NBA Finals Game 5 Heat vs. Spurs preview: Which Heat team shows up?

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SAN ANTONIO — Which Miami Heat team will be on the bus to the AT&T Center for Sunday night’s key Game 5?

We know what names will be there — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc. — but the Heat have looked like a different team game to game in this series (and the last one, for that matter). There was the passive, jump shooting team that played Game 3 and got blown out. There was the small ball, aggressive team from Game 4 that played much better defense, forced turnovers, blocked shots and took control of the game in the fourth quarter.

The Spurs are going to be the Spurs — they are a model of consistency. They are going to come out in this game and defend, move the ball and for the most part play smart. The quality varies a little night to night, but you pretty much know what you are going to get — if Miami makes mistakes San Antonio will exploit them and win.

The question is will Miami make those mistakes or come out more like late in Game 4 and impose their will on the contest?

“So I think this team we’ve always responded to a challenge, and right now this is our challenge,” Wade said. “Our challenge now as a team is to see if we can put complete games together, back to back. So that’s got to be our challenge that we have to look forward to.”

As for Xs and Os, the Heat will come out starting Mike Miller again and going small.

“Against this team, we need to create space,” Miami’s Shane Battier said. “And just the threat of having three point shooters does that a little more. I think LeBron and Dwyane had a little bit more room to operate last game. And that’s what we’ve done all year, that’s why we’ve been a very good offense the entire year, league leading, is our ability to create space and make the other team make some tough decisions about their spacing.”

The Spurs will have to adjust, and that likely means a lot more Gary Neal and a lot less Tiago Splitter, possibly even in the starting lineup. But either way they Spurs need more out of Splitter, who had his shot blocked three times and turned it over a few other times in Game 4.

The other key is Tony Parker’s hamstring. It didn’t seem to bother him at all in the first half of Game 4, he was getting in the paint and putting on spin moves, and the game was tied at half. But in the second half a combination of more Heat defensive attention and his hamstring clearly bothering him, that penetration went away. And then the Heat and their defense took over. He says he’s fine, but…

There are no real secrets at this point in a series — these teams know each other well, it’s just a matter of execution. I think we know we will get that from the Spurs. The Heat were a confident bunch on Saturday, but we will see who gets off their team bus Sunday night.

As fans, I just hope we finally get another close game at the end, one that is entertaining to the final minutes (like Game 1).

Michael Jordan on LeBron James comparisons: ‘We play in different eras’

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LeBron James — who on Saturday night likely will move past Kobe Bryant into third on the all-time NBA scoring list — has reached the point in his legendary career that he only can be compared to other legends.

Specifically, Michael Jordan.

Jordan, now the owner and face of the Charlotte Hornets, was in Paris to watch his team lose to the Milwaukee Bucks, and tried to downplay comparisons to LeBron.

“We play in different eras. He’s an unbelievable player. He’s one of the best players in the world, if not the best player in the world. I know its a natural tendency to compare eras to eras and it’s going to continue to happen. I’m a fan of his, I love watching him play. As you can see, our league is starting to expand on very talented players. I think he’s made his mark, he will continue to do so. But when you start the comparisons, I think it is what it is. It’s just a stand-up measurement. I take it with a grain of salt. He’s a heck of a basketball player without a doubt.” 

Does anyone think the ultra-competitive Jordan actually believes that? Of course not, we saw his Hall of Fame speech. But for fun, let’s take MJ’s words at face value.

Jordan is right. Both that it’s nearly impossible to compare NBA players across eras and that people will continue to do it anyway.

Jordan was a better one-on-one scorer playing in an era where the rules pushed the game toward isolation basketball and playing through contact. LeBron is a much better passer with better court vision in an era where driving-and-kicking to the corner, or making a skip-pass against an overloaded defense, is the smarter basketball play. Jordan broke open barriers as a player who is a brand off the court, but LeBron expanded that in a social-media era and added in a social conscience.

Both are legendary players, both are products of their generation, and both are Mount Rushmore players. Which player you think is the better player says more about you, your age, and your preferred style of play than it does LeBron or Jordan.

But please, commence the arguing in the comments.

Greek Freak makes himself at home in Paris, scores 30 points, Bucks beat Hornets

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PARIS — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 12 rebounds and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-103 on Friday night in the first NBA regular-season game in France.

Milwaukee improved to 40-6 with its eighth straight victory. The Bucks have the best 46-game start in franchise history. They were 39-7 in 1970-71 when they went on to win the NBA championship.

Eric Bledsoe added 20 points and five assists for the Bucks.

Malik Monk led Charlotte with 31 points. The Hornets have lost eight in a row.

Milwaukee rallied to tie it at 78 going into the fourth quarter. Pat Connaughton put the Bucks in front with a dunk in the fourth. Then Antetokounmpo got going, drawing a foul as he slalomed through the defense.

Report: Needing depth at center, Dallas trades for Willie Cauley-Stein from Golden State

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Dallas took a big hit this week when center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles. The Mavericks’ starting center was a critical pick-and-roll partner with Luka Doncic, a roll man and vertical threat that allowed Kristaps Porzingis to space the floor (along with other Dallas shooters), plus Powell was a solid team defender.

Willie Cauley-Stein is going to get a chance to fill that role.

Golden State is trading Cauley-Stein to Dallas for a second-round pick.

Dallas just made a trade for Justin Patton to waive him and clear out a roster spot for this trade.

Cauley-Stein is averaging an efficient 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for Golden State. More importantly for Dallas, he provides the athletic dive man, a threat on the roll they need to keep things open for Doncic.

Dallas could have waited out the market to try and land a better center, but this gives them a reliable fit for minimal cost (a late second-round pick, they kept Golden State’s own second rounder). Cauley-Stein will split time at the five with Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic.

For those of you crunching the numbers at home:

For Golden State, in the short term, this move creates a couple of open roster spots. One of those likely will be used to re-sign Marquese Chriss, who was waived last week. The other roster spot likely will go to Ky Bowman.

Golden State adds a pick and a trade exception for sending out a player that was not part of their long-term plans anyway.

In trade about money/roster space, Mavericks send Isaiah Roby to Thunder for Justin Patton, cash

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We have a trade…

That shifts things around on the end of the bench in Dallas so they could create a roster spot forWillie Cauley-Stein (a trade that was announced later). A trade that is mostly about saving some and rolling the dice on a project in OKC.

Dallas is sending Isaiah Roby to OKC for Justin Patton, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What is really going on here?

For Dallas, this is about clearing out a roster spot, it plans to waive Patton. That roster spot is going to Willie Cauley-Stein in a trade with Golden State, that was just reported. The Mavericks lost center Dwight Powell to a torn Achilles this week and needed to bring in a player or two — via trade or free agency — to help bolster the existing front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic. Here is Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

The move also clears out a little cash for Dallas.

In Oklahoma City, they get a young player to develop but also save some money.

Roby has not played in an NBA game yet. The rookie out of Nebraska — taken 45th overall last June — is a development project, but one who passes the eye test for an NBA power forward. He did a lot of things well in college — scoring, rebounding, works hard off the ball — but can he do that at an NBA level? He’s played in nine G-League games this season, averaging 9.2 points and 7 rebounds a game.