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.

Future of Paul Allen’s sports holdings, including Blazers, remains unclear

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RENTON, Wash. (AP) Paul Allen’s love was basketball and he delved into professional football out of loyalty to his hometown Seattle.

In the wake of his death, Allen’s ownership of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks has come into focus because of questions about how the franchises will move forward in his absence.

No one is providing many details yet about the succession plans for Allen’s franchise holdings in the wake of his death Monday from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His primary franchises were the Blazers and Seahawks, although he also owned a small stake in Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders.

“Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them. This isn’t the time to deal in those specifics as we focus on Paul’s family,” according to a statement from Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc. “We will continue to work on furthering Paul’s mission and the projects he entrusted to us. There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes or museums.”

For now, Allen’s teams will continue to be overseen by Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, an arm of the company he created. His sister, Jody Allen, and executive Bert Kolde were the other members of the Seahawks’ board of directors with Allen. Jody Allen may take a more prominent role with the NFL franchise going forward.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s time to be engaging in that conversation. We’re more into the conversation about recognizing what took place and how to respect Paul and his desires and all of that,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday. “There’s plenty of time to talk about all that stuff. It’s not even a factor in our minds. I understand the interest but there will be plenty of time.

“Nothing is changing. Paul wouldn’t want us to do anything different than what we’re doing, which is to go for it and to represent it every way we can until you can’t. And we’re going to go for it just in that fashion.”

A similar message was being relayed in Portland, where Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey and Vulcan Sports and Entertainment CEO Chris McGowan spoke about Allen. The Trail Blazers are dealing with the death of Allen just a couple of days before beginning the regular season at home against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

“At this point we’re just dealing with the death and we don’t have any imminent announcements,” McGowan said. “At an appropriate time I’m sure we’ll come and talk with everyone about what potentially could happen but right now we’re just dealing with the grief.”

Olshey said his final phone conversation with Allen was in early October with the owner asking if the Blazers GM was watching that night’s preseason games.

“He wanted to talk basketball,” Olshey said. “One of the things that is really unique about Paul is that everything was bifurcated. … If he wanted to talk hoops, he talked hoops. If he wanted to talk music, he called Mick Jagger. If he wanted to talk football, he called Pete Carroll. Who else gets that?”

AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Celtics show they’re the class of the East in season-opening win vs. 76ers

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Opening night in the NBA arrived on Tuesday, with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers perhaps previewing a future Eastern Conference playoffs matchup.

It did not disappoint.

Play started out relatively even, although the contrasting styles of each team was immediately apparent. The Sixers, a bit rattled by Boston’s defense, struggled from 3-point range. Philly made up for that inequity by quickening their pace, attacking the rim and grabbing 12 points in transition in the first half alone.

What the 76ers were unable to counter was just how well Boston game-planned for their non-shooters. Markelle Fultz was not fully confident in his jumper. Ben Simmons shied away from any open opportunities, and didn’t make a basket farther than nine feet. It’s certainly not a death knell for the Sixers, but it will once again be something to watch this year.

For their part, Philadelphia’s defense did what it was designed to do against the Celtics in the first half. Boston grabbed 16 points from mid-range, and while they shot a healthy percentage, that was certainly not where coach Brad Stevens wanted his offense to operate.

As the third quarter opened, it was the Celtics who began to pull away thanks to help from its bench. Marcus Morris dropped 16 points, much of it in the third and fourth quarters. Terry Rozier added 11 points, along with eight rebounds and an assist.

Boston opened the half with a 30-point third quarter, followed by allowing the 76ers just 21 points in the fourth. The best defense in the league from a year ago, the Celtics put the clamps on a Sixers offense that just didn’t seem to have enough counterpunches ready for Stevens’ plan.

Simmons finished with an impressive stat line of 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks. For Boston, Jayson Tatum led the way with 23 points, nine rebounds, and three assists.

The Celtics took home the very first win of the season, 105-87, over Philadelphia.

Meanwhile for Boston, the stories that most have been waiting to read are those of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, both returning from injury. The two are Boston’s biggest stars, and have been stuck in the training room as the team around them rallied to become a playoff favorite.

To that end, neither performed particularly well on Tuesday.

Irving and Hayward shot a combined a 6-of-26 from the floor, adding single-digit rebounds. Hayward didn’t record an assist, and the Celtics were instead led by Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Morris.

Even with the middling performance of their most prominent stars, the Celtics showed us two things on Tuesday night. First, Boston’s defense is still for real. The team with the best defensive rating last season held the Sixers to just 19 percent shooting from 3-point line, and Stevens’ defensive strategy against the likes of Simmons, Fultz, and Embiid was impressive. Simmons and Embiid personally thrived in the box score, but their teammates weren’t able to benefit off of them thanks to Boston’s rotational prowess.

And while it’s just one game into this young season, the Celtics also showed that there is a clear delineation between them and Philadelphia at this juncture. Many believe the Celtics to be a Finals-ready team, and that the Sixers have more growing to do. Philadelphia clearly has some significant roster weaknesses — particularly around shooting — but the sheer depth in Boston is what separates them from their competition.

We will have to watch what happens with Irving and Hayward, and whether they can get stronger as time goes on. Hayward mentioned that he still feels a little odd jumping off of the leg he injured during the first game of last year. But if he both he and Irving come on as the regular season months roll along, they will certainly be additive to what is the best roster in the East.

Watch Jaylen Brown throw down massive dunk on Joel Embiid (VIDEO)

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Tuesday night was opening night in the NBA for the 2018-19 season. We kicked things off with a massive showdown between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in Massachusetts, and the matchup hand delivered a powerful dunk to jumpstart the year.

The play came as time wound down in the fourth quarter, with Jaylen Brown dribbling on the right wing as the 76ers struggled to recover on defense.

Thanks to a Sixers player down under their basket after a missed shot, Philadelphia was left defending a four-on-five situation. Brown got free run at the rim, with just Joel Embiid standing in his way.

Embiid wasn’t quick enough to block the young Celtics wing, and the result was an incredible power dunk — or perhaps power layup a la Blake Griffin — that excited the crowd at TD Garden.

I’m so glad NBA basketball is back.

Report: Patrick McCaw will skip first Warriors game, championship ring ceremony

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The saga of Patrick McCaw and the Golden State Warriors continues.

The backup guard has oddly decided to make a few choices that will render him a free agent next summer. That also likely means that he will no longer be a member of the Warriors, and his salary could actually go down. It’s left most folks scratching their head about McCaw’s self-valuation heading into 2019.

Our own Kurt Helin tried to make sense of the back and forth between McCaw and Golden State without much luck. That’s because none of this really makes any sense, including what McCaw did on Tuesday.

According to a report from Yahoo, McCaw declinded to be in attendance as Golden State opened the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. That also meant that McCaw did not receive his championship ring from last year (at least not at the ceremony).

Via Twitter:

The NBA is a weird place, and I can’t say that this is the oddest thing to happen in the NBA this summer. Remember, Jimmy Butler is still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. But a fringe player on the best team ever assembled demanding more money and perhaps grenading his own career earnings is certainly toward the top of the list in weird sports stories.