Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan’

A jab at Phil and Spurs uniqueness

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Peter Holt talks with GameTime after Spurs win title

SAN ANTONIO – Spurs owner Peter Holt couldn’t help himself, or more accurately he simply didn’t want to. The opportunity to turn the sharp stick back on Phil Jackson, San Antonio’s longtime nemesis and Spurs dynasty denier, was much, much too delicious to pass up.

The smile that spread broadly across Holt’s face and the hearty chuckle that spilled from it revealed his satisfaction in doing so. Holt, basking in the immediate glow of his team’s fifth championship Sunday night, was asked if this title is the sweetest of them all. Holt said, yes it is, although the first in 1999 will always be special, and that’s when you could start to see Holt’s face light up and the smile begin to build…

“Even though it was a shortened, asterisked season,” Holt said, now sporting a full-on grin. “Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, we all played the same amount of playoff games, didn’t we, Phil?”

Holt was quickly reminded that Jackson was retired that season, his first out of the league following a second three-peat with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

“Yeah, uh-huh.” Holt said. “Well, he bailed out.”

Take that, Zen Master.

Jackson never seems to miss an opening to tweak the Spurs franchise and their loyal fans about winning the title in a lockout season shortened to 50 regular-season games and failing to collect rings in consecutive seasons. Funny, here they stand yet again, with Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich still commanding their posts, with another opportunity to snap up the final carrot out there.

How does Holt feel about their chances?

“Kawhi’s 22, Patty’s 25, Tony’s 32 and Tim and Manu are going to play until they die,” Holt said. “So I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

Sounds like Holt believes Duncan, 38, has no plans to ride his latest trophy into the sunset. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard sits on the cusp of stardom and Patty Mills, a key role player, is a free agent but could be  back. Tony Parker has already announced that he won’t play for France in the FIBA World Cup later this month, which has to be music to Holt’s ears, and Manu Ginobili, who turns 37 in a month, played this postseason as if 27.

The credit for the Spurs’ sustained success cascades from Holt to general manager R.C. Buford to Popovich and his staff to the Big Three and the revolving role players over the years that surround them. Holt says his franchise is filled with “unique individuals.”

That uniqueness is found in the Big Three re-signing with the Spurs over the years for less than the market would bear elsewhere; in accepting Popovich’s adamancy to begin limiting their minutes seasons ago; to sacrificing roles and buying into wholesale changes in playing style and philosophy that ultimately has kept the Spurs a step ahead of the rest of the league.

“We’ve protected guys for many years minutes-wise,” Popovich said. “And I’ve said before I’ve often felt guilty because their lifetime stats are going to be worse than everybody else’s because of the way I’ve sat them over the years.”

Some players might balk, some might complain. Some might seek to find a way out. But that’s not the Spurs way.

But why?

“Because all three of us see the big picture; we want to win championships,” Parker said. “I think that’s the big key of our success here in San Antonio all those years is Timmy, Manu, myself, we never let our ego [get in the way], it was the team first and that’s the most important. I always trust Pop’s judgment. I trust the way he sees, you know, for our team the big picture to win at the end.

“So I don’t care about all that stuff, as long as we get the ring at the end, and so far he’s right.”

Spurs, Heat Have Questions (And More Offseason Queries)

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.cm

VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses what’s next for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The San Antonio Spurs won their fifth championship since 1999, but it took 15 years for the most stable franchise in pro sports to play in back-to-back NBA Finals. What’s left to accomplish?

That’s right, back-to-back titles.

That’s only one reason to expect Spurs captain Tim Duncan to continue his brilliant career for at least a 18th season. The talk has always been about Kobe Bryant chasing Michael Jordan‘s six rings, but it’s now Duncan in his twilight years who has the greatest chance to get it done.

So why in the world would Duncan, his body holding up as strongly as his production, hang ‘em up now?

Versatile forward Boris Diaw, high-octane point guard Patty Mills and reliable-when-needed forward Matt Bonner are the only players not under contract for next season. While Diaw and Mills have raised their stock and will be attractive free agents, it’s certainly not out of the question that they’ll be back in the silver-and-black.

Even if the Spurs lose one, or both, their Big Three — plus Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and a couple new reinforcements for the bench — will have the Spurs as a favorite to make it three consecutive Finals appearances.

Duncan, 38, just completed a phenomenal postseason, averaging 16.3 ppg on 52.3 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds while logging 32.7 mpg. That followed up a regular season in which he played in 74 games while coach Gregg Popovich again masterfully managed his playing time.

So, again, what would be the motivation to retire now? A man of similar body type, the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won a championship with the Lakers at age 40 and played in The Finals at age 41.

While Duncan, for whatever reason, hasn’t come out and stated that he’ll be back despite still having one year and $10.3 million left on his contract, he has smiled through interviews while making statements lightly-sprinkled with hints that he has no plan of joining San Antonio resident David Robinson on the golf course quite yet.

Fortunately, the anticipation for a definitive answer won’t take long. Duncan has a June 24 deadline, that’s one week from today, to notify the Spurs of his plans.

The Miami Heat’s future won’t be resolved quite so soon. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all opt out of their contracts and become free agents. What they decide to do will be the biggest story of the summer and whatever they decide will produce ripple effects across the league.

And that brings us to the biggest story lines of the summer:

(more…)

Game 5: Duncan close to one for the thumb

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks with Steve Smith about being on the cusp of a fifth title

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat played their two best games of the NBA Finals on the Spurs’ home floor. If not for LeBron James exiting the final minutes of Game 1 with cramps, they might have headed home up 2-0. So much has changed since then. The Spurs embarrassed Miami, not once, but twice, to push the Heat to the brink. Miami’s only hope is to regain their form the last time they were here.

The Basics:

Game 5 tips off Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Prior to this year’s format change, the Heat would be playing this Game 5 on their home floor, but considering how lousy they played at the American Airlines Arena, they might feel more at home with their backs against the wall on the road.

They have little to fall back on now. Their 13-game streak of winning after losing is history. The last time they lost three in a row came back in the 2011 Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, the team that raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the Big Three’s first season together. Could a Spurs victory end that era?

It certainly sounded on Saturday as if a Spurs victory will extend that Big Three’s era at least another season. Tim Duncan, potentially headed for a fifth championship and a Finals MVP at age 38, as well as 36-year-old Manu Ginobili, playing so well this entire postseason, gave no indication on Saturday that they plan to call it a career, in fact just the opposite. Adding to that, coach Gregg Popovich, the NBA’s Coach of the Year, said he has no plan to walk into the sunset just yet. However, there’s still the matter or wrapping up a fourth championship with Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker.

The Narrative:

The best player in the world is getting clobbered by criticism and the best team in the NBA the last two seasons is suddenly being downgraded as a group of individuals that don’t play within a team concept. Both accounts are nonsense. Yes, the Heat was built on the backs of superstar talent, but they have always played as a team. James is one of the most unselfish players in the game, often criticized for passing to an open teammate instead of shooting in the final moments. It can’t go both ways.

The fact is the Heat are being beaten by a playing better than they are, by the best passing, most efficient offense the league has seen likely since the 1980s with Magic Johnson‘s Lakers and Larry Bird‘s Celtics. The true weakness at the moment for Miami is that it’s not getting as many solid performances from up and down the roster as are the Spurs. Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade have struggled in recent games and Miami’s role players aren’t delivering with the juice of Spurs players such as Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. (more…)

Morning shootaround: June 14


VIDEO: Fisher discusses the Knicks’ roster 

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan explains Higgins’ exit | Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? | Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo | Cavaliers closing in on coach

No. 1: Jordan explains Higgins’ exit — For years, a lot of casual observers of the Charlotte NBA team (once Bobcats, now Hornets) figured Rod Higgins held his job as president of basketball operations largely because he was a longtime pal of owner/legend Michael Jordan. But in addressing the reason behind Higgins’ abrupt deision to resign – Jordan shifted more responsibilities to general manager Rich Cho – the GOAT made it clear why he valued having Higgins around too. Here’s a peek at veteran scribe Rick Bonnell‘s Jordan exclusive in the Charlotte Observer:

“Rod’s strong points are working with the coaches and the trainers, traveling with the team,” Jordan said. “He was my buffer zone with the coaches. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with ideas, so I’d work with Rod on that.”
Jordan said he wants Cho, with a background as an attorney, dealing more with budgets and managing the salary cap.
“One of (Higgins’) strong points is not negotiating, leveraging teams,” Jordan said. “Sometimes when teams would call (proposing trades), they’d bypass Rod to get to Rich.”
Higgins, with the franchise since 2007, teamed with Cho the last three years. Jordan said that arrangement led to some “confusion over who reported to whom. It created a contentious environment where I had to step in.”
That’s when Jordan proposed these shifts in responsibilities, which Higgins considered a demotion. At that point, Jordan said he asked Higgins if they could wait until after the draft to make a change.
“He chose to leave now,” Jordan said.
Higgins, 54, has been a friend and colleague of Jordan’s for roughly 30 years. They played together with the Chicago Bulls in the mid-1980s. Jordan later hired Higgins to help him run the Washington Wizards’ basketball operation. Jordan said that made Friday’s parting extra difficult.
“I had to make a decision about a brother,” Jordan said. “I hope he gets a soft landing and finds (the job) he wants.”

***

No. 2: Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? — Before the 2014 Finals began, the suggestion that Miami might find itself in need of help from erratic forward Michael Beasley would have been seen as an implicit admission that the Heat were headed for trouble against the San Antonio Spurs. Well, they are in trouble, down 3-1 and facing elimination in Game 5 Sunday in San Antonio. And more than a few critics have wondered if Miami coach Erik Spoelstra might look to Beasley as an X factor and counter to Kawhi Leonard‘s offensive impact for the Spurs. Our man Jeff Caplan didn’t necessarily see much of a role for Beasley in the series when they chatted prior to Game 1, but now can offer a look at the maddeningly talented but scatter-careered forward:

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).
Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”
The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.
Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.
“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”

***

No. 3: Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo — We can assume that, if numbers came up when basketball boss Phil Jackson, new head coach Derek Fisher and GM Steve Mills of the New York Knicks met with Carmelo Anthony and agent Leon Rose Friday in Los Angeles, the Knicks contingent detailed the pay cuts Anthony would be facing were he to leave New York as a free agent this summer. How big would those cuts be? The difference between a nine-figure deal with N.Y. vs. an eight-figure packages from outside suitors, the latest allegedly the Miami Heat in a refurbished Big 4 vision. Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone laid out some of the basics for Newsday:

Phil Jackson led a contingent of Knicks officials into a meeting with Carmelo Anthony on Friday in Los Angeles, according to a league source, and presented their plan for turning the team into a contender.
The current blueprint includes Anthony, but he has the ability to opt out of his contract by June 23 and become a free agent. All indications are that Anthony will do that.
Jackson has said he hopes Anthony will “opt in” and wait until 2015 to become a free agent. But a league source said Anthony hasn’t changed his mind after saying all season that he would become a free agent this summer.
If Anthony were to opt in, it would give the Knicks more flexibility next summer, and perhaps in 2016, to sign multiple stars. The 2015 free-agent class could include LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Marc Gasol. Kevin Durant is the big potential prize in 2016.
Jackson was accompanied by general manager Steve Mills and new coach Derek Fisher during the sit-down with Anthony and his agent, Leon Rose. It was the first time Anthony met with Fisher since he became coach.
The Knicks can pay Anthony more than any other team in free agency. A maximum deal from them would be five years and roughly $129 million. But Jackson also has said that if Anthony re-signs, he hopes he will take less to give the Knicks more room for other moves.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers closing in on coach — Holders of the Draft’s No. 1 pick, dreamers when it comes to LeBron James’ possible return as a free agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are said to be getting closer to assigning value to at lease one of their multiple variables: their vacant head coaching position. Longtime Cavs beat writer Bob Finnan wrote about the narrowing field of candidates: Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue, both assistants on Doc Rivers‘ staff with the Los Angeles Clippers, and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt:

Clippers assistant coaches Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt.
Gentry and Lue met with Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert on June 13. It was their second interview with the Cavs.
Blatt reportedly will meet with the Cavs next week. He previously spoke to Cavs General Manager David Griffin about the position left vacant by the firing of Mike Brown on May 12. Blatt told Israel reporter David Pick that he interviewed for the Cavs’ head-coaching job via the phone.
The 55-year-old Blatt announced during a news conference in Israel on June 12 that he was leaving his position as head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. It is believed that he would be joining an NBA team. If he doesn’t get the Cavs’ job, he could join Golden State coach Steve Kerr’s coaching staff as his lead assistant.
However, he’s very much in the mix in Cleveland for the head-coaching position.
Griffin has been doing some background checks on Blatt, and Pick reported that he has spoken to former Cavs’ draft pick Milan Macvan, who played for Blatt in Maccabi. Macvan, a Serbian power forward, was a second-round pick of the Cavs in 2011.
There was a report that Blatt wouldn’t come to the NBA unless he got a head-coaching job. He said on June 12 that wasn’t true.
If those are the three finalists, two of them — the 37-year-old Lue, and Blatt — have never been head coaches in the NBA. The third, 59-year-old Gentry, is considered by some as a coaching retread who has a below-.500 record in 12 years as a head coach. All three coaches are known as offensive-minded, who would take advantage of the Cavs’ personnel.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Ray Allen has at least one of these three R’s in his future: Return, relocation or retirement? … Celtics assistant Ron Adams might wind up on Steve Kerr‘s staff in Golden State, and Julius Randle refutes the claim that his right foot needs surgery. … Tim Duncan has until June 24 to opt in for next season. He, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich all have contracts that run through 2014-15, should they choose to give it one more season. … One more inspiring scrap-heap-to-Finals-star Boris Diaw story. … Can Dante Exum vault into the Top 3 and rock the 2014 Draft? … Sid Lowe goes to the Timberwolves for a third (or is it fourth?) go-around, with Sam Mitchell invoking “country club” privileges next. … Larry Bird tries to help disappointed Pacers fans buck up … We’re not clear as to which trio should feel more disrespected by this, the Heat’s Big 3 or the classic comedic geniuses.

Morning shootaround: June 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap for June 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Duncan breaks two records | Higgins out as Hornets president | Sterling hires investigators | LeBron’s decision won’t hinge on title

No. 1: Duncan rewrites postseason history — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said his all-time great power forward Tim Duncan won’t care about the two postseason records he set in Thursday’s Game 4. He might not just yet, but once he leaves the game — whenever that will be — those records will probably be quite meaningful to him. Duncan passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most career minutes in postseason history (he now has 8,869) and he moved ahead of Magic Johnson for most career postseason double-doubles. Duncan’s 10 points and 11 rebounds gave him his 158th. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express News has more:

While Duncan is far more concerned with securing the last victory the Spurs need to earn their fifth championship, he admitted to being honored after passing a pair of all-time greats in Thursday’s 107-86 victory over Miami: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most career minutes in NBA postseason history, and Magic Johnson for the most playoff double-doubles.

Duncan, who scored 10 points with 11 rebounds, now has 8,869 minutes and 158 double-doubles in 233 playoff games.

“I can appreciate you saying the names and having passed them in anything,” he said. “It’s an honor to be in that position. Having won (Game 4) helps, obviously, but the focus is on winning one more, and once that is done I can look back and say hey, that’s truly an honor.”

Abdul-Jabbar feels similarly about Duncan, sending a congratulatory note via Twitter: Congrats to #TimDuncan on passing me for the most minutes played in the NBA Finals – I appreciate the fact that you did it with class!

***

No. 2: Higgins out as draft approaches — A story literally hot off the presses, the Charlotte Hornets issued a press release shortly after midnight on Friday stating president of basketball operations Rod Higgins “has stepped down.” The strangely timed press release, coming not long after the Spurs wrapped up Game 4 in Miami, said general manager Rich Cho will continue in his position. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more details as much more will be learned today:

In an odd and ill-timed press release, the Hornets announced past midnight Friday that president of basketball operations Rod Higgins has “stepped down” two weeks before the Hornets make the ninth, 24th and 45th picks in the draft.

Higgins has effectively run the Bobcats/Hornets basketball ops since June of 2011. He was a key figure in the decisions to sign free agents Al Jefferson and Ramon Sessions.

The Hornets noted in their press release that general manager Rich Cho will continue to report to Michael Jordan and vice-chairman Curtis Polk.

***

No. 3: Sterling hires private investigators — The shamed owner of the Los Angeles Clippers has apparently decided to turn his fight against the league ugly. Donald Sterling‘s team of lawyers have hired four private investigators to dig up dirt on the NBA’s 29 other owners, plus former commissioner David Stern and new commissioner Adam Silver. The Associated Press has the details:

Investigators were given a six-figure budget over the next 30 days to examine the league’s finances, allegations of previous discriminatory conduct and compensation to past commissioner David Stern and current commissioner Adam Silver, said the person who spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday night on condition of anonymity. The person wasn’t authorized to talk publicly.

The person said the investigators also are looking into whether other owners made any off-color jokes, or racist or sexist remarks.

“The gloves are off, as they say,” the person said. “Have them dig up all the dirt they can find.”

The person who spoke to the AP said Donald Sterling reluctantly agreed to hire private investigators after this week’s legal proceedings in probate court. The NBA submitted a legal filing Wednesday urging a judge to confirm Shelly Sterling‘s authority to sell the team.

***

No. 4: Finals outcome won’t sway LeBron’s decisionLeBron James can opt out of his contract by the end of this month, but his decision won’t be swayed by whether his Miami Heat win or lose the NBA Finals. If they win they will make history as the first team to ever come back from a 3-1 hole. Game 5 is in San Antonio on Sunday night. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com was in Miami:

The Miami Heat would have to make history to come back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit, but the future of their best player doesn’t hinge on that happening.

The Heat’s success or failure in these Finals will not affect LeBron James’ decision on whether to opt out of his contract by the end of this month, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

James and the Heat would be the first team in NBA Finals history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and come back and win a title. This is the 32nd time the Finals have been 3-1 after four games.

James, [Dwyane] Wade and [Chris] Bosh can all opt out of their contracts and become free agents after this season. ESPN’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst reported Wednesday that discussions have begun within the organization about creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sam Mitchell finalizing deal to join Flip Saunders‘ staff in Minnesota … Top European coach David Blatt is headed to the NBA, just not yet sure whereMetta World Peace accepts assistant head coach job — on a high school girls basketball teamCavaliers coaching search kicks tires on Mark JacksonKurt Rambis could join Derek Fisher‘s staff in New York, but remains a top candidate to coach the Lakers.

LeBron’s genius is not in the details


VIDEO: LeBron James goes off for 35 points and 10 reounds in the Heat’s Game 2 win

SAN ANTONIO — Geniuses were put on this Earth to provide greatness, not details.

Ted Williams gave better lessons to opposing pitchers than to fellow hitters. Ben Hogan never did fully define how he made the golf ball talk.

So here is LeBron James, the virtuoso of his age, in the same predicament. He spins down the lane like a funnel cloud, daring anyone to stand in his path. He pulls up to sling in jumpers that might as well have come down the clouds. He waits, calculates like that Big Blue chess-playing computer, and makes exactly the right move by not taking the shot with the game hanging in the balance.

But ask the artist to recreate the magic on a blank canvas and he shrugs.

“Just play the game, try to play the game the right way,” he said.

The air conditioning was back working on Sunday night, but now they need to call in an electrician to the AT&T Center after James shot the lights out in Miami’s 98-96 win in Game 2 of The Finals.

The first time back on the court in The Finals after he had to be helped off the floor due to extreme heat and cramps, James was cooler than the other side of a pillow in enabling Miami to even the series at 1-1.

It’s not just the 35 points and 10 rebounds and the unstoppable run of 6-for-7 shooting in the third quarter, but the aplomb and the utter confidence with which he does it.

“Look, he’s the best player in the game,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Does that mean it’s going to be [35]? You don’t know. He has an incredible way of putting his fingerprints on a game in a lot of different areas.”

Those large fingerprints could be found mostly on the throat of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ would-be defender, who fouled out almost helplessly in 31½ minutes.

In Leonard’s defense, what there was of it, there is virtually nothing anyone can do when the bullish, powerful James is making his outside shot. It was just a year ago in The Finals when the Spurs pretty much set up their entire strategy to do anything to keep him out of the lane and hoped that James would not catch fire from the outside.

But going back to Game 7 of last year’s Finals, when James erupted for 37 points in the clincher, he has made 21 of his last 41 (51 percent) shots from the perimeter. Which might mean that if you’re the Spurs, all you can say is: “Uh-oh.”

Of course, the NBA’s biggest stage has seen such star turns in the big spotlight before, mostly from the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, whose championship jewelry collections James is trying to match. Yet in both of those cases, it usually was Jordan or Bryant always yearning to take that final bow.

So here was another game on the line, Spurs up 93-92, and there was James sucking in the defense to him and zipping a pass to Chris Bosh, standing all alone in the right corner, who nailed the decisive 3.

It was the same play and the same pass that James made at the end of Game 5 in the Eastern Conference finals at Indiana, only Bosh missed the shot and the Heat lost the game. The same pass that got him criticized when the shot missed in the semifinals against the Nets. In fact, it was almost the identical pass that he was making as far back as his Cavaliers days in Game 1 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals at Detroit when he drove the lane and dished to Donyell Marshall, who also missed.

“He’s the most unselfish player I’ve ever played with,” Bosh said. “Especially with the talent that he has playing the game, the way he plays the game. He doesn’t, you know, try to force anything.

“Even if he is hot, he’ll still hit you if you’re wide open. And that’s what makes this team special, because your best player is will to sacrifice a shot, a good shot, for a great shot. You have to commend him for that.”

If only. James is, as he said, the easiest target in sports and has been since he showed up as a 15-year-old on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Chosen One.” It is the image and the life where we have seen far too much of sausage being made, that gets his guts and his character questioned because his ridiculously chiseled, super hero-looking body failed him and he had to watch from the bench for the last 3:59 of Game 1 as his teammates lost.

He spent another 72 hours as the sports world’s dartboard. He woke up Sunday morning and joined three other guests at the Heat’s resort hotel in an outdoor yoga class to loosen all of those muscles and then did everything but twist the Spurs in a lotus headstand variation. In a six-minute, third-quarter burst of six straight shots — 18, 25, 19, 26, 18 and 20 feet — James simply changed the game.

“It was that easy for me in the sense of don’t overthink it,” he said.

Don’t think twice about the criticism, the derision, the outright mockery that comes with being LeBron.

Don’t think once, even with a sizzling hand in the second half, about putting the ball and the game into a teammate’s hands.

“Not at all,” James said. “For me, when the ball is in my hands, I’m going to make the right play.”

The geniuses don’t bother with long explanations. They just do it.


VIDEO: LeBron James speaks with the media after the Heat’s Game 2 win over the Spurs

Bought? Built? Heat respect Spurs Way


VIDEO: Chris Bosh talks with Rachel Nichols about Game 1 and looking ahead to Game 2 of The Finals

SAN ANTONIO — With a staggering 27 years between teams that have made four straight trips to The Finals, the Miami Heat live in a world none of their NBA peers could fathom.

The scrutiny (LeBron James is right, he is the “easiest target” in sports and has been for years), the pressure and all of the drama that comes with being on center stage this time of year, every year, for the last four years.

Knowing what they know now gives the Heat an even greater appreciation for what their opponent in these Finals, the four-time champion (since 1999) San Antonio Spurs, have been able to do over the past 16 seasons. 

This whole “Built (Spurs) vs Bought (Heat)” debate does not resonate with the players fighting for this title. There is nothing but mutual respect and understanding of the rigorous grind that comes in playing to the final day of the season — be it for four straight years or six times in 16 years.

“I don’t even want to think about it,” said Heat point guard Mario Chalmers. “I know that’s tough. But they’ve got a great bunch of guys over there. They’ve been together through the thick and thin. They set the mold. Everybody wants to be that teams that goes to The Finals as many times as they have, to win four championships and do the things they’ve done. They’ve set the standard high.

The lessons the Spurs have had years to digest and adjust to the Heat have had to learn and adjust to on the fly. There hasn’t been a two or three-year period where the Heat adjust to the changes around the league, reshape and reload their roster and come back in championship form.

“Just what they’ve done with 50-plus wins every year, and having a chance to win it, every year, they’ve built some kind of formula,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “They know what to do and they know how to use it.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls it corporate knowledge. It’s something that his biggest stars — most notably the Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — have devoured over the course of their careers. There’s no doubt that corporate knowledge has helped propel their longevity in a game that hasn’t always been kind to aging stars and dynasties.

The Heat are in the beginning stages of what could be an annual title chase for years to come. No one knows for sure. But they have a model, the Spurs’ model, staring them in the face at least for the remainder of this series.

“For us it’s been some kind of a sprint since coming together,” Bosh said comparing the Heat’s current path to the Spurs’ long-term work. “But we just try to make sure we compete every night and when you get a chance to win, you take it. You never want to take these opportunities for granted because we don’t know if we’ll ever make it back. We’re just enjoying everything and trying to be the best team we can possibly be. And I know [the Spurs] are doing the same.”

That would explain Bosh’s reluctance to try to place the Heat in any sort of historical context before their run ends. He hasn’t taken the bait, despite being asked about it constantly.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do first,” he said. “I know everybody is going to make the comparisons and ask who would have won what? LJ or MJ (Michael Jordan)? We know that’s coming. But we keep our heads down and work right now. That’s what it’s all about. Focus individually on each single pass and each step along the road of wherever we’re going.”

The Spurs have just as much riding on this series in terms of historical context. It’s no secret. And that’s why there is no need for added or manufactured motivation. Not with a third straight title on the line for the Heat and a fifth overall for the Spurs.

“Being here is fire enough,” Bosh said. “Look, it’s tough chasing ghosts. We’ve got enough challenges on our plate now. We’re trying to beat a very good team. That requires all of our attention. We win this series, later on we can sit back and have a beer when we’re older and sit back and tell you why we’re better and who we’re better than … just like the old guys do now.”

Morning Shootaround — June 4


VIDEO: Tony Parker updates on his status for Game 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Parker plans to play in Game 1 | Report: Parsons to become restricted free agent | Grant: MJ’s Bulls would top LeBron’s Heat | Jackson in full control of Knicks’ moves

No. 1: Parker expects to be OK for Game 1 – Spurs star point guard Tony Parker missed the second half of San Antonio’s West finals-clinching victory in Game 6 over the Oklahoma City Thunder with a balky left ankle. Since the Spurs wrapped up the West title, the focus has been on whether or not Parker will suit up for Game 1 tomorrow. Parker talked with reporters after Tuesday’s practice and assured the masses that he will be active for Game 1:

Tony Parker plans to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The San Antonio Spurs open their rematch with the Miami Heat on Thursday, and their star point guard is nursing a balky left ankle.

“He’s getting better every day, and I expect him to play,” coach Gregg Popovich said Tuesday.

Parker aggravated the injury Saturday, missing the second half of San Antonio’s series-clinching victory over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.

Parker didn’t practice Tuesday, but said he expects to be back Wednesday.

“I always try to be honest with Pop,” Parker said. “He knows, but if I’m 50 percent I’ll try to play. If I’m under 50 percent, we can argue.”

Parker conceded the ankle has bothered him since San Antonio’s second-round series against Portland, although he did not divulge it at the time.

“I don’t like to talk about when I’m hurt,” he said. “I played on it for the whole series against Portland. That’s why I think my hamstring got hurt because I was playing on a bad ankle.”

Parker had tightness in his left hamstring midway through the second quarter of Game 5 against the Trail Blazers, forcing him to miss the rest of the Spurs’ series-clinching victory.

He did not miss any of the Western Conference finals because of his hamstring. But he aggravated the ankle injury in Game 4 against Oklahoma City.

“I twisted it again, but didn’t say anything,” Parker said. “Played on it, and then Game 6 I think my body is like, `That’s enough.’ It’s perfect timing to get five days and to get better and to be ready for Game 1.”

(more…)

Heat seek to join ‘three-peat’ history

Three-peat.

It is a familiar part of the lexicon now, one used to distinguish the greatest of our sports champions.

A term coined by Byron Scott in 1988 and trade-marked by Pat Riley, it slides across the tongue as smooth as a scoop of ice cream and defines a dynasty as readily as a crown atop a monarch’s head.

But there is nothing at all easy about the three-peat.

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat take the court Thursday night, they’ll be attempting to become only the sixth team in NBA history to go back-to-back-to-back as champs.

Here’s a look at Fab Five:

Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54)

“Geo Mikan vs. Knicks.” That was the message on the marquee outside Madison Square Garden on Dec. 14, 1949. It succinctly said everything that you needed to know about George Mikan, the man who was the NBA’s first superstar. In an Associated Press poll, the 6-foot-10 center was voted the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th century and he was later named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in league history. Mikan was such a dominant individual force that the goaltending rule was introduced to limit his defensive effectiveness and the lane was widened from six to 12 feet to keep him farther from the basket on offense.

However, Mikan still flourished and when he was teamed up with Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard and Slater Martin, his Lakers rolled to three consecutive championships. The Lakers beat the Knicks for their first title in a series that was notable for neither team being able to play on its home court. Minneapolis’ Municipal Auditorium was already booked and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was at the Garden. With Mikan double-teamed, Mikkelsen carried the Lakers offense to a 3-3 split of the first six games and then in the only true home game of the series, the Lakers won 82-65 to claim the crown. The Lakers came back to beat the Knicks again the following year 4-1 and the made it three in a row with a 4-3 defeat of the Syracuse Nationals in 1954.


VIDEO: George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers dominate the early NBA (more…)

Durant: Open, honest and still growing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks during the Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday

Kevin Durant mesmerized the basketball world with a regular season for the ages — 50-point games, impossible buzzer-beaters and statistical anomalies that flipped the record books back to Michael Jordan.

It all seemed to happen so easily, so naturally for him.

But on Sunday, barely 12 hours after his Oklahoma City Thunder bowed out of the Western Conference finals, the league’s Most Valuable Player, in a very honest moment, admitted that the season’s many adversities had stretched his psychological boundaries.

“It felt like everything was being thrown at me as a leader, just talking about myself,” Durant said. “It just felt like everything was being thrown at me to try to get me to quit, and there were nights where I didn’t think I could do it, where I didn’t think I could lead these guys.”

With co-star Russell Westbrook sidelined for nearly half of it with a knee injury, and later two more starters, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, each missing six weeks with their own ailments, Durant said the burden of leading and lifting his team throughout these last seven months tested his resolve through multiple sleepless nights.

“There were nights where I didn’t think I could do it because sometimes I was going as hard as I could and it still wasn’t working,” Durant said. “But I just stayed confident and just knowing that there’s going to be good and bad days, days when you struggle, days when you do well. Just knowing that helped me out a lot, and it prepared me a lot for this season and hopefully for the future. I’m thankful for those times that I can grow through them and get better from them.”

In the end, Durant and the Thunder reached their third West finals in four seasons, but ultimately fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship.

Still, the team remains young, immensely talented and intact. This season, with its many hurdles the team faced for the first time — including the blow of losing power forward Serge Ibaka for the first two games against the Spurs — might come to be looked upon as the moment on the timeline when Durant and OKC’s core came of age.

“Physically, I think I can compete with anybody; you put me on the court with anybody, I can hold my own, that’s just how I feel,” Durant said. “But mentally, everything being thrown at you, from Russell getting hurt — from him never being injured before — to having to be out there and being our source of energy for everybody on our team, giving everybody confidence from Serge to Nick [Collison] to Steven [Adams] to Thabo to Perk, from everybody looking at me and looking for confidence and looking to feel confident in themselves.

“Once I saw that I could do it, I kind of saw it from there in terms of having confidence. It was a great season as far as learning for all of us and being part of such a great group of guys that accept me no matter what, on my good and bad days.”

Durant won his first MVP in his seventh season. He averaged career-highs in points per game (32.0) and assists (5.5), plus 7.4 rpg. He was one of the game’s most efficient scorers, shooting 50.3 percent overall and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc.

When Westbrook received the stunning news that he would need a third surgery on his right knee just hours after posting a triple-double at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day, the job of keeping Oklahoma City near the top of the West standings fell on Durant.

He bettered his season averages through 26 games without Westbrook — 35.0 ppg (52.7 percent shooting, 39.9 percent on 3s), 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg) — and virtually made the MVP award his to lose. Oklahoma City surged to the top of the West. An adjustment period upon Westbrook’s return eventually led to the Thunder finishing with the No. 2 seed and 59 wins, one off the previous season’s win total and the franchise’s highest since moving to Oklahoma City.

Durant’s scoring efficiency dipped in the postseason (29.6 ppg on 46-percent shooting, 34.4 on 3s) and his performances from game to game, starting against Memphis’ suffocating defense, were uneven as he averaged a team-high 42.8 mpg.

In Game 6 against the Spurs, the magic he performed all season eluded him. Trailing 100-99 in the final 27 seconds of overtime, Durant looked to make a move past defender Kawhi Leonard from a few feet above the top of the arc, but he slipped to the floor and lost the ball for his seventh turnover.

Finally, with a chance to tie coming out of a timeout, Durant missed an open 3 from the wing with 15 seconds left. It was his sixth misfire on eight 3-pointers in the game, and his last shot of a long, taxing season.

And one Durant will glean plenty of meaning from as he exits into the offseason.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Durant said. “And I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I had this season to grow as a leader and a man and a basketball player.”

He will be back.