Nuggets' Christian Braun seeking NBA title a year after winning NCAA championship

DENVER (AP) — Denver Nuggets rookie Christian Braun is showing that the NBA Finals is not too big of a stage for him.

The 21st pick in the draft last summer, Braun has made the most of his minutes off the bench, sinking 10 of 12 shots, grabbing a half dozen rebounds and collecting four steals against the Miami Heat while giving teammates an extended breather.

“That’s a rare rookie right here,” Aaron Gordon said. “From Day 1 he’s been on top of it. This is a real winner right here. I say that because he’s always in the right spot. He’s in the right place at the right time, and he’s been doing that all year.”

Braun has a chance to become just the fifth player in NBA history to win an NBA title a year after winning the NCAA championship, joining Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Henry Bibby and Billy Thompson.

Braun gave the Nuggets a much-needed lift in Denver’s Game 3 rout of the Heat. With Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray making history with the first dual triple-double in the NBA Finals, Braun scored 15 points in 19 minutes on a night starters Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope struggled again.

Braun's remarkable resume includes three state championships at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kansas, and a national title with the Jayhawks last year.

Most rookies who cap their college careers with championships have to bide their time in the pros until it's, well, their time. Braun is two wins away from an incredible fifth championship in seven years.

And one of those years without a title came in 2020, when the pandemic shuttered sports and society at a time the Jayhawks were entering the NCAA tournament as the nation's No. 1 team.

“Getting shut down, we feel like we were definitely held back from something,” said Braun, who helped Kansas win the national title two years later when he had 12 points and 12 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 72-69 win over North Carolina in the national championship.

“I’m definitely blessed,” Braun said. “It’s not necessarily an individual accomplishment. I’ve been a part of some really good teams with really good coaches and really good players.”

Like on the court, he's been in the right place at the right time his whole life.

"All year long the one thing I’ve talked about with Christian is that he’s a winner,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “The guy has won at every level, and here he is in the NBA Finals. It’s kind of staying true to form for Christian Brawn.”

Malone said he knew Braun's addition was going to be big when the 6-7 shooting guard whose last name is pronounced “Brown,” helped Denver to a 128-123 win at Golden State in the second game of the season with Murray in street clothes as he worked his way back from a torn ACL.

“For a young player playing against the defending world champions on the road, he wasn’t afraid,” Malone said. “That really stuck out to me. Most young kids, they get in a situation or environment like that, they’re going to be a little bit over their head, and he wasn’t.”

Braun's attitude is that if he's only going to get minutes here and there, then he's going to hustle from the second he checks in to the moment he's summoned back to the bench.

“The last two months of the year he was a rotational player for the No. 1 team in the West,” Malone said. "He’s done his job in the playoffs. He’s gone out there and defended, rebounded, ran the floor, moved without it. He’s never afraid of the moment, which you have to appreciate for such a young kid.”

“Obviously, the Final Four kind of helped me with that,” Braun said. “I've kind of been here before.”

Several times even.


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Haslem spent entire career with Heat, but almost went to the Nuggets

MIAMI (AP) — There is some irony in the Denver Nuggets being the last team that Udonis Haslem will ever suit up against.

They were the team that almost got him out of Miami.

In the summer of 2010, when most of the eyes in the NBA free agent world were on Miami for three other reasons — LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — the Nuggets made a serious run at signing Haslem. The offer: five years, $34 million. And he was seriously tempted.

But then Miami’s pieces began falling into place. Bosh said he wanted to play in Miami, which got Wade to stay in Miami, then got James to commit to Miami and the Heat “Big Three” era was born. And on the night they all signed their contracts in Miami, those three players were huddled with Heat executives figuring out how much money they would have to give back to retain or sign some other players — including Haslem, who eventually re-signed with the Heat for five years and $20 million.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Haslem said. “I could have gone to Denver and things would have been a lot different. It would have changed a lot of things. Obviously, I’m happy I didn’t.”

So are the Heat. Haslem never left, spending all 20 of his NBA seasons with the Heat. He became the oldest player in NBA Finals history to appear in a game when he checked in for the final half-minute of Game 3 on Wednesday night. And on Friday, he’ll celebrate his 43rd birthday by suiting up for Game 4 – when the Heat will try to tie the series at two games apiece.

Friday could be his final home game with the Heat. One way or another, whether Denver wins the title or Miami rallies, his career is over in a few days. It is a delicate balance for Haslem — soaking in all the moments from the last games of his run as a player, while also trying to be the leader the Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra have needed him to be for much of his two decades with the franchise.

“I had that conversation with Spo: ‘How do I be me for these guys and also enjoy it?’” Haslem said. “Often times, chasing it is not enjoyable. It’s enjoyable if you win it. But chasing it is hell. So, I had to figure it out: ‘How do I be me, and still enjoy it?’ I struggled with that early on, and then I figured it out.”

Haslem is expected to remain with the Heat going forward, in a still-to-be-determined capacity with the front office.


Denver made only five 3-pointers in Game 3. The Nuggets have won a league-best three times this season when making no more than five shots from beyond the arc.

The Nuggets’ five 3s and 18 attempts were both the fewest by any team in a playoff win this season. And it was a performance the likes of which wasn’t seen in an NBA Finals victory in 10 years.

Miami was 4 for 12 on 3s in its Game 4 win over San Antonio in the 2013 finals. Every team that had won a finals game since had taken, and made, more 3s than the Nuggets did in their win Wednesday night.


Denver’s plus-25 rebound differential in Game 3 on Wednesday night — 58-33 — was the biggest in an NBA Finals game in more than 50 years.

The last time such a one-sided rebounding total appeared in a finals game was 1972, when the Los Angeles Lakers had a 28-board edge — 67-39 — in Game 5 of their series against the New York Knicks.

Before Wednesday, Denver hadn’t had better than a 21-rebound edge in any game this season. Miami’s previous season-worst was getting outrebounded by 24 in a play-in tournament game loss to Atlanta.


Denver’s Jeff Green, who owns a home in Miami and had teammates over for dinner before Game 3, was asked if he would let the Nuggets use his house for a championship celebration if they win the title. “At my house? No, not there. If we’re celebrating that, no. My house would be destroyed,” Green said.


— Miami guard Tyler Herro remains listed as out for Game 4. He hasn’t played since the first half of Game 1 of Round 1 because of his broken right hand, which has since healed but not enough to where he’s comfortable playing.

— Udonis Haslem isn’t the only Heat player celebrating a birthday on Friday. Rookie Nikola Jovic turns 20.

— Game 3 was Denver’s 100th game of the season. This is the first time that the Nuggets have reached triple figures for games played in one season; they played 98 games in 2008-09.

— A win in Game 4 would be Denver’s 25th on the road this season, tying a franchise record set last season.


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Heat still confident, Nuggets remain focused as NBA Finals reach Game 4

MIAMI (AP) — Jimmy Butler showed up in plush blue slippers for what was officially called practice. Kyle Lowry was trying to distract him during an interview session. Nikola Jokic continued to say how he doesn’t care about statistics. Jamal Murray talked about all the fun he’s having.

At this point, there isn’t a lot of off-day, on-court work for the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat.

Game 4 of the NBA Finals is Friday night in Miami, and it’ll be the only time in the series that there’s just one day off between contests. The Nuggets — behind a historic effort from Jokic and Murray — reclaimed the lead in the series with a 109-94 win Wednesday night, and could take a commanding 3-1 edge with a win in Game 4.

“It’s a lot of fun. A lot of fun. We’re all having fun,” Murray said Thursday. “Trying to solve this puzzle together. We’ve all been dreaming about getting to this stage. We have vets in the league that haven’t made it this far in their 15, 16 years of playing. So, we don’t want to take this opportunity for granted, knowing that this is not an everyday thing. It takes a lot of work to be here.”

Murray and Jokic each had 30-point triple-doubles in the Game 3 win, the first time that’s ever happened in NBA history. Jokic had the first known game of at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in finals history. As always, he greeted news of his latest statistical accomplishment with a resounding yawn, preferring instead to solely focus on what he called the chess game between the Heat and Nuggets.

“They are one move, we are another move,” Jokic said. “I think this is the time where the players show what they’ve got.”

There were 15 other instances of teammates having triple-doubles in the same game, but never of the 30-point variety — and for that to happen not just in the playoffs but the NBA Finals only adds to the historic level of the performance.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Nuggets coach Michael Malone was wasting any time thinking about that.

“As I watched the film, as we watched it as a staff and then with the team, there was nothing about the historical night that it was,” Malone said. “We’re addressing all the areas where we have to be better.”

Malone loves to quote stats, and it’s safe to assume he knows that a 2-1 lead in the finals guarantees nothing. Boston had such a lead over Golden State last year. Phoenix led Milwaukee 2-1 the year before that. Golden State was up 2-1 on Cleveland in 2016, the Cavaliers had that same lead on the Warriors in 2015, San Antonio had that lead over the Heat in 2013 and the Heat had that lead over Dallas in 2011.

And all of those 2-1 series leaders lost the finals. It’s happened that way six times in the last 10 instances, seven times in the last 14 instances going back to Miami’s rally past Dallas in 2006. A 2-1 series lead used to be automatic — from 1979 through 2005, there were 22 instances of a team going up 2-1. All 22 of those teams went on to win the title. But starting with the Heat in 2006, that 2-1 lead hasn’t meant a whole lot.

“Stay in the saddle, stay the course,” Heat forward Kevin Love said. “That’s the biggest thing we can do. We have a game plan that is proven to work. … If anybody is capable of it, we are. Continue to drill, continue to stay true to our concept, no slip-ups. If we do that, we feel we can give ourselves a chance.”

Murray and Jokic were tremendous, and Denver’s 58-33 rebounding edge in Game 3 was not solely a byproduct of effort or lack thereof. But there were also things Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believes are correctable for Friday.

“The more experience you have, the more perspective you have about how difficult this really is,” Spoelstra said. “These are extremely difficult challenges. You end up being even more grateful for the opportunities to compete at the highest level. That’s what we all want. This is the stage that you want to be able to compete and have everything decided between those four lines and find out how your team stacks up. But it is tough. … It’s the highest level of competition.”

The Heat season has gone this way almost from opening night, a never-ending back-and-forth between ups and downs, win a few, lose a few, all capped by a postseason run that took a No. 8 seed to the NBA Finals. Win on Friday, and the series is tied. That’s all Miami can ask for right now.

“We’re going to come out with a lot more energy,” Butler said. “We’re going to compete at a high level. We’re going to get one at home.”


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Big 12 Mexico extends league's reach with basketball games, possible bowl game

IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Big 12 Conference is extending its reach into Mexico, announcing plans Thursday for men's and women's basketball games to be played in Mexico City late next year while also exploring a possible football bowl game in Monterrey.

Big 12 Mexico is the league's first international extension, and comes less than a year after Brett Yormark became commissioner of the evolving conference.

“Mexico is a natural extension to the Big 12 footprint," Yormark said. “Through Big 12 Mexico, our student-athletes will have the opportunity to compete in an international setting, and our conference will have the chance to showcase our brand across Mexico.”

Kansas and Houston will play each other in men's and women's basketball at Mexico City's Arena CDMX in December 2024. After that, women's soccer teams and baseball teams from the Big 12 will participate in exhibitions against clubs from the region.

The conference said it would also explore adding a football bowl game in Monterrey starting in 2026, but didn't elaborate on the potential plans for what would be the first bowl game in Mexico.

The Big 12 will expand from 10 to 14 schools on July 1 when BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston officially join the league. Those additions come a year before the departures of Oklahoma and Texas to the Southeastern Conference.

Yormark said at the end of the the league's spring meetings last week that expansion remains a focus for the conference that is distributing a record $440 million of revenue among its 10 current schools for the 2022-23 academic year.

Five current or future Big 12 campuses — Baylor, Houston, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech — are located within 400 miles of Mexico. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have campus extensions in Mexico.

Along with hosting conference games across multiple sports, Big 12 Mexico will see the league execute a variety of community outreach programming, commercial partnerships, merchandise and activations. The league said that will include partnering with notable musicians and artists and launching an influencer marketing campaign in the region.

Heat, following similar script as Game 1, lose to Nuggets in Game 3 with poor shooting

MIAMI (AP) — Those open looks Miami kept knocking down three nights earlier in Denver just wouldn’t go down back home.

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were a combined 10 of 30 in the paint, and too many other shooters were cold in a 109-94 loss Wednesday night that gave the Nuggets a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

“I just missed some that I normally make,” said Butler, who finished with 28 points on 11-of-24 shooting. “Along with Bam, too, but we’re gonna continually take those, getting two feet in the paint. If you can get a shot up, get it up, and if you can’t, get it out to your shooters. I think we did a good job with that. Maybe we do have to do a better job, but those are the same shots that we’re gonna get next game, and we’re expected to take and make those.”

After knocking down 17 3-pointers in Game 2, Miami made 11 of 34 shots from deep in Game 3. Duncan Robinson had three. Caleb Martin added a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter.

Despite getting the looks inside that they wanted, the Heat simply did not knock them down, resulting in a loss in which their fans, once roaring as loud as they could as they swirled white flags above their heads, were finding the exits before the final minutes.

Gabe Vincent shot 2 for 10 and Max Strus was 1 for 7, the starting guards combining to miss eight of their 10 attempts behind the arc.

Butler couldn’t seem to find the words to describe what went wrong, or why it was such a far cry from their success in a tough road environment a few nights earlier.

“I don’t know. It just can’t happen,” Butler said. “It won’t happen again, and it starts with myself. I’ve got to lock in on the defensive end … I think if I start playing and doing that, then everybody else has to follow suit.”

Miami made just 9 of 26 first-half attempts in the paint and finished the game shooting 37% from the field, compared to Denver’s 51.2.

“I thought offensively we actually did get a lot of opportunities in the paint,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “Yes, you have to credit their size and everything like that, but we’ve proven that we can finish in the paint when we’re at our best.”

Adebayo finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds but shot just 7 of 21 from the field.

The Nuggets pulled away in the third quarter — leading by as many as 19 — by accomplishing what the Heat couldn’t: They had 60 points in the paint to Miami’s 34. Denver only took 18 3-point attempts after taking 28 in Game 2 and 27 in Game 1.

“They pummeled us in the paint,” Spoelstra said. “They didn't really have to shoot 3s. ... There wasn't a need to space the floor. We didn't offer much resistance.”

The Heat pulled within nine with 1:22 left thanks to a 3-pointer by Robinson but missed all of their shot attempts the rest of the way.

“Good win for us,” Denver coach Michael Malone said, “but we did not come down here to get one win.”


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Denver Nuggets too big, too strong for Miami Heat in Game 3 of NBA Finals

MIAMI (AP) — After building their largest lead of the night to that point midway through the third quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Denver Nuggets put on a rebounding clinic.

Aaron Gordon grabbed one on the defensive end after Miami's Max Strus missed, then Michael Porter Jr. came down with the ball off Jamal Murray's failed 3-point attempt. Porter got his own own rebound off a block — and when he missed, Gordon put it back up and in, and the score wasn't close the rest of the way.

It was their own personal game of shoot until you make it — and it spoke to the Nuggets being too big, too strong and too tough inside for the Heat in their 109-94 victory Wednesday night that put them up 2-1 in the series and one step closer to the first championship in franchise history.

“It's a collective effort,” said Murray, who had 10 rebounds as part of his triple-double. “Sometimes it’s just an effort play. Sometimes the ball just comes to you. Sometimes somebody else does the dirty work and boxes the big guy out. I think it’s everybody chipping in to get those rebounds.”

Denver outrebounded Miami 58-33, and points in the paint were a lopsided 60-34. Nikola Jokic had 18 rebounds on the defensive end alone and 21 total as part of his triple-double.

“When we rebound like that, there's usually a direct correlation to a ‘W,'” said Gordon, who had 10 rebounds. “We’ve got to keep eating the glass, continue to rebound on both sides of the floor.”

While Jokic became the first player with 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game in the finals, he had plenty of help on the glass. The Heat had few answers inside for Gordon, Murray and Porter, who with his seven.

“They just pummeled us in the paint,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said, lamenting his team losing too many 50-50 plays. “They didn’t really have to shoot 3s. They had, whatever, 60 in the paint. They probably shot over 65% in the paint at the rim there. Wasn’t a need to space the floor.”

With Denver looking for complementary help for Jokic and Murray — who had 14 points midway through the second quarter and finished with a game-high 34 that were the most by a Canada-born player in a finals game — Gordon stepped to the forefront. The 27-year-old forward had 11 points in 34 minutes on the court.

Rookie Christian Braun also came up big with 15 points in 19 minutes off the bench. His was just one of several crucial secondary performances.

“This is by far our best game of the series, the most compete game of the series, and it’s not because of the triple-doubles or all the individual stats,” coach Michael Malone said, citing the 60 points in the paint and outrebounding Miami by a significant amount in a game in the finals. “That really helped us out tonight: the defending and rebounding at a high level.”

Malone saw it as the Nuggets responding teamwide to their Game 2 performance, when they blew a 15-point lead and lost. Now he hopes it carries into Game 4.

“I loved our energy, our effort, our urgency, our discipline," Malone said. “I felt we were where we needed to be tonight, and we’ll have to be even better come Friday evening.”


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Jokic and Murray both have triple-doubles, Nuggets beat Heat 109-94 for 2-1 lead

MIAMI (AP) — Never had two players from the same team had 30-point triple-doubles in the same game. Never in the regular season. Never in the playoffs. Certainly never in the NBA Finals.

Until now.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray made history Wednesday night — and have the Denver Nuggets two wins away from making some real history as well.

Jokic and Murray became the first teammates in NBA Finals history to both record triple-doubles, and the Nuggets reclaimed the lead in the series by beating the Miami Heat 109-94 in Game 3.

“By far, their greatest performance as a duo in their seven years together,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, after his team moved two wins away from Denver's first title.

Jokic finished with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists — the first such game in NBA Finals history, or at least the first since assists were tracked. Murray had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, getting the rebound he needed with 9 seconds remaining.

Murray, of Kitchener, Ont., also set a single-game record for points by a Canadian in an NBA Finals game.

The Nuggets outrebounded the Heat 58-33, and took a 2-1 lead. Game 4 is Friday in Miami.

“I’m just glad that we won the game,” Jokic said. “It was a big one for us because they won in our arena. We just didn’t want to go down 2-1.”

Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Miami, and Bam Adebayo finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds. Caleb Martin added 10 points.

“We've got to come out with more energy and effort and that's correctable,” Butler said. “That's on us as a group.”

Jokic and Murray combined for 24 field goals; Miami had 34. Jokic and Murray combined for 31 rebounds; Miami had 33. Jokic and Murray combined for 20 assists; Miami had exactly that many.

Somehow, some way, the Heat know they need to find an answer before Friday.

“It's not an easy task to do,” Butler said. “But if we want to win, we're going to have to figure it out.”

Miami has been the comeback kings of these playoffs — seven rallies in games after trailing by at least 12 points. The Heat were down by 14 going into the fourth, and Malone reminded his club of Miami’s penchant for comebacks.

“First two games, they won the fourth quarter,” Malone said. “Tonight, we win the fourth quarter, we win the game.”

His team listened.

The lead eventually reached 21, the outcome never seriously in doubt, and Jokic looking very much like he's back in cruise control. The Heat got within nine on a 3-pointer by Duncan Robinson with 1:22 left, but there was no epic finish for Miami. Murray and Jokic had the Nuggets too far ahead to get caught.

“You have to expect there to be elite talent in the finals,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And both those guys are elite-level talent.”

Officially, Jokic is now the seventh player to have two triple-doubles in the same finals. Magic Johnson and LeBron James each did it in three different finals. Draymond Green, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Butler all had one title series with two triple-doubles.

It was Jokic's 10th triple-double of these playoffs, extending his single-season record, and he was unbothered by whatever Miami threw his way. He finished 12 for 21 from the floor, 7 for 8 from the line, playing 44 minutes.

“We were more locked in, more focused,” Jokic said.

Christian Braun was tremendous off the bench for the Nuggets, scoring 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting in 19 minutes. Aaron Gordon added 11 for Denver.

And afterward, they both marvelled at what their stars did in Game 3.

“It’s greatness, man. It’s greatness,” Gordon said. “That’s a dynamic duo right there.”

Added Braun: “I would say that it’s what they do every game.”

Miami never led in the second half. A dunk by Adebayo put the Heat up 44-42 with 3:18 left in the half, before a 3-pointer by Murray represented the seventh and final lead change of the night. It was 53-48 at halftime, before Denver pushed the lead to double digits for the first time early in the third and wound up leading by as many as 19 later in that period.

The Heat stole home court by winning Game 2 in Denver, a game where Murray had a chance to force overtime with a 3-point try that missed at the end. The Nuggets now have the lead again, and there was no Game 2 hangover on Wednesday.

“Not just me,” Murray said. “Everybody bounced back.”


Nuggets: Denver used Reggie Jackson in the first quarter, going nine deep in the opening 12 minutes for the first time since Game 2 of the West finals. ... Denver hadn’t lost two consecutive games to Miami since March 14 and Nov. 30, 2016. Jokic played in both of those games, Murray in the second one early in his rookie season.

Heat: It was the first finals game in Miami since 2014. The Heat didn’t have any “home” games in the 2020 finals, which were held in the NBA’s restart bubble near Orlando. ... Wednesday was the 11th anniversary of LeBron James' 45-point, 15-rebound, five-assist game at Boston in Game 6 of the East finals — staving off elimination. The Heat won Game 7 and went on to beat Oklahoma City for James' first title.


Miami’s Udonis Haslem — in his 20th and final season — set a record. He became the oldest player to appear in the NBA Finals, breaking the mark of 42 years, 58 days set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on June 13, 1989.

Haslem turns 43 on Friday. He played the final 29.8 seconds.


Jokic had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the first quarter. The only other players in the last 25 years to have that in any quarter of a finals game were Stephen Curry (12-7-5) for Golden State in the third quarter against Cleveland on June 4, 2017, and Shaquille O’Neal (12-7-3) for the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter against Philadelphia on June 8, 2001.


Former Heat player and NBA champion Mike Miller — now an agent — was at the game, along with one of his clients, Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic. Banchero tweeted “game ain’t even started yet I’m in here star struck."

DJ Khaled was in attendance, along with soccer greats Neymar and Paul Pogba (on the day Lionel Messi committed to play for Inter Miami), Shakira, Magic Johnson, J. Cole (who played a role in getting Caleb Martin to the Heat) and Dwyane Wade — who starred for Miami’s title teams in 2006, 2012 and 2013.


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NBA coaches may soon get 2nd challenge to use if 1st one is successful

MIAMI (AP) — NBA coaches may soon get to challenge two calls in a game instead of just one, the league revealed Wednesday.

The current rule gives coaches one challenge per game, whether they’re right or not. The league’s competition committee is weighing whether coaches should be rewarded with a second challenge opportunity to use later in the game if the first one is deemed successful.

“We feel like it’s an incremental movement that we would potentially like to see,” NBA President of Basketball Operations Byron Spruell said Wednesday in an appearance on ESPN. “There’s an appetite for it. We’ll see where it comes out.”

The NBA’s competition committee will discuss the matter further at its meeting Thursday in Miami. It would then have to go to the league’s Board of Governors, and tested in summer league before it would be officially implemented.

“I think that would be good,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said before Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday, though he noted that he doesn't know what the “unintended consequences” of such a change would be.

The league is also looking at ways to further implement technology on certain decisions — such as goaltending and out-of-bounds calls late in games. Any changes there would also have to get board approval and go through the traditional testing process before getting to the NBA.

“Now, over time, maybe those even become more automated, like you see in tennis, like you see in baseball, like you even see in soccer,” Spruell said on the ESPN appearance. “So, we’re excited by the innovation there and what it could potentially lead to, including for our referees, taking that focus off of those objective calls and letting them get to the more complex, more real-time and more judgment-type, subjective calls too, even shifting their focus.”

The league implemented the challenge starting with the 2019-20 season.


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Tyler Herro's return to the court remains a waiting game as the Heat keep winning

MIAMI (AP) — Since breaking his hand in the first round of the NBA playoffs, Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro has been relegated to offering his teammates support in conspicuously gaudy outfits — topics of much conversation — from the sidelines.

The Heat would much rather have their 20-point scorer on the court. But, his return is still pending, and though Miami is holding out hope that Herro could play basketball again this season, he is running out of time and games.

The NBA Finals head to Miami on Wednesday with the series against the Denver Nuggets tied 1-1. Miami's Eric Spoelstra said Herro was to do a full-contact workout Tuesday, but the veteran coach remained noncommittal on the player's possible return. Herro hasn't yet been cleared to play.

“I don’t want to be Nostradamus right now. We’re taking it one day at a time,” Spoelstra said. "I know that sounds like a cliché. He did the practice with the group ... we'll meet with the training staff later on today and probably tomorrow, and we'll just continue this process. He has not been cleared yet, so that's where we are, but we’re encouraged by the work that he’s been doing.”

Herro was diving for a loose ball late in the second quarter of the Eastern Conference playoff opener against the Milwaukee Bucks when the injury to his right hand occurred. He re-entered the game, but was leaning forward in obvious pain in front of Miami's bench in the final minute of the first half.

“I feel like I had some things to prove this postseason," Herro said in April. "It was a tough moment. I still can’t believe it.”

He had surgery on April 21 for the fracture, with a four-to-six week recovery timetable, making a finals return possible.

“He’s another guy that provides so much shot-making, playmaking ability," forward Kevin Love said. “You saw in Game 1, we got cold from the 3-point line, didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the field. He’s just one of those guys that provides so much firepower.”

Losing such a pivotal piece of their offense — their third-leading scorer behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — seemed like a blow that would prematurely end the Heat's postseason run.

But they just keep winning.

They eliminated the top-seeded Bucks in five games, handled the New York Knicks in six, and recovered from blowing a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston to advance to the championship series for the second time in four seasons.

Players like Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent and Max Straus, have delivered in Herro’s absence.

Vincent is Miami’s third-leading postseason scorer with 13.9 points and 3.9 assists in 31.6 minutes. And Martin, undrafted out of college with a stint in the G League, was the breakout star of the conference finals with 19.3 points on 60% shooting, including a playoff career-high 26 points at Boston in Game 7.

“I'm so happy for the city of Miami," Butler said Wednesday. "This organization, they deserve to be in the finals. They deserve to win the finals and win a championship, and we will do everything in our power to make that happen.”


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New Suns coach Frank Vogel has blueprint in place for early success

PHOENIX (AP) — Frank Vogel led the Lakers to an NBA title in his first season in Los Angeles by finding a way to mesh the skills of stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The veteran coach is now in a similar situation in the desert, where he takes over a Phoenix Suns team led by stars Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.

The blueprint is there. Vogel just needs to make the pieces fit.

“The first thing I can apply is direct belief,” Vogel said Tuesday during his introductory news conference. “Now because I’ve done it, I’ve been a part of it. If the talent is in place, that you can galvanize a group and take the league by storm.”

Vogel did just that with James and Davis, leading a team that went 37-45 the year before to the franchise's 17th NBA title in the Florida pandemic bubble.

Vogel's new team is already on the rise.

Monty Williams took over a team that won 19 games in 2018-19 and guided it to the NBA Finals within two years.

When two embarrassing playoff exits followed — Phoenix trailed by 30 at halftime in both home losses — new Suns owner Mat Ishbia and general manager James Jones decided a change was needed. The Suns fired Williams on May 13 after four successful seasons, hoping a change in message could get the franchise back near the pinnacle.

“I just felt we needed an injection of a different voice, a different energy. It’s really that simple,” Jones said. “And as we evaluated where we were and where we wanted to go, we just saw a gap and we needed to fill it.”

Vogel takes over a roster in flux.

Booker, one of the league's best scorers, will be back. So will Durant, a 13-time All-Star.

Point guard Chris Paul was the cog the Suns appeared to missing when he joined the franchise in 2020, leading Phoenix to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 in his first season.

The 38-year-old continued to be an effective floor leader in his 17th season, finishing fourth in the NBA in assists at 8.9 per game this season. Once the playoffs rolled around, Paul's body gave out for a second straight year, a strained groin knocking him out of the Suns' final four games.

The Suns also have to decide whether to stick with center Deandre Ayton or trade him.

The 24-year-old has dominated at times, disappeared others. Ayton faded in the playoffs this year for a second straight season, his averages dipping even before he suffered a rib contusion in Game 5 against Denver.

“He can be a big deterrent (defensively) and there’s still areas that he can grow offensively,” Vogel said. “I’m intent on really connecting with him and restoring him to an All-Star level player.”

Vogel has surrounded himself with proven assistants.

David Fizdale was an assistant under Vogel with the Lakers after serving as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks. He will be joined by Kevin Young, one of the NBA's top assistants who was a finalist for the job Vogel eventually got.

Their biggest task will be to add a bit of grit to the glamour of Phoenix's two high-scoring star players.

Vogel is a defensive-minded coach with a successful track record that includes an NBA title and two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals as the Indiana Pacers' coach.

A dose of D could be just what the Suns need.

“The No. 1 habit that we develop all year is that we have to play harder and tougher and with more hustle than our opponents every night,” Vogel said. “Because if you develop that habit over 82 games, boy when you get to come playoff time, you know when every team’s trying to ratchet it up it’s already going to be there for us.”

Like in LA, Vogel is not facing an overhaul.

Booker and Durant are still two of the leagues best scorers and the franchise is two years removed from a trip to the NBA Finals. Add the right complementary players and the Suns could remain one of the Western Conference's best teams.

“We’re very close,” Vogel said. “A lot of things have to go our way. You need a lot of luck and you need some breaks along the way, but I feel like the foundation is in place. We've got to just make some moves around the edges.”


AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final set to take over South Florida for 4 nights

MIAMI (AP) — Four games, four nights, two titles at stake. South Florida is getting ready for an epic run of finals games.

Wednesday’s NBA Finals game in Miami between the Heat and Denver Nuggets starts a stretch of four consecutive days of either NBA or NHL title matchup contests in South Florida. The Florida Panthers are home for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, followed by Game 4 of Heat-Nuggets on Friday and Game 4 of Panthers-Golden Knights on Saturday.

There have been three consecutive days of home NBA or NHL title-round series in one building (or market, in this case) on two previous occasions — but never four in a row, until now.

On May 3, 1972, the New York Knicks had a home finals game at Madison Square Garden, followed by the New York Rangers the next night and the Knicks again on May 5. And on June 4, 2016, the San Jose Sharks had a home Stanley Cup Final game, with the Golden State Warriors playing the next night and the Sharks again on June 6.

The Sharks and Warriors had home buildings about 35 miles apart at that time, almost identical to the distance between the buildings that the Heat and Panthers call home.

There were instances of NBA and NHL final games on back-to-back nights in 1957 (Celtics and Bruins in Boston), 1974 (also Celtics and Bruins), 1980 (76ers and Flyers in Philadelphia), 1994 (Rangers and Knicks), 2003 (Nets and Devils in New Jersey). The Sharks and Warriors also had a back-to-back, a few days after their back-to-back-to-back, in 2016.

Even the Miami Marlins are getting in on the fun. They moved their start time for a Wednesday home game against the Kansas City Royals up 30 minutes, to 6:10 p.m. — or roughly 2 1/2 hours before the start of Heat-Nuggets.

“All eyes are on South Florida sports, and we want our fans to enjoy the fun in rooting on the Marlins followed by the Heat on Wednesday,” Marlins President of Business Operations Caroline O’Connor said.

If someone wanted to attend all four of those games as a fan, based on prices Tuesday, they could expect to pay at least $2,500 — and that’s for seats in both arenas about as far away from the playing surface as possible.


Playing back in Miami is a homecoming of sorts for Denver guard Bruce Brown, who spent two college seasons at the University of Miami under coach Jim Larrañaga.

“I could finally congratulate them for making it to the Final Four in person,” Brown said. “I loved my two years at Miami.”

The Hurricanes were 43-22 in Brown’s two seasons at the school in Coral Gables, a few miles from the arena where the Heat play. This season, Miami made the Final Four for the first time — a story that has been part of a huge year of basketball accomplishments in South Florida.

Florida Atlantic also made the men’s Final Four, Miami made the women’s Elite Eight, Nova Southeastern won the Division II men’s national championship, and teams from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties won eight of a possible 14 boys and girls state high school championships.

Brown got to see his old campus Tuesday; Nuggets veteran Jeff Green has a house in a neighborhood near Coral Gables — “all the way out in Narnia,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray joked — and had the team over for dinner Tuesday night.

“We drove by UM,” Brown said. “It just brought back memories ... it's great to be back.”


— Heat guard Tyler Herro (broken hand) still isn't cleared to play. He was going through another contact workout Tuesday.

— Denver is 9-0 when giving up 109 points or fewer. The Nuggets are 4-4 when allowing more than 109.

— Nikola Jokic has scored at least 40 points four times in his playoff career. The Nuggets are 0-4 in those games, 0-3 this season.

— Bam Adebayo’s 47 points in his past two games tie for the second most he’s ever had in a two-game postseason span. He had 48 points (21, then 27) in Games 2 and 3 against Boston of the 2020 Eastern Conference finals.

— Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (109) is two victories from tying Doc Rivers (111) for No. 4 on the NBA’s all-time postseason win list. The only coaches ahead of them: Phil Jackson (229), Pat Riley (171) and Gregg Popovich (170).


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Game 3 awaits in the NBA Finals, with Heat loose and Nuggets facing adversity

MIAMI (AP) — Erik Spoelstra has preached about the value of adversity for months, not shying away from saying that it helped the Miami Heat get to these NBA Finals.

And now Denver is dealing with a little taste of it as well.

Game 3 of the NBA Finals is Wednesday night in Miami, the series between the eighth-seeded Heat and top-seeded Nuggets knotted at a game apiece. It got that way after Miami rallied to win Game 2 in Denver 111-108 on Sunday night, an outcome that prompted Nuggets coach Michael Malone to openly share frustrations — primarily over a lack of discipline on a lot of possessions.

“We had a really good film session this morning,” Malone said Tuesday. “I gave an opportunity for everybody on our team to speak and talk about what they saw on the film. It was a very honest conversation. Guys owned what they needed to own. We have to learn from Game 2 to use it to our advantage.”

In other words, Denver needs to do what Miami did coming out of Game 1.

The Heat faced significant deficits in both games in Denver — 24 points in Game 1 and 15 points in Game 2. And while there was a comeback try in the opener, getting within nine late, the Heat managed to erase the whole deficit and then some in Game 2.

“You’re in the finals,” said Spoelstra, seeking his third championship as coach of the Heat. “You’re going to be dealing with great players, great teams. You have to find a way to overcome it and make it difficult and do a lot of things that are tough.”

Wednesday’s winner obviously gets the upper hand with a 2-1 series lead, and history will tip in that team’s favor as well. When a finals is tied 1-1, the Game 3 winner has gone on to eventually claim the title 80% of the time (32 times in 40 past instances). And 2-1 series leaders, regardless of whether they won Game 3 or not, have taken the title 79% of the time (49 times in 62 past instances).

The Heat are in the finals for the second time in four seasons, but are playing their first finals game actually at home since 2014 — the 2020 appearance was in the bubble, with no fans in the buildings for most of that experience and only a few family members for the finals.

“No matter what, they are going to be behind you,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “They are going to give you energy. You know, if the other team is on the run, they are going to give you a little boost. If you’re on a run, there’s going to be a crazy boost. The overall energy for your team and your group, it will give you a little bit of a lift — but it won’t win you the game, because you’ve still got to go out there and hoop.”

Hooping at the end of games hasn’t been an issue for Miami in this series. The Heat are outscoring Denver 66-45 in fourth quarters in this series, shooting 64% to the Nuggets’ 44% in the final period and holding a 33-9 edge in points off 3-pointers.

But the first three quarters, they’ve trended big-time toward Denver. The Nuggets have outscored Miami 167-138 in those periods, outshooting the Heat 53% to 39%. Miami has outscored Denver 57-48 on 3s in those quarters, but that’s nothing like the unmanageable margin the Nuggets have dealt with in final quarters.

“Just don’t get them wide-open looks,” said Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 34 points, 10.5 rebounds and nine assists in his first two finals games. “Yes, we know they’re going to score. Yes, we know they have talented players. But we cannot give them open looks, and that was the main key.”

There wasn’t a lot of worry coming from either side Tuesday, when the teams had to go through the obligatory public workouts as part of the NBA media off-day slate. The Nuggets were loose, smiling a lot. The Heat were doing much of the same.

Moods will change by the end of Wednesday night. One of the teams — either the big pre-finals favorite Nuggets, or the eighth-seeded, nothing-to-lose Heat — is going to be two wins away from a title.

“When we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose,” Heat forward Kevin Love said. “It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”


AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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