Heat win NBA title in dominant fashion


Heat win NBA title in dominant fashion

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Music blared and confetti fell, the only celebration LeBron James really wanted in Miami. Not that one two summers ago, the welcoming rally where he boasted of multiple titles, perhaps without realizing how hard it would be to win just one. He dreamed of this moment, with teammates surrounding him and the NBA championship trophy beside him. "You know, my dream has become a reality now, and it's the best feeling I ever had," James said. James had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, leading the Miami Heat in a 121-106 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night to win the NBA Finals in five games. Ripped and ridiculed for the way he announced he was leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach, it's all worth it now for James. Best player in the game. Best team in the league. And now, NBA champion. "I'm happy now that eight years later, nine years later since I've been drafted, that I can finally say that I'm a champion, and I did it the right way," James said. "I didn't shortcut anything. You know, I put a lot of hard work and dedication in it, and hard work pays off. It's a great moment for myself." And for his teammates, who watched the Dallas Mavericks celebrate on their floor last year. James left the game along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for good with 3:01 remaining for a round of hugs and the start for a party he's been waiting for since arriving in the NBA out of high school as the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft. James hopped up and down in the final minutes, shared a long hug with opponent Kevin Durant, and then soaked in the "MVP! MVP! chants during the raucous postgame. "I wanted to become a champion someday," James said. "I didn't know exactly when it would happen, but I put in a lot of hard work." He was a choker last year, the guy who came up small in the fourth quarter, mocked for "shrinking" in the moment while playing with what he called "hatred" in trying to prove his critics wrong. He came to Miami seeking an easier road to the finals but found it tougher than he expected, the Heat coming up empty last year and nearly getting knocked out in the Eastern Conference finals this time by Boston. Facing elimination there, James poured in 45 points on the road to force a Game 7 and the Heat won it at home. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done as a basketball player," James said. "You just put a lot of hard work into it and you hope that one day it will pay off for you." This time, with a chance to clinch, the Heat took control in the second quarter, briefly lost it and blew the game open again in the third behind their role players, James content to pass to wide-open 3-point shooters while the Thunder focused all their attention on him. The disappointment of losing to Dallas in six games a year ago vanished in a blowout of the demoralized Thunder, who got 32 points and 11 rebounds from Durant. Bosh and Wade, the other members of the Big Three who sat alongside James as he promised titles at his Miami welcoming party, both had strong games. Bosh, who wept as the Heat left their own court after losing Game 6 last year, finished with 24 points and Wade scored 20. The Heat also got a huge boost from Mike Miller, who made seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points. That all made it easier for James, the most heavily scrutinized player in the league since his departure from Cleveland, when he announced he was "taking his talents to South Beach" on a TV special called "The Decision" that was criticized everywhere from water coolers to the commissioner's office. James has said he wishes he handled things differently, but few who watched the Cavs fail to assemble championship talent around him could have argued with his desire to depart. In Miami he found a team that didn't need him to do it alone, though he reminded everyone during this sensational postseason run that he still could when necessary. He got support whenever he needed it in this series, from Shane Battier's 17 points in Game 2 to Mario Chalmers' 25 in Game 4. In the clincher it was Miller, banged up from so many injuries that he limped from the bench to scorer's table when he checked in. He made his fourth 3-pointer of the half right before James' fast-break basket capped a 15-2 run that extended Miami's lead to 53-36 with 4:42 remaining in the first half. The Thunder were making a remarkably early trip to the finals just three years after starting 3-29, beating the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs along the way. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden all 23 or younger, the Thunder have the pieces in place for a lengthy stay atop the Western Conference. But their inexperience showed in this series, a few questionable decisions, possessions and outright mistakes costing them in their franchise's first finals appearance since Seattle lost to Chicago in 1996. Westbrook scored 19 but made only four of his 20 shots, unable to come up with anything close to his 43-point outing in Game 4, and Harden finished a miserable series with 19. "It hurts, man," Durant said. "We're all brothers on this team and it just hurts to go out like this. We made it to the finals, which was cool for us, but we didn't want to just make it there. Unfortunately we lost, so it's tough." Nothing they did could have stopped James, anyway. Appearing fully recovered from the leg cramps that forced him to sit out the end of Game 4, he was dominant again, a combination of strength and speed that is practically unmatched in the game and rarely seen in its history. Wade skipped to each side of the court before the opening tip with arms up to pump up the fans, then James showed them nothing wrong with his legs, throwing down an emphatic fast-break dunk to open the scoring. He made consecutive baskets while being fouled, showing no expression after the second, as if he'd hardly even known he was hit. Drawing so much attention from the Thunder, he started finding his wide-open shooters, and the Heat built a nine-point lead before going to the second up 31-26. Oklahoma City got back within five early in the third before consecutive 3-pointers by Chalmers and Battier triggered a 27-7 burst that made it 88-63 on another 3-pointer by Miller. James didn't even score in the run until it was almost over, hitting a pair of free throws after he was flagrantly fouled by Derek Fisher while powering toward the basket. Gone was the tentative player who was mocked for shrinking on the big stage last year, too willing to defer to others who didn't possess half his talents. This time, he was at peace off the court and attacking on it, vowing to have no regrets and playing in such a way they wouldn't be necessary. Miami had outscored Oklahoma City by just 389-384 over the first four games, but the Thunder were buried under a barrage of 14 3-pointers, tying the NBA record. "They just hit 3s after 3s. They got it going and we couldn't stop them," Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. "Things just didn't go our way." Notes: Miami became the third team to sweep the middle three games at home in the 2-3-2 format. The Detroit Pistons took all three from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 before the Heat did it against Dallas in 2006. ... Coach Erik Spoelstra tied Pat Riley for the Heat franchise record with his 34th postseason win. He is 34-22, while Riley was just 34-36. ... The four-game losing streak that Oklahoma City finished the season with was its longest of the season. The Thunder had dropped three straight games to Memphis, Miami and Indiana from April 2-6.

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Evaluating what Wizards need from starting 5 to succeed in 2016-17

Evaluating what Wizards need from starting 5 to succeed in 2016-17

The new season begins for the Wizards on Thursdsay at the Atlanta Hawks (CSN, 6:30 p.m.). While coach Scott Brooks hasn't made his starters official, this is a good educated guess on who to see introduced on opening night.

They do plenty of things well but some minor adjustments to their games will go a long way to flipping a .500 record in 2015-16 into a winning record and a playoff appearance.

PG John Wall: He’s almost all the way back from having surgeries to both knees May 5. Wall’s only issue is conditioning. He averaged 20 points and 10 assists last season, though defensively he wasn’t All-NBA anymore. It’s not about his final stat line but more about two key numbers that will determine his advancement on the offensive end. 1) Turnovers. Averaged a career-high 4.1 giveaways last season, in part, because he carried a lion’s share of the offensive burden. Below 3.0 should be his target and with Brooks moving him off the ball more often that should help. 2). Three-point shooting. The one area where Wall lags behind other competition at his position is defenses will go under screens on the pick-and-roll or double others while leaving him open at the three-point arc. He has never shot better than 35.1%. If he can hit 40%, it’s a whole new ballgame.

SG Bradley Beal: He has $128 million reasons to take his game to the next level. While health is a major factor, that’s true of every single player. Beal has to be more than a shooter and move out the teens with his points average up to the 20s. Shooting guards like James Harden and DeMar DeRozan separate themselves from the pack because of some unique abilities that Beal has yet to show. 1). Foul line. For his career, Beal attempts just 2.8 free throws per game.  That’s not enough. His goal is 7-8 a game and he has to shoot better than 78%. 2). Creating for others. Beal routinely would face blitzes from multiple defenders who didn’t respect other scorers on the floor. Beal can loosen those coverages by lifting his assists from 3.0 and rebounding from 3.7. Brooks will attempt to help by giving him the ball in different positions on the floor.

[RELATED: Brooks a straight shooter with Wizard players]

SF Otto Porter: The skills are there, but the assertiveness isn’t always present. The Wizards require a third scorer who can get more than 11.6 points per game. He was drafted No. 3 overall in 2013 because he was considered the safest bet – and the most polished – because of his high basketball IQ. It’s time that he uses it. 1). Focus on mid-range. Porter isn’t really a three-point shooter. Despite his 36.7% from deep last season, he hovered below 30% for most of the season and this contributed to his disappearing act (as did his habit of looking at his feet before shooting). Though the mid-range game is a lost art in NBA with everyone in love with the three-ball, this is Porter’s strength. He can hit threes but he prefers to be moving to the ball on that catch. 2). Off-ball movement. He’s great at finding holes in the defense for shots in the paint. This type of player should average more than 1.2 foul shots a game and 1.0 assists, which are his career averages. His vision is too good for that.

PF Markieff Morris:  Twenty-seven games after being traded to D.C. last season felt more like a lengthy training camp. The Wizards went from the bottom of the table in rebounding to top six during games with Morris. He’s a perfect example of how a player’s actual rebounding numbers (5.9) isn’t necessarily representative of his impact on rebounding for a team. 1). Stretch four. Morris doesn’t have to be a specialist from three-point range but more accurate than 31.6% to force defenses to respect him, which will spread the floor even more for Wall and Beal. He has good form. If he can bump up his touch by 5%-7% it would make a world of difference. 2). Defense. When he's committed he can use his 6-10 frame.

C Marcin Gortat: Averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds in a down season is pretty good output for centers today. Like Porter, he has been prone to spikes and dips for long stretches. He runs the floor extremely well and is the best screen-setter on the team. Wall and Beal can play a two-man game with him, which allows the offense to have better flow and less predictability. 1) Pick-and-roll defense. This has been a major weakness with the Wizards as more and more teams ditch play sets for basic pick-and-roll actions to create mismatches. The communication between the frontline and backline haven't been consistent for the last two years, and now that Gortat is responsible for making a lot of the defensive calls it will be on him. 2). Less finesse and more power at the rim. Gortat has a habit of fading away from the basket too much, particularly when he's facing shot-blockers such as Hassan Whiteside. Gortat has to go at those kind of players who will take the bait when showing them the ball. He can get more whistles that way, put them in foul trouble and get to the line more.

[RELATED: No love lost for Wizards with new-look Hawks]

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John Harbaugh defends Joe Flacco's play during difficult season for Ravens

John Harbaugh defends Joe Flacco's play during difficult season for Ravens

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens coach John Harbaugh strongly defended quarterback Joe Flacco after Wednesday’s practice, in the midst of a difficult season for his franchise quarterback, and with the Ravens (3-4) riding a four-game winning streak.

Flacco’s current quarterback rating is 75.4, which would be the second-lowest of his nine-year career if the season ended today. He has thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdown passes (five).

So does Harbaugh think Flacco is “elite”? Asked how he assessed Flacco’s play at this point in the season, Harbaugh did not hold back.

“I’m a Joe Flacco guy, and I believe in Joe,” Harbaugh said following Wednesday’s practice.  “Joe Flacco is a great football player. Joe Flacco is the key to our success. So we need to all do everything in our power, so all the things fall into place for him. He can play. He can throw it, he can make decisions, he can score touchdowns for us, he can do all the things we need to do. We need to make sure that we give him a chance to do that. Joe will take care of what he needs to do.

“I’m not worried about Joe taking care of what he needs to do. Joe works on it harder than anybody, cares about it more than anybody. But we need to protect him, we need to run routes, we need to create confidence in our passing game, we need to run the ball well.”

But after Wednesday’s practice, Flacco admitted he needed to play better, regardless of injuries along the offensive line, or struggles with the Ravens’ running game.

“I am obviously not playing good enough,” Flacco said. “We are not a good offense, and it starts with the quarterback. I have to be better. We have to be more precise, and that starts with me – just more consistent overall.”

How well Flacco performs after the bye will be a major key to the Ravens’ fate. But despite Flacco’s recent struggles, his coach still has his back.

MORE RAVENS: Hester counting on bye week to rehab groin injury