchise, even the Spurs, involves more than quiet efficiency. It requires becoming the focal point at times, something Leonard had never done to this extent – not even at San Diego State, let alone in the NBA.

His 29 points were the most he’d scored since high school.

In the last eight years, the only other players to score so much in a Finals game are LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Paul Pierce and Tony Parker – each multiple-time All-Stars.

Leonard has yet to receive that recognition even once, but if he keeps scoring like this, his contributions will be impossible to ignore.

He aggressively drove to the hoop and made open shots from beyond the arc, requiring just 13 shots to score his 29 points. And he still had enough energy left to defend LeBron, who spent just 64 seconds on the court without Leonard.

There are only so many two-way stars in the league, and Leonard is building his case for a seat at the table as his offense catches up to his defense.

The difference between Leonard and Paul George – a two-time All-NBA third teamer, recipient of a max contract and unquestioned best player on a team that has made consecutive conference finals – is not as great as it appears at first glance. Leonard, a year younger than George, has time to make up whatever difference exists.

Leonard used another one of those two-way stars to help find his way after struggling earlier this series.

“LeBron is very aggressive on the offensive end and defensive end,” Leonard said on ESPN. “So, just trying to match his intensity and trying keep my energy up and just staying hydrated throughout the game.”

That’s a nice subtle jab from a member of the Spurs, an organization paranoid about surrendering any competitive advantage. Maybe Leonard should know better – even if that was an unintended reference to LeBron’s cramps – because anything might motivate LeBron. But Leonard is still just 22 and learning the ropes.

Even if he doesn’t play like it.

For the second straight year, Leonard is the youngest player by four years in the Finals. Last season, he excelled, averaging a double-double. In his return to basketball’s biggest stage, Leonard took a bit longer to get going, but he made up for lost time in Game 3. Since at least 1985, only Kobe Bryant has scored so many points in a Finals game at such a young age.

Constantly, Leonard is evolving.

“He’s got to be one of our better players on the court, or we’re not good enough,” Popovich said. “That’s just the way it is. He’s got that kind of talent.”

That’s no longer a forecast of a distant future.

It’s the reality of the present.

Report: Timberwolves, Pistons discussing Ricky Rubio for Reggie Jackson trade

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves brings the ball down court against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 28, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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A year ago, Reggie Jackson looked like the future paired with Andre Drummond in Detroit. But since he came back from injury this season things have not meshed as well — the Pistons are being outscored by 8.1 points per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together.

Minnesota is loaded with young talent, but they need some floor spacing shooting and the sense there is a different feel from the point guard spot than Ricky Rubio is providing.

So, maybe the two sides swap problems? Marc Stein and Chris Haynes of ESPN report the two sides are talking.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons have discussed a potential swap of point guards Ricky Rubio and Reggie Jackson, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that no deal appeared imminent Friday but said the teams have engaged in dialogue this week on a potential multiplayer exchange that would be headlined by Rubio and Jackson….

The Wolves have been openly trying to move Rubio for some time and reportedly are willing to attach swingman Shabazz Muhammad to offers featuring the veteran Spanish point guard‎.

At first glance, I don’t love the fit of Rubio in Detroit — if you’re going to play four out with Drummond in the middle, you need shooters and Rubio is a step back from Jackson there. Actually, several steps back — Jackson is shooting 37 percent from three this season, Rubio 24 percent.

However, to actually evaluate this deal I’d need to see who else is involved because this would expand to multiple players.

Wizards’ assistant coach Lowe fined $5,000, team $15,000 for coach’s distraction of Knicks shooter

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Down just three points 13.7 seconds left in the game, the Knicks needed a three. Carmelo Anthony had the ball and passed to an open Courtney Lee, who passed up a clean look at a three-pointer, instead passing to Brandon Jennings, who turned the ball over, and the Wizards got the win. Lee said after the game he passed because he felt someone near him.

I’m looking at Oubre closing out next to me, and I’m hearing somebody right next to me saying, “I’m here. I’m here. I got your stunt. I got your stunt.” And, so I don’t shoot it. I drop the ball, thinking it is going to be a double closeout. And then I try to make a play to Brandon, and I think he bobbled the ball a little bit, and that’s the end of the game….

I thought it was one of their players because you’re getting ready to shoot – in my peripheral you see a body right there, and he’s saying, “I’m right here. I’m right here. I got your stunt.” Usually in basketball terminology, that’s we’ll switch or I am going to jump out. So, I shot-faked and drove. But I still should have shot the shot.

Turns out the guy on the court making those comments was Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe. The Last Two-Minute Report on the officiating said the referees missed the call and Lowe should have been called for a technical for being on the court and trying to impact the play.

The league took that one step further — Lowe was fined $5,000 and the Wizards’ organization $15,000 for “Lowe’s standing on the playing court and potentially impacting game action.”

Hopefully, this is the first step in the league and referees cracking down on coaches stepping on to the court. Look for it during a game, some teams do it a lot.

Sixers sign Mo Williams off waivers, then waive him again, sign Chasson Randle to 10 day contract

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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This is how the salary cap game is played.

Mo Williams is dead money, owed $2.2 million this season by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore. The Cavaliers kept Williams on the roster and the books in case they could use that salary in a trade, and they did shipping him to Atlanta as a throw in with the Kyle Korver trade. Atlanta then traded him to Denver, because the Nuggets wanted to add $2.2 million to their payroll and bring them closer to the salary floor. But they didn’t want him on the roster, so they waived him.

Enter the Philadephia 76ers.

But the Sixers were not done.

Now we see if one of the handful of teams with a worse record than the Sixers decides they would rather have the salary on their books.

To be clear, teams under the salary floor still have to pay that money to the players. Let’s say a team ends up $2 million under that floor, then the team pays $2 million to be divided among the players on that roster. So, bringing in a player like Williams just saves them cash.

NBA report: Wizards should have gotten technical for assistant coach being on court vs. Knicks

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The Knicks were down 113-110 with just 13.7 seconds remaining when Carmelo Anthony passed to an open Courtney Lee, who passed up a clean look at a 3-pointer from the corner, instead passing to Brandon Jennings, who turned the ball over, and the Wizards got the win.

After the game, Lee said he didn’t shoot because he felt and heard what he thought was a defender near him, but it turned out to be Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe, who came onto the court and barked words implying he was switching out onto Lee.

The NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report sides with Lee, saying the Wizards should have gotten a technical. From the report:

A WAS assistant coach stands on the floor close to Lee (NYK) for several seconds and should have been assessed a technical foul.

This is an area the NBA needs to crack down on, coaches walk out onto the court all the time. Far too often. Frankly, I have an issue with coaches on the bench stomping their feet or yelling at shooters near their sideline, but Lowe took it a step further.

Much like telling a six-year-old to stop licking their shoes this isn’t something NBA officials should have to deal with, it should be common sense, but the league needs to crack down on coaches stepping onto the court. Maybe this will push the league to start enforcing that rule.