San Antonio is team best suited to challenge Miami coronation

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What none of us really want — outside of a few diehards in South Beach — is the NBA playoffs to be a leisurely stroll to a Heat coronation. We want Miami tested, pushed, challenged at the very least. We want them to prove they have earned it (if they can). That starts with Indiana (which will have a better showing in Game 4).

But the team best suited to challenge if not outright beat Miami comes from San Antonio — and is now team now awaiting the Heat in the Finals (if Miami finishes off the Pacers as expected).

That doesn’t mean the Spurs can beat the Heat four times out of seven. But more than any other team in the NBA they have the right tools for the job.

1) Experience. As much as we may root for underdogs like Memphis or even Golden State to make it to the Finals, the bright lights and big stage can overwhelm, or at least give pause, to teams not used to them. And any team coming out of the West has no margin for error like that against the Heat.

But the Spurs are not going to wilt in that setting — their core has three rings, they have been to this dance before. They have the best coach in the business. They have been good on the road. They will push Miami with everything they have.

2) The Spurs system can diffuse the Heat’s pressure defense. Mimi is long, athletic, they pressure the ball and to make you turn the ball over (then they turn that into fast transition points). It’s a kind of pressure you think you are ready for after studying it on film, but it’s something else entirely to face in person. It’s hard to get into your sets.

But teams can diffuse that pressure with good point guard play combined with ball movement and moving off the ball. And that is exactly what the Spurs do.

Parker is not going to become a turnover machine — he and the rest of the Spurs ball handlers can handle pressure. What’s more the Spurs system can exploit a team that overplays passing lanes and tries to force turnovers — backcuts and quick ball movement could lead to open shots if not layups. The ball will move to the open guy quickly, and go ask the Grizzlies if San Antonio can knock down threes. Maybe the most obvious example of team play frustrating the Heat defense like this is the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. This is a different Heat team in a lot of ways, but the same principles can be applied.

3) San Antonio has the size to hurt Miami inside. You need to score inside, you need to punish Miami for playing small if you are going to beat them. Tim Duncan, and to a lesser degree Tiago Splitter, can do this. San Antonio is not a low post team in the same way Indiana is, but they have real size and muscle inside and they can find some clever ways to exploit and take advantage of that.

There are still a lot of reasons Miami will be and should be favorites in the Finals (again, if they beat the Pacers).

For one, the questions about San Antonio have been how they would deal with a very athletic team — except they never had to face one to get to this point in the postseason. Oklahoma City was their matchup problem but the Russell Westbrook injury changed everything. Golden State was the most athletic team San Antonio faced, and they are average by NBA standards. Miami is wildly athletic and could just overwhelm the Spurs.

Second, this is a much better Heat team — one with a real sense of identity — than the one that won it all last year, or the one lost to the Mavs a couple years ago. This is a very good Heat team that can defend, moves the ball on offense, and it’s a team where the stars make smart basketball plays. They may just be better than the Spurs.

Finally, there is LeBron James. Having the best player on the planet in your uniform is a good thing.

But we want to see the Heat pushed. See LeBron tested. Make them really earn a ring if they can. And no team is better positioned to do that than San Antonio.

Bruce Bowen after Kawhi Leonard-related ouster: If Clippers can’t attract free agents to L.A., that’s on them, not me

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The Clippers ousted Bruce Bowen as TV analyst after he ripped Kawhi Leonard, a Clippers target in 2019 free agency.

The Dan Patrick Show:

Bowen:

Oh yeah, it was, well, basically, “We don’t view your views that way and because of your comments of Kawhi Leonard, we are choosing to go a separate way.”

One thing that I’ve thought about in all of this is that Kawhi never said, “I want to play for the Clippers.” Kawhi said he wanted to play for the Lakers. And so unfortunately, if you’re going to run your organization based on hopes, maybe, and getting rid of others – now, again, if I tore him down and I was disrespectful to him, that’s one thing. But that’s not the case. As an analyst, I’m supposed to talk about what I see and what I feel for this game that I love. And so, if you can’t do that, what does that say about your organization?

I don’t think I’m that powerful, where I would be the reason why someone would not want to go to a team. What are you doing? Are you playing, or are you listening? And if you are listening, then listen to the words that are said and receive the constructive criticism. Because that’s my job, to be critical of someone’s play. Now, if I’m just tearing a player down, that’s one thing. But I don’t think I’m big enough that someone would say, “You know what? I’m not going there, because Bruce Bowen is there, and he’s on the mic. I’m not going to deal with that.”

If you can’t get free agents in California – in Los Angeles, that is – that has nothing to do with Bruce Bowen. That has more to do with the organization.

It’s unclear whether Leonard prefers the Lakers or Clippers. I wouldn’t take Bowen’s telling as gospel on that.

It’s also worth revisiting exactly what Bowen said about Leonard:

“First, it was, ‘Well I was misdiagnosed.’ Look here: You got $18 million this year, and you think that they’re trying to rush you? You didn’t play for the most part a full season this year. And you’re the go-to guy, you’re the franchise and you want to say that they didn’t have your best interest at heart? Are you kidding me?…

“I think he’s getting bad advice,” Bowen said. “I think what you’re starting to see now is an individual given a certain amount of advice, and it’s not the right advice. Here it is: You were protected in San Antonio. You were able to come up during a time where you still could lean on Tim [Duncan] Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili]…

“As a player, if I’m a leader of a team, my team goes on the road in the playoffs, I’m with my guys,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about fellowship. It’s a brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, it’s all kinds of sirens and alarm signals that says to me, ‘Is this person fully vested?’ … I don’t want to take on a player who’s not willing to support his guys during the course of their time needing him.”

Despite his latest spin, Bowen didn’t simply critique Leonard’s play. Bowen ripped Leonard’s leadership and, more troublingly, implied Leonard wasn’t as hurt as the star forward claimed.

Bowen’s TV work was intertwined with the Clippers, an organization trying to win. Nobody should have ever viewed Bowen as an objective journalist. His job was, in part, to help the Clippers promote their product. That can, at times, include criticism of players. It’s just basketball. Critiques help fans understand the game and engage.

But this went beyond that, and I have a hard time siding with someone who suggested Leonard embellished his injury. We’re not in his mind or body. We can’t know he feels. Maybe Leonard was malingering, but I don’t see a better method than just giving him the benefit on the doubt.

Bowen is right: We shouldn’t overstate his importance to free agents. But this was also an opportunity for the Clippers to signal how well they look after players. Maybe Leonard will appreciate that. Maybe he won’t. It’s tough to get a read on the quiet Leonard. But he’s potentially so valuable, I understand trying to preemptively appease him.

Considering Bowen’s status as a Clippers-adjacent employee and what he actually said, ousting him looks fairly reasonable.

Watch Aretha Franklin own national anthem before 2004 NBA Finals Game 5

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The NBA is at its best when teams have strong identities, and the 2004 Pistons sure had one. Overlooked, proud and hustling, they fit the city they represented.

That’s why there was nobody better to sing the national anthem before their championship-clinching Game 5 of the NBA Finals than Aretha Franklin, who grew up in and proudly represented Detroit:

Franklin died at age 76 yesterday, and everyone who heard her music was blessed – anyone at The Palace of Auburn Hills that night particularly so.

Report: 76ers hire former WNBA No. 1 pick Lindsey Harding as scout

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The 76ers were reportedly looking for a female scout.

They’ve found her.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Philadelphia 76ers have hired former Duke and WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout for next season.

Harding – the No. 1 pick in the 2007 WNBA draft – played nine years in that league. She was an assistant coach for the Raptors’ summer-league team and completed the NBA’s Basketball Operations Associates Program. By all appearances, she’s well-qualified for her new position.

NBA teams haven’t hired enough women in basketball operations. Relative to men, there are far more women with an aptitude for these positions than are on NBA payrolls. Teams should hire the best person for the job, but fair consideration will lead to more women hired than currently.

At some point, an NBA team hiring a woman as a scout wouldn’t be so notable. But the league isn’t there yet.

Greg Monroe says he’s working on shot to help Raptors space floor

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Last season, Greg Monroe took zero three pointers. Not one in Phoenix, nor Milwaukee, and zero in Boston. He’s not a guy known for his shooting range, last season 90 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket. His game is old-school.

That’s not what is going to get Monroe more run in Nick Nurse’s unleashed offense in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry can drive into the paint, but they need shooters around them to space the floor and finish the shots they create. Monroe gets it and is trying to fint in, he told Josh Jewenberg of TSN.

 

We’re not going to nickname Monroe “Curry Jr.” but if becomes any kind of a threat beyond the paint it will help. It also would help Monroe’s longevity in the league.

That said, we’ll buy in when we see it. This is not some flip-the-switch change to make.