NBA Finals: Miami endures, wins Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead over Dallas

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Game 3 of the 2011 NBA Finals was a 48-minute spectacular. It was a heartbreaker and a series changer. It was valiant, defeating, and entertaining, and it was decided by an incredibly slim margin. With a single bucket — a Chris Bosh baseline jumper, to be exact — Miami topped Dallas, 88-86, in a riveting game between well-matched foes that no self-respecting basketball fan could soon forget.

Yet as we try to explain the game’s final, uncompromising two-point differential, attention will naturally be drawn to items of similarly minimal magnitude. One could — and surely will — argue that the difference in the game was a foul call, an errant game-winner, or a single costly turnover. The truth is none of the above, or really, all of the above and more. The Heat won Game 3 because of a flurry of convoluted, interrelated factors that go far beyond the scope of a single play, and extend outward from player rotations into just about every aspect of team play.

“This series is turning out to be an absolute series of endurance, mental and physical,” Erik Spoelstra said. “We didn’t expect anything less than the competitive physicality of this game tonight. Our guys really competed. At times it was a little uneven, but we found ways to make plays on both ends of the court, to grind this game out in a very enduring win.”

That Spoelstra placed so much emphasis on endurance is fascinating, and fitting. Play-specific strength isn’t important; without longevity and consistency, the Heat would have been in no place to win this game, and the Mavericks would have been in no place to compete in it. Dwyane Wade’s fantastic performance didn’t come in a quick burst, but started with a pair of amazing finishes and ended with a well-executed 2-3 pick-and-roll with LeBron James some 46 minutes later. Wade may not have been brilliant for every second he was on the court in between, but his continued impact was undeniable, and to reduce his performance to anything less than the fantastic sum that it was — for the sake of creating a small, manageable talking point, no less — would be a damn shame.

The same is true of the entirety of the performances of both teams. It wasn’t just Chris Bosh’s ability to hit the game’s final made shot that put the Mavs away, but Spoelstra’s willingness to run James and Wade in a pick-and-roll, their ability to execute it, Udonis Haslem’s fantastic screen to free Bosh for the jumper, and the incredible medley of factors that led to that point. The Mavs defended that 2-3 pick-and-roll in a particular way for a particular reason based on the complexion of the game and all that had happened up to that point, and to isolate that particular sequence as a sole determinant for the game’s verdict is disingenuous considering the context that created it.

You have to look at it all and weigh it all when coming to terms with why Miami won this game, and took a 2-1 series lead.

Weigh Dallas’ turnover problems, and the defense that caused them. Jason Kidd began his evening with some big shots, but also a few careless passes; Kidd had two giveaways by the end of the first quarter (in a low-possession game, mind you) and finished with four. J.J. Barea matched Kidd’s four turnovers, and Dirk Nowitzki contributed three of his own. As a result, Dallas had a pretty horrible turnover rate for much of the game, and their poor (but less horrible) final turnover rate of 16.9 is only such because of a stretch of careful play.

Weigh the free throw disparity in what can only be considered an oddly officiated game. Loose ball fouls galore helped to send the Mavs to the free throw line 27 times, while the Heat attempted just 15 free throws. Dallas needed the respite of the free throw line; Miami’s half-court defense was downright oppressive, and to be able to score without expecting a rotation was invaluable for the Mavs.

Weigh Dwyane Wade. He was that good, and Dallas had no counter for his post-ups, his isolations, or even his three-pointers.

Weigh the absence of Brendan Haywood. Ian Mahinmi played eight minutes as the Mavs’ back-up center, and acquired five fouls in the process. His single-game plus-minus was a -6, in part due to Mahinmi handing out free throws and generally looking lost on defense. It’s no real fault of Mahinmi’s; he tried (sometimes to his detriment, or as Rick Carlisle said: “I thought Mahinmi’s energy was good. At times, [he was] maybe a little too energetic, but that was expected.”), but he’s just not the caliber of defender, rebounder, or finisher that Haywood is. The Mavs missed the luxury of having a reliable center behind Chandler, and while the effects of Haywood’s absence are most conveniently measured in what Mahinmi did or didn’t do, we also can’t neglect the impact of fatigue and foul aversion on the play of Tyson Chandler.

Weigh Chalmers’ work as a spot-up shooter, and the indirect influence that his mere presence had on the development of plays. Weigh the Mavs’ incredible team defense against LeBron James, anchored by Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler. Weigh the injury to Chris Bosh’s eye, which may have played a part in him missing a handful of jumpers and scoring opportunities. Weigh Jason Terry’s tendency to fire up quick jumpers under duress, likely in the fear that shots wouldn’t be coming his way all that often against this particular defense. Weigh Joel Anthony containing Nowitzki one-on-one, until Nowitzki again proved that such a thing impossible.

Weigh all of these numerous individual elements and then some, and never lose sight of the fact that huge, interrelated factors and themes decide the outcome of any game — even one decided by a single made basket. Bosh’s jumper wasn’t the difference, even if it did provide the ticks on the scoreboard that brought Miami to a “good enough” 88 points. It was all of it. All of this, all of Wade and Dirk and LeBron and Ian Mahinmi and all of everything. That might not make for the same compelling narrative as a spotlight on a single play, but such storylines betray the endurance that makes great games great.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.

Magic center Mo Bamba had coronavirus

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba has fallen behind Khem Birch as the Magic’s backup center (to Nikola Vucevic). At the NBA’ resumption at Disney World, Bamba has played in only two of Orlando’s four games, receiving just four and six minutes. Magic coach Steve Clifford cited the 22-year-old’s conditioning.

Bamba wants you to know the full story: He had coronavirus.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic:

Bamba received word of his positive test on June 11

The illness temporarily robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, made him unusually fatigued and caused muscle soreness.

“Part of me is reading the temperature of the room and just knowing that there are definitely going to be questions, and sometimes you’ve just got to address them with honesty,” Bamba said. “In this case, I think it’s best for them to have that context and have that understanding of what, exactly, is going on.

“I want people to know that I’m still working as hard as ever, if not even harder, and I’ll get through this.”

Bamba thought he had endured the worst by the time the Magic entered the NBA bubble on July 7. But the false positives required him to have an additional three-day in-room quarantine while his teammates practiced together on July 9, July 10 and July 11.

I appreciate Bamba being so forthcoming. It was easy for people to suspect he didn’t train properly during the hiatus. Though medical privacy should also be valued, transparency often alleviates the worst suspicions.

At least 54 NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus. Does that number already include Bamba? It’s unclear.

After going quiet during most of the shutdown, the league has announced the number of players who’ve tested positive since June 23. Maybe Bamba continued to test positive on June 23 or later. Or perhaps he’s an additional case from the quiet period. There definitely were some cases in that timeframe.

False positives are an issue – an unavoidable one. It’s unfair Bamba was stuck in his hotel room, not training, longer than necessary. But the NBA can’t risk allowing a potentially contagious player into the bubble. Better to err on the side of safety.

The No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Bamba improved steadily from an underwhelming rookie season. He still needs more work to become a quality NBA player. This is a setback, and one that makes him unlikely to contribute much the rest of this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up next season where he left off when this season got suspended.

Three Things to Know: What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

“This one stings, for sure.”

That was 76ers coach Brett Brown, who has had to deal with a lot of injuries to players during his tenure in Philadelphia. But this one hurts a little more because of the timing. The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons for a while after he suffered a subluxation of the left patella — his kneecap essentially dislocated then popped back into place — against Washington.

The 76ers were adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward during the restart in Orlando. Now there are just questions.

How long will Simmons be out? That’s the big one and the answer is nobody knows for sure. The Sixers are evaluating treatment options. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, Allen Crabbe had the same injury earlier this year and missed 11 days (three games), but he had no damage to the ligaments or rest of the knee. That’s the most common outcome for this injury and it would have Simmons back around the start of the playoffs. However, if there is any ligament damage, Simmons could be out much longer. (The early reports were the MRI came back clean, but that doesn’t tell us much about the real level of damage other than it wasn’t severe.) Philadelphia has always been cautious when it comes to bringing its stars back from injury.

Who starts for Philadelphia while Simmons is out? That’s one Brown has to decide by today (Friday) and the game against Orlando. He could plug Al Horford back into the starting lineup — the Sixers were +1.4 points per 100 possessions this season with Embiid and Horford on the court together without Simmons (it was -0.7 with all three and the floor spacing was a mess). Or, Brown could keep Horford on the bench and go with another wing such as Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz.

Philadelphia seems locked into the six seed in the East (they are one game back of five seed Indiana with four to play, but the Pacers beat the Sixers last Friday and have the tiebreaker, so it is in practice a two-game lead).

Philadelphia is 6-5 this season without Simmons, and while they can plug other players into the four they will not have Simmons’ elite defense, nor his passing skills, and the new player will not be the same threat in transition. Philadelphia is just not the same threat in the East without Simmons.

2) Portland is in control of ninth seed in West after win, New Orleans loss

There is going to be a play-in series in the West — and Portland is going to be in it.

That much seems obvious after Thursday’s action, where Jusuf Nurkic was dunking on Bol Bol and Portland was picking up a 125-115 win over Denver.

That win has Portland half a game back of  Memphis for the eighth seed in the West — and the 0-4 Grizzlies face a tough game against the Thunder Friday. The West could be tied by Saturday morning.

Portland looks to be a lock for the play-in.

Can anyone else crash that party? Sacramento earned it’s first win in the bubble on Thursday, knocking off Zion Williamson and New Orleans, meaning now both the Kings and Pelicans sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies with four to play. Both need to win out and hope Memphis continues losing to have a chance to get into a play-in with Portland.

The undefeated-in-the-bubble Suns and the Spurs both sit two games back of the Grizzlies and with a chance to make a play-in. Just as with the Kings/Pels, the Suns and Spurs essentially need to win out and count on the Grizzlies continued stumbles to have a chance.

Memphis controls its own destiny. But without Jaren Jackson Jr., and with Ja Morant struggling from three, a sharp turnaround is needed.

3) Milwaukee wraps up No. 1 seed in East

This was expected, but the Bucks made it dramatic. Miami led this game by 23 points in the first half, but both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned it on — both finished with 33 points each — and Milwaukee came back to get 130-116 win. With that, the Bucks officially wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the East.

While this is good for the Bucks — who now get an easy first-round playoff matchup against Brooklyn or Orlando — they know they will be judged on the playoffs. This is a Finals-or-bust team. And Milwaukee fans don’t want to think about the options for bust.

Milwaukee has eased into games in the NBA restart, not worrying about wins now and rather being healthy and firing on all cylinders when the games matter. They have that luxury with the lead they built up in the East, but they need to flip the switch eventually. As they did coming back on the Heat.