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

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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.”

Wembanyama encore: 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks against Ignite

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Victor Wembanyama is for real.

And I don’t mean real tall, although he is that, too. Check out this image of him next to Rudy Gobert, who is a legit 7’1″.

Wembanyama is for real like a genuine generational talent — in his second game against the G-League Ignite he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That comes off his 37-point performance in the first meeting where he hit 7-of-11 3-pointers and had five blocks.

To be clear: That is 73 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks, shooting 9-of-18 from 3 (and 22-of-44 overall) across two games against a good talent level. And he is 18 years old.

Everyone in and around the NBA has been trying to come up with player comps — Kristaps Porzingis, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan — but the reality is Wembanyama is one of one.

Scoot Henderson — the G-League guard projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — played just five minutes in this game after bumping his knee while guarding Wembanyama. He was taken out of the game and X-rays found a bone bruise, he did not return. He is officially day-to-day the team announced.

Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 got the win in this rematch, 112-106.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.