2012 NBA Finals Game 3: 20 observations as the series shifts to South Beach

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Here are twenty observations about the 2012 NBA Finals through two games as the series shifts to Miami for a three-game set.

1. First, and really, this can’t be stressed enough, the 2-3-2 format is horrible. I get why. I do. You don’t want the Finals dragging in for an entire month. But here’s the thing. And you don’t want to put teams on a two-day travel schedule during the Finals, even though you just got done putting them through the same for the Conference Finals, but whatever. Here’s my issue. If you went to the same schedule as a normal playoff series, only with adding an extra day in for travel, the series, if carried out to seven games, which is rare, would end on the 28th. Yes, that’s the same day the draft is scheduled. But that’s in an outlier lockout year. This same schedule for the Finals applies every year.

Having homecourt advantantage in a series is just that, you’re supposed to have a slight edge by having one more home game. But the 2-3-2 effectively rewards the higher seed by giving them an extra home game and punishes the other team by saddling them with a three-game set at home. Winning those three in a row is nearly impossible. The NBA would do well to fix this thing. It’s just not worth the impact on the series.

2.  This, considering context, is one of the most amazing blocks I’ve ever seen.

Which almost makes the twelve pumfakes Ibaka fell for and the half dozen rotations he missed totally fine.

3. The Thunder have an interior rotation problem, and it’s not just Kendrick Perkins, though he’s been especially bad. The gap between Perkins on and off court for OKC is wideer, but the Thunder are still better with Ibaka off than on as well, a +6.9 mark to +5.4 with him on. Even Nick Collison struggled in Game 2 with his usual brand of low-stats, high-impact performance.

A lot of it, honestly, is Chris Bosh. Bosh, for all the grief he’s taken, is still a pretty good player, and when he’s giving the kind of effort he has in these playoffs, both before and after his abdominal injury, he’s a tough cover. Perkins gets blown by by Bosh, Ibaka loses him on the pump fake or can’t maintain his spacing to contest the mid-range jumper, and Collison winds up fouling him. Ultimately, this may just have to be something the Thunder live with. We thought interior play was going to be a big advantage for OKC. Not so much.

4. It says a lot about the state of the positional revolution sourced by Free Darko that this series exists. You have two teams throwing small-ball lineups at one another for long stretches. One thing that does bug me is this description of Shane Battier as playing power forward. To say that Battier is playing the 4 because he winds up guarding a big is lost, because there are so many switches and cross-matches in this series that everyone winds up guarding someone they have no business guarding. In reality, Battier is playing combo forward alongside James, he’s just handling different responsibilities thereof.

5. He’s also shooting the freaking lights out, something no one expects to hold over the course of this series. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Thing is, guys will often have series where they simply cannot miss. You want an example? Against the Blazers in the playoffs last year, DeShawn Stevenson shot 40 percent from 3-point-range in 12 minutes per game. Against the Lakers, 35.7 percent in 13 minutes per game. Thunder? 23.8 percent in 20 minutes. Against the Heat, one of the best defenses in the league last year? 56.5 percent in 20 minutes. These things happen. You have to live with them, sometimes. Battier will probably plummet back to Earth. But don’t think for a second that this is some crazy outlier. Happens every playoffs.

6. When LeBron James asserts himself inside, the Thunder have absolutely no one who can adequately defend him without bringing at least two help defenders. Seeing James work in the post against Durant is like watching a sapling try to guard the Monstars. Dude bounced off him like a pinball. In Game 2, James took just four shots outside of the paint. So expect in Game 3 for him to shoot more than half outside, because he never sticks with what works.

7. Durant’s fourth-quarter shooting exploits have been the stuff you always read about and watch on retrospective videos. It’s like watching a legend happen before your eyes. This team is simply never out of a contest because of Durant’s range and scoring ability.

8. And what should be even more amazing here is that Battier has played tremendous defense on him. Outside of a few blown rotations and over-helps, Battier has stuck him all series, and stuck that hand in his face like Durant hates on every jumper. It just doesn’t matter. If the Thunder wind up winning this series on the strength of what we’ve seen from Durant the first two games, Battier and Craig Ehlo should go hang out.

9. You know what I’m not excited about as we go to South Beach? The crowd. And jokes about the crowd. And vitriolic responses from Heat fans about jokes about the crowd. And “They have fans?” jokes about the fans who are vitriolic about the jokes about the crowd. Just show up so we can let this go, Miami. You were there and loud for Boston Game 7. Treat every game like that.

10. Traffic is far and away he worst excuse by teams with weak showings from fans. Everywhere has traffic. There are degrees, but everybody has to leave work early. Come on, now.

11. LeBron James has talked a lot about getting back to having fun playing basketball this year. But since Game 6 of the Boston series, there has been no fun. No fun at all. The man is 100 percent business, and it’s kind of cool to see. No excessive dancing, no silliness. He’ll likely ruin this at any moment, but it’s been cool to see a player’s public persona evolve. He continues the be the most fascinating and divisive story in sports.

12. If you really think that the problem in Game 2 for the Thunder, a game in which they scored 105 point per 100 possessions and 115.9 in the second half, was Russell Westbrook’s offense, I’m betting you caught maybe three Thunder games before the playoffs. It takes a complete misunderstanding of the Thunder offense to put this on Westbrook, and it’s a shame that he’s getting scapegoated (LeBron’d, if you will) like this. His defense in Game 2 was one of the things that kept the Thunder in it.

13. This series is about the Thunder defense and anyone who thinks differently is caught up in the trees trying to find the forest.

14. The blue-then-white cross-sections for OKC in Game 2 were genius and it created a really cool effect. White-outs are the worst, but blue-and-white-outs are pretty cool, it turns out. Created kind of a haze.

15. Battier may revert to form, but Chalmers is likely to step up and hit some big shots. Don’t sleep on Little Brother, he’s got some tricks in him.

16. I still find it incredible that Miami didn’t play Joel Anthony or Ronny Turiaf at all in Game 2 and still won the rebounding battle.

17. As much as I warned people off overreacting to Game 1, the same has to occur with Game 2. The Thunder can and will win at least one on the Heat’s home floor. This series is just getting started.

18. That said, the pressure dynamic has completely switched. If the Heat take the next two, they go into Games 5 and 6 in the “must win all the time no mistakes ever” mode which is really hard to maintain for two games, let alone three. If the Heat drop Game 4, but take Game 5, they’ve reacquired momentum headed into OKC where they know they can win. Losing Game 3, though, sets a whole different dynamic. If Miami comes out of South Beach with only one win, OKC will have broken their confidence. The series will end in 6 if that happens.

19. Well, the lockout and the legal battles and planking and greed and misery were nice, but I guess a highly entertaining series where the fourth quarter is always close and superstars are putting in superstar performances is OK, too.

20. Seriously, how much fun is this?

Raptors right to swing for fences with Kawhi Leonard

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Raptors are one step closer.

To seriously contending for a championship? To actually rebuilding?

We’ll see.

But Toronto is racing toward a resolution, one way or another.

Last offseason, the Raptors positioned themselves for a breaking point in the summer of 2020. They gave Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka three-year contracts, matching the timeline of Jonas Valanciunas‘ contract ending. The hitch was DeMar DeRozan‘s huge deal, which ran through 2021. If it reached the point Toronto president Masai Ujiri wanted to retool in 2020, perhaps DeRozan wouldn’t be as appealing on the trade market. Keeping DeRozan – central to the Raptors’ identity – could have been even more limiting.

So, Ujiri got ahead of that potential problem by trading DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a top-20-protected first-round pick for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

The move was extremely risky. Leonard missed nearly all of last due to injury. He can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and he’s reportedly eying Los Angeles.

But Leonard is just 27 and only one season removed from being an MVP candidate. He could lift Toronto to a championship this season. He could re-sign. The upside is so high.

The downside is starting a rebuild that probably would have come anyway.

First, the Raptors will give it their best shot this season.

They re-signed Fred VanVleet – the driving force behind their excellent bench – to a two years, $18 million contract. That likely assures aying the luxury tax for the first time since 2004, though there’s still time to shed salary before the tax is assessed on the final day of the regular season.

Greg Monroe was a very nice addition at the minimum. If all goes well, he might even allow Toronto to dump Valanciunas’ salary.

And don’t forget about Green, who’s a solid contributor on the wing, not just a throw-in with Leonard.

Firing Dwane Casey to hire first-time NBA head coach Nick Nurse was another risk. I wonder whether Ujiri would have done it if he knew he’d acquire Leonard later in the summer.

The Raptors could be excellent this season and beyond. They could be excellent this season then fall off dramatically. They could be far worse this season and stay down a while.

But after years of strong regular seasons and playoff disappointments, it was time to change the status quo.

Fortune favors the bold.

 

 

Offseason grade: A

Heat camp arrives, and Goran Dragic says he’s more than ready

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MIAMI (AP) — This time last year, Miami’s Goran Dragic was already tired and the season was just getting started.

It’s very different now.

When the Heat hold their first practice of the season Tuesday, Dragic expects to be as rested and ready as he’s been for any training camp in years. The point guard who went to his first All-Star Game last season wore down as the year went along, in part because of the grind he put himself through last summer while leading his native Slovenia to the European championship.

This summer, he played less – and is hoping that pays off this season.

“I feel amazing. I feel great,” Dragic said. “I think one of the smartest moves I made was retiring from the national team, because I feel energized and pumped for this season. I always kind of hit a wall toward the end of a season, but I feel like this season is going to be a totally different story.”

At 32, Dragic is Miami’s third-oldest player – among those in the Heat locker room, only Udonis Haslem (38) and the entering-his-final-season Dwyane Wade (36) have seen more birthdays. But Dragic is still a starter, still a very intregal part of everything Miami envisions for this season, and is coming off a year where he averaged 17.3 points.

“The band is still together,” Dragic said. “I’m very happy that I’ll be part of this last dance with Dwyane.”

The biggest malady Dragic was dealing with at the end of last season was tendinitis in his right knee, something that bothered him for several weeks. He still led Miami in scoring during its five-game playoff appearance against Philadelphia, averaging 18.6 points.

He wasn’t the only Heat starter ailing when last season ended. Josh Richardson was playing through a bad shoulder, Hassan Whiteside had knee problems, James Johnson had a sports hernia and Tyler Johnson‘s thumb needed surgery. The Heat – who are one of the many teams that have been talking to Minnesota about a trade for Jimmy Butler – are hoping some health luck comes their way this season.

“I think we’re going to be good,” Dragic said.

If nothing else, he’s not coming into this season as harried as he was last fall. Dragic has been back in Miami for about a month, after spending most of his offseason in Slovenia. A year ago, the European championships meant Dragic was still playing right up until the start of Heat camp.

It wasn’t a popular decision in Slovenia for Dragic to stop playing for the national team, which didn’t qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in China and now faces an uphill climb if it’s going to reach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“But it was the right decision for me,” Dragic said.

The Heat sat out this past June’s NBA Draft in part because of the deal they made in 2015 to bring Dragic to Miami. The package sent to Phoenix included two first-round selections, the first of which was used this year at the No. 16 overall spot. The other will be used in 2021.

The price was steep, and the Heat aren’t complaining.

“I’d much rather have Goran Dragic than those two picks,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

Dragic is hoping to give Riley even more bang for his buck this season.

The All-Star nod – even though it came as an injury replacement – was particularly meaningful for Dragic, and he felt that last season was one of his better seasons anyway.

His goal for this season is simple: Be even better.

“I want to be at a high level for as long as possible,” Dragic said. “If you come into a season without goals, you’re just going through practice and it doesn’t mean anything to you. But if you set goals, you’re pushing yourself. And for me personally, my goal is to have a better season than I did last year. I don’t want to drop a little bit at the end this season. I want to be energized, fresher, more consistent the whole way this time.”

Dwight Howard challenges Shaq on Instagram, Shaq roasts him

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Shaquille O’Neal is still not Dwight Howard‘s biggest fan. And Shaq still loves the tired “ringzzzz” argument.

It all started because Shaq was watching a couple of guys roast Howard on MTV’s Wild N’ Out. Shaq liked it so much he decided to post it to Instagram.

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Dam lol

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Howard took the bait and responded in the comments. He should have known better.

Let’s be clear: Dwight is a future Hall of Famer. No question. The Orlando version of Howard was an MVP-level player who was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight time All-NBA and All-Star, who was a beast on the boards and averaged 17.4 points and 12.7 rebounds a game for his career.

And yet Shaq’s right, Howard’s not on his level. Not close.

As Sunday winds down, Miami heats up talk of Jimmy Butler trade

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There has been much speculation over the past 48 hours about where disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler will end up once owner Glen Taylor finds a suitable trade partner for him. We have already discussed at length where Butler might fit best, and Sunday morning saw an influx of new teams ready to come to the Timberwolves with an offer now that it is known that Butler is on the table.

As Sunday came to a close, it became apparent that yet another team is trying to work their way into the Butler sweepstakes.

According to multiple reports, the Miami Heat have been active and are trying to get a deal done for Butler. Once thought of as a middle-of-the-pack suitor, the Heat have apparently been one of the more engaged teams as a deal for the Timberwolves guard is sought before the team opens training camp on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Miami joins the Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers in teams looking to exchange parts for the next season on Butler’s contract.

No doubt league GMs are trying to weigh the risk vs. reward when it comes to Butler. His contract has a player option for the 2019-20 NBA season, which he will almost certainly opt out of in order to become a free agent. That means that without a guarantee that Butler will re-sign, any team trading for him will need to be careful with what young assets they leverage for the present.

For example, one report out of Portland says that the Blazers are unwilling to give up who they see as their young main core for a one-year rental on Butler. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic are all off the table for the Blazers.

We still don’t know what the asking price for Butler will eventually be, or how the Timberwolves prioritize getting a solid return for him vs. shipping him outside of the Western Conference. For now, we have to wait and see what happens.

At least until Tuesday.