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Brad Hurt

Gasol out indefinitely with MCL sprain posted by Brad Hurt

An MRI on Marc Gasol's left knee, which he injured in the first half of the Grizzlies' loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night, revealed a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL).  The injury, similar to one suffered two years ago by Zach Randolph, will keep Gasol out of action indefinitely but will not require surgery.  Kosta Koufos will start in his place.  This is a huge blow for the team, both in terms of production and morale.  The injury has been called "non-contact", although there could have been some contact as it occurred while the Spurs' Danny Green posted up against Gasol and backed into him.  Even so, it's still a freakish, unfortunate injury.Continue reading "Gasol out indefinitely with MCL sprain"

Brad Hurt

Gasol leaves loss with knee sprain posted by Brad Hurt

The Grizzlies had reason to be proud as they returned home Friday to face the perennially tough San Antonio Spurs.  They had just finished the most successful West Coast road trip in a decade.  Now they would have the FedEx Forum crowd behind them to urge them to victory.  Unfortunately, the Spurs would have none of that, playing the role of the rude houseguests with a 102-86 victory.

Potentially far worse for the home team, however, is the fact that center Marc Gasol left the game after suffering a non-contact injury to his left knee early in the second quarter and did not return.  The team is calling it a sprain, and Gasol will undergo an MRI today.  Losing Gasol for any extended period of time would be a crushing blow to the team.  He is currently averaging 16 points and more than 7 rebounds per game, teaming up with Zach Randolph to form an imposing post duo.  Randolph has been putting up monster numbers in his own right, but losing Gasol would undoubtedly change the way teams choose to defend Randolph, enabling more double-and-triple teams.  The Grizzlies currently have the 23rd-ranked offensive output in the league, averaging 94.1 points per game.  Ideally, they would like to see that number increase as they work toward a return to the playoffs come April.  Gasol is also a great veteran leader for the team, and intangibles are difficult to replace.  So let's hope the sprain isn't too severe and Gasol can return to action soon.

Continue reading "Gasol leaves loss with knee sprain"


Paul Hansborough III

Change needs to come! posted by Paul Hansborough III

I love the Spurs but, Duncan needs to retire, Parker needs to develop a jumpshot in the worst way, Rj needs to go somewhere else he couldn t buy a bucket against Memphis, we need to get a bonified athletic shooting forward and shooting guard in the draft or via free agency. Another center would help because again Duncan is on his last leg!Continue reading "Change needs to come!"


nbaball

Parker has no desire to transfer to other NBA teams posted by nbaball

The starting pointguard of the San Antonio Spurs has categorically denied persistent report that he had the desire to transfer to other National Basketball Association (NBA) teams.
Tony Parker told the media that there is no truth to the report since his heart belongs to the Spurs and he wants to stay with the team for many years to come.
Parker said he had a house in San Antonio and had no intention at the moment to move to other NBA teams other than the Spurs.
He revealed that he has confidence that a suitable agreement will be reached between him and the Spurs so that he will remain with the team for many years to come.
To show his desire to remain with the Spurs, Parker has decided to skip the World's Basketball Championship slated on August 28 to September 12 in Istambul, Turkey.
The superstar pointguard said he decided to forego his chance to play for France in the global basketball event to help the Spurs in the next NBA season by keeping himself from injury.
The 27-year-old pointguard had been a vital factor for the success of the Spurs the past 10 years wherein he won championship with the ball club.
Parker is very significant for the Spurs management since he do not only orchestrate plays but also contribute and offense and defense as well.
The Spurs was earlier defeated by the red-hot Phoenix Suns 4-0 in their best of seven NBA second round playoff match-up.
The French pointguard and the rest of the Spurs roster tried their very best to inflict defeat to the Suns but their effort were futile as the Suns proved hotter in the end.
Continue reading "Parker has no desire to transfer ..."


john howard

Big Week for the Thunder posted by john howard

Losing to Indiana last night was tough.  If they had one last night, they would be tied for the 5th seed with Phoenix and 2 games ahead of 7th in front of San Antonio.  But, that didn't happen.  All is not lost, it just makes this week more difficult.  Tonight they are at home against the Spurs.  They have a one game lead over them.  A loss tonight would put the Thunder in 7th.  A win would keep them in 6th and put 2 games between them and San Antonio and more breathing room going into the last 14 games.

The Thunder play the Spurs, the Lakers, Houston, and Portland. Going 2-2 would be fine.  That would keep them in the playoffs and still have a shot at a good seed. Anything above that would be great. Anything below that would put them in danger of falling to the 8th seed.  It all starts tonight with San Antonio. 

Houston may be the biggest game of the week.  Right now, they are the first team not in the playoffs. They can win 50 games if they run the table.  That makes the Thunder's magic number 9, since they have 42 wins. So, winning that game would reduce the magic number by 2. 

Portland is a game and a half behind OKC.  Sweeping the Spurs and the Trailblazers would distance OKC from the bottom to seeds and keep them in the hunt for the 5th seed.  With the 5th seed, they would likely face Utah, the team they have had the most success with of those in the top 4.

As a sidenote, Russell Westbrook played limited minutes with a stomach virus last night.  Eric Maynor did good, as usual, in his absence.  But, they are going to need everyone at full throttle this week.

Continue reading "Big Week for the Thunder"


Paul Stengel

New York Knicks, what the salary cap future holds posted by Paul Stengel

CLAAAANG!!!  Another errant Knicks shot glances off the rim.  The New York Knickerbockers have mastered the art of losing for the past 10 years.  The only silver lining after this season is the possibility of signing two big name, “max contract” players.  The Knicks traded away their upcoming draft pick (along with Jared Jeffries and others) to Houston,  to free up more money for these players.  Nothing is guaranteed, the Knicks aren’t necessarily getting anyone for their trouble. 

 

The losing that the Knicks have been doing is a relatively new experience for their head coach, Mike D’Antoni.  D’Antoni came over from Phoenix, where he had an outstanding winning percentage, playoff appearances every year, and usually a late-season meeting with the San Antonio Spurs that ultimately would decide who would come out of the west.  Before he coached Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Shawn Marion to 60 wins a year.  Now he leads Al Harrington and a band of inexperienced, below average knicks to likely two 30 win seasons. 

 

The Knicks have been on a downward spiral since they decided to trade away their franchise player of the 90’s Patrick Ewing.  They have been compiling bad contracts ever since, and it wasn’t until Donnie Walsh became the active general manager that their attitude toward free agents began to change.  Starting with the trades of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph, Walsh has managed to free up more and more salary cap space, and with it, the possibility of greater things in the future. 

Continue reading "New York Knicks, what the salary cap future holds"


Al Liggens

Top european NBA players risk injury, money, to play summer basketball posted by Al Liggens

I hope that it's not part two for the San Antonio Spurs. Manu Ginobili got hurt last summer playing for Argentina in the olympics and at the time, contract negotiations between Ginobili and the spurs were underway. Now, those talks have stalled, as the spurs have taken a cautious approach regarding his contract, meaning no extention up to this point!. If Ginobili doesn't come out this year and have one his best, he stands to lose millions.

 Tony Parker was injured playing basketball for France this week and I'm quite sure that the spurs are not happy with this latest episode. The question is will he be healthy and 100% for the spurs training camp and the regular season? Sometimes players that play basketball year round begin the season tired and not playing at their usual high level, and it does affect the entire team. So at some point, personal judgement and career decisions must be made by the players themselves and  realize the risks involved with playing basketball during the summer.

The spurs were fortunate to find Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They are the core of the team along with Tim Duncan, but there is a responsibility to the team that you are under contract to play for and perform well. There is the business side of professional sports that needs to be taken into account...

Continue reading "Top european NBA players risk injury, ..."


Al Liggens

Is there a heated rivalry between the San Antonio Spurs and L.A. Lakers on the horizon? posted by Al Liggens

The spurs and lakers have done just about everything possible to put themselves in a position to win a championship. Both teams added some key players and odds are that the western conference will come down to these two teams!

How is Ron Artest going to fit into the lakers rotation and get his shots? I know that he's going to bring a toughness to the lakers that they haven't had in recent years, but will he have a positive impact on the team? I'm sure Phil Jackson will do a good job of managing player issues. The spurs on the other hand, are back in the discussion with their offseason moves. It will be interesting to watch the lakers and spurs play during the regular season. They will meet  four times and these games will all be statement games. The fact that the L.A. Lakers are the current NBA champs means that the San Antonio Spurs might have a little something to prove!     

Continue reading "Is there a heated rivalry between ..."


Al Liggens

Can the San Antonio Spurs win a 5th NBA Championship for the upcoming 2009-2010 season? posted by Al Liggens

Have the spurs put together enough talent to contend with elite teams in the NBA?

I believe the answer is a definite yes. The San Antonio Spurs have had an offseason many feel was their best ever and with the talent already in place, the spurs should be in the hunt for another title. It will be interesting  to see how the new players mesh with the likes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess will add much needed scoring and length to a team that was exposed a bit during this  years surprising first round exit against the Dallas Mavericks. Looking back to last season, the spurs had quite a few issues that needed to be addressed to make the team better, younger and more athletic.

Defense will be an important factor this upcoming season.

 Last year, the overall defensive play of the spurs seemed to be lacking and at times non existent. I expect to see much more emphasis on stopping teams from scoring at will and return to spurs basketball, which is to shut people down and rely on your defense to help you win games. The  defensive rotations will be much better with the addition of NBA journeyman Theo Ratliff getting minutes off the bench. This allows for Tim Duncan to get some much needed rest as well as have a guy on the court that can play good defense and score when necessary and give you quality minutes off the bench.

The spurs now have enough weapons to challenge the so called "elite" teams in the NBA. This was a major problem last season as Tim  Duncan and Tony Parker had no scoring help  and the bench players couldn't help carry the team during the playoffs and were a non factor. Other teammates are going to have to find a way to score and create their own shots when called upon. I expect to see better bench play this season with rookie Dajuan Blair getting some minutes off the bench along with some other players contributing. General managers around the league are going to kick themselves after they get a glimpse of this young player. The talent and potential to be a great NBA player are definitely present and his physical style of play will cause problems for anyone trying to guard him. He will exceed expectations this coming season! This team has made a very good effort to try to get younger and add some youth to the team during the offseason, so we know that trying to stay injury free is probably the biggest common denominator for the entire year. Manu Ginobili needs to regain his form and stay healthy throughout the season in order for the spurs to have any chance at  winning a championship. Hopefully, he can compete at a high level and contribute to the team...     

Continue reading "Can the San Antonio Spurs win a 5th ..."


Greg Archuleta

Trading the Lakers' Enemies? I Don't Think So posted by Greg Archuleta

Shaq can't even proclaim himself "The Big Trade."

The defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic trumped Los Angeles Laker ex Shaquille O'Neal's move from the Phoenix Suns to the Cleveland Cavaliers when they acquired Vince Carter from the New Jersey Nets.

Carter's relocation to Disney World seemingly would keep the Magic in control of the ever-increasing wild, wild east. Although, it is intriguing to imagine what The Big Change of Address (five teams in the career of the most dominant center of our generation? Hard to fathom) might do for King James -- His Royal Poor Sport -- and the Cavs if Shaq is properly motivated.

Yet, the biggest immediate threat to a potential Laker dynasty -- if properly healed -- comes from our Green "friends" in Boston.

If Kevin Garnett can return to 100 percent form from the knee injury that derailed his 2008 season just inches from the start of the playoffs, the hated Celtics remain the most viable candidate to make good on that "Beat L.A." chant.

Remember, Boston was one game away from knocking Orlando from the postseason in the Eastern Conference semis without Garnett, not to mention Leon Powe.

Sure, two of the key figures in the Celtics' 2008 run to the title -- the New Orleans Hornets' James Posey and 77-year old P.J. Brown -- aren't returning anytime soon to help them.

And the Chicago Bulls almost eliminated the C's in the first round.

But the scary thing about the Celtics is their toughness was evident as ever in the playoffs despite their short stay. And that was without Garnett, their toughest player.

Continue reading "Trading the Lakers' Enemies? I Don't Think So"

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Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look atthe season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Mavericks-Spurs Preview

While San Antonio Spurs steamrolled toward their fourth 60-win season in 11 years, coach Gregg Popovich was asked if there is a secret formula for the franchise's almost unfathomable run of excellence. [read full article]

From FOX Sports Digital


Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise totheir peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, withChris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

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