Posts Tagged ‘Marco Belinelli’

Morning shootaround — July 4




VIDEO: Mavericks busy adding Matthews and Jordan

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Mavs are back | Lakers fading on Aldridge | Rondo picks Kings | Rockets keep pair | Hammon summer boss
No. 1: Jordan makes Mavs relevant again — They struck out on Deron Williams. They came up empty in their pursuit of Dwight Howard. But just when folks were starting to think Mark Cuban and the Mavericks had lost their mojo, they came up as big winners in the 2015 Free Agency by locking up prize center DeAndre Jordan to go along with guard Wesley Matthews. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News says one of the most significant days in franchise history put the capital “D” back in Big D:

The ghosts of Deron Williams and Dwight Howard and all the other free agents that snubbed the Mavericks in years past have been swept away. Any accusations that the Mavericks don’t have cache and that Dallas isn’t a free-agent destination no longer apply.

In the last three summers, they have reeled in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and now Jordan and Matthews.

Owner Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle, franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki and last year’s key free-agent signee Chandler Parsons were all part of the recruiting party that met with Jordan twice in Los Angeles since free agency began late Tuesday night.

Cuban is optimistic that Jordan will a foundation piece of the franchise.

“We told him that you’re capable of being a 20-20 guy,” Cuban said on an interview with KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket. “You’re just not being given the opportunity.”

The recruiting team sold Jordan, who was first-team all-defense and third-team all-NBA last season, on the Mavericks by emphasizing that he would be a focal point of the franchise at both ends of the court. Coach Rick Carlisle presented X’s and O’s that showed how Jordan could prosper in the Mavericks’ system.

They don’t see him as offensively challenged, although he obviously is a poor free throw shooter (41.7 percent for his career, 39.7 percent last season).

Jordan did not waste time making a decision. He met with the Los Angeles Clippers, with whom he played his first seven seasons in the league, Thursday night in LA. By noon, Pacific time, he had informed the Mavericks that they were the winners for his services.

And, my, how the outlook for an entire franchise can change so quickly. When Tyson Chandler left the Mavericks for Phoenix on Wednesday for a four-year deal worth more than $50 million, fans were worried that another year of free agency would go by with the Mavericks getting nothing but agony.

With Jordan’s decision, coupled with coaxing Matthews to sign for about $14 million per season, people who have dogged Cuban and Nelson for roster decisions since the 2011 championship certainly have to reconsider their position.

Cuban also admitted that had the Mavericks swung and missed on Jordan, they could have been staring at a season of doom. He also credited Texas having no state income tax as a significant recruiting tool for both Jordan and Matthews.

In Matthews, the Mavericks are getting a sensational shooter who is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in March. They included athletic trainer Casey Smith in the recruiting meeting with Matthews and you can be certain the Mavericks would not have been all-in with Matthews if Smith wasn’t convinced Matthews will make a full recovery in time to play most, if not all, of the 2015-16 season.

That set the table for Jordan, whose agents also represent Parsons. In addition, Cuban and agent Dan Fegan have worked together on numerous contracts, trades and other NBA dealings. That relationship didn’t hurt in the pursuit of Jordan.

Package it all together and the Mavericks ended up with one of the biggest days in franchise history Friday.

***

No. 2: Lakers hopes of landing Aldridge sinking fast — This is life among the other half. Long one of the NBA’s elite, the Lakers have grown accustomed to rejection as just one of the masses in recent seasons. Though they were granted a “do-over” second meeting with free agent LaMarcus Aldridge and things reportedly went well, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times says the Lakers don’t have much hope of landing the free agent plum:

It’s the third consecutive summer they’ve made a pitch — or pitches, in the case of LaMarcus Aldridge — in hopes of a successful off-season acquisition.

Their presentation to Aldridge was “much better” the second time, according to a person familiar with the hastily assembled meeting, but there could be only hope, not overt confidence, he would eventually sign on the dotted line of their four-year, $80-million offer.

They want Aldridge badly and genuinely need him because almost all the free-agent post players have allied themselves with other teams.

DeAndre Jordan chose Dallas over the Clippers, Kevin Love returned to Cleveland, and Greg Monroe went with Milwaukee over the Lakers and New York.

Even the second-tier big men are getting snapped up, including Robin Lopez for a reported $54 million over four years with the Knicks.

There’s still … Kosta Koufos? Bismack Biyombo? Cole Aldrich?

It’s a touch of deja vu for the Lakers — another July, another waiting period.

***

No. 3: Kings get Rondo, Belinelli — It’s been a tumultuous several weeks for the Kings with all the talk of trading center DeMarcus Cousins and whispers of firing newly-hired coach George Karl. But the downtrodden team finally got a bid of good news when free agents Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli — both with championship rings — agreed to new contracts with the Kings. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee breaks it down:

Point guard Rajon Rondo agreed to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million, according to a league source. Rondo met with the Kings on Friday, then agreed to the deal.

Rondo, 29, was the second player to agree on Friday to join the Kings. They also reached a three-year deal worth $19 million with free-agent swingman Marco Belinelli, a league source said. Belinelli confirmed his decision on Twitter.

The contracts can be signed July 9, when the league moratorium on deals is lifted.

Friday was a bounce-back day for the Kings. Thursday night, guard Wesley Matthews passed on their four-year, $64 million offer, and Monta Ellis, another top target, agreed to sign with Indiana.

The Kings, who had been looking for improved passing and three-point shooting, should get both from Rondo and Belinelli, respectively.

Their signings were made possible after the Kings cleared an additional $16 million in salary cap space on Wednesday, giving Sacramento about $26 million to work with in free agency, after trading Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to Philadelphia.

The Kings hosted Matthews on Thursday, hoping to persuade their top free-agent target to sign the lucrative offer.

***

No. 4: Rockets keep Brewer, Beverley — The Rockets are still considered darkhorse contenders to land free agent prize LaMarcus Aldridge. But while waiting for a decision, the team made significant moves in re-signing their own two key players Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets came to terms with starting point guard Pat Beverley and sixth man Corey Brewer, multiple individuals with knowledge of the deals said.

But a person familiar with the talks so far said they remained “in the mix” to also land Trail Blazers free-agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge, considered the top attainable free agent of the summer.

Aldridge seems most likely to land in San Antonio.

Even if the Rockets do convince Aldridge to sign on, that would take a difficult sign-and-trade deal with the Trail Blazers.
They can only hope that Aldridge feels anywhere near the way Brewer and Beverley did Friday.

According to individuals with knowledge of the deals, Brewer and the Rockets reached agreement on a three-year, $24 million contract and Beverley and the Rockets reached agreement on a three-year, $18 million deal with a fourth, non-guaranteed season worth another $5 million.

“I’m just happy to be back, man,” Beverley said. “This is the biggest contract I had in my life.

“Because of the numbers Dallas was throwing around, I was kind of worried that Houston wouldn’t be able to match it. I was getting so many calls at night I didn’t know what was going on. I was excited to be getting calls.

“It came down to God is good. I’m where I need to be and that’s in Houston.”

Beverley also received interest from the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks. Brewer met with the Knicks on Friday and also was targeted by the Kings and Lakers.

“I’m happy, so happy,” Brewer said. “Just glad to be a Rocket.”
The Rockets considered both keys to their rotation.

Brewer’s addition in December dramatically bolstered the Rockets bench, and he was a key to their post-season run, most vividly with his starring role in the Rockets’ Game 6 comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.

***

No. 5: Hammon to coach Spurs’ Summer League team — Another day, another barrier for Becky Hammon to break down. While the Spurs’ pursuit of free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge has consumed most of the headlines this summer, the forward-thinking franchise took another giant step toward the future by announcing that the NBA’s first full-time female assistant Becky Hammon be calling the shots from the sidelines for the Spurs at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the details:

Hammon said Friday she viewed her appointment from coach Gregg Popovich as a vital step in the development of her career.

“It’s a different role (from being an assistant),” said Hammon, 38. “You go from giving support and watching all the details going on during the game to, you’re the one calling timeout, you’re the one drawing up the plays, you’re the one the players get (mad) at when they get yanked. It’s a step over and a step up, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Will Hardy, the team’s video coordinator, will coach the Spurs’ entry in the Salt Lake City Summer League from Monday through Thursday, with Hammon assisting him.

The two will swap roles when the Spurs relocate to Las Vegas from July 10-20.

Traditionally, a stint as the Spurs’ Summer League coach has looked good on a résumé.

Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer and former Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn each took a turn during their time on the Spurs’ bench, as did Washington lead assistant Don Newman.

Last year’s Spurs summer leaguers were led by assistant coach Ime Udoka.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tobias Harris re-signs with the Magic…Knicks land Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams...C.J. Watson makes move to Orlando…The mayor of Phoenix is now part of the recruiting effort to lure LaMarcus Aldridge to the Valley of the Sun.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Kings, Rondo agree to one-year deal

VIDEO: Sacramento making moves during free agency.

The Kings and point guard Rajon Rondo agreed on a one-year, $10-million contract Friday, according to multiple reports, hours after Sacramento came to terms with shooting guard Marco Belinelli as part of the continuing renovation in the backcourt.

Adding the combustible Rondo to the mix with DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and years of bad chemistry is a curious decision for an organization desperately in need of stability, compounded by the fact that Rondo’s game is in decline at age 29. A one-year deal, though, makes it a reasonable risk. The four-time All-Star with the Celtics already has a lot to prove after a bad 2014-15 ending with the Mavericks, and now will be under greater pressure than ever to not become a distraction if he hopes to have a chance at another long-term contract at good money.

A year ago, with Pete D’Alessandro as general manager, Sacramento drafted Nik Stauskas in the lottery, let Isaiah Thomas go in free agency and signed Darren Collison to become the new point guard. In the last few days alone, new head of basketball operations Vlade Divac traded Stauskas to the 76ers as part of a salary dump and signed Rondo and Belinelli.

While Ben McLemore is likely still projected as the starting shooting guard after an encouraging second season, the plan is for Belinelli to add three-point shooting, following the plan for Stauskas to add three-point shooting. If the Kings get the Belinelli of 2013-14, they made a significant improvement — he shot 43 percent behind the arc with the Spurs. But the same player on the same team dropped to 37.4, making 2015-16 in Sacramento an important proving ground for him as well as Rondo.

 

Star-studded Three-Point Shootout field highlights All-Star Saturday Night


VIDEO: Star-studded field for Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Forget East versus West. After two years of NBA All-Star Saturday Night pitting one conference against the other, this time, it’s personal. And for once, long range marksmanship may trump dunks as the center of attraction.

NBA All-Star 2015Conference affiliations will be out the window on Saturday, Feb. 14, for the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. This year, it’s every man and woman for themselves in the annual Saturday night showcase.

In the Degree Shooting Stars competition, the two-time defending championship team of Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash will reunite. Although this is a shooting competition, Team Davis, made up of Anthony Davis, Scottie Pippen and Elena Delle Donne, will have unbelievable length. Other participants include Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his father, retired guard Dell.

Eight players will compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, a three-round, obstacle-course competition that tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills. Seven of those players are point guards, including the defending champ, Utah’s Trey Burke, as well as All-Stars Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague and John Wall. The lone non-point guard in the field is Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, an All-Star swingman with well-rounded skills.

The Sprite Slam Dunk field was announced a few weeks ago. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee bring an energetic edge to the proceedings this season. Brooklyn’s Plumlee is the lone active NBA player with New York ties participating on Saturday night.

Yet even with the loaded dunk field, it may be tough to top the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which is this year stocked with sharpshooters …

Marco Belinelli, Spurs — Last year’s defending champ, Belinelli has played just 30 games this season due to injury. Belinelli has the lowest 3-point percentage (38.2) of any player in the Three-Point Contest field.

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Drained 10 3-pointers Wednesday night in a 51-point performance against the Mavs. Earlier this season, became fastest player in NBA history to make 1,000 career 3s.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — At 44.6 percent, Thompson trails only Korver in 3-point percentage this season. Thompson and Curry are the only teammates ever to combine for 400 3-pointers in back-to-back seasons.

James Harden, Rockets — Fifth this season in 3-pointers made and attempts, and the NBA’s leading scorer at 27 points.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Other than Belinelli, Irving has the least made treys in the field, with 100. But last year’s All-Star Game MVP has a flair for the dramatic, and he knocked down 11 3s in his 55-point performance a few weeks back against Portland.

Kyle Korver, Hawks — On pace to have the greatest 3-point shooting season in NBA history, currently leading the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 53.2 percent. Korver is attempting to become the first player in history among qualifiers to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers — Leads the NBA in 3-pointers made (151) and attempted (375). Has had 11 games this season where he made at least 5 3-pointers.

J.J. Redick, Clippers — Has made 114 3-pointers, putting him on track to break his previous high of 165. Currently shooting a career-high 43.2 percent on 3s.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 14, from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.


VIDEO: All-Star guards highlight Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Fixing defensive downfalls remains job No. 1 for Cavaliers


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses what the Cavs must do to shore up their defense

CLEVELAND – It sounded like the old Steve Martin joke, advising people how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (“First, get a million dollars. Then…”). Someone asked Gregg Popovich how he and his San Antonio coaching staff get players not known for their defense to “buy in” to the Spurs’ system so they uphold that team’s stingy reputation.

“I don’t bring anybody in like that,” Popovich said after the Spurs’ shootaround session Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena. “Except maybe [Marco] Belinelli. He’s trying.”

Even the trigger-happy Belinelli got vetted through Tom Thibodeau‘s five-guys-on-a-string tactics in Chicago for a year before Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford signed him in July 2013.

The Cavaliers imposed no such prohibitions when they came together this offseason, parts being bolted around LeBron James in a flurry of trades and free-agent acquisitions. The incumbent backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters had no particular defensive chops. Power forward Kevin Love racks up formidable rebounding numbers but otherwise hadn’t shown much defensive proclivities. Center Anderson Varejao is energetic and aggressive in the paint, but Love and Tristan Thompson aren’t bonafide rim protectors. Shooters Mike Miller and James Jones are, well, shooters. And even James’ defense seemed to slip a notch in his last season with Miami.

Through nine games, Cleveland’s defensive rating of 108.3 was tied for fifth-worst in the league. That’s not just worse than his Heat team’s performance last season (102.9), it’s worse than the 2013-14 Cavaliers managed (104.8) on their way to a 33-49 record.

The Cavs have given up 100 points or more seven times, and their defensive effective field-goal percentage of .536, which adjusts for the premium on 3-pointers, is third-worst in the NBA, better only than the Lakers (.551) and Minnesota (.559). The breakdowns in Cleveland’s schemes are clear, from zone coverage to pick-and-roll misdirections to some poor or lazy individual habits.

So while everyone has focused on the blending of offensive styles and responsibilities of James, Love, Irving and the rest, Cleveland opponents have found it awfully easy to score – a flaw the Cavaliers can’t afford to ignore.

“I don’t think it’s something you learn on the fly,” James said Wednesday. “I think it’s something you work on every single day. You teach it, you preach it, you demand it. I didn’t come [into the NBA] as being a big defensive guy. I played defense and my high school coaches did preach it, and we knew in order to win, we had to defend. This is a different level.

“When [former Cavs coach] Mike Brown came to this team, that was just his whole mindset, saying, ‘If we don’t defend, we can’t win.’ And he preached it every day. It was just instilled in us as players. You’ve got to teach it, you’ve got to preach it, you’ve got to demand it every single day.”

Sounds like current Cavs coach David Blatt is there now, too.

“You have to raise the level of expectation,” Blatt said the other day, “and the level of accountability, and you have to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes if you’re not blessed with great individual defenders, your principles have to be that much stronger, and your helps and your court recognition have to be that much better. And that’s why it’s taken us longer in that area of the game than on the offensive end.”

San Antonio, by contrast, ranks third in the NBA in defensive rating (96.0) after finishing fourth (100.1) last season and tied for third (99.2) two years ago. A team whose main pieces have been together for multiple seasons might be expected to have an edge, though effort and priorities matter as much or more.

The Cavs’ familiarity will grow, but it’s on them to drag the defense along. Bumping up Shawn Marion‘s minutes has helped some, and there has been chatter about pursuing Timberwolves wing Corey Brewer in trade. Still, a roster overhaul is unlikely and any defensive makeover will require lipstick (and more) on what so far has been a pig.

“Defensively we just need more than anything to just trust each other,” Love said. “We’re all capable, especially as a team. We’ve got to take the individual battle. But at the end of the day, we need to trust each other that we need to help each other out.”


VIDEO: LeBron James is driven to get the Cavs back to winning consistently

 

Messina adds taste of Italy to Spurs

messina

Could Ettore Messina (left) be the Spurs’ next coach when Gregg Popovich retires? (NBAE via Getty Images)

Ettore Messina had taken a sip from the NBA cup before when he was a consultant on Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers for the 2011-12 season.

This time is like opening wide, throwing back his head and drinking it all in.

“The Spurs,” he said with a grin. “It is a familiar taste.”

A comfortable fit, like a designer Italian suit.

The team with nine international players from seven different countries now adds another bit of overseas flair to the mix with an assistant coach with a worldly resume.

The 55-year-old Italian has won four titles in his home country, four Russian League titles, four Euroleague championships and was named one of the 50 greatest contributors to the Euroleague.

“He’s a smart guy, a helluva good coach and a very interesting man,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Why wouldn’t you want somebody like Ettore to be around your team?”

Fact is, Messina had been around the Spurs once before. When he abruptly quit as coach of Real Madrid just before the Euroleague playoffs in the spring of 2011, Messina accepted an invitation from the Spurs to come to San Antonio and travel with the team.

After his season in L.A., a return to coach CSKA Moscow, this is more of a commitment as a full member of the coaching staff as the Spurs look for new ways to keep moving ahead in defense of their 2014 NBA championship.

It is a reunion with Manu Ginobili, 13 years after the Argentine star was the Euroleague Finals MVP for Messina’s champion team at Kinder Bologna. It was also a time when Messina first was exposed to a young teen-age prospect named Marco Belinelli.

“It is obviously special to have a chance to come to the NBA after these years and be part of a team with Manu and Marco,” Messina said. “But I know so many of the different Spurs player from their time in Europe. In a way, it is like I am coming home.

“It is very, very special to work with Pop, with this club, not only because it happens to be the champion team, but also the team that for us Europeans is closest to our way of seeing things and doing things. To have this chance to return with Manu at the end of his career, it’s very special. At my age you don’t start thinking about building a career or anything. If something happens, it happens. It doesn’t matter. Now it is only about experiences.”

For Popovich and the Spurs, it is only the next step in their determination to leave no stone unturned anywhere on the planet in order to move ahead in their education in the game. They added Messina to the staff in the same summer that they broke another barrier when they welcomed Becky Hammon as the first full-time female coach in an American men’s professional league.

“That’s just Pop,” said general manager R.C. Buford. “He’s open and he’s always hungry and searching for new things to discover about the game and different ways to coach it.”

“It was an easier decision now because Ettore has been with us before,” Popovich said. “I gave him a seat on our team plane and he’s gone on road trips with us. He’s traveled with us before.

“We talk a lot, that sort of thing. He’s a class act, a lot classier and suave than I am. He’s a sharp dude and he knows what he’s doing. Having Ettore here is great for our program and fun for me. (He’s) somebody I can bounce things off and same generation kind of thing.”

Messina has watched from a distance as Popovich exercised his basketball world view and assembled his “Foreign Legion” lineup, using the style and many of the passing game principles that have been a staple of the international game.

“We had to play that style in Europe and South America because we don’t have the kind of size, strength and athleticism in the game that exists in the United States,” Messina said. “I am talking about a generalization, of course. We learned that if we were going to win against those kinds of players, we would have to use skills — passing, keeping the ball moving, shooting, so many of the fundamentals. Those are all the things that Pop teaches here with the Spurs. I must say, it was a joy as a coach to watch the way they played last year, especially in the playoffs. Now I am an assistant coach back at the first step, trying to learn everything.”

Messina says his first experience with the Spurs and now his daily training camp routine in San Antonio continues to dispel many myths that Europeans have about the NBA.

“The thought over there is that the Americans don’t work, that it is all about the individual, about just using physical talent,” he said. “Most people over there think that we worked harder. That is not true. There is a great deal of individual work here in the NBA by players trying to get better. There is concentration on player development by the teams. If you watched the USA team (last) month in the World Cup, you know that wasn’t just a group of All-Stars. That was a team. That’s what Pop has put in place here. Everyone talks here about the ‘European style’ that the Spurs play. You know what? We really spend a great deal of time watching film and studying the Spurs and Pop’s offense.”

With Popovich at 65 and Messina 10 years younger, it might not be so far-fetched to think this could be the progression of the reigning champs’ global evolution — the grooming of the first foreign-born head coach.

It is, after all, how the Spurs conquered the basketball world, one dribble, one country at a time.

Spurs’ redemption makes game better


VIDEO: Spurs storm past Heat for their fifth NBA title

SAN ANTONIO — It was a season that the Spurs attacked like the world was their piñata, determined to keep hitting and hitting it, smacking and banging it until one day it would burst open.

When the prizes finally fell at their feet on Sunday night, it was relief and release and redemption.

“It makes last year OK,” said Tim Duncan.

He hugged his two kids. He wrapped Manu Ginobili up in a bear hug. He clamped a headlock on Kawhi Leonard. And he practically swallowed Gregg Popovich up in a grin that was as big as Texas.

Twelve months ago, there were the last 28 seconds of Game 6, Duncan’s own missed put-back in Game 7, followed by a year that probably seemed longer than a journey across purgatory on a lawn mower.

It drove them, but not to distraction. It pulled them along, but never pushed them over the edge. It, OK, spurred them with just enough sharp pain in their flanks to know they never wanted to feel that again.

“We wanted to redeem ourselves,” said Tony Parker.

It was a relentless, astonishing campaign of atonement through artistry, reshaping that ugly lump of lost opportunity into the basketball equivalent of Michelangelo’s David.

The Spurs won a league-best 62 games during the regular season and then sculpted a playoff drive that only got better as it went on and culminated with this jaw-dropping masterpiece against the two-time defending champion Heat.

In the process, the Spurs reintroduced the world to what it means to play the game at its purest form, the linear descendants of the 1960s Celtics and the 1970s Knicks, who share the ball and take away the breath of anyone who has ever loved the game.

Quite fitting that the culmination came on the opening weekend of the World Cup. So often called “the beautiful game,” futbol looks like a faded starlet with too much mascara when compared to these Spurs.

There are more passes in an average Spurs offensive possession than a singles bar on a weekend night, more cuts than a butcher counter, more bodies moving than in an earthquake. Their style of play practically comes with a musical score you can hear in your head.

They are the 38-year-old Duncan spinning in the paint to knock down turnaround jumpers, the 36-year-old Ginobili reaching into his past and rising up to throw down a thunderbolt dunk over Chris Bosh and the 32-year-old Parker conducting the symphony.

Now the Big Three have the 22-year-old company of Leonard as Finals MVP for a franchise that has stretched excellence over 15 years with five championships.

“Great coaches, persistence, drive and a love for the game,” said Duncan.

They wanted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Bosh and the rest of the South Beach spectacle that are the Heat precisely because they were the ones who benefited from the Spurs’ mistakes a year ago and that loud backdrop would make the brushstrokes of the Spurs’ collaborative game practically leap off the canvas.

This wasn’t a mere beating of Miami. They couldn’t have pulverized the Heat more by using a mortar and pestle.

The Spurs were the black velvet jeweler’s cloth that shows off the flaws in a low-grade diamond. They shot the ball better than any team in Finals history against a team that prides itself in playing a disruptive, smothering defense. They won all four Finals games by 15 points or more and it was an NBA-record 12th time in their 16 playoff wins with such a margin.

After dominating the first quarters of the first four games of the series, the Spurs devilishly spotted the Heat a 16-point lead in the clincher and then stepped on their throats.

James battled valiantly with his 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots, but he might as well have been a lamb taking on a pack of wolves. By the middle of the third quarter, if his teammates were any deader there would have been guys in white coats standing around waiting to harvest organs.

The plight of the four-time MVP James trying to carry the entire Heat cause on his shoulders was in direct contrast to the Spurs roster that is deeper than a philosophy class at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

They had Boris Diaw doing sleight-of-hand passing, rebounding and taking his turns playing defense on James. They had Tiago Splitter mixing it up under the basket and doing throwback Larry Bird impersonations with touch passes in the lane. They had Patty Mills from halfway around the world, the first Indigenous Australian to reach The Finals, slinging in killshot 3-pointers. They had the flinty Popovich to keep them looking ahead even while feeling the sting of the past like lashes on their backs.

With the exceptions of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres, they were all there a year ago in Miami when the dagger went in and the blood of remorse first rose up their throats and gave them a hint of what rejuvenation, reinvention, redemption might taste like.

“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” said Ginobili. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty.

“Last year made us stronger.”

Now the game is better for that.

GameDay Live: Heat-Spurs Game 5


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard did it all to pull the Spurs through against the Heat in The Finals

SAN ANTONIO — Fifteen years later, it still has to taste as sweet as the first time for San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan and his coach Gregg Popovich.

Feels like the first time, indeed, even though this makes three titles in three difference decades and five total.

Larry O’Brien never looked so good.

The mighty San Antonio Spurs are your 2014 NBA champions, defeating the Miami Heat in five games and three straight breathtaking performances to dethrone the two-time NBA champs.

They did it on Father’s Day, too, a sweet day for their oldest player and proud father Duncan, the backbone of the franchise, and a bittersweet day for its young star, Kawhi Leonard (the youngest MVP of The Finals since Duncan 15 years ago), whose father was shot and killed at the family car wash in Compton, Calif., back in 2008, just as he was becoming a basketball star.

We can talk about LeBron James and the Miami Heat later, but tonight, it’s all about the “Spurs Way,” the blend of the old (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and new (Kawhi … Patty Mills Boris Diaw and the rest) and one of the league’s true dynasties and the fact that team triumphed over talent when it mattered most.

And yes, they avenged that loss to the Heat in The Finals last year in the best way possible (outscoring the champs by 70 points in the five games and winning every game by 15 or more points), better known as …

#TheSpursWay

The @officialspurs are the 2014 NBA Champions!!!

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

The “Beautiful Brand” wins out

There will be more converts to come, trust me. There will be more!

All respect due …

They do indeed. And they’ll get it around here.

Leonard’s time to shine is now!

You pick up a pen, write Kawhi Leonard’s name and then hand it to someone. Pretty simple.

#SpursWay

All team, all the time!

A timeless tradition … 

Old Man River Walk


VIDEO: Manu with the nasty lefty throwdown over Chris Bosh

Not the “Framily Plan” 

Low blow alert!

Kawhi-V-P 

There is no choice but to give this quiet warrior his due!

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Right & Wrong: Where’s Kawhi?

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime breaks down LeBron James’ big Game 2

SAN ANTONIO — While the game’s greatest player returned with a vengeance in Game 2 for the Heat, the Spurs’ most vital player is off to see the doctor.

So much went right for LeBron James in Miami’s 98-96 road win to even an NBA Finals series that now shifts to the Heat’s home court for a pair of quick turnaround games on Tuesday and Thursday. James showed why he’s the king of the league with an exhilarating performance of 35 points on 14-for-22 shooting, including a dominant 6-for-7 and 14 points in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, San Antonio point guard Tony Parker still seemed to be in some discomfort as he took the podium in the aftermath of Game 2, and the Spurs are left to hope there’s nothing more serious than a pretty decent bruise left behind from Mario Chalmers’ blatant swing of his elbow: “I”ll talk with the doctor, you know?” Parker said. “Right now, I’m just frustrated.”

Here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong in Game 2:

Wrong: Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, so often billed as the future of the franchise, is taking a pretty good beating so far trying to do anything on either side of the floor against James. He fouled out in Game 2, was mostly helpless trying to defend James and finished with only nine points, same as his Game 1 total, on 3-for-9 shooting. And for the second consecutive game, Leonard was limited to just two rebounds.

Right: Check out the resurrected Rashard Lewis. The veteran had virtually no role in last year’s championship run and his role in this one has vastly increased seemingly only because Chris “Birdman” Andersen got injured during the Eastern Conference finals. It thrust Lewis into the starting lineup and coach Erik Spoelstra has kept him there despite the Spurs’ big starting frontcourt. Lewis came through in Game 2 with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting and drilled three more 3-pointers.

Wrong: The Spurs are so disciplined and so fundamental, yet there are times when the most simplistic aspect of the game eludes them — free throws. The Spurs went 12-for-20 in Game 2 and missed four consecutive free throws midway through the fourth quarter when they could have expanded a two-point lead to six. But Parker missed two after Chalmers’ flagrant foul and on the ensuing possession, Tim Duncan missed two more. James canned a 3-pointer at the other end for a rare seven-point swing that put the Heat ahead 88-87. The Spurs finished fourth in the league during the regular season in free throw percentage (78.5 percent), but 60 percent in a playoff game won’t often get the job done.

Right: Heat forward Chris Bosh just keeps doing his job. He takes the ridicule when he doesn’t score much or has a low rebound game, or whatever, but he just keeps coming back and delivering. He hit another key corner 3-pointer off a James drive and finished with 18 points in 36 minutes. There’s little mention of him only grabbing three boards because he’s been so solid (he did have nine rebounds in Game 1). The mild-mannered Bosh has scored 18 points in both games and is a combined 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Wrong: The Spurs’ bench, No. 1 in the league during the regular season, is so critical to the team’s success, but it provided little reinforcement in Game 2 outside of Manu Ginobili scoring 19 points. Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills combined to score 18 points on 6-for-21 shooting. Those three also had 18 points in Game 1, but on a much more efficient 6-for-13 shooting.

Right: The Heat defense turned up the heat on the Spurs and made it much more difficult for San Antonio to score inside. Duncan started Game 2 4-for-5 from the floor, picking up where he left off in Game 1 with easy buckets under the rim. But he was just 3-for-9 the rest of the way, and Tiago Splitter was limited to 1-for-3 shooting and no free throws. The Spurs scored 48 points on 24-for-35 shooting in the paint in Game 1, but were limited to just 34 points on 17-for-33 shooting on Sunday.

Spurs’ bench never lets foe rest


VIDEO: Game Time: Spurs Offense

SAN ANTONIO — The Gregg Popovich minutes management plan during the regular season receives plenty of praise for allowing the Spurs’ more high-mileage players such as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to play longer when it matters most.

Like on hot, steamy indoor nights in June.

In Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals, played without air conditioning inside the AT&T Center, all three of San Antonio’s Big Three surpassed their season averages in minutes played.

Yet off the bench came Manu Ginobili, sixth-man extraordinaire, going for 16 points and 11 assists in 32 minutes; Boris Diaw putting forth 33 highly effective minutes, finishing a game-high plus-30; and Marco Belinelli adding nine points, including a pair of 3s, in 18 minutes.

Everybody knows a championship team is more than its star players. It takes max production from role players to get this far, and that’s the lesser appreciated byproduct of more bench time for starters — more floor time, experience and confidence for bench players.

“It also does develop the bench, give them some confidence to play,” Popovich said of his carefully monitored rotation. “And hopefully in the end when playoff time comes, sometimes it’s a role player that steps up in a certain game and has a heck of a night and helps you.”

San Antonio has boasted one of the deepest rosters in the league and benefitted from a group of reliable, fundamentally sound reserves who mesh seamlessly into the Spurs’ machine-like system. Numerous times during the regular season, the Spurs won games with one, two or even all three of the Big Three being strategically held out by Popovich with an eye toward making a deep playoff run.

Twice a shorthanded Spurs squad — once without Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, and later without Duncan and Ginobili — won at Golden State. In the final week of the season, the Spurs were in Dallas playing a desperate Mavericks team fighting for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

With Parker out of the lineup, backup point guard Patty Mills, a player under development in the Spurs’ system for three seasons, dropped six 3-pointers and 26 points in a 109-100 win.

“You obviously come into a program like this and you go through it and you learn the coaches and the system and how to react,” said Mills, who had seven points and a steal in 12 minutes in Game 1. “We’re past the stage of being scared to make mistakes. And I think we’re all part of that now.”

Spurs reserves are ready for the fire of the playoffs because they spend the season playing through hot spots. In Game 4 of the Western Conference finals at Oklahoma City, the Spurs’ starters were getting blown out. Popovich benched them, down 27 points, in the middle of the third quarter. Five Spurs reserves cut the lead to 12 early in the fourth quarter, before the Thunder regained their advantage.

“You want the bench to be more perfect in some ways, but we expect the starters to set the example in the way we want to play and oftentimes the bench comes in and plays better,” Popovich said. “It happens.”

In the Game 1 win over the Heat, Spurs reserves Ginobili and Diaw combined for 17 assists, one more than the entire Heat team. San Antonio’s bench outscored Miami’s 34-20 and outrebounded it 20-10.

That’s really nothing new for this group. The Spurs’ bench finished the regular season first in scoring per game (44.5 ppg), field-goal percentage (47.8) and assists (10.9); second in rebounds (16.8) and 3-point percentage (39.1); and third in steals (3.3).

The one category in which they stunk? Turnovers, ranking dead last (5.9 per game).  But even then, the Spurs’ reserves live, learn and get back to business.

“We just play freely and if you make a mistake you own up to it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mills said.

Numbers preview: The Finals


VIDEO: GameTime: Finals Preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Considering how dramatic last year’s Finals was, now’s the perfect time for the first rematch in 16 years. The last time two teams faced each other in The Finals in back-to-back years was the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998.

We’re also returning to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for the first time since 1984. In the 29 years of the 2-3-2 format, the lower seed won all three games at home only three times (though the Heat did it in 2006 and 2012).

In these playoffs, the Spurs (9-1) and Heat (8-0) are a combined 17-1 at home, each scoring more than 116 points per 100 possessions. That’s ridiculously good offense, and we’re sure to see some more of it over the next 4-7 games.

These were two of the top six offensive teams in the regular season and have been the two best offensive teams in the playoffs. Comparing their offensive efficiency in each round with their opponents’ regular-season defensive numbers, both the Spurs and Heat have improved offensively during the playoffs.

The Heat (11th) are the first team since the 2006 Mavericks (11th) to make The Finals after not ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. And they’re aiming to be the first team since the 2001 Lakers (19th) to win the title after not ranking in the top 10.

The Spurs ranked in the top four defensively for the second straight season after sliding out of the top 10 the previous two. That they played more consistently on that end of the floor over the last seven months could give them the edge, as the team that can most consistently slow down the other over the next two weeks will win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

But postseason series are often about matchups, and the Heat have the ultimate trump card in LeBron James. If it seems like this series could be decided by a possession or two, you only have to look back at last year’s to confirm that it certainly could.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding these two teams’ paths to The Finals, their two regular season meetings, and last year’s scintillating series.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

First round: Beat Dallas in 7 games.
West semifinals: Beat Portland in 5 games.
West finals: Beat Oklahoma City in 6 games.
Pace: 96.2 (4)
OffRtg: 111.2 (2)
DefRtg: 101.0 (2)
NetRtg: +10.1 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs by round

Round Opp. OffRtg Rank AdjO DefRtg Rank AdjD
First round DAL 110.2 3 +4.3 106.8 9 -2.2
Conf. semis POR 112.3 2 +7.5 93.9 1 -14.3
Conf. finals OKC 111.4 2 +10.4 100.7 1 -7.4

AdjO = OffRtg – opponent’s regular-season DefRtg
AdjD = DefRtg – opponent’s regular-season OffRtg

Playoff notes:

  1. Opponents have attempted just 25 free throws per 100 shots, the lowest opponent FTA rate of the playoffs. But their opponent free-throw rate has increased in each round, from 0.217 against Dallas to 0.233 against Portland and 0.303 against Oklahoma City.
  2. Their defensive rebounding percentage has improved each round.
  3. Their rate of 9.7 turnovers per 100 possessions in the conference semifinals against Portland has been the lowest turnover rate for any team in any series so far.
  4. According to SportVU, they lead the postseason with an effective field-goal percentage of 59.5 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
  5. They’ve scored 124.0 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter, more than any other playoff team has scored in any quarter.
  6. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with Danny Green on the floor. That’s the best on-court NetRtg of any player that has logged at least 20 minutes per game in five or more playoff games.
  7. Kawhi Leonard has the best raw plus-minus of the playoffs at plus-111.
  8. Marco Belinelli is the only Spurs rotation player with a negative plus-minus. They’ve been outscored by 42 points in his 296 minutes on the floor and are a plus-186 in his 572 minutes on the bench. In the regular season, Belinelli had a better on-court NetRtg (plus-7.3) than Tim Duncan (plus-6.6) or Tony Parker (plus-6.7).
  9. Green has an effective field-goal percentage of 63.4 percent in the playoffs, a jump of 7.2 percent from his regular season mark (56.2). That’s the biggest EFG% jump of any player who has attempted at least 75 shots in the postseason.
  10. Duncan had 14 more rebounds than any other player in the conference finals.
  11. Manu Ginobili shot 15-for-30 (50 percent) from 3-point range in the conference finals after shooting 2-for-14 (14 percent) in the conference semifinals.
  12. The usage rates of Ginobili (28.9 percent, 25.9 percent, 23.8 percent) and Parker (31.8 percent, 30.4 percent, 25.0 percent) have decreased in each round. The usage rates of Duncan (19.9 percent, 20.2 percent, 25.4 percent), Boris Diaw (14.4 percent, 16.2 percent, 21.4 percent) and Green (11.7 percent, 17.1 percent, 17.8 percent) have increased in each round.
  13. Parker leads the postseason with 195 drives and 10.8 drives per game.
  14. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 27.1 points per 100 possessions in 114 minutes with Ginobili, Leonard and Tiago Splitter on the floor together, the best three-man NetRtg among 194 trios that have logged at least 100 minutes.
  15. Patty Mills has traveled at the fastest average speed in the playoffs, 4.9 miles per hour.

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