Game of the night: A tale of two halves, and the Heat won the last one

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Two such different halves (well, really more like 32 minutes and 16 minutes rather than even halves). One where the Heat fell right into the Hornets’ well-executed game plan. One part where the Heat stopped playing along, the Hornets started missing shots and then it was on for Miami.

The 16 trumped the 32 and Miami won its ninth straight game by double digits, 96-84.

The first half, it was the blue print teams are going to use to beat the Heat this season — you’re going to see variations of it until they are eliminated from the playoffs or David Stern hands them a trophy.

New Orleans did a good job of slowing the tempo down, taking away the transition baskets that have fueled the Heat’s run. On offense that means either making your shots or being such a force on the offensive boards that the Heat have to dedicate more resources to it and they can’t just run. The Hornets did both those things.

One of the few times the Heat did run — a baseball outlet pass to Dwyane Wade — Jarrett Jack was there with the hard foul to stop a breakaway dunk. And sorry, that foul did not deserve a technical.

On defense, the Hornets packed the paint and just dared Miami to take the midrange jumper — and the Heat were too happy to settle for that shot for long stretches of the game.

Here’s the problem with beating the Heat — the Hornets did everything they wanted and they were up just one point at the half. Miami has that much talent. Wade kept the Heat in it during the second with 9 straight at one point oh his way to 24 points in the first half.

In the second half the Hornets shooting woes returned — as a team they shot 17.9 percent in the second half and they were 0-7 from three. It looked like a lot of their games from the last few weeks. I’ll grant you that Miami played a little better defense, but the Hornets are fully capable of shooting that poorly unguarded right now.

Not that the Heat didn’t focus on some things defensively — they did a good job on defending Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll. Which is not easy. But bigs showed and recovered and they took away the simple baskets for the Hornets. In the first half the Hornets hit those harder shots, in the second they missed everything.

The Heat focused on the rebounds — there were plenty to get (Chris Bosh led the way with 11) — and that fueled the transition game. LeBron James started taking on more of the offense in the second half (he finished with 20) and pretty soon there was a late third quarter 6-0 Heat run followed closely by a 12-2 run near the start of the fourth. Then it was over.

It was another game where the Heat’s talent wore the opponent down and they eventually got the style of play they wanted. It is the fourth straight game where Chris Bosh, Wade and LeBron combined to score 75 points or more. It was how they should play nightly. For the Hornets, Chris Paul and David West remain a dangerous pairing but if you can force them to go to option number three there really isn’t a good one. Paul is so good, West such a good fit it can work for them, but only can take them so far.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.