NBA Season Preview: The Miami Heat

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Thumbnail image for Heat_huddle.jpgLast season: 47-35, fifth seed in the East. Their reward for that? The Boston Celtics in the first round. Ouch.

Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra, who is one of the best young minds in the game and a Pat Riley protégé. Which means Riley is not going to go Stan Van Gundy on him this season (if he does the backlash will be insane).

Key Departures: Former No. 2 pick Michael Beasley (now in the basketball Siberia of Minnesota), Jermaine O’Neal (who could come back to haunt the Heat as part of the Celtics), Quentin Richardson (who could come back to haunt the Heat as part of the Magic, plus some other minor parts.

Key Additions: Don’t know if you heard, but LeBron James chose Miami. Hate the man if you want, he remains as good a basketball player as there is walking the face of the earth.

The Heat re-signed Dwyane Wade. They brought in Chris Bosh from Toronto, now people will see just how good Bosh really is (I’m not sure the general public gets it).

They brought in Mike Miller to be the sharp-shooting, floor-spreading guy they need with all those penetrators on the roster. They re-signed Udonis Haslem. They signed Zydrunas Ilgauskas to provide depth up front. The re-singed Joel Anthony to be the rim protector they need. The re-signed Carlos Arroyo. They brought in Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magloire to be the old guys on the bench.

Whew. That about covers it, we think.

Best case scenario: An NBA championship. Anything less and next summer be filled with “what’s wrong with the Heat?” stories. It won’t be the championship the Lakers/Celtics won, but the one the Heat lost somehow.

For that to happen: The Heat have to defend. They do not need to be the 2004 Pistons in defense, but they need to be good.

Look, they are going to score. The concerns about Wade/LeBron/Bosh being able to play together are overblown — these are not the crazy-high usage guys who never pass. All three are good teammates, guys who give up the ball (remember, when you climbed all over LeBron for passing to the open man with the game on the line?). This team is going to be an offensive force.

And all three are good defenders. The pressure that James and Wade can put on opposing wing players will be intense — the Heat are going to get turnovers and easy (occasionally spectacular) transition baskets.

But in today’s NBA, with no handchecking on the perimeter, Dwyane Wade can’t guard Dwyane Wade. The league’s best penetrating wing players are going to get to the rim, other teams will do it with crisp ball movement (see Jazz, Utah). In today’s NBA you need a big man to protect the rim and own the paint (and glass). You need Kendrick Perkins or Dwight Howard or (a healthy) Andrew Bynum to anchor that defense.

Joel Anthony is a shot blocker. He works hard and gets as much out of his game as anyone. He is still 6’9″ and other teams are going to try to exploit that. Not many can. The Heat have the talent to go stretches with Bosh at the center spot, to use Big Z, to get by just fine most nights. But there will be nights when the run into a roster like Orlando where they have a center and other big men to spread the floor making help defense much harder.

The Heat have a season to fine-tune the defense, to see what matchups and lineups work best. Because come the playoffs they will see teams that have the talent to go at their weaknesses and if the Heat have not figured it out they will pay.

More likely the Heat will: Be right in the mix for a title. Can they win it? The Magic 8 Ball says “ask later.” We don’t know. The legendary Lakers with Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain did not — this is no sure thing for the Heat. The Lakers, Magic and Celtics have the talent to hang.

But if the Heat can defend, if they get solid play out of Anthony and Chalmers and Miller, if they can stay healthy, yes they can get a ring. Both this year and several more in the next five years.

Prediction: 64-18, and the top seed in the East. (Forget the 72-win thing, you have to really commit to that and the Heat will commit to rest for the playoffs instead.) From there, it’s all about matchups and how far the Heat defense has come along.

Kawhi Leonard’s 34 points rally Spurs past Timberwolves, 122-114 (VIDEO)

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) Kawhi Leonard had 34 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a strong start by the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 122-114 victory Tuesday night.

Leonard’s fourth straight 30-point game helped him become the first San Antonio player to score 950 points in the first half of a season since Tim Duncan in 2003.

Coming off a career-high 38 on Saturday against Phoenix in Mexico City, Leonard was 12 for 17 from the field.

LaMarcus Aldridge added 29 points on 12-for-20 shooting, spoiling Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau’s 59th birthday.

San Antonio had difficulty with Minnesota’s explosive starting lineup. Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points and 16 rebounds, and Ricky Rubio added 21 points and 14 assists. Zach LaVine scored 18, Gorgui Dieng had 17 and Andrew Wiggins 10.

Minnesota’s 41 points in the second were a season high for any period and the most points in a quarter by a San Antonio opponent this season.

The Spurs were more active in the second half, holding the Timberwolves to 43 points.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: LaVine has 29 points, nine rebounds and three assists in two games since returning from a two-game absence caused by a bruised left hip. . Minnesota is 4-22 when allowing 100-plus points. . The Timberwolves’ last win against San Antonio was April 8, 2014, a 110-91 victory at home. . Minnesota’s previous high for a quarter was 39 points in the first against Orlando on Nov. 9. Its previous high for the second period was 35 in that same game against the Magic. . The Timberwolves are 5-15 on the road.

Spurs: Leonard has scored in double figures in 73 straight games, the seventh-longest active streak in the NBA behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Isaiah Thomas, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins. . Parker collected his 6,500th career assist, joining James as the only two active players with 6,500 assists and 18,000 points. John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton and Oscar Robertson are the only other players to reach those milestones. . San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was assessed his fourth technical foul of the season with 3:41 left in the first quarter for berating Michael Smith over a non-call. After Aldridge appeared to be shoved from behind on an attempted offensive rebound, Popovich walked the sideline screaming and shadowing Smith and had to be restrained near midcourt by Spurs assistant Ettore Messina. . The previous high for free throws attempted by an opponent was 38 by Sacramento on Oct. 27.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.

Spurs: Host the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.

In salary cap move, Atlanta trades Mo Williams to Denver

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 31: Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after hitting a three point shot during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at Quicken Loans Arena on March 31, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Nets 107-87. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***Mo Williams
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Mo Williams decided before the season he was done — he walked away from basketball and left the Cavaliers without a reliable backup point guard. LeBron James is still complaining about not having one.

But just because he wasn’t playing didn’t lead the Cavaliers to shed his salary. That was dead money that could be useful in a trade — such as landing Kyle Korver. The Hawks landed Mo Williams in that deal (along with Mike Dunleavy Jr. and a pick).

Now the Hawks have moved Williams on to Denver in a salary cap move for both teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Hawks worked out Gary Neal recently and saw the veteran as a shooter who could help them fill the hole left by Kover.

This is simply a salary cap trade. It’s not changing anyone’s rotation.

Mavericks edge Bulls 99-98 for 3rd straight win (VIDEO)

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CHICAGO (AP) Wesley Matthews made a go-ahead 3-pointer from the wing with 12 seconds left, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Chicago Bulls 99-98 on Tuesday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Six players scored in double figures for the Mavericks, including all five starters. Harrison Barnes had 20 points, Seth Curry added 18 and Dirk Nowitzki finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Dallas trailed 98-96 after Jimmy Butler made a long jumper over Matthews with 23 seconds left, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle decided against a timeout and Deron Williams drove into the lane before kicking out to Matthews for the 3.

Chicago had one last chance, but Dwyane Wade missed a potential game-winning jumper from the corner on his 35th birthday as time expired.

Butler finished with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who had won two in a row. Robin Lopez scored 21, and Wade had 17 on 8-for-21 shooting.

Wade’s fadeaway jumper gave the Bulls a 94-90 lead with about 3 1/2 minutes left, but they were unable to close out Dallas. Chicago has dropped four in a row against the Mavericks, including a 107-82 loss in their first meeting of the season.

Chicago played without forward Taj Gibson, sidelined by left ankle soreness. Paul Zipser, a second-round pick in last year’s draft, started in Gibson’s spot and finished with five points and three rebounds in his 13th game of the season.

Gibson, averaging 12 points and 7.3 rebounds, could return Friday night at Atlanta. He had played in every game this season.

Dallas put together a 15-4 run spanning halftime to open a 64-51 lead on Barnes’ turnaround jumper with 8:38 left in the third. But Chicago kept chipping away at the deficit, and Lopez’s three-point play off a pass from Butler trimmed the Mavericks’ lead to 76-74 heading into the fourth.

Williams had 11 points, nine assists and six rebounds for Dallas, and reserve J.J. Barea scored 12 points. Matthews went 3 for 5 from 3-point range and finished with 11 points.

TIP-INS

Mavericks: C Andrew Bogut missed his third straight game with a right hamstring strain.

Bulls: Butler received his Olympic championship ring during a pregame ceremony. He helped the U.S. win gold in Rio de Janeiro last summer. … F Doug McDermott, who scored a career-high 31 points in Chicago’s 108-104 victory at Memphis on Sunday night, finished with seven points on 3-for-10 shooting.

UP NEXT

Mavericks: Visit Miami on Thursday night. The Mavericks have lost nine of their last 10 regular-season games against the Heat.

Bulls: Visit Atlanta on Friday night. The Bulls have dropped five in a row against the Hawks, including a 115-107 defeat at Atlanta on Nov. 9.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Goran Dragic scores 21 as Heat stun Rockets, 109-103

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MIAMI (AP) The way the Miami Heat saw it, this was a reward.

Goran Dragic had 21 points and eight assists, Wayne Ellington scored 18 off the bench and the Heat – saddled with one of the worst records in the NBA – overcame another triple-double from James Harden to beat the Houston Rockets 109-103 on Tuesday night.

Dion Waiters scored 17, Tyler Johnson had 16 and James Johnson added 15 for the Heat, who trailed by a point midway through the fourth quarter before putting the game away with a 20-5 run.

“I’m glad to see our guys get rewarded finally for all the work, but that doesn’t guarantee anything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We talk about it all the time. You keep on putting in deposits, to the team, to the work, continue to work to get better … trust that process.”

Harden had 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Rockets (32-12), his 13th triple-double of the season. He shot 12 for 30 from the field and got his triple-double with an assist to Montrezl Harrell with 12.6 seconds left, an uncontested dunk with the Heat simply waiting for the clock to run out.

Harrell had 13 points for the Rockets, who got 12 from Patrick Beverley.

“They played hard and they beat us,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “There’s not much else to say.”

Hassan Whiteside added 14 points and 15 rebounds for Miami in a game that had 19 lead changes and 15 ties.

Dragic found Ellington for a corner 3 with 1:41 left to give Miami an 11-point lead – the largest either team had to that point. The Rockets turned it over on their next possession, James Johnson got a runout dunk and the Heat (12-30) soon finished off the win.

“We got open shots. We just missed them,” Harden said. “We gave ourselves a chance, especially in that third quarter. Fourth quarter we didn’t play as well as we need to.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: Clint Capela returned after missing 15 games with a small left fibula fracture and started at center. He was scoreless in nine minutes. … The Rockets were without Ryan Anderson (flu), and Eric Gordon – bothered by a sore ankle – shot 3 for 17. … Harden’s triple-double was only the seventh posted by an opposing player in a game (including playoffs) at Miami – and the second in three weeks, after Russell Westbrook did it on Dec. 27.

Heat: It was Miami’s first home game since Jan. 1. … Okaro White was signed to a 10-day contract Tuesday, but did not play. … Floyd Mayweather was courtside, as he’s been for several Miami games this season. … Miami held the Rockets to a 9-for-39 night from 3-point range. … Miami’s bench outscored Houston’s 51-32.

TECHS FOR EVERYONE

Spoelstra received a technical early in the third quarter, upset after Rodney McGruder got hit with his fourth foul in 13 minutes. D’Antoni drew a technical with 5:40 left, and Beverley got one with 1:12 left.

HARDEN IN MIAMI

Shooting has never been easy for Harden in Miami.

He was 3 for 18 in two games at AmericanAirlines Arena in the NCAA tournament for Arizona State in 2009. He’s a 38 percent shooter in 11 games at Miami as a pro, 30 percent from 3-point range – and his teams are 3-8 in those games.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Host Milwaukee on Wednesday, part of a four-game, five-night swing.

Heat: Host Dallas on Thursday in the second game of a four-game homestand.