Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Finals: Heat top Spurs to repeat as champs

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NBA Finals: Heat top Spurs to repeat as champs

MIAMI -- Victory in Game 7 brought more than another crown for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. It validated the team and its leader, forever cementing their place among the NBA's greats.

For the vanquished San Antonio Spurs, it simply compounded the misery of a championship that got away.

James led the Heat to their second straight title, scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 95-88 victory Thursday night in a tense game that was tight until Miami pulled away in the final minute.

Capping their best season in franchise history -- and perhaps the three-superstar system they used to build it -- the Heat ran off with the second straight thriller in the NBA's first championship series to go the distance since 2010.

Two nights after his Game 6 save when the Heat were almost eliminated, James continued his unparalleled run through the basketball world, with two titles and an Olympic gold medal in the last 12 months.

"I work on my game a lot throughout the offseason," said James, who was MVP for the second straight finals. "I put a lot of work into it and to be able to come out here and (have) the results happen out on the floor is the ultimate. The ultimate. I'm at a loss for words."

He made five 3-pointers, defended Tony Parker when he had to, and did everything else that could ever be expected from the best player in the game.

The Heat became the NBA's first repeat champions since the Lakers in 2009-10, and the first team to beat the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

"It took everything we had as a team," Dwyane Wade said. "Credit to the San Antonio Spurs, they're an unbelievable team, an unbelievable franchise. This is the hardest series we ever had to play. But we're a resilient team and we did whatever it took."

Players and coaches hugged afterward -- their respect for each other was obvious from the opening tipoff of Game 1 through the final buzzer.

A whisker away from a fifth title two nights earlier, the Spurs couldn't find a way to win it all in what was perhaps the last shot for Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili to grab another ring together.

"In my case I still have Game 6 in my head," Ginobili said. "Today we played an OK game, they just made more shots than us. LeBron got hot. Shane (Battier), too. Those things can happen. But being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and seeing it vanish is very hard."

They were trying to become the first team to win a Game 7 on the road since Washington beat Seattle in 1978, but those old guys ran out of gas just before the finish.

Fans stood, clapped and danced as the clock ticked down, when every score was answered by another score, each stop followed by a better stop. The Heat pushed their lead to six points a few times midway through the fourth but San Antonio kept coming back.

Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs, but missed a shot and follow attempt right under the basket with about 50 seconds left and the Spurs trailing by two.

James followed with a jumper -- the shot the Spurs were daring him to take earlier in the series -- to make it 92-88, sending San Antonio to a timeout as Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" blared over the arena's sound system.

He then came up with a steal and made two free throws for a six-point lead, and after Ginobili missed, James stalked toward the sideline, knowing it was over and that he was, once again, the last one standing.

Wade had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who overcame a scoreless Chris Bosh by getting six 3-pointers and 18 points from Shane Battier.

"It was a great series and we all felt that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I don't know if `enjoy' is the right word, but in all honesty, even in defeat, I'm starting to enjoy what our group accomplished already, when you look back. And you need to do that, to put in perspective. So it's no fun to lose, but we lost to a better team. And you can live with that as long as you've given your best, and I think we have."

Streamers fell from the arena ceiling onto the fans for the second year in a row, but this one meant so much more. A narrow escape in Game 6 was still fresh in everyone's mind.

They were down 10 in the fourth quarter of that one before James led the charge back, finishing with a triple-double in Miami's 103-100 overtime victory. This one was nearly as tight, neither team leading by more than seven and the game tied 11 times.

Kawhi Leonard had 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Spurs, who had been 4 for 4 in the championship round. Ginobili had 18 points but Parker managed just 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

"Just give credit to the Miami Heat. LeBron was unbelievable. Dwyane was great. I just think they found a way to get it done," Duncan said. "We stayed in the game. We gave ourselves opportunities to win the game, we just couldn't turn that corner."

The Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra collected the Larry O'Brien trophy again from Commissioner David Stern, presiding over his final NBA Finals before retiring next February.

He couldn't have asked for a better way to go out.

James avenged his first finals loss, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs on 2007. That helped send James on his way to South Florida, realizing it would take more help to win titles that could never come alone.

He said he would appreciate this one more because of how tough it was. The Heat overpowered Oklahoma City in five games last year, a team of 20-something kids who weren't ready to be champions yet.

This came against a respected group of Spurs whose trio has combined for more than 100 playoff victories together and wanted one more in case this was San Antonio's last rodeo.

Duncan is 37 and Ginobili will be a 36-year-old free agent next month, the core of a franchise whose best days may be behind them.

Meanwhile, it's a potential dynasty along Biscayne Bay, but also one with a potentially small window. Wade's latest knee problems are a reminder that though he came into the NBA at the same time as James and Bosh, he's a couple of years older at 31 with wheels that have seen some miles.

James can become a free agent again next summer with another decision -- though hopefully not another Decision -- to make. He's comfortable in Miami and close with Wade, and the Heat have the leadership and commitment from owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley to keep building a championship core around him.

Why would he want to leave?

San Antonio's most recent title came at James' expense. The Spurs exploited the weaknesses in James' game though knew someday they would be gone, Duncan telling him afterward that the league would someday belong to James.

And James simply isn't giving it back.

He came in averaging 33.8 points in Game 7s, already the best in NBA history, and was even better in this one.

He can't be defended the way he was six years ago, too strong inside and too solid from the outside. He drove Danny Green back like a tackling dummy to convert a three-point play in the second quarter, then knocked down a 3-pointer for the Heat's next score.

Heat fans, criticized over the last two days after many bolted before the finish Tuesday and then tried to force their way back in, weren't going anywhere early in this one. The game was too good.

And there was another celebration to watch.

The Heat had the classic championship hangover through the first few months of this season, too strong to lose at home but not committed enough to win on the road, where they were just 11-11 following a 102-89 loss in Indiana on Feb. 1.

They won in Toronto two nights later on Super Bowl Sunday and didn't lose again until well into March Madness, running off 27 straight victories before falling in Chicago on March 27 and finishing a franchise-best 66-16.

The small-market Spurs have always been a ratings killer, but interest grew throughout this series in their attempt to toppled the champs. Game 6 drew more than 20 million viewers, a total that Game 7 was expected to top.

And the games got better, too. Games 2-5 were all decided by double digits, neither team able to carry its momentum from one game to the next.

This one was back and forth for more than three quarters, with Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer at the buzzer giving Miami a 72-71 lead heading to the final 12 minutes of the season.

Game 6 could have shaken the Spurs, who were so close to holding the trophy that officials were preparing the championship presentation before Miami's rally. The Spurs held a team dinner late that night, figuring the company was better than having to dwell on the defeat alone in their rooms.

The pain of that game or the pressure of this one had little effect on their veterans but brought out a change in their leader, the subject of some rare second-guessing for his rotations near the end of the collapse.

The famously blunt Popovich was in a chatty mood pregame, actually preferring to stay and talk even when there were no more questions, saying the busier he was, the less he'd worry.

"It's torture," he said earlier of Game 7s. "It's hard to appreciate or enjoy torture."

But it sure was beautiful to watch.

The sport's most pressure-packed game had a nervous start, each team making just seven baskets in the first quarter and combining for seven turnovers. The Spurs took an early seven-point lead, but a pair of 3-pointers by Battier during an 8-0 run helped Miami take an 18-16 lead.

The Heat nursed a narrow lead for most of the second quarter, and after San Antonio went ahead in the final minute of the period, James tipped in a miss before Wade knocked down a jumper with 0.8 seconds left to send the Heat to the locker room with a 46-44 edge.

Notes
Home teams are 15-3 in Game 7s of the NBA Finals. ... Miami improved to 5-3 all-time in Game 7s in the postseason and became the fourth team to win the final two games at home since the finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, joining the Lakers in 1988 and 2010, and Houston Rockets in 1994. ... Green was just 1 for 12, going 1 for 6 behind the arc. He started the series by making 25 3s in the first five games, a finals record for an entire series.

Sixers have questions with possible extensions looming for Embiid, Covington

Sixers have questions with possible extensions looming for Embiid, Covington

CAMDEN, N.J. — The front offices of professional sports teams are always dealing with a delicate balance of competing in the present and positioning for a successful future.

The Sixers are no different.

As the team officially tips off training camp on Tuesday for what it hopes to be its most successful season in years, there are still some serious question marks about the future of the roster.

The biggest one surrounds center Joel Embiid. Embiid is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. Embiid and the Sixers have until Oct. 16 to reach an agreement on a rookie scale extension. If the two sides can’t strike a deal, the big man will become a restricted free agent next summer.

Embiid, who is currently still rehabbing from surgery for a torn meniscus, finally burst onto the scene last season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. However, he knows that by being limited to just 31 games during his career and with the team holding all the cards regarding his immediate future, he isn’t in a position of power during any contract negotiations.

“At the end of the day, I don’t have the leverage. I’m going into my fourth season and I’m going to be a restricted free agent, so there’s no leverage, they can do whatever they want. There’s been discussions about it. Hopefully, something does work out” (see story).

Embiid isn’t alone. Robert Covington, also coming off both a breakout season and meniscus surgery, is in a similar situation.

The Sixers picked up the fourth-year, $1.57 million option on Covington’s contract in June. That’s a steal considering Covington finished fourth in the NBA in Defensive Player of the Year voting while scoring 12.9 points a night.

Now the Sixers have a deadline of Nov. 15, the three-year anniversary of when they originally signed Covington, to agree on an extension.

“We’ve definitely been in talks and everything,” said Covington, who reportedly switched agents to the powerful CAA Sports in the offseason. “Both sides are very open to what is going on. It’s just a matter of the right move that’s to be made. Bryan is playing chess right now with the pieces that he’s adding. Now it’s just making sure that everything stays the way that he pictures.”

Then there’s the curious case of Jahlil Okafor. In just two seasons with the team, the center has witnessed his name in just about every trade rumor imaginable. Okafor, who recorded 11.8 points and 4.8 boards a game in a reserve role a season ago, was apparently so close to being dealt at last February’s deadline that he was held out of two games only to rejoin the Sixers.

Team president Bryan Colangelo would never rule anything out in regards to shipping Okafor, but at the moment all plans are for the big man to remain a Sixer.

“There’s no problem between us and Jahlil right now,” Colangelo said. “If he had his druthers would he be with another club? I can’t answer that question, but I think that he’s happy being here. He’s been treated well. The coaches coach him like they coach every other athlete. 

“Again, any discussion about things that are out there — whether or not he’s been traded or not, whether or not he’s being shopped or not — I can say I have not actively been shopping Jahlil Okafor. … But the narrative is he’s here, he’s going to be an active participant in the things that we’re doing preparing for this season and he’s a part of this basketball team until he’s not.”

While things are a very murky with Okafor, the writing appears to be on the wall for Nik Stauskas as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal. 

The team specifically targeted scoring from the off-guard position over the summer (drafting Markelle Fultz to play alongside Ben Simmons in the backcourt, signing JJ Redick in free agency and bringing Furkan Korkmaz from overseas). With Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also expected to vie for time at shooting guard, Stauskas’ future in Philadelphia doesn’t exactly seem bright.

“Not at all, no,” Stauskas sternly responded when asked whether his contract status was on his mind heading into the new season.

Top Sixers Quotes: For JJ Redick, finally a 'sports town'

Top Sixers Quotes: For JJ Redick, finally a 'sports town'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and all 20 players on the team's training camp roster spoke at the organization's training complex during media day.

Here are some of the best quotes from Colangelo and each player from Monday's session:

JJ Redick, who has played in Orlando, Milwaukee and Los Angeles, finally gets to play in a sports town.
“I’m going to offend some people in L.A. and Orlando, but I don’t know that I’ve played for a sports town," Redick said. "I’ve never played in a sports town. There are sports towns, right? New York is a sports town, Boston is a sports town, Chicago is a sports town. Those are sports towns. Philly’s a sports town. For me, I’m excited about that.”

Colangelo says Sixers are ready to take the next step.
“We have added a number of pieces, some familiar faces, some unfamiliar. But we feel that all in all, we’re going in with a good blend of that young core that we talk about. We talk about the veteran presence and inclusion with the mix, and feel that things are moving in the right direction with us and put us in a good position to compete and take another step forward as an organization.”

Philly has welcomed Markelle Fultz.
“I love it," Fultz said. "Just walking around, just having the fans here. Just walking around hearing, ‘Trust the process.’ This team is just so young, so open. We’ve got some good vets here. Just coming here, I feel welcomed. It almost feels like I’m almost going back to college, just being welcomed. Just having everyone being around all the time. I love it. I don’t regret anything that happened. I’m excited.”

Ben Simmons doesn't care about a rookie survey.
“I don’t really worry about the guys coming in. I’m worried about the guys at the top. They’ll remember.”

Robert Covington is patient with his contract situation.
“We’ve definitely been in talks and everything. Both sides are very open to what is going on. It’s just a matter of the right move that’s to be made," Covington said. "Bryan is playing chess right now with the pieces that he’s adding. Now it’s just making sure that everything stays the way that he pictures.”

James Michael McAdoo wants to share some wisdom.
“I’m not going to sit here and act like I know everything. Obviously, I didn’t play a ton when I was there. But just being around those guys for three years and being able to pick their brains and just having such great teammates, guys that have been around the league so long and played at such a high level, I definitely look forward to getting into camp tomorrow and being able to share some of that wisdom and just experience with these guys. That’s where we want to be and tomorrow when we show up and these past couple months, that’s what we’ve been working to be.”

Joel Embiid wants to play ... like a guard?
“It’s just about being competitive. I love to win. I’ll do anything to win. I’ll put my body on the line to win. I’m a big man and I’ve never viewed myself as a big man. When I see guards doing certain things, I want to do that too because I’m a human being and it doesn’t matter that I’m seven feet. I want to do that too.

"I feel like people haven’t really seen what I can do and it’s also because I’ve only played 31 games. I think as long as I stay healthy, I have a lot to improve on and a lot of potential. I love it. I love when people criticize me. I love when you guys say whatever you have to say because that makes me go to the gym and work on me to improve myself.”

Jerryd Bayless knew he had to get his wrist repaired when ...
“Yeah, there was a moment. I think it was against the Bulls. I was dribbling and then I tried to go between my legs and the ball hit the wrist. I couldn’t control it. It was like a wet noodle almost. That’s when I knew I had to get it fixed. I wasn’t going to be able to play the rest of the season doing that.”

Amir Johnson’s opening statement to the media:
"My name is Amir Johnson. I'm new to the team. I'm happy to be here. Don't make it awkward."

Emeka Okafor, the 2nd overall pick in the 2004 draft, turns 35 on Thursday and has to prove he can still play.
“The hardest part actually has been the perception. In terms of my conditioning and my ability, especially after going down and playing with various teams, there’s no doubt in my mind I can play in this league and still contribute. I can contribute a lot both on and off the court. I understand the perception of my age and the fact that I’ve been away from the game for so long.

"That being said, being back in this environment, just being back in the NBA umbrella, with the guys and team and with you guys, talking to the press, just feels so good. It just feels like putting on a suit that’s always been the right fit, favorite pair of jeans, however you want to put it. It just feels very, very natural. I’m very excited to be here. I’m very excited for the process and whatever’s coming.”

Richaun Holmes is eager to battle for playing time.
“It’s fun, man. It’s competitive. This is competing every day. It’s fun, it’s kind of what I live for. I’ve never had any problems with it. I love playing against these guys, love getting better in practice against these guys. I just look for everything as an opportunity.”

Nik Stauskas still talks with John Beilein, his coach at Michigan.
“I stay in touch with Coach Beilein throughout the year. I wouldn’t say we talk regularly, but every now and then we stay in touch. His whole thing is just he always taught me to continue believing in myself, continue working. He saw me for two years in college, so he knows what I’m capable of. He understands how bad I want to be a great player in this league, so he just continues to encourage me. It’s great to have a powerful basketball mind like that on your side."

Justin Anderson wasn't concerned with Nerlens Noel’s contract negotiations after the trade.
“My parents taught me to never worry about another man’s money, never worry about another man’s career. The best to him, but the reality of it is Bryan made a move to get me here. I’m very happy to be here. I text him before the season started not too long ago and said I won’t let you down. I’m going to make sure I handle everything that I need to handle to make sure that the season is successful not just for me but for my team.”

Jacob Pullen is ready to trust the process too.
“I was here for a couple weeks before signing and they’re ready to work. There are a lot of guys here that are ready to take the next step and show that they’re capable of winning games. They’ve been trusting the process and these guys believe. It’s a great group of guys here and I’m just ready to help.”

T.J. McConnell is happy to honeymoon ... in Camden? 
“I went home for about a month after the season was over to Pittsburgh and then I came back out here and I’ve been working out since May. Then I went back home to plan for the wedding a bit and then got married on Sept. 9. What’s better than a honeymoon in Camden, New Jersey?”

If Kris Humphries, a 13-year veteran, could take a time machine ...
“Someone asked me earlier today, what would you tell your rookie self? I said to shoot threes so I could get a jump-start on that. I started shooting threes at like age 30. People were kind of like, ‘You can’t do it that late. You are who you are.’ I kind of took that as a challenge and expanded my game.

"Being in Boston and then Atlanta, kind of the system and playing out on the floor and making decisions, that open-style basketball, which is a lot of what they’re doing here. It’s pretty cool to kind of build on what I’ve been doing and also be that guy that continues to work hard and help the young guys. I’ve always been just a hard worker, earn-it type guy in my career. Just continue to do that.”

Furkan Korkmaz needs to hit the gym and play better D.
“My first goal was to come here and work individually to put on some pounds, to get some kilos. Then to work on my weaknesses. I know everyone is talking about my defense now, but I think I will be a great defender.”

How James Blackmon Jr. earn a roster spot?
“I feel like my scoring, not just shooting the ball, but my scoring and making plays offensively is definitely what got me here. I just feel like bringing that same effort and intensity on defense is what’s going to make me stay.”

Dario Saric needs some sleep.
“I’m feeling a little bit tired. It’s not too much. I didn’t expect to finish the national team like that. That’s because I was feeling a little bit different than usual. My physical things, I’m feeling a little bit tired. I don’t have any problems, any health problems. I think before the season starts I’ll be mentally ready, physically ready and ready to play every game and give 100 percent.”

No more McDonald's for a slimmed down Jahlil Okafor.
“It wasn’t easy. The first drastic change I made was my diet. I became a vegan. I didn’t jump full vegan. I gradually made my way to that. First I took out dairy. I took out steak and chicken and fish and then some of my favorites like cheese. All the other BS I was putting in my body I cut out.

"The reason for doing that was so that I could become healthy. I read somewhere that dairy wasn’t inflammatory and my knee was always swelling up last season. I had no idea about that, so once I found that out, I cut out dairy. Now I’m a full-on vegan and I feel great. I’m gonna stick with it.”

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot's knee is finally feeling better.
“I think as the season went along last year it got a little bit worse and worse every game and every week. I just kind of felt it during summer league a little bit. Afterward, I stopped playing for a little while. Then when I got back to the national team, I did an MRI and it showed something on my tendon. Directly after, I came back here. The week after, I got a PRP injection. Since that time, I’ve just kept going and my knee has been feeling way better right now. I’ll be ready. I can’t say when like an exact date but I think it’ll be little time.”

And finally ... a budding bromance between Redick and Embiid?
“In terms of the dynamic of the two of us, I think we can balance each other out," Redick said. "I can provide things for him and he provides things for me. I think we complement each other really well. An example, of course, would be spacing. But I also think because of my cutting and my off-ball movement, his passing, his screening, his rolling, my pocket passes, those are all things that sort of complement each other.

"Defensively, he gives me a lot of confidence to guard a guy when I have somebody like Joel similar to how I’ve had at different times in my career with DeAndre (Jordan) and Dwight (Howard) protecting the rim. Those are all things that I think are sort of complements to each other that we’re going to work really well together.

I'm flattered that you guys think ... I’m not serious. It’s hour four of media day, give me a break here. I think there’s a budding bromance between Joel and I, I really do. I’m looking forward to sort of just letting it develop.”