Heat vs. Celtics Eastern Conference Finals roundtable breaking down series


For NBC Sports Bet The Edge, four analysts from the NBC Sports family came together to break down the Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.

The four are Kurt Helin, lead NBA writer for NBC Sports; Jay Croucher, the lead betting analyst for NBC Sports; Vaughn Dalzell a sports betting analyst for NBC Sports; and Drew Dinsick an NFL, NBA, Tennis Handicapper with NBC Sports.

Let’s jump into the discussion.

Jay Croucher: We thought the pandemic was over but it is not, we are back in the bubble with rematches of the 2020 Conference Finals.

Let’s get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, where I want to start with this is that with 4:30 left in Game 6 of Boston vs. Philadelphia, the Sixers are up two, Tyrese Maxey missed the 3, next possession they have they have another chance to extend the lead to five but James Harden misses a step-back 3. At that point, the Sixers were -155 to win the Eastern Conference — not just win the game win but to win the Eastern Conference. And Jason Tatum was on track for possibly the worst game that a good player has played in the playoffs since… I don’t know, one of the LeBron vs. Dallas finals games in 2011? One of the James Harden close-out games of which there are many?

It changes pretty quickly, and now the Celtics all of a sudden — off of Tatum’s 51— they are in the Eastern Conference Finals. They play Miami there for the third time in four years. Kurt, this one the market thinks is fairly done and dusted. The Celtics are -500 favorites. Do you think that Miami has a prayer in this one?

Kurt Helin: First, Daryl Morey would like to thank you for making his case for firing Doc Rivers.

Yeah, I think the market is right about Miami in this. I wonder how long this will go because talk about the team that doesn’t show up for games — it’s the Celtics. , They just mail some in, and the Heat will bring it every night.

They will play hard, but I think this is the series where not having the secondary shot creation of Tyler Herro really hurts them. Jimmy Butler is going to do Jimmy Butler things, but I think with Jaylen Brown, with Jayson Tatum, with Marcus Smart, with a wealth of defenders they can throw at Butler, you can slow him down. Bam Adebayo is going to have a good game here and there. They’ll get a good Max Strus game, and shout out to my boy Gabe Vincent — go UC Santa Barbara Gauchos— I just don’t believe in them doing it enough against the Celtics.

But I still think this will probably go something like six just because Boston will mail two in.

Drew Dinsick: I think you have to say coaching advantage pretty clearly in favor of the Heat here, Joe Mazzulla didn’t really do anything, in my opinion, to get the Celtics across the line other than just kind of let Tatum cook in Game 7.

And honestly, the fact that Doc Rivers did not have an answer for the Tatum pick-and-roll, even through seven games in that series… I thought for sure they got would have had some adjustments, some wrinkles, make some changes at halftime. What are we doing here? And then just to see it unfold that way in that third quarter was wild on Sunday.

But the Celtics are a tough handicap because, as you mentioned, not only do they have some coaching deficiencies, but they do have some effort lapses at times. You put these teams on paper side by side and you compare talent in terms of who’s available and it’s just an overwhelming advantage Celtics. But, at the same time, -500 seems a little bit aggressive in giving them that type of expectations in this series.

This is now effectively the rubber match of an Eastern Conference Finals. We had Heat/Celtics in the bubble, that went to the Heat. Last year went to the Celtics. Vaughn How do you look at this in terms of kind of matchup of coaching and player strength and just familiarity between these two teams and come away with a handicap?

Vaughn Dalzell: Mazzulla is definitely going to have to keep his as timeouts in his pockets… psych. He needs to start using his timeouts. That was an issue for me in the last round. I definitely thought the inexperience or the freshness of him being there for the first season came into play.

But I’ve also noticed that Boston game ones have been very lackluster and they get in track meets, and sometimes they don’t take their opponent as seriously in that first game let them hang around. But Miami is a team where you can’t let that happen, because Miami’s 5-0 in their last five game ones. They’ve won two straight road game ones, while Boston is 1-4 in their last five game ones outside of the first round. So they really struggle they’ve been favorites in every situation.

I know Jimmy Butler didn’t score 30 points at all and that last series against the Knicks, but he still averages 31 in the postseason. With no value on the Celtics right now at the series price I do like the Heat in Game 1. I think the Heat can steal two of the first three games, or two of the first four, if the Heat go up 2-1 in the series I’m absolutely going back on the Celtics series price because I think the Celtics have a significant advantage with the big man compared to the Heat. When you’re looking at the Heat with Kevin Love, [Cody] Zeller, [Haywood] Highsmith, those type of guys, you definitely want to favor Robert Williams, Al Horford and the rest of the Celtics.

I do think the Heat can shoot, a lot of money is coming in on the over here. I think that’s warranted as well. I liked the Heat in Game 1.

Jay Croucher: I’m on the Celtics. I love them in the series, I love them in Game 1.

Miami, they get a lot better if they can play Kevin Love and Duncan Robinson and get away with Highsmith and Zeller and having those guys on the floor. And I think that the fact that they were able to do that against two teams in Milwaukee and New York, who don’t really have guys who kind of hunt a Kevin Love on a switch. Jalen Brunson beats you more with strength than with guile. It’s not like guys like Tatum and Brown who just hunt your worst defender. They hunt Tyrese Maxey. They hunt George Niang, whoever is there, they’re going to punish them every possession and so I think the Heat had been a bit inflated by the fact that those guys were playable.

And then also I think they were inflated by the fact that they just shot 45% from 3 against Milwaukee and Jimmy Butler was the best player on planet Earth. He is now, by Erik Spoelstra’s own admission, he’s still dealing with the ankle and he didn’t look the same guy against the Knicks that he was in the first series. I think the Celtics, yes, they’re gonna play with their food, they’re probably going to drop one, they might drop two. But still, you just think the talent gap here is just so substantial.

Kurt, there is a line of thinking that the Heat, last year they were the No.1 seed, they were one shot away, they were a Jimmy Butler 3 away from making the finals and beating this team. And there was a thought that maybe you have to regress this Heat team back to just saying that they were last year where they were one seed. Do you think this team this year is substantially worse than last year’s version?

Kurt Helin: First of all, thank you for getting the ‘play with your food’ right and not doing a Doc Rivers there.

I don’t think they’re quite as good offensively. I want to give Bam credit, he didn’t have that floater two years ago. That little 12-foot floater that he developed, basically to shoot over Brook Lopez but he developed it and it is a valuable weapon. Now you get him 14 feet out and he will just nail it every time. I think they miss P.J. Tucker and the things P.J. Tucker brings — which we saw in the first quarter of Game 7 (against Boston). Like I said they really miss Tyler Herro, they just don’t have the same depth of shot creation. I think that when you talk about with the Lakers and Nuggets, one of the things that really works for those teams is so many guys can create on both teams.

The Heat just don’t have that. They rely on Gabe Vincent to be the secondary shot creator and I think that that’s not enough against Boston. They fight like heck, but I just don’t think that depth of talent.

Drew Dinsick: I’m in the same boat here as sort of our last breakdown which is I just don’t see any realistic matchup that the Heat have an advantage in outside of coaching.

And yet, at the same time, I’m struggling making sense of this price. Like -500 for the Celtics is basically saying this is no contest and The Heat, for whatever reason, have the intangibles over the Celtics. It doesn’t serve the Celtics well to be such huge favorites. They need a little bit of adversity it feels like to bring out the best of these guys. And you know, if the Heat steal one during these first couple of games, then all of a sudden the pressure is going to be on the Celtics, and maybe we see their best. Just thinking about the way that Spoelstra can pull some wizardry into the series, it has me a little trepidatious about getting super involved in the Celtics until we know exactly what level of effort we’re going to get from these guys.

Jay Croucher: It is concerning but at the same time, I just think talent is going to overwhelm, where Spoelstra is coaching the four of us really.

The thing is with the Celtics, it feels like they no-show a lot of games, but I wonder how much of that is just that they take a lot of 3s, and when the 3s don’t fall they just look terrible. Because a lot of their team is is Tatum hitting that step-back 3 to his right because if that’s going in at 25% like it was in the Finals last year, then it’s just not a very good offense relative to what it can be. But if he is making those shots — like he was in Game 7 — then they’re just completely unbeatable.

So let’s close out quickly with some predictions. I’m gonna go Celtics in five.

Vaughn Dalzell: I’m going Celtics in six.

Drew Dinsick: Celtics in seven. I think we’re in for two long series this round. I don’t think either of these is a pushover.

Kurt Helin: I’ll take the Celtics at five, I just I think they’re going to overwhelm the Heat.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.

Hawks’ Trae Young plans to shoot more 3s… is that a good thing?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
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Quin Snyder wants his teams to shoot 3-pointers. A lot of them. In his final season as coach of the Utah Jazz, they took 10 more 3-pointers a game than his new Atlanta Hawks team did last season after he took over.

Trae Young has heard his coach and is ready to get up more than the 6.3 attempts a game he took last season.

That’s a good thing… but only if they are “good shots.” It’s good only if Young hits more than the 33.5% he shot from 3 last season.

While he has a reputation as a 3-point marksman, Young is a career 35.1% shooter from 3 and has been below that 35% number in three of his five NBA seasons. (Also concerning for the Hawks and Young’s fit with Dejonte Murray, he shot just 20% on the less than one catch-and-shoot 3 he took a game last season.)

Young has had better years, he shot 38.2% in 2021-22 and he is an offensive force as a creator capable of doing that again. That is the Young Snyder needs.

He also needs Young to buy into his system of ball and player movement more. Last season, 45% of Young’s shots came after he had at least seven dribbles — he pounded the ball into the ground and jacked up a shot without getting teammates involved far too often (77.9% of his shots came after at least three dribbles). Young shot 33.3% on the 3s he took after those seven dribbles, and less than that percentage on 3-pointers taken after three dribbles or more, which were the majority of his attempts.

This coming season will be an important one for Young, who has proven he is an All-Star who can put up numbers and drive an offense — he’s made an All-NBA team for a reason. The question facing him is whether he will fit into a team system that balances multiple shot creators, off-ball movement, willing passers and selflessness — what you can see in the two teams playing in the NBA Finals. Snyder will call pick-and-rolls, he wants his team to hunt mismatches at times, but there has to be more of a flow to what is happening. There can’t be many shots after seven dribbles (and that’s not touching on the defensive concerns around Young).

The Hawks will evolve over the next couple of seasons under Snyder. Where Young fits in that will be something to watch.

But we will see more 3-pointers.