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Previewing NBA Finals Game 3: Adjustments Over Time & On The Fly

The NBA Finals shifts to South Beach with the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs tied at 1-1.

The first two games were defined by LeBron James cramping on Thursday and then putting in the Konami code on Sunday. The Heat are +11 with James on the floor over the first two games and -24 on the bench as he continues to have arguably the best Playoffs of his career and most definitely his best Finals.

Unlike the stagnant offense James played in during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers in which he was asked to create off the dribble while everyone else stood around, the Heat play to his strengths expertly with shooting, spacing and ball movement.

The Spurs run a beautiful motion-oriented defense that is so strong in its structure that it encourages jazz-like improvisation and adaptability depending on the personnel.

The Heat are scoring 114.7 points per 100 possessions across these playoffs, while the Spurs are scoring a nearly as impressive 112.9.

Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich have the luxury of a roster filled with four and three definitive Hall of Famers respectively, but they have done far more than merely hang the art in the museum with how their systems have evolved considerably over time.

During their first playoffs together, the Heat scored just 106.4 points per 100 possessions despite getting all the way to Game 6 of the Finals. The Spurs were eliminated in the first round that season by the Memphis Grizzlies despite being a 61-win team and the No. 1 seed. Across those six games against the Grizzlies, San Antonio scored just 102.2 points per possession.

The Spurs jumped to 110.3 points per 100 possession in the 2012 Playoffs when they looked like the anointed champs until Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in Oklahoma City. The Heat similarly jumped up to 109.6 in what became their first championship.

The two teams of course met in last season's Finals and Miami scored 110.2 points per 100 possessions compared to 108.7 for the Spurs.

During Game 1, the Spurs scored 119.5 points per 100 possessions with a 36-point fourth quarter in which they made 14 of 16 field goals, all six of their three-point attempts while limiting the Heat to just 17 points. The ball movement was superb and the Spurs wasted none of their clean looks.

In the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Heat switched James onto Tony Parker, which had the effect of slowing down the Spurs' ball movement dramatically and also taking away shot opportunities in the key. The Spurs scored just 90 points per 100 possession in the quarter, down from their 164 points per 100 possession unconscious surge in Game 1, which would have been somehow even higher if not for an uncharacteristic four turnovers.

Spoelstra and Popovich have made a series of adjustments over a period of several years to get to this point of sophistication in their offense and as this series advances into Game 3, their ability to find viable Plans B and C will be the difference with these two teams so evenly matched.

- This post was sponsored by Chrysler.

The Jackson-Barnes Play: Deconstructing The Rule

Zach Harper of CBS Sports gives a thorough accounting of the rules and arguments surrounding the controversy that arose after the encounter between Reggie Jackson and Matt Barnes in the closing seconds of Game 5 on Tuesday. But the article reaches the wrong conclusion that the referees’ decision appears to be correct.

The rulebook states:

"If a player has his hand in contact with the ball and an opponent hits the hand causing the ball to go out-of-bounds, the team whose player had his hand on the ball will retain possession."

The most reasonable interpretation is that the rule is referring to the one, same hand of the offensive player – the one hit by the defensive player. The text initially describes "his hand," then uses the definite article to refer to "the hand," so we can safely infer that the latter is simply referencing the former. There is no mention of the offensive player's other hand, which in this case would be Jackson's right hand – the hand that seemed to touch the ball last. The theory Harper cites attempts to use the fact that Jackson's right hand was touching the ball when his left hand was slapped in order to shoehorn the facts to squeeze in under the rule's coverage.

But the applicability of the rule is more straightforward than imagined: It is to address situations where the the defensive player's slap of the offensive player's hand, which is treated as part of the ball, and the release of the ball from that same hand, both occur simultaneously before the ball immediately goes out of bounds.

In other words, in situations where one player clearly touched the ball last (and the consensus seems to be that Jackson did), the other team should always get the ball. That is the overarching rule.

The interpretation discussed by Harper essentially relies on an expansive definition of the word "causing" in the rule text that reads "hits the hand causing the ball to go out-of-bounds." In common conversational usage, Barnes' contact did cause – i.e., set in motion actions that led to – the ball sailing out of bounds, but not before it touched Jackson's right hand. The rule concerns a direct causal reaction where contact provides sufficient force to drive the ball straight out of bounds, without any intervening event.

Taking this broad definition of "causing" to its logical extreme reveals that it is faulty. What if, after leaving Jackson's right hand, the ball had instead bounced off Russell Westbrook's hand, then trickled out of bounds? Would it still be Thunder ball? Barnes' slap still would have caused, generally speaking, the ball to go out of bounds. What if it had ping-ponged back and forth among Jackson, Westbrook and Kevin Durant before ricocheting out of bounds? Would that still be Thunder ball?

The point being, the latter two scenarios are not distinguishable from the actual scenario that played out Tuesday night if we adopt such a liberal interpretation of the rule's meaning, despite producing what would be an illogical result that no referee could convincingly justify.

Assuming there was clear video evidence that Jackson’s right hand touched the ball last, the rulebook seems to dictate that the ball be awarded to the Clippers.

Editor's Note:  Late Wednesday, the NBA issued a statement that the referees properly awarded the ball to the Thunder because video replays did not offer a sufficient basis to overturn the original call: "In order to reverse the call made on the court, there has to be ‘clear and conclusive’ evidence. Since no replay provided such evidence, the play correctly stood as called with the Thunder retaining possession.”  In affirming the referees' decision, the NBA did not mention the alternative interpretation of the rulebook discussed in the CBS Sports story.

Western Conference Twice As Good, Nine Degrees Warmer

By any metric the Eastern Conference has struggled over the past two decades in regards to their depth of quality teams. The situation has reached a tipping point this season with a model by Arturo Galletti of BoxScoreGeeks.com showing the possibility of only the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers finishing with a record above .500.

There are a plethora of factors on why the Western Conference is better this season, from greater parity at the top of the table compared to the separation the Heat have created over their four seasons together and the cyclical nature of several Eastern Conference teams rebuilding at the same time.

From a long-term perspective, the Eastern Conference has won the lottery in 11 of the past 15 years, suggesting several teams in the East have had ample opportunities to rebuild.

But last year's All-NBA Teams had 11 of 15 from the West, nine of 15 in 11-12 and 10-11, 11 in 09-10, 08-09 and 07-08.

One element that has remained constant is that weather plays a significant role in where veteran free agents choose to sign. The Heat have attracted significantly more high profile free agents to play with LeBron James than ever was possible when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs always had a competitive advantage in signing veteran free agents during the previous decade that was more difficult during Kevin Garnett's tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Chris Paul and Doc Rivers taking control of the Los Angeles Clippers, that franchise is finally taking advantage of its weather and cultural advantages.

While the two warmest winter markets are in the Eastern Conference in Miami and Orlando, the gap between the average temperature for the two conferences as a whole is statistically significant with the Western Conference being nine degrees warmer.

Superstars that are drafted by teams in cold weather franchises certainly can be retained, but their ability to build around them with complementary pieces proves more difficult. Even the Oklahoma City Thunder have not attracted as many top players on the veteran's minimum as one would guess based on the caliber of their roster and title chances. Oklahoma City is not one of the coldest markets, but is more than 20 degrees colder than Los Angeles in January and doesn't offer some of the cultural attributes of a Chicago or New York.

Eastern Conference Average Temperature in January
Indiana Pacers: 26.5
Miami Heat: 68.1
Atlanta Hawks: 42.7
Washington Wizards: 34.9
Chicago Bulls: 22.0
Charlotte Bobcats: 41.7
Detroit Pistons: 24.5
Toronto Raptors: 21.0
Orlando Magic: 61.3
Boston Celtics: 29.3
Philadelphia 76ers: 32.3
Cleveland Cavaliers: 25.7
Brooklyn Nets: 32.1
New York Knicks: 32.1
Milwaukee Bucks: 20.7

- Average Temperature for Eastern Conference: 34.3

Western Conference Average Temperature in January
Portland Trail Blazers: 39.9
San Antonio Spurs: 50.3
Oklahoma City Thunder: 36.7
Los Angeles Clippers: 57.1
Denver Nuggets: 29.2
Golden State Warriors: 48.7
Dallas Mavericks: 44.1
Phoenix Suns: 54.2
Los Angeles Lakers: 57.1
New Orleans Pelicans: 52.6
Memphis Grizzlies: 39.9
Minnesota Timberwolves: 13.1
Sacramento Kings: 46.3
Utah Jazz: 29.2
Houston Rockets: 51.8

- Average Temperature for Western Conference: 43.3

Grading The Deal: Clippers Trade In Bledsoe For Better Roster Balance

The Clippers have long been waiting to trade in their biggest asset in Eric Bledsoe to improve the construction of their roster and found it in the form of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

USA 2016 Will Threaten 1992 For Best Team Ever Assembled

LeBron James Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant will presumably be at their peaks in 2016 at the ages of 31, 30 and 27 respectively, and the depth of talent joining them will be remarkable and similarly in their prime.

The NBA's Clustering Of Stars

When the All-NBA teams were expanded to include a third team in 1989, 52% of the league had a representative. In 2012, it was just 33% as the Heat, Thunder, Knicks, Lakers and Clippers had multiple representatives. The Nets will likely join them in 2013 with Deron Williams and Dwight Howard.

The Center Depth Of The 2008 Draft Class

The centers of the 2008 Draft class figure prominently in the 2012 free agency and comprise six of the 30 starters at the game’s most valuable position.

Previewing The 2012 McDonald's All-American Game

Without the top-ranked recruit Nerlens Noel participating, the MVP of the 2012 McDonald's All-American Game could come down between Shabazz Muhammad and Gary Harris.

Lin's Influence On New York's Offense

While the general consensus is that Jeremy Lin’s statistical output will inevitably begin to taper off, the brilliance of his play over the past six games reconfirms the brilliance of the NBA’s superstars who consistently play at this type of level.

Grading The Deal: Rose Signs Max Extension With Bulls

The big win for the Bulls is that Derrick Rose didn’t insist on a player option that became vogue in 2006 with the extensions signed by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Grading The Deal: Nuggets Keep Nene, Afflalo

The Nuggets may have lost Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin to China (temporarily or forever), but only Nene and Aaron Afflalo were irreplaceable.

Grading The Deal: Blazers Sign Jamal Crawford

Longshots are longshots for a reason, but the Crawford signing does have the look and feel of something that will seem much more important in hindsight like Tyson Chandler, Trevor Ariza and James Posey.

Grading The Deal: Chris Paul To Turn L.A. Into Lob City

Chris Paul will now join Blake Griffin to form a super-tandem of their own that will be the most purely electric brand of basketball the city of Los Angeles has seen since the Showtime Lakers.

The NBA's Final Seven-Year Man

Jamal Crawford, Kobe Bryant, Kenyon Martin and Erick Dampier were the last players to sign seven-year contracts.

Grading The Deals: Clippers Match On Jordan, Bid On Billups

For a stretch of time on Monday, the Clippers were at the nexus of the NBA universe by matching DeAndre Jordan's $43 million contract, bidding on Chauncey Billups and trying to trade for Chris Paul.

Grading The Deal: Sixers Keep Thaddeus Young

Thaddeus Young is a very good off the bench scorer at either forward position, but his ability to improve his jumper will determine if he makes the lead to full-time lead weapon.

Grading The Deal: Clippers Sign Caron Butler

The Clippers had cap space and a need at small forward, so they filled it with a former All-Star coming off a knee injury.

Grading The Deal: Knicks Improve Interior Defense, Rebounding With Chandler

Swerving from their strategy of preserving cap space for a 2012, the Knicks signed Tyson Chandler and improved their biggest weaknesses.

Here's Your Leverage, Players

Up until this point in the NBA lockout, the players have let the 29 ownership groups hide behind David Stern and Adam Silver. Players need to publicly say there will be consequences for owners that take a hardline against them when it comes to free agency.

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