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.

Boston’s Marcus Smart gets flopping warning from NBA

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17:  Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden on October 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of the league’s more notorious floppers.

He was at it again Monday night against the Houston Rockets — and the league called him on it and gave him a warning.

It happened on the game’s final play — you were probably focused elsewhere, wondering how Al Horford could miss the game-winning layup. But watch Smart as he gets in position for the rebound on that shot.

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The referees didn’t buy it then.

This warning is barely a slap on the wrist. If — in his case, when — Smart gets caught a second time this season he will get a $5,000 fine from the league. Smart is making $3.6 million this season.

Happy birthday Larry Bird. We celebrate with some highlights.

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Larry Bird — the Celtics legend, three-time NBA champion, three-time MVP, 10-time All-NBA — turns 60 on Wednesday.

We celebrate by looking back at his 60-point game March 12, 1985, against the Hawks (video above, and yes that game was played in New Orleans).

Want more Larry the Legend highlights? We got you covered.

Hawks’ Mike Scott sent to D-League on rehab assignment

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Mike Scott #32 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott is expected to play at least two games in the NBA Development League as he comes back from a knee injury that kept him out of training camp and the first 18 games of the season.

Scott played 15 minutes for the Delaware 87ers in Tuesday night’s loss to the Santa Cruz Warriors. He scored four points on 2-of-7 shooting, missing all four of his attempts from 3-point range.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer says the D-League is the best way for Scott to get “meaningful, competitive minutes” after undergoing a non-surgical procedure on his left knee.

Scott has played three games for Atlanta since his return. In 28 minutes, he has two points on 1-of-9 attempts, to go along with eight rebounds and six assists.

Watch Kyle O’Quinn throw alley-oop to Carmelo Anthony

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Carmelo Anthony isn’t young anymore, but he had the bounce to go get this one.

These were your two best players for the Knicks in their win over Miami Tuesday. Kyle O'Quinn was forced into action earlier than expected when Joakim Noah went on a fouling spree in the third quarter, but O’Quinn played well in the role. ‘Melo dropped 35 on 27 shots — he’s not as efficient as he once was, but he can still get some buckets.

The Knicks picked up a needed win, because they play a back-to-back Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers and a ticked-off LeBron James (New York will pay the price for Phil Jackson’s “posse” comments with a motivated LeBron Wednesday).