San Antonio dominates Miami again, wins by 21, takes command of NBA Finals

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MIAMI — The San Antonio Spurs have taken the Miami Heat to the woodshed.

For the second game in a row the ball-moving, energized Spurs dominated a Heat team that played stagnant, uninspired basketball on their home court. The Spurs grabbed a lead in the first quarter, pulled away in the second and cruised to a 107-86 win.

San Antonio now leads the NBA Finals 3-1 and heads home with a chance to close it out Sunday night at the AT&T Center.

San Antonio took both games in Miami by a combined 30 points — they fully exorcised any demons left over from Game 6 in American Airlines Arena from last season.

“I mean they smashed us, two straight home games,” LeBron James said.

Most people — including Heat coach Erik Spoelstra — expected a lot more energy out of a Heat team that needed a win, but it was the Spurs that played like the more desperate team.

“I can honestly say I don’t think any of us were expecting this type of performance,” Spoelstra said.

“Well, I think (the Heat’s) reaction was there but we matched it,” San Antonio’s Boris Diaw said after another impressive game with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

The Spurs did it with the balanced, team game they have shown all season (and for several seasons). San Antonio shot 57.1 percent, and 51 percent of the Spurs shots were uncontested (according to SportVU cameras). For comparison 39 percent of the Heat shots were uncontested. Kawhi Leonard had 20 points and 14 rebounds plus played fantastic defense against LeBron James (Leonard will be in the mix for series MVP), Tony Parker had 19 points, Patty Mills added 14 and the Spurs as a team had 25 assists on 40 baskets. They were again playing “the beautiful game.”

“I’m pleased that they performed as well as they did while we’ve been in Miami,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “And that’s about as far as it goes. Now we’ve got to go back home and play as well or better.”

As good as their offense was, the Spurs defense was much sharper, much improved compared to Game 3. The Spurs were smart and aggressive defending the pick-and-roll, and the Heat made it easy on them with a lot of pick-and-rolls or isolations and almost no weakside movement.

LeBron did all he could — he had 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting — but he got no help. Dwyane Wade was 3-of-13 shooting, 1-of-8 inside 8 feet. Chris Bosh was 5-of-11. Heat players not named LeBron shot 27.8 percent through the first three quarters (the fourth quarter was essentially extended garbage time).

“They played great and I can honestly say I don’t think any of us expected this kind of performance…” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.  “We just couldn’t get into a rhythm on either side of the ball.”

Like the Spurs, it was the defensive end that was the bigger deal for Miami — they again played without energy, not closing out on shooters, their traps on the pick-and-roll were half-hearted and the Spurs shredded it with their passing.

Erik Spoelstra was looking for answers, so much so that he tried Toney Douglas starting in the second quarter looking anywhere for a spark.

“Our group has been through everything you possibly can be through except this circumstance, so why not?” Spoelstra said. “Why not test ourselves right now collectively?…

“All it is, is let’s get this thing back to Miami. When we’re right mentally, emotionally, collectively there is a real strong spirit to us. We feel we can win anywhere, and that’s what we’ll work on for the next two days.”

There is a lot for the Heat to work on. The Spurs have executed their game plan at a high level, the Heat have looked like a team that can’t find the switch to flip.

And now, even if they found it, it would be too late.

Report: Celtics “most likely” offer Jayson Tatum a max contract after season

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This should not be a surprise.

Jayson Tatum is a cornerstone of the Celtics now and going forward: 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, an efficient 56.2 true shooting percentage, a shot creator, an athletic finisher at the rim, and a guy who shot 39.8 percent from three. Tatum was an All-Star in his third season and will draw third-team All-NBA votes (whenever those votes happen).

Tatum is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season. Is he worth a full max contract? Yes, especially considering he is 22 and still improving by leaps each season.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter the Celtics are expected to offer Tatum the max (hat tip Bleacher Report).

“If Jayson Tatum is the superstar that they envisioned when they began this whole rebuilding process when they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for all of those draft picks hoping to land a player like this, we could see ‘Glory Days’ for the Celtics again. But it’s very much up in the air, and I’m gonna tell ya, they’re gonna have to pay him like it because after this season ends, he is going to get most likely a max contract. They’re going to bet that he becomes that player.”

It’s fair to argue that max contracts should be reserved for true alphas, true No. 1s and maybe a few No. 2 players on a team, and that Tatum has yet to prove he is one of those. Boston would be betting he becomes that player — but right now that looks like a good bet. More importantly, last summer the Celtics locked up Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on four-year contracts, sign Tatum and the Celtics have a core that will have them at or near the top of the East for years.

Exactly what a max contract will look like this coming off-season after the coronavirus hit to the league’s finances is another question, one nobody has an answer to right now. Under the old cap, it would have been $181 million over five years (and if he made All-NBA teams it could jump to $218 million), but those numbers don’t apply to the new reality. Even if Tatum signs the max offer this summer, he will make his $9.9 million next season then be paid whatever the max is for him starting in the 2021-22 season (and again, it’s impossible to say what the league’s finances will be at that point).

Pay the man his money.  Expect Boston to make the offer whenever the offseason arrives.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.