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Extra games can help some teams in the NBA summer grind

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LAS VEGAS (AP) Summer play is a grind for the Miami Heat.

They like it that way.

Miami is one of eight teams doubling up on summer leagues this year, and when the biggest one in NBA history opens on Friday in Las Vegas – all 30 franchises are sending a club to the primary summer league for the first time – the Heat think that getting three games under their belt already will be a big help.

The first summer league hosted by the Sacramento Kings, the California Classic, came to a close Thursday. Golden State beat the Los Angeles Lakers 77-71, and Miami topped Sacramento 86-76.

Later Thursday, play in the Utah Jazz Summer League wraps up with Memphis facing San Antonio and Utah squaring off with Atlanta.

The Heat flew cross-country for their summer league training camp in Sacramento, doing so because playing in the second league ensures that the team will appear in at least eight summer games instead of the five that are guaranteed to teams who play only in Las Vegas.

And they saw players get better in the three Sacramento games, perhaps giving them – and the other seven clubs that played in the early leagues – a leg up on competition they’ll see in Vegas.

“I’m not interested in playing guys five minutes one game, five minutes the next game,” Heat summer league coach Eric Glass said. “I’d rather play a guy 15 minutes in one game and sit him in the next game so we can get a rhythm. And you can get better in the gym by yourself, but playing organized basketball is the best way to improve and these guys get three weeks of that.”

Starting Friday, every summer game left on the NBA schedule happens on two courts at UNLV. Unlike the Sacramento and Utah leagues, there’s a true playoff system in Las Vegas and a champion will be crowned on July 17.

For all eight teams that have played this week, it’s a quick turnaround to get ready for Las Vegas. Most of the eight teams get Friday off, the lone exception being Golden State – which meets the Los Angeles Clippers in the 10th and final game on the Las Vegas opening-day slate.

The main attraction on Day 1 in Las Vegas is the 9:30 p.m. EDT game between Phoenix and Dallas. The Suns have No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton set to make his debut, though it’s almost certain that Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic – the No. 3 pick and whose European pro season ended just days before the draft – will not play in his team’s summer opener.

Ayton will likely see a few NBA stars when he gets to Vegas. He’s already been blown away by a WNBA star – Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi.

When he met her, with Taurasi walking over to greet him as he went through a weight-room session, even the NBA’s No. 1 pick was star struck.

“She is the Michael Jordan of the WNBA,” Ayton said.

Doncic still hasn’t gotten the clearance to sign his contract and hasn’t participated in a live practice with Dallas’ summer club yet.

“We’re getting close to getting those things done, but we’re not there yet,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “But he will be in Vegas. He is going to continue to ramp up his workload.”

Thursday’s recaps:

WARRIORS 77, LAKERS 71

Marcus Derrickson led the way for Golden State (3-0) with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. Omari Johnson scored 15 and Gian Clavell added 10 for the Warriors, who gave Damian Jones and Jordan Bell the day off.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored 14 points and handed out eight assists for the Lakers. Moe Wagner scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Nick King also scored 13 and Jeffrey Carroll added 11 for the Lakers.

HEAT 86, KINGS 76

Derrick Jones Jr. had 19 points for Miami (2-1), which got 14 from Bam Adebayo, 12 – all on 3-pointers – from Duncan Robinson and 10 points and seven assists from Derrick Walton Jr.

Justin Jackson scored 26 for Sacramento (1-2). Harry Giles and Cam Reynolds each had 11 points for the Kings.

Bam Adebayo: “I played like s***… I’ll put that game on me.”

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The Miami Heat were one half of basketball away from the NBA Finals when a desperate Boston team cranked up its defensive intensity, started attacking the rim, and started playing at a level Miami didn’t match. The Celtics dominated the final 24 minutes of Game 5, forcing a Game 6 and keeping the Heat out of the Finals for now.

Bam Adebayo took the blame for the Heat loss. Via Manny Navarro of The Athletic.

“I played like s***. Bottom line: I can’t. I’ll put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me. I missed too many shots I should have made… I wasn’t being the defensive anchor I should’ve been. I don’t think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today. I wasn’t a difference-maker today. I didn’t get us into fast enough triggers. That’s on me.”

Game 5 was not Adebayo’s best outing: 13 points, eight rebounds, and Boston did a better job with its scheme pulling him away from the basket to defend smaller players on the perimeter, opening up the paint. Adebayo and the Heat as a whole struggled to slow the Celtics’ pick-and-roll actions, and Boston has figured out how to play against Miami’s zone (so the Heat have gone away from it).

“It’s not (Adebayo’s fault). It’s on everybody,” Jimmy Butler said after the game. “He does so much for us that it can feel like that at times but it’s definitely not on him. It’s on us as a whole. We all understand that because nobody was playing the way that we are supposed to play; the way that we have to play in order for us to win, nobody. And for him to say that, I respect it. I love him for it. But he can’t do it by himself. We’ve got to be there with him.”

Bam Adebayo was wearing a sleeve over his left arm, where he aggravated a wrist injury at the end of Game 4. Both Adebayo and coach Erik Spoelstra said that was nothing and not what led to his off night.

Miami needs a lot of things to go differently in Game 6: It needs to start hitting its threes again (19.4% from beyond the arc in Game 5, and below 30% from deep in each of the last three games). Miami has to take care of the ball and it has to get back in transition defense — Boston ran right past the Heat in the second half and got a lot of easy transition buckets. Mostly, however, it comes back to Miami shooters hitting more of their threes — the Heat halfcourt offense needs that.

The Game 5 loss was not on Adebayo. But he can be part of the solution.

Backs against the wall, Celtics play dominant half to beat Heat, force Game 6

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For Boston, it was the worst of halves, it was the best of halves. It was a half of foolishness, it was a half of wisdom. It was a half of tight play, it was a half of free-flowing offense. It was a half of despair, it was a half of renewed hope.

With its season on the line down 3-1, Boston came out tight in the first half of Game 5, with guys trying to do everything themselves, showing no patience, no ball movement, players gunning from three, and nobody in green was defending well. Boston shot 5-of-20 in the first quarter, and while things settled down Boston was lucky to be only down seven at the half.

Then a different Boston team came out in the second half — a team that was defending with intent, pushing the pace, and watching their best player, Jayson Tatum, attack to the tune of 17 third quarter points. At the end of the third, Brad Stevens told his team, “with all sincerity, that’s the first time I’ve seen Celtics basketball in the past few games” (via the ESPN mic’d up segment of the broadcast).

The Celtics pulled away in the fourth to win 121-108. The Heat still lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 coming on Sunday.

“We did not compete hard enough defensively and we paid the price for that,” Erik Spoelstra said of his Heat team.

“I thought we played with great tenacity defensively, and I think our offense followed suit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the second-half turnaround.

That defense included much more ball pressure out high on Miami and it worked. The Heat shot 19.4% from three, that’s the third straight game under 30% from three for the Heat, but Tyler Herro wasn’t able to bail them out this time around.

For Boston, Tatum finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds, and his third quarter helped save the Boston season.

Boston needs that Tatum from the opening tip on Sunday, not after 24 minutes (as we have seen the last couple of games). Boston is a good team but it needs Tatum to play at an All-NBA level to look like a contender.

Jaylen Brown added 28 points for the Celtics, while Daniel Theis proved an important role with 15 points and 13 rebounds plus some critical defensive plays down the stretch.

Miami may have led at the half, but when Boston started playing better out of desperation the Heat had no answers.

“No one was playing the way we’re supposed to play, the way we have to play for us to win,” Butler said.

Miami got 23 points from Goran Dragic and 20 from Duncan Robinson, who was a big part of Miami’s strong first half.

Miami was up 3-1, and they have seen how little that lead has meant in the bubble.

“I don’t think those series have anything to do with this. Our guys are well aware,” Spoelstra said. “We have great respect for Boston. We’re not expecting it to be easy. You have to earn it.”

Kings keeping Luke Walton, plan to play faster next season

Kings coach Luke Walton
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Kings coach Luke Walton works for a general manager who didn’t hire him and an owner who has shown frustration with him.

But Walton will keep his job.

New Sacramento general Monte McNair, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“Luke is going to be our coach next year, I’m really excited to work with him and I think we’re aligned in our vision and we’re going to start implementing it,” McNair said.

“This team showed some flashes last year,” McNair said. “I think De’Aaron is certainly a great young talent and I think his speed ability offensively to create really is going to be a huge catalyst for how coach Walton and I envision this team being up-tempo, creating the space to shoot threes and attack the rim.”

Walton has had four losing seasons in four years as a head coach between the Lakers and Kings. But this is how it works out for him.

A distressing aspect of Walton’s first season in Sacramento: The Kings played far slower than they did the previous season under Dave Joerger, who successfully implemented a fastbreak-heavy attack that particularly suited De'Aaron Fox.

Walton can coach that way. His Lakers teams typically played quickly. But Sacramento too often stagnated last season.

The Kings are still building around Fox. It’s on Walton to figure out how to maximize the point guard. For now.

Anthony Davis listed as questionable for Game 5 with sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
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When Anthony Davis has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

Why that stat matters: Anthony Davis is officially questionable for Game 5 after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

“[My] Ankle feels fine. Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don’t want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play,” Davis said postgame Thursday. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Players also are the worst judges of their returns from injuries. This is the playoffs, the Lakers need him on the court, and Davis wants to play. However, ankles are very easy to re-injure once the ligament is stretched, and the issue can become chronic. If Davis missing one game helps the ankle heal to the point it doesn’t linger into the NBA Finals the Lakers have to consider that option.

That said, expect Davis to play.

Davis has been the best Laker throughout the Western Conference Finals. He is averaging 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and as noted above the Lakers are dramatically better with him on the court.

The Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and can advance to the NBA Finals with a win Saturday night in Game 5.