Posts Tagged ‘The Finals’

Spoelstra: LeBron For DPOY!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We tossed the idea around here last week, much to the chagrin of those who absolutely adore LeBron James and those who still aren’t convinced he’s worth all the fuss.

Where can the four-time MVP improve his game at this stage of his stellar career? If there is room for the Miami Heat’s back-to-back Finals MVP’s game to continue to grow, where will that growth take place?

LeBron is already an all-court force of nature, capable of impacting games the way no one else in the league can (that includes you Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris PaulDwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and anyone else that wants in on the discussion). As great as some of these other start might be in one aspect of the game or another, not a one of them can match LeBron’s abilities in all disciplines.

That’s what makes the prospect of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra‘s Media Day challenge to James one of the most intriguing sidelights of this upcoming season.

“This year, it would be great to see him be acknowledged for the defensive work that he does,” Spoelstra said, planting the seed while at the same time saying that’s exactly what he wasn’t trying to do. “There’s no one else in the league that can do what he does. He’s been banging on that door, getting close. I don’t want it to be a campaign. It has to be earned. But he has that type of potential to be Defensive Player of the Year.”

Not since Michael Jordan has the best player in the league been this proficient on both ends of the floor. And Jordan, you could argue, played both sides as well as anyone who has ever laced up a pair of sneakers in a game in the NBA or anywhere else. James has the potential to do the same and has shown flashes of it throughout his career, particularly in the past three seasons.

Who could forget his defensive effort in The Finals in June? San Antonio Spurs big men Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan got a first hand taste of what he can do around the basket. For a man his size, his ability to defend on the perimeter is nothing short of ridiculous.

Can you imagine if LeBron was allowed to channel the majority of his energy every night into just playing shut down defense? I’m convinced he could challenge for a spot among the top 10 defensive specialists the league has seen. He’s that good, that talented and would certainly be that accomplished, if he were allowed to focus like that.

Did LeBron improve? I think it’s insulting to suggest otherwise. Since he’s been in Miami (and before) he’s come back year after year with new wrinkles to his game that require meticulous attention to detail in the gym during the offseason.

Capturing the ultimate prize, both team and individual glory, has not sapped him of his desire to tweak and improve his arsenal year after painstaking year. That’s a testament to the respect he has for those who have come before him, the folks who set the standard he’s trying to surpass and the mold he’s trying to break.

If LeBron needs any added motivation at this point of his Hall of Fame career, and I’m sure he doesn’t, let Spoelstra’s word ring in his ears night after night this season. And we’ll see if he’s capable of fueling the campaign his coach said he’s trying to avoid … “LeBron James, your 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year!”



Legacies Truly On The Line In Game 7





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A champion will be crowned after the dust has settled on tonight’s winner-take-all Game 7 of The Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Legacies also are on the line for the coaches and main players on both sides. Heat star and four-time MVP LeBron James might have the most riding on the outcome of this game, but he’s certainly not the only one with a reputation to continue building.

The basics:
Game 7 tips off Thursday night at 9 ET on ABC.

The Heat have plenty of numbers on their side, courtesy of home-court advantage. The home team is 14-3 in Games 7s in Finals history, the last road team to win was Washington over Seattle in 1978. They need whatever they can get after coming within seconds of not even making it to a Game 7, trailing by five points with 28 seconds to play in regulation of Game 6 before Ray Allen forced overtime with a clutch 3-pointer from the corner. The Heat are trying to repeat as champions, becoming the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers did it in 2009 and 2010. That 2010 title was secured with a Game 7 win over Allen and the Boston Celtics at Staples Center.

The Spurs are attempting to become just the fourth team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road. And they’ll have to shake off the stench of blowing their chance to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy in Game 6. The trophy was being wheeled out to the court for the championship ceremony as the Spurs fumbled away their lead in the final seconds. The Spurs are chasing title No. 5, for Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, No. 4 for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. So they are playing the legacy game, too.

The Heat haven’t won back-to-back games since the end of the conference semifinals and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, while the Spurs haven’t lost back-to-back games with their Big 3 in the lineup since December. Something has to give tonight.

The narrative:
James, headband free, had to dig down in his deep reserves to find the energy to change the tempo in Game 6 and the put the Heat in a position to even have a chance to come back. So what does he have left for Game 7 with so much at stake? It needs to be a lot, because Dwyane Wade is operating on two busted knees and could be limited in Game 7 the way he was in Game 6. Chris Bosh came through with some clutch rebounds and a block at the end of Game 6, but he also has to play much better. The Heat need their Big 3 to show up again the way they did in Game 4, when they combined for 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 steals, nine assists and five blocks.

Role players from each side have stepped up tremendously throughout the first six games of this series, but Game 7 is about the superstars showing up and assuming their designed roles. If the Spurs get another 30-point, 17-rebound effort out of Duncan and Parker shoots it better than he did in Game 6 and Ginobili cuts his turnovers in half and produces like he did in Game 5, the Spurs’ Big 3 will have done their part.

And that leaves the always important wild card position open for Allen or Mike Miller for the Heat and for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for the Spurs. If any one of those guys goes off the grid and plays out of his mind in this setting, he could swing the momentum of this game in his team’s favor.

The subplots:
Popovich took a beating for his late-game rotations that did not include, for at least a stretch of the fourth quarter, Duncan and Parker on the floor with the Spurs trying to hold a lead. He didn’t take a timeout with seconds to play, allowing Ginobili to dribble the ball up the court at a critical time while Parker sat on the bench. And when the Spurs needed to rebound the ball in those final 28 seconds, Duncan was not on the floor as the Heat scrambled to tie the game. Not that he cares, but all eyes will be on him if things are tight down the stretch.

So much has been made about the Spurs’ mental and emotional recovery from Game 6, which was aided by a late-night,  clear-the-air team dinner and the realization that they have one more chance to finish what they started in Game 6. But what about the emotional recovery for a Heat team that was floored by the reality that they were seconds away from watching a team celebrate a championship on their home floor for the second time in three years? They have to come back to earth after that game as well.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decides to do if Wade clearly doesn’t have the bounce and energy needed to impact the game in the way we’ve seen him do it earlier in this series? The Heat’s fourth-quarter rally in Game 6 came with James attacking the rim with sharpshooters Allen and Miller spreading the floor and the Spurs’ defense out. With Wade on the floor James doesn’t have the same room to operate and the Spurs can pack the lane. Spoelstra might have to make a choice between benching Wade and trying to do the impossible with him on the floor.

Xs and Os:
There will be plenty of opportunities for both coaches to tweak their teams in this game, but only once the action starts. After six games against each other, there are no surprises left. All of the punching and counterpunching we’ve seen — from the altered starting lineups and the insertion of certain role players at ideal times in the series — Game 7 should not come down to a modification from either Popovich or Spoelstra.

This is a game that the players will decide with their energy, effort and execution of the same game plans that have been in place since the start of Game 1.

The Spurs want to play at their pace, keep the Heat off-balance in transition and impose their will inside with Duncan and make sure Parker is attacking and his shooters are in place to take advantage of the inside-out game when the Spurs pick-and-roll game is in a groove.

The Heat want to play at their breakneck pace, with James and Wade in attack mode and the floor spread just enough to keep those driving lanes open and keep the Spurs guessing about where the next strike is coming from. And if Spoelstra is determined to stick with Wade and James on the floor together, one of them has to be prepared to play in the post to keep the floor spaced properly.

Who’s hot?
Allen scored just nine points in Game 6, but all nine of them came in the fourth quarter and overtime, the most critical times in the game for the Heat. Experienced in the clutch, he has more Game 7 minutes on his resume, by far, than anyone else in this game.

He’s been in the Spurs’ shoes before, trying to win a Game 7 on the road, and that experience will serve him and the Heat well in an environment that should be as wild as anything we’ve seen in the NBA this season.

“As a competitor you love it, because you know you have an opportunity and it’s up to you,” Allen said. “We have a chance in our building to make something great. All of our legacies are tied to this moment, this game. It’s something our kids will be able to talk about that they were a part of. Forever will remember these moments, so we want to not live and have any regrets.”

Whatever happened to…
Green went from the favorite to win Finals MVP before Game 6 to a complete non-factor by the end of Game 6. He shot just 1-for-7 from the floor and managed just three points in a game where, as Bosh promised, he did not see as many open looks as he had previously.

If the Spurs are moving the ball well to make space for their shooters, Green’s opportunities should increase dramatically in Game 7. And that should allow him to add to his already impressive Finals record for 3-pointers made.

Bottom line:

Throw out the trends of this series and the teams alternating wins and neither one of them being able to come up with back-to-back exemplary performances, and strap yourself in for what should be a wild 48-minute (or more) ride with two heavyweight contenders swinging until one of them drops.

“You know what, it’s all about just winning the title. It’s not about situation or what has led up to it,” Duncan said. “It’s a great story for everybody else, but we’re here for one reason, one reason only: It’s to try to win this game. We have had a very good season thus far, and I think we just want to get to the game more than anything. We just want to see what happens and be able to leave everything out there.”

Rating Ray Allen’s Big 3-Pointer





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Ray Allen‘s clutch corner 3-pointer that sent Game 6 of The Finals to overtime didn’t even rank among the top three impact plays in the final analysis of that epic contest.

My main man and NBA.com’s analytics expert John Schuhmann said something about the shot only increasing the Heat’s win probability by 10.8 percent, from 22.0 percent to 32.7 percent, or something like that.

But if the measurement was “Most Memorable 3-pointers Made in The Finals,” Allen’s shot that saved the Heat’s season (for at least 48, or more, minutes) has to rank among the best clutch shots from long distance anyone has made.

Win Game 7 Thursday night and, years from now, Allen’s shot will be the one that sticks out. It’ll rank right along some of the greatest clutch 3-pointers in the history of The Finals … shots like these:

Big Shot Bob (aka Robert Horry)’s dagger for the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 …


John Paxson’s crunch-time strike for the Chicago Bulls in 1993 …


TNT’s Kenny Smith’s money shot for the Houston Rockets in 1995 …


Dirk Nowitzki’s long-range shredder for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 …

Jerry West’s 60-footer (it was only worth two points then) for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970 …

And finally, Ron Artest’s (now Metta World Peace) game-saver for the Lakers in 2010 …

Game 6 Pressure High On Both Sides



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Based strictly on what we’ve seen from these two teams thus far, Game 6 of The Finals should include plenty of drama and a Heat win by a comfortable margin. That would force a must-see Game 7 for the 2012-13 NBA championship, the ultimate stage for deciding a champion.

But it’s like LeBron James said, “the most important game is Game 6. We can’t worry about Game 7.”

The only game to worry about for both sides is Game 6, as the pressure on both sides will be sky-high. The Heat are in desperation mode to keep the series alive for a Game 7 while the Spurs need to avoid Game 7 at all costs.

Down 3-2 w/ final two games at home (since ’85)
Year Team Opponent Result
1985 Boston L.A. Lakers Lost in 6
1988 L.A. Lakers Detroit Won in 7
1993 Phoenix Chicago Lost in 6
1994 Houston New York Won in 7
1998 Utah Chicago Lost in 6
2006 Dallas Miami Lost in 6
2010 L.A. Lakers Boston Won in 7
2011 Miami Dallas Lost in 6

The basics:
Game 6 tips off Tuesday night at 9 ET on ABC.

The Heat have no room for error tonight on their home floor, and the atmosphere at AmericanAirlines Arena should reflect that tension. A team that won a NBA-best 66 games during the regular season (and a whopping 27-straight at one point) has to win the next 48 minutes to keep their season alive. The Big 3 experiment and legacies for all involved are on the line. The Heat are in survival mode, fighting for the right to utilize home-court advantage in a Game 7.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are 14-2 in road close-out games since 2003. And they don’t want any part of a Game 7 in the Heat’s house. The pressure is on for them to end this thing tonight and claim their fifth title in their championship era. The Spurs didn’t need the validation of what they’ve done over the years, but No. 5 puts Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (neither of whom were around for the first title in 1999) onto the hallowed list of the NBA’s greatest champions.

The narrative:
Did the Indiana Pacers expose weaknesses in the Heat that the Spurs have continued to exploit? It certainly seems that way, especially defensively. The Heat surrendered 113 points and 114 points, respectively, in the two games they lost in San Antonio and allowed the Spurs’ shooters to go wild. They’ve been unable to scramble effectively on the perimeter to cover all of the shooters and couldn’t find their way in transition.

It’s not about role players doing the dirty work either. James and Wade have struggled as much as anyone on the Heat roster on defense. Neither one of them has shown any defensive consistency and both could be spotted jogging down the floor in Game 5 as the Spurs converted fast-break opportunities.

Their activity level, on both ends, in Game 4 was the difference in the Heat’s lone win in San Antonio. They’ll need to bring it again to keep this series going. If the Heat are truly at their best when they’ve been punched in the face and when their backs are against the wall, so to speak, then they should be outstanding tonight. (more…)

24-Second Thoughts On Game 4

 

24 – I love the kids as much as the next guy, but I’m wondering, is there an adult in either city capable of belting out the anthem?

23 – I know this is supposed to be about The Finals but I can’t stop daydreaming about what the Clippers would look like with Doc Rivers running the show … and maybe KG around to mentor Blake Griffin?

22 – Danny Green gets an open 3 early off Tony Parker‘s penetration. That hammy doesn’t appear to be much of an issue early either. Spurs are locked in right now. This is the fifth quarter of Game 3 for Green and Gary Neal, who is in seconds into the game.

21 – How long does this Dwyane Wade last? I wish he and Manu Ginobili had faced off in their respective primes. It would have been crazy to see them square off in 2005.

20 – Heat look much sharper defensively. Wade triggers the break again with a steal. And Freight Train LeBron James has suddenly appeared in San Antonio. Buckle up Spurs fans, it’s going to be a wild one tonight.

19 – Impressive rebounding from the Heat. Championship steady as they fought off the Spurs’ early flurry. From down 10 to up 29-26 at the end of the first, the earth tilts back on its axis after 48 hours of Heat doomsday scenarios.

18 – Tiago Splitter victimized again at the rim by a smaller man (Wade). Pump fake Tiago. Pump fake. Shane Battier gets him, too. Disgraceful!

17 – Every single time we count Wade out he comes back with an effort like this. And to think folks debated whether or not he should benched. Where he finds this resolve is beyond me. Left for dead one night and the most dominant force on the floor two nights later. The Finals has been his playground in the past, might he revisit 2006 tonight?

16 – The city of Miami and Heat Nation just went into shock with Wade on the sideline getting stretched after the foul and block attempt on Duncan … relax folks, he’s fine. Just needed to stretch out a little bit. This is his game now.

15 – I’m ready to take the “arguably” tag off of Parker’s “best point guard in the league” title. Anybody can shine. But can you do it on this stage? (more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 121): All Aboard The Finals Roller Coaster

MIAMI — Trying to predict the totally unpredictable is the easiest way to humble yourself during the NBA season. Doing it during the playoffs is an even more of a gut punch. Attempting to handicap the roller coaster that is The Finals, however, is another experience altogether.

Things change on a possession by possession basis when a team’s entire season is one the line.

We made our predictions last week (along with NBA.com’s John Schuhmann) and then the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat made us regret ever opening our mouths by playing three wildly different games that have led us to tonight’s Game 4 in San Antonio (9 p.m. ET, ABC).

We’re still talking about Tony Parker and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Chris Bosh. We just can’t mention them without also discussing Danny Green, Mike MillerKawhi Leonard, Mario Chalmers, Gary Neal, and Ray Allen, role players who have all played huge roles in the outcomes of the first three games.

So who plays hero tonight? Who swings this series in their team’s favor? Can Parker overcome that hamstring strain and lead the Spurs? Does LeBron deliver on his promise to “play better?

We examine all of that and more on Episode 121 of the Hang Time Podcast … (and yes, we’re still trying to find Rick Fox) … 

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 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.

24-Second Thoughts On Game 3

24 – Well, the Spurs didn’t waste any time throwing down the gauntlet with their entry in The Finals National Anthem Battle. I see your 12-year-old future American Idol winner (Julia Dale) Miami and raise you a dapper Sebastien De La Cruz. Let’s get it on!

23 – Props to ABC for having Tony Parker impersonator Jesse Williams in one of the pregame promos to hype the game. With the sound down a little bit and one eye on the computer and the other on the TV, what else do you learn while half-paying attention during pregame show? Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili might need to ride some pine during crunch time of a close game if they don’t get it together. I swear the dudes in suits (Mike Wilbon, Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose and Magic Johnson) said it. Overreact much fellas? Seriously, these cats are future Hall of Famers. They need to play better no doubt. But benching ‘em in The Finals? C’mon man!

22 – Spurs spoon-feeding the ball to Tim Duncan in the post early on here. Duncan with the dunk off the sweet feed from Parker for an 11-4 Spurs lead with 6:29 to play. I see you Pop!

21 – The Spurs hadn’t played a home game since May 21st? Crazy. Sweeping my Hang Time Grizzlies forced them into that long layoff at home. No wonder San Antonio was so fired up to see them after all this time.

20 – Jamie Foxx as the President wearing Jordans, huh? Never thought I’d see it in my lifetime. White House Down has to be on the must-see list if for no other reason than to see what kind of kicks POTUS will be rocking.

19 – Is there anyone on the Heat roster Kawhi Leonard can’t guard or get a rebound over? The Heat are doing for him what they did for the Pacers’ Paul George. Holding your own in a matchup against LeBron James can do wonders for your profile. Speaking of LeBron, he looks a little scattered here early.

18 – My man Dancing Danny Green is still feeling it. How Wade loses track of him is beyond me. Green is a ridiculous 10-for-16 and counting in his first appearance in The Finals. #Dancin’DannyGreen

17 Ray Allen giving up a 3-point look in transition for a Norris Cole corner 3 that goes bottoms. The Heat showing off some of that ball movement that they used during that 27-game win streak during the regular season.

16 – Spurs lead is up to 36-28 the moment after Game 2 hero Mario Chalmers heads to the bench with his third foul with five-plus minutes to play before halftime. Heat are going to do have to do this without ‘Rio for at least a little while.

15 – Spurs take their first double-digit lead, 40-30, of The Finals with 4:35 to play on a Leonard dunk on a break (via a great outlet pass from Duncan). Spurs are perfectly content with LeBron and Wade jacking jumpers from the perimeter.

14 – Gary Neal (knocks down a 3-pointer) meet Mike Miller (knocks down an answer 3-pointer) meet Green meet Chalmers meet … whoever the next role player from the Spurs who is ready for his turn in this series. We forget that while the stars occupy so much of our time during these things that we forget how grand a stage this is for the other guys. And since these are the teams with the deepest and most well-rounded supporting casts, we should have expected nothing less.

13 – Spurs with a crazy 6-0 run to finish the half to hold of the charging heat and head to halftime leading 50-44. Parker knocks down the first 3 from the corner and Neal finishes it off with a pull-up 3 at the buzzer. His 14 points leads the Spurs at the break.

12 – Say the Spurs win this series and keep playing the way they have, is it totally inconceivable for either Green or Leonard to be the frontrunner for Finals MVP? They’ve been the most consistently outstanding players for the Spurs to this point. I know it sounds crazy, but crazy lives here, always has. The work they are doing on both ends (specifically the defense on LeBron and the rebounding) is beyond outstanding.

11 – Miller is the only thing keeping the Heat in this game late in the third quarter. He’s 5-for-5 from deep. He’s also the Heat’s weakest link on defense. Spurs are taking advantage of him non-stop on pick-and-rolls and just shredding the middle of the Heat’s defense. Did I mention that LeBron and Wade are scoreless in the third with just 3:36 to play?

10 – These facial expressions from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra are the same ones many of his playoff colleagues have worn in trying to figure out how to deal with the Spurs. There is no easy way to solve what the Spurs do. This isn’t a part of the “process” he was expecting to deal with.

9 – NBA TV’s Steve Smith called this on the real pregame show. He tabbed Neal to have the big night and boom!

8 – Parker has an injury issue (calf) that would normally be a big deal after this game. But the way the role players have stepped up pushes this story to the background. The Spurs are going to need him to win two more games in this series, though. No way you want to finish this series without TP.

7 – The questioning of the Heat’s Big 3 will crank up again after an effort like this. No fire, no energy and no chance.

6 – Old man Duncan, Leonard and Tiago Splitter have dominated the glass tonight and that has in-turn allowed the Spurs to abuse the Heat around the rim. The Heat’s fatal flaw this season (they were dead last in the league in rebounding) could very well be their undoing in these Finals.

5 – Gregg Popovich is a master because of performances like this. The defense designed to lock down on LeBron and Wade has been masterful.

4 – This is the second straight 2-for-12 shooting start for LeBron. He’s hearing footsteps from The Finals of 2011 and another matchup against a Texas powerhouse (the Mavericks) that dared him to beat them with his jumper. That team had Shawn Marion serving as the primary defender on him. LeBron is stuck in the Matrix again this time, courtesy of young Mr. Leonard. Last time he went three straight playoff games without scoring 20 points in a game was against the Mavericks in 2011.

3 – Complete pandemonium to star the fourth. Spurs role players have officially taken this game (and perhaps the series) over. Neal, Green, Leonard wouldn’t normally constitute a “Big 3″ in practice. But they are the only “Big 3″ playing tonight. Finals record 16 made 3-pointers for the Spurs as the lead continues to balloon.

2 – What he said about #Dancin’DannyGreen …

1 – Fully expecting Neal, Green and Leonard to announce to the world that they are really mutants during the on-court interview at the end of the game.

Confident Chalmers Leads Heat Rout




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MIAMI – Mario Chalmers has no problem asserting himself on the big stage.

It’s been in his blood since he was a teenager, but it became evident when he was starring in college for Kansas’ national championship team and more so last season, during the Miami Heat’s championship run.

Chalmers went off for 25 points in Game 4 of The Finals last season against the Oklahoma City Thunder, draining nine of his 14 shots en route to a win that helped the Heat move one step closer to closing out the Thunder in Game 5.

That’s why performances like the one he delivered Sunday night at AmericanAirlines should surprise no one. The Heat point guard relishes the opportunity to take and make the big shots, make the big plays and accept the challenge of dealing with a future Hall of Famer like Tony Parker the way he did in the Heat’s 103-84 rout of the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of The Finals.

Chalmers led the Heat with a team-high 19 points and helped limit Parker to 13 points and just five assists. His layup and free throw with 3:11 to play in the third quarter was the turning point as the Heat went on a 33-5 run to blow the game open. They went from trailing by a point to coasting by 27 points to tie the series at a 1-1 headed to San Antonio for Games 3, 4 and 5.

Chalmers walked over and told a struggling LeBron James that now was the time.

“I felt like we had them on the ropes at the time,” Chalmers said. “I told them let’s go for the kill.”

James might have had the highlight play on Tiago Splitter and Chris Bosh broke out of his funk and finished with a double double (12 points, 10 rebounds). But it was the Heat’s role players who saved the day. Guys like Ray Allen (13 points), Chris “Birdman” Andersen (nine points) and Mike Miller (nine points) showed up.

And in this series, James is convinced that Chalmers could very well be the Heat’s most critical performer, even with “Big 3s” on both sides.

“‘Rio has to play big for us in all facets,” James said. “I think that especially defensively, he’s guarding arguably the best point guard in the league. But I think he also has to make Tony work on the defensive end. He can’t be passive. He has to shoot his shots when he has them.”

Chalmers won’t bite publicly when asked about an individual matchup like the one he’s locked in with Parker right now, but his history against the other top players at the position suggests otherwise. He’s never backed down.

“It wasn’t nothing about Tony Parker,” Chalmers said. “It was the fact that we lost Game 1.We never want to lose, especially in The Finals. My mindset was just to do what I can for the team and go from there.”

It goes back that intestinal fortitude, the big game moxie that Chalmers has always exhibited.

“Mario’s got guts. Come on,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He had that all the way [back] in college. He’s got incredible confidence in his game. He’s shown that throughout the years, even when it’s sometimes — I wouldn’t say irrational. You have to have guts to play with our guys. If you don’t, you get swallowed up. The good thing about it is the other guys were fine with him making plays. That might be different the next game. As they make adjustments, everybody has to be alive. Him being aggressive helps us, no question.”

There’s no strategy involved. Just plain old guts.

You either have it in you to thrive under pressure or you don’t.

“We have a lot of those guys,” Spoelstra said. “You can’t teach that quality, the big game guts. They feel most alive in these situations when you typically feel the most pressure. Drives me crazy sometimes in December and January. But when you get to this time of year you like it.”

Bosh In Need Of Redemption



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MIAMI – Gregg Popovich didn’t need nine days to figure out a game plan for the Miami Heat.

The San Antonio Spurs’ coach needed to watch just nine minutes of footage from the Eastern Conference finals matchup between the Heat and Indiana Pacers to find the weak link his team could exploit in The Finals.

Heat center Chris Bosh made the job easy for him, sticking out on offensive and defensive possessions where he wasn’t engaged in the action. He also played smaller than you’d expect from an eight-time All-Star and a $100 million man who has already anointed himself a future Hall of Famer.

Bosh played to the Spurs’ script in San Antonio’s Game 1 win, making just six of his 16 shot attempts, grabbing just four rebounds and coming up woefully short in the fourth quarter. He missed a wide open 3-pointer with 1:02 to play and the Heat trailing by four, a shot the Spurs will let him take anytime in this series.

“We had an opportunity to get into the paint,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was open … probably for a reason at that point. But we had a couple of different options, triggers to get guys into the paint or to get into another situation. You know what, we’ll take that shot. He’s been making those. It’s an open shot in the fourth quarter. It didn’t come down to that.”

Sure it did, for Bosh, who needs a redemption game in the worst way in Game 2 Sunday.

It came down to that and all the other missed opportunities to assert himself, both in the conference finals (where he averaged 11.0 points and 4.3 rebounds against Pacers big men Roy Hibbert and David West) and in the 47 minutes leading up to that 3-point miss in Game 1 against the Spurs.

The Spurs left Bosh open the way you would expect them to leave Joel Anthony, the Heat’s former starting center, open in the same situation. It’s not so much a sign of disrespect of Bosh’s game but a nod to the obvious. Bosh is struggling mightily this postseason — the last big-time game he had was in Game 3 of the conference semifinals against Chicago when he finished with 20 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks in the Heat’s 104-94 win.

Bosh hasn’t scored more than 17 points in any game since then and didn’t even manage double digits in the last four games of the conference finals. He hasn’t had a double-digit rebound game since then, either — a stretch of 10 straight playoff games. That’s unacceptable for a player in Bosh’s tax bracket.

Even more perplexing is his reluctance to challenge the Spurs inside. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter are classic big men but not the rugged forces inside that Hibbert and West are. And yet Bosh rarely ventured inside in Game 1. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts, taking as many as Ray Allen, and only four of his 16 shot attempts came inside the paint, where he was 1-for-4. The only real damage he did against the Spurs was with his mid-range game, going 5-for-8 on those shots.

It’s clear that Bosh has allowed his solid 3-point shooting effort in the playoffs (15-for-31 for 48 percent prior to Game 1) to convince him that he’s more effective from distance. That’s why he claims his confidence hasn’t wavered in recent weeks or after he came up empty in Game 1.

“It’s a part of sports,” he said of his late miss from deep. “You really don’t have to think about it. You just react. And that’s something I always lived by no matter what the situation is. I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me, every shot that I shoot I expect it to go in. Some do and some don’t.”

But sometimes those numbers can lie. They don’t always tell the true story. And the Spurs want, better yet, they need Bosh to believe in them. They need him to play into their hands by drifting on the perimeter and allowing them to lock down the lane defensively.

Bosh has been non-existent in the pick-and-roll, mostly because he hasn’t shown any inclination to roll to the basket. That allows the Spurs to collapse the lane the same way Indiana did against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and leaves the Heat with one less body around the basket to help on the boards.

Bosh has to find a way to leave much larger footprint on this series. Some way, some how, he has to be a factor.

“Anytime you get into a series, you have to recognize how a team is playing you. And sometimes it’s not your series,” Allen said. “I’ve been in several series where scoring-wise it wasn’t really in my direction – teams were taking me out. So it’s important you find a way to have an impact. Shane [Battier] came in the game last night, he altered shots, he got loose balls, he got us second-chance opportunities, and he had a great impact on the game. So each one of us has to find a way to have that impact on the floor.

‘With CB, there’s so many opportunities in the paint,” Allen continued. “We’re going to have to rely on him, we’re going to need him. And if he doesn’t score a bucket for us to to be efficient and effect the game, that goes for all of us. We have to be willing to make that sacrifice. I don’t think his confidence has wavered. I just always say I can make it easier on him out there when that ball comes. Especially early, trying to get him into the paint a little bit more. When the ball comes to him, just get that second-chance pick-and-roll where I can come off and get it back to him, so he can get something a little short or something rolling to the rim so he can get some easy buckets.”

The choice is simple for Bosh: he either makes the adjustment to his game and acquaints himself with the painted area or risks more performances like the ones he’s turned over the past 10 games. He either does a little film study of his own, breaking down his own shortcomings and highlighting the things he can tweak in his own game or continues to be the Heat’s weakest link in this postseason and this series.

But there’s no doubt about it, more than anyone else, the burden is on Bosh to change the course of this series for the Heat.

Report: Kobe Aiming For An Opening Day Return, Will Recruit Dwight Howard





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs occupy the minds of most NBA fans right now as the conference finals end and we get ready for The Finals, Kobe Bryant is quietly plotting his comeback in Los Angeles.

The Lakers’ superstar is deep into the rehabilitation process from season-ending Achilles surgery and has set his sights on an earlier than expected return to action, telling Dave McMenamin of the ESPNLosAngeles.com in an exclusive Monday interview that he’s hoping to return for the Lakers’ 2013-14 season opener:

“I hope so,” Bryant said . “That’s the challenge. With the tendon, there’s really only but so much you can do. There’s a certain amount of time that they deem necessary for the tendon to heal where you don’t overstretch it and now you never get that spring back.

“So, you just have to be patient, let the tendon heal and then when that moment comes when they say, ‘OK, we can take off the regulator so to speak and now it’s on you to train as hard as you can to get back to where you want to be,’ that’s going to be a good day.”

In addition to plotting his own return, Bryant plans on being an active recruiter for the Lakers’ biggest free-agent target, center Dwight Howard. Howard is sure to be entertaining suitors from coast to coast July 1 when free agency kicks off. Bryant and Howard got off to a rocky start as teammates this season but appear to have grown closer throughout the tumultuous ride.

Bryant said he’ll step in when needed and make sure to impress upon Howard the importance of the big man being a part of the master plan in Los Angeles:

“For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be,” Bryant said. “We all want him here. But then that’s when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don’t start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument.

“I’ll give him a little opening statement, but then I have to make sure I have the final word.”

That has to be music to the ears of Lakers fans. Having the man who has served as the face of the franchise for much of the past decade and a half work this hard to make sure Howard serves as his eventual franchise successor speaks volumes about where Bryant is in his career.

With the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are  all reportedly preparing recruiting pitches for Howard (who, along with Chris Paul and Josh Smith, are the headliners in the free-agent class), the Lakers have to be prepared with a pitch of their own. The more input and influence from Bryant it seems, the better.

Only time will tell if it works out for Bryant on both fronts. We’d be foolish to doubt his resolve as he attempts to come back earlier than expected from his injury. In fact, convincing Howard to stick with the Lakers might be the more difficult of the two tasks.

Howard has managed to avoid doing any interviews since the Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Spurs, so anyone assuming what he might do is going off of sourced information and little else.