Mavs Add Blair and Frontcourt Depth

30 07 2013

BlairMavs

He may have no knees, but he has better knees than another big man the Mavs were pursuing.

The Dallas Mavericks have come to terms on a one-year deal worth $1.4 million (the veteran’s minimum) with DeJuan Blair, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.

The 6-7, 270 lb. power forward/center was drafted No. 37 out of Pittsburgh by the San Antonio Spurs in 2009 and fell that low due to the fact that he has no ACLs in both of his knees. Even though this seems like it would be a cause of concern, he has had a fairly healthy career during his four years with the Spurs, missing only three games during his first three seasons.

Blair has career averages of 7.8 ppg and 5.8 rpg on 52.8 percent shooting from the field. He also has averaged only 18.9 mpg during his four seasons, showing his ability to make an impact with minimal minutes. The 24-year-old bruiser’s per 36-minute stats last season were 13.9 points and 9.7 rebounds on 52.4 percent shooting, according to Basketball Reference. He is known for his scrappy play, rebounding and ability to just find a way to get the ball in the basket. Last season, 81.1 percent of Blair’s shots came in the restricted area or painted non-RA for the Spurs and shot 57.3 percent in these areas. What this means is that Blair does most of his damage in the paint off put-backs or broken plays.

The major downside to Blair’s play is his defense. He may work his tail off on every play, but that’s often not enough when it comes to playing against seven footers in the NBA. Being about as tall as most small forwards, Blair struggles to hold his own against much taller opponents who can shoot over the top of him. Since Brandan Wright (6-9) is also undersized for his position, head coach Rick Carlisle will need to make sure his rotations have enough size on the floor or things could get ugly on defense.

As Mavs fans have grown to love about their own Wright, Blair has always been ready to play, not worrying about his role or how many minutes he gets. (With a coach like Carlisle, who doesn’t care about those things as well, that’s a good quality for a Mav.)

Just take last year’s NBA Playoffs. Due to Tiago Splitter‘s emergence as the starting center, Blair eventually fell almost completely out of Gregg Popovich‘s rotation. That’s why his minutes dropped from 21.3 two seasons ago to 14.0 last season. After only playing trash time in the first two games against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, Blair got 14 and 19 minutes in Game 3 and 4, scoring 13 points  in both games on 12-of-15 shooting. He also added 12 total boards.

Even though he didn’t receive consistent minutes during a run to the Finals after being the team’s main center early in his career, Blair didn’t show any sort of frustration or discontent. This team-first attitude is something any organization going in any direction wold be happy to have in the locker room. As Popovich mentioned when asked about Blair falling out of his rotation last season, “To his credit, DeJuan has been a true pro.”

With this signing, it seems that the Mavs have taken themselves out of the Greg Oden race or Oden told them that they were out of the race, so they moved on to Blair. Even if there are those out there that say the Mavs are still in the race, I don’t see Dallas as Oden’s likely destination. It will probably be the New Orleans Pelicans or Miami Heat—teams that can offer him money with no pressure or the chance to win now.

Unlike Oden, who hasn’t played an NBA game since 2009, Blair hasn’t missed a substantial amount of games yet. Oden’s ceiling may be higher than Blair’s, but Blair has a higher floor.

With a higher floor, Blair gives the Mavs a proven rebounder and competitor. For a team whose leading rebounder was their small forward (Shawn Marion) last season, rebounding was clearly an issue. Dallas had a rebounds per game differential of -3.7, which was third worst in the NBA. By bringing in Samuel Dalembert and Blair, the team should be more respectable on the boards.

Dallas management clearly missed out on all their “big fish” targets these past two seasons; however, they do deserve credit for their ability to fill out the roster while maneuvering around the cap line and put together pieces that make the Mavericks a potential playoff team. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson should be criticized for the “plan powder dry” approach but praised for finding economically-savvy answers to their roster problems. (The only exception this offseason is Jose Calderon, who was given too long of a contract.) On paper, they have their answers: pass-first point guard (Calderon), No. 2 scorer (Monta Ellis) and low-post defensive presence (Dalembert). And they didn’t go over the cap to fill these needs.

Now it’s just time to see these pieces fit together and give Dirk another shot at a postseason run.

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Clippers-Celtics Blockbuster Trade (Step 1)

23 06 2013

Before the NBA Finals even had a chance to make its way onto NBATV, the first blockbuster trade of the 2013 NBA summer is upon us. Lob City just became Destination City.

It seemed to be an impossible dream of swapping pieces. Then it suddenly became something actually happening that was only a few pieces from successfully occurring. Then it all died away due to a mutual interest for a certain backup point guard. Then we seemed to be on the doorsteps. Then the Clippers backed off because they felt like they were giving up too much. Then Los Angeles’ star point guard stepped in, said to continue the trades talks and scared his organization half to death. Then the league had questions about the proposed deals and the connections between the two since there can’t be trades with contingencies or side deals. But now, we have a deal. Partially.

The Boston Celtics have begun the destruction of their “Big 3+Coach” core and traded head coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2015 unprotected first-round pick, according ESPNBoston’s Jackie MacMullan.

Coach Rivers isn’t technically a part of a trade since teams can’t trade coaches involving players. These two organizations came to an agreement that will give L.A. the coaching rights to Doc after Boston has released their coach and then give Boston draft pick compensation. MacMullan says the length of the deal is still being worked out.

The original deal was for the Celtics to trade Rivers and power forward Kevin Garnett to the Clippers for center DeAnde Jordan and two first-round draft picks. The league intervened, though, because certain contingencies and side deals (which is what Rivers, a coach, would have been) can’t be accounted for under the league’s cap rules, making the trade illegitimate. For the deals to take place, the NBA would have to be convinced that the Rivers deal is completely separate from any player discussions. Well, they were sold.

So that’s where we stand. We’re halfway there…or so we’re not supposed to think. But since the Rivers deal has been completed, we must play dumb and play the waiting game for Garnett to be traded to L.A. If a third team has to join in on the trade, it will happen. The Clippers will do what they must to snatch KG. Trust me—it’s inevitable.

Doc-Garnett L.A.

(With Doc leaving Boston, other than Gregg Popovich, the NBA now has no coach that has been with his team for more than five years. Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle were each hired in 2008. The NFL has nine coaches and the MLB has ten managers that have been with their team more than five years. In terms of security of a job, I would not want to be a coach in the NBA at the moment.)

The Clippers first didn’t want to give up rising guard Eric Bledsoe, and then once he was taken out of the picture, they didn’t want to give up two first-round draft picks. So talks were supposedly “dead.” But once unrestricted free agent (emphasis on unrestricted) Chris Paul twisted his team’s arm to make this idea a reality, the organization started talking to the Celtics again and made the trade discussions start to move forward. And they’ll probably still get to keep Bledsoe.

My initial reaction to all of this is “how long before Garnett is traded and Paul Pierce is bought out by the Celtics and joins his buddies?” (Answer: very soon.) My second is realizing the impact this will have on two All-Star point guards.

Lucky Paul. Poor Rajon Rondo.

This most assuredly guarantees that CP3 will re-sign with the Clippers as he now got his way and his superstar coach of choice. Once the next step of this trade goes through (Garnett), Paul will have a supporting cast ready to seriously compete for a championship right away. (Just look at how quickly the C’s core meshed in 2008 in order to win a championship during their first season together.) Sorry Dallas and Atlanta, looks like CP3 is staying home.

It will also be interesting to see the impact Garnett can have on Blake Griffin once the nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player heads on over. Will the highlight of all highlight reel dunkers find a way to finally become a defensive force due to the guidance of one of the best team defenders in the league? Or will he shut out Garnett’s serious influence due to his desire to have fun and make KIA commercials?

And on the other end of this trade, you have to feel somewhat bad for Rondo. Not only has he been given the raw end of this deal since he will soon be the sole leader of a team in full rebuilding mode (LaMarcus Aldridge feels his pain), he will likely have one of his worst NBA seasons since his play—and assists per game—is bettered with a strong cast around him. No. 9 isn’t the type of player that can take over a game, team and season without quality help from his teammates.

It is mind-blowing what one free agent signing—CP3—has done for this Clippers’ franchise. Once a place that every budding star wanted out of has transformed into the landing spot for players/coaches who want one last shot at a title. (Well, the city hasn’t changed. The franchise has.)

Doc, Garnett and Pierce will soon get that shot in L.A.

And the Lakers will just have to watch.

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Game 7 Rewind Part 3 of 3: The Epitome of Sports

21 06 2013

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Sports have been inundated with maxims and cheesy clichés since the beginning of their creation.

“Defense wins championships.”

“You have to want it more.”

“Make sure you give 100 percent 100 percent of the time.”

“Every second of every play of every game matters.”

“Coming through in the clutch.”

In the 2013 NBA Finals, the world experienced the essence of what sports is all about at its finest and bleakest.

Let’s backpedal to Game 6 for a moment. Before that instant classic went to overtime, the Spurs had four clear chances to close that game out and become the champions themselves. However, due to two missed free throws by two good free throw shooters and two missed defensive rebounds by one of the best collective rebounding teams in the league, the Heat—well Ray Allen—fought off the death of their season, and possibly the death of their core, to live another day.

Yes, there were crucial plays leading up to this last minute of the game that could have changed the outcome. I mean, just take a look at Manu Ginobili. The man had eight turnovers and looked like he was playing the wrong sport. If he had simply cleaned up one or two of his errant passes, San Antonio could have had a larger lead toward the end.

However, let’s get back to those four moments.

Make your free throws. Box out.

Such simple concepts of basketball that are pounded into the minds of all players of all ages. And the Spurs simply needed to apply these concepts to the game at hand.

It was as if the basketball gods dangled the Larry O’Brien trophy in front of the Spurs’ faces only to quickly pull it away with one cold-blooded shot by Allen.

So then we move onto Game 7, a game that many predicted would not be able to live up to the energy-draining entertainment showcased for all to see two days earlier.

The final game of the NBA season might not have had a game-tying shot or gone to overtime, but it certainly represented sports just as well.

After a Kawhi Leonard (we’ll get to this rising star in a later post) made a huge 3-pointer with exactly two minutes to go in the NBA season, the score stood at 90-88. No longer did the 100+ games or 1000+ hours each team had wrestled through up to that point matter anymore. Even though all the hard work they had put in up to that point got them to that point, that point at the end of the tiresomely long and winding road known as the NBA season would define how successful they were in traveling along that road. Get the point?

The way a round piece of leather stitched together with a rubber bladder on the inside bounced would decide a nation’s and world’s view of a certain player. This has been the case for all the players in the league throughout the season…but not to this extent. This is the essence of what sports is all about. The realization that any one play could be the difference in what defines this year of basketball and this era of basketball.

Back to the game. After a Tony Parker steal, Leonard had the chance to vault himself from rising star to shining star. He had a basketball in his large hands, was standing 22+ feet from a 10-foot rim with an 18-inch diameter and had the opportunity to change the outcome of the game with one 3-pointer. In two years of league experience, the 21-year-old small forward had made 106 3-pointers. The 107th would mean more than all of his previous made 3-pointers—along with free throws and two-pointers—combined.

Because that’s a Game 7 and that’s sports. These two teams had been so equally matched and each had won three games up to that point, so it felt like they should change the league rules and make it to where you had to be up two games in order to win the series.

But we have to move on. This isn’t tennis or volleyball where games can be played fairly quickly, allowing this win-by-two rule to come into play. These games are made up of 48 grueling minutes of up-tempo play that can be changed with the flick of a wrist and the follow-through of five fingers.

Kawhi flicked his wrist and followed through with his five fingers.

Clank.

Two missed jumpers by the Heat allowed the Spurs to have their chance again. I’m not even going to mention the amount of hook shots and post moves Tim Duncan has made in his career…mostly because that would take a while to figure out. The Big Fundamental is in his 15th season, filling each of those with countless moves on the block.

After one of the greatest playoff runs for a 37-year-old, all he had to do was cap it off by putting the ball in the hoop from five feet away. Wherever you are right now, look around you. Look how far five feet is. Got it? That’s the distance Duncan needed to throw a round object and put it through a metal rim with a 15-18 inches long net to tie a basketball game and shift this mounting pressure back to the Heat.

Dribble. Dribble. One step. Two step. Turn head. Rise up. Release ball.

Clank.

Then the bounce of the ball on the rim gave Duncan one more chance to salvage his team’s 103-game, 5000+ minute season and turn it into a championship rather than an almost-championship. It was as if Duncan just landed on “play again” in Life and got to spin one more time. The ball bounced over to the right side of the rim, allowing Duncan to extend his arm and place one fingertip on the leather. With a slight push of his index finger, a hope of a nice roll and a chance to change history, this tip shot could have become more than just his 29th point with the right rotations.

Air.

Duncan’s slap of the floor after his two missed chances exhibits his sheer frustration.

LeBron James had struggled with his jumper all series long. There was a reason Gregg Popovich coached his players to give LeBron just enough cushion to entice him into rising up for a jump shot rather than barreling into the lane. His strength is his athleticism and well, strength; why not do everything you can to take that away?

But LeBron didn’t care about that in the waning moments that would reflect a game that would in time reflect an entire season.

Dribble. Dribble. Pull-Up. Release.

Swish.

The make of this one jumper not only gave his team enough of a lead that wouldn’t allow San Antonio to tie the game in one possession, this one jumper quite possibly changed many people’s perception of whether or not LeBron can shoot. Yes, he made five three-pointers during the game. However, none of those were worth more in terms of his legacy than this one shot.

With a four-point deficit and 27 seconds to go in the game, if the Spurs could make a shot, they could begin to play the fouling game and hope for someone to do what Mario Chalmers did about a minute earlier and miss two free throws.

As Ginobili drove baseline, he did the one thing that coaches tell their players not to do even as early as the pee-wee stage.

“Don’t leave your feet without knowing what you’re going to do with the ball.”

(I told my brother this the first day I got him hooked onto basketball, and he has noticed when it happens ever since.)

With one hop in his steps, Ginobili capped off this game with how his Finals will be remembered—a bad pass leading to a turnover.

The rest was history. The Spurs dug themselves in too big a hole, and unlike Game 6 for San Antonio, Miami made their free throws, played strong defense and grabbed their defensive rebounds in order to close this game out.

Now, I didn’t just tell you all of this so I could get practice in play-by-play commentary based on my memory of last night’s game. You can just wait for this game to be rerun on television to hear Mike Breen yell Bang! like someone has just been shot.

I want to emphasize that this game with these moments is what makes sports so thrilling and exciting to play and watch as a fan while being so draining and painful at the same time. Sports will draw you in and toss you out like your feelings don’t even matter.

In high school or college, did you ever have that one paper or one test that would change your final grade that would change your GPA that would change your class rank that would change what scholarships you would receive that would change your college destination that would change your life’s future? (Even if you didn’t, use your imagination.)

Remember how stressful that one assignment was? That’s what each of these moments was like for Leonard, Duncan, LeBron or whoever else had the chance to change the course of NBA history.

Duncan failed.

LeBron passed.

This dilemma in the world of sports is a fulfilling one if you’re willing to take the good with the bad. Due to this being a Game 7 with so many game-changing, season-changing and legacy-changing opportunities for both teams, it felt like all of those changes were decided by a flip of a coin. They were so evenly matched it only seems fitting to let the Spurs have the trophy for one month before giving it off to the Heat. They were that close.

But that’s a part of sports. Sports giveth and taketh away so quickly, especially in the sport of basketball that has more openings to unlock a different door of conclusion than any other sport out there.

And Game 7 of the NBA Finals epitomized all of the heartache and pure joy that athletes and fans of any level experience when they invest themselves in the complicated world known as sports.

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Game 7 Rewind Part 1 of 3: Battier is Like Mike

21 06 2013

One of the underrated parts of champions is the performance of their role players.

And why wouldn’t it be?

An organization has a symbol or image that gives people something to picture when thinking of that team. When it comes to an individual player-heavy league like the NBA, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will easily come to mind when thinking about how and why the Heat have been so successful the past two years during their championships. And deservingly so.

However, just as is the case with any team of any league of any sport, there was much more to these championship than their best players’ outings during the past two Finals. LeBron’s monster 37 points and 12 rebounds showing in Game 7 will never be forgotten when people reminisce about these champions.

But as I said, there’s so much more to it than this one guy. This “more” is the role players. The players that don’t worry abou the attention or the ability to do what they want—the players that contribute in their specific role in order to give their teammates the best chance of winning each game.

What was the “more” in last night’s ever-so-decisive Game 7 of the NBA Finals?

Shane Battier pulling a Mike Miller.

During last year’s NBA Finals, Battier was in the starting lineup serving his role as a spot-up shooter and filling that role more than perfectly. Going 9-for-13 from three-point range in his first two Finals games and becoming the Heat’s greatest contributor to stretching the floor, Battier consistently made his shot throughout the series and played a key role in guiding his team to the top. Who knows if LeBron and Wade would have had the breathing room to create their own shot if Battier hadn’t have been sitting on the outside ready to fire.

However, another shooter decided to appear for the Heat’s closeout Game 5 121-106 victory who had been all but irrelevant up to that point. After going 0-for-3 from deep in the first four games and racking up a total of eight total points, Miller caught fire. No really, he was heat. Miller shot 7-for-8 from deep and had himself 23 big points in the biggest game of his career. No one saw it coming. Not one person. (Well, so I assume.)

Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 1.54.37 PMDuring this year’s NBA Finals, Miller found himself in the starting lineup for the latter part of the series, serving his role as a spot-up shooter and filling that role more than perfectly. Going 9-for-10 from three-point range in his first three Finals games and becoming the Heat’s greatest contributor to stretching the floor, Miller consistently made his shot throughout the series and played a key role in guiding his team to the top. Who knows if LeBron and Wade would have had the breathing room to create their own shot if Battier hadn’t have been sitting on the outside—with one shoe or two shoes on, didn’t matter—ready to fire.

However, another shooter decided to appear for the Heat’s closeout Game 7 95-88 victory who had been all but irrelevant up to that point. After going 6-for-19 in the first six games and racking up a total of 21 points, Battier caught fire. No really, he was heat. Battier shot 6-for-8 from deep and had himself 18 big points in one of the biggest games of his career. No one saw it coming based on his 20 percent shooting (20-for-80) from deep in the playoffs up until this Game 7.

I’m describing these out-of-nowhere performances to help you understand just how important these out-of-nowhere showings are, especially for a Heat squad that requires quality shooting to surround the always attacking James and Wade. The naysayers can point out that the Heat only won because they had players like Miller, Battier and others not named LeBron/Wade/Bosh during the past two championship runs playing out of their minds. In a way, they got “lucky.” I mean, was it fair that Battier scored back-to-back 17 point games during last year’s Finals? How could the Thunder have prepared for that? Was it fair that Mario Chalmers exploded for 19 points in Game 2 while being mostly irrelevant for the majority of the other games in the Finals? How could the Spurs have prepared for that?

I used to be one of these naysayers that looked upon these players as inconsistent rather than “stepping up.” (Now, whether or not my distaste for the Heat played a part in this is for another time.) But what these outbursts represent is the “more” championship teams will always need. They need players to step up onto the big stage, put on their “big boy pants” as Gregg Popovich likes to put it and make an uncharacteristic impact that betters the team and gives them the edge. It’s not luck; it’s trust. It’s trust from the coaches and their stars that when the lights are shining brightest and the defenses are schemed to clamp down on the superstars, the “more” of the team will find a way to give that extra and unexpected push to the finish line.

Whether it’s been Miller or Battier, these shooters have been that “more” the past two years that has pushed this team toward becoming a dynasty.

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Spurs Are “White Hot”

12 06 2013

Throughout their decade of dominance, Pop’s Spurs have shown an ability to play many different styles and tempos on both the offensive and defensive side of the court. So what happened when they put it all together Tuesday night? Utter dominance.

Behind a once waived and cut player (Danny Green) and an undrafted guard with no true position (Gary Neal), the San Antonio Spurs rolled over and over…and over the Miami Heat 113-77 as they now hold the 2-1 series lead. Green and Neal combined to shoot 13-for-19 from behind the arc and had 51 big points—more points than the entire Heat starting lineup.

These two literally carried the team from 20+ feet from the basket. If you take away their dazzling shooting, the rest of the team shot 3-for-13 from 3-point range.

Even though Manu Ginobili‘s line of seven points and six assists doesn’t seem like much to talk about, the Argentinian finally looked comfortable on the court. His game seemed more fluid, and he was making an impact on the game without scoring, something he has done extremely well during his time in San Antonio.

Tony Parker (six points, eight assists) and Tim Duncan (12 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) might have had their second straight quiet game, but it really didn’t matter. The Spurs were able to take command of this game with their role players leading the way, so these two simply were enjoying the game as much as the rocking AT&T Center. Don’t interpret their low numbers as low productivity.

Even more than all these players, you have to give a large amount of the credit to Gregg Popovich and his coaching staff. He was not deterred with the 19-point loss in Game 2, stuck with his defensive gameplan against LeBron and the Heat that he has coached since the opening tipoff of Game 1 and continues to show why he will go down as one of the best NBA coaches in league history. He might be purposefully giving these one-to-two word interviews at the end of quarters after it was such a social-media hit the first time, but you have to respect the man’s work he’s put into the game.

Oh and that guy that is the MVP? You mean the guy that has been MVP three of the past four seasons? Yeah, I didn’t see that guy out there Tuesday night.

Jimmy Butler couldn’t stop him. Paul George couldn’t stop him.

Kawhi Leonard?

I’ll let you come to your own conclusion. Averaging 26.2 points, LeBron James scored at least 19 points in every single postseason game up to the NBA Finals. Through three games in this series, he has failed to reach 19 points once, and even though it has been a team effort to stifle The King and part of the blame can be directed at LeBron himself, Leonard has been the main man working to contain LeBron.

He kept this up in Game 3 as he held LeBron to 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting, forcing the media to remind everyone that we might be seeing “2011 LeBron” yet again. (Also—in the final minute of the third quarter, Poppovich gave Leonard a breather. During this single minute, LeBron went 3-for-3 with six points. That gives you an idea of the impact Leonard has on LeBron.)

To add on to all of this, Mr. James attempted zero free throws for the first time in his Miami postseason career, making the LeBron haters happier than Stephen Curry with an open 3-point shot.

(My opinion on the matter? Let’s wait to see this entire series before we overreact. LeBron has a tendency to get mad after losses…really mad.)

So with LeBron not playing like himself…or playing like himself…either way, he needed help. And the other two parts of the “Big 3” did not show up. Again.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took 25 shots to get to 28 points—not very efficient. These two have now gone seven straight games without scoring more than 30 combined points, which is the longest streak since they became teammates.

This team was able to squeeze by the Pacers due to James’ play and their tenacious defense, but if the Spurs proceed to turn LeBron into a passive passer, these two have to make jumpers, give more effort, prove their worth and show why they are being given so much money to play in South Beach. (On that note, Green/Neal/Leonard have scored as many points as James/Wade/Bosh in the Finals despite making $46 million less this year. Think about that.)

Even though these three have the most responsibility on their shoulders and are expected to perform at a very high level, I think the main “finger pointing” should be directed toward Mario Chalmers. This kid was praised in last year’s Finals for his 25-point performance in the Heat’s Game 4 victory. He apparently has the ability to really step it up on the big stage when it matters most…so we’re told. And were told countless times between Game 2 and 3.

But here is my question: what about the little stage?

What I am getting at is that Chalmers seems to disappear just as much as he breaks out for spectacular performances. That’s what makes these positive performances seem so much greater. The other performances are so terrible. Yes, Chalmers had 25 points in Game 4 last year. What about Games 1, 2, 3 and 5? Twenty-seven total points. This year, Chalmers broke out in their Game 2 win for 19 points to lead the team in scoring. Man did he look good. Last night? Zero points, one assist, four turnovers (mostly unforced) and an impact that literally hurt his team. That’s disgusting. Chalmers was helping the Spurs for most of his time on the court. In my eyes, he has to be competent one-hundred percent of the time for his “big stage” play to be praised. And more importantly, he has to be competent for his team to win basketball games. Just competent.

In the end, this game is one win for the Spurs just like the Heat’s 103-84 win was just one win. Two years ago, Miami lost the NBA Finals after going up 2-1, so they know this isn’t over. Furthermore, these teams have a resiliency that has allowed both squads to bounce back like no other teams in the league. The Heat haven’t lost back-to-back games since January 8/10. When Duncan/Parker/Ginobili play, the Spurs haven’t lost back-to-back games since December 13/14. If these patterns continue back and forth, the Spurs will win the title in seven games.

Yet, this series seems too complex to quickly analyze with some numbers like that. Each game in and of itself feels like its own series and momentum from game to game is nonexistent. Why else would a series with two blowouts feel like it could still go both ways? These two teams fight back hard.

So what should we expect moving forward?

Other than Leonard playing top-notch defense, Green splashing three-pointers and Wade forgetting how to shoot a basketball, it feels as though anything could happen the rest of the way. ( Parker’s day-to-day status with a slight hamstring strain will also play a factor. Will he play? How hurt is he?)

Last year, LeBron took his game to another level when his team had their back against the wall. This year, the entire Heat team has taken their game to another level when their backs are against the wall. That’s why Miami’s average margin of victory after a loss in this year’s playoffs is 21.6 points.

The Spurs better be ready to take some hard punches right off the bat in Game 4. I mean really ready. There’s no doubt in my mind the Heat are going to come out hungry and angry. Expect LeBron to look like this most of the night…

One simple statistic has to come true, though, for the Heat to win this series. They must win three of the final four games of this series. Consequently, that obviously means this Spurs team would have to lose three of the final four games. Do you see this team with this coach losing three of the next four games?

Yes, the Heat have LeBron. I know, I know…I know. I’ve been reminded. But I have a gut feeling that San Antonio won’t play 48 minutes of basketball and lose three more times. They have a defensive plan to contain LeBron that was only conquered in Game 2 due to Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Chalmers heating up from long range. Other than Mike Miller, who has been on an absolute tear in NBA Finals basketball, shooting 16-for-18 from 3-point range going back to Game 5 of last year’s Finals, can you consistently rely on this supporting trio to help out LeBron when he is forced to kick the ball out?

No.

Chalmers may show up for Game 4 but will he show up for Game 5? Game 6 if we have one?

I just can’t say. And because Chalmers can’t seem to play consistently on any stage (I don’t see Norris Cole pulling a Danny Green or Gary Neal), LeBron is unable to get to the hole (whether caused by the Spurs’ defense or the King’s mental health), and the Spurs have a clear coaching advantage (this is the greatest difference in age in NBA history), the Heat might just have to wait for this “dynasty” to legitimately become a dynasty.

 

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In honor of the Spurs’ NBA Finals record 16 3-pointers they had Tuesday night and the fact that the Mavs won their championship exactly two years ago to this day, here’s a similar night the Dallas Mavericks had against the Los Angeles Lakers on their way to the title. Enjoy.

 

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The Dynasty Known As Serena Williams…and the Spurs

8 06 2013

Just as all the greats can do, she has the ability to go into a different zone. She goes into a place where she can’t be stopped. She doesn’t see “losing” as a reasonable outcome.

Williams showed the French what it means to be a force of nature.

Serena Williams won her second career French Open title by taking down Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday. Just as Serena saved her fastest serve of the day—123 mph—for the last serve of the day when she claimed her 16th Grand Slam, the oldest ever #1 ranked female tennis player in the world seems to save her best tennis for the biggest of stages.

As much as the sports media loves to analyze the reasoning behind one player/team winning a championship over another player/team losing a championship, it can’t be done with this match. Sharapova played some great tennis and stuck with Serena throughout the entire match…but it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because Serena is on her own level of tennis that can’t be touched by any other woman playing the game. Sharapova is deservingly ranked No. 2 in the world and was the field’s best chance of taking down Serena. She might have played great tennis but Serena played flawless tennis.

At 31, Serena is sports-old. It would seem with the amount of pressure she puts on her body with her rough style of play, Serena would be on the decline, especially since she went through a plethora of injuries in 2011—including a life-threatening one—that kept her from winning a Grand Slam for that year for the first time since she went major-less in 2006.

But looking at Serena cruise through this French Open as she only lost one set the entire tournament, this tennis player is as dynamic and fit as she’s ever been. She no longer tends to sit back and pound the ball down her opponent’s throat while moving as little as possible. She’s chasing balls. She’s covering the baseline. She’s playing solid defense. She has become more active while still maintaining the strongest pair of arms in the game. By far.

Let’s take a second to reflect on what this Grand Slam means for Serena and just how the word “dominant” might not be enough to describe her tennis playing:

  • Won 31 consecutive matches
  • Holds a 16-4 record all-time in Grand Slam finals (two of those were lost to her sister Venus Williams)
  • One of only four women to win all four majors twice (Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chrissie Evert)
  • Since last year’s 1st-round loss in the 2012 French Open, has a 74-3 record
  • At 31, oldest woman to win a major title since Navratilova won Wimbledon at 33 in 1990
  • Only one Grand Slam away from matching Roger Federer‘s 17 titles.

So what does all of this mean?

It means Serena Williams is like the San Antonio Spurs.

Reader: Wait wait wait…you’re comparing a tennis player to an NBA franchise? You’re stretching things, Jay.

Let me explain myself.

Since the beginning of this millennium, San Antonio has won three championships (2003, 2005, 2007) and is currently up 1-0 in the NBA Finals. This team should be considered a dynasty, even though you must stretch the definition a bit.

Due to the fact that the Spurs’ big four—Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Gregg Poppovich—have won their championships over such a long period of time unlike other sports dynasties that gathered championship trophies all at once, they don’t necessarily define a certain period. You can’t say they define the 2000’s era of basketball when five other teams have taken home the title.

However, they persevered through an ever-changing league when it is an anomaly to keep hold of a core group of players. They persisted time and time again when they were proclaimed by experts as being too old and were advised to break up their core. They won three titles in a methodical manner with the same three players and head coach being the foundation to their success.

And now, these four men are on the verge of adding one more banner to their stadium—winning their first one exactly 10 years ago.

Serena has persevered through the same level of change and scrutiny. Since 2006, five men have won a major and two of them only won it once. During that same time period, 13 women have won a Grand Slam, including 2011 when four different women—none being Serena—won the four majors.

Obviously, these numbers make it seem as though no one woman has been able to take command of the game—how else can you explain Kuznetsova winning a Grand Slam in 2009? I mean, really?

Things eventually hit rock bottom for Serena in her own country in 2011 followed by two early exits in her next two Grand Slams in 2012. It seemed it might be time to start reflecting on her career and how impressive she had been.

But just like the Spurs, right when you think Serena is done being a force, she decides to prove you wrong. Winning three of the past four majors, Serena is right back atop of the women’s tennis world and doesn’t look to be coming down any time soon. San Antonio is up one game on the favored Miami Heat and is only three wins away from being atop the NBA world yet again.

(Also—Serena doesn’t get talked about very much because of the nation’s general lack of interest in her sport while the Spurs don’t get much press because of their style of play and location; neither of them get their deserved national media coverage.)

Both are more than dominant—they are resolute. When everything around them is changing and they are being talked about in the past tense, they continue to do the only thing they know how to do: win. There may be hard-to-swallow first round exits along the way (Spurs lost to the 8th-seeded Grizzlies in the 1st round of the 2011 Playoffs and Serena lost to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in the 2012 French Open), but that doesn’t deter these steadfast champions from continuing their course of superiority and success. They continue forward.

I have no doubt Serena will continue winning Grand Slams—at least one more this year. There’s no one standing in her way as she took down her toughest competition in straight sets Saturday. San Antonio has the right coach, game plan and original “Big 3” to take home another championship in the next few weeks. Could they win another one after that? It would be tough, especially in a league with Kevin Durant and LeBron James only getting better.

But before you say they’re too old and that this will be their last chance at a ring, remember the 2013 French Open women’s champion. Remember that some dynasties last longer than you think.

Some dynasties like Serena and the Spurs.

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Fun Fact Jersey Day

11 02 2013

(All images via Adidas)

For the first time in the NBA modern era, a tank top will not be the fashion showcased during gameplay. The Golden State Warriors will wear these new Adidas’ alternate jerseys with sleeves as soon as February 22 against the San Antonio Spurs. (This seems to be a topic Gregg Popovich will thoroughly enjoy discussing after the game…)

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