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.

Iman Shumpert put-back dunk with authority (VIDEO)

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Game 3 of the Hawks vs. Cavaliers series has looked a lot like the first two — the Cavaliers are hitting threes and making plays, and the Hawks are struggling to keep up.

The most impressive of those plays early was Iman Shumpert getting up and throwing down the put-back dunk off LeBron James‘ miss. Check out the reaction of the Cavaliers bench to this play.

Clippers confirm expected: Blake Griffin out for Olympics

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp
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Blake Griffin has a game well suited for what coach Mike Krzyzewski has Team USA running: he’s an absolute beast in transition, a gifted and unselfish passer, and he can knock down his midrange shot well enough that opponents have to respect him at 18 feet.

But he’s not joining Coach K in Rio this summer.

Griffin knew he was risking the Olympics by playing through the quad injury for the playoffs, and he is now paying that price the Clippers announced Friday. They said he has had a bone marrow treatment on his quadricep, but it will not allow him to play with Team USA this summer.

Griffin joins Anthony Davis as fours sidelined by injuries and not playing in Rio.

Team USA should be just fine. Other options at the four this summer are LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, and that’s not including going small and playing LeBron James, Paul George or others at the four.

Team USA will meet in mid-July for a camp in Las Vegas then do a tour of the USA with exhibition games for a few weeks, before heading down to Rio for the Olympics, which have opening ceremonies Aug. 5 (basketball tips off the next day). Of course, you can see it all on NBC, follow the video on NBCOlypics.com, and read all about it here.

Report: Knicks have reached out to Frank Vogel to judge interest

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 4
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“So Frank, how do you feel about the triangle?”

Frank Vogel is not going to be unemployed for any longer than he wants. Larry Bird and the Pacers dumped him, but his ability to get teams to defend is going to have suitors lined up for his skills.

That includes the Knicks, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The Knicks have made contact with the agent for Frank Vogel, but have not yet requested an interview, according to a source close to the former Pacers coach.

According to the source, Knicks GM Steve Mills has done his due diligence in contacting Vogel’s reps. He expressed that Phil Jackson has not made a decision on how to proceed. The key to the exploratory phone call was finding out whether Vogel would have interest in the job, and it seems he does.

Kurt Rambis is still considered the front-runner for the Knicks job.

Jackson has said he wants someone he knows, and someone committed to running the triangle offense. The Lakers did employ Vogel as an advanced scout during the Jackson era, but don’t confuse that with any relationship between the two. Also, while Vogel’s Pacers ran some triangle action during his tenure, that was while Brian Shaw was his assistant. And that’s very different than jumping in with both feet full time.

Vogel also reportedly has interest in the Rockets job, a team farther along the path to contending and with a more stable management structure. But the Knicks are at least making the call, it’s a start.

Boris Diaw says sometimes Popovich leaves him in blowouts just to lose weight

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 21:  Boris Diaw #33 of the San Antonio Spurs during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on January 21, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Spurs defeated the Suns 117-89.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Conditioning has never been Boris Diaw‘s strength.

That’s being kind, the man ate his way out of Charlotte. Make no mistake, Diaw is a gifted player who has surprising athleticism plus a court vision and high hoops IQ that make him perfect for the Spurs, but Gregg Popovich gave him incentives to stay thin and Tony Parker joked about Diaw’s weight.

Now Diaw is getting in on the act, speaking to Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp.

“Sometimes we’re up 30,” Diaw says, “and (Popovich is) like, ‘I’m just going to leave you on the court so you can lose some weight.’”

If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at. Diaw has a coffee maker in his locker and , he’s not too worried about his image.

Diaw only saw a little more than eight minutes in Game 2 against the Thunder, which was not about conditioning and all about the matchup. Still, expect him to get more run in Game 3, he is one of those guys who makes the ball move for the Spurs and they need to get back to that.