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NBA AM: Spurs On Cusp Of Dethroning Miami HEAT

The San Antonio Spurs squandered an opportunity to win the NBA Finals in 2013, but now stand just one win away

Lang Greene

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The old and wily San Antonio Spurs are just one win away from another title

The Miami HEAT have reached the NBA Finals the past four seasons and are attempting the rare three-peat. The problem for Miami is the San Antonio Spurs are seeking revenge for last season’s Finals series.

Entering the Finals, the HEAT were undefeated  during the playoffs games in Miami. But all of that has changed with the Spurs holding a resounding 3-1 series lead winning games three and four on the road by a combined 40 points.

“They smashed us,” James said during his postgame media availability. “Two straight home games [we] got off to awful starts. They came in and were much better than us in these last two games. It’s just that simple.

“We put ourselves in a position where it is about making history.”

The history, James is referring to is the fact no team in NBA Finals history has ever come back to win a series after being down 3-1. James points out that the Spurs are a tough opponent because of the variety of ways they can beat you on both ends of the floor.

“They put you in positions that no other team in this league does,” James said. “It’s tough because you have to cover the ball first, but also those guys on the weak side can do multiple things. They can shoot the ball from outside, they can also penetrate. So our defense is geared toward running guys off the three-point line, but at the same time, those guys are getting full steam ahead and getting to the rim, too.”

All-Star forward Chris Bosh shared the same admiration of the Spurs’ ability to get what they want, when they want it

“They’re just one of those teams — if you make mistakes, especially early, they’re going to capitalize very quickly,” Bosh said. “They’re doing a very good job of starting fast. Not only starting fast, but they’re hitting their shots and getting to the basket, getting to the free throw line. They’re pretty much getting everything they want.”

Regardless of what history tells us in these scenarios, HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra remains confident the HEAT can still pull out victories if they’re playing their brand of basketball. The veteran coach also put down reports his team is suffering from fatigue – mental or physical.

“It’s not fatigue,” Spoelstra said. “We just have to figure it out. We have 48 hours, and I have to do a better job for my team. We’ve made adjustments, but they’ve still been able to stay in a flow. “When we’re right, we can beat anybody, anywhere.”

The Spurs were less than three seconds away from defeating Miami in game six to win the title during last year’s Finals before collapsing and losing in overtime. San Antonio then lost game seven.

Spurs point guard Tony Parker is expecting a fight on Sunday for game five.

“They’re the two-time champs, they’re a great team, and there is still one more game,” Tony Parker said. “We have to win one more game.”

Rod Higgins out as president of basketball operations in Charlotte

The Charlotte Hornets are currently riding a strong wave of positive momentum. The team reversed its fortune this season, climbing out of the league’s basement and recording the second playoff appearance in franchise history. The Hornets won a combined 28 games in 2012 and 2013, but responded with 43 wins this season largely on the strength of last summer’s free agent signee Al Jefferson.

But the team isn’t finished sending shockwaves around the league.

Heading into the offseason Hornets owner Michael Jordan has publicly vowed to be proactive in bolstering the team’s roster moving forward. The franchise has just $41.1 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season with up to $17.7 million in potential cap room available. This gives the Hornets more than enough flexibility to be active on the draft, free agency and trade fronts.

But despite the favorable turn of events, president of basketball operations Rod Higgins stepped down from his executive role and left the organization.

“I would like to thank Rod for his seven years of dedication to this organization,” Jordan said in the Hornets’ media release. “Rod has been a consummate professional throughout his time with the team. Thanks to his hard work and commitment, we have an improved roster and we are poised for success in the future. Rod was of great help to me as I navigated my first four years as majority owner of this franchise. I wish him all the best.”`

General manager Rich Cho will remain in his executive role with the franchise, but will now  assume responsibility for the club’s basketball operations unit.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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