LeBron James’ ankle bothering him in Finals

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MIAMI — You wouldn’t know it watching LeBron James play compared to his Miami Heat teammates. Through three quarters of Game 4 LeBron had 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting, the rest of the Heat had 29 points on 27.8 percent shooting.

But LeBron James admitted he is playing through a sore ankle.

LeBron bolted back to the Heat locker room right after the national anthem and before player introductions, then again during a first quarter timeout. Television cameras caught him grimacing on the court more than once in Game 4. When asked about it (and if anything was bothering him) after the game, LeBron mentioned the ankle.

“First time I left I went to go get retaped, retape my ankle. It’s been kind of bothering me for the last couple days, but I felt okay,” LeBron said dismissively.

With an extra day off before Sunday’s Game 5 in San Antonio, LeBron will have more time to get treatment on the ankle.

Again, it hasn’t really impacted his play, he has done everything the Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra could ask. These Finals and the San Antonio Spurs have exposed the flawed roster around LeBron, not him, although for some it will be LeBron that takes the legacy hit with these Finals.

Finals show burden Heat put on LeBron James, need to retool Miami roster

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MIAMI — If I had to use one word to describe Heat players after Game 4, it would be bewildered.

All season long, Miami made the same errors we have seen from them in the Finals: up and down effort, inconsistent defensive traps and rotations, guys not attacking the paint and settling for jump shots (and the list goes on and on).

The difference is coming out of the soft Eastern Conference nobody made the Heat pay. That left the door open for Miami’s answer:

LeBron James.

He was the trump card. He covered their flaws All season long the Heat counted on LeBron to do virtually everything: Create offense for himself, create offense for others, and often defend the opponent’s best player in crunch time.

All season long LeBron was the Miami Heat. In the Eastern Conference that was enough.

He’s not enough against San Antonio.

No team has made the Heat pay for their flaws like the Spurs. Half-hearted traps are quickly exposed with a sharp pass, every slow rotation becomes a lay-up or an open three. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will search the game tapes and the depth chart looking for an answer, but there will be none.

Other than more LeBron James.

That fact and series in general points out the challenge in front of Heat president Pat Riley — this roster needs to be retooled. LeBron can’t do it all by himself, and when he has been on the bench the Heat have looked terrible.

After the Game 1 when LeBron cramped up in the sauna that was the AT&T Center he got hit with complaints he was not there to lift his team up and give them a chance.

Games 3 and 4 have shown just how much lifting he has to do. How much pressure is on him.

“I don’t really get caught up in what pressure is all about…” LeBron tried to play it off after the Heat’s Game 4 loss. “For me, I do whatever it takes to help our team win. If it’s me going one-on-one to try to help us win, if it’s me getting guys involved and taking threes in rhythm, then I’ll do it. But I don’t really get caught up in the pressure.”

Miami’s Game 4 loss was not on LeBron’s shoulders other than they are not broad enough to carry the flawed Heat past the Spurs. Through three quarters LeBron had 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting, the rest of the Heat had 29 points on 27.8 percent shooting. LeBron hit 6-of-10 contested shots and was 4-of-6 when left open.

“It’s not (all) on my shoulders. It’s not,” LeBron said. “I understand I get a lot of the limelight in the press and all that, but it’s not all on my shoulder. I take a lot of it, but I do it for my teammates and I want them to put a lot of pressure on me in that sense.”

They do. He will hear about it on social media. He will hear about how the eventual loss in this series will taint a legacy that is still being written.

But anyone who goes back and watches this series will see LeBron carried as much of a burden as could be asked. It’s just that pushing this Heat roster past the Spurs is more like the job Sisyphus had.

A lot has been asked of LeBron by the Heat. Now the burden should fall on Pat Riley to repair this roster.

Spoelstra, Popovich focused on defense heading into Game 4

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MIAMI — The Miami Heat gave 102.9 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, not spectacular (11th in the NBA) but not bad. In the NBA Finals they are giving up 116.4 to the red-hot Spurs.

San Antonio allowed a true shooting percentage of .523 (think of that as points per shot attempt), the Miami Heat are at .607 in the NBA Finals.

Part of that is these are two elite NBA offenses, but for both coaches the problem is their defuse and that is what they are focused on for Game 4 Thursday night.

“That’s what we spent all of our time on was the defense, because I thought we did a pretty mediocre job,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game.

Eric Spoelstra talked about defense as well and recognizing they need to handle the pick and roll differently depending on if it is Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili with the ball.

They’re different, yeah, there is no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “But they’re both elite, great players. You do have to give them different looks. If it’s the same look, they get comfortable, then they can carve you up….

“You see the difference in their ability, how they attack, what they’re looking for, how they’re trying to facilitate, those type of things.”

That defense, particularly from the Heat, is what this series comes down to — can they bring enough energy to their pressure tactics, can sharper rotations slow the impressive ball movement of the Spurs? If the Heat can do that — as they have done for stretches but not consistently in this series — they can even things up and make this a best of three (the Spurs currently lead the series 2-1).

If the Spurs move the ball, get the good looks and knock them down again enough to take Game 4, this series will be all over but the party on the River Walk.

NBA Finals Spurs vs. Heat Game 4 preview: Miami better bring serious defensive pressure

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MIAMI — Three games into the Finals between the Heat and Spurs, this is what I think we’ve learned:

When Miami brings its peak defensive pressure, it is better than San Antonio. Not a lot, but better.

However that peak Miami defense does not show up consistently while the Spurs’ offensive execution is Terminator relentless. It will not stop, ever. It’s not just the stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, it’s Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and Patty Mills. That’s what we saw in Game 3, a Heat team that entered the game without urgency, giving the Spurs’s shooters a little space and that is all they needed to get hot.

When Heat take their foot off the gas — even a little — the Spurs ball movement going from strong  to weak side and their smart cuts put too much pressure on the Miami defense. This leads to breakdowns and good looks for the Spurs who are shooting the ball at a ridiculously high level. When the Spurs gain confidence because the ball is moving, executing efficiently and their shots are falling there is nothing the Heat can do.

Which brings us to Game 4 — will Miami bring a sense of urgency and the needed defensive pressure? And if the Heat do for how many minutes of the 48 will they keep it up?

The fear of going down 3-1 should motivate the Heat to bring the defensive pressure from the opening tip. Should. You can point to the Heat not losing back-to-back playoff games since roughly the Nixon administration to show how they raise their level of play when challenged, or you can point to the Heat’s effort in Game 2 and you’d be right.

But coming out of the East, Miami never faced a team that would punish it for its lapses like the Spurs can and will. Miami didn’t spend the season building great habits on the defensive end of the floor. They flipped the switch when they needed to and got wins.

San Antonio puts pressure on that Heat defense for a full 48 minutes because of its ball movement — even at the Heat’s peak they’re not going to stop the Spurs entirely. What Miami can do is make it difficult by making sure the extra pass doesn’t happen in a straight line and make the windows for those passes very tight, leading to steals and turnovers that would fuel Miami’s runs.

The Heat are going to need another big game from LeBron James and I expect they get it. He can raise his level to one nobody else in the NBA can match, but he’s going to need some help — Chris Bosh (who has had a good series), Dwyane Wade (who has been fine, but not special) and Ray Allen have to step up.

Plus, getting anything of quality out of Mario Chalmers would be huge — he has been awful but Erik Spoelstra doesn’t have a lot of other options. Norris Cole isn’t built for big minutes, and when the Heat go with their no-point-guard look it presents some real matchup challenges (like Wade trying to guard Tony Parker).

Scoring points has not been Miami’s problem; it is clicking on that end well enough to win.

As John Schuhmann of NBA.com put it well, this series has come down to a race between the Spurs ball movement and the Heat’s rotations. The ball movement has won two of the three.

The pressure is on Miami now to bring its peak defense, for 48 minutes. If not, it will be in a lot of trouble heading back to San Antonio.

Tony Parker disappears in second half, so does Spurs offense

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We should all be as injured as Tony Parker looked in the first half of Game 4 — he hit 7-of-12 shots for 15 points with 6 assists. He was getting into the lane, spinning, driving and dishing. Injured hamstring? Sure thing buddy.

But in the second half was like a completely different game (much like it had been for Dwyane Wade in the first three games).

The Heat defense brought the double teams to Parker, he says he got tired and his numbers fell off the table — he was 0-of-4 shooting for zero points and three assists. With their table setter slowed the Spurs shot just 37 percent as a team and offense fell off to 93.8 points per 100 possessions (the Heat were at 127 in the second half). The result was Miami running away for the win to tie the series.

What happened to Parker in the second half? Was it the strained hamstring?

“It was kind of weak,” Parker said after the game. “I didn’t know what to expect. So the first three, four minutes I was testing it, and the first half it felt okay…

“It was just fatigue (in the second half). I just missed shots. I had great shots. I missed two teardrops and the lay-up I was right there, couldn’t get my lift. They are doing the same thing on me since the beginning. Very aggressive on pick-and-rolls, stuff like that. I just missed easy shots, and hopefully I’ll get more healthy and I’ll be better by Sunday.”

It wasn’t just his fatigue — it was the hamstring and the Miami defense. After being torched in the first half Heat defenders became more focused on Parker and brought the double-team more quickly in the second half.

“Miami did a great job on him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “They doubled. They got it out of his hands, and other people had to play. But they did a good job defensively on him.”

Parker is now off until Sunday, two full days off to get that hamstring right before a critical Game 5.

It’s going to be huge for me,” Parker said of the longer break. “Obviously definitely got fatigued in the second half. Those two days I’m going to make sure I do a lot of treatment and get to 100 percent. Tonight I was not 100 percent. By Sunday that’s my goal, to be good to go.”

He better be or the Spurs could be going back to Miami in a hole and needing to win two on the road.