American Basketball Coaches Should Take Note of Spurs’ International Flare

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.’

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.

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.

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.

NBA Prop Bets For Your Entertainment Purposes Only Of Course

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 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.

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!





Four More NBA Series Get Underway Today

Duncan Nowitzki
Duncan Nowitzki
The two future Hall of Famers battle in the playoffs for potentially the final time.

On Friday, I laid out the match-ups for the other four game ones and gave you my prediction for those series. Today I’m doing the same with the other four playoff contests that get going.

Dallas (+9.5) at San Antonio – The Spurs and Mavericks are two veteran-laden teams but the similarities pretty much stop there. San Antonio has owned the Mavs this season winning all four of the face-offs by an average of 11.5 points. While the Spurs have been a fantastic franchise under Gregg Popovich, there has to be a little bit of an edge to this team this year.

They really should have put away the Heat last year in the NBA Finals but faltered. The year prior, they jumped to a 2-0 lead over Oklahoma City before being blitzed in four straight games. I believe the Spurs are ready to put those type of things to bed and I expect them to come out strong today in game one.

Dallas will make their runs but in the end I like the Spurs to cover in this one.

Series Prediction: Spurs in Four

If the Bobcats are to have any chance, Jefferson must play out of his mind.

Charlotte (+10) at Miami – Where do we even start in this one? The Heat have won all four games they played against the Bobcats during the regular season and have beaten them in fifteen straight games overall. So dominant have the Heat been that their average margin of victory is 10.5 and that includes a one-point win.

We really should take a second to celebrate the success of the Bobcats this season. Yes, the Eastern Conference was pretty bad this year but they still did what they had to do to earn a spot in the postseason. Next year they will go back to their original name of ‘Hornets.’

We can surmise all we want to as to whether or not Miami looked at the Eastern Conference Playoff landscape and decided that being the two-seed was better than being the one, but we’ll never really know. Either way, look for LeBron and company to win the opener but I’m taking the Bobcats to and the points.

Washington (+4.5) at Chicago – The Wizards took two of three from the Bulls during the regular season with both wins coming in early and mid-January. The Bulls’ victory came just last week. When you enter the NBA Playoffs the first thing you have to look for is defense and the Bulls clearly have the edge here.

This is a team that has certainly learned how to win without Derick Rose and to a lesser extent, without the traded Luol Deng as well. I do not believe however, this will be an easy task for Chicago. I expect a great game and series from John Wall who has matured a great deal and plays smarter and better than last year.

That said, I like Chicago to ride their rowdy home crowd’s enthusiasm to victory even giving the points.

Series Prediction: Bulls in Six

Portland (+5) at Houston – The Rockets took three of four from the Blazers this season by an average of 11 points per win. While I’m not ready to anoint the Rockets the champions for this year like any analysts are, I do believe they should be taken quite seriously.

Portland has struggled to regain the form they had earlier in the season when they were far and away one of the best teams in the league. The consistency at both ends of the floor just hasn’t been there and they’ll need to find it quickly if they expect to get through the playoffs let alone this series.

The tandem of James Harden and Dwight Howard will be tough to beat but if LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are on top of their game it’s possible. I just think over the long haul the Rockets will prevail. I like them giving the points today as well.

Series Prediction: Rockets in Six

Good Match-Up Between Memphis and Toronto Plus Other NBA Picks

Tim Duncan and the red-hot Spurs host the Lakers tonight in San Antonio.

Over the course of an 82 game season, there are any number of storylines that surround the National Basketball Association. With less than 20 games remaining, the stop story now focuses on who can make the playoffs and who can solidify their playoff positions.

The four games I’ve selected tonight deal with both of those scenarios and offer spreads from even to as much as one team entering a game on the road as an 18-point favorite. Enough of my yaking, let’s get to it.

LA Lakers (+17.5) at San Antonio – The Spurs stayed hot on Wednesday night with a solid win over slumping Portland. It was their eighth straight victory and ninth in their last ten games. Depending upon the outcome of the Thunder’s game last night, they’ll have either a half game lead or game and a half lead over Oklahoma City for the Western Conference top spot.

Ironically, the Lakers were the opponent for the Thunder last night. Regardless of how they did, they’ll come to San Antonio with tired legs and little to play for. The Lakers have announced that Kobe Bryant will be shut down for the season and speculation is ramping up about the future of Mike D’Antoni as the head coach.

I love the Spurs here to cover.

LeBron has become kind of ordinary following his 61 point outburst two weeks ago.

Denver (+10) at Miami – Miami enters this one coming off a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on their home court. Miami is now 0-3 against the surging Nets this season.  Miami has won just six of their last ten and a small dip in performance couldn’t have come at a worse time.

One seed Indiana is struggling big time and the Heat could have been taking advantage by winning some games. Should the Pacers be able to hold off Miami for the top spot in the East, this is the stretch that will come back to haunt Miami.

The Nuggets come to South Beach off a win Wednesday night in Orlando. It was just their third win in their last ten games. Being ten games out of the final playoff spot in the West with 18 games to play doesn’t bode well for Denver.

I look for Miami to get back on track a bit tonight and I expect them to cover.

Memphis (EVEN) at Toronto – These two teams are currently playoff-bound as they hook up in Canada. The Grizzlies have played well for a good stretch now and because of that they are the current seventh seed in the West.

Both the Raptors and the Griz have won seven of their last ten games with Memphis having won their last four in a row. While the Raptors would have to really screw things up to miss the playoffs, their more important concern right now might be hanging on to the Atlantic Division lead.

With Brooklyn playing better and better, the Raptors have just a three game lead over the Nets. Memphis can relate because right now it’s them, Dallas and Phoenix essentially fighting for just two spots.

Indiana (-16) at Philadelphia – You thought I would give up on the Sixers? No way! Losers of 18 straight games now, Philadelphia hosts the Indiana Pacers who have stumbled of late and might be primed for an upset.

Well, that’s how you have to think if you’re the Sixers I guess. One of the bigger issues plaguing the Pacers during their recent 6-4 stretch is poor defense. This game should provide them the perfect opportunity to get that back on track. At the very least they can feel good about themselves I suppose.

Pivotal Game Three is at Hand

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan
I expect Duncan to be much better in game three than he was in a 3 for 13 effort in game two.

The Miami Heat rebounded from their game one loss with a 103-84 win in game two that included a 33-5 run and an epic NBA Finals moment when LeBron James blocked a Thiago Splitter dunk attempt. The win followed the Miami trend of wins after losses dating back to early January, eleven in all. Ironically, their average win margin in those instances was right around 19 points which is what they won by.

If you told San Antonio Spurs’ Head Coach Gregg Popovich he’d leave Miami with a split I guarantee you he would take it, but he has to be a little concerned about the Heat improving their outside shooting significantly from game one and his team’s inability to take care of the ball as they did in game one. That will no doubt be addressed.

LeBron James
James isn’t scoring a lot but he is doing many other things well.

Obviously every game in a seven-game NBA Finals series is crucial, but historically, no game is bigger than game three. A staggering 92% of teams that win game three of the NBA Finals go on to win the title. Don’t think for a second that both the Heat and Spurs aren’t aware of that fact. Let’s get to the preview of tonight’s big game three.

Miami at San Antonio (Series tied 1-1) – The Spurs enter tonight as two-point favorites at home despite the beat-down they suffered in game two. The over/under tonight is 188 is it was in game two and I really like the over in that one but missed by two points. This evening I really like the under. I expect both teams to clamp down defensively and force guys other than each team’s big three to make big buckets.

The first thing San Antonio has to do is get Tim Duncan going early. Duncan missed his first five shots in game one and then shot a miserable three for thirteen in game two. With Tony Parker working as hard as he has in the first two games, Duncan has to get involved sooner to open up things on the outside.

Another area I think you’ll see more balance in is in the fast break department where the Heat outscored the Spurs 13-3 on Sunday. San Antonio is often mistaken for being a very defensive team, but actually the Heat play better defense statistically. Both teams will get back on defense better in game three and will force the secondary portions of the break to come through.  That means waiting for trailers or being able to find an open shooter along the arc.

I mentioned turnovers earlier and that might be the biggest issue heading into this game tonight. The Spurs turned it over just four times in game one and then fumbled it away 17 times in game two while the Heat turned it over just six times. Miami was able to turn those Spurs’ mistakes into 19 points San Antonio could only convert Miami’s errors into two points. There’s your game right there.

Prediction: A lot of people are suddenly in love with the Heat after their strong performance in game two. What worries me though is that LeBron James is not scoring the points he usually does. Yes, he is distributing the ball well, but the Spurs have done a nice job of limiting his buckets.

With Dwyane Wade less than 100% and Chris Bosh probably in the same boat, that puts pressure on James and those perimeter shooters who were good in game two but not so much in game one. Both teams are experienced in these situations but the finality of things for the Spurs’ big three has to be setting in a bit. I like a big night from Parker and Duncan to lead the Spurs to a victory tonight.

Spurs Take Game One; Karl Out in Denver

Tony Parker
Tony Parker
Parker scored 21 last night including the clincher with five seconds left.

When I took the San Antonio Spurs to win the NBA Finals in six games over the Miami Heat I did so thinking that the Heat would probably win game one. I surmised that Miami would take advantage of the Spurs’ nine day lay-off and although beaten up from their series with Indiana I figured they’d get by in game one.

Well, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.” The Spurs weren’t exactly ‘on their game’ early but they finished with just four turnovers in the 92-88 win over the Heat. Tony Parker hit a bumbling and stumbling 15-footer with just five seconds remaining to give the Spurs their margin of victory.

In the 2-3-2 format of the NBA Finals, game two suddenly takes on greater significance for Miami than other game twos might. Heading to Texas down 0-2 would be a severe deficit even for a Heat team with LeBron James.

Tim Duncan
Duncan started slowly but finished with 20 points and 14 boards.

San Antonio got 20 points from Tim Duncan who looked rusty in missing his first five shots but then recovered quickly to have a very nice game. He added 14 rebounds and three blocked shots as well. Parker finished with 21 points and Manu Ginobili finished with 13. LeBron finished with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists to earn his second straight Finals’ triple-double but was held to just two of eight when guarded by the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh chipped in with 17 and 13 points respectively but Bosh had just two in the final quarter.

The biggest adjustment the Heat have to make going into game two is getting to the hoop. San Antonio clamped down in the second half and forced the Heat to kick out a lot more than they would normally like and the shots weren’t falling. Much like they struggled finding a consistent outside shot in the conference finals, they can’t afford the same scenario in game two.

If the Heat and their fans have anything to be happy about today it’s this; With the Big Three on board, when the team loses game one of a playoff series they come back to win the next four. This held true of course in the NBA Finals last year as well. While that isn’t impossible here, I just don’t see it happening against the veteran Spurs.

I do however look for the Heat to bounce back and grab game two by pushing the full-court game.

Coach of the Year Out in Denver –  How prophetic George Karl turned out to be… A month ago on the Dan Patrick Show he said winning the coach of the year award was very humbling but it also was known to be a kiss of death among NBA coaches. Karl got the kiss from Denver yesterday as the Nuggets chose not to extend his contract and let him walk.

Karl has been in Denver nine years and his teams have been in the playoffs in each of those seasons. The problem? Only one of those teams advanced past the first round of the playoffs and great regular seasons just don’t keep jobs anymore.

I look for Karl to spend very little time on the basketball coaches’ unemployment lines. There are openings in New Jersey and with the LA Clippers which is exactly where most think he’ll end up. His style of play could fit perfectly with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the Clippers who clearly like to get out and run the court. One way or another, I can’t see George Karl away from the sidelines very long.

NBA Finals Promise to Be Entertaining If Nothing Else

Duncan and Bosh
Duncan and Bosh
Will the Heat double on Tim Duncan like this or choose to double Tony Parker more often?

Do you recall back in the early stages of the 2012-2013 season when National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern blew a gasket over the San Antonio Spurs sending their top players home rather than to Miami for a game with the Heat? This was no ordinary regular season match-up though because it was the only game scheduled that night and was set for national television.

Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich made no excuses. He said they had a veteran team that was coming off several games over a few days and wanted to rest his guys for the long haul. Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 and was obviously embarrassed that a marquee match-up was reduced to a group of bench-warmers starting. While the NBA is a business, it’s also a business in which the top goal for coaches and teams is to win and Popovich felt resting his guys was the right move to achieve long-term success. Lo and behold, look who is in the Finals…

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs could not be coming into the finals under more different circumstances. The Heat had to scratch and claw their way to a difficult seven-games series win over Indiana. The Spurs meanwhile, rolled past the Memphis Grizzlies in a four-game sweep leaving them with almost two weeks of down-time heading into game one tonight in Miami.

Common sense would tell you that San Antonio is coming off of way too much rest and will be rusty. Conversely though, Miami is the team that may have actually benefited more from such rest as they have several guys nursing nagging injuries with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade being chief among them. In essence, you have a team with too much rest against a team that didn’t get enough.

Three Keys I’m Looking at in This Series

1. Battle of the ‘Bigs’ – In their series with Memphis, the Spurs completely frustrated Zach Randolph to the point where his shooting was barely 30% for the series. The rotation of Kawhi Leonard, Thiago Splitter and Matt Bonner was constantly forcing Randolph into mistakes and poor shot selection. The Heat will pose a different challenge in the paint because Chris Bosh is much more liable to move out and hit the 15-footer. Udonis Haslem is the banger down low that will have to deal with the three-headed rotation as well as Tim Duncan.

The advantage here belongs to the Spurs with Bosh less than 100%, but if he and Haslem, who loves the baseline jumper, can hit steadily from outside, the Spurs will be in some trouble.

Mario Chalmers
Can Chalmers slow down Tony Parker at all?

2. Who Handles Parker? – Parker is the youngster amongst himself, Duncan and Ginobili and is having a phenomenal playoff run so far. With Dwyane Wade not 100% with a troublesome knee, the defensive assignment will have to fall to Mario Chalmers. The concern I have here is that Parker makes his defenders work harder than anyone else and Chalmers is often relied on to hit key threes during games. Will he have the legs to do that if he is chasing Parker for 48 minutes? Look for the Heat to throw lots of guys at Parker and double on him at times forcing him to give up the ball sooner than he wants.

3. What Kind of Advantage Does Pop Have? – Gregg Popovich is 22 years older than Miami’s Erik Spoelstra. That’s the largest difference between coaches in Finals’ history. I don’t think this will be the decided advantage some may think though. Spoelstra has learned to let LeBron James lead this team and do things as he sees fit. That’s something Popovich learned to do with Parker and Duncan as well. I give an advantage for sure to Popovich, but it isn’t as great as one would think.

Prediction: This is obviously a very different LeBron than the Spurs saw in the 2007 Finals when they blitzed the Cavs in four straight. There aren’t nearly the weaknesses in his game there were then. With that said, James will score but he’ll be challenged on every shot as the Spurs rotate as well as anyone on defense. I’ll be stunned if this series doesn’t go a minimum of six games and I like the Spurs to send Duncan into retirement with a victory in those six games.

Two Clear Messages Being Sent in NBA Playoffs

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan
Duncan has found the fountain of youth in the Western Conference Finals.

This past weekend’s National Association Basketball Playoff games delivered two very key messages from one team to the other. On Saturday, the San Antonio Spurs went into Memphis and beat the Grizzlies 104-93 in overtime to take a commanding three games to none lead heading into tonight’s tilt.

In Indianapolis yesterday, the expectation was much the same as it was in Memphis. With the series tied at one game apiece, the Pacers’ home-court was thought to be a massive advantage for the home team turned out to be anything but as Miami rolled to a 114-96 win to go up two games to one.

If you are sure what message is being sent by these two teams then let me put it out there for you. San Antonio and Miami are two veteran teams who have both “been there before” and clearly proved that in their respective wins. Both Memphis and Indiana are excellent ball clubs and in the Pacers’ case this series is far from over, but the standard has been set. Much like it took Michael Jordan’s Bulls several years to finally get to the NBA Finals, perhaps this is the same route both the Grizzlies and Pacers will have to take.

Bosh and Haslem
Bosh and Haslem were excellent in drawing out Roy Hibbert while knocking down outside shots.

Wrapping up the Heat’s win…. While LeBron James bounced back from his poor, final seconds’ performance in game two, it was really the play of Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh that were the difference. They two big men combined to go eight of 11 from 15 feet or more which drew Roy Hibbert out from the paint. This was exactly the game plan I thought the Heat would deploy going into the series.

Throw in the fact that they had good performances from James and Dwyane Wade and a poor shooting day from Paul George and the recipe for the win was complete. The question now becomes has does Frank Vogel and his Pacers’ team rebound?

San Antonio at Memphis (Spurs lead 3-0) – San Antonio goes for the sweep tonight and enters as a three-point underdog on the road in the “Grindhouse.” Head Coach Gregg Popovich has been masterful all season in finding ways to rest his veteran players and that tactic seems to be paying off. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Gonobili have all been very good in this series  and a lot of that has to do with the help they are getting from other guys.

Duncan looked as though he turned back the clock on Saturday as he looked down-right dominant at times. That dominance can be credited to the fact that the Spurs are getting realy good post-defense from Thiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Matt Bonner. These guys have done a terrific job forcing Zach Randolph into poor shots and making close ones difficult when he takes them. That has allowed Duncan to do his thing on the offensive end.

The game-plan for Memphis is simple; they need to win. The only way this happens in my opinion is to let guard Mike Conley create by driving to the paint and distributing the basketball. This is of course easier said than done, but this is often the only way to get your big men consistently involved in the offense when you’re playing a veteran and tough defensive squad.

If Conley piles up assists tonight then that will go a long ways towards keeping this series alive versus packing up the lockers and wishing the Spurs well in the NBA Finals. Take the Griz to force a game five with an outright win tonight.

It Really is Time to Salute the Spurs

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan
Duncan has been the cornerstone of four NBA Titles for the Spurs.

When great teams in any sport come to mind, there always seems to be a reason that we remember those teams as well as we do. Whether it was the Packers of Lombardi, the Bruins of Wooden or the Yankees with Ruth and Gehrig, we tend to easily recall those teams. Perhaps it was the coaches themselves or the dynamic personalities of some of the players but whatever it is, we remember them.

Maybe it’s the banners that hang in Boston Garden or the Forum in Montreal. I guess it really doesn’t matter what it is because there is always something to remind us of their greatness.

Down in South-Central Texas, there is a team that is deserving of such recollections. Thursday night at home in the ATT Center, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the rival Dallas Mavericks 92-21 to clinch their 16th consecutive trip to the NBA Playoffs. This ties the Minneapolis/LA Lakers for the sixth-longest such streak. The Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers have the record of 22 straight years of playoff appearances.

Gregg Popovich
Popovich would love to add a fifth title to the resume with a title this year.

Not only did they clinch a playoff spot against the Mavericks but they accomplished two other important feats as well. For the first time in 15 years, the Spurs completed a season-sweep of the in-state Mavs and perhaps the most incredible stat of all, they won their 50th game last night. No big deal you say? This is the 14th consecutive year in which they’ve won 50 or more games. That is a record and a damn fine impressive one at that.

The fact that this streak started when the great David Robinson was still playing for the Spurs in the late 1990’s is amazing in and of itself. Consider too that current Head Coach Gregg Popovich was actually the general manager of the team when he came down from the front office to replace the fired Bob Hill. If you’re looking for one constant with San Antonio, it begins and ends with Popovich running the team.

With four titles and this string of playoff appearances and 50-win seasons under his belt, Popovich deserves much more praise in my opinion than he gets. If you talk to people who know basketball, then they know just how valuable this guy has been to the franchise. What impresses me the most with ‘Pop’ is his ability to change his team based on the talent available and then mold them into a dynamic, championship caliber team year-in and year-out.

Certainly it helps when you have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as such a constant presence but it goes deeper than that with this club. Popovich has been able to coach teams who are defensive-minded and play lots of half-court basketball but he has also had great teams where the tempo can change over-night and the teams suddenly starts running and gunning with the best teams in the league.  This is not easy for any coach to do especially at the professional level.

Earlier this year, the Spurs were fined for not having their best players travel to Miami for an early season game against the defending champion Heat. None of the players were injured and Popovich flat out said, the veteran guys needed rest. Commissioner David Stern was appalled and slapped them with a heavy financial punishment. There is a method to the Spurs’ madness and I believe it will pay off.

Even with Tony Parker out right now with a bad wheel, the team continues to play well. As old and slow as they looked in the Western Conference Finals’ loss to Oklahoma City last year, I still believe they can get this done and I believe the Spurs are all-in to do. Right now, I wouldn’t bet against them.