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.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
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This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.

Kyrie Irving has fan ejected during road loss to Hornets

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Sunday was not a good day for the Mavericks and Kyrie Irving.

In addition to losing their second-straight game to the Hornets (and fourth straight overall) to fall out of even the play-in out West, Irving had a Hornets fan ejected from the game Sunday. Irving pointed the situation out to the referee, and soon arena security was involved and the man was escorted out.

It is unclear what the fan said to Irving, but more players in recent years have taken this step with fans they feel had crossed the line of common decency. Irving addressed the situation in his postgame press conference.

Irving and the Mavericks heard boos from their fans at home last Friday during a loss to these same Hornets, and Irving’s response that night was more defiant in tone.

“So what? Just the way I feel about it. I’ve been in New York City so I know what that’s like. You obviously want to play well, but there’s only five people on the court who can play for the Dallas Mavericks. If the fans wanna change places, then hey, be my guest. Got years of work ahead to be great enough to be on this level. But our focus isn’t necessarily on the boos, it should be on the performance.”

That performance has been lacking — the Mavericks have lost four in a row, 7-of-9, and if the postseason started today they would be fishing in Cabo. Irving hasn’t been the problem (the Mavericks are 4.5 per 100 possessions better when he is on the court), but he hasn’t been the solution, either. Irving is a free agent after this season and said he and Luka Dončić are still getting used to playing with one another.