NBA finals Game 1 preview: It’s more than LeBron and Dirk

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It’s one thing to watch the tape and read the report.

Dallas knows it has to turn Dwyane Wade and LeBron James into contested jump shooters, not let them drive or get going in transition. Miami knows it needs to front Dirk Nowitzki, force him to put the ball on the floor going right and bring the quick double once the ball is on the floor.

It’s another thing entirely to execute it.

These two teams reached the finals because they have executed better than anyone else in their conference. Both have played amazing in the fourth quarter. Now comes Game 1 of the NBA finals and while both sides know what to do, pulling it off will be the key.

We’ve given you a lot of previews and things to think about, but to me here are the real keys. The ones besides Dirk and LeBron

Chris Bosh will be big for the Heat if he gets going. Dallas has struggled with stretch fours or any big who can step out and knock down a jumper, the most recent being LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland. Miami is going to use Bosh to pull Tyson Chandler away from the rim and if that works it opens up driving lanes for Wade and LeBron. If Chandler sags off Bosh, the Heat have to make him pay for that.

On the other side, how will Dallas’ shooters spread the floor on the Heat. Miami was able to slow Derrick Rose way down by putting up a wall of defenders in front of him, packing the paint. Chicago could not make the Heat pay for that by knocking down threes, the Mavericks must. How well those shots are contested and how many fall will be key.

How well does the Dallas zone work? Miami’s going to see it, if they dice it up they won’t see it for long but if they struggle they will see a lot of it.

Dallas is going to really test the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense. Dallas has also not faced a team that uses guys this athletic to defend the pick-and-roll. That is going to be an interesting battle.

Can Dallas’ bench have a big impact, or does the fact they will always see at least one and usually two of Miami’s “big three” change that equation.

When it is tight late, which team is going to make the most plays. Both have been fantastic these playoffs in the fourth quarter, but something has to give starting Tuesday night.

We’re not going to get all the answers tonight, but we’ll get some. We’ll start to get an idea. Come on by the PBT live blog starting at 9 pm Eastern and we’ll have some fun.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.