NEWS OF THE MORNING
Leonard gives Spurs a preview of their future | Hollins still hoping for coaching gig | Report: Lakers meet with Scott again | Nowitzki: Chances ‘slim to none’ he’ll leave Mavs | Battier a master at stealing play-calls
No. 1: Leonard gives Spurs an early look at their future – Through the first two games of The Finals, Kawhi Leonard was a virtual non-factor as he had just 18 points in the series and was being outplayed by his matchup, LeBron James. The Heat’s star had another solid game (22 points), but Leonard broke out of his funk in a major way in Game 3. He poured in 29 points and powered San Antonio’s rout and as our Steve Aschburner notes, gave the Spurs a good look at what the team might look like when Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker hang it up:
Kawhi Leonard, the presumptive future of the San Antonio Spurs, was sorely needed in the present, lest these 2014 Finals slip too quickly into his and the Spurs’ past.
So the future was now in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, Leonard scoring a career-high 29 points and shadowing LeBron James into the sort of mere-mortal game San Antonio will need if it hopes to do this year what it couldn’t do last.
Leonard was jerked out of his foul-plagued funk in the two games in San Antonio by some pep talks and tough love from the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan as if he was, oh, Roy Hibbert. And he responded, mostly by ignoring the circumstances of these games and playing as if this were January.
Offensively, Leonard attacked Miami from the start, hitting all five of his shots in the first quarter and scoring 16 of the Spurs’ 41 points that period. Defensively the 6-foot-7 forward with the pterodactyl wingspan and Wolverine hands helped limit James to 22 points, just eight over the final three quarters when San Antonio’s fat lead cried out for something special after halftime.
Leonard had been outscored 60-18 by James in Games 1 and 2 combined, but he had the edge this time by seven. By relaxing, by seizing the moment while forgetting how momentous it was, Leonard sparked the Spurs to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and stuck Miami with its first home loss of the postseason (8-1).
“That’s how he’s played all year long,” Popovich said. “He’s got to be one of our better players on the court or we’re not good enough. That’s just the way it is.
“You know, it’s the NBA Finals. You can’t just be mediocre out there if you want to win a game, and everybody’s got to play well, and he did that.”
Popovich acknowledged that he and others within the team had talked with Leonard in the two off-days before Game 3, though he declined to share. “Family business,” the Spurs coach called it.
Though the specifics were cloaked, the message seemed obvious.
“We just wanted him to be who he’s been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Popovich said. He said Leonard “overreacted” to the fouls called against him and “became very cautious.” “And he doesn’t play like that,” the coach added.
Said Duncan: “We’ve been on him about continuing to play.”
Leonard’s 29 points weren’t just his NBA career high – they apparently were the most he’d scored since high school. He had 26 for San Diego State as a freshman in a game at Wyoming, Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reported, and 26 in an April game against Memphis this season. He’s the first player to set his personal scoring high in a Finals game since the Nets’ Kenyon Martin went for 35 in Game 4 against the Lakers in 2002.
No. 2: Hollins still hoping for to land a coaching gig — The New York Knicks officially named Derek Fisher as coach yesterday. Over the weekend, the Utah Jazz picked former Hawks assistant Quin Snyder as their new man. As well, vacancies in Minnesota (Flip Saunders), Detroit (Stan Van Gundy) and elsewhere are drying up fast as teams prepare for 2014-15. Former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins was mentioned for many of the above openings, but obviously hasn’t gotten a new job just yet. He spoke with BasketballInsiders.com’s Yannis Koutroupis about his desire to land an NBA coaching job before too long:
Hollins boasts a career record of 214-201 overall and an 18-17 mark in playoff games, highlighted by a trip to the 2013 Western Conference Finals. He’s one of the most proven and experienced head coaches on the market. Yet, since he’s become a free agent, 12 coaches with no prior NBA head coaching experience have been hired.
“It is [weird],” Hollins said to Basketball Insiders at adidas Eurocamp, where he is volunteering, when asked about still being without a job. “You would think with the success that I’ve had that something would have happened already but it’s just part of the process. There are a lot of other guys that are out there that aren’t even interviewing. I look at Scott Skiles and I look at Vinny Del Negro, guys like Jeff Van Gundy who is still sitting out there, George Karl who’s still sitting out there. There are a lot of people that have had much success and aren’t even getting calls to be interviewed. It’s kind of a crazy and wacky world right now.
“Unfortunately a lot of teams have filled their positions and there are only a couple left and hopefully I’ll be the number one guy for somebody as we go forward. Everywhere I’ve interviewed I’ve felt like it was an organization that I would want to be a part of and a job that had some prospects. Obviously it’s up to the team and the person making the call on what they want and whether or not they think you fit what they’re trying to do.”
Hollins has already interviewed with the Cavaliers and the Lakers and is still in the running for both openings.
“I would have to consider it if I want to stay in the league and there were no head coaching opportunities,” Hollins said. “It’s not something that I think about. It’s not something that I want to think about. My focus is on trying to be a head coach. I don’t want to go back to being a lead assistant and be a lead assistant for the next seven, eight or nine years and then they tell me that I’m too old to be a head coach.”
No. 3: Report: Lakers, Scott talk again — Former Lakers standout Byron Scott was nothing if not confident after having an interview with L.A. for its coaching opening. Scott told the media after his first interview that he’d be the ‘perfect’ coach for Kobe Bryant and could get the Lakers back to their winning ways. The Lakers continue to mull their options for their next coach and Scott might be high on the list. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin reports that he and the team had another discussion about L.A.’s opening:
Byron Scott met with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday to discuss the team’s vacant coaching position for the second time, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Scott met with vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak. Thus far, he is the only candidate to be interviewed twice by the Lakers.
While Scott is a clear front-runner, sources said talks have not escalated to the point where the sides are discussing contractual terms.
Scott, a former longtime Laker who played with Kobe Bryant during Bryant’s rookie season, has spoken with Bryant several times throughout the Lakers’ coaching search.
No. 4: Nowitzki laughs off talk of his interest in joining Rockets — A casual glance at NBA.com’s list of the top 25 free agents this summer lists Dallas Mavericks stalwart and superstar Dirk Nowitzki at No. 3. The Mavs are the only team Nowitzki has known throughout his NBA career and as he nears the free-agent period, he told the Dallas Morning News‘ Eddie Sefko doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon:
Dirk Nowitzki left no doubt on Tuesday that he has a fear of the unknown, especially when it involves his future.
As he entertained and interacted with about 100 kids at the T. Boone Pickens YMCA in downtown Dallas, Nowitzki took time to explain that he expects to be a free agent on July 1 – for less than a day, if possible.
“Usually, we get it over quick,” Nowitzki said. “Four years ago, I met with Mark (Cuban) on July 2nd. I don’t like the period of not knowing what’s going on. I don’t like the unknown. Mark and I will hopefully find a good deal for both parties.
“We have not had any talks yet, but I’m sure that won’t take a long time.”
Asked if he saw any chance of him not being a Maverick next season, Nowitzki said: “Pretty slim to none. We all know I kind of grew up here in the Mavericks’ (organization).”
Nowitzki even laughed when it was mentioned that the Houston Rockets – bitter rivals down Interstate 45 and the team that Dwight Howard spurned the Mavericks and Nowitzki for last summer in free agency – have been mentioned as a possible landing spot for him.
“The quote was more that they’re going for every guy that’s out there,” he said.
“And that, I guess, includes me. But I doubt I’ll be out there long.”
No. 5: Battier a master at intercepting foes’ play-calling — Heat forward Shane Battier has made it known that he’s retiring at the end of The Finals and his 3-point stroke won’t be the only thing Miami misses next season. According to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, though, Battier is perhaps the NBA’s best at intercepting play-calling by opposing coaches. Battier says he’s worked on that skill since he was a player at Duke University and has further honed it in the NBA:
Battier said he has relayed the Spurs’ play calls to teammates several times during these Finals but said it’s more challenging with coach Gregg Popovich because “he has about 500 plays.”
Battier said he has been intercepting play calls “since college [at Duke]. It’s something [coach Mike Krzyzewski] coached us on. I think it’s effective. Half the time, I may not know what the call is, but if the opponent thinks I know what’s going to happen, doubt creeps in.
“Aside from little wrinkles, there are very few secrets in NBA playoff basketball play-calling. For the most part, I think it’s an effective strategy. If I was ever a coach, I would tell my players to do the same thing.”
Battier said he has become skilled at doing it by “studying everything pretty diligently. I try to verse myself in hand gestures, key words, audibles. I try to know it all.”
How helpful is it?
“I couldn’t quantify, but it’s like having the answers to the test,” Battier said.
“Wouldn’t you like having the answers to the test before you take it or while you’re taking it?”
Ray Allen said Battier’s acumen for deciphering play calls makes a difference.
“It helps you have a pro-active defense,” Allen said. “You can jump in front of screens. Shane is a like a coach on the sidelines. He will say who the ball is going to, from the court or the sidelines.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Our David Aldridge breaks down what might happen next with Donald Sterling and the sale of the L.A. Clippers … It can’t be watched enough — relive every bucket from the Spurs’ amazing, historic first half in Game 3 … Nuggets high-energy forward Kenneth Faried has an offseason goal of turning himself into a superstar … Does having Al Jefferson in the fold make the Hornets a more appealing free-agent destination? … Pacers assistant coach and former NBA coach Nate McMillan is drawing interest for a couple of vacancies … Are the Bulls underpaying coach Tom Thibodeau? …
ICYMI of the Night:Kawhi Leonard‘s offense is getting a lot of attention this morning, but don’t overlook the defensive work he put in throughout Game 3 …