Behind buzzer-beaters from two former MVPs, the Bulls and Cavs are tied up at two games apiece and Kurt Helin gives his take on which side’s injury concerns will hinder their team’s chance at winning the series.
Miami thrives in adversity. How will Denver respond to adversity in Game 3?
MIAMI —We know how the Miami Heat handle adversity. Their ability to deal with it is why we’re still watching them play.
“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team evened the NBA Finals at 1-1. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.”
The question heading into Sunday is how will the Nuggets handle adversity? Denver was the No. 1 seed for most of the season, has been up in every series 2-0 entering Game 3, and only lost three games in the West playoffs. While Denver has faced challenges during the season it had a very different path to this point than Miami.
“What I know about our group is for years now we’ve handled adversity very well,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I have no doubt that tomorrow night will be a much more disciplined, urgent team for 48 minutes.”
“Discipline” was one of the buzzwords around the Nuggets on Tuesday, heading into Game 3. The Heat players sounded like themselves, focused but a little looser, a little more comfortable at home in a familiar environment.
“This is who we are,” Kevin Love said. “Obviously when it’s time to get down to business, our focus is all the way there during our prep, during our film session… But when we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose. It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”
A change in tone was more evident among the Nuggets. To a man they talked about urgency, discipline and communication.
The Nuggets also had a straightforward, honest film session out of Game 2.
“I showed 17 clips this morning,” Malone said. “Every clip was a discipline clip, if you will, where our discipline, whether it was game plan, whether it was personnel, whether it was defending without fouling, whatever it may be, 17 clips added up to over 40 points in Game 2.
“That, to me, is staggering. What we can do better is just be a lot more disciplined in terms of the game plan, who I’m guarding. Most of that stems from communication.”
Actually, the Nuggets may need to watch their communication during the game.
“We probably could communicate a little bit better and also just be more aware of the actions they are running,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “But also they are playing off of our coverages, they are hearing what we are communicating to each other and they’re doing the opposite. If we say ‘switch,’ they are slipping out for open threes and if we don’t say ‘switch,’ they are actually going to set the screen.
“So they do a really good job of playing off of what our game plan is. So that’s what this film session was about this morning, fixing that. So hopefully they won’t get as many open shots.”
Malone called out his players after Game 2, although he was quick to say it was more them calling themselves out.
Denver has been challenged, by their coach and Miami. How will it respond to this adversity?
“Yeah, we’re probably going to see tomorrow, are we going to respond well or not,” Nikola Jokić said. “That’s the answer.”
Coach, front office updates from around NBA: Fizdale headed to Suns bench
Things continue to move and settle around the NBA as teams find coaches (well, except Toronto) and some front office personnel move around. Here is the latest around the league.
• Former Grizzlies and Knicks head coach David Fizdale, an associate general manager with the Jazz last season, is returning to the bench as an assistant on Frank Vogel’s staff in Phoenix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Fizdale and Vogel are tight, remember Fizdale was in the bubble on Vogel’s staff when the Lakers won a ring. Give new owner Mat Ishbia credit for spending, he made Kevin Young the highest-paid assistant coach in the league to stay with the team and has now hired a former head coach to be a top assistant. That’s a lot of coaching firepower, now the Suns just need to fill out the roster with some firepower around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.
• If you want to become a general manager in the NBA, the best way is to be an assistant GM for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Apparently. Presti has had five different assistant GMs under him and now all five have gone on to be general managers elsewhere.
The latest is Will Dawkins, who will be the GM and No. 2 in the power structure in Washington under new team president (and former Clippers GM) Michael Winger, reports Josh Robbins and David Aldridge of The Athletic.
The Washington Wizards will hire OKC executive Will Dawkins as their No. 2 executive, a league source tells @davidlaldridgedc and me.
— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) June 5, 2023
Also in the front office in Washington is former Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. That’s a lot of brain power and good hires. The question remains how much freedom owner Ted Leonsis — a guy who demanded his team do whatever it took just to make the playoffs every year — will give Winger, Dawkins and company. The team has big decisions this summer with Kyle Kuzma as a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis expected to opt out.
• The Milwaukee Bucks finally made the hiring of Adrian Griffin as their head coach official.
“Adrian is a widely-respected coach and former player, who brings great leadership and experience to our team,” Bucks General Manager Jon Horst said in a statement. “His championship-level coaching pedigree, character, basketball acumen and ability to connect with and develop players make him the ideal choice to lead our team. He has earned this opportunity.”
Will Herro make his Finals debut for Heat in Game 3? Don’t be so sure.
MIAMI — Game 3 has always been the target for a Tyler Herro return to the Heat.
Herro has been wearing bucket hats on the sidelines since his devastating hand injury against the Bucks, but he’s been working out with the team and going through practices for more than a week preparing for his return. Is it time for Herro to bring even more shooting and shot creation to the Heat’s rotation?
Don’t be so sure.
Eric Spoelstra said Tuesday Herro is day-to-day and “has not been cleared yet” to play, although he would go through a contact workout later in the day, after which decisions would be made. He added he is not Nostrodomous and doesn’t know if Herro will play in Game 3. (As a side note, Herro was not made available to the media to speak. League rules required injured players returning to the lineup to be available to the media, while players unavailable to play are not.)
On Monday, both Ros Gold-Onwude — the former WNBA player turned quality analyst for ESPN — and veteran Heat beat reporter Ira Winderman cautioned against expecting a Herro return.
Reporting from #NBAFinals: I spoke with Tyler Herro ahead his Game 2 pregame routine and he told me he experiences both soreness and swelling in the right hand after shooting and he can feel the soreness when he’s making a “follow through” shooting motion. He also shared his…
— Ros Gold-Onwude (@ROSGO21) June 5, 2023
A party familiar with process had told me over weekend that Tyler was not playing in this series. But that was just one of many familiar with situation, not enough to make it anything definitive. Just pointing out such sentiment is out there from those familiar with the process. https://t.co/qvJzm1D08I
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) June 5, 2023
If there is pain and swelling, can the Heat put him out there? This is the Finals, but this is also a 23-year-old under a long contract, and if there is a heightened risk of further injury Miami may need to protect the player from himself.
If Herro returns, expect him to come off the bench in a very limited role. It’s a huge ask to take someone who has not played in an NBA game since basically tax day (April 16 was his last game) and throw him into the highest level of basketball anywhere in the world. Spoelstra may give him a four- or five-minute run just as a test (maybe at the start of the second quarter, when Nikola Jokić sits) and see how things go.
On the surface, you can say Herro would be what the Heat need — a 20.1 point-a-game scorer this season with the best handles on the team, able to create his own shot or shoot over the top of the defense (37.8% from 3 this season). Dig a little deeper, however, and that fit is not as smooth in this series. On offense, he can be a ball-stopper at points against a Nuggets team the Heat want to keep in motion. The bigger concern is on defense, where he is a clear target (and because of that Spoelstra can’t play him with Duncan Robinson, even in the minutes Jokić sits). This might have been a tough series for a healthy Herro.
If he can play and come off the bench for short runs, he could boost the Heat offense this series.
Just don’t be so sure he’s ready to go.
Silver says NBA won’t mind if Wembanyama’s debut comes in Sacramento, not Las Vegas
DENVER (AP) — Victor Wembanyama’s next couple of weeks are now set: He’ll be playing in the French league finals starting this weekend, and then the San Antonio Spurs will almost certainly make him the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on June 22.
And if that means the French star’s summer league debut comes in Sacramento instead of Las Vegas in early July, the league is fine with that.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league doesn’t have a preference regarding the site of Wembanyama’s first game with the Spurs. While the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is the biggest – all 30 teams attend – and commands the most attention, there are smaller summer leagues that precede the Vegas event by a few days. Sacramento plays host to one of those events, and the Spurs are one of six teams headed there this year.
“All summer leagues are NBA Summer Leagues,” Silver told The Associated Press. “I’m very supportive of the Sacramento summer league. I remember when (Kings owner Vivek Ranadive) first came to the league and said this was something he wanted to do. I said, ‘As long as you have enough other teams who support it and players who want to play in it, it’s a good thing.’”
The Kings might be getting a lot more buzz than usual this summer. Not only are the Spurs headed there, but so is Charlotte – which holds the No. 2 pick. And it just so happens that the Spurs and Hornets will open Sacramento summer play against one another, potentially setting the stage for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup a few days before Vegas even starts.
If Wembanyama plays in Sacramento, he’d be the first No. 1 pick that didn’t debut in Las Vegas since Markelle Fultz for Philadelphia in 2017. The 76ers played in Utah’s summer league that year before going to Vegas.
Other recent No. 1 picks have opened in Las Vegas with big-crowd, big-spectacle atmospheres. Paolo Banchero’s debut in Vegas for Orlando last summer had John Wall and DeMar DeRozan sitting courtside, as was Jerry West – three guys who didn’t need to see the scalpers who were working outside the arena for hours before the game. Zion Williamson played only nine minutes in his debut in 2019, in a game that was stopped by an earthquake, and his debut got LeBron James and Anthony Davis to grab courtside seats.
The Spurs have not said whether Wembanyama will play in the Sacramento event, which starts on July 3, and almost certainly won’t address the topic until they actually draft him in a little over two weeks. Wembanyama is expected to be with the Spurs in Las Vegas as well; the league has already announced him as one of the participants for its inaugural NBA Con – which runs there from July 7-9 and will celebrate many aspects of basketball culture.
“What’s made the summer leagues so valuable are really the media rights more than the individuals who buy tickets there, because it’s a very affordable experience,” Silver said. “So, the answer is, I want Victor to get playing court experience and I think the team – assuming it’s San Antonio – should make decisions completely independent of any commercial implications from where he debuts.”
Wembanyama’s Boulogne-Levallois team beat his former team, ASVEL, 3-1 in a French league semifinal series that ended Sunday. Monaco, the top seed in the league, awaits Wembanyama’s team in the best-of-five final that starts Saturday and could go until June 20 – two days before the draft.
“So proud of my guys,” Wembanyama tweeted Sunday after the semifinal win. “Job ain’t done tho.”
Wembanyama said in October that he’s 7-foot-3; some still say he’s 7-foot-4 or 7-foot-5, and given that he’s only 19, it’s certainly possible that he had a bit of growing left in recent months. Either way, he’s a generational talent who’ll come into the NBA with enormous hype, the likes of which probably hasn’t been seen since James went No. 1 overall to Cleveland in 2003.
“What I try to advise players – and I’m not making a prediction that he will or won’t live up to the hype – is to control what you can control, and I think what you can control is doing the work,” Silver said. “If he is in San Antonio, it’s an organization that led the way in terms of international scouting and signing of international players. Certainly, everyone would acknowledge they know how to develop players and particularly big men. And so, if I were in his shoes, or if I’m advising him, I’m saying, ‘Quickly become part of that organization and be a sponge and listen to the advice.’”