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Three Things to Watch preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors

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This was the series we have been waiting for these playoffs (well, at least before the Finals). Golden State’s small ball, high-scoring attack against San Antonio’s league-best defense where the goal is to play big. A clash of styles. A clash of the teams with the two best regular-season records. After the first round, we need this. Here are three things to watch for.

1) Spurs big lineup vs. the Warriors’ death lineup.
San Antonio can carry some optimism about this into this series from the last round against Houston, San Antonio was able to slow the game down and won thanks to their big lineups. They defended the arc well — the Spurs contested 34 of 40 Rockets three-point attempts in Game 6 — and had success taking away drives to the rim by planting Pau Gasol and/or LaMarcus Aldridge near the rim and daring James Harden or anyone else to come all the way in and shoot over them. It worked.

It’s also going to be much harder to do against the Warriors. For one, there is not Clint Capella hanging out at the rim — Gasol and Aldrige are going to have to come out to the arc because Draymond Green and Kevin Durant will drill the three if left open. Beyond that, the Warriors run an array of actions — back door cuts, split actions, screens off the ball, and much more — that will be hard to defend. Golden State’s offense is more diversified than Houston’s, and it simply has better shooters — some days it doesn’t matter if you contest Klay Thompson. Also, on just a very basic level, the Spurs dared the Rockets to beat them from them from the midrange, and Houston would not take the bait (Mike D’Antoni wants threes or shots at the rim). Do that to the Spurs and Durant/Thompson/David West and others will destroy the Spurs from the midrange.

On the other end, the Spurs will need to pound on the Warriors inside. The Warriors have some size to throw at them — JaVale McGee/Zaza Pachulia/West have been a strong trio at the five — but Spurs have to dominate inside in this series. The thing is, a lot of teams have tried that against the Warriors in recent years and it doesn’t go well. Draymond Green makes things difficult — he is the key to the Warriors playing small and still defending inside.

2) Kawhi Leonard vs. Kevin Durant. This matchup is one to watch on both ends. There are few players with the strength and length to hang with Kevin Durant, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is one of those guys. Leonard has to handle Durant and not let him be the guy who takes over on the nights Stephen Curry is not on fire from deep (with Danny Green draped all over him). The thing that makes these Warriors more dangerous than the last couple years is on the nights the threes are not falling, the nights that the Curry/Thompson backcourt isn’t dominating, Durant can take over. Remove Durant from the equation and the Warriors are just who they have been the past couple of seasons (a team that made the Finals both years and won a title, but still). The thing is, Durant has had success against Leonard in the past.

Just as interesting, Durant’s length can make things challenging for the guy who is the fulcrum of the Spurs offense. If the Spurs are to have any chance in this series, Leonard has to win this battle and be phenomenal. It’s a lot to ask, but he can do it.

3) Mike Brown, you up for this?
At some point during this series, Gregg Popovich is going to make a clever adjustment that the Warriors were not expecting, and with it some Spur we weren’t expecting is going to be a put in a position to succeed. Popovich is the best coach in the game, maybe the best coach ever, for good reason. Steve Kerr would counter, likely with something else unorthodox.

Mike Brown, are you ready for this stage? He’s essentially the renter in the home Kerr built, just trying not to stain the carpet so he gets his security deposit back. Brown has coached teams in this situation before, but he tends to be conventional, do the expected. In this series that may be enough, but it is the toughest coaching job he will have in the playoffs. He is going to have to have his moment in this round.

Prediction: Warriors in 5. The Spurs are the second or third best team in the NBA (them vs. the Cavaliers would be a fascinating series in its own right), but this is just a rough matchup for them. The Warriors have more and better counters to everything the Spurs will try this round. San Antonio may slow the Warriors, but they are going to struggle to score enough to win.

James Dolan’s MSG threatens to sue Steve Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers

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This story requires a little background.

The Forum in Inglewood was best known for decades as being both fabulous and the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, back from the Jerry West era and through Magic’s “Showtime” teams. Then in 2001 the Lakers moved downtown to Staples Center, and after that the Forum went through some rough times. It was a number of things, including a mega church for a while, but mostly it was empty. Then several years ago the Madison Square Garden company (owned by Knicks owner James Dolan) bought the Forum, fixed it up, and started booking it again. Now the Forum is one of the hot major concert/event spaces in Los Angeles again, and it’s about to get a boost because it’s adjacent to where Stan Kroenke is building the new Los Angeles Rams stadium. Hello gentrification!

Now enter Steve Ballmer. The Clippers’ owner wants out of Staples Center and the Lakers’ shadow, so he has proposed to build his new arena in Inglewood in another space adjacent to the Rams stadium — land that MSG used to lease. As you might imagine, Dolan’s MSG is not thrilled — they are already battling with Staples to fill their space, now a state-of-the-art arena is moving in down the street.

In a proxy Knicks/Clippers battle, MSG may sue to Clippers and Inglewood in an attempt to block the new building. Here is what Dolan’s attorney in the case, Marvin Putnam, told the Daily Breeze in Los Angeles.

“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’ ” said Marvin Putnam, a partner with the law firm Latham & Watkins, which filed the damage claim that serves as a precursor to a lawsuit. “They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”

(Inglewood Mayor James) Butts declined to comment, and there is no proof that he made those statements. But when Madison Square Garden Co. relinquished the parking lease to the city, its approved contract states that the land would not be used for anything that would hurt the Forum’s business, according to documents.

Right now the Clippers and Inglewood are in an exclusive negotiating agreement to come to terms on the sale and plans for the property. Putnam told the paper — and the Inglewood City Council — that if the deal goes forward they will sue to block it.

It’s impossible to say how this will turn out, although as a former government reporter I will say these cases tend to be decided in favor of the side about to spend a ton of money on a new building.

 

Jaylen Brown’s #drivebydunkchallenge video is awesome

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I love the drive by dunk challenge (if you prefer, the #drivebydunkchallenge), it would be the best thing on NBA Twitter this summer, if it wasn’t for Kyrie Irving.

But the best one yet comes from Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

He steals the ball, and the best part is the guy who comes over like he’s going to stop Brown from throwing it down.

Nets’ Jeremy Lin: ‘We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else says’

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The Nets went 20-62 then traded their best player (Brook Lopez) for a worse player (D'Angelo Russell). Brooklyn’s biggest free-agent signing this summer (Otto Porter) plays for the Wizards. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert are nice developmental pieces but hardly seem on the verge of breakthroughs.

Still, Nets guard Jeremy Lin expects big things next season.

He set expectations in an Instagram Live video (hat tip: AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today):

We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else says.

The Nets are on the right track given their asset constraints. Though worse than Lopez now, Russell – eight years younger and on a low-paying rookie-scale deal – is more valuable. Brooklyn made the favorable swap by absorbing Timofey Mozgov‘s awful contract, a wise use of assets considering the difficulty of attracting free agents. An aggressive offer sheet for Porter was a reasonable swing in that situation, as well.

But that’s all helpful in the long run. In the short term, the Nets are almost certainly stuck as lousy. Maybe they can sneak into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, but even that is a huge longshot.

Not that Lin cares what I say.

Check out Top 10 blocks from Summer League (VIDEO)

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When you think of Summer League basketball, sharp defensive rotations is not the first thing that comes to mind. Defense, in general, tends to be an after thought.

But there were some great blocks.

Here are the top 10 blocks from the Las Vegas Summer League. Enjoy the flashes of defense from Vegas.