American Basketball Coaches Should Take Note of …

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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LeBron Has an Opportunity to Recover From …

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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

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