Watch Lakers Kyle Kuzma drain game-winner over Bol Bol

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Bol Bol may have been a little slow recognizing the shot and getting around the screen Anthony Davis screen — especially considering Kyle Kuzma is shooting 38% this season from that area of the floor.

Still, when Bol’s 7’9″ wingspan comes at you there needs to be a little extra arc on the shot. Kuzma did that with less than two seconds left when he let it fly. Ballgame.

Using LeBron James as a decoy on the final play (especially in a game that doesn’t matter, the Lakers have the No. 1 seed locked up) is a clever move by coach Frank Vogel. After the game, he admitted he stole that play design from Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks teams years ago.

Kuzma — who started for the injured Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (ankle), who himself is starting for Avery Bradley — had 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting for the Lakers. LeBron had 29 points, Anthony Davis 27.

It’s a quality win for the Lakers as they work to gain some momentum and rhythm they have lacked in the bubble.

The Laker win all but secures the Clippers as the two seed in the West (Denver is 1.5 games back with two to play). However, it gives Houston hope of catching Denver for the three seed in the West — the Rockets are just a game behind the Nuggets and they have three to play still.

Three things to watch, with betting tips, as Miami tries to slow Jokić, Denver offense

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MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra, Michael Malone, and their staffs have been pouring over film and losing sleep, trying to come up with adjustments. Minor tweaks that can give their team even a little edge.

But four games into a series, there are not a lot of secrets left. Everyone knows what is coming. It is often more about execution and effort over adjustments.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” the Heat’s Haywood Highsmith said. “It’s definitely some things we can adjust on, and then it’s also about a little bit more effort and just doing more. You always need more, always can do more… we definitely have to make some adjustments on both ends of the floor, but you know, we’ll figure it out.”

The Heat need to figure it out before Game 4 on Friday night, because they can’t afford to go down 3-1 to the Nuggets in this series. Game 4 is as close as it gets to must-win for Jimmy Butler and the Heat.

Here are two things worth watching in Game 4, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Miami has to slow the Jokic/Murray two-man game. Somehow.

Denver’s defense has been impressive in these Finals, holding Miami to a 111.1 offensive rating through three games (for comparison, that is 7.2 below their offensive rating against Boston).

Part of the reason is that Nikola Jokić can be a better rim protector and defensive player than people give him credit for. Another key is Malone has been able to lean hard into more defensive-based lineups because the two-man game of Jamal Murray and Jokić has been all the offense the Nuggets need.

The Murray/Jokic pick-and-roll has been a masterclass in this series — the Nuggets have a 126 offensive rating this series when running that play. In Game 3, the Denver stars ran 32 pick-and-rolls, and those plays were the foundation of each of them getting a 30-point triple-double (the first teammates to have a 30+ point triple-double in any NBA game).

“I mean, the Murray/Jokic two-man game is a pretty hard action to stop,” Haywood Highsmith said. “But we got great defensive players, got some of the great two-way players in this game, Jimmy [Butler] and Bam [Adebayo], so we’re gonna figure it out. We got a lot of different bodies we can throw at Murray as well.”

Miami may need to sell out to stop Jokić and Murray and force any other Nugget to beat them. The Heat did blitz the pick-and-roll more in the fourth quarter of Game 3, but that led to Christian Braun cuts to the basket and Denver buckets. Miami may have to live with some of that, they have to keep Murray in particular in check (it feels like Jokić will get his no matter what).

“Whatever you do, you just can’t do it all the time,” Spoelstra said of defending the Nuggets duo. “There’s no absolutes when you get to this level. It’s the highest level of competition. You’re getting the highest level of execution. Understanding what they’re trying to get to, and we try to get them out of their comfort zones as much as possible.

“The first half, they really got to that two-man action quite a bit. They were getting a lot of traction, so they didn’t need to go to any other part of their playbook.”

Miami needs to see the rest of that playbook.

2) Miami has to make shots, rebound, set defense

The best way for Miami to limit the Jokic/Murray action and the Denver offense in general is to slow the game down. Make them go against a set defense every time down. That didn’t happen enough in Game 3 — Denver was free-flowing on offense when Miami needs the game played in the mud.

For the Heat to change that dynamic two key things need to happen.

First, Miami has to make shots. It’s simplistic but it’s true. Denver isn’t going to run if they are taking the ball out of the net.

That starts with 3-pointers, because as has been noted everywhere the Heat are 6-1 when they shoot 45% or better from 3 this postseason (including Game 2 against the Nuggets), and unreasonably hot shooting has sustained their run to the Finals. The Heat starters were 5-of-19 (26.3%) from beyond the arc in Game 3, which is simply not good enough — Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the rest of the role players must step up and knock down shots. However, the bigger concern in Game 3 was the Heat shooting 38.2% within eight feet of the basket. The Nuggets’ size is clearly bothering the Heat. Jimmy Butler needs to get downhill and then make the shots, Bam Adebayo has to get the floater to fall, and the Heat need to attack and get to the free throw line.

Second, the Heat can’t let the Nuggets win the rebounding battle by 25. Denver’s size advantage has played out in this series in many ways (including how they contested 3s in Game 3), but it is most clearly on the glass. Miami is getting one shot and they’re done, but the Nuggets grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.1% of their missed shots in Game 3, and if you give them that many second chances you will pay.

It will take gang rebounding and effort, but the Heat must be stronger on the glass.

3) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendations

Over/Under: The total continues to drop from game-by-game starting at 219.5 then going from 216.5 to 214.5 and now 210.5 for Game 4. Denver and Miami have struggled with consistency when it comes to scoring, Miami a little more than Denver. The Nuggets are shooting 51% to Miami’s 41% from the field and averaging 10 more free-throw attempts per game. The pace and tempo of this series has barely changed through three games and if it wasn’t for Miami’s 38-point fourth quarter in Game 2, the Under would be 3-0 in this NBA Finals. I will keep riding the Under.

Player Props: In this series there have been four players worth betting overs; Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. On the other hand, there have been some very good fade prospects for unders such as Kevin Love, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who are all shooting 31% or worse from the field. When betting player props in the NBA Finals, keep it simple stupid (KISS).

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

PBT Podcast: Heat vs. Nuggets NBA Finals talk, Vogel to Suns

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After three games of the NBA Finals, there are still so many questions. Can the Heat stop the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokić pick-and-roll? Will Miami find 3-point shot again and will that be enough? Is Denver the team that does not wilt under the pressure Miami puts on them? Is there a better player on the planet than Nikola Jokić?

Corey Robinson and Kurt Helin from NBC Sports get into all of that, then talk coaching hires. Is Frank Vogel a good hire in Phoenix? speaking of coach talk, Corey’s Jukebox talks Monty Williams and how a classic Aretha Franklin song sums him up.

Finally, the conversation turns to Team USA and the roster headed to the Philippines for the World Cup this summer — a lot of young, athletic talent, but will any of the American NBA elites join them? Also, who is your favorite NBA mascot?

You can watch the video of some of the podcast above or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

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

Miami has thrived in adversity all playoffs. They have plenty of it in Game 4.

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MIAMI — Throughout the Heat’s playoff run, Erik Spoelstra has been confiding in and getting encouragement from another Miami coach — and it’s not Pat Riley.

Dolphins’ coach Mike McDaniel and Spoelstra have become friends.

“We’ve been texting back and forth,” Spoelstra said. “We share very similar thoughts about finding strength in adversity and using those as lessons to help you grow.”

Through that prism, the Heat have a real growth opportunity Friday night.

Miami trails Denver 2-1 in the NBA Finals heading into Game 4, and while that game is not technically must win for the Heat, it is in practice.

Getting that win means Miami finding some way to slow the Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray two-man game. Which is what every team has tried to do all playoffs long with no success, but Game 3 was the peak of their two-man game. The Nuggets stars ran 32 pick-and-rolls in Game 3, and those plays were the heart of both getting a 30+ point triple-double — the first teammates ever to have a 30+ point triple-double in any NBA game, ever. Murray and Jokić played 40 minutes together in Game 2 and the Nuggets were +14 in those minutes (in a game they won by 15).

“I mean, the Murray/Jokic two-man game is a pretty hard action to stop,” Haywood Highsmith said. “But we got great defensive players, got some of the great two-way players in this game, Jimmy [Butler] and Bam [Adebayo], so we’re gonna figure it out. We got a lot of different bodies we can throw at Murray as well.”

That might be the best adjustment the Heat can make —throw a lot of bodies at it, sell out to stop the Murray/Jokic two-man game and dare any other Nugget to beat them. Force them to diversify the offense. Denver coach Mike Malone has been able to lean into defensive lineups because Murray and Jokić provide enough offense, it’s time for the Heat to challenge that practice.

“Whatever you do, you just can’t do it all the time,” Spoelstra said of defending the Nuggets duo. “There’s no absolutes when you get to this level. It’s the highest level of competition. You’re getting the highest level of execution. Understanding what they’re trying to get to, and we try to get them out of their comfort zones as much as possible.

“The first half, they really got to that two-man action quite a bit. They were getting a lot of traction, so they didn’t need to go to any other part of their playbook.”

The Heat need to make adjustments, too.

One adjustment they will not make is playing Tyler Herro, he has been officially ruled out for Game 4. Herro went through a brief part of the fake practice/shootaround in front of the media on Thursday, but didn’t speak to the press. Spoelstra said Herro has not yet been cleared for a game, and while there were not a lot of details it didn’t sound like Herro was all that close.

Another thing the Heat need to do is less adjustment and more effort and luck — they simply have to shoot better.

Denver’s size bothered the Heat in the paint and Miami shot just 38.2% within eight feet of the basket. The Heat also got up 35 attempts from 3 but only hit 31.4% of that. Credit Denver’s size in the paint and they’re staying home with shooters for some of that, but Miami can — and Friday night must — do better.

Which brings up an interesting question: This deep into a playoff series, is it more about strategic adjustments, or effort and just playing better?

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Highsmith said. “It’s definitely some things we can adjust on, and then it’s also about a little bit more effort and just doing more. You always need more, always can do more… we definitely have to make some adjustments on both ends of the floor, but you know, we’ll figure it out.”

Whatever Miami does defensively, Denver will score, they have an elite offense led by a two-time MVP in Jokić. If the Heat are going to even this series headed back to the Rocky Mountains, they must find more offense.

“I mean, they, they have a really good defensive scheme. They have good defensive players,” Duncan Robinson said. “You know, for us offensively, it’s going to be about creating advantages and really putting pressure on their schemes and their players to scramble and kind of get them a motion and a lot of that happens when we’re moving the ball attacking, playing to our identity.

“We had stretches last night, and definitely stretches in this series where we’ve done it. And, we’ve definitely had stretches where we haven’t gotten to that as much as we’d like to, so we’ll continue to work through it.”

They have to work through it fast because time is running out.

Bucks’ Middleton reportedly has knee scoped, should be ready for camp

2023 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Miami Heat
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Bucks said an MRI of Khris Middleton‘s knee just before the start of the playoffs was clean even if his play made observers question that news.

Turns out, maybe it wasn’t totally clean.

Middleton had his knee scoped after the playoffs, but he will return to his offseason training in July, reports Shams Charania and Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

The report said the surgery was to clean up “an issue that plagued him this past season,” and it was scheduled before the Bucks’ playoff run began. So, they knew, as did most anyone who watched Middleton and didn’t see the same burst as he had in the past, especially on the defensive end. He looked a step slow.

This minor surgery shouldn’t change Middleton’s or the Bucks’ off-season plans. Whatever those may be. Middleton has a $40.4 million player option, something he reportedly is considering opting out of to re-sign a longer deal with Milwaukee — or elsewhere — likely at a lower per-season salary but with more total dollars (the team may also reach an extension with him). At age 31, Middleton may want the security of years.

Milwaukee needs Middleton and his shot creation, plus his two-way play, if they are going to compete at the highest levels. However, they need the healthy Middleton who was an All-Star and All-NBA player, not the one that only played in 33 games last season due to wrist surgery and knee issues.

It will be an interesting offseason in Milwaukee with 35-year-old Brook Lopez a free agent and Jrue Holiday becoming extension eligible in the fall. The Bucks had the best record in the NBA last season, but the roster is getting old and expensive fast, and a pivot is coming. At some point. But maybe not this summer.