Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

The implications of Heat-Celtics III

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For the first time this season, the Miami Heat will face the Boston Celtics with a better record.  But in the third meeting between the two best teams in the East, the Heat will need a significant amount of progress across all fronts in order to come away with their first victory over the Celtics. The first two meetings between the two were comfortable Celtic victories, even as LeBron James made things slightly interesting down the stretch. The Heat would make a run, then the Celtics would execute for a few sustained possessions and put the game out of reach again. Those losses could easily be described as the worst and most damaging losses for the Heat.

Which is why this game matters so much more to Wade, James, and company than it does to the defending Eastern Conference champs. The Celtics are short-handed, with Delonte West, Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, and Marquis Daniels all questionable-to-out for the game. Furthermore, the C’s have already made their point this season. They’ve proven they can be or are the best team in the East, arguably in the entire league, and have victories over every elite team, plus the two wins over the Heat. For Boston, winning this game is a cherry on top. It’s just frosting. At this point Boston’s biggest concern is making sure they don’t suffer any more injuries.

So why does this feel like the Heat are still facing an uphill struggle? Besides the obvious elements like the existence of Rajon Rondo and the Heat’s pitiful lack of depth, the biggest gap in the first two games between the two star-studded behemoths wasn’t on the X’s and O’s side. It was mental, and emotional. The Celtics were zoned in, playing with intensity. Even if they acted as if they were smacking down a younger brother who dared act like he was on their level, the Celtics understood the message they wanted to send. The Heat have a lot of talent, and they wanted to show they were that much better because they are a complete team. They wanted to win that game. It’s been pretty easy to spot the difference in the Celtics this season when they try and when they don’t; the Celtics wanted those first two games.

On the other hand, the Heat sleepwalked through that game. They seemed to have no intensity, no fire, no cohesion, and most of all, no sense of urgency. This was a team in its first year together, trying to prove itself, trying to find its identity, against the Eastern Conference champs who had ousted both Wade and James in last season’s playoffs, and who are the most smack-talking-est smack talkers who ever talked smack this decade. And yet the Heat seemed listless, lifeless, and without any real sense of purpose. If that’s missing again when the two take the floor for their third of four match-ups, the Celtics will take the season series in a cake walk, and many will go from penciling in the Celtics over the Heat to tracing that over in black ink.

Sure, the Heat will need Mario Chalmers to at least not embarrass himself, for Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to play with some measure of physicality, and for Chris Bosh to try not to create the world’s largest eye-roll from fans worldwide. But in reality, the best way to beat the Celtics is for LeBron James to play as he has for the last month, and to combine that with some emotional leadership. James has been transcendent, even by his standards, over the beginning of this calendar year. Going 1-on-5 against the Celtics doesn’t work, but James can hurt them even with their precise doubles and help defense, if he’s engaged. But that’s always the question with James. Will have commit to the intensity needed to topple even an injured Celtics team, or will he defer and settle for mid-range jumpers again? He and Dwyane Wade make up the most devastating two-man combo in the league. Will they get out in transition or simply let the Celtics wear them down with how they constantly seem to be back on the break, eventually forcing you to settle into a halfcourt game, which favors their style?

This is a big game for the Heat. There’s just no getting around it. There’s nothing to be won; a victory only means that people will even more loudly proclaim “Doesn’t mean a thing ’till spring!” But there is a lot to be lost. The season series against the Celtics, the confidence that they’ve finally turned a corner on their early season lackadaisical approach to big games, and an opportunity to showcase that no, for real, this team has found itself and while 72-10 is out the door, they can still bust heads.

Every run to greatness has its moments founded in the regular season. A big step awaits the Heat. We know the Celtics will be ready. But will Miami?

Report: Blazers re-sign Moe Harkless for four years, $40 million

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01:  Maurice Harkless #4 of the Portland Trail Blazers walks back to the bench during a time out of their game against the Golden State Warriors during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 01, 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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The biggest restricted free agent left on the market is now off the board. Moe Harkless, who had a solid season in his first year in Portland, has agreed to a deal to return to the Blazers for four years, and $40 million, according to a report from The Vertical‘s Shams Charania:

It’s been an expensive offseason for the Blazers, who signed Evan Turner to a four-year, $70 million deal and Festus Ezeli for two years and $16 million, as well as re-signing two more of their own free agents, Allen Crabbe (matching a four-year, $75 million offer sheet from Brooklyn) and Meyers Leonard (four years, $41 million). On Monday, they agreed to a four-year, $106 million max extension with C.J. McCollum that begins in the 2017-18 season.

They’re going to be in the luxury tax now, but after last year’s unexpected playoff run, Blazers GM Neil Olshey has decided to go all-in on this group and see if that success can be replicated. The fit of Turner is still a bit of a question mark, but the Blazers have kept their core together and should still be a playoff team in the Western Conference. If Paul Allen is willing to pay the luxury tax, and there’s nothing to indicate that he’s not, it’s worth it.

Amar’e Stoudemire signs with Knicks, retires

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks stands on the court in the first half of their game against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2014 in New York City.  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 Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When Amar’e Stoudemire signed with the Knicks in 2010, it was supposed to precede bigger things — both for New York and Stoudemire.

The Knicks were still in the running for fellow free agents LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Stoudemire was just 27 and had already made an All-NBA first team and three second teams.

But it wasn’t to be.

LeBron and Wade picked the Heat. Stoudemire had only one monster season in New York before being overcome by injuries. After teaming up with Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire won just one playoff series with the Knicks.

Stoudemire returns to New York, but this time, there are no grand expectations. Just a quiet ending.

Knicks release:

NBA great Amar’e Stoudemire announced his retirement as a player in the National Basketball Association today, after signing with the New York Knickerbockers for his final contract in the league.

“I want to thank Mr. Dolan, Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] for signing me so that I can officially retire as a New York Knick,” Stoudemire said. “I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that. Carmelo [Anthony], Phil and Steve have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, Always a Knick.”

Stoudemire might think of himself as a Knick, but many of us will remember him with the Suns. He spent eight — and most of his best seasons — in Phoenix.

Entering the NBA straight from high school, Stoudemire faced numerous questions about his maturity and readiness. He answered those by winning Rookie of the Year.

Eventually, Stoudemire became the center for Mike D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Suns, thrashing opponents inside with Steve Nash as a pick-and-roll partner. Stoudemire got a bigger stage in New York, but his body broke down, and he became known for his albatross contract.

He spent the last couple seasons with the Mavericks and Heat, seemingly erasing memories of his early dominance.

Stoudemire has a decently strong Hall of Fame case. At his peak, he was in the running for the league’s best center behind Shaquille O’Neal. Retiring at age 33 won’t give Stoudemire many longevity points, but because he jumped straight from high school, he still played 14 pro seasons.

As distance grows between Stoudemire’s career and the present, we’ll gain perspective and think more about his prime than his decline. History will treat Stoudemire well.

Kings’ new arena to be on street named after David Stern

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  NBA Commissioner David Stern received the key to the city from former NBA player and now Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson during an NBA gam between the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2013 in Sacramento, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Former NBA commissioner David Stern pitted Sacramento and Seattle against each other. Sacramento made a more lucrative offer, so it kept the Kings.

For that, the Kings are honoring Stern.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings will announce Tuesday that they are naming the street leading to the front door of the new downtown arena in honor of former NBA Commissioner David Stern, whose persistent, decades-long efforts helped keep the franchise in Sacramento.

Officially, the address of the Golden 1 Center – to be submitted to the city Tuesday for approval – is 500 David J. Stern Walk.

“When I learned we would have the option of naming the road, it was a no-brainer for me,” Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “There were no other names on my list. David took the NBA to the global level and started the WNBA, but he is about so much more than basketball. He is one of the greatest leaders in the world, and on top of that, the team would not be in Sacramento without David Stern.”

OK.

Michael Jordan made a big philanthropic donation, but don’t confuse it with a political stand

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Dave Zirin is one of my favorite twitter follows and a great writer on the intersection of sports and politics for The Nation (and his podcasts are fantastic).

Speaking with Dan Patrick Tuesday (video above) he hit the nail on the head with Michael Jordan’s $2 million donation Monday — it was a great bit of philanthropy, but it wasn’t political. Jordan said he could no longer try to stay silent on racial issues, but he didn’t take a side, he didn’t make a donation to Black Lives Matter or any other movement pushing for one side or the other in this debate. He put money into trying to build a bridge between police and poorer, minority communities. That’s a good thing, but it’s not a political stance (there is no “anti better police relations” movement).

Jordan should be congratulated for what he did, but we have graded Jordan’s “political” action on a curve because he doesn’t make political moves.