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With Haslem out, will LeBron see more time at the four?

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Udonis Haslem going down with a torn foot ligament is very bad for the Miami Heat means that the Miami Heat are going to have to make some tough calls regarding their rotation in the coming weeks. Allow me to offer this thought: instead of giving Haslem’s minutes to Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, or increasing Joel Anthony’s minutes, why not use more lineups that use James Jones at the three, feature a backcourt of Wade and Arroyo/Chalmers, play Anthony or Ilgauskas at center, and use LeBron at the four spot?

After all, LeBron is bigger than most power forwards, and there isn’t a power forward in the league who can keep James in front of them. The Heat have been using LeBron as their de facto point guard a lot of the time, which takes full advantage of LeBron’s passing ability. That’s all well and good, but LeBron isn’t the best passer in NBA history. However, he might be the most frightening combination of size and speed the NBA has seen since Wilt Chamberlain. The closer LeBron is to the basket, the more chances he has to use that athleticism.

LeBron’s footwork in the post is one of the worst parts of his offensive game, but putting him on the block will force defenses to bring double teams, give James more opportunities to finish plays at the basket, and infuse some athleticism into a Heat offense that has relied heavily on pick-and-pop basketball in the opening parts of the season. And if LeBron does use this opportunity to commit himself to working on his footwork and developing a scorer’s mentality in the post, the rest of the league is going to have problems. Even if the Heat go “four-up” with LeBron at the four like ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh predicts they will, the Heat are going to be tough to defend because of how well they can spread the floor.

Here’s some of what Haberstroh had to say about the possibility of James seeing extended minutes at the four:

LeBron at the 4 sounds nice. And it often is. But there’s more to it.

The Cleveland Cavaliers found success deploying LeBron at the power forward, but only while he was paired with a mobile, defensively-focused big man like Anderson Varejao. The effect was lost when LeBron tagged alongside slumbering 5s like Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Evidently, the Cavaliers excelled with the duo of James and Varejao, beating opponents by about 28 points every 100 possessions. But that’s not the case with Shaq and Ilguaskas, with the Cavs getting outscored on a per possession basis. (Side note: the Cavs had 12 more offensive possessions than defensive possessions, explaining the negative efficiency differential for Iglauskas’ line).

While it’s insightful to look at how Cleveland fared with LeBron at the 4, the situation in Miami is substantially different. The Heat don’t have a player like Varejao who can run the floor, finish in transition and sufficiently defend opposing bigs without fouling them every time down the court.

The Heat will look for Bosh to fill that role at the center position even though he’s been vocal about it not being his favorite one.

Possible Heat acquisition Erik Dampier isn’t a speedster by any stretch of the imagination, but he is a good deal more mobile than the glacial pair of O’Neal and Ilgauskas. Joel Anthony isn’t as smart of a defender as Varejao, but he’s nearly as quick, stronger, and a better shot-blocker.

It might be beneficial for the Heat to give LeBron some minutes at the four now, because injured Heat 6th man Mike Miller is probably a natural small forward — a Miller/James frontcourt combination could be a great way to keep the pressure on teams when Bosh sits, or they could even go crazy and play Miller/James/Bosh for some stretches. The Heat will probably end up playing LeBron on the perimeter as much as they can, and LeBron himself doesn’t seem that excited about playing the four, but LeBron embracing his size and athleticism in Miami instead of insisting on being the world’s largest lead guard could ease the blow of the Haslem injury.

Expectations sky-high as Jazz look to break playoff drought

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 05:  Gordon Hayward #20 (second from right) of the Utah Jazz stands with teammates in a huddle during the first half of the preseason NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 5, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Joe Johnson had options of where to chase a ring in the twilight of his career and the seven-time All-Star chose to sign a two-year deal with a Utah Jazz team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2012.

Johnson, 35, bought into the widespread belief that the Jazz will improve from young up-and-comers to a competitive playoff team.

“It was the talent level and knowing from talking to (coach) Quin (Snyder), they wanted some veteran guys around these young guys and help lead the way,” Johnson said. “That was probably the biggest part.”

That’s the story on the Jazz entering the 2016-17 season: a team no longer on the cusp, but one with postseason expectations.

Snyder and general manager Dennis Lindsey have tried to temper those expectations, but the offseason moves to add veterans spoke volumes. The Jazz traded for George Hill and Boris Diaw and signed Johnson – ending the slow rebuild. The league, however, won’t see what this roster looks like at full strength for some time.

Gordon Hayward is out for an unknown amount of time with a broken finger on his non-shooting hand. Derrick Favors played just one preseason game due to a knee issue. Key reserve Alec Burks still hasn’t returned from arthroscopic surgery to his knee and ankle in June.

So the Jazz didn’t get to fully integrate the new veterans with the established players during the preseason.

“I feel like we’ve got a lot done in spite of (injuries),” Snyder said. “(Diaw, Hill and Johnson) have probably played more preseason minutes than I intended. … It has given them a chance to get acclimated. Their roles, particularly Joe’s, will probably change and evolve when Gordon comes back. Outside of that, there’s challenges. You just don’t know. Certain players, certain lineups. … I don’t think we were able to build quite the connectivity that we’d like at this point. But I felt like this was a team that was going to take a while to develop, too. Hopefully it doesn’t set us back too much.”

The Jazz begin the season on the road against the Trail Blazers on Tuesday. Eight of their first 11 games are on the road.

Things to watch as the Jazz prepare to tip off the season:

STIFLING TOWER: The 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert has already established himself as one of the best defensive centers in the game, averaging 2.27 blocks over the last two seasons, but he’s shown off a little more offense this preseason. He seemed to catch and finish better than in the past and averaged 14.8 points in six games. The most notable improvement has been Gobert’s free throw shooting. He shot 56.9 percent last year and 74.5 percent this preseason.

RETURN OF EXUM: Dante Exum is back for regular season games for the first time since tearing his ACL in the summer of 2015. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft is fully healthy and still an upper echelon defender on the perimeter with his 6-foot-6 frame. He looks to become more active on the offensive end with a better floater in the lane and improved 3-point shooting. The point guard showed the ability to log minutes at shooting guard next to Hill during the preseason.

GROWTH AREAS: The Jazz hope the additions and another year of growth will affect three areas in particular. The Jazz were No. 28 in the league with a scoring average of 97.7 points per game. That must improve. Johnson, Hill and Diaw already improve the depth. The team also struggled in close games, finishing 14-28 in games that were within five points with five minutes or less left.

IMPRESSION TIME: Not making the playoffs could not only be disappointing, but a detriment to the future. Hayward has a player-option on his contract after this season and is expected to use it to become a free agent. There will be a large market for his services, so the Jazz need to prove they’re an organization that can compete for championships in the near future. Gobert will become a restricted free agent in July if he doesn’t sign an extension by Oct. 31. Favors is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season.

Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/KareemCopeland

Cavaliers move up ring ceremony 30 minutes so it doesn’t conflict with World Series

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It’s a good time to be a Cleveland sports fan. Finally.

Next Tuesday, Oct. 25, will be one of the great sports days in the history of the city — the Cavaliers will get their championship rings, and the Indians will open the World Series at home.

Only one little problem: the two events were going to overlap.

So in the spirit of city unity the Cavaliers have moved up the start time of their ring ceremony by 30 minutes, and the game by 30 minutes as well. The ring ceremony now begins at 7 p.m. Eastern, with tip-off against the Knicks at 7:30 (both will be broadcast on TNT, followed by the Spurs at the Warriors).

First pitch for the World Series is at 8 Eastern.

Fans attending the Cavaliers ring ceremony will be given a special silicone ring, which if viewed on their phone through the Cavs app will look like a virtual championship ring. Kind of cool idea.

Tuesday is going to be a great day to be a Cavaliers sports fan (just don’t bring up the Browns). A lucky few will be at these events.

Although personally, I’d rather watch them both on a television while eating the brisket and having a beer at the bar at Mabel’s BBQ.

Warriors first team favored over the field for championship entering season since Michael Jordan’s Bulls

7 Jun 1998:  Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls walks on the court during the NBA Finals Game 3 against the Utah Jazz at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bulls defeated the Jazz 96-54. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport

When asked my prediction for the 2017 NBA champion, I say the Warriors have about a 50-50 chance. Some call that a copout answer – but it’s really not.

For a team to have even odds against 29 others combined entering the season is extraordinary.

Just how rare is it?

David Purdum of ESPN:

Jeff Sherman, head NBA oddsmaker at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, remembers the 1997-98 Bulls team, which was coming off a 72-win season, being around a minus-125 title favorite entering that season.

But Sherman and other sports betting industry veterans struggled to recall another team — in basketball, baseball or football — that was an odds-on favorite to start the season.

Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen led Chicago to the championship in 1998 (which was actually two seasons removed from the 72-win year).

Will Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson also meet their oversized expectations and deliver a title this year?

Flip a coin.

Report: Minnesota still talking Tyus Jones trade, Sixers may have interest

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 08:  Tyus Jones #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a portrait during the 2015 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 8, 2015 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. 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.   (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Tyus Jones has a lot to like — he’s a point guard who makes good decisions, his shot is developing (40 percent from three at Summer League), and he’s got skills. Minnesota won the Summer League championship because of Jones’ leadership — just drafted and highly touted Kris Dunn was out for the title game, that’s where Jones shined.

But Dunn is the future at the point in Minnesota, and Ricky Rubio is still there. So Minnesota is seeing what might be out there for Jones, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota has had talks with Philadelphia, New Orleans, and others about Jones for a while.

Jones is likely a steady backup point guard at the NBA level — he’s a smart passer, knows how to run a team, and as his shot develops he becomes more dangerous. His downside is defense, but as a reserve that’s less of an issue.

For a team like the Sixers — without Jerryd Bayless to start the season — or while New Orleans waits for Jrue Holiday‘s return, Jones makes some sense. The only question is the price going back to Minnesota.