NBA Finals Game 5 preview, Heat at Spurs: Miami tries to put River Walk party on hold

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SAN ANTONIO — The Miami Heat were relaxed.

The day after a Game 4 loss that left them bewildered Ray Allen spent the day on a bike ride, going 14 miles or so from his Coral Gables home, picking up some lunch along the way, just getting outside and clearing his head. The rest of the Heat did something similar, whatever it was it was not basketball. Friday they took a day off.

Miami is down 3-1, on the brink of elimination at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs heading into Sunday night’s Game 5, but when they showed up in San Antonio Saturday afternoon they were surprisingly relaxed and confident.

Last year they faced two elimination games in the Finals against the Spurs, yet won them both. This year it will take three in a series that feels different after San Antonio won the last two games convincingly. But the Heat acted like a team that has been through plenty of adversity and been to four straight Finals. They acted like they have been there before.

That means either they have found their groove, their energy that they can bring for 48 minutes this time, that they are ready to fight for this series.

Or they are resigned to their fate.

“Why not us?” LeBron James asked. “History is broken all the time. And obviously we know we’re against the greatest of odds. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, but there was a point where no team came back from a 2-0… There was a point where no team came back from a 31 deficit in the Western Conference Finals, and then Phoenix did it. One of our teammates was on that team, James Jones….

“So history is made to be broken, and why not me be a part of it? That would be great.”

“What we talked about is we’re not so entitled or jaded that we’re above having to fight for it, and that’s what it is right now,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said.

As it has been throughout this series, the questions for Miami in Game 5 at the defensive end — their pressure and rotations have not been able to keep up with the Spurs ball movement.

“Regardless (of how we played the pick-and-roll) it felt like we were a step slow on all our rotations, closing out to the three point, the low man getting to the big on the rolls,” Rashard Lewis said. “We was just always late, they were a step faster.”

Even when Miami did make the right rotations it didn’t matter — San Antonio shot 64.7 percent on contested shots in Game 4, 61.5 percent in Game 3 (stats via the NBA’s player tracking SportsVU cameras). San Antonio just is not missing.

One thing Miami is counting on to come back is a regression to the mean — San Antonio can’t keep shooting like this, can they? No, not over a long stretch of games they couldn’t, but that’s also not what the Spurs need. They just need one more.

Miami’s problem is after 13 games between these teams since the start of last year’s Finals the Spurs have grown accustomed to and comfortable with the Heat defense — Miami tries to use their athleticism to overwhelm, force turnovers and rushed shots. The Spurs have seen it — and they saw the same tactics from Dallas and Oklahoma City these playoffs — and it doesn’t faze them anymore. Plus, an older, banged-up Miami team doesn’t dial up the same pressure it did the past couple playoffs.

In the face of that pressure the Spurs no longer lose their offensive balance and unpredictability — all five guys are live, all five guys are a threat on every play.

“Everybody’s dangerous on our team,” Boris Diaw explained. “Everybody can score at any time. It’s not like a pattern, like some times you do scouting on a team and you say ‘Who’s the head of the snake, who’s the guy who’s going to score?’ You keep them from scoring and you’re going to win the game. With us it’s a little bit different, anybody can score on any given night. You saw that during the whole regular season. One night Patty Mills is the leading scorer on our team, some times it’s Danny (Green), sometimes it’s Tony (Parker), sometimes it’s Manu (Ginobili), sometime’s it’s Tim (Duncan). It can be anyone.”

Tony Parker leads the Spurs in scoring in the Finals averaging 18.5 points a game on 50.9 percent shooting — those are not gaudy numbers. The Spurs have talent — Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest power forward ever to play the game, Kawhi Leonard is a Finals MVP favorite exploding on the scene, Manu Ginobili just keeps making plays — but they all put their ego aside for the team.

When you asked Miami players what they need to do differently you got variations of their standard answer — we just need to do what we do better. We likely will see some rotation changes — Ray Allen started the second half of Game 4 and expect he starts Game 5, we also could see some Shane Battier — but the fact is Miami’s depth is limited. Plus guys they count on to step up, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen in particular, have not. That’s not even mentioning Dwyane Wade aging before our eyes and Chris Bosh needing to be more aggressive when he gets his chances. It’s pretty much been LeBron James against the world, and no team ever won the Larry O’Brien trophy that way. Just like no team has ever come from 3-1 down in the Finals to win.

“But you can’t start thinking about two games ahead, three games ahead, all of that,” Spoelstra said on Saturday. “It’s just about tomorrow.”

If the Heat don’t there will be a parade down the River Walk just a few tomorrows after that.

NBA in London: Wizards vs Knicks in January

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LONDON (AP) — The NBA will return to London next year with a regular-season game between the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks.

Tickets for the Jan. 17 game at the O2 Arena will go on sale in the fall.

It will be the NBA’s ninth regular-season game in London, all sellouts. The Knicks have played there twice, facing the Detroit Pistons in 2013 and the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015. This will be the first game in London for the Wizards.

International players on the rosters include Wizards center Marcin Gortat of Poland, Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia and Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina, who was born in Belgium to Rwandan parents and grew up in France.

The game will be shown by the NBA’s broadcast partners across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and on NBA League Pass International.

 

Adam Silver of some fans’ distaste for Warriors: “I get it” but adds team drafted well

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As the Warriors were sweeping past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals, the lack of competitiveness of that series became a talking point. LeBron James, for all his greatness (especially before punching that whiteboard, which was asking for it) could not get this team a win. Superteams like the Warriors are not good for the NBA, the league needs more competitiveness, the argument goes.

Adam Silver feels your pain.

To a degree. He said he gets concerns, but added that the NBA has always been a league of dynasties, and that while Kevin Durant was a free agent the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Silver was on ESPN radio’s Golic and Wingo show Wednesday and said this:

“I get it in terms of Kevin Durant going [to the Warriors in 2016]. It was a bit of an aberration in our system; we had a spike in our cap, it enabled them to have additional cap room. The Warriors will tell you they would have figured out a way to get it done anyway,” he said….

“I’ve said repeatedly, let’s also celebrate excellence. Ownership, the job Bob Myers has done as a GM, Steve Kerr, of course, one of the great coaches in our league. Steph Curry, drafted; Klay Thompson, drafted; Draymond Green drafted 35th by Golden State Warriors,” Silver said.

Silver said the NBA doesn’t “want to go about breaking up teams just to break them up, just to force some sort of parity that is kind of unnatural,” but he said the league and its players can talk about changes to the player-movement system.

First, player movement is good for the league — why do you think the NBA offseason is so compelling? Shorter contracts, players willing to shift teams, it is why the NBA wins the offseason every year. Fans love it. Why would the league even consider cutting that off? Even small market owners are not that short-sighted.

In the interview, Silver then went on to mention a hard salary cap, something he brought up a few times speaking with the media at the NBA Finals. Silver works at the pleasure of the NBA owners, which suggests there is at least a faction of them that wants to go aggressively at a hard cap in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. It would never get approved by the players (and the owners know that), but Silver and some owners enjoy rattling sabers.

It also would not bring parity to the NBA. It’s not the nature of the sport. If you draft/sign LeBron you are going to win more games than you lose because he is the best basketball player in the world and he gets to touch the ball 100 times a game and influence the outcome. The same is basically true of Kevin Durant and James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the games’ other handful of truly elite players. It’s as if the Nationals got to pitch Max Scherzer every night — they’d win a lot more games.

And stars have always paired up to win — Bill Russell and Cousy, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and James Worthy), Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen, Shaq and Kobe. The NBA has always been about dynasties.

Behind Durant and the hard cap talk seems to be the real issue — owners and some fans don’t like players exercising power about where they play and who they play with. Owners who draft a player want to control his rights as long as they can, but players are not just the pawns of guys in suits in front offices anymore. They are working to control their own destiny. If Kawhi Leonard is not happy in San Antonio, he will force his way out to a place he wants to be — and take less money to do it. That is a change from the past. LeBron formed a super team in Miami (and could again this summer). Durant decided to join an organic one in Golden State. Chris Paul forced his way to play with Harden in Houston.

That dynamic is not going to change, either.

Mo Bamba really doesn’t want to go to Memphis

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It’s the time of year when agents try to influence what team drafts their client. Ultimately, the teams have the power here — if they want a player they can draft him and hold onto his rights until he agrees to play for them. (The only way out is for a player to sit out every level of basketball for a season, domestic and overseas, then re-enter the draft with a diminished status.)

That doesn’t stop agents from trying. The withhold medical information. They refuse to let their player workout for the team. Or, they just tell the team their player doesn’t want to be there. A number of players have done that with Sacramento.

Mohamed Bamba is doing that with Memphis. That’s according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony on Memphis radio.

With a “let’s make the playoffs next season/keep the status quo” mentality in Memphis, Bamba is not really a fit anyway. Bamba may have the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft, but he also has farther to go to reach that ceiling than almost anyone in this draft. He has the potential to be a defensive force, but he has to get his legs and core much stronger. He is incredibly raw on offense. Looking at a guy who was at times casual in his play in college, will he put in the work to get there?

Who would make more sense for the Grizzlies at No. 4? Jaren Jackson Jr. for one, but…

Memphis also may be more likely to trade their pick than anyone in the top five. Considering their options, the Grizzlies may see that as the best option, if they get a decent offer.

Report: Charlotte trading Dwight Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov

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When Mitch Kupchak was hired as the new general manager in Charlotte, the big question was could he convince Michael Jordan it was time to rebuild the Hornets. The Kemba Walker/Dwight Howard team won 36 games last season, and even though there seemed to be potential on the roster the team had made the playoffs just twice in the past five seasons (and been bounced in the first round both times).

It appears the answer is yes.

The first step, move Dwight Howard and his $23.8 million salary for next season, which is happening with a trade to Brooklyn, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Charlotte Hornets have agreed to send Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets for center Timofey Mozgov, two future second-round picks and cash, league sources told ESPN…

The Hornets will receive the Nets’ second-round pick (No. 45) in Thursday’s NBA draft and a 2021 second-round pick, league sources said.

Mozgov has two years and $32.7 million left on his contract. Charlotte general manager Mitch Kupchak signed Mozgov to the four-year, $64 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers two years ago.

Technically this trade can’t be completed until July 6, when the NBA’s signing moratorium ends at the start of free agency. The Hornets will pick for the Nets on Thursday night in the second round then complete the trade on July 6.

The Hornets were a team pushing the luxury tax (yes, seriously) and this move saves money in the short term and gets them away from that tax line.

Look for the Hornets to consider trading Kemba Walker too, either around the draft or before the trade deadline next year. Or at least they should, he can walk as a free agent in 2019 and that would leave them stuck. There were rumors the other players in the Charlotte locker room were not Howard fans, this could have been a move to appease the veterans. That still does not make this team better.

The Nets will save nearly $17 million in salary for the 2019-20 season and they can open up two max contract slots. Not that they are going to land Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard or the other elite free agents of that summer, but Brooklyn will have the leverage to go after the right players (think restricted free agents they can poach) who will fit with their future.

Also, they get a big man in Howard who was solid last season for the Hornets while nobody was looking — he averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. Coach Steve Clifford put Howard back in his comfort zones, didn’t ask him to do too much, and with that Howard played well, he had a PER of 20.5.

Howard’s going to love hamming it up in Brooklyn off the court.

On the court, the Nets have who they believe to be the center of their future in Jarrett Allen, who came on through his rookie season as he got more and more run. Howard and Allen will split time at the five, but will Howard handle coming off the bench?. If the Nets can get a healthy Jeremy Lin, growth from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a little more (or anything, really) out of Allen Crabbe, some throwback games from DeMarre Carrol, and the Nets could be an entertaining team to watch next season.