Posts Tagged ‘Thunder’

NBA unveils 2014-15 schedule Wednesday


VIDEO: LeBron James and the Cavaliers are talking championship this season in Cleveland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James has everyone in Cleveland, and many around the league, thinking about a title chase for the Cavaliers.

We shall see. But whatever the Cavs do this season, chances are pretty good we’ll be able to see much of it live on TV.

LeBron and the new-look Cavs figure to be a prime-time fixture on NBA broadcast outlets during the 2014-15 regular season. NBA TV will unveil the entire regular-season national television schedule Wednesday on the NBA 2014-15 Schedule Release Special at 6 p.m. ET.

The show will highlight the season’s biggest games, most highly anticipated matchups, the opening week schedule, the Christmas Day games and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day games. The entire schedule will be posted on NBA.com in conjunction with the NBA TV special, which will be hosted by Rick Kamla and feature NBA TV’s Brent Barry. Contributors from around the league will offer insight and analysis.

The Cavaliers, who haven’t made the playoffs since James left four years ago, are a team that will be headlined by All-Stars James, Kyrie Irving and, very possibly, Kevin Love (pending the finalization of  a reported trade between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cavaliers, a trade that also includes Andrew Wiggins, the Cavs’ No. 1 pick in last month’s Draft). Many already are predicting huge things for James and the Cavs.

It’s safe to say there will be no shortage of other intriguing storylines for the upcoming season, too, what with seismic changes in the Central Division alone, not to mention the retooling of all of the contenders chasing the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs.

Whether the road to the NBA championship runs through Cleveland, San Antonio, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles (Clippers)  or somewhere else, we’ll find out all the regular-season steps on Wednesday night.

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers visits China

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott | USAB roster vulnerable without Love? | Turner and Celtics find perfect fit in each other | Finding Gregg Popovich in the summer

No. 1: Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott: — It absolutely took forever for the Los Angeles Lakers to find what they feel is the best fit for their new coach. And there’s good reason for it. Had things played out differently in free agency, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony might have had a say (along with Kobe Bryant, of course) in who replaced Mike D’Antoni. That’s not saying it would not have been Byron Scott. But there is no guarantee. Ultimately, as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com points out, the Lakers got the right man for the job:

It was no secret that if they ended up pulling off a coup and landing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or both, they wanted to entice the superstars to come by letting them have a say in who would coach them.

All the while, however, they kept Scott in the loop, bringing him back for a second interview June 10 prior to free agency and then again for a third talk July 16 after the Anthony/James dream had died and L.A. instead filled up its roster with the likes of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis.

Which brings us to the second question that needs to be asked: Why Byron?

It wasn’t just about his ties to the Showtime era, but that surely helped. It wasn’t just that he was around the team all last season as an analyst for the Lakers’ television station, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and had an intimate knowledge of what went down, but that helped too.

The Lakers franchise also wanted to establish a clear defensive identity after being atrocious on that end of the court last season, and Scott’s credentials include a strong defensive-minded reputation.

But really, the Scott hire comes down to one man: Kobe Bryant. L.A. invested close to $50 million in Bryant over the next two seasons when he’ll be 36 and a 19-year veteran and 37 and a 20-year veteran.

Despite all that’s gone wrong in Laker Land since Phil Jackson retired in 2011, Bryant still remains as a box office draw and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Whichever coach the Lakers decided on would have to mesh well personalitywise with Bryant first and foremost and, beyond that, play a system that would help Bryant continue to be productive even as Father Time is taking his toll.

It was no accident that Bryant publicly endorsed Scott for the job during his youth basketball camp in Santa Barbara, California, earlier this month.

“He was my rookie mentor when I first came into the league,” Bryant said. “So I had to do things like get his doughnuts and run errands for him and things like that. We’ve had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years. So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I’ve always been a fan of his.”

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OKC’s Adams trying to find comfort level


VIDEO: Steven Adams talks about his performance so far in Orlando

ORLANDO — It was a rookie season in which Steven Adams’ crunching elbows and physical play around the basket became well known.

Turns out he’s got a sharp tongue for trash talk as well.

When Willie Reed of the Pacers used two hands on his back to try to keep him from burrowing down into the lane, the Thunder big man turned with the best zinger so far in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“Hey, you won’t be able to do that in the D-League,” Adams said.

The 7-foot wise-cracking New Zealander scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and turned the ball over five times in game three of the project to turn him into more of an offensive weapon in Oklahoma City.

Nobody is going to confuse him for Shaquille O’Neal or even a lumbering, aging Jermaine O’Neal at this point. But it’s been acknowledged all along that Adams is a project.

“We want to see Steven being able get the ball in the low post more and creating from there,” said Thunder assistant Darko Rajakovic, who is running the summer league bench. “He showed a couple of really good passes from the low post and a couple of pretty good moves and we have to be happy with that. It’s something that is adding to his game and is going to be an emphasis for the rest of the summer.”

Adams averaged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game as a rookie and the idea is to finally get some offensive production out of the middle of the Thunder lineup where Kendrick Perkins has barely registered a blip for years.

But while there’s every reason to believe that Adams can be that inside game to balance the perimeter play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right now it all comes down to getting him to embrace the role.

“I’m still a newb(ie), bro,” Adams said. “It’s getting better from when I started. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of reading my man and what I can do. They had that big 19 (6-foot-9, 275-pound Arinze Onuaku), who’s huge. I tried to back him down and got it stripped out. So I said, OK, I should use my speed against him. Just different reads like that.

“I’ve got to get comfortable with it and try to get more confident in getting the ball. Right now, I’m quite far away. I ain’t quite as demanding. It could be an option next year, but I’m not sure.

“If I was more confident with my moves, I’d be more demanding because I’d know I’d be able to score straightaway. That’s what I’m trying to get to from there.”

Through three games, Adams is averaging 9.3 points and shooting 9-for-15 from the field. More troublesome are his antics at the foul line, where he’s made just 11 of 23 (47.8 percent).

“Free throws, bro,” he said. “Free throws. Free throws. I’m working on that.

“I haven’t put up anything over the summer. We had a two-week break and I got advice to do nothing. At the end of the (NBA) season it was like, ‘He sucks at free throws.’ Now it’s ‘Oh my God. It’s rubbish.’ So I’ve got to get back to just sucking at free throws and we’ll go from there.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

It’s an annual coming-out party for NBA rookies, other young pros looking to hone their skills and move up the pecking order and a handful of older veterans seeking another crack at the big time. In this case, it’s also the long-awaited pro debut of Nerlens Noel.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Saturday (9 a.m., NBA TV) with familiar names from the draft and plenty of other hopefuls hustling for an invitation to training camps in October.

Eight first-round picks from the 2014 draft — led by No. 4 Aaron Gordon of the Magic, No. 6 Marcus Smart of the Celtics and No. 10 Elfrid Payton of the Magic — will take part in the seven days of competition that will take place on the practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Another major headliner will be Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, who sat out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He’ll finally get to scratch that itch to play. Sixers fans might get their first glimpse into bright future.

The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

The 10 teams will each play five games, concluding with a championship day that will be based on standings. A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights for each of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s the second year of the rebuilding program under coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are hoping to get a big boost from their pair of first-round draft choices Marcus Smart and James Young. It’s not certain if Young will play after he suffered a strained neck in a car accident several weeks before the Draft. He’s been held out of early workouts at the Celtics’ training facility. Last year’s first-round pick Kelly Olynyk — the MVP of the Summer League last season — will return to Orlando, joined by fellow Celtics veterans Chris Babb, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey.

Brooklyn Nets — Last year’s summer appearance by the Nets was most notable for the coaching debut of Jason Kidd, who proceeded to answer a cell phone call on the sidelines of his very first game. Kidd has been replaced by Lionel Hollins, who did a masterful job giving the Grizzlies credibility as a playoff contender. The Nets were without first-round draft picks as a result of the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trades last year. But on draft night they dealt cash for second-round picks Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. Also playing for the Nets will be Mason Plumlee, who made a big impression a year ago and went on to become the All-Rookie first team center last season.

Detroit Pistons – It’s the beginning of a new era in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy’s arrival as both head coach and club president. Second-year Pistons players Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell will each be looking to tighten up their games to impress the new boss. Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler will practice with the team, but will not participate in games. The NBA D-League 2014 Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins will be on the roster, along with undrafted free agents Tristan Spurlock, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Heath and Markel Starks.

Houston Rockets — It’s been a long time since the Rockets made Maarty Leunen a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2008 draft, but the long-range bomber will be in Orlando to take his shot. Leunen has the shooting skill the Rockets seek, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers the past three seasons in the Italian League. He’ll join up with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, who both got their feet wet last season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward Covington was named the 2014 NBA D-League rookie of the year . The Rockets’ top draft pick Clint Cappela will not play, but second-round choice, Arizona guard Nick Johnson, will be on the court in Orlando.

Indiana Pacers – There’s not the usual summertime electricity in the air when you walk away from the draft without a single player. The Pacers’ roster will be anchored by last year’s holdovers Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill, who’ll be seeking to earn another season on the roster. Jake Odum was a four-year starter at Larry Bird’s alma mater Indiana State and will try to push Sloan for the third point guard spot. A back injury has scratched 10-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. from his scheduled appearance with the Pacers.

Memphis Grizzlies — Second-year shooting guard Jamaal Franklin will head up the Grizzlies’ entry. Franklin saw time in 21 games for the Grizzlies last season. He’ll be joined by 2014 draft pick Jordan Adams (No. 22 overall) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 35). Adams was rated a terrific scorer and good offensive rebounder ahead of the draft, but some scouts labeled him unathletic. This is his first chance to prove them wrong. The roster, led by assistant coach Shawn Respert for the first three games and assistant Jason March for the last two, will feature three native Memphians, including Stokes, former University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson and former Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Miami Heat – Gee, no pressure at all when LeBron James tweets that you were the best point guard in the draft. Assuming The King returns to Miami, everyone will be looking to see if Shabazz Napier can bring enough talent to South Beach to help make a difference for the point-guard poor Heat. Miami brass made its play for the guy who led UConn to another NCAA championship on draft night, swinging a deal with the Bobcats to get their man at No. 24. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton played seven games with the Heat last season. Point guard Larry Drew set the UCLA single season record for assists in 2013, but went undrafted and played last season for the Sioux City Skyforce in the NBA D-League.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder surprised many with their first round picks Mitch McGary (21) and Josh Huestis (29), mostly because they seemed to duplicate picks from a year earlier in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Plenty scouts were high on the big man McGary, and Huestis put his stamp on last season when he locked up and shut down No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Adams and Roberson are back for another summer league run and will be joined by Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett.

Orlando Magic — The hometown team will bring in a pair of top 10 talents from this year’s draft. The power forward Gordon has size and strength and a defensive nose. This is where he’ll start trying to add a jumper to his game that could vault him to the elite level in a couple of years. The Magic wanted Payton enough to give up a future first round pick for him at No. 10, and together with Victor Oladipo could give them an outstanding backcourt for years. Last year’s top pick Oladipo will be back on the summer league roster along with Stephen Curry’s brother Seth, who is still trying to carve out a place in the NBA. Matt Bouldin won the D-League championship with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants last season.

Philadelphia 76ers – He’s been champing at the bit to get out on the court wearing a Sixers jersey in game conditions for more than a year, so don’t be surprised if Nerlens Noel jumps through the ceiling when he finally gets on the floor. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft was rehabbed very conservatively, so now he’ll get to show off the all-around skills that had him listed as the No. 1 pick until his knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, will of course sit out following foot surgery. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be sidelined after surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Sixers roster will include the 32nd pick K.J. McDaniels, Jeremi Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52) and Jordan McRae (No. 58). Also suiting up will be Pierre Jackson, who set the single-game D-League scoring record with 58 points last season.

Hawks snag Sefolosha on 3-year deal


VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive wiz and the ultimate system guy for the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Some of Danny Ferry‘s best work as general manager of the Hawks has come during these summer months, when many of his colleagues are spending lavishly for players Ferry is busy bargain hunting for players who perfectly fit the Atlanta Hawks’ system.

Ferry might have found his latest gem in defensive wiz Thabo Sefolosha, who agreed to terms on a 3-year, $12 million deal earlier today, as first reported by RealGM.

Sefolosha, a starter in Oklahoma City the last five seasons, fills the void on the wings for the Hawks, who traded veteran reserve guard Lou Williams to Toronto earlier this week.  Sefolosha averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 61 starts last season and served as Thunder’s defensive ace on opposing team’s best perimeter player.

The Hawks proved last year, their first under coach Mike Budenholzer, that they could plug different players into their system and get fantastic results. Paul Millsap earned his first All-Star nod in his first season with the Hawks while guys like DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Pero Antic and Shelvin Mack had standout seasons. 

Sefolosha was a mainstay in that Thunder lineup during that franchise’s rise from lottery outfit to legitimate contender, working alongside the reigning KIA MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

The Hawks have an offensive specialist on the perimeter in veteran shooter Kyle Korver. Sefolosha gives them kindred spirit on the defensive side and a player versatile enough to fit into whatever small-ball, Spurs-lite scheme Budenholzer has in mind for the future.

Once again, Ferry is loading the cupboard with great fits at reasonable prices, the same as he did last summer when the Hawks were flush with cap space and spent wisely (if at all).

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.

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

Morning Shootaround — June 1


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat welcomes another rematch | And still, it’s Tim Duncan | Thunder needs tweaks, not overhaul | Lots of Love in Beantown

No. 1: Heat welcomes another rematch — It was going to happen one way or the other. The Miami Heat, once they survived one familiar nemesis (Indiana Pacers) in the Eastern Conference finals, were going to face a familiar Finals foe as well, either their 2012 opponents (Oklahoma City Thunder) or the other guys from 2013 (San Antonio Spurs). Turns out, it is San Antonio, the team that Miami beat in seven games last June only after surviving the sixth one (thanks, Ray Allen!). Which probably is best for intensity, TV ratings, the Spurs’ shot at retribution and even Miami’s legacy should it manage to beat the great Gregg Popovich and his mighty trinity of stars for consecutive championships. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel offered the Heat side after the Western Conference clincher:

“Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Dwyane Wade said of having another opponent bent on settling a previous score. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Neither, apparently, would the Spurs.

“We’re back here. We’re excited about it,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said after the Spurs finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-107 in overtime in Saturday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. “We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.

“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”

Said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, “We worked eight months really hard. We had a really successful season. And all we did was to get back to this point.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Saturday night praised his team for showing the “fortitude” this season to not have a “pity party” after losing to the Heat in last season’s Finals.

“I think our guys, they actually grew in the loss last year,” he said.

The last time the Heat faced a Finals rematch, it wasn’t the desired outcome, with the Dallas Mavericks exacting revenge in the 2011 NBA Finals after falling to Wade and the Heat in the 2006 Finals.

“Hopefully, it’s not the same outcome as it was the first time around,” Wade said, with those 2011 NBA Finals remaining the only playoff series the Heat have lost since Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined together in the 2010 offseason. “It’s going to be a big challenge.”

Unlike that five-years-later Mavericks rematch, these upcoming Finals will pit opponents with largely the same rosters as last season’s Finals meeting.

“They’re going to feel more prepared for this moment,” Wade said, with the Heat playing as the road team in the best-of-seven series that opens Thursday, after holding homecourt advantage last year against the Spurs. “It’s going to have its own challenges.”

Having survived the Spurs in a compelling series last season salvaged by Ray Allen’s Game 6 3-pointer, the Heat exited AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night poised for the 12th Finals rematch since the league’s first title series in 1947. Of the 11 Finals rematches to date, there have been seven repeat winners, including, most recently, Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz of Karl Malone and John Stockton in 1997 and 1998.

Wade said getting back to the championship series never gets old, no matter the road traveled, no matter the familiarity with the opposition.

“We’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in because it’s an amazing moment,” he said. “It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes.

“Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this.  So we just want to continue to add to what we’re accomplishing.”

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The Duncan Experience keeps growing


VIDEO: Duncan comes through in the clutch to send Spurs to NBA Finals

OKLAHOMA CITY — Experience is the name men give their mistakes.

The Spurs have had nearly 12 months to learn from their very biggest.

On the first day of training camp back in October, coach Gregg Popovich showed them the video of everything that had slipped through their grasp last June in Miami.

As if they needed a reminder.

“It was just to put it away, get over that part of it, learn from it and move on from there,” said Tim Duncan.

So they’ve moved full circle, like the Earth around the sun, and here was Duncan, one of the immutable forces of basketball and nature, completing that orbit.

He’s done it so many times in the past– those critical rebounds, those key baskets, those difference-making plays — that you tend to nod your head and move on.

The official play-by-play sheet called it a 5-foot turnaround and the guy who typed that up probably would have called Rome just a city on some hills.

The Spurs had just a one-point lead when Manu Ginobili found him with the pass that OKC’s Russell Westbrook tried to swipe at and missed. Westbrook went around and underneath the play and took another swing at the ball and missed again down low. Duncan then rose up, let go with the turnaround over the outstretched arms of Reggie Jackson, but not before Westbrook took one more try and fanned one more time. The ball bounced off the front rim, kissed off the backboard and fell into the net.

“Finally got a roll,” Duncan said.

After four previous championships and five prior trips to the last series in June, the Spurs finally are making back-to-back trips to The Finals and it’s most important to be getting their chance to make up for the agonizing loss against the Heat.

The Spurs did it down the stretch without their starting point guard and best player Tony Parker, who was sidelined at halftime with a sore left ankle.

The Spurs did it against a Thunder team that probably had the two best individual talents in the series in Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The Spurs did it with balance and patience and poise and trust and with a few of the usual tricks from Old Man Riverwalk, who at 38, is still pulling out those tried-and-true basic moves that keep working in every lunchtime game in every YMCA from sea-to-head-faking sea.

Duncan was 2-for-2 in the overtime with a pair of rebounds and scored the seven consecutive points that ultimately lifted the Spurs to the 112-107 victory over the Thunder and the Western Conference title.

As he’s done so often for 17 NBA seasons, Duncan was there to make the plays and do the heavy lifting at the end, which was particularly poignant in a year when the Spurs carried their burden.

“We just had a weird year,” Duncan said. “We were pressing hard early on and grinding on each other, just because of what happened last year.

“We were able to settle ourselves down. We played with a bunch of different lineups all year long. We had guys ready to play and it’s shown throughout these playoffs where guys just step up and step in and are ready.

“I’m proud of the team for just being ready, just not letting that weigh on us and using it as an excuse for anything. We’re back here now and we want to get it done this time.”

When the Thunder had used their young legs and a wave of youthful enthusiasm to win two straight games on their home court to tie the series, there was some thought that the Spurs were finally ready to pass into history.

Instead Duncan kept right on making it by hitting 14 of 27 shots, scoring 41 points and grabbing 27 rebounds in the last two games to keep the door closed on what is supposed to have been the ushering in of the Thunder Era.

“You know that he might be struggling one game or missing a few shots,” Ginobili said. “But he’s there and the opponent has got to respect him. He’s always ready with a solution down the stretch.”

As ready as he has been for nearly two decades in the league. As primed for this moment as since the last second that ticked off the clock last June in Miami.

“It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after exactly that, that devastating loss we had last year,” Duncan said. “But we’re back here and we’re excited about it and we’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”

Tim Duncan has had enough experiences.

24 – Second thoughts — May 31


VIDEO: Ginobili steps up in crunch time for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Next man up.

The Spurs Way.

Sheer basketball beauty.

Explain it any way you can. But know this, the San Antonio Spurs were clearly meant for this, for this moment and for this rematch they have earned against the Miami Heat in The Finals — starting Thursday night in San Antonio.

You don’t go on the road for a close-out Game 6 against the MVP (Kevin Durant) and the force of nature (Russell Westbrook), lose your superstar point guard (Tony Parker) at halftime to ankle soreness and be anything but destined for The Finals.

Ultimately it was the ageless wonder that is Tim Duncan (aka The Big Fundamental, aka Old Man Riverwalk, aka Timmay, aka … you get the point) who went right at Serge Ibaka in overtime for the game-clinching baskets.

He had tons of help. Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and others chipped in to send this crew back to The Finals in back-to-back years for the first time in the #SpursWay era.

Heat-Spurs Round II is on … history in the making!

:1

Let’s do it again San Antonio and Miami … see you Thursday!

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They call it the #SpursWay my friend!

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