LeBron James, Anthony Davis blow up Miami plan, take 2-0 series lead


After a brutal first game of the 2020 NBA Finals, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and staff sat down and sketched out a strong plan for Game 2 against the Lakers: Play five out, move off the ball, attack the paint off the dribble on offense, and get to the line a lot. On defense, play a lot of zone and force the Lakers to make threes.

That smart plan ran into two big problems: LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Lakers superstar duo combined for 65 points while shooting 64.4%, and they led the Lakers domination of Miami in the paint (56 points on 70% shooting inside).

Miami also was without Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic to help execute Spoelstra’s plan (both sidelined with injuries), and not having their leading scorer this postseason (pre-injury) and best defender, the Heat were again overwhelmed by the Lakers.

Los Angeles had to work for this one but held on for a 124-114 win and now have a commanding 2-0 series heading into Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night.

“We don’t give a s*** what everybody else thinks,” Spoelstra said of the chances of a Heat comeback.

It’s just tough to picture that come back after watching the Lakers, length and physicality overwhelm the Heat through two games.

Los Angeles has done that to the entire NBA — and it’s by design. Last summer, when it came time to fill in the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Laker GM Rob Pelinka decided to get length. He added mobile but more traditional centers — JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard — then landed perimeter players such as Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers went big but were not plodding or looking to play bully-ball. This was simply a basketball team built to counter the trends of the league.

“They have great size and Anthony Davis is an elite player,” Spoelstra said. “We’re trying to get something accomplished and you just have to go to another level. That’s the bottom line.”

With that Laker length and athleticism, there has been just enough shooting.

Miami tried to test that shooting by packing the paint in Game 2, and the Lakers made former coach Mike D’Antoni proud launching 47 threes, hitting 16 (34%). Not great, but good enough.

The Lakers also started to carve up the Heat 2-3 zone defense. Miami’s style with that is to put their guards along the baseline, have the big in the middle, and put their more athletic wings out top to slow penetration. The Lakers countered by having LeBron or Davis in the dunker’s spot along the baseline, getting the ball in the middle, and then when the defense went to stop the ball the Lakers’ best scorers were in position to thrive.

By thrive, I mean the Lakers shot 17-of-20 on twos in the first half. By thrive I mean the Lakers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds — 40.7% of their missed shots — leading to 21 second-chance points.

The zone, however, did slow the pace, and that helped a scrappy Heat team stay close. Jimmy Butler had 25 points and 13 assists, Kelly Olynyk had 24 off the bench, and 17 from Tyler Herro.

“We definitely were not happy with our performance defensively tonight,” LeBron said, echoing what Davis and coach Frank Vogel had said on the podium not long before. “Hopefully we can be — well, we know, not hopefully, we know we can be better in Game 3.

Miami hung around in the second half, but could never get the lead lower than nine. Miami needs another gear.

“Jimmy is going to have to be Jimmy,” Olynyk said postgame. “We need him to do incredible things for us, like he has done all year, all playoffs. We’re going to need that from him. Whatever happens with the rest of us, we’re going to have to step up and help him.”

The Lakers got 33 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists from LeBron, while Davis had 32 points and 14 rebounds. Rondo had 16 points and 10 assists off the bench.

To slow the Lakers offense, the Heat need Adebayo — an All-Defensive Team player — back. His status for Game 3 is up in the air.

“We’re never giving up,” Butler said. “We’re going to fight and we’re going to ride with this thing until the wheels fall off. It’s not over. We’re just down 0-2, so we got to do something special. We’re capable of it.”

NBA, players union agree on new seven-year CBA


Labor peace continues in the NBA.

They had to push back the deadline twice — then miss the latest deadline by a couple of hours — to get it done, but the NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association have come to terms on a new seven-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by the NBA (at 3 a.m. Eastern).

While votes of both the owners and players need to ratify the new deal, it is expected to pass quickly and without controversy. The NBA continues to grow rapidly (particularly internationally) and is in the midst of negotiating a new national television and streaming deal expected to more than double television revenue flowing into the league (money split between the owners and players). Ultimately, nobody wanted to risk killing the golden goose with a labor stoppage.

Here are some of the reported key points of the new CBA:

• There will be a new mid-season tournament, mostly played before Christmas. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for this, looking to add interest and put more meaning into regular season games.

• Players must take the floor in at least 65 games to be eligible for postseason awards, such as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. The idea is to motivate players (and teams) to get their best players in more games and limit load management. This rule will not kick in until next season (at the earliest) but if in place this season it would keep Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Ja Morant and others off an All-NBA team.

• The one-and-done rule remains as the NBA is not changing its minimum age requirement to be drafted (one year after a player’s class graduates high school).

• Players will no longer face discipline from the league for marijuana use. It had already been taken out of the league’s drug testing program.

• There are changes to the luxury tax, particularly for the highest-spending teams, something detailed first by ESPN. It will involve adding a second tax apron — 17.5 million over the tax line — and teams above it will no longer have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception. This rule is targeted at the highest-spending teams (the Clippers and Warriors this season, the Nets were on that track before blowing up the roster.

• However, teams in the middle and on the bottom of payroll spending will have expanded opportunities (to spend more) in free agency, or to generate larger trade exceptions for other deals.

• Veteran contract extensions will be able to start at 140% of the last year of the existing contract, up from 120% in the current CBA. That will allow more teams to offer larger extensions and keep key players.

• Teams will gain a third two-way contact slot.

More details will be added as they become available.


Kevin Durant drops 30, Suns win fourth straight beating shorthanded Nuggets


PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns are starting to string together some wins now that Kevin Durant is healthy.

Even so, they’re far from a well-oiled machine.

Durant scored 30 points, Devin Booker added 27 and the Suns won their fourth straight game by beating the short-handed Denver Nuggets 100-93 on Friday night.

The Suns improved to 5-0 with Durant in the lineup despite nearly blowing a 27-point lead. Phoenix traded for the 13-time All-Star in a deadline deal back in February.

“I like how we played in the first half, but it was a bad second half for us,” Durant said. “We just let our foot off the gas a little and they were playing extremely hard. … We’ve just got to do a better job of sticking with it.”

The Nuggets rested a big chunk of their starting lineup, including reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, guards Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forward Michael Porter Jr. But they still showed fight after trailing 60-40 at halftime.

“I am immensely proud,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You are down 27 points on the road, second half, second night in a row. Every reason just to roll over and play dead and get ready for Sunday at home. Guys just wouldn’t do it.”

The Suns pushed their advantage to 27 midway through the third quarter, but the Nuggets pulled to 84-74 heading into the fourth quarter. Denver cut it to 97-93 in the final minute, but Josh Okogie nailed a corner 3 to seal it for the Suns. Okogie had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and Chris Paul had 13 assists.

Aaron Gordon had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Nuggets. Bruce Brown scored 16 points and Reggie Jackson had 13. The overmatched but feisty Nuggets got 22 points from the bench.

“It was our energy and our effort,” backup guard Peyton Watson said. “We know we were missing guys but that doesn’t change the culture here. We always want to play hard, get stops.”

Durant shot 11 of 15 from the field in a dominant performance two days after a rough shooting night in his home debut against Minnesota. The 34-year-old star has battled knee and ankle injuries over the past few months, but appears to be getting healthy as the Suns continue to cling to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Suns scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter on Friday, but managed to hang on for the victory.

“We’re trying to find that rhythm and trying to get wins at the same time,” Booker said.

Damian Lillard says Trail Blazers shut him down, talks loyalty to Portland


Players feel the wrath of fans for load management in the NBA, but more often than not it’s a team’s medical and training staff — driven by analytics and the use of wearable sensors — that sit a player. Guys don’t get to the NBA not wanting to compete.

Case in point, Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers have shut him down for the rest of the season, but he told Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick Show that it was a team call, not his.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my decision at all. I think maybe the team protecting me from myself… Every time that I’ve had some type injury like that kind of get irritated or aggravated or something like that, it’s come from just like a heavy load, and stress, and just, you know, going out there and trying to go above and beyond. So, you know, I would say just; there is something there, and also them just trying to protect me from myself as well.”

Maybe it’s a little about protecting Lillard at age 32 — who played at an All-NBA level this season — but it’s more about lottery odds.

Portland and Orlando are tied for the league’s fifth and sixth-worst records. The team with the fifth worst record has a 10.5% chance at the No.1 pick, the sixth worst is 9%. More than that, the fifth-worst record has a 42% chance of moving up into the top four at the draft lottery, for the sixth seed that is 37.2%. Not a huge bump in the odds, but the chances are still better for the fifth seed than the sixth, so the Trail Blazers as an organization are going for it.

Lillard also talked about his loyalty to Portland, which is partly tied to how he wants to win a ring — the way Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo did, with the team and city that drafted them.

“I just have a way that I want to get things done for myself… I just have my stance on what I want to see happen, but in this business, you just never know.”

Other teams are watching Lillard, but they have seen this movie before. Nothing will happen until Lillard asks for a trade and he has yet to show any inclination to do so.

But he’s got time to think about everything as he is not taking the court again this season.

Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge officially retires

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge retired once due to a heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), back in 2021. That time it didn’t take, he came back to the then-a-super-team Nets and showed there was something in the tank averaging 12.9 points (on 55% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and a block a game. However, the Nets did not bring him back this season (leaning into Nic Claxton) and no other offers were forthcoming.

Friday, Aldridge made it official and retired.

Aldridge had a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration: 19.1 points a game over 16 seasons, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, and one of the faces of the Portland Trail Blazers during his prime years in the Pacific Northwest. Teammates and former coaches (including Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) called him a consummate professional after his initial retirement.

This time Aldridge got to announce his retirement on his terms, which is about as good an exit as there is.