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Dwyane Wade in the middle of everything wrong with Miami

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Dwyane Wade remains the beating heart of the Miami Heat. He remains the focus, the center of the storm. The Heat are struggling in part because he is struggling — with his shot, with how to play along side LeBron, with the offense, and maybe with this coach.

And until he figures it out, the Heat as a team will not.

Quotes that have come out of Wade in the last 48 hours sound like a man who is frustrated — with losing and with his game. Those two struggles are interlinked.

Wade is struggling with his shot, and he is down across the board with it. Last season he shot 67 percent on shots at the rim, this season it is down to 55.7 percent (via hoopdata). He’s been good in the shorter midrange, but from beyond 16 feet things get worse, with him shooting 18 percent from 16 feet out to the arc and 25.5 percent beyond it. Both numbers are well down from last year. His percentage of shots assisted on has dropped as well.

Why is that? Well for one, Tom Haberstroh of ESPN got Wade to say some interesting things about his thought process on the court.

“We’re both kind of similar players,” Wade said of LeBron after practice last week. “On the court, we’re thinking too much. When we have the ball, we’re thinking about the other guy — we’re thinking about the other guys.”

And then he said something that no coach wants to hear from one of the most potent scorers in the league: “You don’t want to take two shots in a row.”

Yes you do. Do you think Kobe has qualms about taking two shots in a row? (Do you think Kobe has qualms about taking 15 in a row?) Do you think Dirk Nowitzki has that concern? Kevin Durant? Paul Pierce? And that’s just a handful of guys — the best couple scorers on 29 other teams (and a few who are not the best and should shoot less) don’t have those qualms.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has taken criticism for part of that hesitant Heat mentality, it is Spoelstra’s offense in which Wade is struggling. It is too reliant on pick-and-rolls. Wade even seemed to tell ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz he’d like to see more pure isolation over more P&R.

I think, at times, we get into a space where we let the whole team guard us because we run a lot of pick-and-roll. And we are letting guys off the hook. I want to see someone guard LeBron [James] one-on-one three or four times in a row down the court, because I know what they are thinking: “Somebody please help.”

I want to see them do that to Chris. I want to see them do that to me. So it’s about how we do it in spots in games, if all of us can be involved together. And it’s about how you do it where we are getting other guys involved as well.

Wade is right there — the constant 1/5 pick-and-rolls is allowing opposing big men to help put pressure on the ball. Opposing centers don’t fear getting beat by whomever is playing center for the Heat like they do Wade and LeBron, so you know where the focus goes. Add in the heavy ball-pressure defenses of teams like the Celtics and you have a problem for Miami. Pure isolation (four guys along the baseline, one guy out top) makes it harder to help and can open up passing lanes for a disciplined team. But are the Heat really that disciplined? Isolation is not really an efficient offense for anyone.

What’s interesting is Wade seems to — for the first time, really — have backed away from Spoelstra. Look at what he told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

“Players and coaches, it’s always that kind of weird type of relationship. You don’t look at him and say, ‘That’s my guy right there,’ in the sense of me. Yeah, I came in when Spo was early in his coaching career. He wasn’t even on the bench when I first came in. He’s grown to know me; I’ve grown to know him.”

And now?

“He’s a different person and I’m a different player than when we came in,” Wade continued. “So, I’m not going to say he’s my guy, but he’s my coach, you know. We listen to him and try to execute a game plan and sometimes players and coaches get into disagreements. In general, that’s life with people. It’s the nature of sports…”

“Right now, in my opinion, no one is doing a good job, we’re 9-8,” Wade said. “We’re all in this together. Players not doing a good job; coaches not doing a good job. As a whole. When success comes, we win as a whole. We win four in a row, Coach is going to look great.”

These comments are notable because Wade used to be the guy with Spoelstra’s back no matter what. But now the losing comes and nobody seems to have anybody’s back in Miami. There are people close to the players — and most likely from either LeBron’s entourage or CAA, the agency that represents all of the Heat’s Big Three — saying that the players are unhappy and Spoelstra is the reason. Of course, those same people have to put the spotlight on the coach, so as to keep their players looking good. Shift the blame.

But there is enough blame for everyone. The Heat don’t look good and Wade is right in that everybody can step up and accept a helping of blame.

That includes Wade. Because more than anyone else he is right in the middle of everything with the Heat.

D’Angelo Russell said he used to play as Luke Walton on NBA 2K; Stephen Jackson calls that crap

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during a news conference to discuss the controversy with teammate Nick Young before the start of the NBA game against the Miami Heat at Staples Center March 30, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Did anyone ever fire up NBA 2K9 back in the day, decide to be the soon-to-be-champion Lakers, look at a roster with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom then say “I’m going to be Luke Walton”?

D'Angelo Russell says he did.

The Lakers young point guard has praised the new Laker coach at every turn — Russell and Byron Scott did not get along, the point guard is much happier now — and that includes talking about Walton’s playing days to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

“I told him I remember playing with him on (NBA) 2K; I used to always play as him. I’m a fan. I’m definitely a fan. Because he was a point forward. I can’t speak on Elgin Baylor and all those guys, but my era, I know he was a point forward.”

Really? NBA veteran and current analyst Stephen Jackson called Russell out on that.

Jackson has a point.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.

Paul George says “I’m ready” to challenge LeBron James for supremacy in East

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 29: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass while under pressure from Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 29, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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)
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LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.

In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.

Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….

“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”

Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.

I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.

But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.

The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.