Evan Turner is widely considered the No.2 overall prospect in Thursday’s draft. The Sixers have several needs, but Turner is such a dynamic talent, the national player of the year, that he outweighs other needs they may have. Their recent trade of Samuel Dalembert for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes does leave open the possibility that the Sixers are considering another option.
Three things to watch in Game 3, starting with who wins the fourth quarter
MIAMI — After looking flat in Game 1, the Heat got some rest, acclimated to the altitude, and looked like themselves in Game 2 — particularly in the fourth quarter. Miami had a game reminiscent of the Boston series, and when it was done the NBA Finals were tied 1-1.
Can Denver bounce back in Game 2? The Nuggets are facing adversity they have not seen yet this postseason — they were up 2-0 in every other series — and the question is how will they respond? That and how well will Miami shoot the 3-pointer?
Here are three things worth watching.
1) Who wins the fourth quarter?
While the Heat’s 48.6% 3-point shooting in Game 2 was at the heart of their win, the question shouldn’t be can they repeat it? Of course they can. It’s why they are still playing. They have seven games this postseason shooting 45+% from 3.
However, there is one other key factor in this series: The fourth quarter.
Through two NBA Finals games, the Denver Nuggets are +29 in the first three quarters but are -21 in the fourth.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone is no fan of the trend — and he had the stats to back himself up.
“If you really want to simplify the first two games, in the first three quarters we have dominated both games. The Miami Heat are dominating the fourth quarter,” Malone said, “They’re averaging 33 points a game in the fourth quarter, shooting over 60% from the field in the fourth quarter and over 50% from three.”
Malone was just getting started.
“I’ve got a great stat: I think quarters one through three after two games, we had around 19% of our possessions were [shots] at the end of the shot clock, last seven seconds,” Malone said. “In the fourth quarter of Game 1 and 2, that jumps from 19% to 32%.
“Which means we’re taking the ball out of the net, we’re walking it up, we’re playing against the zone and we’re getting caught playing in really late-clock situations, which is hurting our offense.”
Miami’s late-game dominance goes back to the regular season, when they had the second-best net rating in the clutch of any team in the league. It has continued through the playoffs, starting with against the Bulls in the play-in — when the Heat had to come back in the fourth just to be in the playoffs, — and has been a through line to the NBA Finals.
This is not going to be a series won in blowouts, there will be more games decided in the fourth quarter and the clutch. If Denver can’t figure out the final frame starting in Game 3, they will be in trouble this series.
2) Can Heat keep Nikola Jokić from being an assist machine
The Miami Heat need to make Jokić a scorer.
Erik Spoelstra hates that phrasing and Nikola Jokić says he’s just playing the game, not thinking about it that way. Fine. We’ll put it this way:
The Heat can’t allow Jokić to become an assist machine.
Phrase it any way you wish, but if Jokić is allowed to score and dish the Heat will not be able to keep up with the Nuggets offense. Put simply, if Jokić scores 35+ points but has around five assists, the Heat have a chance to win. But if he scores around 25 points but with 10+ assists, if Denver is raining down scoring from everywhere, Miami will not be able to keep up.
The Heat plan is a lot of Bam Adebayo and to keep giving Jokić different looks.
“He can go through two or three coverages and figure it out in a matter of, up and down, up and down,” Adebayo said, nodding his head up and down. “He’s already read the game, reading the game. So the biggest thing for us is switching up the coverages and having him see different looks.”
3) It’s all about the Heat shooting
It’s simple and reductive, but it’s been true thought the playoffs and continues into the Finals: When the Heat hit their 3-pointers at a 40%+ clip, they win. It was true in Game 2, and it’s how Miami can keep pace with Denver.
Game 2 was not some shooting aberration, the Heat can keep doing this and the Nuggets know it.
“They are shooting against Milwaukee 43%. They are shooting against Boston 40-something percent,” Jokić said. “They have good shooters, and that’s why they are so deadly and dangerous, because you cannot leave them open.
“Yes, the first game Max [Strus] and Caleb [Martin] didn’t shoot well. But we know they’re going to be better. We just need to don’t give them wide-open looks. They are two great shooters that at least they need to see somebody in front of them, not just a basket.”
That was the theme from Denver — get out and contest. Make it tougher. Use the Nuggets’ length and size advantage to challenge them. The problem is the Heat have shot incredibly well on contested 3s on the night their shots are falling, and with the comfort level their role players have at home it may not matter who is in their face.
Lakers question coming in August: Extend Anthony Davis, or wait?
Anthony Davis had an incredible playoff run: 22.6 points and 14.1 rebounds a game while looking like the best defender in the league. It was a reminder of why he has a championship ring and what he is capable of when healthy.
Coming off that, should the Lakers offer him a contract extension?
Davis is under contract for $40.6 million next season, with an early termination option (essentially a player option) for the 2024-25 season for $43.2 million. Come August, the Lakers can offer Davis an extension of up to three years, $167 million (approximately, it would depend on the official salary cap numbers).
Should the Lakers? ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported on Get Up that locking Davis up so he can’t test free agency in 2024 will be a priority and they will extend him. However, on Sedano and Kap on ESPNLA, ESPN’s Lakers beat writer Dave McMenamin was more cautious. (Hat tip Real GM.)
“Certainly, the Lakers’ thinking ever since they acquired Anthony Davis is that it’s an Anthony Davis, LeBron James combo deal. With LeBron James only under contract for sure for another year with a player option the following year., and with him openly contemplating retirement at this stage of his career… But you just don’t do it. You play out this year with him. You see where things stand with him and LeBron. Obviously, then you risk the second year he has left, he can opt-out and leave as a free agent…
“You hope Anthony Davis stays healthy and you get the best out of him next year. But I don’t think they’re going to be in a position to be interested in a long-term extension for him this summer.”
At its core, this comes down to LeBron James and his future. If he retires, leaves, or in whatever way is not on the Lakers after the summer of 2024, as great as Davis can be, he is not the No. 1 option the Lakers would want to rebuild around. At that point, the Lakers would want to move on, although trading Davis (or completing a sign-and-trade) would be the Lakers’ preferred option, bringing back pick and young players to help jumpstart whatever comes next.
If LeBron is still a Laker in 2024-25, the Lakers would want Davis on the roster.
It’s not an easy decision for the Lakers, but with an increasingly strict CBA looming, it’s understandable if the Lakers want to wait and see how this season plays out before committing to Davis.
James Harden reportedly “torn” over Philadelphia vs. Houston
Reports of James Harden strongly considering a Houston reunion have grown stronger throughout the season, with reporting on it here at NBC Sports and across the NBA media universe.
But would Harden really leave a contending team in Philadelphia to go to a rebuilding Houston team? He appears torn on his decision, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on The Ryen Russillo Podcast (hat tip Real GM).
“We’re less than a month out from free agency starting. I really think he’s torn with the prospect of staying in Philadelphia or moving on to Houston potentially and returning back to his home. That’s where his roots are and his family there of course. They’ve got upwards of $60 million [in cap space]. They can make even more money available. Close to $70 million in cap space. They’re going to have a ton of money and I think this is a team in Houston where I do believe they are going to be aggressive in the marketplace…
“My sense right now is this is someone that is torn. I think whichever way it goes, it’s going to be relatively close. That’s why as we get closer to July 1, June 30th, those conversations that he’s going to have, as he becomes a free agent, with Nick Nurse [the new 76ers coach] and with Daryl Morey, what their vision is for him, what their vision is for that team, what that offer ultimately is going to be versus comparing it to whatever Houston comes with on June 30th or July 1, those are all very important factors. This is a guy that you would assume would sit down with both teams. Philadelphia is going to have a window earlier, potentially going in and scheduling meetings. This is a situation now where we’re going to see which way it lands.”
Both league sources NBC Sports has spoken with and other media members traveling with the NBA Finals — Harden has been a topic of conversation over meals — think Houston is the frontrunner. There is almost an expectation in league circles that Harden will be a Rocket next season, though nobody feels anything is decided.
Is that the right move for the Rockets? They have an interesting young core with whoever they draft at No.4 plus Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Kevin Porter Jr., Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and others, but it’s not got a group ready to win a lot of games on the NBA level yet. The Rockets have been through three years of a rebuild and the reports are ownership wants to start seeing wins and a playoffs trip. Harden gets them closer to that now, but at what cost to building a long-term winner and culture?
The ball is in Harden’s court. The only real questions are, has he decided, and how much would the Rockets offer? (The max is four years, $201 million, but do they want to pay him $50 million a season for four years with where his skills are currently and are trending?)
Miami thrives in adversity. How will Denver respond to adversity in Game 3?
MIAMI —We know how the Miami Heat handle adversity. Their ability to deal with it is why we’re still watching them play.
“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team evened the NBA Finals at 1-1. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.”
The question heading into Sunday is how will the Nuggets handle adversity? Denver was the No. 1 seed for most of the season, has been up in every series 2-0 entering Game 3, and only lost three games in the West playoffs. While Denver has faced challenges during the season it had a very different path to this point than Miami.
“What I know about our group is for years now we’ve handled adversity very well,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I have no doubt that tomorrow night will be a much more disciplined, urgent team for 48 minutes.”
“Discipline” was one of the buzzwords around the Nuggets on Tuesday, heading into Game 3. The Heat players sounded like themselves, focused but a little looser, a little more comfortable at home in a familiar environment.
“This is who we are,” Kevin Love said. “Obviously when it’s time to get down to business, our focus is all the way there during our prep, during our film session… But when we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose. It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”
A change in tone was more evident among the Nuggets. To a man they talked about urgency, discipline and communication.
The Nuggets also had a straightforward, honest film session out of Game 2.
“I showed 17 clips this morning,” Malone said. “Every clip was a discipline clip, if you will, where our discipline, whether it was game plan, whether it was personnel, whether it was defending without fouling, whatever it may be, 17 clips added up to over 40 points in Game 2.
“That, to me, is staggering. What we can do better is just be a lot more disciplined in terms of the game plan, who I’m guarding. Most of that stems from communication.”
Actually, the Nuggets may need to watch their communication during the game.
“We probably could communicate a little bit better and also just be more aware of the actions they are running,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “But also they are playing off of our coverages, they are hearing what we are communicating to each other and they’re doing the opposite. If we say ‘switch,’ they are slipping out for open threes and if we don’t say ‘switch,’ they are actually going to set the screen.
“So they do a really good job of playing off of what our game plan is. So that’s what this film session was about this morning, fixing that. So hopefully they won’t get as many open shots.”
Malone called out his players after Game 2, although he was quick to say it was more them calling themselves out.
Denver has been challenged, by their coach and Miami. How will it respond to this adversity?
“Yeah, we’re probably going to see tomorrow, are we going to respond well or not,” Nikola Jokić said. “That’s the answer.”