Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers at Heat: Five things to watch

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Miami wants Christmas in March.

The Heat’s Christmas Day beat down of the Lakers was their signature win of the season. A few months later the Heat are just desperate for any win. Getting one against the Lakers would be that much more sweet.

But to the dismay of the Heat and four-year-olds everywhere, Christmas doesn’t come again in March. This is going to be very different. The weather is warmer, Santa is nowhere to be seen and these are two different teams. The Lakers have found their defensive identity, and with that look the contenders we expected. The Heat are still trying to find their identity, particularly at the end of games.

How is it going to be different? Here are five things to look for:

Miami and the midrange. Back on Christmas, Dwyane Wade abused the Laker big men on the pick-and-roll. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol would try to show out hard and cut Wade off from driving, or the Lakers would try to double and trap him. Wade just split the double and got to the hoop.

Now, the Lakers are playing their pick-and-roll defense a little differently. Los Angeles bigs are laying back off the pick, using those long arms and big bodies to clog the paint, cut off driving lanes and daring you to take the midrange jumper.

Wade and LeBron James can fall in love with the midrange. Too easily. Some games they knock that down consistently, some games they miss plenty, but keep shooting anyway. Whether the shots fall or not, know the Lakers are not going to let Wade waltz into the paint again.

Miami’s lessons from Chicago. The Lakers pick-and-roll defense now ties into their overall defensive strategy. When the ball goes to the wing they bring a big man over to the strong side early and overload. They take away penetration and defend the three point line. Again, they dare you to beat them from the midrange, the most inefficient shot in basketball.

That is pretty much what the Bulls did two weeks ago in beating the Heat. It is what the Celtics have done to Miami all season. And the Heat have struggled against those teams. The Lakers — when Andrew Bynum is healthy and they give a crap — play a similar style of defense. Bad news for the Heat — Bynum is healthy and the Lakers have been focused. Have the Heat adjusted.

Can Miami defend the paint? The Heat can play defense, too, they just haven’t done it as consistently lately. They need to again Thursday and do it like they did on Christmas Day, specifically.

In that game the Lakers made a point to get the ball inside but the Heat big men — Erik Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas mostly, with a sprinkling of Chris Bosh — did a good job contesting shots at the rim. The Lakers struggled against that and missed a lot of shots close to the rim. And that fueled some easy transition points for the Heat. Miami needs to defend like that again because you can be sure the Lakers will try to establish themselves inside again.

Tempo. Miami will destroy the Lakers in transition. But pretty much every team that has played the Heat in the past two weeks has shown that if you can slow it down and make it a half-court game you can stall out the Heat offense.

Miami needs to force turnovers and missed shots, then use those to get out and run. The Lakers need take care of the ball and use their offensive rebounding — their insane length — to hit the offensive boards and thereby slow the Heat running.

Kobe Bryant, facilitator. The Lakers need to make shots and establish themselves inside. That happens when the Lakers get facilitator Kobe. Turnovers and missed shots, with the team out of position in the offense, is what you get when Kobe breaks out of the offense and goes rogue. Which Kobe shows up early will have a big say in this game.

NBA: Mavericks got away with key late foul in win over Bulls

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Wesley Matthews hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the Mavericks’ 99-98 win over the Bulls on Wednesday.

But perhaps the game would’ve had a different outcome with correct officiating down the stretch.

Dallas guard Seth Curry got away with a loose-ball foul on Robin Lopez with 1:26 left, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Curry (DAL) clamps the arm of Lopez (CHI) and affects his ability to retrieve the rebound.

A correct call would’ve put Dallas in the penalty and sent Lopez – who has made 66% of his free throws this season and and 76% for his career – to the line for two attempts.

Instead, not only was Lopez denied his free throws, he committed a frustration foul on Dirk Nowitzki – who grabbed the rebound with help of Curry – moments later. Nowitzki converted one of two free throws.

We’ll never know how the rest of the game would’ve played out after a correct call, but a swing of 1-to-3 points is pretty big in a one-point game.

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, reportedly Spurs’ Jonathon Simmons invited to dunk contest

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15:  Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics in action against the New York Knicks during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Jaylen Brown entered the NBA as a highly touted prospect, the No. 3 pick by the Celtics last year.

Jonathon Simmons paid a $150 fee to try out for the Spurs’ D-League team before eventually climbing to the NBA.

Their very-different paths could cross during All-Star weekend in the dunk contest.

Brown said he has been invited, though he hasn’t made up his mind:

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Both would be worthy candidates. Between the two, I’d favor Brown, but it’ll be interesting to see the rest of the field.

Just what can Brown and Simmons do?

Report: 76ers interested in Jrue Holiday in free agency

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the Philadelphia 76ers plays against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 23, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of 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 Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The 76ers need a point guard.

Joel Embiid is already a legitimate All-Star candidate, and Philadelphia has won seven of nine. But the 76ers’ ascent is limited by weak perimeter play.

The point guard of the future might already be on the roster, whenever No. 1 pick Ben Simmons returns. But at 6-foot-10, he’ll have trouble defending opposing point guards.

Philadelphia will likely draft a point guard between its own first-rounder (which includes swap rights with the Kings) and a top-three-protected pick from the Lakers. The 2017 draft is especially loaded with point guards near the top: Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky’s Malik Monk.

But with general Bryan Colangelo accelerating their rebuild, the 76ers might not be patient with Simmons learning an awkward position or a rookie taking the helm. Philadelphia could target a veteran – like the Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday, who’ll become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Sixers will take a hard look at Holiday, sources say

That would be so juicy. Sam Hinkie essentially started The Process by trading Holiday from Philadelphia to New Orleans for what amounted to three first-round picks (Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and a restored first-rounder the 76ers previously traded). Getting Holiday back once they’re finally ready to win would be such a hilarious touch.

Holiday would fit pretty well with Simmons, a unique talent as a point forward. Holiday is an excellent defender, and sharing playmaking with Simmons would prevent either from being overburdened. Ideally, Holiday would be a better 3-point shooter for this role, but he’s good enough spotting up to be more than fine.

Philadelphia will have more cap room than it knows what to do with this summer, and a max offer could tempt Holiday. The question becomes whether veterans actually join the 76ers, who’ve developed a reputation for losing but now plan to spend, or just use them for leverage like the Kings.

This is a good opportunity for Holiday, whether or not he returns to Philadelphia.

Report: Bulls looking to sign Chris Bosh after Heat waive him

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 24: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat puts up a shot under pressure from Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 24, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Heat will likely waive Chris Bosh sometime after March 1. It might not be until next season, but Bosh has given every indication he plans to try playing again.

But will anybody sign him?

After all, Miami can exclude his salary from its cap picture only if a doctor jointly selected by the NBA and players union determines Bosh’s blood clots are “of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.”

At least one team is apparently interested.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

If Bosh, who turns 33 in March, makes it back onto the floor next season, word is that the Chicago Bulls are already plotting a run and will be at the front of the line to try to sign him.

I’m still skeptical Bosh plays again. The medical consensus is that it’s unsafe to play on blood-thinners, which have become necessary after his multiple blood-clot episodes. The jointly selected doctor confirming that evaluation – the only clear path to the Heat releasing Bosh unless he’d sacrifice some of his $75,868,170 remaining salary in a buyout – would provide even more certainty that Bosh is done.

Yet, the rules wouldn’t prevent the Bulls from making their own evaluation. Bosh would reunite with Dwyane Wade and provide floor-spacing and defense in the frontcourt. Chicago, which starts bruisers Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez, could use a player like a healthy Bosh.

But Bosh is likely to be either healthy or a free agent, not both. I don’t see a way around that.