With LeBron’s free agent decision looming, Heat try to appreciate what was accomplished

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SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James was the best player on the floor in Game 5 of the Finals, and opened it with a blistering 17-point, six-rebound first quarter that briefly delayed what would become the inevitable — another blowout victory for the Spurs on the way to becoming the NBA champions.

“LeBron James is a great player,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said afterward. “He’s a great competitor. He’s a class act. And I know he’s feeling what we felt last year, and I don’t wish that on anybody. It’s tough. Most people never even have that feeling. Either the feeling of elation or the depression that goes with a loss. But he hangs it out there, and he’s still the best player on the planet.”

Being the best has its privileges — like getting to choose virtually anywhere in the league you want to play, for the maximum salary figure allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

The Heat were dismantled thoroughly in this series, and very soon, there is at least the possibility that they may be taken apart quite literally.

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all able to opt out of the final years of their deals to become unrestricted free agents this summer, thereby concluding what has been a glory-filled journey together to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals.

But still stinging from a loss in the championship round after taking home titles in each of the last two seasons, LeBron wasn’t willing to even begin to consider that option.

“I haven’t even really thought about that just yet,” James said. “Not disappointed in any of my teammates, just wish we could have came through, played a better series, but obviously we ran up against a better team this year. Like I said, I haven’t even thought about it yet.”

With a player of his stature potentially changing the face of the league by choosing free agency, the questions kept coming — even though LeBron wasn’t going to answer them.

“I’m not even nowhere near at that point,” he said, when asked if the team had enough to come back and win as currently constructed. “You know, we went to four straight Finals in four years. We’re not discrediting what we were able to accomplish in these four years. We lost one, we won two, and we lost another one. I’ll take 50 percent in four years in championships any day.  Obviously, you want to win all of them, but that’s just the nature of the game. You win some; you lose some. You’ve just got to come back the next year and be better as an individual, as a team, and go from there. But I know me and D. Wade and C.B., not proud of the way we played. All three of us, that’s the last thing we’re thinking about is what’s going on this summer.”

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra echoed the sentiment of appreciating what was accomplished, even on a night where it would seem extremely difficult to do so.

“Even as painful as it feels right now, you have to have perspective,” Spoelstra said. “Even the team we’re playing against has never been to the Finals four straight years. You can’t be jaded enough not to appreciate that.”

Wade, perhaps more than James or Bosh, has the most intriguing choice. He looked physically like a shell of himself in these last two games, which could affect his value when it’s time to talk contract this summer. He reflected on the group’s journey, however, and similarly was able to talk up its relative success.

“I mean, we didn’t know what to expect when we decided to become teammates years ago,” Wade said. “We just knew that we felt as individuals that we could do it, that we could put our egos to the side and not care about the individual part of the game and become a great team and become two leaders of that team.”

“It’s been a hell of a ride in these four years,” he continued. “And when we decided to play together, we didn’t say, okay, let’s try for four years. We said let’s just play together and let’s see what happens.”

Those four years have now come to an end, and it’s decision time for everyone once again.

The odds are that James stays in Miami — he’ll opt out of the final year of his deal, and re-up with the team on a brand new one for five years on a max contract this summer. The stability of the Heat front office is the primary reason, and it’s what gives the team an advantage that is unmatched anywhere in the league, except (somewhat ironically) by these same Spurs that are the newly-crowned champs.

Pat Riley is as respected a team president as there is, and has a long-term track record of proven, sustained success. Spoelstra has emerged as one of the game’s top coaches, and his competency has him locked in at that position, further solidifying the Heat’s team vision — one that makes them the heavy favorites to retain LeBron’s services.

Once James commits, Wade and Bosh are likely to, as well. The years and dollars on those deals will be beyond interesting, because more than one if not all three will need to sign for less than the max in order to leave the team in a position to make the necessary upgrades to the roster.

But none of that has to be sorted out until July 1. And LeBron certainly wasn’t willing to get into it Sunday night.

“I will deal with my summer when I get to that point,” James said. “Me and my team will sit down and deal with it. I love Miami. My family loves it. But obviously right now, that’s not even what I’m thinking about.

“You guys are trying to find answers, but I’m not going to give you one,” he said. “I’m just not going to give it to you. I’ll deal with it when it gets to that point.”

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.