Spurs, Heat both focus on defense as Friday practices become film sessions

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SAN ANTONIO — No coach was going to put their players through a physical practice the day after that Game 1.

“Last night was extreme,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “It’s like trying to play you know, an NBA basketball game in a hot yoga environment. It’s not ideal.”

The conditions inside the AT&T Center during Game 1 were again the main topic of media questions on Friday, but the coaches and players were largely looking ahead to Game 2 Sunday. Making sure their guys got rest, both coaches turned Friday’s practices into film sessions and both focused on defense.

No coach is ever happy, but both were particularly frustrated with defensive lapses they saw in reviewing the series opener (won by the Spurs).

Heat coach Eric Spoelstra had good reason to be. Tim Duncan got all 10 of his shots in the paint, most of them rolling to the basket off the pick-and-roll (he hit 9 of those 10) and Tiago Splitter got all six of his shots within eight feet of the bucket and hit five (again, often as the roll man).

“We got to defend the paint a little bit better,” LeBron James said. “They did a great job of moving us around and through the pick-and-rolls they got buckets in the paint.”

Those buckets inside early helped open up the three point shooters in the fourth quarter when the Spurs hit six from deep. (and Danny Green caught fire with three of them). Although part of that fourth quarter fade from Miami was the conditions, the Heat rotations were actually fairly tight until the team wilted in the fourth quarter. Still Spoelstra had concerns.

“We have to do some things better, more committed, five men against a very good passing team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday before his film session. “They’re well schooled. Some things we need to adjust on….

“They move the ball extremely well, had us moving around. We were able to force some turnovers, make them uncomfortable. We need to find a little bit of a happy medium.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was his blunt self.

“I thought we made a good number of mistakes,” he said Friday at the Spurs practice facility. “I thought they missed some wide, wide open shots that they had, that scare you to death once you watch the film. That’s not just blowing smoke or an exaggeration. There were about seven or eight wide-open threes they had that just didn’t go down.”

Kwahi Leonard, who draws the task of guarding LeBron James much of the game, said Popovich was all about the defense in the film room.

“We’re in the Finals, you got to play great defense to win these games… also turnovers, he wants us to limit those,” Leonard said. “(Coach talked about) buying into our game plan, knowing our personnel, a lot of guys got some wide open looks last night and fortunately they missed, and just some of our rotations.”

Turnovers will be one stat to watch in Game 2 — the Spurs turned the ball over on 24 percent of their possessions last night, with the Heat getting 14 steals. Do that again, let the Heat get easy transition buckets again, and the Spurs will not like how the game ends as much as they did Game 1.

Cavaliers still look to trade, waive J.R. Smith before Sunday; He may ultimately be a Laker

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The math is simple: J.R. Smith is set to make $15.7 million next season, however, if he is waived before Sunday, the Cavaliers team — or whatever team he is a member of — only has to pay $3.9 million of that. For a team looking for salary cap savings in this fiscal year, that’s about as good a deal as can be found.

Which is why the Cavaliers listened to trade offers for Smith on draft night, but they didn’t jump at anything reports Chris Fodor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Thursday night hoping to trade JR Smith, but turned down a few offers that would have returned a first-round pick, league sources tell cleveland.com…

As of now, the Cavs are still trying to make a deal, according to sources familiar with those conversations, but it’s complicated and it has to be the right move, as general manager Koby Altman laid out when recapping the NBA Draft late Thursday night.

“We’re definitely going to investigate what we can do there,” Altman said. “There’s a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we would have to do in terms of taking back money and the rest of the NBA knowing that we’re in the tax and my job would be getting us out of the tax.”

Those savings are why the Cavaliers may choose to just waive Smith themselves (in a trade they need to bring back $15 million or so in salary, so to pay the tax they need to get a player they really want). Cleveland understandably built a team on expensive, shorter contracts for veteran players around LeBron James — it helped bring them the 2016 title. Now they are still paying a price for that as they want to rebuild around youth, and Dan Gilbert doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax for a team that won 19 games last season.

One way or another, J.R. Smith is going to be a free agent.

Expect him to land with his old friend LeBron James and the Lakers, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo sports.

That makes sense. However they go about filling out the roster, the Lakers are going to have a number of minimum contract players on the bench and they will want veterans who can play with LeBron. J.R. Smith may be in decline (he shot 30.8 percent from three last season), but he fits that bill and can still make a few plays. Kyle Korver is in that same mold, someone Haynes points to as a fit with the Lakers.

Still, the guys taking the minimum are doing it for a reason, which means the Lakers can’t miss on other players they spend real money on this July. GM Rob Pelinka doesn’t have a

Masai Ujiri: DeMar DeRozan and I put aside differences and embraced in February

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Still bitter about being traded (to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard), DeMar DeRozan said in January he had no reason to speak to Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

DeRozan’s stance apparently softened when San Antonio played in Toronto in February.

Ujiri:

When San Antonio came here, I’ve never said this to anybody, but something unbelievable happened. DeMar came into our locker room, and to show you the class human being he is, he came up to me, and he hugged me, and he asked me how my family was doing.

It meant a lot for him to come and give me a hug. At the end of the day, this is life. Time heals things. And one day – I know I’m confident that one day, we’ll both sit down and talk about this.

Time heals nearly all wounds. Winning heals most wounds.

Ujiri has both on his side, and he didn’t even need the Raptors’ championship to get embraced by DeRozan. Ditto with Kyle Lowry, who rebelled in solidarity with his friend DeRozan but ultimately reconnected with Ujiri.

I always thought those days would come, and I share Ujiri’s optimism he and DeRozan will eventually have lengthier conversations. They’ve been through much together. Toronto’s title makes it even more difficult for DeRozan to hold a grudge. At some point, he will get on an even-better page with Ujiri.

As expected, Dallas reportedly set to offer Kristaps Porzingis max contract extension

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At his introductory press conference in Dallas, Kristaps Porzingis was asked if he planned to stay with the team as a free agent (there had been rumors he would take the one year, $4.5 million qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent, a rumor met with eye rolls around the NBA). Mark Cuban jumped in before Porzingis could answer the question:

“I can answer that for you. Yeah, he does.”

Dallas is about to put its money where Cuban’s mouth is and offer Porzingis a five-year max contract, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This was expected the day they traded for him. Dallas is betting big that Porzingis, coming off a torn ACL that cost him a season, can return to the form of an All-NBA level big man who plays 70+ games a season. The hope is in Porzingis and Luka Doncic the Mavs have their core for the future, their next Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki pairing.

Expect Dallas to be aggressive chasing free agents this summer as well, they have been linked to Kemba Walker and Kevin Durant, although as long shots. Patrick Beverley and some other mid-level role players could be in Dallas future, and turn them into a dangerous team.

Report: Celtics to pursue Kemba Walker in free agency

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The Celtics appear set to lose Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in free agency.

That’ll open a lot of cap space and create needs at point guard and center.

A possibility at starting point guard: Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Celtics project to have about $34 million in cap space. That’s enough to offer Walker a max contract that projects to be worth $141 million over four years.

But the Hornets can offer Walker a super-max contract that projects to be worth $221 million over five years. Charlotte and Walker have described each other as the priority.

The Lakers and Mavericks are also reportedly interested in the point guard.

Boston will face plenty of competition. Walker’s stellar player has earned him multiple good options.

The Celtics – with talented young wings like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and plenty of draft capital – look like one. They still have a reasonably bright future, and Walker would elevate their present.

But the same could be said of the Mavericks with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Lakers look even better immediately with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And the Hornets can offer all that money and the comfort of home.

There will be plenty for Walker to consider this summer.