Winderman: Nine games the Heat could lose you didn't expect

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Thumbnail image for bosh_wade_james.jpgEven before the NBA released its complete schedule Tuesday, there were plenty of logical assumptions that could have been made about the longshot odds of the revamped Miami Heat matching the 72-10 of the 1995-96 Bulls.

There are, after all, four games apiece against the Celtics and Magic, as well as two against the Lakers, in addition to road tests against several upgraded Eastern Conference opponents.

But the NBA schedule is about more than opponents.

Sometimes the greatest opponent is the schedule itself.

That’s what made Tuesday significant for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and for more than letting them know they will be working on both Christmas and New Year’s, but not Thanksgiving or Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

So where are the traps? Where are the games that you might, along the way, wonder how in the heck Pat Riley’s creation slipped?

Here are a few:

Sun. Oct. 31 at New Jersey: Rare are NBA games played on football Sundays. But rare is the NBA team that stands as the secondary tenant to an NHL team. So not only do the Nets have to battle the NFL on the season’s first Sunday, but the game in their new Newark digs is scheduled for 1 p.m., which is never a good thing for the type of stars likely to be embraced across the river the previous night.

Tue. Dec. 1 home vs. Detroit: No, not because of the T-Mac factor. But because of what follows the next night — LeBron’s first visit back to Cleveland. Figure on much of the discussion that week centering on all things Cavalier and Gilbert. James well could find himself spending more time studying escape routes from Quicken Loans Arena than any game plan for the Pistons.

Thu. Dec. 23 at Phoenix: Oh, the Suns well could challenge the Heat with their unique blend of speed. But, like James’ first visit to Cleveland, this is about the game that follows, the Christmas showdown in Los Angeles against Kobe and the Lakers. This is the rare two-game western trip, and the league didn’t send the Heat coast to coast for a mere three days because it was searching for a TNT game against the Suns hours before Christmas Eve.

Jan. 13 in Denver: This could be one of very few games when the Heat actually is cast as an underdog by the odds-makers. Not only is this game at altitude, but it comes on the second night of a back-to-back, after playing the previous night in Los Angeles against the Clippers. Oh, and it’s also the fourth stop of a five-game road trip.

Sat. Jan. 15 in Chicago: This is the final stop on a five-game trip that challenges any sense of geographic logic, one that starts in Milwaukee, continues in Portland, Los Angeles and Denver before returning within miles of where it started. And it’s not as if Wade made many friends in Chicago during free agency.

Fri. Feb. 4 in Charlotte: Another case of schedule positioning. The Heat is in Orlando the previous night for a nationally televised game against the Magic. Larry Brown will be more than willing to pick on Erik Spoelstra’s tired and weary.

Wed. Feb. 16 in Toronto: Chris Bosh’s first visit back north of the border comes at the end of a four-game trip, when the whole customs things sets up as the very type of nuisance Bosh sought to escape.

Fri. March 4 in San Antonio: Not only is the opposition a sufficient challenge, but this comes a night after yet another nationally televised game against the Magic. There might be not greater statement about greatness than beating Orlando at home and then wining in San Antonio the following night.

Wed. April 13 in Toronto: The season finale comes just three days before a potential playoff opener. Considering the Heat’s penultimate game is that Monday in Atlanta, figure on plenty of Spoelstra’s stars suddenly realizing in Atlanta they left their passports home.

The point being that while the Celtics, Magic and Lakers set up as the Heat’s most difficult opponents, it is the schedule, itself, that might set up as the greatest challenge to a date with the record book.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.