Heat-Celtics Game 5: Bosh will be the difference, not Rondo

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No doubt, Rajon Rondo has been fantastic against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. He had a 44-point game, he dropped 15 and 15 on Miami in Game 4 and led Boston to even the series. For Celtics fans wanting to be convinced he was the bridge to a strong future, he has been that and more.

But Boston’s offense has not been dominant in this series — they averaged 93.9 points per 100 possessions against the Heat last game (worse than every team’s regular-season average save the Bobcats) and scored just 28 points in the second half. They won that game because of their defense.

And that’s why Chris Bosh will be the story of Game 5 — all signs point to him playing and he rapidly improves everything the Heat do on offense. He may be rusty to start, but just his presence changes things. Miami is back home and will put up plenty of points in Game 5, numbers Boston will be hard pressed to match.

No matter what my NBC Sports Network colleagues think, Bosh is the key, not Rondo to Game 5.

(UPDATE: Bosh might have more on his mind than just basketball, with the news out that a masseuse died at his house.)

It’s been obvious all series — when Kevin Garnett is off the floor suddenly LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are on an open highway to the rim. And not some East Coast toll road either, this is a California six-lane super highway. Nobody gets in their way and the Heat make runs. Garnett has been the guy at the heart of keeping Wade in check (well, that and Wade’s knee).

However, Garnett cannot help off Bosh the same way he helps off Udonis Haslem or any of the other Heat big men — Bosh will knock down the shot and make him pay. Garnett and the other Celtics big men will have much tougher decisions to make on help rotations.

Don’t just take my word for it.

“(Bosh) helps (the Heat), because all the trapping we’re doing is harder because he stretches the floor,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in a Monday press conference. “He’s long. We can close out on the ball and get a hand on the ball (when Battier or Haslem shoot). You can’t do that with Bosh. It will be more difficult.”

Right now, Wade or LeBron come off the high pick and Boston shows no respect to the roll man — that changes, because Bosh can both roll or pop out and score. Even if he’s rusty to start, you can’t just leave him. And that opens up everything for two of the best attacking wings in the game.

Miami has really only played near their peak in spurts these playoffs, but when the Heat felt their backs were against the wall, they have stepped up. This is a backs-against-the-wall game, and the Heat their trio back.

We’ll hear about how Boston is a scrappy, veteran team — and they are, this will not be easy — but Wade and Haslem have rings, LeBron has been to two NBA finals, and this is not an inexperienced Heat team.

The Heat have fought through nine games without Bosh and won enough to keep moving on, but they were not themselves. You get a feeling Game 5 is the kind of place they show up on fire — particularly on defense. That is where it shows when they relax. Miami can’t do that Tuesday night.

We know Boston will bring its fire, we know Rondo will play well, we know what they can do. If Miami doesn’t bring its “A” game, Boston will have the chance to close this series out at home. But Bosh makes it easier on the Heat to be the team they need to be. Much easier.

Report: Cavaliers flying blind into draft because LeBron doesn’t know what he’s going to do

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The first day we’re going to get a hint of LeBron James‘ plan this summer is June 29 — that’s the date he has to opt into, or out of, the $35.6 million on his contract for next season.

Opt-in and that means either he’s staying with the Cavaliers or there has been an arrangement made to trade him (likely to Houston). Opt- out and he becomes a free agent on July 1 — he could re-sign with the Cavaliers, or he could sign anywhere else for next season.

What LeBron is doing could impact what the Cavaliers do at the NBA draft, keep the No. 8 pick and draft for the future or try to trade it (probably packaged with Kevin Love or another player) to get LeBron more help now.

But LeBron isn’t going to let the Cavaliers know because he himself doesn’t know, reports Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

According to sources, the Cavs’ front office and James’ camp have been in contact over the phone and in person, though there has been no meeting with James present, nor has there been any real dialogue as far as James’ future is concerned.

Because the superstar himself doesn’t know.

The Cavs have been signaling (strongly, in some cases) that they’re looking to upgrade their team from the group that was swept out of the Finals this month, whether James stays or goes.

If LeBron is going, then the Cavaliers should consider trading that pick to a team eager to land someone still on the board (if Michael Porter Jr. is still available there likely would be plenty of solid offers). However, if he’s going they should use that pick to start the rebuild (and Porter would be a good step that direction).

In reality, the Cavaliers have to act as if LeBron is gone. That was the sense one got being around the team through the playoffs and Finals, that this relationship had run its course. The Cavaliers should draft the best player they can with that pick, unless some team comes through with a killer offer for the slot (and Love plus the No. 8 is not going to land Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs are not moving that fast to trade anyway). Then, if and when LeBron leaves, start looking at possible trades for Love, Kyle Korver, and every other veteran on the roster. Start the rebuild.

Still, new GM Koby Altman is flying blind on draft night, and LeBron’s not going to help the team out.

 

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

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If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.