NBA Finals Game 5 preview, Heat at Spurs: Miami tries to put River Walk party on hold

34 Comments

SAN ANTONIO — The Miami Heat were relaxed.

The day after a Game 4 loss that left them bewildered Ray Allen spent the day on a bike ride, going 14 miles or so from his Coral Gables home, picking up some lunch along the way, just getting outside and clearing his head. The rest of the Heat did something similar, whatever it was it was not basketball. Friday they took a day off.

Miami is down 3-1, on the brink of elimination at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs heading into Sunday night’s Game 5, but when they showed up in San Antonio Saturday afternoon they were surprisingly relaxed and confident.

Last year they faced two elimination games in the Finals against the Spurs, yet won them both. This year it will take three in a series that feels different after San Antonio won the last two games convincingly. But the Heat acted like a team that has been through plenty of adversity and been to four straight Finals. They acted like they have been there before.

That means either they have found their groove, their energy that they can bring for 48 minutes this time, that they are ready to fight for this series.

Or they are resigned to their fate.

“Why not us?” LeBron James asked. “History is broken all the time. And obviously we know we’re against the greatest of odds. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, but there was a point where no team came back from a 2-0… There was a point where no team came back from a 31 deficit in the Western Conference Finals, and then Phoenix did it. One of our teammates was on that team, James Jones….

“So history is made to be broken, and why not me be a part of it? That would be great.”

“What we talked about is we’re not so entitled or jaded that we’re above having to fight for it, and that’s what it is right now,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said.

As it has been throughout this series, the questions for Miami in Game 5 at the defensive end — their pressure and rotations have not been able to keep up with the Spurs ball movement.

“Regardless (of how we played the pick-and-roll) it felt like we were a step slow on all our rotations, closing out to the three point, the low man getting to the big on the rolls,” Rashard Lewis said. “We was just always late, they were a step faster.”

Even when Miami did make the right rotations it didn’t matter — San Antonio shot 64.7 percent on contested shots in Game 4, 61.5 percent in Game 3 (stats via the NBA’s player tracking SportsVU cameras). San Antonio just is not missing.

One thing Miami is counting on to come back is a regression to the mean — San Antonio can’t keep shooting like this, can they? No, not over a long stretch of games they couldn’t, but that’s also not what the Spurs need. They just need one more.

Miami’s problem is after 13 games between these teams since the start of last year’s Finals the Spurs have grown accustomed to and comfortable with the Heat defense — Miami tries to use their athleticism to overwhelm, force turnovers and rushed shots. The Spurs have seen it — and they saw the same tactics from Dallas and Oklahoma City these playoffs — and it doesn’t faze them anymore. Plus, an older, banged-up Miami team doesn’t dial up the same pressure it did the past couple playoffs.

In the face of that pressure the Spurs no longer lose their offensive balance and unpredictability — all five guys are live, all five guys are a threat on every play.

“Everybody’s dangerous on our team,” Boris Diaw explained. “Everybody can score at any time. It’s not like a pattern, like some times you do scouting on a team and you say ‘Who’s the head of the snake, who’s the guy who’s going to score?’ You keep them from scoring and you’re going to win the game. With us it’s a little bit different, anybody can score on any given night. You saw that during the whole regular season. One night Patty Mills is the leading scorer on our team, some times it’s Danny (Green), sometimes it’s Tony (Parker), sometimes it’s Manu (Ginobili), sometime’s it’s Tim (Duncan). It can be anyone.”

Tony Parker leads the Spurs in scoring in the Finals averaging 18.5 points a game on 50.9 percent shooting — those are not gaudy numbers. The Spurs have talent — Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest power forward ever to play the game, Kawhi Leonard is a Finals MVP favorite exploding on the scene, Manu Ginobili just keeps making plays — but they all put their ego aside for the team.

When you asked Miami players what they need to do differently you got variations of their standard answer — we just need to do what we do better. We likely will see some rotation changes — Ray Allen started the second half of Game 4 and expect he starts Game 5, we also could see some Shane Battier — but the fact is Miami’s depth is limited. Plus guys they count on to step up, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen in particular, have not. That’s not even mentioning Dwyane Wade aging before our eyes and Chris Bosh needing to be more aggressive when he gets his chances. It’s pretty much been LeBron James against the world, and no team ever won the Larry O’Brien trophy that way. Just like no team has ever come from 3-1 down in the Finals to win.

“But you can’t start thinking about two games ahead, three games ahead, all of that,” Spoelstra said on Saturday. “It’s just about tomorrow.”

If the Heat don’t there will be a parade down the River Walk just a few tomorrows after that.

Rule change kept Paul Millsap off All-Defensive teams

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Giannis Antetokounmpo made the All-Defensive second team at forward with 35 voting points.

Paul Millsap missed the All-Defensive second team at forward with… 35 voting points

The difference? Antetokounmpo had more first-team votes (seven to zero), and that was the tiebreaker. But not long ago, both would have made it.

The league changed its policy a few years ago to break ties rather than put both players on the All-Defensive team, league spokesman Tim Frank said.

In 2005, Dwyane Wade and Jason Kidd tied for fourth among guards with 16 voting points each. Even though Wade had more first-team votes than Kidd (six to four), both made the All-Defensive second team.

In 2013 (Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah) and 2006 (Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd), two players tied for the first team. So, the league awarded six first-team spots and still put five more players on the second team.

I was definitely against that. A six-man first team should have meant a four-man second team – four guards, four forwards and two centers still honored.

But with a tie for the second team, I could go either way. Having a clear policy in place – and it seems there was – is most important.

It’s just a bad break for Millsap, who, in my estimation, deserved to make an All-Defensive team based on his production.

Kid scores dribbles through Victor Oladipo’s legs to score on Thunder guard (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tired of those videos where NBA players effortlessly swat kids’ shots?

Victor Oladipo and this kid help provide an alternative:

Complete NBA award voting results

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

The NBA, finally, announced its award winners last night –  Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, Teammate of the Year and Sportsmanship Award.

How individual media voters will be released later today, but for now, here are the completing voting results for each award:

Most Valuable Player (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-total points)

Russell Westbrook (OKC) 69-19-13-0-0-888

James Harden (HOU) 22-69-10-0-0-753

Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 9-9-52-28-3-500

LeBron James (CLE) 1-4-19-63-11-333

Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 0-0-4-8-37-81

Stephen Curry (GSW) 0-0-3-1-34-52

John Wall (WAS) 0-0-0-1-4-7

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 0-0-0-0-7-7

Anthony Davis (NOP) 0-0-0-0-2-2

Kevin Durant (GSW) 0-0-0-0-2-2

DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 0-0-0-0-1-1

Defensive Player of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Draymond Green (GSW) 73-22-3-434

Rudy Gobert (UTA) 16-53-30-269

Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 11-23-58-182

Robert Covington (PHI) 0-1-1-4

LeBron James (CLE) 1-1-0-3

Hassan Whiteside (MIA) 2-0-3-3

Andre Roberson (OKC) 3-0-3-3

Patrick Beverley (HOU) 4-0-1-1

LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS) 5-0-1-1

Rookie of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Malcolm Brogdon (MIL) 64-30-4-414

Dario Saric (PHI) 13-59-24-266

Joel Embiid (PHI) 23-9-35-177

Buddy Hield (SAC) 0-1-18-21

Jamal Murray (DEN) 0-1-5-8

Willy Hernangomez (NYK) 0-0-8-8

Marquese Chriss (PHO) 0-0-3-3

Rodney McGruder (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Jaylen Brown (BOS) 0-0-1-1

Yogi Ferrell (DAL) 0-0-1-1

Most Improved Player (first-second-third-total points)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 80-8-4-428

Nikola Jokic (DEN) 14-26-13-161

Rudy Gobert (UTA) 1-30-18-113

Otto Porter Jr. (WAS) 1-10-8-43

Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 0-7-14-35

James Johnson (MIA) 1-6-11-34

Bradley Beal (WAS) 1-3-5-19

Devin Booker (PHO) 1-3-4-18

Tim Hardaway Jr. (ATL) 0-3-5-14

Mike Conley (MEM) 1-0-0-5

Dion Waiters (MIA) 0-1-1-4

Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 0-1-0-3

Dennis Schroder (ATL) 0-1-0-3

Jusuf Nurkic (POR) 0-1-0-3

Gordon Hayward (UTA) 0-0-3-3

Seth Curry (DAL) 0-0-2-2

Harrison Barnes (DAL) 0-0-2-2

Myles Turner (IND) 0-0-2-2

Gary Harris (DEN) 0-0-2-2

Hassan Whiteside (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Joe Ingles (UTA) 0-0-1-1

John Wall (WAS) 0-0-1-1

Clint Capela (HOU) 0-0-1-1

Avery Bradley (BOS) 0-0-1-1

DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 0-0-1-1

Sixth Man of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Eric Gordon (HOU) 46-40-8-358

Andre Iguodala (GSW) 43-34-9-326

Lou Williams (HOU) 5-10-15-70

Zach Randolph (MEM) 2-6-18-46

James Johnson (MIA) 1-3-11-25

Greg Monroe (MIL) 1-1-13-21

Jamal Crawford (LAC) 1-3-6-20

Enes Kanter (OKC) 1-1-6-14

Patty Mills (SAS) 0-1-11-14

Tim Hardaway Jr. (ATL) 0-1-0-3

Vince Carter (MEM) 0-0-1-1

Tyler Johnson (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Malcolm Brogdon (MIL) 0-0-1-1

Coach of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Mike D’Antoni (HOU) 68-17-9-400

Erik Spoelstra (MIA) 9-28-24-153

Gregg Popovich (SAS) 8-19-18-115

Brad Stevens (BOS) 7-16-13-96

Scott Brooks (WAS) 5-7-17-63

Quin Snyder (UTA) 1-8-8-37

Steve Kerr (GSW) 1-1-6-14

Jason Kidd (MIL) 1-2-2-13

Dwane Casey (TOR) 0-1-2-5

David Fizdale (MEM) 0-1-1-4

Executive of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Bob Myers (GSW) 9-4-2-59

Daryl Morey (HOU) 7-6-4-57

Dennis Lindsey (UTA) 6-5-4-49

Danny Ainge (BOS) 4-1-6-29

Ernie Grunfeld (WAS) 1-3-1-15

R.C. Buford (SAS) 0-3-1-10

John Hammond (MIL) 1-1-1-9

David Griffin (CLE) 1-1-0-8

Sam Presti (OKC) 0-1-5-8

Tim Connelly (DEN) 0-2-0-6

Gar Forman (CHI) 1-0-0-5

Neil Olshey (POR) 0-1-2-5

Jeff Bower (DET) 0-1-0-3

Dell Demps (NOP) 0-1-0-3

Masai Ujiri (TOR) 0-0-2-2

Sean Marks (BRK) 0-0-1-1

Pat Riley (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Teammate of the Year (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-total points)

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) 41-51-31-35-30-1057

Tyson Chandler (PHO) 50-29-38-27-28-1002

Udonis Haslem (MIA) 27-41-37-25-33-850

Jason Terry (MIL) 33-19-45-42-23-837

Mike Miller (DEN) 36-29-28-31-31-827

Manu Ginobili (SAS) 16-39-35-42-22-756

Kyle Korver (CLE) 24-25-25-32-27-663

Kyle Lowry (TOR) 31-22-22-17-35-660

Boris Diaw (UTA) 21-22-28-27-45-630

Shaun Livingston (GSW) 19-23-18-20-18-519

Al Jefferson (IND) 24-15-15-22-19-505

C.J. Watson (ORL) 9-16-9-11-20-300

Sportsmanship Award (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-sixth-total points)

Kemba Walker (CHA) 88-63-78-46-31-20-2424

Kyrie Irving (CLE) 52-88-38-43-46-59-2042

Shaun Livingston (GSW) 70-43-54-48-38-73-1962

Anthony Davis (NOP) 28-57-68-53-89-32-1861

Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 32-47-49-87-62-48-1787

DeMarre Carroll (TOR) 56-28-39-49-60-94-1660

D’Angelo Russell on criticism of him in L.A.: “It’s the past. I’m here now. It’s irrelevant.”

Getty Images
2 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) — D'Angelo Russell wasn’t only traded, he was insulted on the way out the door.

After the Los Angeles Lakers selected Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, team President Magic Johnson said Russell played well but stressed that he needed a leader as his point guard. Given that Johnson is one of the greatest ever to play the position, the sting might have really hurt Russell.

But his turbulent time in Los Angeles is over, so the only voices Russell are listening to are in Brooklyn.

“It’s good to be here. I can’t really control that, what they say,” Russell said Monday. “I’m gone. It’s the past. I’m here now. It’s irrelevant, honestly.”

The Nets introduced Russell and center Timofey Mozgov in a news conference at their training facility, having acquired the pair in the deal last week that sent center Brook Lopez and a draft pick to Los Angeles.

Russell is just 21 and himself was the No. 2 pick just two years ago, the kind of player who isn’t usually available via trade. But the Lakers needed to make room for Ball, and the Nets are in desperate need of talent after finishing with the worst record in the NBA.

“Looking at what the Lakers were dealing with, we’re always in that talent-acquisition mode here,” general manager Sean Marks said. “We will be for a while, but adding a player – specifically D’Angelo being 21 – we could’ve easily drafted somebody who was a year older than D’Angelo.”

Russell averaged 15.6 points last season, an improvement over his rocky rookie season. Fitting in under coach Byron Scott in Kobe Bryant’s final season was a difficult transition, and Russell made it harder on himself when his video of a private conversation with teammate Nick Young ended up on social media.

Even though Russell played better under Luke Walton, the fallout from the video may have already damaged his ability to become the leader Johnson was seeking. Marks didn’t dwell on the past, believing Russell will find a more stable situation under second-year coach Kenny Atkinson.

“I think everybody’s going to question what happened in the past with the whole Nick Young so forth,” Marks said. “But as I said before, I’m not really concerned about that, because I think if any one of us looked in our little dark secret of closets there would be things that we would be embarrassed about and wish we could take back. So again, I’m going to bet on this group, from Kenny, the coaching staff, they’ve done a terrific, terrific job of developing these guys.”

Lopez was the Nets’ career scoring leader, but Atkinson believes the Nets will get strong play from Mozgov, remembering how hard the Russian worked when Atkinson was on Mike D’Antoni’s staff with the Knicks. Mozgov didn’t play late last season as the Lakers went with their youth, but he is a strong rim protector who won an NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But the key to the deal will be Russell, who joins Jeremy Lin as the point guards on the Nets’ roster. His transition from Ohio State to Los Angeles was rough. Perhaps going coast to coast will be a smoother start.

“A lot of guys have it easier. A lot may have it harder,” Russell said. “My situation was different. It was what it was. It’s the past. I’m here and looking forward to it.”