Posts Tagged ‘Nets’

Small market powers rule NBA final four

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Fans from five NBA cities, four of them medium or small markets, form a flash mob to support their squads

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — New York … who needs you?

Los Angeles … maybe next time.

Chicago and Houston … not since Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon, respectively.

The NBA playoffs thrive no matter which cities are represented. But with this year’s final four, we’re going to have something of a small-market extravaganza come Finals time.

San Antonio is perhaps the most successful small-market team ever.

With San Antonio up 2-0 on the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers tied at 1 heading into this weekend’s Game 3 matchups, the only thing we know for sure is that the 2014 NBA champion will hail from outside of Nielsen’s Top 10 media markets. (The Heat rank highest of the remaining teams at 16th, while Indianapolis comes in at 26th, San Antonio 36th and Oklahoma City 41st.)

The biggest headlines off the court are being generated by the teams ranking at the top of the Nielsen list. Phil Jackson and the Knicks are still looking for a coach in New York, the No. 1 media market. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are doing the same in Los Angeles (No. 2). And that’s not to mention the Clippers and the Donald Sterling affair, which has engulfed Dallas (No. 5) Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as well.

On the court, however, the small(er) markets continue to dominate the landscape, to the delight of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who touted the game’s “renaissance” in all places, big, small and in between, before Tuesday’s NBA Draft lottery. The three best regular-season records in the league this season belonged to the Spurs (62 wins), Thunder (59) and Pacers (56).

The Heat, winners of 54 games during the regular season, have won the last two Larry O’Brien trophies and are attempting to complete a coveted three-peat. They beat the Spurs in The Finals last season and the Thunder the year before that. The Pacers, who fell to the Heat in seven games in the 2013 East finals, are looking to crash that three-team party this season and plant their own flag in this small-market surge.

If that’s not medium-to-small-market domination, someone needs to tell the rest of us what is. (more…)

24-Second Thoughts — May 14

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Heat and Nets were upstaged by some breaking news … Steve Kerr to the Warriors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The phrase “close-out game” has a nasty ring to it for proud veterans like Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett.

It’s a slap in the face, really, especially when said slap comes from the hand of LeBron James and the Miami Heat. That might explain the Nets’ furious grind from the opening tip Wednesday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.

It’s win-or-go-fishing time for the Nets and they are playing like it.

They don’t appear to be interested in hitting the water for the summer, not yet. Not without at least one last barrage of punches delivered to the gut of their hated rivals from South Beach.

Did you expect them to go out any other way?

We didn’t either. And … this happened …

and the entire night changed from Oakland to Manhattan and plenty of stops between! It didn’t take long for the Twitterverse to go crazy in the aftermath of the breaking news:

24 – No Mark Jackson to the Knicks?

23 – What’s up with the Framily plan in New York …

22 – Kerr turning down Phil has an impact on ‘Melo, no?

21 – The countdown is on …

20 – The Knicks’ loss is the Warriors’ gain …

19 – Keep it in the real family plan Phil …

18 – Waiting for Kerr’s kindergarten team to Tweet out congratulations …

17 – Meanwhile, the Nets are all up in the Heat’s mix …

16 – Here we go again, another crazy finish …

15 – Shuttlesworth!

14 –  “Joe Johnson for threeeeeeeeeee” … this ain’t over yet!

… oh no, not again!

Nets’ ball with one last chance to tie it or win it and send this thing back to Brooklyn …

13 — Survive and advance …


VIDEO: Ray Allen comes up clutch from beyond the 3-point line

12 — A Man Called Ray!

11 – Dancin’ Danny Green shows up just in time …

https://twitter.com/JMcDonald_SAEN/status/466764485617647616XX

10 – Hearts racing in San Antonio …

9 – The Invisible Man in the Heat-Nets series …

8 – #badhammy?

7 – The whole “Sugar K(ane) Leonard” thing is actually starting to grow on me …

6 – This is indeed a grown man’s game!

And Sugar Kane is grown!

5 – #GetWellSager

4 – “I want some NASTY!”

3 – Best man for the job?

2 – #RipCity

1 – The #SpursWay makes it back to the Western Conference finals, all they need now is a dance partner …


VIDEO: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are back in the conference finals four a fourth straight season

24-Second thoughts — May 10

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: First and foremost, Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s all about you, tonight, Deron Williams.

Someone has to be in the eye of the 2014 playoffs storm every night and since Roy Hibbert is off, it’s most definitely your turn.

World’s watching.

Brooklyn is definitely watching!

What’s it gonna be?

Heat @ Nets … #nosleeptilbrooklyn

24 – A quick Schuhbie Stat you can dip in ranch or blue cheese to get us ready …

And a little mood setter, too …

This is even better …

23 – I wonder if it bothers opponents to see LeBron James run through them in the lane like Godzilla through the middle of the city? #freighttrainjames

And he does it on both ends …

22 – The #NBAStyle Police have an APB out for Dwyane Wade

21 – Shaun Livingston from deep to end the first …(#freighttrainjames with 16 points in 12 minutes for the Heat)

20 – It should be bonkers at the Moda Center in Portland tonight for Game 3 of this playoff double-header (#RipCity) …

– #RedOut

19 – The D. Will-Hibbert connection strikes again …

18 – “Hey, I’m trying to watch the game people!”

17 – Another coaching vacancy coming?


VIDEO: Joe Johnson was hotter than fish grease in the first half

16 – The Barclays Bounce has the Nets playing with a wicked flow tonight. They’ve got it rocking. Ball is rotating like crazy on offense. The energy on both ends is high. They’ve got their largest lead of the series, 68-56 inside of five minutes to play in the third quarter.

It also helps when the elders move like they did years ago …

15 – There’s a Teletovic Outbreak in Brooklyn right now!

“Brooklyn” chants cranking up with the Nets blowing the game open in the third quarter. D. Will even hit a 3!

14 – Dust up time. Ray Allen vs Alan Anderson (I’m predicting double techs, nothing more … this game is over, btw! Nets raining 3s all night. It’s a wrap.)

13 – From the “What in the name of Naismith?” files …


VIDEO: Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts checks in before tip-off

12 – We get Jay, Bey and Jake in Brooklyn. But they’ve got stars in Portland, too!

Jimmy Goldstein, too!

11 – A staggering 15-for-25 from deep for the Nets in a 14-point win to make things interesting …

But …

10 – Hey Underdog, “put that on a T-shirt!”

9 – Portland, we have a problem!

https://twitter.com/ChrisBHaynes/status/465333661265457153

8 – This look sums it all up for the home crowd in Portland …

7 – Bow down to Timmy, passing Karl Malone for 5th place on the career playoff scoring list …

6 – You don’t need advanced stats, analytics or any other tools when you have just plain math …

5 – I’ve been in the Moda Center (it was the Rose Garden then) when the home made runs like these. It can go from  zero to nuclear in a matter of seconds …

4 – That’s the idea #edgeofyourseat …

3 – Gregg Popovich spares no one!

And the results can be, in a word, breathtaking …

They’ve got this basketball thing down, too!

2 – Hard to argue with this at the moment, but we know where to find you when the season is done if your crystal ball has a crack in it  …

1 – Spurs fans don’t need to hang their heads. Your team just ran into a machine. Spurs have been at this, at this level, for nearly tw decades. #SpursWayDon’tPlay

#thenightdalightswentoutinripcity


VIDEO: Tim Duncan joins the playoff Fab Five!

Morning Shootaround — May 9



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kobe wants a say in hiring of next Lakers coach | Wizards’ Wall eager for Game 3, redemption | Thunder: Griffin up to old tricks | Nets’ Williams missing when team needs him most

No. 1: Kobe wants a say in hiring of Lakers’ next coach: After years of suggesting that he didn’t want anything to do with the work being done by ownership and the front office, it appears that Kobe Bryant has warmed up to the idea of having some input on such matters. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar wants a say in who the franchise pursues and hires to replace Mike D’Antoni, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com. That’s an abrupt departure from his public stance for years:

Kobe Bryant, speaking publicly for the first time since Mike D’Antoni resigned from the Los Angeles Lakers, expressed apathy about the turn of events while saying he would, though, like to have an active role in choosing a new coach.

“Honestly I didn’t care,” Bryant said Thursday during a guest appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” when asked by Kimmel if he was “happy” that D’Antoni accepted a buyout of close to $2 million for next season rather than come back to coach the team.

“Mike was dealt a really bad hand in dealing with all the injuries that he had here,” Bryant said. “This is a tough place, man. If you’re not winning, you’re not going to survive, man.”

Bryant added that Magic Johnson‘s controversial tweet in which he celebrated D’Antoni’s departure reminded him of a scene out of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“The first thing I thought of was seeing the Munchkins on the Yellow Brick Road dancing and singing, ‘The Wicked Witch is dead,’ ” Bryant said. “When he tweeted that, that song just came to mind.”

Bryant hopes the Lakers will sing a different tune than they have in the past when it comes to consulting him about hiring their next coach.

“On the last two they didn’t,” Bryant said, referring to Mike Brown and D’Antoni, who both failed to endure the length of the initial contracts they signed with the Lakers before parting ways. “On the third one, I’m hoping they do.”

Taking over for a legend like Phil Jackson is never easy, of course. Bryant said he still speaks to Jackson “often” and expects the 11-time championship winning coach to transfer those results to his front-office role with the New York Knicks.

“I think he’ll do fantastic,” Bryant said. “Especially the more people say that he won’t be successful.”

Bryant had similar faith in the Lakers’ brass, endorsing the efforts by Jackson’s fiancée and Lakers president, Jeanie Buss, as well as her brother and Lakers executive vice president of player personnel, Jim Buss, in steering the franchise in the right direction.

“Jimmy and Jeanie both, they’re just really determined and excited about the possibilities of next season and rebuilding this and building on their father’s legacy and everything that he’s accomplished,” Bryant said. “And they’re taking the challenge extremely, extremely seriously. They’re both on the same page and they want nothing but excellence here, so I have no doubt that we’ll make it happen.”

 

(more…)

24-Second thoughts — May 8

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: HT fave Jamal Crawford collects another KIA Sixth Man of the Year trophy

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While NFL fans wait around for the start of their beloved draft, we hoops lovers are already engrossed in Game 2 of the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets.

You can have Johnny Football, that Jadeveon Clowney fella and the draft that never ends (in the NBA we go 60-men deep, that’s it). I’m rocking with the round ball tonight.

Give me LeBron James and Paul Piece, Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard in the nightcap when the Spurs and Trail Blazers get it on in Game 2 of their conference semifinal showdown.

I don’t care how choppy it is early, still waiting for someone to knock down a shot here, I’m sticking to NBA basketball tonight …

(I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t intrigued by this one wrinkle, though. The prospects choosing their walk-up song is a splendid idea. The fact that we already know which song each guy has chosen steals just a little bit of the thunder. But I love the idea and wouldn’t mind if the NBA poached it come Draft night next month.)

Oh and big ups to my main man Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers on winning KIA Sixth Man of the Year honors for the second time in his career. Well deserved honor for one of our faves around here.

24 – For all of my anti-NFL draft hype, this one didn’t exactly start with fireworks. Brutal start for both teams in the early going. no one wanted to score, or even hold on to the ball, for that matter.

23 – We’re two hours from tip in San Antonio and already there is more action than we’ve seen from the Heat offense, which has produced just 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting (1-for-8 from deep) after the first 12 minutes.

22 – Nets guard Shaun Livingston slipped on a wet spot under the basket early and I missed the replay. He kept playing, so I didn’t think it was that serious. It didn’t hit me until a few minutes later that when you hear the words “Shaun Livingston” and “slipped under the basket” you can’t help but freak out. Glad it wasn’t anything serious. He’s one of my favorite players. Loved his game coming out of high school. He’s the embodiment of the power of perseverance. We were all robbed of what he might have been …

21 – Why don’t we just let Rashard Lewis and Mirza Teletovic play a game of H-O-R-S-E  to decide this thing …

20 – Sorry LeBron, but we don’t always get what we want …

But you did get it cranked up the closer we got to halftime …

19 – Joe Johnson scores on an isolation play and ESPN’s Mike Tirico talks about his nickname in Atlanta being “Iso Joe.” My memory could be a bit shaky, but I swear I coined that nickname when I was the beat writer for the Hawks. Seriously, I think that’s one of mine. I wonder if the url is already taken?


VIDEO: Who’s hotter than Teletovic in the first half? 

There are other Nets stars in the crosshairs at halftime, though, K.G. and D-Will in particular …

18 – Welcome to San Antonio folks …

17 – The battle of the role players continues with Teletovic ballin’ out for the Nets and Ray Shuttlesworth doing the honors for the Heat. We can watch this all night …

16 – There has been a breakout of happy feet in these playoffs. I was going to refrain from bringing it up, until my favorite WNBA player went and did this …

This is a nutty game. Watching some of these elder statesmen battle each other as much as they’re battling Father Time can be painful at times. KG missing wide open jump hooks and D.Wade walking the ball up the court and passing up open shots repeatedly …

Too bad the game isn’t the story of the night. The NFL draft is a role player, too. This is the night of the snake …

14 – BALLGAME!!!! The Heat just finished off a 100-second possession (they got three offensive rebounds) with a LeBron layup to push the lead to 89-79. Nets vets moving like those zombies on the Walking Dead …

13 – Ray Ray was fabulous. And the Heat did what you expect a championship team to do. But D-Will’s 0-for-everything shooting night sticks out to me as the most glaring item of the night.


VIDEO: Some sounds of the game for you from these #NBAPlayoffs

12 – Always figured TP for more of a win guy, being from France and all …

11 – Still no sign of the team willing to take the leap and pick Johnny Manziel. #struggleface …

10 – What is it with Lillard and these buzzer beaters?


VIDEO: Dame Lillard loves to beat the buzzer!

Portland faring much better tonight and they’re still down after the first 12 minutes. Thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s relentless assault. Don’t let the #tbt cornrows fool you, KLeonard is the future of the San Antonio Spurs  …

9 – Crusty old Spurs, huh?

8 – I love the fight in these Trail Blazers. They’re getting cracked in the face and still pressing the action. #betterbasketballclinicfromthespurs …

#nosleeptilbrooklyn for the Heat and Nets

7 – The Spurs’ second quarter burst was a thing of beauty, coordinated chaos and fury from the crew that’s supposed to be boring but has been anything but so far …

– #nomorejohnnyfootballjokes

Johnny Football is a Cleveland Brown with the 22nd pick, joining Kyrie Irving as one of the professional sports saviors of Northeast Ohio!

6 – The KLeonard walk off interview at halftime was quality stuff. He’s every bit as no-frills as his coaches and teammates insist. And the #tbt cornrows got some prime time love. That’s always a good thing …

5 – The power of the #NBAPlayoffs … you’re welcome Pit Bull!

4 –  See Roy Hibbert prior to Game 2 of Pacers-Wizards series …

3 – Young fella is 4-for-4 from deep and helping maintain control at a time when there is. Big 3!

2 – There’s a first time for everything …. especially in the playoffs!

1 – A fitting nugget to end with on “draft night” …


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard delivers the dagger that all but clinched Game 2 for the Spurs

Hangtime podcast (episode 159) featuring Jared Zwerling and Idan Ravin

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling joins the Hang Time Podcast

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That magical, anything-is-possible portion of the NBA playoffs came to an abrupt end this week.

After an endless string of dramatic first round games that left a record five series hanging in the Game 7 balance, we got nothing but routs in the semifinal openers on both sides of the conference divide.

A coach (Mark Jackson at Golden State) fresh off of a 51-win season got fired and Kevin Durant brought us all back to earth with a heartfelt acceptance speech for the KIA MVP Award, words rooted in something much deeper than any game, that is sure to be one for the ages.

Reality bit back this week, in ways both good and bad, and we don’t shy away from it on Episode 159 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report and noted trainer, coach, lawyer, dreamer and noted author of the “Hoops Whisperer,” Idan Ravin.

Did Jackson not do enough in three seasons, the last two resulting in the first back-to-back playoff appearances for the Warriors since 1991, to earn the right to continue guiding the Warriors? And what really makes the great ones, the guys like KD and MVP runner-up LeBron James, tick?

Dive in for answers to those questions and many more on Episode 159 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report and the “Hoops Whisperer” Idan Ravin …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

 

Morning Shootaround — May 7



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets get rude welcome to the big time | Clippers keeping their eyes on the prize | Pressures shift to Warriors’ ownership and front office | Spurs fighting against their own history

No. 1: Welcome to the big show Brooklyn, your Nets aren’t dealing with the Raptors anymore: We tried to warn you not to count on that 4-0 regular season record against the Miami Heat. This is the playoffs. And whatever happened before now is history. It’s what you do now that counts. The time off didn’t bother the Heat. If anything, it only served to refocus their attention on that Nets team that had their number during the regular season. The victim of those eight days spent going over every detail wore black Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena. And as Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post points out, it’s a whole new world:

So this is what the varsity looks like: a little bit faster, a little bit quicker, a little bit smarter, a little bit savvier. And a whole lot better. Intellectually, you knew that.

Instinctively, the Nets knew that. But it’s still not the same as seeing it up close, in person, in living color.

“We have to put up more resistance,” Paul Pierce said.

“We have to elevate,” Shaun Livingston said, “because they’re going to force you to elevate, or else.”

“They’re the defending champions,” Jason Kidd said. “They’re going to be at a high level. You have to find a way to match it.”

None of this came as a surprise to the Nets, of course, certainly not to the grizzled and the graybeards among them who have been through this all before with the Heat. Still, it’s one thing to say things properly — We swept the season series and it means nothing! They’ve been off for a week but we don’t expect them to be rusty! — and quite something else to stand your ground in the face of a full frontal Heat attack.

And not wind up flatter than Kevin Bacon in “Animal House.”

“They’re the ones that kept attacking for 48 minutes,” Kidd said. “We didn’t.”

The Nets didn’t lose the series Tuesday night, and there’s little chance any of the key participants will be confused on the matter. The Nets came to these Eastern Conference semifinals in full grind mode anyway, snarling their way through the seven-game slog with Toronto, and the grinder’s mantra is this: Get a split. Game 1, Game 2, doesn’t matter, counts the same.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 5



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat and Nets dismiss regular season series | Westbrook-Paul on center stage | Beal, Wizards prefer underdog role | Jackson’s future with Warriors no easy call | Portland’s Matthews keeps chip on shoulder … always

No. 1: Both sides dismiss regular season sweep by Nets in playoff matchup with Heat –  A 4-0 regular season sweep of the Miami Heat sounds good, until you realize that no one — not the Heat nor the Brooklyn Nets team that owned them (technically and at least on paper) during the regular season – believes it matters. Now that their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup is upon us, leaning on what happened between these two in the immediate past doesn’t seem like such a smart decision. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald sets the table:

Nobody on either side reads too much into the Nets’ season sweep, which included three wins by one point and another in double overtime.

Remember that the Heat went 1-3 in the regular season against Boston and 0-3 against Chicago in 2010-11, then eliminated both in five-game playoff series. In 2011-12, Miami again went 1-3 against Boston during the regular season, then ousted the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals.

“Regular season doesn’t indicate anything,” LeBron James said, speaking in general after Sunday morning’s practice. “You have more time to prepare” in the postseason.

Said Nets swingman Joe Johnson: “We know we can beat them, but it’s going to be a lot different than the regular season.”

The Nets create potential matchup problems with a starting frontcourt featuring Kevin Garnett at center, Paul Pierce moving from small forward to power forward and Johnson from shooting guard to small forward.

One option for Erik Spoelstra would be starting Rashard Lewis or Shane Battier, instead of Udonis Haslem, to match up defensively with Pierce or Johnson, though it’s unclear whether Spoelstra will do that.

Chris Bosh will have to match up with Garnett,” Dwyane Wade said. “The challenge is our rotations, of who [Spoelstra] will feel [comfortable] in playing. LeBron can obviously play [power forward]. So we can match down or we can continue to play our style, whatever [Spoelstra] wants to do.”

Johnson said last month that “I think we have a good chance” to beat the Heat in the playoffs because “small-ball works in our favor with them when they have LeBron James or Shane Battier at [power forward]. It’s a great fit.”

Pierce said last month: “We match up pretty good with them. Size-wise, they’re not an overly big team. If you can match them in quickness and intensity, especially on their home court, you give yourself a chance. The way we shoot the ball, we can pretty much play with anybody when we’re on.”

He said Sunday that Heat-Nets “is not a rivalry yet. We’re still trying to earn respect as a franchise.”

(more…)

Showdown Sunday for final four first-rounders

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The first round’s final four teams are doing whatever they can to avoid going fishing

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Four quarters.

That’s it!

Four quarters.

It all comes down to this.

Four quarters, or more if need be, for the final four teams still alive on the most epic weekend ever in the first round of the NBA playoffs. From the emotional roller coaster of Saturday’s wild, three-game ride to — the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, all three higher seeds — we finish with today’s two-part saga.

The Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors finish what they started in the Eastern Conference while the defending Western Conference champion and No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs defend the Alamo against those pesky No. 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

It goes without saying, no one wants to Go Fishing!

So the time for posturing is over. All that’s left is this double-header for all the marbles.

The final four must deliver on the promise of what we’ve already seen from this historic weekend of Game 7s. No pressure fellas, just epic finishes to epic series on an epic weekend …

NETS @RAPTORS, 1 p.m. ET (ABC) 

It has to be a comforting feeling for both of these teams knowing that a rested and focused Miami Heat team, the two-time defending champions, await the winner in the conference semifinals.

Either way, the Nets and Raptors couldn’t be better suited for one last battle.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, just one point (967-966) separates them in the 10 games they’ve played this season, with each of them winning five times. This is a much-needed rubber match that pits one of the most well-seasoned teams in the Nets against a Raptors crew that is swimming in the deep end of the playoff pool for the first time.

But there are more than just numbers at stake today at the Air Canada Centre. There are legacies on the line for the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who were brought to Brooklyn for moments like this, and for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, whose careers will continue to be built on defining moments like this one.

As a group those four stars have a combined 23 Game 7 starts under their belts … so at least one advantage, the experience edge, goes to the visitors from Brooklyn. Just don’t tell the Raptors, who have the sensational and dynamic DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry duo (they are averaging a combined 44.8 points in this series) on their side.

***

MAVERICKS @ SPURS, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

No one loves Game 7 like the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.

No one.

His spotless 4-0 record in Game 7s – that’s right, spotless — no doubt makes him love this big stage even more. All he’s ever known in Game 7 is success, as Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com points out:

He knows nothing but the thrill of victory in the winner-takes-all series finales. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7 action throughout his career, and his numbers in those games border on ridiculous.

You think joining a trio of Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon – in the exclusive career 25-point, 10-rebound club is impressive? Nowitzki has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s, with all of that experience coming between 2003 and ’06.

How silly is it that the big German was stereotyped as a “soft Euro” until he led the Mavs on a 2011 championship march without a series going seven games?

Dirk registered a points-rebound double-double in each of his four swings at a Game 7. The only other active players with four such Game 7 double-doubles in their career are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.

Nowitzki has three 30-10 Game 7 lines. He’s the only guy who can make that claim in the basketball-reference.com database, which dates to 1986. The only two-timers in that time span: LeBron James and Karl Malone.

Of course, Duncan is mentioned among those Game 7 greats. The Spurs superstar big man has been at this so long that you knew he’d have this on his resume, too.

You know Duncan remembers well that Game 7 loss to the Mavericks from May 2006 in the Western Conference semifinals, an overtime defeat that saw Duncan torch the Mavericks for 41 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in a failed effort. The Spurs are 3-5 all-time in Game 7s, boasting a rich history of highs and lows in those games, 2-2 record under the watch of Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

A new chapter in this storied rivalry will be written later today.

It’s Showdown time for all involved in the final four of the best first round of the NBA playoffs we’ve ever seen!


VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses the battle for Texas between the Spurs and Mavericks

 

Heat’s margin of error has vanished

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron James did his usual work for the Miami Heat in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With the start of the playoffs just 10 days away, I never expected to be questioning the Miami Heat.

Normally, you’ve earned the benefit of all doubt when you smash your way to three straight Finals, win back-to-back titles and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are capable of handling any challenge thrown your way on the road to that sort of success.

And yet I cannot get the words of TNT’s Steve Kerr out of my head. He was the first to fire off a warning about the perils of the sort of journey the Heat are on, the taxing nature of not only chasing a three-peat, but the exhausting grind of playing to the final day of the NBA season four years in a row. It’s a grueling process that has worn down the best of the best before, so why shouldn’t it do the same to the Heat?

“There’s a reason these teams don’t do it,” Kerr said in September. “Emotionally, it’s just exhausting to keep doing it year after year, particularly when you have to deal with everything Miami has to deal with on a daily basis, just the constant critiquing and scrutiny on the team, and then you factor in the injuries with Wade and Bosh and their health. I don’t think Miami will get out of the East this year.”

Even if they get out of the East (which I think they will), their margin of error in The Finals — which was razor-thin last season — has vanished. They were on the ropes against the San Antonio Spurs, 30 seconds away from going down in Game 6 before they found the magic needed to survive that game and the energy to finish the Spurs off in Game 7.

It’s asking too much for the Heat to muster that sort of energy and effort again … especially after they’ve already spent a considerable amount of energy and effort dominating the way they have for four seasons running.

This Heat team, the one where LeBron James does the nightly heavy lifting while Chris Bosh does his part and Dwyane Wade helps (when he’s healthy and feeling good enough to suit up) reminds me of the 2011 group that lost to the Dallas Mavericks in The Finals.

It’s a game-to-game thing with the Heat now. Things appear to be fine after a win against a contender from the Eastern or Western Conference, while a loss to a contender starts the chorus of concern all over again. We’ll see it again in the next 48 hours. Losing to Memphis Wednesday night raised all the same red flags about the Heat’s ability to answer the bell against a desperate team. But a win Friday night (7:30 ET, NBA TV) in their fourth and final battle of this regular season against the Indiana Pacers will silence the cynics — at least for a few hours.

A year ago, the Heat were in the midst of a stunning finish to the regular season that saw them win 27 straight games as they chased the Lakers’ NBA-record 33-game win streak. No one had any doubts that they were ready for the playoffs, ready to handle the rigors of winning back-to-back titles and solidifying their status as the league’s preeminent force.

These days, each outing offers more and more signs of decay. It’s a natural erosion that comes with the Heat pounding the rock every night since James, Wade and Bosh joined forces. You don’t have to be a Heat hater to see it either. You simply have to watch, study and give an honest assessment of what we’re seeing out of Miami as the regular season ends.

The same way Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.com did after that loss to the Grizzlies:

The other somewhat troubling sign Wednesday was how quickly the offense went from free-flowing with great ball movement in the first half to a stagnant, LeBron-or-nothing affair that played very much into Memphis’ hands.

James happened to keep Miami in the game because he had his jumper going. But the entire offense came to a standstill on several possessions, leading to forced drives into traffic and easily convertible turnovers.

“It’s something you always have to stay conscious of,” Spoelstra said. “Even as beautifully as we move the ball sometimes, it’s a game you have to work at. You have to do it under duress, when the defense steps up their pressure, which they did.”

LeBron says he would rather play the ball-movement game and keep his teammates involved. But when he’s got it going, he can also take the offense out of rhythm when calling his own number.

“That is a fine balance in this league,” Spoelstra said. “Because he, along with Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, they’re the best end-of-possession, bail-you-out options for the offense.

“But that can’t be your offense, and we understand that.”

Ultimately, this comes down to Wade. Will he be able to navigate a healthy path and play at an elite level long enough during the postseason to give the Heat that extra playoff edge they’ve had their last two playoff runs?

Because asking LeBron to carry the load without that help this time around might not be feasible.

Flipping that Heat playoff switch is not an option, either. Not when the margin of error has vanished before the postseason has even started.


VIDEO: A desperate Grizzlies team was too much for LeBron James and the Heat