Can the Miami Heat win it all this season?

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ljames_points.jpgAlready you were hearing it — guys were saying it on ESPN and talk radio shows across the nation even before LeBron made his announcement.

If the Heat don’t win it all this year, it’s a failure.

That’s a bunch of manure.

Winning a championship takes a lot of things, including luck with injuries and a few bounces to go your way. It’s hard. The Heat now have a wide-open five-year window, if they get no titles in that time it will be a failure.

But they are a long way from a title this year. Even with three of the best players walking the planet on one team.

Look at the teams that were in the Finals this year — both teams had a big three. Plus the Lakers had Ron Artest (or Andrew Bynum, if you count Artest in the three) plus they brought Lamar Odom off the bench. The Celtics are really a Big Four now, and they needed Big Baby and Nate Robinson off the bench to win them one of the finals games. It takes depth to win a title.

Pat Riley was a magician to get all three of these guys in one uniform. But he has a lot of work to do. He has to build a team around these three — and do it on the cheap. If he can move Michael Beasley he will have about $1.8 million to play with after the big three sign. If not, it’s all minimum contracts from here on out.

What does he need to do? One of my favorite basketball minds — David Thorpe of ESPN — broke it down in a Q&A at TrueHoop:

They need 3-point shooters off the bench, and in the starting lineup. They don’t need a point guard, necessarily, because Wade and James are both such willing distributors. And look at the teams that have won titles in recent years. Many have not had transcendent point guards. Jason Williams, Avery Johnson, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar … they’re not lottery picks….

And then you have got to find some centers. They don’t need to score. They just need to rebound, play defense and race the floor.

One holdover on the Heat roster, point guard Mario Chalmers, could work in the Fisher-like point guard role — an untraditional point who does not handle the ball that much. But he needs to accept that role and step up to the challenge. Last season his game regressed. He only shot 31 percent from three. With these guys, he can get good looks spacing the floor, but he has to knock down the catch-and-shoot.

There are a lot of other catch-and-shoot guys out there — the better ones cost. But good scouting (here and Europe) could find some guys the Heat might be able to afford.

Centers are a bigger problem. Solid big men who can defend and rebound get big money. Brendan Haywood just signed for six years, $55 million. Teams want to give 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal $5.8 million a year for two years. And he’s a shell of himself.

For what the Heat have to spend, they will not get much. This is where the multi-year plan comes in. They need to get younger players they can develop, Thorpe notes. Guys who may not help much in November but could in April and will next year.

But what about this year? Bosh is not a true center, he cannot bang with the bigs in the East like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut and Jermaine O’Neal now in Boston. Not and have his knees hold up.

You can create a tempo game. You can aggressively trap. You can make it a game about aggressiveness, and those three will all have a great feel for that.

(Heat coach) Erik Spoelstra is a very bright guy. If he doesn’t have the roster for it, he’s not going to play a classic defensive scheme and get crushed. He will strategize with what he has….

This team, though, they might not have to go small. They can go unique. They can have James and Wade as the backcourt, with a couple of 6-8 athletic shooters, and Bosh, and then race the floor. That’s not a tiny lineup.

The Heat are going to be very entertaining this season. They are going to be figuring it out on the fly, and they can’t be traditional. They won’t be. We’ll see how easily egos can be set aside, especially when the inevitable rough patch comes.

But win it all this year? It takes depth to win. And that may take a year or two to build in Miami.

But it’s going to be fun to watch them get there.

Russell Westbrook dogs Warriors, Damian Lillard after Paul George misses All-Star roster

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Ah yes, let the mud-slinging begin.

Russell Westbrook is on a team with three huge stars in the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was always going to be difficult for all of them to make the 2018 NBA All-Star team out west.

But that doesn’t matter to Russ.

After Tuesday night’s win over the Brooklyn Nets (where Westbrook hit the game-winning shot, no less) the reigning NBA MVP had some thoughts about teammate Paul George missing out on the All-Star Game, calling it “outrageous”.

Westbrook wasn’t too happy with teams getting “four people” onto the team (a dig at the Golden State Warriors) and that players are, “Talking about getting snubbed until they get in.”

That last part seems to have taken aim at Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, one of the most talked about snubs in recent years who finally got another All-Star bid.

Via Twitter:

Westbrook also said that George was “Top 2 at his position” which really colors the underlying issue at hand: Russ likes PG and wants him to stay in OKC.

Nobody reasonable would say that George is a Top 2 player on the wing. Not while LeBron James and Kevin Durant are alive, at least. And Westbrook’s comments about folks being stars vs. not stars, even if the voting goes one way says a lot.

The Warriors are the best team of all time. A bunch of guys getting on All-Star teams in their heyday makes sense, even if one of those guys is Klay Thompson (sometimes). We all have Warriors fatigue, I guess.

Meanwhile, Lillard is one of adidas’ biggest athletes when it comes to basketball, the face of a franchise, and has put up numbers deserving of making the team in years past. He’s also a big personality and a rapper. Lillard’s name is in lights each and every night. The issue with him sees to be that nobody watches him consistently east of the Cascades.

But all this arguing gives legitimacy to Westbrook’s point, which is mostly personal. George’s numbers have taken a dip in some areas, particularly when it comes to things like VORP, assist percentage, and true shooting. They’ve gone up in others, like 3-point shooting. He’s still a very good player and very valuable to the Thunder.

Each year, guys get left off the All-Star team for various reasons. Sometimes it’s just their turn to be on it or be off it. Nice of Westbrook to stop by with some takes.

Here’s hoping for him that George stays in OKC.

Russell Westbrook hits game-winning shot to beat Nets (VIDEO)

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Spencer Dinwiddie hit the game-winning shot for the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night. At least, many thought he did.

But that honor actually went to Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, who had hit the real game winner with a little more than three seconds to go.

Westbrook’s bucket came on after a sideline inbounds play led to a hard drive to the right side of the bucket for the reigning MVP.

Then, Dinwiddie got the ball and had appeared to make a 3-pointer to win the game for the Nets. However, it clanged off the side of the rim, moving the net in a way that many watching on TV and in the arena thought had gone in.

Via Twitter:

OKC beat Brooklyn, 109-108.

Here’s LeBron James scoring the 30,000th point of his career (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is officially the youngest player to ever reach 30,000 points in an NBA career.

The Cleveland Cavaliers great, who preemptively congratulated himself in a weird Instagram post earlier in the day, got points 30,000 and 30,001 at the age of 33 years and 24 days, edging Kobe Bryant by a year and 80 days.

The play came with just a second to go in the first quarter while the Cavaliers played on the road against the San Antonio Spurs.

Dribbling on the left arc against Danny Green — a formidable defender — LeBron gave a hesitation dribble before stepping just inside the 3-point line for a pull-up jumper.

Via Twitter:

LeBron still has Dirk Nowitzki, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Where he ends up might just depend on how long Nowitzki plays.

Top five 2018 All-Star Game snubs

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We fans love to talk about who gets snubbed. There are 68 teams in the NCAA tournament and we argue about who was 69th and deserved to be there.

With the NBA All-Star game, there are always legitimate snubs — and with the Western Conference so ridiculously deep this season good players were going to get left out. Just picking my reserve choices for a podcast felt brutal.

We now know the All-Star Game starters and reserves, so who got snubbed. Here are the top five.

1) Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. Los Angeles has been devastated by injuries this season (not to mention losing Chris Paul in the off-season) yet they are still in the playoff hunt in the West and the main reason is Lou Williams. The leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate is averaging 23.3 points per game, 5,3 assists a night, and is shooting better than 40 percent from three. He had a red-hot January so far, averaging 29.2 points per game. This may be a case where Damian Lillard got the nod from the coaches for his multi-year body of work (he’s been good a long time), but Williams is having his best season ever and has a great case.

2) Chris Paul, Houston Rockets. He likely didn’t get selected because he has missed 17 games this season — but Stephen Curry missed 15 and is a captain. When CP3 has played he’s been brilliant, averaging 19.1 points and 8.9 assists per game, he’s been crucial to improving the Rockets defense this season, and when he is on the court the Rockets outscore opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets are 23-5 when he plays. Houston is the second best team in the NBA, they should have more than one representative tonight.

3) Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons. The coaches went with four guards for the East reserves, and that left just three frontcourt spots and four deserving players. Drummond is the odd-man out. Which sucks — he is averaging 14.3 points per game on 54 percent shooting, and he remains the best rebounder in the game today pulling down 15 a night. He has improved his defensive play as well, but what everyone notices is he hitting his free throws (62.9 percent) and that means Stan Van Gundy can play him at the end of games and not sub him out.

Drummond was more than a little frustrated he didn’t make the cut.

4) Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder. George has played well on both ends this season next to Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 20.8 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from three on one end of the floor, and defensively he is averaging 4.4 deflections per game and has 93 steals — both tops in the league. George is a four-time All-Star and it feels weird to see him left out, but he came to the ridiculously deep Western Conference and good players were not going to make it. He’s the odd man out in the frontcourt.

5) Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets. Could have got a lot of directions here – Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic can make their cases on appeal — but people have been sleeping on just how well Walker has been playing this season. Walker is averaging an efficient 21.8 points per game, dishing out 5.9 assists per night, and when he is on the court the Hornets outscore teams by 5.1 points per 100 possessions (that’s better than the Celtics or Timberwolves net ratings for the season). The problem is when he sits they fall apart, and Walker pays the price for his team struggling this season. His name has popped up in trade rumors, and he is the best guy available right now (not that he gets moved in a tight market). Walker was an All-Star last season and had a very strong case to be one again.