Winderman: Preseason a missed opportunity for Heat

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The team that would challenge 72-10 is 2-2 (unless you insist on counting a victory over CSKA Moscow, then it is 3-2).

Of course, the team that would challenge 72-10 has been on true display for a grand total of 3 minutes, 17 seconds. That was when Dwyane Wade was lost in the exhibition opener with a strained right hamstring, an injury that might not allow a return until the Oct. 26 season opener in Boston.

And now LeBron James is out, too, with a sore right hamstring.

Suddenly, Chris Bosh is back in Toronto, only instead of having Andrea Bargnani alongside, his running mate at center is Joel Anthony, who lately has been making Bargnani look like a rebounding machine.

Not even a 20-point third-quarter Wednesday by Bosh was enough, in a 90-76 loss in New Orleans.

Training camp certainly couldn’t have been better. The time spent at the Hurlburt Field Air Force installation in the Florida Panhandle was productive on so many levels.

The preseason for the Miami Heat? That’s a different story.

No, this isn’t about the dueling hamstrings of Wade and LeBron, it’s about getting a read on continuity.

With Wade out, Mike Miller has been in the starting lineup. Only the plan had been to play Miller almost exclusively as a sixth man, to be paired alongside former University of Florida roommate Udonis Haslem.

Then there is the rebounding issue with Anthony, who in his first four preseason appearances grabbed exactly one rebound, leading to the question of whether an NBA center has ever gone four starts with four total rebounds. Wednesday in New Orleans there were a whopping three, as well as Anthony’s first points of the preseason, after going those first four games, all starts, without even attempting a shot.

And yet, with Anthony there at least the stability provided by his shot blocking.

At point guard, stability has been rumor. Mario Chalmers continues to battle a troublesome ankle that had him sidelined for two months this summer and two games this preseason. A balky groin has limited Carlos Arroyo to a single appearance. And someone named Patrick Beverley has been playing significant minutes, a rookie whose last college game was three seasons ago.

For veteran contenders, the preseason is considered an insignificant blip. The Celtics, Lakers, Spurs hardly need such an annoyance.

But for a Heat team that redefined itself this offseason, these could add up to missed opportunities.

Invincible?

Tuesday night, Russia’s best held a 10-point lead at one stage.

Invincible?

Wednesday, a Hornets team that lost its previous appearance by 54 in Orlando, won going away.

Having bucked conventional wisdom already with its free-agency approach, the Heat seemingly would like to buck another notion.

This is the rare team that might actually need a longer preseason.

As it is, the Heat will enter the regular season with the same questions that followed that early July celebration at AmericanAirlines Arena:

Does this combination guarantee success?

Darned if we know. Darned if we’ve gotten a chance to know.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.