Kurt Helin

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Heat’s rookie Justise Winslow ready for another go at center in Game 7

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A 6’7″ center is usually a sign you’re watching Big West basketball.

Or, the Miami Heat/Toronto Raptors series.

Since Hassan Whiteside sprained his right MCL, Miami has had their best success this series with a small ball lineup where rookie Justise Winslow plays center. All 6’7″ of him. Miami can get away with it because Toronto’s seven-footer Bismack Biyombo isn’t an offensive threat. In Friday’s Game 6 win Winslow was the center on key lineups that were +7 in 21 minutes. And they did a surprisingly good job of protecting the rim.

So Sunday for Game 7, expect a lot more Winslow at the five. He is ready for it, he told the Sun Sentinel.

He conceded that playing inside left him a little bit more sore than he typically is after games, but deadpanned, “That’s what ice is for” when asked late Friday about how he felt physically.

“I pretty much approach every game the same way, but just knowing that I’m going to be at a different position doing different things, [you] just have to really lock in and focus on what the team needed me to do,” Winslow said. “It was Game 6, backs to the wall and I didn’t want to go down not swinging. That was pretty much my mentality and I’ll approach Game 7 the same way.”

The key to Game 7 may be how Toronto guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can attack that small ball lineup by getting inside, and if they get any help from the role players around them. Miami knows what it wants to do; Erik Spoelstra has a rotation he likes (or can live with), and he has veteran players who know how to close out series. The pressure is on Toronto to prove they are ready for the next step.

What’s next for San Antonio? More depth, more youth, more athleticism

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San Antonio won 67 games this season, had the best defense in the Association, and was the third or fourth best team in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Cleveland). They had an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard, integrated a new star in LaMarcus Aldridge, and were a legit title contender entering the playoffs.

But one with some flaws, something Oklahoma City was poised to expose.

As always, the Spurs will continue to evolve. With most franchises we’d talk about decline, but I and others have written off the Spurs before only to be proved wrong. Plus, with Aldridge and Leonard, there is not going to be some great drop-off.

More accurately, this is a team on the cusp of transitioning eras. Whether or not the core comes back for one more run at it, that transition has already started to take place and will continue. The only question is the pace of change.

Obviously, the first steps will be the decisions from Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan on whether or not they will retire. Speculate on what the inscrutable Duncan is thinking in the comments if you want; I’ll just wait for the one-line press release from the Spurs saying Duncan is back or retiring. You know that’s how it’s going down, or at least how Duncan wants it to go down.

After that, the Spurs roster next season has Aldridge, Leonard, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Kyle Anderson locked in, and while the team could buy out Boris Diaw he will be back as well. The Spurs also have an option on Jonathan Simmons they will pick up. Then there are the three player options: Duncan, Ginobili, and David West.

Whatever happens with those, the Spurs will have less than max salary money available.

One of the more interesting decisions this summer for the Spurs will be on Boban Marjanovic, the 7’3” center and NBA cult hero. He is a restricted free agent, he is going to get a healthy raise from the $1.2 million he made this season, but how much will teams pay for a quality big whose role may not fit smoothly in a small-ball league (he can play in some rotations but not all). The Spurs would like to keep him, but if another team comes in over the top they may fold that hand.

Expect the Spurs to go big game hunting again, as they did last season with Aldridge. We’ve heard of their interest in Kevin Durant, although it’s hard to picture that one now. Mike Conley has come up and would be a considerable upgrade over the declining Tony Parker, but to ink him would require clearing out some salary cap space, and then convincing Conley to leave Memphis (not that easy, he likes it there). Expect Al Horford and every major free agent not named Dwight Howard to be linked to the Spurs. Nicolas Batum would be a great fit, but the buzz is he likely stays put in Charlotte.

However, as much or more of what the Spurs need to do is add quality depth, and in that get younger and more athletic. The difference in the Oklahoma City series was the Thunder’s bench and the versatility it provided Billy Donovan (who handled it very well). A few free agent names that might be interesting on the Spurs are Kent Bazemore, Allen Crabbe, Courtney Lee, although veterans in the right role — a Luol Deng or Jared Dudley — could be a boost as well for a season or two. Of course, it will come down to cost.

The Spurs are not a perfect organization, but they have evolved so many times over the past 15 years that we are just conditioned to expect it now — and they have already laid the foundation for that next phase. Maybe now is when they take a step back, you go ahead and bet on that if you want. I’ve seen this too many times to think they will not be back and be a force next season.

Report: Grizzlies get permission to interview Heat assistant coach David Fizdale

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Anytime you see a list of NBA assistant coaches who are close to getting an NBA head coaching job, David Fizdale’s name comes up. The lead assistant to Erik Spoelstra in Miami has had the ear and respect of all the talented players that won rings in Miami, as well as those still there now on the cusp of getting back to the conference finals. As an example, he worked hard with LeBron James on developing a post game; he was the guy LeBron trusted and leaned on.

Once again Fizdale is at least getting a shot at the big chair, reports Marc Spears of The Undefeated at ESPN.

Obviously, Fizdale is a little busy the next few days, with the Heat playing in a Game 7 in Toronto Sunday. After that Fizdale either has a lot of time on his interview or there will be another round of scheduling hurdles to overcome.

The Grizzlies have reached out to Frank Vogel and have interviewed Patrick Ewing for the coaching position.

Memphis fired head coach Dave Joerger after he had gone to them asking for permission to speak to Sacramento about their open coaching position (a job he got a few days later). Joerger is a quality coach but he can rub superiors the wrong way, and there had been a management change in Memphis a couple of seasons ago where Joerger’s biggest supporters were ousted. Memphis is counting on getting a better personality fit. Whether they can get a better coach remains to be seen.

Heat’s Hassan Whiteside says he is out for Game 7

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Taking a page out of the Bill Belichick/NHL-teams-during-the-playoffs playbook, the Miami Heat refused to define the grade of the knee sprain suffered by Hassan Whiteside. Even though we all know that a “mild” grade 1 MCL sprain means a couple of weeks of rest — it is exactly what Stephen Curry just came back from — Whiteside is officially listed as day-to-day. Which means we get a daily “will he or won’t he” update out of Miami.

He won’t.

Whiteside himself confirmed this. Here is his quote, via Shandel Richardson of the Sun-Sentinel:

“I can’t really put a measurement on it,” Whiteside said after the Heat’s 103-91 victory Friday. “It just really depends on what the doctors say and how everything is feeling. I don’t really want to make anything worse….

“I don’t really have a time period for you,” he said. “I’m just getting better.”

If Miami wins Game 7 Sunday in Toronto Whiteside may well be back in the next round against Cleveland, probably not for Game 1 but somewhere during the series. The Heat certainly could use their big man — Miami has been 6.2 points per 100 possessions better in the playoffs with Whiteside on the court than off it. They will need his presence inside to have any chance against the rolling Cavaliers.

Stephen Curry on LeBron’s MVP comment: “I’ve gotten really good at ignoring people”

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Welcome to a media manufactured “controversy.”

After Stephen Curry had been named the unanimous NBA MVP, LeBron James heaped praise upon Curry saying he deserved to win the award after his season. Then at the end of the comment, LeBron — who finished third in the voting — said what half of the sports talk radio hosts in America said the next day.

“But when you talk about most ‘valuable’ then you can have a different conversation, so, take nothing away from him, he’s definitely deserving of that award, for sure.”

And welcome to a controversy. I guess. LeBron said what every professional sports league counts on to stir discussion: You can define valuable to a team a few different ways.

Of course, that statement means the media now must ask Curry about LeBron’s comments, because that’s the game.

If you need this to add drama to the likely — or at least potential, depending on how much you buy into the Thunder — Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals, then here you go. Frankly, I think there’s plenty of real drama there without this contrived controversy adding to it.