LeBron cramps up while Spurs withstand heat, Heat; Spurs take Game 1

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SAN ANTONIO — Going into the NBA Finals depth was one of San Antonio’s key advantages, it could win them a game in this series.

This is not exactly how anyone expected it to happen, but the Spurs depth won them Game 1.

With the air conditioning out and the temperatures in the AT&T Center climbing into the 90s (and it was a humid 90s, this was bikram basketball) LeBron James cramped up and barely played the final 7:31 of the game.

With that the Spurs went on a 26-9 run to close the game and took Game 1 110-95. The Spurs now lead the best-of-7 series 1-0.

LeBron cramped up so badly he went back to the locker room with a couple minutes left.

“It was an unusual environment, we’re used to having the hotter building this time of year…” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game, sticking with the idea that both teams had to play in it. “I think it felt like a punch to the gut when you see your leader limping back to the bench.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever played in anything like this since I left the islands,” said Tim Duncan, a native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Spurs are used to trusting their role players, giving them big minutes and expecting them to make plays under pressure. Gregg Popovich rotated those guys in and the Spurs were fresher for it.  The Heat are the LeBron and Dwyane Wade show, and without LeBron the Spurs’ defense flattened out the Heat offense and shut them down late.

“We were like ‘let’s keep pushing the pace,’ they were starting to look tired and LeBron was asking out,” Tony Parker said after the game, adding this felt like a European gym to him (“we don’t have air conditioning [for games]”).

San Antonio’s offense got the shots it wanted all night long with fantastic ball movement — the Spurs shot 58.8 percent overall and hit 13-of-25 from three (late in the game the wilting Heat players could not close out on shooters leaving open shots, plus the Spurs ran them into the ground in transition). 

The Spurs got 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting from Tim Duncan, 19 points from Tony Parker and 16 from Manu Ginobili. Danny Green was 3-of-3 from deep in the third and had 11 points in the fourth quarter to help lead the charge back.

San Antonio would have dominated the game if Miami’s defense had not forced turnovers — the Spurs had 22 in the game, 8 in the third quarter, which fueled some easy buckets for Miami and had them leading after three quarters.

Before Miami literally wilted in the heat.

“They made shots, we made a few mistakes and they capitalized on them,” Dwyane Wade said of the Spurs fourth quarter run. He refused to blame that on LeBron being out.

In the first half the Spurs got seemingly everything they wanted — an up tempo game and 15 points out of Tim Duncan rolling to the rim — and that got them a 54-49 lead at the break. San Antonio’s passing was crisp and it led to 50% shooting overall for the Spurs — plus they were 7-of-14 from three.

Miami got 25 points from LeBron but just 2 in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh had 18 on 7-of-11 shooting and Dwyane Wade had 19 points on 18 shots. Ray Allen added 16.

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.