American Basketball Coaches Should Take Note of Spurs’ International Flare

Spurs
Spurs
The Spurs' style of play had a strong international presence and that wasn't by chance.

I completely understand the dangers of the classic “ifs and buts” scenario but bear with me for a moment. The San Antonio Spurs were basically a few missed free throws in game six last year and a few missed free throws from game two this season from having both six titles and a sweep of the Miami.

Instead, the Spurs will have to settle for their fifth title in 15 years and while the argument over whether or not they are a “dynasty” can be had from all sides the bigger statement is in how this team won.

Since the rise of AAU programs across the country, basketball in the United States has become less about ‘team play’ and more about showcasing individual talent. Both college programs and the National Basketball Association have been impacted by this trend. If you talk to people who were fans of the NBA in the 1980’s and 1990’s but no longer call themselves fans, they’ll tell you the style of play is one of the biggest factors.

NBA offenses have become nothing more than isolation plays and pick and roll situations. The Spurs effectively destroyed this notion in this year’s Finals and there is no question that the international presence on the roster influenced their ‘team play.’

Diaw
Frenchman Boris Diaw had a significant impact on the Spurs' title run this year.

Manu Ginobili is from Argentina. Boris Diaw and Tony Parker are from France. Paddy Mills is from Australia and Tiago Splitter is from Brazil. If you want to stretch things a bit, even Tim Duncan was born off the mainland in the US Virgin Islands. Duncan grew up thinking he would be a competitive swimmer rather than a basketball player.

It’s no mistake therefore that the style of play deployed by Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich was one with a tremendous international flavor. The game overseas relies less on individual talent and isolation-type plays and more on movement of the ball. The idea is really quite simple; movement of the ball forces the the opposition to actually ‘play defense’ rather than stand on one side of the court and watch four players go at it in a two-on-two game.

The idea also emphasizes looking for a ‘good’ shot and moving the ball to the point of where you find a ‘better’ shot. If the movie ‘Hoosiers’ comes to mind then that’s good because that’s the way basketball was supposed to be played offensively.

What Popovich and the Spurs have done is revolutionized scouting in the NBA and it’s hard to find fault with its’ success. They seek out talent on foreign shores and they mix that talent with solid, team-oriented American players to get the results they have had over the last 15 years. The roots of this idea go back to the 1980’s.

American basketball was the dominant force in international hoops play. Our collegiate players were better both athletically and skillfully through the decades of international play but then foreign countries caught up and in the late 1980’s our collegians were no longer good enough to bring home Olympic gold every four years.

That’s when the ‘Dream Team’ was born and since our pro players have been manning the Olympic team, we have not lost gold but with every passing Olympic Games, foreign teams get closer and closer and that’s because their athleticism is catching up with ours as many of their players now play in the NBA.

It’s my hope that high school and AAU teams have paid attention to this Spurs’ team because this is the wave of the future and if the American players don’t catch on it will be the 1980’s all over again.

Spurs Look to Close Out the Heat Tomorrow Night in Texas

LeBron and Wade
LeBron and Wade
Could tonight be the end of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or will they force a game six back home?

I can’t recall the last series I’ve been so wrong about. I’m pretty sure that every one of the first four games of the NBA Finals I’ve had completely wrong. Therefore, you should probably do the exact opposite of what I’m about to suggest for tomorrow night.

Miami at San Antonio (-6), Spurs lead series 3-1 – Of all the games I’ve been the most wrong about game four takes the cake. There was no way I saw the Miami Heat, who had lost game three on their home-court, losing again. Remember this was a team that just didn’t lose back-to-back games and especially in the playoffs.

The entered game four with the third-longest streak of not losing back-to-back playoff games in league history. They trailed only the Jordan-Era Bulls and the dynastic Celtics of the 1960’s.

We can throw those stats and numbers out the window now because LeBron James and company are now hanging on for dear life. Watching San Antonio dismantle the Miami defense the other night was a thing of beauty. It’s what basketball was supposed to be when Dr.James Naismith invented it. Passing and moving the ball among all five players on the court was like art work being performed by the Spurs.

In an era of “let the best player go one-on-one off a screen,” San Antonio displayed everything that was good about offensive basketball. So impressive was the Spurs’ game four win that every player on the team scored. Knowing that bench scoring had been issue, Miami actually scored 30 points in that department. Still, San Antonio was better scoring 41 off of the pine.

Miami had done a decent job of battling San Antonio in the paint as well but that stat was blown up too. The Spurs dominated 46-30 in the key and while playing solid defense at the other end as well.

Ginobili
Manu Ginobili has been a lightning rod for the Spurs despite not scoring a lot of points.

If you need any further demonstration of the ‘team aspect’ of the Spurs than look no further than Manu Ginobili. The Argentinian scored just seven points but he had a whopping +27 for the game which illustrates the energy and intensity he and his teammates brought to the floor.

Short of LeBron James going off for a 40-point night tomorrow, I just don’t see how this team survives the balanced Spurs in game five. Dwyane Wade has been accused of looking tired and perhaps he is, but I think it has more to do with his nagging knees. Chris Bosh has disappeared for the most part and the role players like Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers have been neutralized.

It would be incredibly easy to blame some of the on-court issues of the Heat on the off-court topics that are being discussed but I guarantee the players wouldn’t use that excuse. Still, it must be difficult knowing the media is more interested in where LeBron will play in the fall and whether Carmelo Anthony is joining the Big Three in Miami.

I really, really want to take Miami to win this because if they do I believe this goes to a game seven where anything can happen but I can’t.The Spurs have been too good and too balanced at both ends and there has only been one close game in this series and that was Miami’s two-point win in game two. Take the Spurs to cover tomorrow night and I like the OVER. The O/U is at 196 by the way.

Keep an eye on… Miami is 4-16 straight up in its last 20 games when playing on the road against San Antonio… The total has gone UNDER in four of San Antonio’s last six games at home… Miami is 6-13-1 against the spread in its last 20 games when playing on the road against San Antonio… San Antonio is 9-1 straight up in its last 10 games at home.

Must-Win for the Heat in Game Four?

Leonard
Leonard
Kawhi Leonard was a beast in game three but can he follow that up in game four?

If you follow trends, then all you need to know is that in the era of the ‘big three’ in Miami, they have won 13 straight games following a loss.  Last year in this same situation, the Heat followed a blowout loss to San Antonio with a big win of their own. Therefore, I really don’t need to go any further here do I?

Of course I do especially after I was dead wrong about game three. While I thought Kawhi Leonard was due for a big game I still thought the Heat would be happy to be home and would get the win. Such is life in the betting community.

On to game four…

San Antonio at Miami (-5), Spurs lead 2-1 – Sometimes there are few answers to seemingly easy questions. That must have been how Heat coach Erik Spoelstra must have felt during the first half of game three. While watching the Spurs shot 76%, Spoelstra knew his team had to play better defense but it wasn’t that bad.

Bosh
I expect Chris Bosh to bounce back and have big game tonight.

The Spurs were just flat-out draining everything whether the Heat were playing solid defense on them or not. A closer look at game three though reveals some things were just not happening for the Heat that should have been. Chris Bosh was a non-factor while Mario Chalmers continues to struggle with his shooting and overall game.

As poorly as Miami played, they had the Spurs ‘ lead cut to seven in the fourth quarter and a victory would have been one of the great all-time comebacks in NBA Finals’ history. The Heat have to hang their hat on that because there’s no way they’ll play that poorly tonight.

We must give credit where it is due and that means crediting Gregg Popovich and the adjustments he made. It certainly helps when Kawhi Leonard is aggressive at both ends of the floor and hits for a career high in points. His defense on LeBron James may have been just as important though as he gave James little space with which to operate.

Popovich also started Boris Diaw in place of Tiago Splitter and that move paid big dividends as the Spurs’ were much more successful on the offensive end of the court with Diaw in the game. How Spoelstra counters this will be one of the keys for tonight.

It would be very easy for me to just settle on trends that clearly favor Miami. Twice the Heat and the ‘big three’ have faced 2-1 deficits and in both cases they went on to win the series. I’m not just going to rely on trends though because there is no way LeBron is going to follow up a very pedestrian game with another one.

I expect James to go for at least 30 points tonight but I also expect five or more assists and several of those will go to Chris Bosh who has to be more of a factor and he will be. This isn’t to say the Spurs can’t win this game because they most certainly can but this really is a must-win for Miami. If they go down 3-1, they would be facing a situation where they’d have to win three straight including two in San Antonio.

I like Miami to cover tonight and I also like the OVER which currently sits at 197.

Keep an eye on… San Antonio is 3-7 against the spread in its last 10 games on the road… Miami is 4-1 straight up in its last 5 games when playing at home against San Antonio… San Antonio is 4-1 straight up in its last five games… The total has gone UNDER in 17 of Miami’s last 23 games when playing at home against San Antonio.

Game Three Up Tonight in the NBA Finals

Parker and LeBron
Parker and LeBron
With LeBron James guarding Tony Parker, the Spurs will need to adjust things offensively.

To no one’s surprise the Miami Heat evened the NBA Finals with San Antonio at one game apiece. Only the 1990’s Chicago Bulls and the great Boston Celtics’ teams of the 1960’s have gone more NBA Playoff games without losing back-to-back games. Despite the loss, the Spurs actually played pretty well but they are still not getting consistency from certain players to make the difference.

Game three is tonight on South Beach and teams that win game three in a series tied at one go on to win about 80% of the time. That said, San Antonio followed this script last season but still lost. Will San Antonio follow the same plan? Lets find out.

San Antonio at Miami (-4.5), Series tied 1-1 – According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and numerous other sources, LeBron James was seething in the hours following game one. According to Windhorst, James got very little sleep and it wasn’t due to the cramps he suffered from the day prior. Apparently James was incensed that people would question his toughness and physical stamina after he was forced to leave the game in which the Spurs went on to win.

It was that type of motivation in mind that left me with no other path but to believe that James would come out roaring in game two. I was only kind of right as James scored just two points in the opening stanza. He would however go on to score 35 total and assisted on the key basket to clinch the game.

With the issues of game one now in the past, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has work to do. First and foremost he has to address the team’s offensive gameplan since LeBron guarded Tony Parker in a very calculated move to disrupt the San Antonio offense. Popovich should be able re-position guys on the floor and force LeBron back down but they may only work if the Spurs are hitting open outside shots.

Leonard
The Spurs could use more consistency from Kawhi Leonard at both ends of the court.

Coming off of game one, there were a couple of areas that I thought the Heat needed to address. They were outscored 34-20 in bench points in game one and I thought that needed to change. It changed alright but for the worse as the Spurs bench outscored Miami 37-12. While I still feel this is a factor in the series it obviously wasn’t in game two.

Points in the paint was another area the Heat had to change and in this case they did. Miami outscored the Spurs 44-34 and ultimately that was the difference in the game.

To this point, Popovich is getting good performances from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker but he needs more from guys like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. They combined for 18 points in game two but are not consistently threats. That has to change.

The Spurs need to stop shooting themselves in the foot at the free throw line. They were just 12 of 20 for a horrid 60% and hitting just three more of those gives them a 2-0 lead.

A lot of things point to a Spurs win tonight but I’m not going there. I think the starters for Miami will score enough and the bench will provide just enough in the way of rebounding and a few points here and there. Until Duncan and some other Spurs show themselves in the fourth quarter my confidence in them is waning. Take Miami to cover and I love the OVER here which is set at 198.

Keep an eye on… San Antonio is 10-4 straight up in its last 14 games… Miami is 13-4 straight up in its last 17 games… San Antonio is 2-7 against the spread in its last nine games on the road… The total has gone OVER in seven of Miami’s last eight games at home.

Heat Look to Even Things Up Tonight in Texas

Birdman
Birdman
Chris 'Birdman' Andersen has to contribute more to even the bench discrepancy against the Spurs.

I would really like to do my best to focus on the basketball rather than LeBron James’ cramping problems but that will be hard to avoid because his absence made a significant difference in the outcome of game one. That said, every player on the floor had to deal with the 90 degree conditions so using that as an excuse will not fly with me.

Hopefully game two is less dramatic in terms of anything other than basketball. Let’s discuss it…

Miami at San Antonio (-4.5), Spurs Lead 1-0 – I’m throwing this out there right now; I fully expect LeBron James to have a monster game tonight in game two. The consistently negative attention, social media mockery and overall questioning of his mental and physical toughness will motivate him to a huge performance. Whether that will lead the Heat to a victory or not is uncertain, but I like him having a big night.

LeBron
I look for LeBron to have a monster game tonight in game two.

Two interesting stats that came out of the Spurs’ game one victory were points in the paint and fast break points. San Antonio outscored the Heat 48-36 in the paint which isn’t totally shocking but the fact they also outscored Miami in fast break points, 20-19, was a little more unexpected. The Heat is not used to losing the stat but the Spurs tend to get back on defense as well as any team.

One particular area where the Spurs were expected to dominate and did was in bench scoring. San Antonio outscored Miami 34-20 in bench points and with the Spurs being the deeper team this isn’t surprising. Guys like Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen and Shane Battier need to assist Ray Allen who was the only bench player in double-figures in game one. The Heat needs to find more scoring and rebounding in game two.

Another area I would look for the Heat to address is getting to the free throw line more often. In game one, they took just 11 free throws, making nine and that just isn’t going to do it. When this type of thing happened in the Eastern Conference Finals, the following game always saw Miami get to the free throw line much more often.

The rule of thumb in the NBA Playoffs is that the home team is going to get the bulk of the 50-50 calls and that’s held pretty true so far in these playoffs. That said, officials also reward teams that are aggressive and I have every expectation that will be the Heat tonight.

If you’re looking for the one stat that will force your hand in wagering today than look no further than this one; during the era of the big three, the Heat is 5-0 following game one losses in the playoffs. Consider also that teams in the NBA that take 2-0 leads in the NBA Finals go on to win 90% of the time.

The over/under tonight is 199 and I like the over with Miami needing a big performance being the motivating factor. I also like Miami getting the points. Remember also that the NBA Finals no longer has the 2-3-2 format so game five will be back in San Antonio. The change could be a significant factor in this series.

Keep an eye on… Miami is 2-4 against the spread in its last six games when playing San Antonio… San Antonio is 10-3 straight up in its last 13 games… Miami is 3-16 straight up in its last 19 games when playing on the road against San Antonio… The total has gone OVER in four of San Antonio’s last five games when playing at home against Miami.

LeBron Has an Opportunity to Recover From ‘Cramp-gate.’

LeBron cramps
LeBron cramps
LeBron James has taken a beating from journalists and social media folks but he can recover from this.

Just last week I espoused my feelings about LeBron James. After years being unable to accept him as worthy of the same plateau as the all-time greats, I had come around. I found LeBron James to have matured. I found him to be suddenly likable and he had a way with the press he hadn’t before. While I’m not ready to compare him to Michael Jordan, I wrote that at the very least, I’ve accepted him.

If you’re expecting me to go back on those sentiments, I’m not. But I am wavering and I have serious concerns about him moving forward. Still, James can put the game one horrors to bed by leading this Miami Heat team to a third-straight title and don’t think it can’t happen.

When James exited in the fourth quarter, the Spurs were reeling. It looked very much like Miami was going to steal game one and take hold of home-court advantage. That didn’t happen and the Spurs found their groove as they rolled to victory behind Tim Duncan and Danny Green. Unfortunately for LeBron, the comments were coming fast and furious before the game was even decided.

If you aren’t familiar with social media, then the term ‘trolling’ might not mean anything to you. What it means, especially in Twitter parlance, is that someone is tweeting about you or to you in an effort to get a reaction from you. While I had every expectation that people watching the game would be doing this I had no idea that Gatorade would lead the trolling parade.

LeBron is a Powerade guy so when the cramps started, Gatorade took advantage and trolled him hard during the fourth quarter. Such is sports in the 21st century.

Former Golden State Head Coach and current ESPN color man Mark Jackson said at one point that “the great ones find a way to tell their bodies that this isn’t the time.” Jackson has taken a lot of heat (no pun intended) for those comments but I understand what Jackson was saying and I don’t think he necessarily wrong.

The biggest problem for LeBron is that the conditions of the arena affected everyone, not just him. Even his own teammates talked afterward about how the conditions didn’t bother them at all. Chris Bosh said he played in hotter gyms growing up in Texas. In fact, no one else seemed to suffer one bit from playing in the 90 degree heat.

Excuses ran wild this morning about how James’ musculature were prime for such cramping and the like. ESPN threw out the question of whether the lack of air conditioning was the cause of the Heat losing about 30 times in the first two minutes of every program. Let’s be clear; yes the Heat was winning but we can’t say they would have held on anymore than we can say they wouldn’t have under normal conditions.

James has an extraordinary opportunity to overcome this game one embarrassment but he’ll also face ‘conspiracy theorists’ who’ll wonder if the whole thing wasn’t rigged.

What James can do is score and play out of his mind. Whether the Heat win in five, six or seven games, huge performances by him can make this incident in game one a distant memory. The LeBron-haters will be silenced however briefly but they won’t have much of an argument should he have the last laugh.

Whether he will or not is must-see TV.

NBA Prop Bets For Your Entertainment Purposes Only Of Course

Duncan
Duncan
You could wager on how many points Tim Duncan will score or how many times someone says "fundamentals" regarding his game.

Last night in San Antonio the NBA Finals got underway as the Spurs entertained the two-time defending champions from Miami. If you’re like myself and you really don’t have a dog in this fight, then that can sometimes make wagering easier or in some cases harder.

Whenever I get myself into one of these predicaments (or any time a championship is being played) I like to look for some other ways of winning a few bucks. There is no better way to do this than with prop bets.

If you wager the Super Bowl then you already are a prop betting veteran because the NFL’s premier game has it all. With this idea in mind, here are some prop bets for you to check out over at Bovada.lv and some you can perhaps play at home with some friends.

First team to score in the game. This is essentially like asking what a coin flip will result in when it lands. Unless a team has a decided advantage at the jump, stay away from this one.

First team to score 10 points (or 20 or 30 and so on). This one is actually possible to put some faith into because if you study the teams closely enough you can discern if they are getting out to leads in the majority of their games or not. Take the Heat for example; they trailed at the end of the first quarter in four of their six games in the Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana.

Spoelstra
Erik Spoelstra's Heat trailed at the end of the first quarter in four of six games against the Pacers.

Quarter spreads. Again,this may take some homework in order to figure out if either San Antonio or Miami has a decided edge when it comes to scoring in a particular quarter. Otherwise, this really is a roll of the dice and some of it will depend on how the series is unfolding.

First half/End of game totals. You can start with total points for each; the Spurs are averaging about 105 per game while the Heat are averaging about 102 per game. This too will depend upon the progression of the series.

Winning margin. You can do this one of two ways; you can go over to Bovada or your favorite betting set and look at the odds for either team wining by a certain amount OR you can just simply lay the number you think a team wins by and do it that way. Always think simplicity and creativity people!

Total games in the series. Despite game one being already in the books, you can still put money down on how many games you think the series will go. You can do this and name the winning team or just put the number out there and leave it at that.

Will any game go into overtime? Now this is one I like because I think this is going to be another close, six or seven game series and the chances of games going into overtime are quite high in my opinion. I strongly suggest this prop.

While the above are the type of things you’ll find at most betting websites, you can also get creative with the following…

What celebrity is most likely to be seen in Miami?

How many times does someone refer to Tim Duncan’s “fundamentals?”

How many times is Michael Jordan’s name mentioned?

Will the Lakers have a new head coach by the end of the Finals?

Will anyone from the Spurs blow into LeBron James’ ear?

Prop bets are in many ways a way for you to have fun but also for you to show your knowledge as well. Enjoy the Finals!

 

 

 

 

Why You Could Benefit From Some Great NHL and NBA Finals Action

quick-lundqvist
quick-lundqvist
Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist could provide us a fantastic goalie duel in the Stanley Cup Finals.

If you call yourself a hockey fan then you darn well had better have been watching game seven of the Western Conference Finals Sunday night. Both the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks left every ounce of what they had in the tank on the ice before the Kings prevailed in overtime. It was great hockey that featured great saves, great passing and intense action.

The National Basketball Association didn’t need a game seven to establish its’ final between two-time defending champion Miami and the Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs. Both teams disposed of their opponents in six games and now face each other in NBA Finals for the second straight year. This hasn’t happened since the Bulls-Jazz match-ups in the 1990’s.

Both the Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA Finals could offer you some interesting opportunities to make some money.

In the NHL, you’ll need to determine whether the LA Kings are tired or whether they will ride a wave of energy and enthusiasm in the early going of the Cup Finals. The New York Rangers have had plenty of rest and normally I’d side with the Rangers in the first two games of the series but let’s consider what I think is a very key piece to this potential dilemma.

If the Kings were heading straight to New York to play the Rangers in games one and two in Madison Square Garden, I would give more credence to them being worn down by the series with the Blackhawks but I think this case is a bit different. LA gets to return home for the first two games and the Rangers have to travel across the continent to play the Kings.

Despite playing all 21 possible games in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, I think being at home will be a big boost for the Kings. Much like baseball momentum is dictated by tomorrow’s starting pitcher, hockey is often dictated by the men between the pipes and Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist could have one of the great duels in recent Cup Finals’ history.

You’ll need to do some homework on these two but the opportunities are there for you to win in this series.

LeBron
Lay your money on LeBron to lead the Heat in scoring in each game of the Finals.

In the NBA, you should have a great chance for success when it comes to prop bets. The series itself will be as tough as ever to make a call on. I’ve already seen many of the top NBA analysts calling this series for the Heat in six or seven or they like the Spurs in six or seven. It’s almost a total 50/50 split among guys on some of the top NBA sites.

Much like the NHL, you’ll need to do some serious homework in order to figure the game to game winners but let’s get back to those prop bets. If you like picking the leading scorer of each game then turn your attention to Miami. You can bank on LeBron James leading the Heat in scoring as he does almost every time the Heat take the floor.

The Spurs are a different story because of their balance and it could be even more so if Tony Parker can’t go due to the bad ankle. Anyone from Tim Duncan to Manu Ginobili to Danny Green could lead the Spurs so I’d steer clear of the Spurs in that area.

Most three-pointers is another area to take a chance because both teams can hit from downtown. I’d lean towards the Heat here because of Ray Allen but don’t for a second forget about the Spurs.

Make sure you look over all of the prop bets going off in this series and you can start over at bovada.lv.

 

Weekend Ramblings Include NBA Thoughts as The Conference Finals are Here

Kerr
Kerr
Steve Kerr made the right move in spurning New York for Golden State.

Can any of us really say that we are surprised that Steve Kerr chose the Golden State Warriors’ over the New York Knicks? There was one draw that would have made Kerr come to the Big Apple and that was Phil Jackson. As his former coach and mentor, Jackson would have guided Kerr through the rapids of coaching in the NBA.

Of course that could also be considered one of the drawbacks to the job as well. Would Kerr have been comfortable knowing that every time his Knicks’ went on a four-game losing streak rumors about Jackson taking over would run rampant? That’s just part of it though; Kerr got more years and more money out of the Warriors and he has much more talent and less contractual problems as well on the West Coast.

The bottom line is that Kerr has made the right choice especially considering he is going to be a first-time coach. Maybe success will eventually lead him to New York and reunion with Jackson anyway?

Bryant
Don't bet on Kobe staying quiet throughout the Lakers' coaching search.

Kobe Has No Say in Coaching Hire. Ya Right.

Los Angeles Lakers’ General Manager Mitch Kupchak says that while the lines of communication are open with star Kobe Bryant, he won’t be involve in the decision on who to hire as the team’s new head coach.

So if I’m the Lakers, I’m going to pay Bryant this ridiculous amount of money for two years (likely his last) and yet they don’t want him involved in choosing the coach? I really do see Kupchak’s thinking, but is it realistic? Bryant won’t want to make his final years meaningless as the last few have been due to injury and poor coaching.

While the Lakers have been relatively quiet about potential replacements for Mike D’Antoni, Kupchak and the Buss Family have to be thinking long-term. They will have ping-pong balls flopping around in the draft lottery which could give them an excellent player to bring on board for a long time. With some potential cap room as well, the team wants a coach for many years.

Not allowing Bryant to have some say in this is crazy. He isn’t going to play for just anyone.

The Conference Finals Are Set

Regardless of how they got there, the Indiana Pacers have the rematch they’ve desired for the last 12 months staring them in the face. The Pacers will get yet another crack at the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana needed 13 games to dispose of both below .500 Atlanta and youthful Washington.

In the meantime, the Heat needed just nine games to get past Charlotte and Brooklyn. Advantage here would have to go to the Heat. These two have basically played to a draw over the last couple of seasons, but with the bizarre struggles of this Pacers’ team it’s going to be extremely hard to like Indiana winning.

Over in the Western Conference Finals, the top seeded San Antonio Spurs will face second seeded Oklahoma City. These two have represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals the last two seasons with each losing to the Heat.

For the second time this playoff season we are seeing a strange match-up where one team has beaten the other in all four games they played in the regular season. The Thunder went 4-0 against San Antonio this season which is exactly what Brooklyn had done to Miami prior to being dumped in five games in the second round.

Remember, in 25 previous times, a team that swept another in the regular season also went on to beat that team in the playoffs. That happened every time until this week when Miami beat Brooklyn. Is Oklahoma City about to suffer the same fate?

Spurs and Heat Look to Advance to the Conference Finals

Batum
Batum
Nicolas Batum had the type of performance in game four the Blazers have needed.

Normally in this spot I’m lamenting yet another poor choice in the world of sports gambling but not today! I felt really confident about Miami winning game four and I said that LeBron James was due for a breakout performance.

What we got was exactly that as Miami rode the 49-point game from James on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in the series and effectively put it away. I can’t tell you exactly how I felt that James was ready for a big night other than he just seemed ‘due.’

What I won’t mention in this spot is the fact that I completely missed on San Antonio who I was sure would wrap things up against Portland on Monday night. That didn’t happen but you didn’t hear it from me…. On to the games.

Bosh
LeBron had 49 points but Chris Bosh hit the key shot to give Miami a 3-1 lead.

Brooklyn (+7) at Miami, Heat Leads 3-1 – While LeBron James tied his career playoff high with 49 points, it was a three-point shot by Chris Bosh that was ultimately the difference in the 102-96 win over the Nets. That’s no dis on James who assisted on the clutch shot but you have to give Bosh credit for draining the tough three from the corner.

Should Brooklyn go on to lose the series, they will look back on this one as the one that got away. The Nets were able to limit the Heat to just seven fast break points while beating them 44-42 in points in the paint. They also led in points off turnovers by a margin of 15-13.  The place where Brooklyn can really point to is shooting where they hit on just 43% of their shots and only 22% from three-point land.

The Nets will really need to improve in both of those areas if they are going to extend this series any further. I expect the Heat to close out this series in Miami tonight but a better performance from Dwyane Wade would help that cause. He was not god down the stretch on Monday.

Take Nets getting the seven points but I like Miami to advance.

Portland (+8) at San Antonio, Spurs Lead 3-1 – The good news for the Portland Trail Blazers is that they were able to stave off elimination on Monday night. The bad news is that the Spurs were able to rest both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as neither played saw action in the fourth quarter. That might not sound like a big deal but at this point in the season, any rest that veterans can get is welcomed.

San Antonio was outscored 62-44 in the paint but one could argue that wasn’t the real issue. The Spurs also shot just 16% from three-point range on 3 of 18 shooting and then were nearly just as abysmal from the charity stripe going 11 of 19 for 57%. The irony there is that the Spurs were a perfect 25 of 25 from the foul line in game three.

Both Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge had very solid games on Monday but they received the type of help they’ve been looking for all series. Nicolas Batum had a double-double for the Blazers with 14 pints and 14 boards while Will Barton pumped in 17 off the bench.

In order for Portland to get this series back to Rip City for a game six, that type of balance will be necessary. For the Spurs, they had unusually poor games from several guys and I can’t see that happening again. While I expect the Blazers to put up a fight, take the Spurs to win and move on. I will even take them to cover in this game.