NBA Power Rankings: Suns keep on rising up to top spot


Phoenix has climbed to the top of our NBA Power Rankings with a perfect week, while it seems like some of the big market contenders stumble toward the end of the season (and fall down these rankings).

Suns small icon 1. Suns (47-18, Last Week No. 2). Chris Paul for MVP is an idea gaining momentum as the Suns continue to surge late in the season — five straight wins — and CP3 ends up dominating in the clutch (closing the door on the Clippers, scoring the final seven points against the Knicks). Paul isn’t going to knock heavy favorite Jokic out of the top spot on MVP ballots, but he may garner enough votes to finish in the top five (and CP3 is a lock for All-NBA). Win two of the games this week against the Knicks, Lakers, and Warriors, and the Suns have a good shot at taking the top spot in the West away from the Jazz.

Jazz small icon 2. Jazz (47-18, LW 4). With Donovan Mitchell out and Mike Conley being in and out of the lineup, the Jazz offense has stumbled in recent weeks (13th in the NBA over their last seven games, with an offensive rating 4.7 below their season average), and that could cost them the top seed. The Jazz also have been unlucky in the past couple of weeks, but they have been unlucky all season — Utah has 47 wins but Cleaning the Glass’ numbers say they should have 51 or 52 wins, in which case we wouldn’t be having this top seed discussion. Whether they are the No. 1 or 2 seed, this Jazz team is a legitimate contender.

Sixers small icon 3. 76ers (44-21 LW 7). Philadelphia was the big winner of Milwaukee taking two games from Brooklyn last week. Combine those two Nets losses with the 76ers taking advantage of a soft schedule to close the season — Philly has won five straight — and the Sixers are two games up on the Nets in the loss column with seven to play. There’s a push for Ben Simmons to win Defensive Player of the Year, and while the Sixers defense was modestly better this season with him on the court (2.1 per 100), it has been much better the past three weeks when has he has played some lockdown defense.

Nuggets small icon 4. Nuggets (43-22 LW 5). Denver is 9-2 since Jamal Murray tore his ACL, but maybe more impressively they are 7-2 since Monte Morris joined him in street clothes and 5-1 since Will Barton went out. Nikola Jokic’s play since the injuries — including a 30 point, 14 rebound, seven assist outing with no turnovers against the Clippers — has solidified his hold on the MVP award. The Nuggets will need more of that to retake the No. 3 seed in the West, they are half a game back of L.A. and the Clippers have an easier remaining schedule.

Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (41-24, LW 6). Harden or not, there’s a lot of good to take away from the two wins against Brooklyn this week. For one, Giannis Antetokounmpo played like his MVP self and was hitting 3-pointers (4-of-8 in the first game, then hit his first three attempts from deep on Tuesday). Jrue Holiday scored 23 points with 10 assists on Tuesday, and in both games he played respectable defense on Kyrie Irving. Khris Middleton was clutch Tuesday and shot 6-of-6 in the fourth quarter. And the Bucks went on an 18-1 fourth-quarter run Tuesday to comeback and win, the kind of resiliency they need to show in the playoffs.

Clippers small icon6. Clippers (44-22, LW 3). Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley returned to the court, good news because getting healthy remains the most important thing for Los Angeles. However, losses last week to the Nuggets and Suns are concerning. The Clippers are 3-3 in their last six with a below-average offense and defense — this does not feel like a team that has built good habits and is gaining momentum into the postseason. Huge showdown with the Lakers on Thursday night — the Clippers (and Lakers) would like to avoid a Hallway Series in the first round. Good test against the Knicks on Sunday.

Nets small icon 7. Nets (43-23, LW 1). Brooklyn has lost three straight and is 4-4 in their last eight. While the defense remains a concern, the offense was not elite in the two losses two the Bucks or in recent weeks, and it needs to be for the Nets to have a chance. Of course, the eventual return of James Harden should make them elite, but we don’t know when that happens (plus Kyrie Irving had a short shooting slump from three, which didn’t help). Moving up to the top seed in the East seems a long shot, but most projection systems have the Nets finishing second. If healthy, this remains the team everyone fears in the East.

Knicks small icon 8. Knicks (37-28, LW 8). The Knicks are surging at the right time — 12-1 in their last 13 with the best offense in the NBA over that stretch. New York is holding on to the four seed, which will mean more playoff games at Madison Square Garden, but how this team will match up in the postseason against more seasoned teams will be the challenge. What is Plan B for the Knicks’ offense when a good defense turns its focus to slowing Julius Randle? As an aside, Randle seems the runaway winner for Most Improved Player this season.

Mavericks small icon 9. Mavericks (37-28, LW 9). Dallas could end up the five seed thanks to an arcane NBA rule: If there is a three-way tie for a playoff spot — as there was for 5/6/7 between the Mavericks, Lakers, and Blazers last week — the top seed goes to a division winner. Not that anyone ever focuses on NBA divisions, but Dallas leads the Southwest Division (did you even know they played in the Southwest?). Dallas could also get the five seed because it is playing well and, after Brooklyn on Thursday, it has a soft schedule the rest of the way. Doncic has become one of the biggest complainers in the league and it could cost him; he is one technical away from bringing a league-mandated suspension upon himself.

Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (36-29, LW 17). Damian Lillard struggled in April (for him) — 23 points a game (down from 29.8 through the first 45 games), while shooting 39.2% overall — and without Lillard playing at an MVP level Portland went 5-10 in April and fell back into the play-in games. But Lillard and the Blazers have found their groove again, winning 4-of-5 so far on this road trip (including beating Brooklyn and Boston), and they have a real chance to pass the Lakers and get into the top six in the West to avoid the play-in. Friday night’s game against the LeBron-less Lakers is huge. BTW, Carmelo Anthony has been tearing it up off the bench of late.

Heat small icon 11. Heat (35-31 LW 16). Miami’s hot play of late (winning 7-of-10) has moved them up into the sixth seed in the East and out of the dangers of the play-in games. For now. But a two-game set against Boston on Sunday and Tuesday will go a long way to determining who avoids the play-in (Boston is just one game back of Miami). Miami’s hot streak has been fueled by an offense that is top 10 in the league over that run — and it’s that offense, and the ability of Jimmy Butler to raise his game, that has Miami as a team the top three in the East would like to avoid in the first round.

Lakers small icon 12. Lakers (37-28, LW 10). All-NBA level Anthony Davis returned against Denver and the Lakers needed it and the win as they look to avoid the play-in games. Staying above the seven seed won’t be easy. Los Angeles will be without LeBron James for a couple of games (at least) with his ankle sprain, Dennis Schroder is out through the start of the playoffs at least due to health and safety protocols, and Los Angeles has a tough remaining schedule — Clippers, Blazers, Suns, and Knicks are their next four. Health is most important for L.A., but next is getting back their elite defense, which is 4 points per 100 worse than their season average over their last seven.

Hawks small icon 13. Hawks (36-30 LW 11). He’s not going to win Coach of the Year in a crowded field, but the Hawks are 22-10 in under coach Nate McMillan (think they could use him and his hard-nosed style in Indiana right now?). Atlanta is getting healthy — Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic are expected in the lineup Wednesday night — and they need it because the Hawks are just 1.5 games up on Boston and the seven seed (which means play-in games). The Hawks have a tough schedule coming up — Suns, Pacers, two against the Wizards — and need to find wins to avoid the play in.

Celtics small icon 14. Celtics (34-31, LW 12). This is true of a lot of teams, but especially Boston: It needs to find a way to get and stay healthy the final weeks or they will be part of the play-in games. Jaylen Brown is missing some time (but is day-to-day) with an ankle sprain after a collision with Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker has been in and out of the lineup the past couple of weeks. Aaron Nesmith, the rookie out of Vanderbilt, has grown into a solid part of the rotation and the Celtics will need him and everyone else this week with a big two-game series against the Heat on Sunday and Tuesday.

Wizards small icon 15. Wizards (30-35 LW 18). When Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal are on the court together this season, the Wizards basically play teams even. However, put those two on the court with Daniel Gafford at center — helping protect the rim and anchor the defense — and the Wizards are +12.9 per 100 possessions in those minutes. Gafford has been the unsung hero in Washington’s run up to the 10 seed in the East, and they seem headed for the play-in. The Wizards are 6-2 in their last eight with a respectable defense and a top-five offense (despite not taking a lot of threes compared to the rest of the league). Washington heads out on the road Wednesday to start a tough five-game road trip.

Warriors small icon 16. Warriors (33-33, LW 14).Stephen Curry‘s April numbers were ridiculous: 37.3 points per game on 46.6% shooting from three, plus 6.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a night. In the three games he’s played in May, he has 108 points. The man has carried the Warriors into the play-in tournament — projects them to finish eighth in the West — and with that will end up on a lot of MVP ballots. The Warriors are leaning even more on Curry with Kelly Oubre sidelined with a torn thumb ligament and fracture in his palm.

Pacers small icon 17. Pacers (30-34, LW 19). The disjointed and disappointing Pacers’ season that has been a story in Indiana became national news with the report Nate Bjorkgren may not be back with the team because of strained relationships with players and the front office. People think NBA head coaching is about Xs and Os, and that’s part of it, but relationships with players and the mental aspects of getting everyone pulling the rope in the same direction is much more of it. Indiana has lost 3-of-4 and is in danger of getting passed for the nine seed by the Wizards — who the Pacers play in a big showdown on Saturday.

Grizzlies small icon 18. Grizzlies (32-32 LW 13). Justise Winslow has struggled since his return from injury this season: 6.4 points a game, 34% shooting overall, and coach Taylor Jenkins has wisely started giving some of Winslow’s minutes to Tyus Jones. In the short term, heading into the play-in games, Memphis needs something more off the bench from Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. (who also has yet to find his form since getting healthy and returning to the lineup). Long-term with Winslow, do the Grizzlies pick up the $13 million team option on Winslow next season? Probably, but it’s worth asking. On the bright side for Memphis, watch Ja Morant look at the rim them finish alley-oop from Dillon Brooks.

Spurs small icon 19. Spurs (31-33, LW 15). The Spurs have dropped four in a row, not only because the schedule got tougher (although the blown 32-point lead to Boston stung), but also because this looks like a team where their condensed second-half schedule (to make up for all the first-half postponements) has worn down their legs. The Spurs may not climb out of the 10 seed, but they are still 2.5 games up on the stumbling Pelicans, and San Antonio seems destined for the play-in games. The loss of Derrick White for the rest of the season due to a sprained ankle is a blow.

Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (32-33, LW 20). LaMelo Ball returned to action and and it took less than five minutes for the highlights to return with him (first an underhanded, length-of-the-court touchdown pass for a bucket). The Hornets are 2-1 since his return, with the perked-up offense covering up a struggling defense as the Hornets fight to keep the eighth seed in the East (hold on to it and they just have to win one of two play-in games to advance to the postseason).

Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (30-36, LW 22). It’s taken all season, but Stan Van Gundy finally has New Orleans playing great defense — best in the NBA over the last 10 games. Even with the offense having taken a step back in this stretch, the Pelicans have looked better, it just may be too little, too late to catch the Spurs and make the postseason (New Orleans would basically need to win out, and they are about to start a five-game road trip). Lonzo Ball has been up and down with his shot of late, but when it’s falling — like his 33-point night against the Warriors Tuesday — this is a tough team to beat.

Raptors small icon 22. Raptors (27-38, LW 21). Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam looked every bit champions and All-Stars in beating the Lakers on Sunday night. That game (despite all the injuries) was a better picture of who the Raptors really are — they have a +0.4 net rating, which means they should have more like a 34-32 or .500 record. Toronto is 3 games back of Washington for the final play-in spot (3.5 back of Indiana) and if that miracle comeback is going to happen it has to start with a win over Washington on Thursday.

Kings small icon 23. Kings (28-37, LW 24). It’s good news there was no ligament damage to Tyrese Haliburton‘s knee following his scary injury last week. No ligament damage means no surgery, which means Haliburton should be able to hit the gym hard and work on development in the offseason. While no Haliburton or De'Aaron Fox or Harrison Barnes, the Kings are limping to the finish line of the season, but they have won three in a row, and they have two more games against the Thunder left. There could be a few more wins to come.

Bulls small icon 24. Bulls (26-39, LW 23). Good news that Zach LaVine is out of the league’s health and safety protocols and is expected to return to the court Thursday against Charlotte. Chicago could use LaVine and his shot creation, plus the expected return of Nikola Vucevic to the lineup, as the team has the 27th ranked offense in the league over its last eight games.

25. Timberwolves (20-45, LW 25). Minnesota is having the kind of late-season run that can build momentum into next season. The Wolves have won 5-of-7, their offense is looking better with D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Town finding some chemistry, but the real positive is a top-10 defense over the last six games. Anthony Edwards‘ growth this season is another positive, but his play over the last couple of months is not going to be enough to move him last LaMelo Ball in the Rookie of the Year race.

Magic small icon 26. Magic (21-44, LW 28). It’s good to see Steve Clifford healthy and back on the sidelines for Orlando, although this has had to be a difficult year for the defense-first coach, watching his team struggle to a 24th in the league defensive rating (22nd if you remove garbage time, ala Cleaning the Glass). Most of their defensive issues come in the half court, where they miss Jonathan Isaac tremendously. The one bright spot of late is rookie Cole Anthony finding his groove, including knocking down a contested game-winner from three to beat Grizzlies.

Pistons small icon 27. Pistons (18-47 LW 26). Jerami Grant is expected to be back on the court Saturday against the 76ers — Detroit is not tanking its way to the end of the season. Grant’s breakout/Most Improved level year, combined with signs of real promise from Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes should give Pistons fans some hope for the future. A little bit of NBA Draft Lottery luck and the Pistons could really have something.

Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (21-44, LW 27). Cleveland has a Collin Sexton decision coming up, not immediately but it is on the horizon. Sexton is extension eligible this summer, and the Cavaliers both drafted and put a lot of effort into developing him, which makes it seem possible. However, Cleveland may want to wait until he heads to restricted free agency in 2022. Waiting allows them to see how Sexton’s game grows and gives them more time to decide if the Sexton and Darius Garland backcourt is something they want to live with long term.

Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (16-49, LW 29). It’s hard to find things to be positive about in Houston, then Kevin Porter Jr. does his James Harden impression, and drops 50 points, with nine three pointers, plus dished out 11 assists. Porter is gettin a real chance with John Wall out for the season, and there are moments where Houston is aggressive and attacking with Porter running the show. It’s a hopeful sign.

Thunder small icon 30. Thunder (21-45, LW 30). The bottom fell out of the Thunder after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander suffered a “significant tear” in his plantar fascia: a 2-21 record with the worst offense in the NBA and 28th ranked defense (the Thunder had defended fairly well prior to his injury). It’s hard to find bright spots in a run like that, but Ty Jerome has shown potential and had a few highlight plays, he could develop into a player that sticks around as part of the Thunder future.

Is a rebuild coming to the Washington Wizards? League executives think so.

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Washington Wizards have been stuck in the NBA’s middle ground for years (at least since 2018), with a push from ownership on down to make the playoffs rather than go through a rebuild. The result was 35 wins last season, 35 the season before that, 25 before that, and you get the idea. A team that has underperformed with Bradley Beal on it.

Is that about to change under new GM Michael Winger? No decision about the short term of the franchise has been made, Winger told Josh Robbins of The Athletic (in a fantastic profile of the man). Big decisions will tip Winger’s hand this summer, with Kyle Kuzma a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis able to opt-out and reportedly looking for an extension.

However, outside the organization, the expectation is that a rebuild is coming in the next couple of years.

Many rival executives The Athletic has polled informally over the last two weeks expect Winger to undertake a full rebuild — if not this offseason, then within the next year.

Asked about his plans for the team, Winger says he’s leaving his options open.

“The raw, unfiltered truth is, I haven’t yet crafted the immediate vision for the franchise,” he says. “There are a lot of talented and high-character players on the team. I want to get to know them a little bit. The construct of a team isn’t just a matter of what is demonstrated on the court. It’s not just a matter of the box score. Team dynamics are personal, and I think that I need to understand those things before hatching an actionable plan. And I know that that’s not necessarily measurable in this moment. But it is the truth.”

If a rebuild is coming, are the Wizards better off re-signing Kuzma and Porzingis to tradable market-value contracts they can move in a year or two? Maybe spend a season running it back, see if this team can stay healthy and what they can do, then start making moves? Or, is it time to hit the reset button now and have a frank conversation with Bradley Beal?

One way or another, the long-postponed rebuild in Washington is coming. It just might not be immediate.

Lillard said he expects to be in Portland next season, so everyone starts trade speculation. Again.

Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Everyone wants Damian Lillard to leave Portland more than Damian Lillard wants to leave Portland. We trash elite players for being mercenaries jumping teams, then the minute one is loyal, everyone questions why he would do such a thing. Welcome to NBA Twitter.

The latest on Lillard is just more of the same.

Lillard appeared on Showtime Sports The Last Stand with Brian Custer and, when asked if he expects to be a Portland Trail Blazer when next season starts, he said, “I do.” This echoes everything he has said all along, he wants to finish his career in Portland (the man just built a new house there). Lillard then reiterated what he also has consistently said — he wants a chance to compete for it all in Portland. If the Trail Blazers organization decides to go in another direction, then the conversations start.

“We got an opportunity, asset-wise, to build a team that can compete. … If we can’t do that, then it’s a separate conversation we would have to have.”

But Brian Custer leaned into the drama (although he did wait nearly 50 minutes into the pod to get to the topic), and so before asking about Lillard staying in Portland, this is how he phrases a trade question to Lillard:

“Everybody keeps saying Damian Lillard is going to be traded to the Knicks, Damian Lillard’s gonna be traded to the Heat, Damian Lillard should be traded to the Celtics, Damian Lillard’s gonna be traded to the Nets. If one of those trades went through, out of those teams, which one would you be like, that’s not too bad?”

Lillard could have, probably should have shot the premise of the question down. Instead, he’s a good guy and played along and said, “Miami obviously” and praised Bam Adebayo and called him “my dog.” He then said the same thing about Mikal Bridges, now with the Nets (Bridges is a guy long rumored to be a Trail Blazers trade target, maybe with the No. 3 pick in this draft).

All of this is nothing new. Lillard hopes to stay with the Trail Blazers and for them to put a team around him that can compete at the highest levels of the conference. They have young players and the No. 3 pick this year to make a deal for a second star (although some reports say the Blazers are not making Shaedon Sharpe available in any trade, it might take that to get the Nets to even consider a Bridges deal, and even then it may not be enough). If Portland’s front office doesn’t do that this offseason, then Lillard and the franchise need to weigh their options.

That won’t stop the speculation, even from former teammate CJ McCollum.

For now, Lillard wants to be a Trail Blazer and we should celebrate that.

It’s not just Harden, Rockets reportedly eyeing VanVleet, Lopez, Brooks

New York Knicks v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are done rebuilding, ownership and management want to shift gears to picking up some wins and making the playoffs. That means using their league-best $60 million in cap space to add difference-making veterans to the young core of Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Jabari Smith Jr. and whoever they draft at No. 4 (if they keep the pick).

And it’s not just James Harden they are going after, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

…sharp-shooting center Brook Lopez, is a veteran free agent on Houston’s radar, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

There will be no shortage of players on the market connected to the Rockets between now and the opening of free agency June 30… The Rockets, though, are prioritizing adding a proven table-setting point guard, then looking to acquire upgrades at the wing and center position, sources said. And for that, should Harden ultimately stick with the 76ers, Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet has often been linked to Houston as a secondary option who could perhaps slot into the team’s lead ball-handling role.

On the wing, the Rockets do hold an interest in sharpshooter Cam Johnson, sources said, although Brooklyn personnel has indicated the Nets’ plan to match any realistic offer sheet for the restricted free agent, who was part of the franchise’s return for Kevin Durant. Dillons Brooks, last seen as Memphis’ starting small forward, is another Rockets target, sources told Yahoo Sports, and appears to be a more realistic candidate to join Houston this summer.

There’s a lot to digest there.

Milwaukee is facing some hard decisions as their championship roster is getting old and expensive fast, with the restrictive new CBA’s second tax apron looming. As Fischer notes, the Bucks are expected to extend Khris Middleton, who is owed $40.4 million next season (player option), and Jrue Holiday is extension eligible soon. Lopez will demand a big salary, he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and is a floor-spacing big who averaged 15.9 points per game last season. The Bucks would struggle to win without him, but at age 35 how will that contract age?

A lot of teams are eyeing Fred VanVleet and Toronto wants to keep him, he will have options. A lot of teams are watching Cam Johnson as a restricted free agent, but the Nets like him as part of their future and are not expected to let him walk. Dillon Brooks will not be back with the Grizzlies as a free agent, and for all the drama he is an elite on-ball defender and energy player who could help the Rockets.

Houston needs the James Harden domino to fall, then they can see what they have left to spend elsewhere. But one way or another, that will be a very different roster next season.

Four things to watch in Game 3, starting with who wins the fourth quarter


MIAMI — After looking flat in Game 1, the Heat got some rest, acclimated to the altitude, and looked like themselves in Game 2 — particularly in the fourth quarter. Miami had a game reminiscent of the Boston series, and when it was done the NBA Finals were tied 1-1.

Can Denver bounce back in Game 2? The Nuggets are facing adversity they have not seen yet this postseason — they were up 2-0 in every other series — and the question is how will they respond? That and how well will Miami shoot the 3-pointer?

Here are three things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Who wins the fourth quarter?

While the Heat’s 48.6% 3-point shooting in Game 2 was at the heart of their win, the question shouldn’t be can they repeat it? Of course they can. It’s why they are still playing. They have seven games this postseason shooting 45+% from 3.

However, there is one other key factor in this series: The fourth quarter.

Through two NBA Finals games, the Denver Nuggets are +29 in the first three quarters but are -21 in the fourth.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone is no fan of the trend — and he had the stats to back himself up.

“If you really want to simplify the first two games, in the first three quarters we have dominated both games. The Miami Heat are dominating the fourth quarter,” Malone said, “They’re averaging 33 points a game in the fourth quarter, shooting over 60% from the field in the fourth quarter and over 50% from three.”

Malone was just getting started.

“I’ve got a great stat: I think quarters one through three after two games, we had around 19% of our possessions were [shots] at the end of the shot clock, last seven seconds,” Malone said. “In the fourth quarter of Game 1 and 2, that jumps from 19% to 32%.

“Which means we’re taking the ball out of the net, we’re walking it up, we’re playing against the zone and we’re getting caught playing in really late-clock situations, which is hurting our offense.”

Miami’s late-game dominance goes back to the regular season, when they had the second-best net rating in the clutch of any team in the league. It has continued through the playoffs, starting with against the Bulls in the play-in — when the Heat had to come back in the fourth just to be in the playoffs, — and has been a through line to the NBA Finals.

This is not going to be a series won in blowouts, there will be more games decided in the fourth quarter and the clutch. If Denver can’t figure out the final frame starting in Game 3, they will be in trouble this series.

2) Can Heat keep Nikola Jokić from being an assist machine

The Miami Heat need to make Jokić a scorer.

Erik Spoelstra hates that phrasing and Nikola Jokić says he’s just playing the game, not thinking about it that way. Fine. We’ll put it this way:

The Heat can’t allow Jokić to become an assist machine.

Phrase it any way you wish, but if Jokić is allowed to score and dish the Heat will not be able to keep up with the Nuggets offense. Put simply, if Jokić scores 35+ points but has around five assists, the Heat have a chance to win. But if he scores around 25 points but with 10+ assists, if Denver is raining down scoring from everywhere, Miami will not be able to keep up.

The Heat plan is a lot of Bam Adebayo and to keep giving Jokić different looks.

“He can go through two or three coverages and figure it out in a matter of, up and down, up and down,” Adebayo said, nodding his head up and down. “He’s already read the game, reading the game. So the biggest thing for us is switching up the coverages and having him see different looks.”

3) It’s all about the Heat shooting

It’s simple and reductive, but it’s been true thought the playoffs and continues into the Finals: When the Heat hit their 3-pointers at a 40%+ clip, they win. It was true in Game 2, and it’s how Miami can keep pace with Denver.

Game 2 was not some shooting aberration, the Heat can keep doing this and the Nuggets know it.

“They are shooting against Milwaukee 43%. They are shooting against Boston 40-something percent,” Jokić said. “They have good shooters, and that’s why they are so deadly and dangerous, because you cannot leave them open.
“Yes, the first game Max [Strus] and Caleb [Martin] didn’t shoot well. But we know they’re going to be better. We just need to don’t give them wide-open looks. They are two great shooters that at least they need to see somebody in front of them, not just a basket.”

That was the theme from Denver — get out and contest. Make it tougher. Use the Nuggets’ length and size advantage to challenge them. The problem is the Heat have shot incredibly well on contested 3s on the night their shots are falling, and with the comfort level their role players have at home it may not matter who is in their face.

4) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendations

The Miami Heat are 4-0 ATS and 3-1 ML as a home underdog in the playoffs this season, but don’t bet based off trends. Denver was 9-0 at home in the postseason until Game 2, so trends are meant to be broken. The winner of Game 3’s when the series is tied 1-1 in the NBA Finals is 32-8 historically, so play the winner of this game to win the series. Denver opens as a -2.5 point road favorite.

The Under opened at 216.5 and now 214.0 after sharps moved the line. The zig zag theory is in play here for the Under, especially considering Miami has scored 26 or fewer points in six out of eight quarters and Denver five out of eight during the Finals. After only two free-throws in Game 1 for Miami, the two teams combined to go 37-of-42 (88.1%) from the free throw line in Game 2. Expect less freebies in Game 3.

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