New Orleans Hornets v Miami Heat

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.

Draymond Green tells Kyrie Irving: ‘I know your moves’ (video)

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Only Draymond Green can endearingly brag about his defensive intelligence while admitting getting fooled on a play.

In the Warriors’ blowout win over the Cavaliers last night, Green guarded Kyrie Irving and anticipated the Cleveland guard would go one way. After Irving went the other way to score, the two shared a moment during a stoppage.

“I know your  moves,” Green said.

“I know,” replied Irving, whose vast offensive repertoire allowed him to find an unexpected counter.

Thaddeus Young shakes backboard with dunk on Terrence Jones (video)

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Terrence Jones isn’t much of a rim protector.

Thaddeus Young took advantage.

This ferocious jam helped the Pacers beat the Pelicans, 98-85.

Rudy Gobert block secures Utah’s win over Phoenix (VIDEO)

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At the season’s midway point, Rudy Gobert is probably the leader frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Kawhi Leonard will have a say, and there is a lot of basketball yet to play, but Gobert anchors the NBA’s best defense and he is a force in the paint.

Just ask the Phoenix Suns.

Down three with 13 seconds left Monday night, the Suns wanted a three to tie, but when that was not easily open Eric Bledsoe decided to drive for two (then the Suns would foul and extend the game), he was cut off so Bledsoe dished to rookie Marquese Chriss, who went in for the layup — and found the long arms of Gobert. Blocked shot and game over.

Utah is for real, folks.

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 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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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. All of that made Curry passive — remember the guy floating on the perimeter taking just 11 shots on Christmas Day?

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, attacked Kyrie Irving from the opening tip (remember Curry’s first possession he blew right by him), used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. For the game Curry had 20 shots. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two playmakers right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs’ GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear whatever position they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in this game scoring inside, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.