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.

Stephen Curry explains trash talk with LeBron James at end of 2018 Finals Game 1

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LeBron James had been a dominant force in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but he was a frustrated man at the end after the legendary J.R. Smith blunder at the end of regulation, and the fact the Cavaliers still had a timeout at that point. Rarely does an NBA Finals feel over after one game, but LeBron had been brilliant and pushed that Cavaliers team as far as he could, and they still lost in overtime. It was crushing.

LeBron showed his frustration at the end of OT (the video is above). With the Warriors up double digits and just :30 seconds left in the extra period, Stephen Curry went in for a layup at the end of the shot clock and LeBron slid over and skied blocked it. Then the trash talk ensued — between Curry and LeBron, then with Klay Thompson stepping in and jawing at LeBron.

What went down? Curry talked about it on The Bill Simmons Podcast (as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It was an interesting moment …I was hot because I was trying to finish out a possession, I think it was less than a minute left, I didn’t see him coming over from the weak side so I tried to do a little soft scoop layup and he pinned it. Then he stared me down and he said something to me.

“And I was like, ‘That’s what we’re really on right now? We’re about to win and you’re worried about mean-blocking my shot and talking trash?’ And then the whole Tristan (Thompson) and Draymond (Green) thing happened and I went back up to him and I was like, ‘Yo, what’s up? Is this really what we’re about right now?’

“And he was like, ‘I gotta do that to make sure my teammates know I’m a mentor’ and it’s a part of his leadership and that type of deal. And I was like, ‘I don’t want to be the sacrificial lamb for your leadership.’ (laughter). Come on man, that’s messed up.”

There was nothing wrong with what LeBron did — the clock was running, the game was still on, and he made a play. Doesn’t matter if the game was decided, Curry decided to take a shot and LeBron stopped it. And LeBron was frustrated, so he talked a little.

Now, LeBron’s in the West with the Lakers. Last season Steve Kerr talked more than once about the challenge of keeping the Warriors focused, motivated, and building good habits during the grind of the regular season. You think LeBron in the Warriors’ division might help with that a little this season?

Dwyane Wade warns Jimmy Butler to stop commenting like that on photo of his wife, Gabrielle Union

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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Jimmy Butler stays having no chill.

Not when his teammates don’t match his level of competitiveness. Not when his coach eases up. Not when a fan gets too demanding.

And not when Gabrielle Union posts this photo to Instagram:

💧

A post shared by Gabrielle Union-Wade (@gabunion) on

Butler commented:

Then Butler posted an unrelated video to his Instagram captioned “The good, the bad, and the ugly,” on which Wade replied:

Wade and Butler – who both played at Marquette then were teammates with the Bulls – are friends.

At least, they were.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer: ‘We’re moving to Inglewood come hell or high water’

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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The Lakers and Clippers share an arena in Los Angeles, which – as everyone understands it – means the Clippers play in the Lakers’ arena.

That doesn’t sit well with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. So, he wants to get a new arena built just for the Clippers in Inglewood.

And cost, legal red tape and lawsuits aren’t going to stop him.

Helene Elliot of The Los Angeles Times:

“We’re moving to Inglewood come hell or high water,” he said of a proposed arena near the site of the stadium being constructed for the Rams and Chargers. “We gotta have a house. So we’re working on a plan to get our own house. We want to get our own house. It turns out the way this works in L.A., which is much beloved to me, that if you start now you might be done in six years.”

Ballmer is probably used to getting what he wants. I doubt he backs down here. It should be noted some of the legal and public relations push back on the plans comes from funding via the Madison Square Garden group (owned by Knicks’ owner James Dolan), which five years ago sank $100 million into the Lakers’ old home the Forum to refurbish it into a major concert venue. The new Clippers building would be just a couple blocks away from the Forum.

This also at least partially explains why the Clippers insist on remaining competitive. Local politicians are less likely to greenlight a new arena for a tanking team.

Juan Carlos Navarro retires

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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It took Juan Carlos Navarro a long time to try the NBA.

It didn’t take him nearly as long to determine the league wasn’t for him.

The No. 40 pick in the 2002 draft, he finally signed with the Grizzlies in 2007. But after only one season as a backup guard in Memphis, he returned to Europe.

Now, his standout career in Spain is ending.

Barcelona release:

The club hereby announces that Juan Carlos Navarro shall be forming part of its basketball structure from the 2018/19 season, as established in the contract signed in September 2017, now that he has retired from active sporting duty.

Most NBA fans will never realize how talented Navarro was. He was a good score-first point guard at a time many teams still wanted a more-traditional point guard. Unhappy on a losing team in a foreign country, he didn’t try to find a workable solution.

Instead, he starred in Spain, out of sight of American fans – except international competitions, where he reminded everyone how good he was.

We should appreciate Navarro’s impressive career. We can also wonder about the “what if?” surrounding him and the NBA.