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NBA PM: Will HEAT Complete Three-Peat?

The HEAT are four wins away from winning their third-straight title and cementing themselves as a modern dynasty … NBA announces All-Defensive Teams

Alex Kennedy

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BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy and CineSport’s Noah Coslov preview the 2014 NBA Finals by talking about the lessons from the 2013 Finals & the matchup between Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.

Will HEAT Complete Three-Peat?

Back in 1988, Pat Riley trademarked the word “three-peat” several months after his Los Angeles Lakers won their second consecutive NBA championship. Riley’s Lakers didn’t go on to three-peat (they were instead swept by the Detroit Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals), but he has made some money off of the trademark thanks to teams like the Chicago Bulls and New York Yankees winning back-to-back-to-back titles. The Lakers did go on to three-peat from 2000 to 2002, but Riley was long gone by that point.

Riley has never had one of his teams pull off the feat, but that may change over the next few weeks. Over 25 years after he trademarked the phrase, the 69-year-old president of the Miami HEAT may finally be able to experience a three-peat rather than just cashing in on other dynasties.

The HEAT have won two straight titles and are one series away from hanging a championship banner for a third straight year. They’ve been to the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons, but lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, which was the first year that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were in Miami.

If the HEAT win it all this year, a dynasty case could certainly be made since Miami would have the fourth-most titles in NBA history (tied with the San Antonio Spurs) and all of them would’ve been won in a nine-year span.

In order to complete their three-peat, the HEAT will have to take down the Spurs for the second year in a row. This proved difficult last year, considering it took Miami seven games to defeat the Spurs, who were seconds away from winning it all in Game 6 until Miami fought back, forced overtime with a clutch three from Ray Allen and escaped with the win to stay alive.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Wade said. “Obviously, we beat them in the Finals. Last year, [they felt] they had us. But we wouldn’t want it any other way. I think having the four best teams in the NBA all season to represent the Western Conference and Eastern Conference is ideal and perfect for this league.  The two best teams will meet. We’re just happy and excited that we’re one of the best.”

The HEAT discussed the possibility of winning three championships in a row and going to four straight Finals on the first day of training camp, but they haven’t talked about it since. The players and coaches understand the enormity of their accomplishments, and the challenges that come with it, so the team didn’t need to discuss it more than once.

“We talked about it from the first day, we talked about the legacy of this team,” Erik Spoelstra said. “The players that weren’t here that first year, they inherited all of those experiences. But it was only that first day. We’ve never brought it up since then.  It was about now tackling the challenges of the day‑to‑day life of an NBA season.”

Looking back on their stint in Miami, Wade and James are grateful that they’ve had so much success.

“We don’t take this for granted and hopefully our fans in Miami, our supporters, don’t take this for granted neither,” Wade said. “This is not something that happens every day. But we’ve worked as a unit.  We sacrificed as individuals to be in this moment, in this position, so we understand where we’re at right now. But it’s still crazy too. … You get drafted, and you’re just happy to be in the NBA.  You want to make a name for yourself.  Eleven years later, you’ve gone to the Finals five times and you’ve won championships. You just never know how your life and your path is going to pan out.  If you just do things the way that you should do them, the way you feel that it should be done, live with the mistakes that you make, get better from them and just be who you are, great things happen to you.  That’s a prime example for all of us. … Me and [LeBron] meeting in Chicago [at the combine], sitting in a room getting tested by teams, getting tried out, we didn’t know that this relationship that we were going to have was going to turn into this.  You just never know. I think we’ve all put ourselves in great situations, and we’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in because it’s an amazing moment.  It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes.  Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this, so we just want to continue to add to what we’re accomplishing.”

“Just to piggyback off what D‑Wade said, we don’t take this moment for granted,” James added. “We’re going to celebrate tonight because it just doesn’t happen every year.  We’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of this four straight times, and you just can’t take these moments for granted. It hasn’t really hit us that much yet because I think we’re in it.  I think it will once we’re done and we’re able to look back at what we were able to accomplish as players, as a franchise, I think that’s when it will really hit us. We definitely don’t take it for granted to be in this position.”

After being eliminated, Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel referred to James and the HEAT as this era’s Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls (a team that pulled off two three-peats). That statement was repeated to James after the Game 6 victory over the Pacers, and he was flattered.

“Me and D‑Wade grew up watching the great Chicago Bulls team and the great Michael Jordan and the rest of those guys, so any time I hear my name or our team in the same breath with legends and great teams and franchises, it’s so humbling, man,” James said. “It’s like, I really don’t know.  We’re just two kids from the inner cities.  We never thought we’d get to this point. To be able to play the game that we love at a high level for one another, for our teammates, it’s the ultimate [reward].  When you hear the comparisons, you respect it, you’re humbled by it and you just feel like while you’re in the moment hopefully, while you’re playing the game, that you can make an impact enough to where you move on and people will start comparing you to ones that’s in the game at the present time. It’s very, very humbling.”

Miami has grown a lot since their first Finals appearance, when they lost to the Mavericks back in 2011, which is something that Wade pointed out.

“I just remember being kind of a young team and still figuring it out,” Wade said of their first Finals trip of the Big Three era. “Still figuring out at the end of the game where the ball was going, how it was going to get there, what we were doing defensively. But we did our job, and we got to the Finals. It seems like a long time ago. We were still kids, it seemed like, and now just being more prepared for this moment, seizing a moment. There wasn’t a moment, I don’t think inside none of us, that we felt we were going to lose this ballgame [to Indiana in Game 6]. We knew we were going to impose our will. We didn’t know the outcome, but we knew we were going to impose our will here at home. I think we were a little unsure years ago, so that was the difference.”

Miami used that loss as a learning experience, and clearly it has worked over the last two years.

“A really good friend of mine told me that the best teacher in life is experience,” James said. “When you go through so many things, you’re able to learn from it.  You’re able to know how to go about it. Next time you face those trials and tribulations or whatever the case may come, and you’re better prepared for it. So being around a group of guys like this, me being in positions that I’ve been in the past where I’ve failed… To be able to come back from failure and continue to come back and mentally be able to stay strong, it defines who you are as a man more than anything.”

“We have a group that’s earned a lot of trust with each other; there’s a lot of equity of going through pain, of going through joy, of going through everything in between,” Spoelstra said. “I mean, this is your extended family. Even the guys that haven’t been with us for the four years, what we say to them when they join our team is you inherit all of the experiences we’ve had before.  All the pain, all the joy, you inherit that and you’re part of the family.”

Now, Miami is four wins away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for a third-straight time and emerging as the NBA’s newest dynasty. The 2014 NBA Finals tip off on Thursday evening.

NBA’s All-Defensive Teams Announced

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, winner of the 2013-14 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, headlines the 2013-14 NBA All-Defensive First Team, the NBA announced today.Noah received 105 First Team votes (223 points) to make his second consecutive appearance on the First Team.

Joining Noah on the NBA All-Defensive First Team are forward Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (161 points, 65 First Team votes), guard Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers (156 points, 64 First Team votes), forward Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder (152 points, 54 First Team votes) and guard/forward Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors (148 points, 57 First Team Votes).

The voting panel consisted of 123 writers and broadcasters from the U.S. and Canada. Two points were awarded for a First Team vote and one point was awarded for a Second Team vote.

Noah, who appeared in 80 of Chicago’s 82 games, ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding (11.3 rpg), 12th in blocks (1.51 bpg) and added 1.24 steals.  He was one of just three players (Detroit’s Andre Drummond and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis) to average at least 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals.  Behind Noah, the Bulls held opponents to a .430 field goal percentage, second-stingiest in the league. Paul led the NBA in steals (2.48 spg) for the fourth consecutive season and sixth time in his career to earn his fourth First Team nod. George ranked fifth in the NBA in steals (1.89 spg) and was the only player in the NBA to average at least 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals. In his first season with the Warriors, Iguodala averaged 1.50 steals, as the Warriors improved from the NBA’s 19th best defense in terms of points allowed last season to 10th in 2013-14. Ibaka appeared in 81 games for Oklahoma City this past season as the Thunder held the opposition to the third lowest field goal percentage in the NBA (.436).

The NBA All-Defensive Second Team consists of forward LeBron James of the Miami HEAT (57 First Team votes), guard Patrick Beverley of the Houston Rockets (44 First Team votes), guard Jimmy Butler of the Bulls (29 First Team votes), forward Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs (16 First Team votes) and Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers (15 First Team votes).

The following players also received votes, with first-team votes in parentheses: DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers 63 (14); Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 62 (18); Tony Allen, Memphis, 60 (17); Tim Duncan, San Antonio, 45 (12); Dwight Howard, Houston, 26 (6); Taj Gibson, Chicago, 21 (2); Mike Conley, Memphis, 21 (5); Ricky Rubio, Minnesota, 19 (5); Lance Stephenson, Indiana, 14 (3); P.J. Tucker, Phoenix, 13 (2); Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City, 10 (2); Kyle Lowry, Toronto, 10 (3); Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix, 9 (1); Marc Gasol, Memphis, 8; John Wall, Washington, 8 (1); Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City, 8 (1); Kirk Hinrich, Chicago, 7 (2); Trevor Ariza, Washington, 5 (2); Avery Bradley, Boston, 5 (1); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, 5 (1); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 5; Andrew Bogut, Golden State, 4; Chris Bosh, Miami, 4 (1); Luol Deng, Cleveland, 4 (1); Wesley Matthews, Portland, 4 (1); Tony Parker, San Antonio, 4 (1); Nicolas Batum, Portland, 3 (1); Stephen Curry, Golden State, 3 (1); Danny Green, San Antonio, 3 (1); Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte, 3; Shaun Livingston, Brooklyn, 3 (1); Victor Oladipo, Orlando, 3 (1); DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta, 2; Matt Barnes, L.A. Clippers, 2 (1); James Harden, Houston, 2; George Hill, Indiana, 2; Jeff  Teague, Atlanta, 2; Dwyane Wade, Miami, 2 (1); Kemba Walker, Charlotte, 2; David West, Indiana, 2; Arron Afflalo, Orlando, 1; Corey Brewer, Minnesota, 1; Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia,1; Darren Collison, L.A. Clippers, 1; DeMar DeRozan, Toronto, 1; Andre Drummond, Detroit, 1; Monta Ellis, Dallas, 1; Danny Granger, L.A. Clippers, 1; Draymond Green, Golden State, 1; Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City, 1; David Lee, Golden State, 1; Paul Millsap, Atlanta, 1; Rajon Rondo, Boston, 1.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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The Real Jrue Holiday Has Finally Arrived

It may have been a little later than they would have wanted, but the Jrue Holiday that New Orleans has always wanted is finally here, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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New Orleans has always earned the nickname “The Big Easy”, but ever since Jrue Holiday came to town, his time there has been anything but.

When New Orleans traded for Holiday back in 2013, they hoped that he would round out an exciting young core that included Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. At 23 years old, Holiday averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, and 4.2 rebounds the previous season and was coming off his first all-star appearance in Philadelphia, so the Pelicans had much to look forward to.

Unfortunately, recurring extensive injuries prohibited the Pelicans’ new core from ever playing together fully healthy, with Holiday getting his fair share of the bruises. In his first two seasons, Holiday played in only 74 games combined with the team due to injury, and things didn’t get much better his third season. While he played more games, Holiday was on a minutes restriction and his season ended again with injury.

Holiday avoided the injury bug his fourth season, but he nobly took a leave of absence at the start the season to tend to his ill wife, which caused him to miss the season’s first 12 games and 15 in total. Holiday’s inability to stay on the court coupled with New Orleans’ stagnated progress made him a forgotten man in the NBA. That was until last summer, when Holiday became a free agent.

Given the circumstances, Holiday did what he could for the Pelicans. He certainly proved he was above average, but he hadn’t shown any improvement since his arrival. Coupling that with both how many games he had missed in the previous four seasons and the league’s salary cap not increasing as much as teams had anticipated, and one would think to proceed with caution in regards to extending Jrue Holiday.

But the Pelicans saw it differently. New Orleans gave Holiday a five-year, $126 million extension last summer, befuddling the general masses. Besides Holiday’s inability to stay on the court, the Pelicans already had an expensive payroll, and they later added Rajon Rondo, another quality point guard, to the roster. So, with all that in mind, giving Holiday a near-max contract on a team that had made the playoffs a grand total of once in the Anthony Davis era seemed a little foolish.

This season, however, Jrue Holiday has rewarded the Pelicans’ faith in him and has proven the doubters so very wrong.

With a clean slate of health, Holiday has proven himself to be better than ever. This season, Holiday averaged career-highs in scoring (19 points a game) and field goal percentage (49 percent overall), which played a huge role in New Orleans having its best season since Chris Paul’s last hurrah with the team back in 2011.

Holiday’s impact extended beyond what the traditional numbers said. His on/off numbers from NBA.com showed that the Pelicans were much better on both sides of the ball when he was on the court compared to when he was off. Offensively, the Pelicans had an offensive rating of 108.9 points per 100 possessions when he was the on the court compared to 104.4 points per 100 possessions when he was off.

On the other side of the court, Holiday was even more integral. The Pelicans had a defensive rating of 103.3 per 100 possessions when Holiday was on the court compared to 112.3 off the court. Overall, the Pelicans were 13.6 points per 100 possessions better with Holiday on the floor. That was the highest net rating on the team, even higher than Anthony Davis.

Other statistics also support how impactful Holiday has been this season. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus page, Holiday’s 3.81 Real Plus-Minus ranked ninth among point guards – No. 16 offensively, No. 4 defensively – which beat out Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Goran Dragic, all of whom made the All-Star team this year.

However, Holiday’s effectiveness shined through mid-way through the season, or more specifically, on Jan. 26, when Demarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear. While Davis certainly led the way, Holiday’s role could not have been understated when the Pelicans went 21-13 without their MVP candidate to finish the season. Offensively, Holiday’s point average went from 18.6 to 19.4 and his assist average went from 5.2 to 7.2, all while his turnover average – from 2.6 to 2.7 – stayed the same.

Defensively, Holiday had much to do with the Pelicans’ improved defense after Cousins went down. According to NBA.com, the Pelicans defensive rating went from 106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions to 103.7, and much of it can be attributed to Holiday. When Holiday was on the court, the team’s defensive rating was 101.2 points allowed per 100 possessions compared to 109.6 points allowed per 100 possessions with him off.

Holiday’s improved numbers, combined with the Pelicans steadying the boat without their star center, make a fair argument that Holiday was one of the league’s best all-around point guards this season, but Holiday’s style isn’t much of a thrill to watch. He doesn’t have Russell Westbrook’s other-worldly athleticism, he doesn’t have Stephen Curry’s lethal jumper, nor does he have Chris Paul’s floor general abilities. Holiday’s specialty is that he has every fundamental of a good point guard, which makes his impact usually fly under the radar.

That was until last week, when the Pelicans unexpectedly curb stomped the Blazers. The Jrue Holiday coming out party was in full-swing, as the 27-year-old torched Rip City, averaging 27.8 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds a game on 57 percent shooting from the field, including 35 percent from deep. He did all of that while stymieing MVP candidate Damian Lillard, as Dame averaged 18 points and 4 assists while shooting 35 percent from the field, including 30 percent from deep, and surrendered four turnovers a game.

If Holiday’s contributions weren’t on full display then, they certainly are now. The Pelicans have suddenly emerged as one of the West’s toughest and most cohesive teams in this year’s playoffs, with Holiday playing a huge role in the team’s newfound mojo and potentially glorious future.

This was the Jrue Holiday the New Orleans Pelicans had in mind when they first traded for him almost five years ago. While his impact has come a little later than they would have wanted, it’s as the old saying goes.

Better late than never.

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NBA Daily: Are Player Legacies Really On The Line?

How important is legacy in the NBA playoffs? Lang Greene takes a look.

Lang Greene

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As the NBA Playoffs continue to pick up steam, the subject of individual greatness has become the big topic of conversation. Today, we ask the question: is legacy talk just a bunch of hyperbole or are they really made or broken in the playoffs?

To be clear, legacies do matter. Reputations are built on reliability and how dependable someone is throughout the course of their respective body of work. We all have them. They are built over time and it’s seldom they change from one misstep – but they can. Some of the greatest players in NBA history never won a title; see John Stockton and Karl Malone during their Utah Jazz years. Some NBA greats never won a title until they were past their physical prime and paired with a young charge that took over the reins; see David Robinson in San Antonio. Some NBA greats never won a title as the leading man until they were traded to a title contending team; see Clyde Drexler in Houston. We also have a slew of Hall of Famers that have been inducted with minimal playoff success in their careers; see the explosive Tracy McGrady.

So what’s in a legacy? And why does it mean more for some then it does for others?

Four-time League MVP LeBron James’ legacy is always up for debate, despite battling this season to make his ninth NBA Finals appearance. James’ legacy seems to be up in the air on a nightly basis. Maybe it’s because of the rarified air he’s in as one of the league’s top 10 players all-time or maybe it’s just good for ratings.

As this year’s playoffs gain momentum, the topic of legacy has been mentioned early and often.

Out in the Western Conference, the legacy of Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is being questioned at all angles. There’s no doubt Westbrook is one of the best players in the league today as the reigning MVP and coming off two consecutive seasons averaging a triple-double. However, Westbrook’s decision making has come into question plenty over the past couple of seasons.

The subject of whether you can truly win a championship with Westbrook as your lead guy serves as the centerpiece of the debate. It goes without saying former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted to the Golden State Warriors amid rumors that he could no longer coexist next to Westbrook in the lineup. Ever since Durant’s somewhat unexpected departure, it seems Westbrook has been hell-bent on proving his doubters wrong – even if it comes at the detriment to what his team is trying to accomplish.

The latest example was in game four of his team’s current first-round series versus the Utah Jazz.

Westbrook picked up four fouls in the first half as he was attempting to lock up point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a career night in Game 3 of the series. Westbrook infamously waved off head coach Billy Donovan after picking up his second personal foul in the first quarter. Westbrook was also in the game with three personal fouls and under two minutes left in the first half before picking up his fourth personal.

You can make an argument that this was just bad coaching by Donovan leaving him in the game in foul trouble, but it also points to Westbrook’s decision making and not being able to play within the constructs of a team dynamic. Further, what will be Westbrook’s legacy on this season’s Oklahoma City Thunder team with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George if they were to flame out in the first round with little fizzle – against a Jazz team with no star power and zero All-Stars? Is discussing Westbrook’s legacy worthless banter or is it a legitimate topic? There is no doubt on his current trajectory Westbrook is headed straight into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As an individual player there is no greater achievement than to have your name etched in stone with the greats of yesteryear, but the court of public opinion factors in team success and this is where the topic of legacy comes into play.

Say what you will about Durant’s decision to go to Golden State, but his legacy is undoubtedly secured. Durant won the Finals MVP last season in absolute dominant fashion and showed up on the biggest of stages. All that’s left from those that question Durant’s legacy at this point are the folks on the fringe saying he couldn’t do it by himself. But that is exactly the line of thinking that’s getting Westbrook killed as well, because winning championships is all about team cohesiveness and unity.

Out in the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on Milwaukee Bucks do everything star Giannis Antetokounmpo. After five seasons in the league, Antetokounmpo has zero playoff series victories attached to his name. Heading into the playoffs this season, the seventh-seeded Bucks were considered underdogs to the second-seeded Boston Celtics.

But the Celtics are wounded. They do not have the services of All Stars Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. The Celtics are a team full of scrappy young talent and cagey veterans. Antetokounmpo is clearly the best player in the series and teams with the best player usually fare well in a seven game series. But the Bucks are facing elimination down 3-2 versus Boston. Antetokounmpo has only been in the league half of the time Westbrook has, but the chirping about his legacy has already begun as Milwaukee attempts to win its first playoff series since 2001.

So what’s in a legacy? Are there varying degrees for which people are being evaluated?

Despite James’ success throughout his career, a first-round exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers over the next week will damage his legacy in the minds of some. While others feel even if Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were to drop this series against the Celtics, he should be given a pass with the caveat that he still has plenty of time in his career to rectify.

As for Westbrook, there are vultures circling the head of his legacy and these folks feel that a first-round exit will damage his brand irreversibly after 10 seasons in the league

Ultimately, the topic of legacies makes for good column fodder, barbershop banter and sport debate television segments. Because when guys hang up their high tops for good, a Hall of Fame induction is typically the solidifying factor when it comes to a player’s legacy.

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PODCAST: The Futures Of LeBron, PG13, Kawhi and More

Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

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