NBA Notes: Heat back in familiar territory

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NBA Notes: Heat back in familiar territory

While there are plenty of coaching hires being made and roster moves being discussed, the Sixers have been relatively quiet since the regular season ended (see story).

Now let's look at some news and notes from around the NBA:

Heat: Familiar territory for Miami
MIAMI -- LeBron James has been wearing a good amount of camouflage attire at times during the NBA playoffs, with some of his vests, pants and even ties done in the design.

It doesn't seem fitting, since there's really no where for him to hide.

He has more at stake than any other Miami player in these NBA Finals, especially now that the San Antonio Spurs are one game away from grabbing the title. If the Heat lose, it'll be perceived as James' failure. If the Heat win, his status as the game's best player not only becomes even more cemented, but he might even win over a few more doubters.

James says he looks forward to the challenge that starts when Miami hosts Game 6 of the series on Tuesday night (see full story).

-The Associated Press

Spurs: Duncan closes in
SAN ANTONIO -- It's all right in front of Tim Duncan now, and the big fella can feel it.

You can tell when he broke out that little spin move in the paint in Game 5 on Sunday night, a nimble little display of footwork that has mostly been in moth balls for the past four or five seasons.

You can tell by the elevation he got on a first-quarter dunk, one of the most emphatic he's had in years.

And you can tell by the glimmer that can't be hidden by the far-away look in his eyes when he talks about being one victory away from title No. 5.

"I think every one of us wants this very badly from the top on down," Duncan said after scoring 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 114-104 victory over the Miami Heat that gave his San Antonio Spurs a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals (see full story).

-The Associated Press

Nuggets: Connelly hired for front office
The Denver Nuggets have hired Tim Connelly as executive vice president of basketball operations.

Team President Josh Kroenke confirmed in an email to The Associated Press on Monday that Connelly will take over for Masai Ujiri, who left to become general manager of the Toronto Raptors.

Connelly has been the assistant GM with the New Orleans Pelicans since 2010. His first order of business with the Nuggets will be finding a replacement for George Karl after the longtime coach was fired nearly two weeks ago (see full story).

-The Associated Press

Bucks: Drew adds assistants
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- Bob Bender and Nick Van Exel are following Larry Drew to Milwaukee.

The Bucks announced Monday that Bender and Van Exel will be assistants on Drew's staff. Bender also was an assistant during Drew's three years as head coach in Atlanta, while Van Exel was the Hawks' player development instructor from 2010-12.

Drew says the two were "important pieces" of his staff in Atlanta and will be dedicated to teaching Milwaukee's young players.

Bender spent the past nine years in Atlanta after two years as an assistant in Philadelphia. As a college coach, he led Washington to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (1996-99) and was Pac-10 coach of the year in 1996.

Van Exel, a Kenosha native, played 13 years in the NBA. He was an All-Star in 1998.

-The Associated Press

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

BOX SCORE

SAN ANTONIO -- Stephen Curry scored 36 points as the Golden State Warriors closed out the Western Conference Final against the injury-ravaged San Antonio Spurs with a 129-115 victory Monday night, becoming the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0.

Golden State led by as many as 22 points in cruising to its third straight NBA Finals. The Warriors await a possible third straight championship matchup with Cleveland, which leads Boston 2-1 in the East finals.

"It's great to be one of the last two teams standing, we'll see how it goes," said Kevin Durant, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds.

San Antonio's only lead came on the opening possession when Manu Ginobili tossed in a left-handed scoop shot. The Spurs started Ginobili in what could be his final game with the team. The 39-year-old had maintained he will not ponder whether to retire or return until after the season.

Unsure if the beloved veteran will return, the crowd serenaded Ginobili with "Manu, Manu" chants as the game came to a close.

"An amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him," Durant said of Ginobili. "He was phenomenal this series."

Kyle Anderson scored 20 points to lead the Spurs, who were without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and David Lee. San Antonio didn't go down without a fight despite the injuries.

Anderson dove on the court for a loose ball that the Spurs had tipped away defensively, pushing the ball upcourt to Patty Mills who fed Ginobili for a 3-pointer that pulled San Antonio to 108-94 with 7 minutes remaining.

The effort made Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smile and clap at times, but the Warriors' depth and talent proved too much for short-handed San Antonio.

Golden State shot 56 percent and were 14 for 39 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors.

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge closed out a disappointing series with his second eight-point effort against the Warriors.

Ginobili finished with 15 points in 32 minutes.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, North Carolina as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder NC State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6 of 7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC Tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA Tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind NC State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum was a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. Tatum hit on 118 of 139 free throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6 for 22 shooting in an ACC Tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.