Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) reacts in waning minutes of the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on Sunday, April 27, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Read more:

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) reacts in waning minutes of the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on Sunday, April 27, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)




NBA free agency is well underway with rumors channeling through the wires, trade implications and players agreeing to contract terms. However, July 10 is the day the NBA’s free-agency moratorium is lifted and players can officially sign with new teams.

While general managers and coaches are delivering their best sale’s pitch to recruit the A-List stars in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony or possibly land Timberwolves’ forward Kevin Love in a trade, others names in the free agent frenzy warrant their own attention—for better or for worse. NBA Free Agent Tracker

Best Move in Free Agency: Kyle Lowry

Lowry re-signed with the Toronto Raptors to a four-year, $48 million contract. The Raptors made it a top priority to sign the scrappy, hard-nosed point guard who led Toronto to their first playoff appearance since 2008.  The Raptors entered the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, but lost in a back-and-forth series to the Brooklyn Nets in seven games.

Lowry, who had a career year averaging 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game and making 38 percent of his three-pointers in the regular season, was fielding interest from the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets. He previously played with the Rockets in 08′ and again from 2010-12 seasons.

Miami was an interesting landing spot for Lowry, but coming off his best season as a pro, Miami wouldn’t have been able to offer Lowry the lucrative contract that he deserves. The Lakers are starving for a point guard, but they have their eyes set on a bigger prize in James, Anthony or Love. Lowry would have been an upgrade over Patrick Beverly and Jeremy Lin in Houston, but I personally don’t believe he wanted to return to Houston for a third stint.

The nucleus of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Terrance Ross bodes a promising future for the franchise if the organization can keep them intact. Re-signing Lowry was the first step in the direction.

Worst Move in Free Agency: Jason Kidd Traded to the Milwaukee Bucks

The Nets traded away Kidd to the Bucks for two second-round picks—one in 2015 and another in ’19—for the one time coach who went 44-38 in his only season in Brooklyn.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Jason Kidd is just the fourth NBA head coach to switch teams immediately after his rookie season and the first since Stan Albeck and Jack McKinney did so after the 1979-80 season.

Kidd requested to become the Nets’ president of Basketball Operations after his first season as coach, but was denied. After Kidd’s denial, the Nets gave him permission to talk to other teams about a job.

The Bucks then fired coach Larry Drew June 30 after the deal for Kidd was reached. Drew and the Bucks had the worst record in the league, 15-67, in his only season as the Bucks’ coach.

You’ve got be Kiddin‘ me? Bad pun, sorry. All jokes aside, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this one.

In one perspective, Kidd could be seen as a keen businessman who has viewed the struggles of Nets’ General Manager Billy King as he tried to seize control of the Nets’ basketball operations department. Every willing and driven individual has aspirations to move up in their profession. It’s hard to knock Kidd based on that thought process.

In another view point, Kidd could easily be seen as a man who was put in his place by an organization by trying to force his way into a position he does not yet deserve. Kidd turned player to coach in one year, then tried to muscle his way into a bigger role after his lone season in Brooklyn. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are very well coming to the end of their careers, but the roster still had the likes of all-stars in Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, as well as other capable players.

Kidd is still an unproven coach and had the luxury of experienced players on his team. Brooklyn started the season 10-21 and rumors started to swirl about Kidd’s firing, but the Nets battled through the storm to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, losing in five games to the Heat.

In a letter to the Milwaukee Bucks, Kidd said:

“…there is no place I’d rather be. Over my twenty years in the NBA as a player and coach, I have always been impressed with the level of support that Bucks fans have given this team, in good times and bad. With a talented young roster, new owners that are passionate about being successful in Milwaukee, and a great fan base, we have the makings of something special here and I’m proud to be leading this new era of Bucks basketball.”

Will Kidd fulfill his new promise in leading a “new era” of the Bucks? Time will tell, but drafting Jabari Parker with the No. 2 overall pick was a smart move that will aid Kidd in the long run.

Melo to the Lakers?

Several reports have surfaced about the Los Angeles Lakers becoming a serious contender to sign superstar Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers would be able to offer Anthony a four-year, $97 million deal and re-signing with the Knicks would give Anthony a five-year deal worth $129 million.

It’s all speculations at this point with no word from Anthony or his camp of where the star is leaning, but for the sake of argument, if Anthony does sign with the Lakers, it would entice the return of Pau Gasol. The pairing of Gasol, Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and No. 7 overall draft pick Julius Randle is a roster bound for the playoffs.

But the big question mark is Bryant. The future Hall of Fame guard is 35-years-old coming off a torn achilles tendon. A brief two year window with an aging Bryant and a 34-year-old Gasol doesn’t seem persuasive enough if Anthony has the desire to win multiple championships for the long haul.

Which team will land the 7-time NBA all-star?

Which team will land the 7-time NBA all-star?



The forgone conclusion is officially confirmed. Carmelo Anthony has opted out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks and will test the open market that is free agency.

He will officially become a free agent July 1.

The 7-time all-star and former NBA scoring champion (28.7 ppg; 2013) now has the flexibility to: A) sign a maximum contract worth $129 million over five years with the Knicks or B) sign a maximum deal worth $96 million over four years with another team.

The teams that reportedly have the likeliest chance to land Anthony—not named the Knicks—are the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.

The Houston Rockets presents an appealing destination with James Harden and Dwight Howard in place, but signing Melo would create a clog in the engine in Houston. Melo is a ball stopper. He will dribble, dribble, dribble until the end of the shot clock before hoisting up the shot, a bad habit that he frequently does way to often.

The way the ball sticks to Anthony’s hand would also minimize Howard’s touches in the paint. After signing Howard to a four-year $88 million contract last summer, Houston wants to feed Howard early and often. This won’t cause as much friction as some would think with Harden because he is a proven facilitator. Harden has also created a bad rep of disappearing in crunch time. He shies away from the spotlight. Anthony welcomes it. Still, both would have to sacrifice their scoring.

On the business aspect of swooning Melo, Houston would have to move salary off its roster to create much needed cap space to offer Anthony a max contract. Anthony can make $22 million in the first year of a max contract starting next season.

The Rockets’ front office would have to ship big-salary players such as Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to make room for Anthony.

The Knicks can offer Melo a full max contract, familiarity with his friends and family, and Phil Jackson.

Nothing beyond that.

New York won 37 games last season and is not in contention to win a title in the near future.  Andrea Bargnani woefully underperformed last season as he was singed to become a key acquisition, J.R. Smith broke an NBA record of most 3-point attempts in a game with 22, and the hiring of the player turned coach in Derek Fisher doesn’t scream championships.

The Mavericks have been linked to Melo, but reportedly, Dallas has much stronger interest in signing Los Angeles Lakers’ forward/center Pau Gasol.

The superstar should sign with the Chicago Bulls, and here’s why:

If we’re strictly talking about basketball and not the idea of moving his family to a different city, where does he want to spend the rest of his career and the right living environment, then signing with the Bulls is Melo’s best chance to win a ring.

The match is almost too perfect.

The Bulls have one of the top coaches and minds in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau, and a healthy Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah would undoubtedly far outweigh any talent of teammates Anthony has had on his previous two squads. During the NBA All-Star break, Noah and Anthony had conversations on the bench about teaming up, which reportedly turned into a sales pitch to lure Melo to the Windy City.

Anthony would provide the offensive punch needed on a point-starved team who thrives on the defensive end of the ball. The Bulls ranked dead last in scoring (30th) with 93.7 ppg this past season. Melo is not a willing defender, but he won’t have a problem in Chicago if Jimmy Butler is retained. Butler will continue to guard other teams best player or scorer. Anthony has played under defensive minded head coaches in George Karl and Mike Woodson. Playing under Thibodeau would not create a stir on or off the court.

To sign Melo, the Bulls will have no choice but to part ways with the likes of Carlos Boozer, and possibly Butler, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, their two first-round picks (16 and 19).

Melo, 30, at this stage in his career, reaching the Conference Finals once and winner of only three playoff series, he should strongly consider taking less money to sign with the Bulls.

According to ESPN’s Chad Ford, the Bulls are trying to make moves by offering Taj Gibson, Tony Snell, the No. 16 and 19 pick in Thursday’s draft for Minnesota Timberwolves’ power forward Kevin Love. If Anthony is seeking money, then he has no intentions of signing with the Bulls. But if he has aspirations of winning a ring before his career is over, he’ll take his talents to Chicago.

The San Antonio Spurs celebrate with the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy after the Spurs defeated the Miami Heat 107-84 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to win the NBA Finals Championship, June 15, 2014 in San Antonio,Texas.  From left are: MVP Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills.   The Spurs won the best of seven series 4-1.  AFP PHOTO / Robyn BeckROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs celebrate with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy after the Spurs defeated the Miami Heat 107-84 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to win the NBA Finals Championship, June 15, 2014 in San Antonio,Texas. From left are: MVP Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills. The Spurs won the best of seven series 4-1. AFP PHOTO / Robyn BeckROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images




Game Recap:

Quick turnovers that led to fast-breaks by Miami, LeBron James attacking the rim with ferociousness, couple that with a few generous whistles by the refs in favor of the Heat, it appeared the back-to-back defending champs were about to steal one early in San Antonio up 22-6 in the first quarter.

It was a promising sight as the Heat were outscored by 38 points in the first quarter throughout the series.

But the Heat flamed out. The 16-point lead was the champs last hurrah.

A five-point spurt by Manu Ginobili in the middle of the opening quarter sparked a fierce Spurs rally who were down 29-22 at the end of the quarter. The furious run of precision passing and bombs beyond the arch carried in the second quarter as the Heat watched their lead diminish falling behind 35-37 after Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard buried a 3-pointer to take the lead.

It was over right then and there as Miami never went ahead in the scoring column again for the entire game. Just like that, Miami’s two-year title reign was over as the Spurs captured their fifth title in a 104-87 victory that wrapped up the series in five games.

Confetti fell, the champions were crowned, and a sense of redemption was all too sweet after losing to this team 12 months ago. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker became the winningest trio in NBA postseason history. Leonard, 22, became the fourth youngest Finals MVP averaging 23.7 points in Games 3-5 and admirably defended James throughout the series. While Leonard received the MVP honors,  a host of Spurs players were in consideration of the award, especially Ginobili. The now 5-time champion nearly outscored the Heat’s bench by himself in the clinching Game 5 24-19.

The first-ballot Hall of Famer in Duncan is not only the greatest power forward of all time, but one of the greatest players of all time with 5 rings. That’s one shy of the mythical Michael Jordan and tied evenly with Kobe Bryant. Duncan, 38, may now get to coast into the sunset winning champions years apart from each other. This was the Spurs first championship since sweeping then LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals.


Five games? The back-to-back defending champs possessing the best player in the world would lose to a “boring, old and slow,” team in five games? If you had told a person to identify the old and slow team on the court, he would point at the Heat like a witness pointing at the accused in a courtroom. It was a crime how poorly the Heat played in the last three games.

San Antonio attacked from all angles on the hardwood, made the extra pass that led to easy or wide open buckets, and played unselfish. Unsung hero Patty Mills went 5-8 from behind the 3-point line and 6-10 from the field scoring 18 points in Game 5. No hero ball, only a team who dominated the Heat winning each of their games by +15 points in the series.

After a disappointing showing by point guard Mario Chalmers who struggled mightily in every game of the series (14 total points and 10 turnovers), Heat coach Erik Spoelstra elected to start Ray Allen in place of Chalmers. That decision made the Heat’s bench go bad to worse. Miami’s bench was outscored 41-6 by the Spurs’ reserves by the end of the third quarter.

LeBron averaged 28.2 point per game and 7.7 rebounds in the series. In Game 5, James led the Heat in points (31), rebounds, (10), assist (5), and blocks (2). Over the last six quarters, LeBron has outscored the rest of Miami’s starters 48-46. That’s including Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. In Game 4, James accounted for 90 percent of the team’s points in the third quarter.

Where were the King’s men?

Wade averaged 17.5 in four games against Charlotte, 18.2 against the Brooklyn Nets in five games, and averaged nearly 20 against the Indiana Pacers. An upward trend that crashed in the Finals as Wade averaged 15.2 points per game. Bosh disappeared in games 3-5 after scoring 18 in both Games 1 and 2. The rest of the Heat were non-existent.

You can have the best player on the planet on your team all you want, but if he’s not getting any help and averages 38 minutes per game in the regular season and played 1,800 more minutes than Bosh and Wade, not even LeBron’s broad shoulders can carry a team by himself against a well-oiled machine  that is the San Antonio Spurs.

With Miami’s ‘Big 3′ all able to opt out of their contracts, this may be one of the most entertaining off seasons yet.

Derek Fisher is introduced as coach of the New York Knicks. (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)

Derek Fisher is introduced as coach of the New York Knicks. (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)



The New York Knicks hired Derek Fisher as head coach

My initial reaction to the Knicks hiring Derek Fisher was one word: puppet.

Unlike Jason Kidd in Brooklyn who leaped from player to coach in one year, Kidd didn’t have the presence of a Hall of Fame coach in Phil Jackson lurking beyond his shoulders. Truthfully, this was the last move Jackson could make to bring in the type of guy he wanted on his sideline, a young, eager, sponge he could mold into his image. Awarding a five-year, $25 million contract to a first time head coach who is only weeks removed from knocking down shots in an Oklahoma City Thunder jersey in the Western Conference Finals sounds insane, but Jackson knows: A) He can run his triangle offense through Fisher, B) Mold him into the coach he believes Fisher can become, C) Unlike the Nets, Fisher doesn’t have a playoff ready supporting cast in the Knicks’ locker room, allowing him to start fresh and build.

If Carmelo Anthony leaves the Big Apple, which he will, the Knicks are essentially starting from scratch. Fisher only has one way to go, up, especially with Jackson pulling the strings.

Still No Decision on Jim Irsay

What I think: NFL Commissioner Roger Godell has no idea how to discipline Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jim Irsay.

Should he dock draft picks? Should he suspend him and force him not to attend games? Should the NFL fine Irsay?

The answer is all of the above. Goodell cements his words and iron fist on protecting the integrity of the league and letting the legal process work itself out. Well, Irsay has been arrested and released after paying a petty lump-sum of $22,500. Maybe a lot to you and me, but not a lot to an owner who owns a team with a net worth of $1.s billion, according to Forbes.

On March 16, Irsay was arrested on charges of four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor charge of operating while intoxicated. According to police in Hamilton County in Indianapolis, Ind., Multiple Schedule IV prescription drugs were found in pill bottles in Irsay’s vehicle, but they were not associated with any prescription bottles found in the vehicle. Police also found nearly $30,000 in the vehicle.

In an interview with CBS reporter Will Brinson, Irsay’s reason of having a hill of dough in his vehicle was this response:

“I don’t know why that was leaked to the press or what it had to do with anything,” he said. “You’re talking about someone who is extremely generous, and I say that humbly. That’s the way I try to live my life and it has nothing to do with the law. What’s been reported out there, there’s been a sensationalizing about things that have nothing to do with the law. It shouldn’t be an issue.”

Multiple prescription pills and nearly $30,000 in cash in his vehicle, and Irsay’s reasoning is that he’s “extremely generous?”

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith was arrested on an allegation of driving under the influence Monday. Smith put himself and the lives of others in danger the same way as Irsay. If Smith is suspended before Irsay, this speaks volumes about the NFL and Roger Goodell.

NBA Finals: Game 4

The San Antonio Spurs shot the lights out the gym Game 3 in Miami delivering to fans the most prolific start to an NBA Finals game shooting 86.7 percent in the first quarter and 75.8 percent in the first half, entering the locker room with a 21-point lead. When the Spurs are clicking on all cylinders, San Antonio is unbeatable. It’s troublesome enough to deal with the original ‘Big 3′ in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but when the budding star in Kawhi Leonard goes of f0r 29 points and helping to collectively force LeBron James to commit seven turnovers, not even the King and his men can stop the offensive juggernaut that is San Antonio.

If the Heat lose Game 4 at home, they can kiss their three-peat dreams goodbye. Still, if Miami evens the series at a 2-2 tie, the winner of Game 5 will win the series and go on to win the title in Game 6.

Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first quarter in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first quarter in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports



With four seconds left in Game 5 against the Pacers in the Conference Finals, LeBron James drove hard to the paint drawing in two defenders only to see Chris Bosh waiting in the wings.

James made the pass. Bosh missed the shot. James was ridiculed. Yells of ‘he should’ve took the shot, he’s the best player in the world’ peered out from every crack in the Earth.

Fast-forward to Sunday in San Antonio in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the identical play transpired, but this time with an alternate outcome. James made the pass to the corner of an awaiting Bosh and he knocked down the contested jumper with 1:17 left in regulation to take a 95-93 lead.

The Heat never let go of the lead the rest of way to wrap up Game 2 with a 98-96 victory.

Whether you deem it as the right basketball play in either series to pass it to the open man–which it was–LeBron made sure to not let the game’s faith slip out of his hands. After a shaky 1-4 start with 2 points in the opening quarter, James went on a shooting clinic in the following three quarters knocking down all three of his 3-point attempts while going 13-18 from the field for a 35 point, 10 recount, 3 assist night.

LeBron James has 11 career playoff games with 35 points, 10 rebounds and, three assist. Only two players have done that more in last 30 years; Shaquille O’Neal did it 15 times, Dominique Wilkins with 12 and Michael Jordan hauled in those number nine times.

In the post game press conference, Spurs’s coach Gregg Popovich pointed out two reasons that led to the Heat’s win: 1) Well, LeBron is good, and 2) He makes smart plays on the court.
“You can double him if you want, he’s a pretty good player,” Popovich said. “He’ll find the open man.”

No cramps, no problem.

As prolific as LeBron was in Game 2, the Spurs missed four straight free throws late in the fourth quarter that could’ve put the Heat on ice. After the gut punch by Heat guard Mario Chalmers to Tony Parker, who fell to ground griping in pain, the Spurs stayed down with him. That elbow to the rib cage of Parker turned out to be a pivotal turning point in the game.

Two missed free throws by Parker and two missed free throws by Tim Duncan. If San Antonio would’ve cashed in at the charity stripe, they would’ve taken a a 91-88 lead with 5:15 left in regulation.

A late chip-in 3-pointer by Manu Ginobili made the game closer at the end.

The Heat are 6-0 in Game 2’s when trailing 1-0 in the James-Wade-Bosh era and have won each series. Miami lost Game 1 of the 2012 and 2013 NBA Finals but still went on to win the title. Besides Bosh’s clutch three in the corner, he was attacking the rim consistently throughout the night, what you’d expect from a 6’10” power forward. It was refreshing to watch him play the style of his penciled in position instead of a tall power forward disguised as a shooting guard.

Nothing that transpired in Game 1 or 2 has changed my decision on the series. I expect Miami to win Game 3 in Miami, but lose in Game 4. All squared away in the series at  2-2 in Game 5. Miami will win both Games 5 and 6 to take home a third straight Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Let me leave you with this: According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Game 3 winner of a tied NBA Finals series goes on to win the series 83 percent of the time (30-6).

See you in Miami.

#6 LeBron James #21 Tim Duncan NBA:  2013 NBA Finals San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Game 1 Game Action American Airlines Arena/Miami, FL, USA 6/6/2013 Credit: John W. McDonough

#6 LeBron James #21 Tim Duncan NBA: 2013 NBA Finals San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Game 1 Game Action American Airlines Arena/Miami, FL, USA 6/6/2013 Credit: John W. McDonough



Don’t call it rematch.

Call it the sequel of an action-packed, shot making, dunk throw-down and ball swatting film that would detonate the box office the same way as Marvel’s “Avengers.” Superman wasn’t in the 2012 box office sensation, but another Superman hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy and Finals MVP trophy in back-to-back seasons, LeBron James.

Now, thrice facing off against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals (swept by the Spurs 4-0 in the 2007 Finals as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers), LeBron and Duncan will break the tie to cement themselves within the highest pedigree of champions.

For Duncan, a fifth title would increase the argument of Kobe Bryant versus Duncan as the best player of their generations. Check this, the past 16 NBA Finals have included either Lebron, Kobe, Duncan or Dwyane Wade. That eye-popping bite of information personifies greatness, consistency, and prosperity. Duncan is arguably the best power forward in NBA history, and it should be noted that two of Duncan’s rings came after the retirement of another Spurs Hall of Fame player, David Robinson.

Heading into his 17th season and sixth Finals appearance, Duncan is increasingly coming close to his last years in the NBA alongside his future Hall of Fame coach in Greg Popovich, and future Hall of Fame teammates in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The three of them are all under contract together for one more season. It’s rare that Duncan ever reciprocate verbal barbs with other teams, but in the back of his mind, he knows he is possibly looking at his last year in the NBA. He wants redemption. He wants revenge. He wants to remove the 3-point dagger Ray Allen thrusted into the hearts of Spurs fan in Game 6 during last year’s Finals.

And Duncan got exactly what he wants, the Miami Heat.

“We’re back here,” Duncan told reporters after ridding the Thunder in Game 6. “We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”

That not only motivates Duncan and his teammates, but Miami as well.

Like San Antonio, Miami could also etch their names among basketball’s elite. A three-peat would secure the Heat among legendary statues to join the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls of the 90s as the only teams in NBA history to win three consecutive championships. For LeBron, this would be his third championship before the age of 30, the same time Jordan captured his third title in a three-peat fashion.

The accolades and adjectives to describe the four-time MVP and two-time champion are but kind gestures now. LeBron is the best player to lace a pair of Nikes on this planet. Physically, mentally, and an overdrive switch to completely dominate a game elevates him into a stratosphere of his own.

The Heat, comprised of three Hall of Fame players in their own right in Wade–who reverted back to his dominate days this postseason–sharp shooting Allen and a fringe Hall of Fame player in Chris Bosh, were woven together by Heat president Pat Riley for this very moment, to win multiple championships.

The Spurs, easily the most consistent team in the NBA all season, battled through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference playoffs, compared to Heat’s breeze through the Eastern Conference playoffs. San Antonio has been haunted by last year’s loss the moment the clocked ticked zero in Game 7. They want this, and they want it bad.

The implementation of the 2-2-1-1-1 format creates much more excitement and fairness for both teams. Here is how I see it breaking down:

Both teams split at home making it 2-2 after four games. The winner of Game 5 will ultimately win the series. I have the Heat taking Game 5 on the road and closing it out at home to reel in the coveted three-peat.

Miami in 6.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, left, and Russell Westbrook, speak at a news conference after Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals on Thursday. (Darren Abate/AP)

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, left, and Russell Westbrook, speak at a news conference after Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals on Thursday. (Darren Abate/AP)



1. Thunder need revamping, no Durant and Westbrook breakup

History has shown no player can singlehandedly win a championship on his own, not even basketball’s royalty himself in Michael Jordan.

The nucleus of Kevin Durant, 25, Russell Westbrook, 25 and Serge Ibaka, 24, will remain intact until an unforeseen catastrophe strikes in the clubhouse of Oklahoma City or salary complications cause the Thunder to wheel and deal, but it was evident who the Thunder wanted to keep after OKC shipped James Harden to the Houston Rockets. The Thunder are undoubtedly receiving criticism after losing in the Western Conference Finals, but they lost to a Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich, Hall of Fame players in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, and the most consistent team throughout the season thus far. Although, we could be having a different discussion if Ibaka played in Games 1 and 2.

The pouring outcry of Westbrook outscoring Durant in the Conference Finals (27.2 to 25.4 ppg respectively) gives more ammo to pundits who believe Westbrook should take a backseat to Durant, but Durant averaged 29.4 ppt to Westbrook’s 26.26.7 for the postseason as a whole. The manner in how they scored is the deeper story. No matter the time or place, Westbrook’s assassin’s mentality constantly reveals itself in crunch time, a gift yet an uncontrollable wreck waiting to happen. Durant has tendencies of shying away and not demanding the ball when he should, but neither could go far without each other.

After Durant and Westbrook, there is no consistent scoring threat on the Thunder’s roster, not in the starting line up or especially off the bench. Thunder guard Reggie Jackson has shown flashes, but his ability to maintain additional scoring comes and goes. Durant and Westbrook will win a championship someday, and it will be together on the same team, but the Thunder’s front office have to surround their two young pillars with more firepower.

2. Lance Stephenson will return to the Pacers 

This may blow you by surprise, but the Pacers need Stephenson’s antics. I say this for two reasons: 1) His unusual methods of gamesmanship displays a sense of fearlessness. 2) He is due a big contract, but sadly a team may not think twice about singing him because if reason No. 1.

Before Game 6, reportedly, Stephenson said Indiana’s President Larry Bird told him to stop all the shenanigans, but after a hand to the face of LeBron James and forearm across the head of Heat guard Norris Cole, Stephenson may have overstayed his welcome in Indiana. After the blowout loss to James and the Heat, a reporter asked Pacers’ star forward Paul George if he feels Stephenson should return to the team. George’s response:

“I mean, I don’t know, That’s for [Pacers president] Larry [Bird], [GM] Kevin [Pritchard], for them to decide.”

Not the most convincing endorsement to keep a player that was selected the same year by the same team in the 2010 draft. Despite the subliminal shot and on-court antics, Stephenson’s growth was a major factor for Indiana this season. Stephenson led the league in triple-doubles and was considered an all-star snub. The Pacers have a huge need at point guard and must figure out how to revive any confidence in Roy Hibbert.

3. “Track talk” from Tim Duncan

Up 3-2 in the series, San Antonio was leading by five points with 28.2 seconds left, all but ready to crown themselves as champions.

Then Ray Allen happened.

A 3-pointer made by Allen ignited a fierce comeback and the Heat forced overtime and won. Miami then won Game 7 95-88 to become back-to-back champions.

Tim Duncan seldom exchange pleasantries with any team, but this time it’s different. The shot heard around the world in Game 6 by Allen haunted the Spurs all season. That dagger by Ray Allen motivated the Spurs to return to the promise land to once again take on the Miami Heat, the first Finals rematch since 1998 when the Chicago Bulls beat Utah Jazz for the last of Jordan’s six championships.

After washing their hands with the Thunder in Game 6, here is what Duncan said after the game:

“We’re back here. We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.
“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”

“We”ll do it this time.” Translation: We are going to take the crown away from the Heat and become NBA champions.

Not Muhammed Ali smack talk, but head turning words Miami undoubtedly have heard loud and clear. In the words of Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel as he addressed Stephenson’s tactics towards LeBron: “I don’t think it’s ever good … what’s everybody call it? Tug on Superman’s cape. I don’t think that’s ever good.”

4. Frank Vogel will return as Pacers head coach

Neither Vogel nor Stephenson will leave Indiana. In consecutive seasons, Vogel led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals only to twice have their seasons ended by the Heat. The 40-year-old coach couldn’t have been more honest during the post-game press conference in a Game 6 loss about the team who ousted his Pacers two years in a row.

“…But we’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era, and you have to tip your hats to them for the way they played this whole series. And you just have to go into the offseason with the mindset that we’re going to reload, and we have a core, a system, a culture that’s going to give us a chance every year.”

Vogel managed to hold together a woefully underachieving all-star in Hibbert, pulling off a Houdini act going scoreless in four times in the playoffs, the inconsistency of a is-he-a-star-or-not in George, and the unpredictable Stephenson throughout the playoffs. Remember when the Pacers traded forward Danny Granger to the Sixers for guard Evan Turner and forward Lavoy Allen?

The midseason trade paid little to no dividends. The former No. 2 overall pick played only four minutes in the Eastern Conference Finals and 12.4 minutes per game in the playoffs. It’s likely Turner won’t return to the Pacers next season.

Vogel deserves to come back.

5. Regular season series mean absolutely nothing in the playoffs 

San Antonio was swept by the Thunder in the regular season (4-0), only to defeat them in the playoffs in six games. The Brooklyn Nets swept the Heat in the regular season 4-0 as well, but Brooklyn lost in five games to Miami. The Spurs swept the Dallas Mavericks 4-0, but the Spurs barely squeaked by, ultimately sending the Mavs home in Game 7.

Redundant and only a small sample size, but the stock that’s getting shoved into the Heat and Spurs matchup during the regular season is about as helpful as a car with no engine. Both games were blowouts and neither team most important players spent extensive time on the court. James’ 18 ppg against the Spurs is misleading, to say the least.