Spoelstra, Popovich focused on defense heading into Game 4

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MIAMI — The Miami Heat gave 102.9 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, not spectacular (11th in the NBA) but not bad. In the NBA Finals they are giving up 116.4 to the red-hot Spurs.

San Antonio allowed a true shooting percentage of .523 (think of that as points per shot attempt), the Miami Heat are at .607 in the NBA Finals.

Part of that is these are two elite NBA offenses, but for both coaches the problem is their defuse and that is what they are focused on for Game 4 Thursday night.

“That’s what we spent all of our time on was the defense, because I thought we did a pretty mediocre job,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game.

Eric Spoelstra talked about defense as well and recognizing they need to handle the pick and roll differently depending on if it is Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili with the ball.

They’re different, yeah, there is no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “But they’re both elite, great players. You do have to give them different looks. If it’s the same look, they get comfortable, then they can carve you up….

“You see the difference in their ability, how they attack, what they’re looking for, how they’re trying to facilitate, those type of things.”

That defense, particularly from the Heat, is what this series comes down to — can they bring enough energy to their pressure tactics, can sharper rotations slow the impressive ball movement of the Spurs? If the Heat can do that — as they have done for stretches but not consistently in this series — they can even things up and make this a best of three (the Spurs currently lead the series 2-1).

If the Spurs move the ball, get the good looks and knock them down again enough to take Game 4, this series will be all over but the party on the River Walk.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.