NBA Finals: Heat, Mavericks five keys to victory

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Miami always seemed like they had a chance if they just came together — and they did at the right time.

Dallas has been a surprise. We all knew they were good but we had been conditioned to expect them to fall flat in the playoffs. Instead Tyson Chandler gave them defensive toughness and Dirk Nowitzki has been playing the most efficient basketball of a Hall of Fame career.

This is going to be one interesting finals with a lot of questions to play out. Here is what each team needs to do.

Five Keys For Heat

Slow Nowitzki. Dirk Nowitzki has flat out been the single best player in the playoffs, not only scoring 28.4 points per game on but also doing it while shooting 51.7 percent and 51.6 percent from three. He is too good a scorer to stop, but they have to make him less efficient. A lot of that may fall to Udonis Haslem — who was able to hound Nowitzki into being just good during the 2006 finals — but look for Joel Anthony, Chris Bosh and LeBron James to get shots, too. The Heat have to work to deny Nowitzki position, front him and generally just make him work. Nowitzki is a more complete player now and better at getting his spots on the floor than he was five years ago. The Heat have to find a way

Bosh on the perimeter. If this meeting is anything like the regular season games, Tyson Chandler will be assigned coverage of Chris Bosh. Look for the Heat to use Bosh to set high screens for Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and everyone else, then have him pop out for the shot. Chandler has to respect Bosh from the midrange and stay out on him, pulling him away from the basket. And when he’s not blocking shots at the basket and that falls to Dirk Nowitzki the Mavs defense is far less threatening. Look for the Mavs to counter with zone.

Wade at end of games. The Mavs bring Jason Terry off the bench to providing scoring that few teams can contain. Then Terry stays out on the court during crunch time and will be asked to guard Dwyane Wade. That is a matchup where Wade is taller, stronger and more athletic. Dallas coach may try to hide Terry on defense by having Jason Kidd on Wade, but Wade is far quicker. Either way, Miami needs to exploit that matchup in end game situations.

Get transition points. There is no more fearsome sight in the open court than LeBron James bearing down on you. Just ask Kyle Korver. Maybe second on that list is Dwyane Wade. The Heat are nearly unbeatable if they get easy points in transition and are in full attack mode. They need to get the turnovers and run on the older Mavericks off misses. They need the easy buckets.

Get to the free throw line. This is twofold. For one thing, this is like transition points in that if the Heat can get easy points off fouls they become difficult to beat. Second, you tend to get those fouls when you are attacking. The Heat need to attack — they won Game 5 against Chicago because Wade and James hit jump shots late, but they cannot play like that all series.

Five Keys For Mavericks

Get shooters open looks. Like Chicago, Dallas really only has one guy who can create his own shot any time he wants. The difference is what is around him — Derrick Rose had no consistent shooters around him, allowing the Heat to trap him in key moments. Dallas is loaded with shooters — Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Kidd. Miami is an athletic team that recovers quickly, but either Nowitzki has to make them pay for not doubling or quick ball movement and knockdown shooters have to make them pay. The Bulls could not do it, but the Mavs have been much better at it.

Zone defense. The Mavericks defense this playoffs has been average, but they are about to run into the best team they have faced and it has to be better than that. Because Chris Bosh presents matchup issues that could pull Tyson Chandler away from the basket, look for the Mavs to use their matchup zone at key moments. Wade and James struggled against the Mavs zone in the regular season, but this is a much better Heat team. Miami will figure out how to attack it, but the Mavs may be able to get key stops out of it for a while.

Do not foul — especially you, Tyson Chandler. If Miami gets easy points the Mavericks cannot beat them. Not turning the ball over is part of that. But if you let the Heat make a parade to the foul like you have done the same thing. Dallas did a poor job of this against Oklahoma City, they must do better here. Chandler in particular has to stay out of foul trouble, the Mavs defense is much worse when he sits.

Crashing the boards. During the regular season, Dallas was a good defensive rebounding team, eighth highest percentage of defensive rebounds grabbed in the league. They have not been nearly as effective in the playoffs. The Heat are not usually a great offensive rebounding team, but this goes back to the “do not give up easy points mantra” the Mavs need. They have to control the glass – and get some offensive boards themselves, Chandler is not somebody anyone on the Heat can contain. The Mavs need to recreate Game 1 of the Bulls series, when Chicago dominated the glass and won.

The J.J. Barea factor. The diminutive guard has become a cult hero in the playoffs with his curving cuts through the Lakers and Thunder defense. It is the kind of bench scoring the Mavericks must have, and his high pick-and-roll with Nowitzki has been very deadly. Against Miami Barea and the Mavs will run into the most athletic and active set of big men they have seen. Dallas still needs to get those points if they are to win.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

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Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

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The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.