Spurs have hot shooting first half, hustle plays late to pick up comfortable win in Miami

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San Antonio started off this game shooting hotter than any team in NBA Finals history had for a half (75.8 percent). They were back to being the dominant Spurs and the Heat looked shell shocked.

Yet even when the Spurs pushed the lead up to 25, the entire American Airlines Arena — and anyone who has seen the Heat play before — knew a run was coming. The Heat were going to try and force chaos on the game, where Miami thrives.

They did. It got all the way to 7 points in the third quarter.

Then the Spurs restored order.

Led by as good a game as Kawhi Leonard has ever played — 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting, and he was better on the defensive end on LeBron James — the San Antonio Spurs won 111-96 on the road and took Game 3.

The Spurs took a 2-1 series lead and that makes Thursday’s Game 4 pretty much a must win for the Heat. That said the Spurs won Game 3 of last year’s NBA Finals handily as well, this still feels like a series that will go long.

“They came out at a different gear than what we were playing at, and it just seemed we were on our heels the most part of the first half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “And then when we started to get to a different gear in the third quarter, it was just tough to change the energy of the game.”

“They beat us and really we didn’t bring an urgency to this game tonight,” Ray Allen said in the Heat locker room. “We were just too casual.”

What has to make the Spurs feel good is they won this game on a night Tim Duncan had 14 points and Tony Parker had 15 on 4-of-10 shooting — it was the role players, and their exquisite ball movement, that keyed the offense.

San Antonio took charge from the opening tip when they shot 86.7 percent in the first quarter — they started out 19-of-21 shooting, they were 7-of-10 from three, and Boris Diaw, inserted into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter, was +22 in the first half. The Spurs first quarter was insane as they hit 9-of-10 inside 8 feet, 4-of-4 from three, and missed their only shot from the midrange (remember the Heat forced the Spurs into 23 midrange shots in Game 2, but the Spurs were getting to the rim again in Game 3).

Kawhi Leonard, who had not stood out in the first two games, had 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half (his 29 for the game is the most he has scored since high school).

“We just wanted (Leonard) to be who he’s been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I think the foul situations the first two games really he overreacted to them and became very cautious, and he doesn’t play like that.  He’s got to be real active at both ends, and so he figured it out.”

Danny Green added 13 after starting 6-of-6 shooting in the first half, he finished with 15.

The result was a 71-50 San Antonio lead at the half, which had been as much as 25 at one point. That is even more impressive when you remember San Antonio did that on the road against a Heat team that had not last at home all playoffs.

The Heat made their expected run in the third quarter, outscoring the Spurs 25-15 and holding San Antonio to 31.6 percent shooting. The Heat had a 10-0 run and cut the lead to seven with just more than two minutes left in the third. They were pressuring the ball and forcing misses.

But then the Spurs got back to crisp ball movement out of the pressure, plus they just won the hustle plays (such as Leonard chasing down Ray Allen on a breakaway and forcing a miss). The Spurs won the fourth quarter 25-17 and shot 58 percent in the Final frame.

The desperate Spurs played harder, more physical and smarter basketball all night. They earned the win and put the pressure on the Heat.

Damian Lillard opposes idea of later NBA season start running into summer

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At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a few weeks back (although it feels like a lifetime ago), Atlanta  CEO Steve Koonin suggested the NBA should permanently shift its schedule to a mid-December start with the Finals running into August. The idea was to stop going head-to-head with the NFL and college football at the start of the season. Then the pushed back playoffs forced by the coronavirus have made that discussion more relevant. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said everything is on the table.

Damian Lillard is not a fan of the idea.

He likes the schedule just the way it is, something he said during a video conference with the media on Tuesday, hat tip to Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Portland.

“I just don’t see it. I mean, the season starts when it starts now, then February all-star weekend, getting toward the end of the season in April and then getting into the playoffs. You get that early June Finals and then you get to go off into your summer…

“You get to enjoy real-time summer,” Lillard said. “Our break is into the summer and then you get to come back as summer is leaving. I think that’s been perfect…

“It’s been perfect for us,” Lillard said. “So, for that to change and for things to be pushed back, I’m definitely not a fan of that and I don’t see many guys being a fan of that.”

Lillard is not alone in thinking this way, but Silver is more open to change than most sports commissioners. That said, changes that break with long-standing traditions are hard to make a reality.

There would be a lot of questions around a schedule change. Would the ratings still be as high for a Finals series in the heart of the summer? The NBA season no longer would sync with the NCAA or international leagues’ schedules, leading to questions about the draft and timing for players who want to test the waters. There would need to be reworked television contracts, both regionally and nationally. It could make scheduling a challenge at arenas used to having more concerts and other events in the summer.

Plus, all of this would need to be negotiated with the players union — and Lillard speaks for a lot of players on this issue.

If the NBA could somehow convince players that starting later meant more money in their pocket, those union negotiations would take on a different tone. But would the move increase revenue? That’s not an easy sell.

With this NBA season likely running late, the start of next season could be pushed back, and this theory could get a little bit of a test. Or, the next season could be shortened a little to get the league back on its regular schedule.

Which would make Lillard happy.

Report: NBA deprioritizing playing regular-season games for local TV

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The NBA is financially incentivized to play more regular-season games to satisfy local-TV contracts.

How does that square with resuming play – currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic – with a play-in tournament and playoffs?

It doesn’t.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to one source, getting some teams to a magical number of 70 regular-season games had been a goal, but in the last week has taken on less of a priority.

This stoppage is going to cost the NBA a lot of money. There’s no way around that. Not every source of revenue can be preserved. It’s about finding the optimal setup.

Importantly, canceling games could allow the NBA to reduce player salaries through force majeure. Of course, the union would consider that action when negotiating how to proceed.

LeBron James advocated for playing some regular-season games before the playoffs so everyone could get back into shape. But Steve Kerr called it very unlikely the Warriors would play another regular-season game. Perhaps, playoff-bound teams like the Lakers will play tune-up regular-season games while Golden State – the only team officially eliminated from the playoff race before the hiatus – doesn’t. It’d be a little odd to have such different formats, though. (Then again, these are odd times).

Considering this report, we ought to give more credence to the idea that Kerr knows something about the NBA’s plan and that the regular season is finished.

Lakers update that all players ‘currently symptom-free of COVID-19’

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Nearly two weeks ago, the Lakers announced that two of their players tested positive for the coronavirus. “Both players are currently asymptomatic, in quarantine and under the care of the team’s physician… All players and members of the Lakers staff are being asked to continue to observe self-quarantine,” the Lakers said at that time.

On Tuesday, the team provided an update saying nobody on the team is showing any symptoms after a couple of weeks of quarantine.

“All Lakers players are currently symptom-free of COVID-19. The team will continue to follow the health and safety guidelines set by government officials, the Lakers and the NBA,” the statement said.

The Lakers’ players who tested positive were never publicly identified (in fitting with HIPAA regulations).

A total of 10 NBA players — plus five members of staff associated with teams — have tested positive for the virus that has upended life in the United States. None reportedly have had to be hospitalized. Players such as Marcus Smart and others have recovered and free from the virus.

The NBA remains suspended, with the league hoping to jump-start the playoffs in June, possibly with all the teams in one location.

Report: NBA won’t hold draft until after season

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The NBA draft is scheduled for June 25. Most expect that date to change as the coronavirus pandemic causes postponements around the world.

Apparently, the draft will come after the NBA season – whether the season is completed in a modified format or just cancelled.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I think everybody in the league feels it’s almost impossible to have a draft if you still have a season that’s ongoing.

You can’t have a draft while teams are still playing. You can’t have some teams able to do trades because their season’s done and then some teams unable to do trades because they’re still playing.

It doesn’t strike me as difficult to hold the draft before the season ends. Teams wouldn’t be allowed to trade current players. The restriction would apply across the board, just like the interrupted pre-draft process. That’s not ideal, but compromises must be made amid this chaos.

Importantly, holding the draft sooner could appeal to both sides of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

It’d be an opportunity to hold a revenue-producing TV event. Obviously, drafted players wouldn’t attend a mass gathering. But with sports fans starved for content, people would watch the selections. A handshake with NBA commissioner Adam Silver is only a small part of the festivities.

The National Basketball Players Association should also push for an earlier draft. Prospects want information sooner so they can prepare for their next step – whether that’s the NBA, returning to college or playing overseas. That said, the union has bigger priorities than potential future members.

So, it’s easy to see why postponing the draft has gained momentum, even if that’s not a no-brainer solution.