NBA Finals Game 2 preview: Don’t expect Game 2 to look, feel like Game 1

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SAN ANTONIO — There isn’t much you can take away from Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The air conditioning going out, the AT&T Center becoming a sauna, and the effect that had on LeBron James (cramping up and missing almost the entire second half of the fourth quarter) and the rest of the players (both teams had their rotations slow, Miami’s just much more) made this a game a one-off. An outlier.

Whatever happens Sunday night in Game 2 — with the air conditioning working in the building — it will not look like Game 1.

What both teams talked about over the couple of days off, besides the recovery from Game 1, was tightening things up — sharper defensive rotations and cutting down the turnovers.

“My guess is you won’t see that tomorrow night, turnover-wise,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Saturday, talking about how the teams combined for 40 turnovers in Game 1. “I don’t think either one of us will turn it over as much as we did. In that regard we were both pretty sloppy.”

“We need to do what we do better and harder,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said about the Miami defense. “They make it tough with their passing and, you know, getting into the paint with their rolls and spreading you out with three-point shooters. So we need to do that better, there is no question about it.”

That means being disruptive and forcing those turnovers for the Heat. The ones that Popovich has drilled into his guys to limit.

The Heat also want to make Miami’s ball movement more difficult.

“We’re going to try to get our hands in the passing lanes a little more, make those extra passes tougher, so it’s not on a straight line,” Miami’s Chris Bosh said.

That kind of pressure, the gambling that makes the Miami’s defense hard to deal with when they are focused, also requires tight rotations. Ones that failed them at points in Game 1, particularly the final five minutes.

“I think just communication,” Bosh said of improving those rotations. “They get you moving on the weak side, they make it very difficult. But we’ve always said you’ve got to be ahead of the play with this team, and there were a couple times where we weren’t ahead of the play and our weakside help wasn’t there on time — which is early — and we’re just going to have to trust each other that we’re going to make the proper rotations. Sometimes we’re thinking ‘I’ve got a three-point shooter,’ they do that for a reason, make you hesitate one split second and they get a lay-up. We’ll fix it. We’ll make sure we’re on the same page.”

Sounds logical, but if the Heat do exactly what Bosh suggests and pre-rotate more, that can be its own problem.

“They caught us pre-rotating a few times in the last game, and that makes it difficult sometimes because one guy is off and one guy pre-rotates, they make those reads fairly quickly,” Bosh said. “That’s what makes them who they are.”

The Spurs just need to not do too much — keep it simple, Tony Parker said.

“I think the key for us is do the first easy pass. Don’t try to invent something, just play our game,” Parker said. “We need to have the pace and we know Miami is a great defensive team and they have a great rotation, they’re fast but if we do the first easy pass and move the ball at the end, you know, I think we will get good shots.”

The last 12 times the Heat lost a playoff game, they won the next one. That streak includes last year’s Finals, when the Spurs took Game 1 but lost Game 2 and eventually the series. San Antonio played the season on a mission to get back to this very series and force a different outcome.

Winning Game 2 would be a big step in that direction.

But however they do it, it will not look anything like Game 1.

Wizards reportedly to finally remove interim tag from GM Tommy Sheppard

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Tommy Sheppard has been doing the work as the Wizards GM since April when Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM.

Sheppard was the GM through the draft. Through free agency. All the time with the “interim” tag on his job title. In Las Vegas for Summer League, plenty of other executives wondered why that tag was still on Sheppard’s title.

It’s finally coming off, reports Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.

The Washington Wizards removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard’s title Friday, promoting him to be the 12th general manager in franchise history, according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

The promotion of Sheppard, who will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards, mirrors the internal hiring decision Leonsis made with his hockey team. In 2014, Leonsis elevated Brian MacLellan as the Washington Capitals senior vice president and general manager after firing George McPhee. Before the promotion, MacLellan had spent the previous seven years under McPhee as an assistant general manager.

This likely will be made official in the next 48-72 hours.

Part of the delay may have been that a couple of prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at different times. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri coming to the District, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

Making Sheppard the full-time GM provides some stability just as the Wizards reach their most important moment of the summer.

On July 26 the Wizards can offer star two guard Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million extension. The Wizards have been talking to Beal’s people and the offer will be made.

What Beal decides will decide the Wizards future for years. If Beal doesn’t sign that offer, the Wizards have to look at trading him. If he signs it, they need to build more around him.

Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards. However, there was plenty of informed speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and could choose to not sign it and essentially force his way out.

Either way, Beal’s decision will define the next steps for Sheppard for years.

 

Child tries to call out James Harden for step-back travels, he says it’s no travel

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If you tried this move in a high-school game 10 years ago, you would have been called for traveling.

In today’s NBA, as the rules are interpreted, James Harden‘s step back is not a travel.

At an event on Friday, a young fan tried to call Harden out on the travel and he defended himself. Via Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Harden’s stepback is not a travel (when he executes it properly). Even if it looks like it is.

Here is the play in question.

The official response — meaning from officials:

I know when you played Junior High basketball in 2002 that was a travel, but the NBA hasn’t called it that way in years.

The NBA rule here (Rule 10, Section XIII) simplified is a “gather and two steps.” Meaning one step while Harden is gathering the ball, plus two more. Nobody pushes the boundary of the gather step like Harden, he has mastered the grey area. But when he executes it properly — and he doesn’t every time — it’s not a travel.

No matter what that young boy’s father tells him.

Justin Holiday reportedly reaches deal with Pacers, will join forces with brother

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The Pacers just added the wing depth and some defense at the position they have been looking for.

It’s through someone they have long had their eye on, Justin Holiday, the six-year NBA veteran who split time last season between Chicago and Memphis. He has reached an agreement to join the Pacers — and his brother, Aaron Holiday — for a season in Indiana. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

The Pacers have been in touch with Holiday for a while, reports J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Holiday averaged 10.5 points a game last season, shot 34.7 percent from three, and played solid wing defense.

Victor Oladipo is the team’s best wing player, once he returns from injury (the Pacers are hoping around Christmas or a little after). Beyond him there is Jeremy Lamb, C.J. Wilcox, T.J. Warren, Doug McDermott, and Brian Bowen. Holiday can find minutes in that group.

This also sparks the dream of an all T.J./Holiday lineup. The Pacers have two Holidays, Justin and Aaron, as well as three un-related players named T.J. — T.J. McConnell, T.J. Warren, and T.J. Leaf. We need to see those five on the court together next season, if only for a few minutes.

Rumor: Clippers offered Marcus Morris three-years, $41 million at start of free agency

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Marcus Morris thought it was his time. Coming off a 13.9 point, 6.1 rebounds a game season where he shot 37.5 percent from three and was one of only a couple of guys who seemed to bring it nightly in Boston, he thought he was going to get PAID this summer. As in the $20 million a year range.

The market for Morris was not quite that hot, and there is a lot of buzz around the league about how that frustrated him. His agent, Rich Paul, ultimately set up a two-year, $20 million contract with the Spurs, which Morris agreed to then backed out of to take a one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks. That move pissed off the Spurs and led to Morris changing agents.

Rumor is Morris could have gone to the Clippers for three years at an average of $13.7 million at the beginning of free agency but turned it down, according to Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Morris, however, lost out on a much more lucrative contract with the LA Clippers, who were prepared to pay him $41 million over three seasons. A Clippers source said the three-year deal included a provision for Morris to receive 50 percent of his salary on Oct. 1.

Morris was hoping to earn $40 million over two years but the Clippers couldn’t offer that deal if they wanted to sign Kawhi Leonard to a max contract. Once Morris took that stance, the Clippers moved on and acquired Portland’s Maurice Harkless in a four-team trade that included Jimmy Butler signing with the Miami Heat.

One of the biggest challenges for agents is to get the player to understand market realities. For players, their salary is a measuring stick of their worth (even though we know that is flawed reasoning), kind of a capitalistic “you are what the market says you are” approach. Players have egos and often people around them who continuously pump them up. Players often expect the market to be more robust for them than it will end up being, and the agent has to be the voice of reality.

Morris is a good player, but one caught somewhat by circumstance. The market moved very fast this summer — more than 50 deals reached in the first 12 hours — and players who hesitated got lost. The Lakers and Clippers were hung up holding space open for Leonard. This July saw more “you have an hour to take this offer or we have to move on” conversations than in years past. Morris understandably thought he would get a higher payday, but by the time he pivoted the market got thin.

For the Clippers, everything worked out just fine, thank you very much.

For Morris, what kind of season he has and what kind of market there will be for him next July will be something to watch.