LeBron James, Norris Cole, Dwyane Wade

NBA Finals Spurs vs. Heat Game 4 preview: Miami better bring serious defensive pressure

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MIAMI — Three games into the Finals between the Heat and Spurs, this is what I think we’ve learned:

When Miami brings its peak defensive pressure, it is better than San Antonio. Not a lot, but better.

However that peak Miami defense does not show up consistently while the Spurs’ offensive execution is Terminator relentless. It will not stop, ever. It’s not just the stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, it’s Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and Patty Mills. That’s what we saw in Game 3, a Heat team that entered the game without urgency, giving the Spurs’s shooters a little space and that is all they needed to get hot.

When Heat take their foot off the gas — even a little — the Spurs ball movement going from strong  to weak side and their smart cuts put too much pressure on the Miami defense. This leads to breakdowns and good looks for the Spurs who are shooting the ball at a ridiculously high level. When the Spurs gain confidence because the ball is moving, executing efficiently and their shots are falling there is nothing the Heat can do.

Which brings us to Game 4 — will Miami bring a sense of urgency and the needed defensive pressure? And if the Heat do for how many minutes of the 48 will they keep it up?

The fear of going down 3-1 should motivate the Heat to bring the defensive pressure from the opening tip. Should. You can point to the Heat not losing back-to-back playoff games since roughly the Nixon administration to show how they raise their level of play when challenged, or you can point to the Heat’s effort in Game 2 and you’d be right.

But coming out of the East, Miami never faced a team that would punish it for its lapses like the Spurs can and will. Miami didn’t spend the season building great habits on the defensive end of the floor. They flipped the switch when they needed to and got wins.

San Antonio puts pressure on that Heat defense for a full 48 minutes because of its ball movement — even at the Heat’s peak they’re not going to stop the Spurs entirely. What Miami can do is make it difficult by making sure the extra pass doesn’t happen in a straight line and make the windows for those passes very tight, leading to steals and turnovers that would fuel Miami’s runs.

The Heat are going to need another big game from LeBron James and I expect they get it. He can raise his level to one nobody else in the NBA can match, but he’s going to need some help — Chris Bosh (who has had a good series), Dwyane Wade (who has been fine, but not special) and Ray Allen have to step up.

Plus, getting anything of quality out of Mario Chalmers would be huge — he has been awful but Erik Spoelstra doesn’t have a lot of other options. Norris Cole isn’t built for big minutes, and when the Heat go with their no-point-guard look it presents some real matchup challenges (like Wade trying to guard Tony Parker).

Scoring points has not been Miami’s problem; it is clicking on that end well enough to win.

As John Schuhmann of NBA.com put it well, this series has come down to a race between the Spurs ball movement and the Heat’s rotations. The ball movement has won two of the three.

The pressure is on Miami now to bring its peak defense, for 48 minutes. If not, it will be in a lot of trouble heading back to San Antonio.

Late turnovers, dubious foul call on DeMarcus Cousins sinks Kings vs. Bulls (VIDEO)

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The Sacramento Kings committed a costly turnover during a tie game with just 14 seconds to go to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Thankfully, they were gifted with a missed Dwyane Wade layup to give them another possession!

Well, they would have been if DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t called for one of the softest fouls you’re likely to see this NBA season.

That gave the Bulls a chance to convert two free throws — of which Wade hit one — and then an opportunity at the other end to tie or win.

Unfortunately, Cousins lost the ball on the next Sacramento possession, which sealed the game for Chicago, 102-99.

Cousins was not happy with the outcome of the game, thrashing a garbage can in the hallway of the United Center and giving some interesting quotes to reporters.

Everyone set your mobile notifications for tomorrow’s L2M report.

Marcus Morris tips in game-winner over brother Markieff as Pistons best Wizards (VIDEO)

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Marcus Morris scored 25 points and tipped in the winning basket at the buzzer, leading the Detroit Pistons to a 113-112 victory over Washington on Saturday night for their third straight win.

Reggie Jackson had 19 points and eight assists, while Tobias Harris added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who let a 16-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter before Morris’ big bucket.

John Wall finished with 19 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and Markieff Morris added 19 points and nine rebounds for Washington, which had its four-game win streak snapped.

The Wizards took a 112-111 lead on Bradley Beal‘s two free throws with 1:13 left. Detroit had numerous chances to win on its final possession before Marcus Morris tipped in Harris’ missed runner with no time left.

The Pistons led 98-82 after three quarters, but the Wizards fought back, getting within six at 105-99 on Markieff Morris’ layup. The teams traded baskets over the next few minutes before Washington gained a 110-109 advantage on Morris’ dunk with 2:14 remaining.

Washington scored the first nine points of the game, but the Pistons took their first lead, 20-19, on Marcus Morris’ 3-pointer and led 30-26 after the first quarter.

Detroit took its biggest edge of the half, 41-30, on Reggie Bullock‘s 3-pointer. The Wizards got within three points on two occasions, but trailed 61-55 at the break.

The Pistons controlled the third quarter, building their lead to 16 points on Ish Smith‘s free throw to end the period.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Danuel House Jr. (right wrist fracture) and Ian Mahinmi (knee) did not play. … Washington played its third straight close game, beating New York 113-110 and Memphis 104-101 in their last two. … G Trey Burke played college basketball at Michigan. He finished Saturday with seven points off the bench.

Pistons: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (left rotator cuff strain) did not play. … Detroit capped its five game West Coast trip with a 102-97 win over the Lakers and beat Atlanta 118-95 in their first game back at the Palace. … Pistons F Marcus Morris and Washington F Markieff Morris are brothers and former teammates in Phoenix.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Monday at Charlotte.

Pistons: Host Sacramento on Monday.

Watch Nik Stauskas — yes, Nik Stauskas — posterize Thabo Sefolosha (VIDEO)

Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) of Canada, reacts after making a shot while being fouled as Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha, of Switzerland, looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
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Nik Stauskas — sometimes better known as Sauce Castillo — is mostly known for shooting 3-pointers for the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s why, when he dunked all over Atlanta Hawks wing Thabo Sefolosha on Saturday, it was even more surprising.

The play happened late in the second quarter, and it really was all Kent Bazemore‘s fault. He tried to hack at Stauskas instead of using lock and trail defense at the 3-point line, leaving poor Sefolosha to unexpectedly help out down low.

Via Facebook:

Yeah, nothing you can do about that. Saucy.

Blazers C Meyers Leonard dunks on Celtics’ Mickey twice in five minutes (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic young guy who has made a name for himself as a fade man off the pick-and-roll. But against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Leonard decided to roll to the hoop instead, and it sort of worked out.

Unless you’re Jordan Mickey, in which case it didn’t.

The first poster dunk came during the final minute of the first quarter in Boston, where the Blazers were running a sideline out of bounds play.

Via Twitter:

The second came at 9:51 in the second quarter, with Leonard again rolling to the rack on a play with Allen Crabbe. Mickey again wound up as the help man, and again found himself on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

We’ll just forgive that off arm for now.