Five things that will be different in 2014 Spurs vs. Heat Finals rematch

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It’s not going to be the same.

We can hope that it’s as good, as dramatic and compelling, but it’s not going to be the same.

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are getting together for an NBA Finals rematch of one of the best Finals series we had seen in a long time. This is the first Finals rematch since 1998 (Bulls and Jazz) but this one is going to feel a little different.

Here are five reasons why.

1) The 2-2-1-1-1 format. Last season the NBA was still using the 2-3-2 format for the Finals, a throwback to when the NBA players used to have to fly commercial between games. Back then there were good logistic (not so much basketball) reasons to go to 2-3-2, but nobody liked those three games in the middle in one city. Both teams complained about it and said it was an advantage for the other side. Now the Spurs have home court and get Games 5 and 7 on their home court. Think of it this way: If the NBA made this switch one year earlier the legendary Game 6 — with Ray Allen’s step back three — would have taken place in San Antonio. Does it end differently if it does?

2) Dwyane Wade’s knees are healthier. Wade averaged 19.6 points a game on 47.6 percent shooting in the Finals last season, but he was dragging some bad knees around. He had spurts of great play but he was not his vintage self. In these playoffs, Wade is averaging 18.7 points per game on 51.9 percent — you can thank the season-long knee maintenance program for that. Eric Spoelstra rested Wade, to the frustration of LeBron James at times, but he got what he wanted — Wade has been strong through these playoffs. That is going to put more defensive pressure on the Spurs.

[MORE: Three keys to winning the series]

3) Miami’s defense hasn’t been as consistently sharp. In the 2013 playoffs the Miami Heat allowed 102.9 points per 100 possessions and held teams to 43.6 percent shooting, with the Heat forcing turnovers on 15.6 percent of opponent possessions. They won with defense. In 2014 opposing teams are scoring 107.7 points per 100 possessions and shooting 46.2 percent, with Miami forcing turnovers on 14.1 percent of possessions. They haven’t been as good, in part because they haven’t had to be (the competition in the East didn’t push them as hard as San Antonio was pushed). In their last three games against Indiana Miami started to show some of that defensive energy. But how are they going to react now that they face a team that will actually pass out of a double team?

4) Manu Ginobili looks much better. Manu Ginobili was up and down last playoffs, and that showed in the Finals — he dropped 25 in Game 5 and sparked the Spurs in to go up 3-2, then he had a career-high eight turnovers and was a mess in the Spurs devastating Game 6 loss. Ginobili was a negative in the Finals last year. San Antonio seems to be on a mission for revenge but no Spur is more focused than Ginobili, who had a fantastic series against the Thunder and through the playoffs is averaging 14.3 points per game with a PER of 21.1 (he had a just above average 16.5 last year). If this Ginobili shows up for the Finals it will put a lot more pressure on the Heat, particularly its up-and-down bench.

[MORE: What’s next for Thunder, Pacers?]

5) Tony Parker has a sprained ankle. This has to be San Antonio’s biggest concern — they can get through a half against the Thunder without Parker and be just fine, but if he isn’t playing the Tony Parker who should be in the conversation for best point guard in the game this series San Antonio’s dreams of revenge will be sprained as well. Parker sprained his ankle in Game 4 against OKC, played through it then aggravated it in Game 5, and by the second half of Game 6 it was Gregg Popovich who pulled the plug on him. He gets five days off, five days of treatment, the Spurs need that to be enough starting Thursday night at home. Otherwise this series could remind the Spurs of last year’s.

Rumor: Bulls’ belief in Zach LaVine waning

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Zach LaVine was the centerpiece in the Bulls’ return for trading a star. Chicago was reportedly willing to match a max offer sheet for LaVine in restricted free agency.

But maybe the Bulls have at least somewhat soured on him.

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

I don’t know why the Bulls would be down on LaVine now. I also don’t know why they were so high on him the first place.

LaVine is a good 3-point shooter and impressive dunker. But, despite his athleticism, his all-around contributions are lacking. He also hasn’t looked completely over his February 2017 ACL tear.

This leak could just be strategy. Instead of trying to scare off teams with the threat of matching any offer to LaVine, Chicago could be trying to dissuade suitors by projecting its own reluctance.

The Bulls don’t want to overpay LaVine. But they also don’t want to lose him for nothing.

Will anyone make a hard push for the 23-year-old? He surely wants a lucrative long-term contract, whether he re-signs directly with Chicago or gets an offer sheet. But, if the Bulls aren’t sold on him, I’m not sure any team will is.

LaVine’s qualifying offer will be $4,333,932. That might wind up his next salary.

PBT Extra: Grading the top of the NBA Draft

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The Phoenix Suns got it right at the top of the draft — they took Deandre Ayton.

But what of their move to trade for Mikal Bridges, the No. 10 pick, surrendering a valuable pick and the potential of Zhaire Smith for what should be a solid “3&D” wing to go with their athletic stars?

How did the Kings do at No. 2? What about Dallas’ big trade up to land Luka Doncic at three, or the Atlanta bet on Trae Young?

In this PBT Extra, I grade the top 10 picks in the draft, from the moves I like (I think Dallas did well) to ones I’m not sold on (sorry Chicago).

 

Have questions leading up to free agency? Submit your questions via e-mail for our PBT Mailbag feature. Drop us a line at pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.