Archive for June 5th, 2013

Kawhi Leonard

Chances are, the Spurs will use Kawhi Leonard often on defense against four-time NBA MVP LeBron James.

That’s just fine with Leonard.

”I would rather guard the best guy on the floor,” Leonard said. ”I want to get better myself. Guarding him is going to make me a better player. I accept the challenge to go out there and play.”

Leonard said he won’t take much from how Indiana defended James in the Eastern Conference finals, since the teams have a different overall defensive game plan.

And he also thinks being on the NBA’s biggest stage shouldn’t be a reason to change how anyone plays.

”It’s another game,” Leonard said. ”I don’t think it’s going to be any different. Everybody wants to compete to win a championship. People are competing at their highest level.”

When the Miami Heat pulled off what so many thought was unthinkable and signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Dwyane Wade three summers ago, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was impressed.

So he called Heat President Pat Riley to say exactly that.

”He’s been a competitor, obviously, his whole career since he was a player in college and beyond,” Popovich said Wednesday, the last day of practices before his Spurs and the Heat will open the NBA Finals with Game 1 in Miami. ”He put together a team fairly, within the rules, that is a monster. So why wouldn’t he get credit for that? Why wouldn’t you congratulate him for that? So I did.”

Not many around the league did, of course.

When Riley and other Heat executives like managing general partner Micky Arison and senior vice president Andy Elisburg put together the plan that they thought would land James and Bosh, season-ticket holders were sold on the idea of a Heat trying to build a dynasty.

Now with three straight finals appearances, and with a chance at a second straight title, they might be on their way to building one. And in Popovich’s eyes, Miami’s success only makes Riley’s career look even more storied now.

Reported by Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press

Dwyane Wade

“I mean, anytime you can get to the finals two years in a row is tough,” said Wade, who’ll be making his third straight finals appearance and fourth overall. “But to win it back to back? I remember Michael Jordan saying winning your first title is the toughest. And in some ways it’s very tough to win that first one. But I personally think it’s tougher to win the next one, because now you’ve finally gave everything to win that first one.”

This postseason is certainly proving to be tougher for Wade.

A bruised right knee has dogged him now for the better part of three months. In the beginning, the official word was that the ailment was minor and the hope was that it could clear up with a bit of rest. Obviously, that’s not exactly the case.

Wade is averaging only 14.1 points in the playoffs on 45 percent shooting. He’s getting to the foul line, on average, 3.9 times per game in these playoffs, or less than half of what he managed in his first eight postseasons.

And his trademark explosiveness just has not been there, either.

In his first 110 playoff games, he scored more than 20 points on 87 occasions. This year, in 15 playoff games, he’s topped 20 only twice — getting exactly 21 points both times, the second coming in Monday’s win over Indiana in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Reported by Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press

The pool of prospective coaches from which the 76ers look to hire their new coach was reduced again on Sunday when the Sacramento Kings selected former Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone.

The 41-year-old Malone, who replaced Keith Smart, spent the last two seasons as the top assistant to Mark Jackson. Malone is the third coach to be hired recently who was at one time or another believed to be high on the Sixers’ list.

Of course, that list was linked with Tony DiLeo, who was replaced as president of basketball operations on May 10 by new general manager Sam Hinkie.

Since Hinkie, a former executive with Houston, came on board, the Sixers have asked for permission to speak with Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, and they have been linked to Chris Finch, also a Houston assistant.

Reported by John N. Mitchell of the Philadelphia Inquirer

The remaking of the Kings continued Tuesday when assistant coaches from Keith Smart’s staff were informed by new head coach Michael Malone they would not be retained.

The contracts for Jim Eyen, Alex English, Bobby Jackson and Clifford Ray expire June 30. Smart was fired last week with one year left on his deal. Jackson, the popular former Kings player, was added to the staff for the 2011-12 season, under Paul Westphal. The team announced Jackson would remain with the Kings in another capacity yet to be determined.

After retiring from the Kings as a player, Jackson served as “team ambassador” during the 2009-10 season by representing the team at community events and being involved with fans. He also served in a regional scout/player development role. Jackson assisted the front office with scouting, player evaluations and preparing for the NBA draft.

The rest of the coaching staff wasn’t so fortunate.

Reported by Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee

San Antonio Spurs excellence continues

The 1950s-60s Boston Celtics dynasty, to which every subsequent NBA championship run gets compared, lasted 13 seasons. The Magic Johnson Lakers faded after 12 seasons. The running of the Jordan Bulls? Eight seasons.

San Antonio’s looking to slap NBA title bookends on 15 seasons of excellence.

That’s an NBA title in a lockout-shortened season followed by 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, among which the Spurs sprinkled three more NBA championships and now have a shot at a fifth.

Expansion and free agency didn’t pre-empt such consistency in professional team sports. But the grudging fade of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings leaves San Antonio as the most consistent success show among the major professional sports. That can be said now that the Spurs returned to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007.

“It feels like forever since we’ve been to this point,” San Antonio center Tim Duncan said after San Antonio swept Memphis in the Western Conference Final. “We’ve been on the verge of getting here. In the last couple of years, we still feel we’re in contention, but we can’t get over that hump to get back in the Finals. It’s just an amazing feeling, honestly.”

Asked if he was worried the Spurs might never get back there, Duncan said, “Nothing’s promised. I don’t know if there was doubt. I would hope we did, but nothing’s promised.”

Reported by David J. Neal of the Miami Herald

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