June, 17, 2013
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images SportIf anyone tells you they know who'll win, they're lying. It's guesswork, even for Gregg Popovich.You're going to hear a lot about what it's going to take to win this championship, which will be deliciously -- for NBA fans -- decided on the court in the days to come.
You know the storylines: LeBron James needs to be aggressive, Dwyane Wade must not take possessions off, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan must play like they're five years younger. And Danny Green simply needs to keep it up.
It's all guesswork, though, and like most guesswork, most of it will probably be wrong.
For one thing, typical analysis ignores a ton of things we know really matter. Not fun stuff like Green's shooting or LeBron's psyche, but more process stuff like how unified five defenders are, the quality of screens and angles of dribble drives, who wins the off-ball Duncan versus Chris Bosh wrestle-off.
But the real reason analysis usually misses in predicting a game's key factors is that the game simply does not give a hoot. There are hundreds of factors, indeed thousands of tiny moments, that make up any one win. And the game simply doesn't care if those moments fit trends or not. You can win any old way, and a lot of them have nothing to do with coaching adjustments, "seizing the moment" or anything else.
Think of it as if you're saving up for a vacation. You might put a little something aside paycheck after paycheck. Maybe you'll get a big tax return, or a bonus, and dedicate the windfall to the project. Who knows, maybe you're a hell of a poker player. The goal, though, is the vacation. The bill is the same no matter how you save. And the people at the resort are beyond agnostic about how you built up the funds. All they care about is that, out of the thousand ways to save, you saved enough.
Basketball is similar, in that there are a thousand ways to win and it has no special prizes for people who get there a special way. Already in these Finals, we've seen that with two great teams playing each other almost to a standstill, one good quarter of suffocating defense can get you a win. Shooting way above your average from distance can do it, as can the resurgence of an aging Argentinean. Starting Mike Miller can do wonders, or not.
There is nothing that has ever won a basketball game except for turning possessions into points. Both teams have about the same number of possessions -- they alternate all game -- and one team will turn those into more points. Halftime speeches, energy drinks, blue-chip college pedigrees ... nothing matters unless it makes one team better at turning possessions into points than the other team.
We like to tell ourselves that the things that matter most are things we, as humans, can control. We could afford this vacation because of our diligence. The Spurs won because Gregg Popovich started Manu. As if coaching decisions were the only thing keeping Game 5 from being a carbon copy of Game 4.
But let's be honest, these two teams could play 100 times with no "adjustments" and produce 100 wildly different games, because life's just that varied, and there are degrees of chance and opportunity in every atom. People can afford vacations because they save, but also by being lucky enough not to have a horrible storm streak through town, ripping everything, including vacation funds, to shreds. Others holiday on the strength of an inheritance or other found money.
A lot of basketball wins, including, potentially, the decisive win of these Finals, come because of crazy stuff nobody could have foreseen. People fall over, referees miss things, balls go out of bounds off the legs of well-meaning world champions, great shooters have off nights or electric ones. None of it's from the game plan, but all of it decides games all the time.
We don't hear about it much, though, because nobody values an analyst whose conclusion is "anything can happen."
Meanwhile, that's not to say there's no such thing as strategy. Of course there is. Popovich and the Spurs really do have a brilliant scheme to find open shots, and open shots really do go in more often on average -- just like saving money from every paycheck is the most reliable way to pay for your trip. Did you notice LeBron saying he hasn't been sleeping? Sleep researchers would say that's absolutely the kind of thing that could diminish his mental acuity. I'm sure Erik Spoelstra would be better off giving minutes to Mike Miller or Udonis Haslem or Chris Andersen (but I don't know which one -- that's why he gets the big bucks).
But the strategy part of it, the stuff that humans can consciously decide to do, in advance -- that's a smaller part of what wins than almost anyone involved would like to admit. All these titans of hoops are on some level powerless, floating on a sea of random chance. We're arguing about the comparative quality of their rowboats and how fast they can row.
That's not how we might like to see it, but I like this: It's just one more way NBA basketball -- this messy, beautiful, surprising, delightful, heartbreaking game -- is just like real life.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It has been a Finals marked by wild swings of fortunes, so why should Game 5 have been any different? For the third straight contest, the team blown out by double-digits bounced back to return the favor in kind. The Spurs, destroyed on their home court by 16 in Game 4, turned Miami back with a 19-1 run spanning the third and fourth quarter and held on down the stretch behind a resurgent performance from Manu Ginobili and Danny Green’s historic shooting. The former broke out of a series-long slump with his best performance of the postseason: A season-high 24 points and 10 assists, the first time he reached those thresholds in the same game since 2008, and only the second time in his career. The latter made six more 3-pointers to shatter Ray Allen’s Finals record. They led a starting lineup that combined for 107 points, pushing the Spurs to the brink of their fifth championship with a 3-2 lead. “We’re just trying to do all we can to will (a championship) to happen,” Tim Duncan said. “We hope we can respond better next game than we have after wins. I think every one of us wants this badly, from the top on down. We just need…to understand the kind of energy and aggression they’re going to come with next game.” For the Heat, their backs are against the wall yet again during the LeBron James era — a position in which they’ve thrived over the past two seasons, but utterly crumbled against Dallas in the 2011 Finals. “I like our chances,” Dwyane Wade said, “just like they like their chances.”
- Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: This night was about how Tuesday is going to feel. The way NBA Finals Game 5 ended here Sunday was about how South Florida is going to awaken the morning of the next game, and what will be on Heat fans’ minds as they attempt to concentrate at work and then traipse into the home arena that night. It might have felt so good, right? Might have been a party. Could have been. A victory for a 3-2 series lead and Miami would have been poised and ready to celebrate a second consecutive championship that night. Hialeah would have the pots and pans out. Anybody near Biscayne Boulevard might have anticipated getting zero sleep for the incessant bleat of car horns. Tuesday would have felt like a coronation in waiting. Instead? Piņatas replaced by Pepto. Stomachs, clenched. Hearts, palpitating. Fingers, crossed. The Heat had the chance to make the rest of this seem so easy — well, easier — but Sunday’s 114-104 Game 5 loss took care of that desired path and lined the Road to Repeat with treachery. Now, to be champions again, Miami must do what it has failed to do for the past 12 postseason games: Win two in a row. Now, Heat fans are left to pray the next game is survived as much as won and that Miami — team and city — gets to the scariest thing in all of sports: A Game 7. Do you believe, South Florida? How much do you believe?
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: In the four years since he made his last trip to the NBA Finals, Rashard Lewis had to deal with a stunning trade from Orlando to Washington, accept that his knees and age would prohibit him from being a regular NBA starter again, get traded from one lottery team to another and finally lose out on $9 million when he got bought out for the final year of a $118 million contract. So, while there was excitement when he signed with the Miami Heat last July, Lewis wouldn’t necessarily say that he was relieved when he got dumped by two franchises – the Wizards and then New Orleans – in less two weeks last June. “I don’t think it’s ever a relief to be traded, or bought out,” Lewis said with a booming laugh. “But the relief was when Pat Riley called to recruit me to come down and play for them. I think more than anything my goal was to be on a team that was trying to compete for a championship. Obviously, Miami had just won it.” … Lewis has an option worth $1.4 million but plans on returning next season to Miami, where a first championship is within his grasp. “You get that window of opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Lewis said. “I chose to play for the Miami Heat and you know, we here. We in the Finals, but the job is not done yet.”
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Are the Clippers looking at bigger prey? Will Doc Rivers be comfortable continuing as the Celtic coach if no escape route can be found? Has Paul Pierce hired a realtor for his Boston-area digs? The first issue that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will likely have to tackle is finding whether things with the Clippers can be revived. According to league sources, it appears a fairly solid bet that the Celts are not going to get exactly what they wanted out of this — a couple of draft picks for Rivers; Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett. … If the Celtics cannot get what they believe is proper compensation for him, they would have no problem welcoming Rivers back for his 10th season here. In fact, that’s been the club’s hope and expectation all along. But one has to wonder how strange it might be and what effect it would have on his communication with the players if Rivers is back after expressing at the very least a willingness to coach elsewhere. The Celtics — and their followers — can only hope to soon begin getting the kind of answers that will render moot most if not all the hypotheticals.
- Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: What could prevent the Magic from taking more baby steps ... is merely the formation of the next NBA superpower. That's all. If you believe the Internet intel, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Magic have been discussing a trade that would send promising young point guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran forward Caron Butler to Orlando for shooting guard Arron Afflalo. Big win for the Magic in a season of very few wins. They would acquire a talented replacement for agingJameer Nelson and shed the three years remaining on Afflalo's contract. With Butler in the last season of his deal, that is a very salary-cap friendly transaction all around for the Magic. Moving Afflalo likely influences Orlando to pick a shooting guard — Ben McLemore or Victor Oladipo — in the draft. The possibility of acquiring Bledsoe might remove any notion of the Magic taking Trey Burke. … There's speculation that the Clippers would offer the Lakers a sign-and-trade for Howard that could include Griffin and — you guessed it, Magic fans — Bledsoe. But the Clippers can't afford to move Bledsoe until they re-sign Paul, no sure thing with Dwight and CP3 exchanging text messages. It's as if The Dwightmare never ends in Orlando.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: One coach who won’t be participating in the offseason NBA coaching carousel is the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau. Early Sunday afternoon, there were whispers that if the Boston Celtics trade coach Doc Rivers in a package to the Los Angeles Clippers, Thibodeau would be on the radar as a possible replacement. But an NBA source indicated Sunday evening that the Celtics would not pursue Thibodeau because they know the Bulls would not grant permission to speak to the former Celtics associate head coach. “He’s loved in Boston, but he’s loved a little more by Chicago,’’ the source said. The Bulls just gave him a nice raise when he signed a four-year contract extension that will pay him $17.5 over the next four seasons. Still, it will be interesting to watch when Thibodeau’s deal gets closer to running out. He was born and raised in Connecticut and has strong ties in New England. As this offseason has shown the NBA coaching world, anything is possible.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With roughly two weeks before the start of the NBA’s free-agency season, the poker player who owns the Rockets hopes to go all in. “I have enough money, but I don’t have enough championships,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said. “If you’re not in it to win championships, you shouldn’t be in it.” Alexander said he could not comment about any detail of the Rockets’ free-agency plans, including the planned presentation to players. But he said he hopes to have the sort of team to dramatically increase the team’s payroll, including paying a luxury tax. Alexander said that watching the NBA Finals offered a reminder of how badly he wants to return his team to contender’s status. The Rockets won consecutive championships in Alexander’s first seasons as team owner but have won just one playoff round since 1997. Since the departures of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, they have been restructured with the acquisition of All-Star James Harden and salary-cap room to pursue a max contract free agent next month. “I would be thrilled to pay a tax if we have a championship-caliber team,” Alexander said. “Obviously, you have to get the players to pay the taxes. You have to get great players; otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels. When you get the great players, you don’t want to lose them. You have to pay whatever it takes to keep them. That’s when it becomes really fun to be an owner and to be a fan of the Rockets.”
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Fans here have been blessed in the superstar department with the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki. Now, the pressure rises for Nowitzki in the role-model department. He’s preparing to start a new chapter of life, one that most superstars before him have also been through -- fatherhood. Michael Jordan once said that being a role model for his kids was a lot harder and more important than being a role model for millions of fans. He’s right, of course. It’s a good bet that Nowitzki feels the same way. If you’ve watched his life since he arrived with the Mavericks as a stranger in a strange land, you’ve seen him grow more comfortable in the limelight. He’s become a superstar any fan would be proud to have on their team. And the uncharted territory he’ll enter into before the summer is over -- he’s been private about his wife Jessica’s actual due date -- will be more important than anything he’s done so far. “Test is a good word,” Nowitzki said this week about having a Dirklet.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: Look at the rest of the league, Joe Dumars insists. It’s not simply the Pistons blowing out coaches in quick succession. Kidd is the Nets’ third coach in the last nine months. And Brooklyn won more than 50 games last season. “It’s such an entirely different animal from what it was just 10 years ago,” Dumars added. “You have to adapt and adjust to the situation while still holding onto what you deep down believe is the right path to take. But at the end of the day, it should always be about winning.” There are explanations for the last five years but there are no excuses. Contrary to popular opinion, Dumars has never gotten a “free pass” from media criticism and accountability. However high his personal likeability remains in this town, there’s no hiding from the fact that the Pistons fell fast and hard following a six-year run of consecutive Eastern Conference championship appearances. Dumars is the last constant from that period that’s still around, making him the biggest target. He knows that time’s running out, especially in a league that’s in more of a hurry now than ever before.
- Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Pete D'Alessandro is the latest member of the team's brain trust to walk out the Pepsi Center door, agreeing Saturday to become general manager of the Sacramento Kings. NBA executive of the year Masai Ujiri fled to Canada, and coach George Karl is leaving such a trail of bitter tears in exit interviews that perhaps his next media stop should be with Jerry Springer. While Karl has done his best to portray Kroenke as an impulsive son of a billionaire whose recent basketball decisions have been stupid, the large hole in the team's organizational chart is the result of something else. The 33-year-old Kroenke has been too nice of a guy. Oh, not too nice for firing Karl. But too nice with Ujiri, whose departure was far more critical at a time when swingman Andre Iguodala is headed to free agency.
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings have offered Hall of Fame player and former Golden State Warriors executive Chris Mullin a role as a consultant, The Bee learned. Sources spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the private nature of the offer. Mullin was the top basketball executive for the Warriors from 2004-09. New Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro worked for the Warriors from 2004-08, the final two years as assistant general manager. The Kings will introduce D'Alessandro at a press conference Monday afternoon at Sleep Train Arena. If the Kings do bring in Mullin, it would fuel speculation about the Kings' future pursuit of free agent guard Monta Ellis.
- Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: Pro sports is a ruthless business, and it can be an unfair and unfeeling one, too. We see that every spring when NBA jobs open up — and in the case of this spring, good jobs, jobs that aren’t necessarily dead-end jobs, jobs where the right man will find enough talent to win right away — and Patrick Ewing goes another year without being given a chance to coach. Ewing’s son and namesake, frustrated at seeing Jason Kidd walk right from a player’s uniform to a head coach’s suit, took to Twitter this week to express his anger. … Would Ewing be a great coach? It’s the same answer we have to give for Kidd: It’s impossible to know. And it’s the same question you ask about any coach. Did anyone in 1982 really believe the Lakers had hired themselves a Hall of Famer when they elevated Pat Riley to replace Paul Westhead? Was there universal acclaim in 1989 when the Bulls fired Doug Collins and replaced him with his oddball hippie assistant Phil Jackson? We know now those were smart hires because they worked out. But the point is, they were given a chance. So were the likes of Kurt Rambis and Marc Iavaroni, to name two — playing contemporaries of Ewing, fellow big men, both given the chance to fail on their own watch and their own merit.
- Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer: Assuming the medical reports on Nerlens Noel don't set off alarms, the Thin Man would give Mike Brown his defensive centerpiece for the next decade. The Cavaliers are thought to be split on Noel, which isn't unusual. In draft years offering far more certainty, opinions are often divided. We're not privy to the extent of concern over Noel's knee. Maybe the Cavs are already scared off by it. If not, Noel makes too much sense to pass up. Yes, Gilbert made a grand pronouncement on the night of the lottery that the bow ties would be retired, that the Cavs wouldn't be returning anything soon. Noel wouldn't be ready to play until December and would've missed a training camp. Raw offensively, he'd have serious catching up to do. But Gilbert made a grander pronouncement once before as I remember, one that flew in the face of the organizational rebuild. And that was easily forgiven and forgotten. … I'd give my head coach a dynamic shotblocker who has a huge upside, who can defend his turf and cover for those who -- despite Brown's best intentions -- don't turn into Gary "The Glove" Payton.
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Timberwolves once had a guy named Kevin Garnett who despised playing afternoon games, and they ended up doing all right with him. On Sunday, they swapped times for their predraft workouts and sprung a morning session on a group that included UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad, who never considered himself a morning guy until now. “Usually I don’t do that good in early mornings,” he said after working out in a six-player group that included Kentucky’s Archie Goodwinand former Gopher Rodney Williams. “I actually think this is one of my best workouts, so I prefer morning now.” Sunday’s workout was No./4 in Muhammad’s scheduled seven-city tour before the June 27 draft. He arrived at Target Center looking to show new Wolves basketball boss Flip Saunders that he has the scoring skills and temperament worthy of the ninth overall pick. … Saunders called his Friday visit to watch Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo work out near Washington, D.C., “more confirmation” about a player he’d have to trade up from the ninth pick into at least the top four or five to select. Saunders said he won’t travel to do the same for Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, but didn’t rule out leaving town to visit other players in the next week.
- Charles F. Gardner of The Journal Times: Ricky Ledo did not play a minute of college basketball yet could be a first-round pick in the NBA draft on June 27. That shows how impressive the 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Providence has been in workouts with National Basketball Association teams. Ledo's workout with the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday was his 13th with an NBA team as he continued his campaign to show he belongs at the next level. And he said he will work out with at least six more teams before the draft. The NCAA ruled Ledo was a partial academic qualifier and thus ineligible to play as a freshman with the Friars. But rather than pouting, he practiced with his teammates and began to draw the interest of pro scouts. Ledo and possible top-10 pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went head-to-head during the Bucks workout and showed why they are considered two of the top shooters in the draft. "Ricky Ledo is a very skilled basketball player," Bucks director of scouting Billy McKinney said. "He shoots the ball extremely well, but also his ability to create shots off the dribble is something that is going to work in his favor in the NBA. Everybody is trying to get a quick glimpse of him."
- Dave Dulberg of ArizonaSports.com: Of all the questions posed over the last few weeks to draft prospects coming through US Airways Center, few have been more prevalent than the one focusing on the Phoenix Suns' end-of-workout sprints. General manager Ryan McDonough, head coach Jeff Hornacek and the rest of the Suns' staff have built up quite a reputation of late regarding their three-minute conditioning test, so much so, that when New Mexico standout Tony Snell visited the team's practice facility on June 9, he mentioned to reporters that he mentally prepared for the drill after hearing rumors from other players in the Class of 2013. While the obvious point of the run is to evaluate the prospects' stamina after a grueling practice, McDonough noted that there's also a mental element to the exercise. "We only have a limited window to evaluate these guys," McDonough said Saturday. "We actually started it in Boston and it's one of the best ways you can think of to push a guy in a short amount of time. It's a conditioning test physically, but it's also to see how the guys respond mentally; to see how tough they are and fight through some of the fatigue. I enjoy it, I know they hate it. I enjoy seeing how these guys are willing to fight through some adversity."
June, 17, 2013
June, 17, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information
Key to Game 5: Manu Ginobili was hot ...
And LeBron James was not.
It turns out that all Manu Ginobili needed to get his game going was a chance to start.
Ginobili’s 24 points and plenty of 3-pointers from Danny Green were the keys to supporting another big game from Tony Parker on the offensive end, and a different look for LeBron James was huge on the defensive end and pivotal to the Spurs taking a 3-2 advantage in this series.
Let’s break down the statistical highlights.
Difference Maker: Ginobili’s great game
The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Ginobili became the first player to start an NBA Finals game after not starting a game all season since Marcus Camby for the 1999 Knicks.
Ginobili made Gregg Popovich look very smart. His 24 points nearly matched the 30 points he had in the first four games of the series.
Ginobili got 50 touches of the basketball in this game and drove the ball to the basket a dozen times, both numbers far exceeding what he’d done previously in this series.
The Spurs outscored the Heat 45-33 on drives in Game 5, including 14 points when Ginobili kept the ball on his drives, and nine points on drives during the Spurs 19-1 run.
The Heat shot a series-low 39 percent on drives, including 4-of-12 from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (who were a combined 11-of-15 for 26 points in Game 4).
Green makes it look easy
Danny Green matched Ginobili’s 24 points and made six more 3-pointers.
That gave him 25 3-pointers for the series, breaking Ray Allen’s record for most 3-pointers made in an NBA Finals. He made only 28 3-pointers in the previous three rounds of the playoffs combined.
Green was equally good whether the shot was open (3-for-5) or contested (3-for-5) in this game. He's 18-for-24 on open 3-pointers in the series, 7-for-14 when contested.
Boris Diaw: Defensive Stopper
The other big adjustment the Spurs made was to throw one more look his way-- putting Boris Diaw on him for an extended period of time.
James was 1-for-8 shooting against Diaw in Game 5, and 7-of-14 against all other defenders.
James’ first four shot attempts against Diaw were all at least 19 feet from the basket, and when he changed course and posted up, he was 0-for-3 on those attempts.
The Spurs did a good job at thwarting the Heat both from inside and outside. They contested eight of Miami's 12 shot attempts from beyond 10 feet in the first quarter. The Heat missed all eight of those shots.
Looking ahead …
The winner of Game 5 of the Finals when a series is tied, 2-2, has won seven of 10 possible titles under the 2-3-2 format.
The Heat will try to become the fourth team within that format (which dates to 1985) to win Games 6 and 7 at home in the Finals after trailing, 3-2. The other three are the 1988 Lakers, 1994 Rockets and 2010 Lakers.
The last team to defeat the defending NBA champ in the Finals was the 2005 Spurs who beat the Detroit Pistons.
The Heat have not lost consecutive games since January 8-10. Losing on Tuesday would end their streak and their season.
The Spurs are 14-2 in potential series-clinching games played on the road since the start of the 2002-03 postseason. The rest of the NBA is 61-75 in that span.
June, 16, 2013
June, 16, 2013
By Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne
When word began to circulate Saturday that the Clippers have weighed offering Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe to their Staples Center co-tenants for Dwight Howard in a potential sign-and-trade swap after July 1, that naturally made folks wonder where the Lakers stand in their quest to re-sign Howard when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Here's the latest:
• The Lakers have had several discussions with Howard's representatives over the past few weeks and remain confident that they will ultimately keep him with the franchise, even as he's made it clear he will entertain other suitors.
• Yet the Lakers also, according to sources, have not completely ruled out the idea of a sign-and-trade if they come to find next month that Howard is determined to leave. Sources say they are indeed leaning against sign-and-trade scenarios because they'd rather bank the resultant cap space from Howard's departure for the summer of 2014. But sources say they've adopted a keep-all-options-open approach. So they'll at least listen to just about anything.
• One source with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking said Saturday that any suggestion they could not philosophically allow themselves to make a major trade with the Clippers was "overblown." If the Clippers do indeed decide to formally offer Griffin and Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade package for Howard, indications are that it's a proposal the Lakers will certainly not dismiss outright.
• The threat of the James Harden-led Rockets signing Howard away from L.A. is very real to the Lakers, sources said, which means the Lakers will eventually be getting a sign-and-trade pitch from Houston as well. The Rockets will have the cap space to sign Howard outright after the expected shedding of Thomas Robinson's contract, but sources say that the Rockets will certainly attempt to convince the Lakers to take in return Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in a sign-and-trade deal for Howard, thus theoretically keeping alive the possibility that Houston could preserve its cap space to pursue Chris Paul and possibly pair Howard with Paul.
• Asik is a quality defensive anchor at roughly half Howard's price. And Lin had the greatest success of his career under Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. But sources maintain that the Lakers' main priority this offseason -- besides re-signing Howard -- is getting their financial house in order. Which is why the overriding expectation persists that L.A. will rebuff sign-and-trade proposals to simply bank the cap space for the summer of 2014 if Howard bolts.
• Should Howard decide to leave the Lakers, sources said, several options have been discussed internally in Lakerland. Among them: The Lakers could simply let him walk, go into the season with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash as their centerpieces -- as they had planned in July 2012 before the trade for Howard materialized -- and focus on slicing into their luxury-tax bill.
June, 15, 2013
By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Frederic J. Brown/Getty ImagesTim Duncan and the Spurs have given us performances that go beyond the easy explanations.If you ask someone to explain what was so great about Michael Jordan, you're likely to get "competitor," "winner," "killer instinct," or some other psychologically-based adjective that does little to convey the tangible skills he demonstrated on the court. While there is still some appreciation for the grace of his actual play, the Jordan competitiveness narrative has come to obscure memories of his full-speed inside-out dribble, and footwork that would stub a ballerina's toes. His post game, his passing, his strength -- all of it is subsumed into a broader story about a man's will. It's like remembering Mozart's works by declaring "no one loved music more," or explaining all of Ben Franklin's breadth of contributions with "he just thought harder than everyone."
Basketball punditry probably reached that Jordan moment with the San Antonio Spurs long ago. Whatever they do, however they do it, is largely explained by either "smart" or "veteran," and sometimes "fundamental." And just like with the odes to Michael Jordan's winning desire, the story isn't exactly false. The Spurs are mostly powered by smart veterans, after all. But in extolling general, psychological traits like this, we can oversimplify the story while sapping the wonder out of how greatness happens.
For instance, two rounds ago, when the Spurs went on an 18-2 run to force overtime and eventually take a Game 1 from the Warriors, the response was oddly unfazed. Of course the savvy vets would get one over on the young pups. It all fit snugly into a panic-versus-experience narrative. This messaging totally ignored how strange and, well, fun San Antonio was in that fourth quarter.
The flurry of points came from a squad that was more unconventional than fundamental. Four different San Antonio players scored during the sequence. Basketball tradition -- which the Spurs eschew -- favors a star dominating the ball down the stretch. While Tony Parker got the comeback started, the two final "clutch" 3s were hoisted by two young role players: Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The closing lineup was a super-small unit of three guards plus a Leonard-Boris Diaw frontcourt, with Tim Duncan watching from the bench. A lineup of five perimeter players? No Timmy? Young role players taking the biggest shots? There was an oddball, resourceful genius to the Spurs that night, and it will mostly be remembered as hare versus tortoise. How boring.
When you step away from "Savvy vets, at it again," you might notice that exciting, unexpected things are happening in Spurs Country. Tim Duncan is playing perhaps the best overall basketball of anyone we've seen at age 37. Tony Parker, in what would have seemed an improbable turn years ago, is growing into a Nash-like distributor role. Manu Ginobili is fighting his own body on every possession, channeling creativity through a disintegrating vessel. After a decade together, these guys are in the Finals pulling off the seemingly impossible, fighting Father Time to a draw at the present moment. How does Duncan maintain forever? How does Parker get even better?
The young guys are forging their own incredible paths. Danny Green played for the Erie BayHawks before finding success in SA. His basketball history isn't wholly dissimilar from Jeremy Lin's, superficially. Kawhi Leonard couldn't shoot in college. Now he's deadly from the corner. Instead of remarking on how flabbergastingly cool these success stories are, it's mostly chalked up to, "They're the Spurs." Of course San Antonio would know Green was a diamond in the rough. Of course they'd teach Kawhi how to shoot. Of course. It's not like either player was widely expected to thrive in this way. Now that they are, the outcome is retroactively considered predictable.
The repeated psychological trope of "Savvy Spurs, at it again" makes the difficult triumphs seem preordained, which doesn't allow us to even be impressed by the impressive. Ironically, the broad reverence for Gregg Popovich and company gets in the way of our Spurs appreciation in the specific. So much of this Finals run is surprising. So much of it is thrilling. And so much of it won't be remembered that way because we already have a story to remember it by. The Spurs are at it again.
June, 15, 2013
By Ernest Tolden
Manu Ginobili is struggling all over the court in the postseason.Following their 109-93 home loss to the Heat on Thursday, the Spurs enter the pivotal Game 5 of the NBA Finals looking for answers. One of their concerns is the lack of production they’ve received from guard Manu Ginobili.
Ginobili has struggled throughout the postseason, averaging only 10.6 points a game, his lowest output in a single postseason since his rookie season in 2002-03 (9.4 PPG).
What makes matters worse, his production has taken a further dip when the Spurs can least afford it.
In the first four games of the Finals against the Heat, Ginobili is averaging only 7.5 points, including matching his 2013 postseason low of five points on 1-for-5 shooting from the field in Game 4’s loss.
Ginobili has played in 29 postseason series, but it's this one that ranks as his lowest for scoring average. Let's look at a few stats related to how this has played out.
After shooting only 42.5 percent from the field in the regular season, which ranked as his second worst in a single season in his career (41.8 percent in 2003-04), Ginobili’s stroke from the field has suffered an even further decline in the postseason. The former NBA Sixth Man of the Year is shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 71 percent from the free throw line, both career postseason lows.
Factoring in all his shots, Ginobili’s true shooting percentage this postseason is 50.5 percent, well below his career postseason average of 57.9 percent. (True shooting percentage measures a player’s shooting efficiency taking into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws.)
His true percentage of 44.9 in the NBA Finals against the Heat is his third lowest in a single postseason series in his career.
Spurs faring better with Ginobili on the bench
Perhaps one of the adjustments Spurs coach Gregg Popovich could consider is decreasing Ginobili’s minutes even further, despite his 24.3 minutes per game in the Finals being down from the previous two rounds.
Popovich has already used Ginobili less this series, as the two-time NBA All-Star has recorded a usage percentage just under 20 percent in the Finals. His usage rate has declined in each series this postseason. (Usage percentage is the percentage of team plays used by a player when he is on the floor.)
The Spurs have been ineffective with Ginobili on the floor against the Heat. With Ginobili on the court, San Antonio has been outscored by Miami by 36 points, compared to outscoring the Heat by 41 points with Ginobili on the bench. Ginobili’s plus/minus of -36 is the worst by a player on either team in this year’s Finals.
San Antonio has most notably seen a decline in its offensive production with Ginobili on the court, as you can see in the chart on the right.
Ginobili not effective in pick-and-roll
Throughout his career, Ginobili has been one of San Antonio’s best ball handlers attacking from the perimeter.
During the 2012-13 regular season, Ginobili was used as a pick-and-roll ball handler more frequently than any other type of play. He was solid in that role, averaging 0.82 points per play.
In the Finals, Ginobili has run 11 pick-and-rolls ending in a score, miss or turnover and has turned the ball over as often (four) as he has scored (with one basket and four free throws).
Did You Know?
The Spurs haven't lost consecutive games in which the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili all played since Dec. 12-13.
June, 14, 2013
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN Stats & Information
Getty ImagesLeBron James and Dwyane Wade could be on the verge of their second NBA title together, but that doesn’t compare to the six rings for Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.Fifteen years ago today, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led the Chicago Bulls to their third straight NBA Championship and sixth title in an eight-year span.
Jordan's game-winning shot over Bryon Russell signaled the end of the Bulls dynasty.
Fifteen years later, another dynamic duo -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- is potentially on the verge of a second straight NBA Championship while competing in its third straight NBA Finals.
Which is the better duo: Jordan/Pippen or James/Wade? Let's compare their three-year playoff runs.
Jordan and Pippen were the better scoring duo but James and Wade have scored more efficiently than the Bulls duo did from 1996-98. During that run, Jordan and Pippen shot just 44 percent overall and 29 percent on 3-pointers, while James and Wade have shot 48 percent overall and 31 percent on 3-pointers over the last three postseasons.
The Heat duo has also trumped the Bulls duo from 1996-98 in rebounds, assists and blocks per game.
However, the 1991-93 Jordan-Pippen combo has outdone James and Wade in virtually every category. They totaled more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks with a better field goal percentage and 3-point percentage than the Heat duo.
Which duo is more clutch?
The biggest difference between the duos is their performance on the biggest stage -- the NBA Finals -- in clutch time -- the last five minutes with the score within five points.
In the 1998 NBA Finals, the Bulls scored 60 points in clutch time. In the last three NBA Finals, the Heat have scored a combined 63 points in clutch time.
Jordan alone scored 30 points in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, the most by any player in an NBA Finals series since 1997. Jordan didn't commit a single turnover in clutch time in that series.
Jordan and Pippen combined to score 38 points in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, the same amount of points James and Wade have scored in clutch time combined in the last three NBA Finals series.
The Bulls scored 0.98 points per play in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, compared to the 0.78 points per play in clutch time for the Heat over the last three NBA Finals.
James is shooting 4-for-15 from the field (27%), including 1-for-9 on 3-pointers (11%), in clutch time over the last three NBA Finals series.
If James, Wade and the Heat are going to close out the Spurs, there's a good chance it will come down to clutch time. If it does, the Spurs will be prepared. In their five NBA Finals series, the Spurs have outscored their opponents by 40 points (124-84) in clutch time. They've done so by scoring a point per play and shooting 48 percent on 3-point attempts.
June, 14, 2013
Kevin Arnovitz has been digging into that question -- he has written it up beautifully here -- and the answer is interesting: They're playing exactly the kind of ball people say they want to see, but they've never been hot in the national TV ratings.
- Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: There was the 2006 Finals MVP, a nine-time All-Star, arguably the second-best two-guard of his generation. There was the defender whom Spurs coach Gregg Popovich chose to check him: The slow-footed seven-footer Tiago Splitter. There was something very wrong with this even if, of late, there has been something not quite right about Dwyane Wade. “I was glad I had the ball in my hand, because I was going to go right at him,” the Heat guard said, smiling after Thursday’s victory, 109-93, to tie the series at 2. “I got a foul on him early. And Pop changed it after that.” Even so, that small snippet symbolized the extent to which the fear of Wade has subsided, as his right knee ailed him, as he failed to exceed 20 points in all but two playoff games, as observers began to accept what once qualified as meager offensive output as the best he could do. In Game 4, this is what he did: He brought the fear back. … “He went back into his bag tonight,” said LeBron James, who wasn’t bad either, scoring 33, keeping his promises to run off rebounds, get into his moves quicker and find his outside form. “He was Flash tonight.” Yes, Flash. That’s the name Shaquille O’Neal gave Wade. … So can Wade do it again? “I guess there’s only one way to find out,” he said. “See you Sunday.” When, odds are, he won’t see much of Tiago Splitter.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: In addition to squandering homecourt advantage back to Miami, the Spurs got reinforcement for what they already know: The absolutely, positively cannot turn the ball over against the Heat. They did it 19 times leading to 23 points as the Heat improved to 43-3 this season when forcing at least 16 miscues. About the only silver lining was the condition of Tony Parker, who wore down but otherwise reported no deteriorating in his strained right hamstring. “When we lose, that’s the deal right there,” said Tim Duncan, who led the Spurs with 20 points. “They turned up their intensity, as we knew they would, and they got a lot of hands on balls. Obviously their effort was there.” … Wade hadn’t played like he did on Thursday in months. Indeed, his teammates went even further back than that, with James saying Wade looked like “2006 Flash” — a reference to his MVP form in the 2006 Finals — after shredding the Spurs for one of the most dominant all-around performances in championship series history (see below). That’s a bit unfair to everything he’s done since then, playing in seven All-Star games, serving as an elite wingman to James in last year’s title run and, more recently scoring 20 points or more in 13 straight games from mid-February to mid-March. But after the struggles he’s endured since then, with a bruised knee rendering him a shell of himself, it was a welcome sight for the Heat.
- Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: So then the conversation changed, the way a game can change, the way he could always change one with a pass or a smart play. He and Schwartz had informed the Knicks on that Saturday that he was going to retire. They learned Grant Hill was set to announce his own retirement at the same time. It was agreed that Kidd would issue his own statement on Monday. “At one point Jeff said something like, ‘OK, so what are you going to do now that you’re not a player anymore?’ ” Kidd says. “Then he said, ‘Listen, I know you can golf your way around the world two or three times. But when you get tired of that, and you will, then you’re going to ask me what you should do next. Why don’t we think about what’s next right now?’ ” Kidd chuckles again as he tells you the next part of the story, before things happened as fast as they did with the Nets. “I thought to myself, “All right, let's take a look at your resume, Jason,’ ” he says. “You have no financial background. You have basketball, that’s what you have, for your whole life.’ So next was going to be basketball. Jeff started to put out some feelers. Obviously one of his first calls was to Billy. And then things started to move up warp speed after that.” Before long Jason Kidd, one of the two most important players in the history of the franchise — Julius Erving was first — was pitching himself to his old team. Excited about the prospect of starting all over again as a coach, starting all over again with the Nets. “I got the feeling once I was in the room that both sides were excited,” he says.
- Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Now that the NBA’s prime coaching pool is shrinking by the day as Doc Rivers contemplates his Celtics future, Danny Ainge has no choice but to consider a backup plan if his coach of the last nine seasons leaves. Two league sources with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed yesterday that if Rivers does indeed leave, former Clippers coach Vinnie Del Negro will receive serious consideration as his replacement. Clippers management, known to be interested in Rivers now that his reluctance has become public, was denied permission to talk to him earlier this week, according to one of the sources. Celtics management has now denied two teams permission — the Clippers and Nets. Memphis is also said to be interested, though Grizzlies management has not approached Ainge. But Rivers’ prolonged deliberation has forced Ainge to at least consider alternatives. The Celtics president of basketball operations is an admirer of the Springfield-born Del Negro and his up-tempo philosophy, even if Del Negro reportedly didn’t mesh with his biggest star, Chris Paul. “As a stopgap for that situation, sure,” said one source. “Vinnie would be the perfect person for what they need. All of the all-star coaches, or whatever you want to call them, are going, and knowing how Danny feels about him, (Del Negro) would be a good fit.”
- Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Upon being fired last week, Nuggets coach George Karl told team president Josh Kroenke, "I think I should tell you, I think it's very stupid." The controversial firing of the reigning NBA coach of the year has led to much debate in Denver. On Thursday afternoon, Karl sat down with The Denver Post and discussed an array of topics, including his firing, his future (possibly landing with the Memphis Grizzlies or the Los Angeles Clippers) and the future of the Nuggets, a team he believes could have won 55 games next season, even with Danilo Gallinari out for much of the season due to knee surgery. "I'm not going to stand here and justify my (playoff) record," Karl said, but he believed the franchise was on an upward tick, "and to blow that away, it leaves you helpless, speechless, powerless, sad, a lot of words."
- Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: The mission for the Indiana Pacers’ front office this summer mirrors what it was a year ago: Keep the core players together. Last July, the team paid a combined $98 million to keep a pair of starters, Roy Hibbert and George Hill, in Indiana uniforms. The focus this time? Do the same with David West. Donnie Walsh, the team’s president, and Kevin Pritchard, the general manager, expressed their desire to re-sign West, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, in a Thursday morning news conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Simply put by the Pacers’ brass: West is priority No. 1. “We want him back as much as you can want anyone back,” Walsh said. “We think he’s one of the anchors of this team.” The interest is mutual. West was clear with his feelings following Indiana’s Game 7 Eastern Conference finals loss to the Miami Heat earlier this month. “I’m not (expletive) dumb,” he said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere. This is my team. These are my guys.”
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Timberwolves conducted another round of predraft workouts on Thursday and then new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders quickly slipped out of Target Center to catch a flight to see Indiana guard Victor Oladipo on Friday. Saunders flew to Las Vegas two weeks ago to watch Russian guard Sergey Karasev in a pro-day workout. On Thursday, he headed to the Washington, D.C. area to see a player the Wolves would have to move from their ninth pick into the top five — or maybe even top two — to get a chance to draft. The Wolves have limited assets to swing such a deal, namely third-year forward Derrick Williams, second-year guard Alexey Shved and the ninth and/or 26th picks in the draft. They also likely will trade one of two veteran guards —Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea —by draft night. The Wolves’ biggest need is a traditionally sized shooting guard and Saunders has stated more than once that he wants — and expects — to get with that ninth pick a player who can help his team next season.
- Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars was asked about the upcoming summer as his team will have at least $20 million in cap space to help construct the roster. He emphasized with a weak free-agent class, the path back to relevancy will likely come via the trade market. Likely partners are those teams facing onerous luxury tax bills next year. The potential is there to get a good, young veteran from one of those teams. So is he itching to start pitching deals? On the contrary; the talks have already begun. “It’s already started,” Dumars said at the introductory news conference for new coach Maurice Cheeks. “The phone calls for that have already started. The calls have already started because those teams are already facing it.”
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: It has been nearly 40 years since a true shooting guard was the top overall pick in the NBA Draft. If the Cavaliers elect to end that streak and select Ben McLemore first overall in two weeks, hopefully it works out better than the last time it happened. The Atlanta Hawks made David Thompson the top pick of the 1975 draft, but he never played for them. Thompson was also the top pick of the ABA Draft that year and elected to play in the ABA before the two leagues merged. The list of players to go No. 1 overall is littered with point guards and big men. McLemore is well aware of that, since he used some down time after the season to research the last time a shooting guard was the top pick. “I realized I can make history,” McLemore said. “Coming from nothing and just having the opportunity to get the No. 1 spot, I’m going to work for it. It’s definitely neck and neck.” The other “neck” McLemore was referring to was Nerlens Noel, but the Cavs have seemed cool on Noel since winning the draft lottery last month.
- Brandon Parker of The Washington Post: Indeed, fans are already buzzing about the prospect of either Bennett or Porter being selected third overall by the Wizards in the NBA draft on June 27. While Porter will work out with the Wizards on Friday, Bennett made his case during the last two days in Washington, meeting with the Wizards for interviews and measurements. Because of surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, the 6-foot-8 forward was unable to work out in front of the team. Since his May operation, Bennett, who is no longer in a cast, has been rehabbing in New York with an eye on returning to full strength by the first week of August. “I met with Dr. [David] Altchek yesterday and he said I can do light shooting, can dribble, but no contact or dunking or anything crazy like that,” Bennett said. “He said everything is going fine.” … On Thursday, Bennett said his wingspan measured in around 7 feet 1 and his standing reach was 8-9, numbers that continue to intrigue all of the teams with top five picks. After meeting with Phoenix last week, Bennett is expected to visit with Orlando this weekend, followed by Cleveland and Charlotte in the coming weeks. Whether he meets with any teams outside of the top five is up to his agent, Bennett said.
- Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Phil Jackson doesn't want to lie to himself, he's done coaching. "Sometimes I feel I can still get out there and do it but the reality is I'm kidding myself," Jackson said at a "Live Talks Los Angeles" event at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Wednesday. Jackson said he returned for one final year with the team in 2010-11 as a favor to the late Dr. Jerry Buss (and his support staff). "When I was done I knew I was done -- physically it was over," he said. "Even though after I got a knee replacement and a prostatectomy in the last year and a half." Jackson was diagnosed with prostate cancer midway through his final season, but has since recovered. "It's those long flights and three o'clock nights -- getting up after five hours of sleep and going back to work, those are the things that wear you out," continued the Hall-of-Fame coach. Jackson was greeted by an enthusiastic audience at the Alex Theatre, chanting the now familiar, "We want Phil."
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: It’s been a presidential kind of day for Mark Cuban. And it’s not over yet. He had a hush-hush bite to eat with President Obama that went public when White House reporters spotted the Mavericks’ owner leaving the White House. “He invited me to have lunch and talk basketball,” Cuban said. “How could I say no? It was a lot of fun. He definitely shared his thoughts on what the Mavs should do this summer. “Even crazier is that now I’m in Chicago for the Clinton global initiative conference and tonight I’m going to watch the game with President Clinton!” Probably not at one of the great sports bars in Chicago on Hubbard Street, but at a more secure venue. Cuban, by the way, did not divulge whether President Obama is a big Dwight Howard fan or not. Cuban, according to our political experts, is a significant donor to the Democratic Party.
- Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: The Bucks and several other teams are undoubtedly doing their homework on Jordan Farmar. Farmar, the former first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, spent this season playing for Anadolu Efes in the Turkish League. He signed a three-year, $15 million contract last July with Efes, but can op out after every season. “He wants to come back to the NBA, for sure,” said Tony Dutt, Farmar’s agent who also happens to be a friend of Bucks general manager John Hammond. “He’s still young and he could help some teams.” Farmar, 25, played four seasons for the Lakers while earning two championship rings before signing with the New Jersey Nets. After two seasons with the Nets, he latched on with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2011.