Stan Van Gundy thinks people should back off of Erik Spoelstra

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Stan Van Gundy’s unfiltered these days. He’s no longer employed by a team, so he’s kind of free to spout off however he likes. He’s not a guy who says things just to say them, like his brother, he has a tremendous amount of respect for players and coaches in the NBA and will want a job back in the league. But you can still tell he’s no longer as diplomatic as he used to be.

Like, for instance, when he lights up a national analyst for comments he made about Spoelstra’s coaching in Game 5:

“Yeah, maybe like the play they ran when Paul Pierce hit the big 3 at the end of the game. There was nothing going on there. It was a step-back, got some space and made a 3. The Heat are doing every bit as much offensively in terms of running plays. Here’s the difference: Doc Rivers won a championship a few years ago, so everyone just gives him the credit of being a great coach — which Doc deserves, he’s great. Eric hasn’t won, so people go into the series assuming there’s a great coaching advantage, which there is not. And because they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it’s on Erik.”

Why do you think Spoelstra is getting so beat up?:

“I would say there’s basically two reasons. Number one is that there’s an expectation level for the Heat to win and if they don’t, people are just going to make an assumption that it’s coaching. To me, what’s confusing about this one though, is that it’s pretty easy. They have one of the 10 or 12 best offensive players in the league in Chris Bosh, who hasn’t been able to play. … The second thing is, quite honestly, is Erik never does anything to promote himself or try to defend himself. He just coaches his team and takes the heat and goes on.”

via Sports Radio Interviews » Blog Archive » Stan Van Gundy Stands Up For Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra.

Get it? He takes the heat? Because he coaches… nevermind.

SVG’s got a point here, but it’s not going to matter, because people will just associate him as defending Spoelstra from the same criticism he was under as a coach. But the point about championships is on target. We’re never going to know if the greatest coaches were a product of their talent or their systems. SVG is never going to coach Jackson’s Bulls, Spo’s never going to coach the Spurs. You can say Spoelstra had the most talent, but I think it’s pretty obvious the fit on this team is awkward and takes a lot of work to make it run.

Either way, it’s kind of notable that SVG is standing up for the head coach of the Heat, who pressured him out as head coach in 2006, and when he has such muted, reserved things to say about Pat Riley. But then, Spoelstra worked under Van Gundy and has never gotten anything but high marks from those who worked with him. Maybe we should all give Erik Spoelstra a brea…

MEDIA ALERT. NO PASSES GIVEN TO HEAT ONLY CRITICISM AND HYPE NOTHING IN BETWEEN ERROR ERROR.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he doesn’t expect rookie Zhaire Smith to play in NBA this season

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Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons.

Zhaire Smith?

A few recent 76ers first-round picks missed their entire first professional season due to injury. Smith, the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft could join them.

Smith has missed the entire season so far with a broken foot then allergic reaction. He just returned to practicing with the 76ers, but maybe not in time to play for them this season.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

If the 76ers clinch their playoff seed before the regular season ends, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith plays for them. But meaningful minutes seem unlikely.

Philadelphia is trying to win now, and a rookie who entered the NBA relatively raw then missed so much time is unlikely to help.

That said, backup wings James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons aren’t exactly reliable options. If everything breaks right for Smith – essentially the opposite of his season to date – maybe, just maybe, he plays for the 76ers this season.

Warriors vs. Bucks or Raptors betting favorite to be NBA Finals matchup

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Who will we see in the NBA Finals come June?

The West looks cut and dried — if the Warriors are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any other team in that conference giving them too much trouble.

The East? That’s wide open. A good case can be made for Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee finding their way in. (For a more detailed breakdown, listen to the latest PBT Podcast where Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and myself break down the East in more detail.)

The bookmakers over at BetOnline put together these odds on potential Finals matchups, and after the first four options the odds get pretty long.

Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Boston Celtics vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Indiana Pacers vs Golden State Warriors 28/1
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors 33/1
Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Toronto Raptors vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Charlotte Hornets vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Detroit Pistons vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Orlando Magic vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Toronto Raptors vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1

A few quick thoughts on that list:

• Interesting that the Sixers and Celtics are just a little behind the Bucks and Raptors in the minds of the bookmakers.

• I don’t know that I’d have Houston in front of Oklahoma City as the second-best option in the West. Not this season. The Thunder have the defense and star power to do playoff damage.

• If you’re thinking about putting money on Washington or Orlando to make the Finals — against anyone — just donate that money to charity instead. That way it will do some good.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.