Heat exorcise some demons in win over Celtics

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Let’s get this out of the way for the Boston faithful. The season series? Already went to the Celtics 3-0. The Celtics still have a good shot at the second seed and homecourt advantage in the second round. It was a mid-April game in the last week of the regular season for a Boston team that notoriously does not care, and cannot be bothered by the regular season. There is every reason to wince at the sting here and move on, confident that the Celtics will put in a performance like they did against the East last year, blowing past everyone once the second season started. One game, in the regular season, means very little.

But man, 100-77? Anyone who says they saw that coming is lying.

The Heat took it to the Celtics’ front door on Sunday, and the result has to at least carry an ounce of doubt into Boston’s heart of hearts. Everything that could go wrong for the Celtics, did. Everything that could go right for the Heat, did. Rajon Rondo, who blistered the Heat in the first three meetings had 5 assists and 3 turnovers, and shot just 3-8. Dwyane Wade, who was plagued by disoriented, terrible play in the first three meetings, had a huge impact, driving, kicking and playing tremendous defense.

The result is even more mind boggling for Boston since they started so strongly. The first six minutes of the game were a continuation of what we’d seen from the Heat and Celtics in October. Crisp, clean ball movement from Boston. Sloppy, slow, isolated play from Miami. Then suddenly, the Heat started clawing, and worked their way into a small lead. The third quarter was all Miami. The game? The game was all LeBron’s.

27 points on 19 shots, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and a block for James, who for once used his aggression at the rim to create opportunities for his jumper instead of the other way around. The real turning point of the game? When Jermaine O’Neal decided to send a message, and wound up waking up the Heat.

That started a run of chippy play in which the Heat were the aggressor. Chris Bosh picked up a technical for arguing a call on a scramble, and then turned that, no joke, into some seriously tough play. Bosh had a huge block in the third, and then a crucial and-one to stop a Celtics run in the fourth. Instead of pulling up for the fadeaway J, Bosh went right at the rim, absorbed the contact and finished.

But if you want to get past all this and into what really killed the Celtics, after James? The Celtics nabbed 10% of all available offensive rebounds, just 3 of them. 3. The Heat? They grabbed 40% of all available misses on offense, for 15 extra possessions.

No one wants to say Kendrick Perkins’ name here. But it’s unavoidable. The Celtics were a terrible team on the offensive glass even with Perkins. But they weren’t this bad, and at least they could prevent the other team from getting that many. The key with offensive rebounds isn’t getting your own, it’s preventing the other team from getting them. Makes it that much harder to defend, that much harder to keep your defense set, that much harder to maintain position. Perkins may not have nabbed any himself, but he would have helped to keep Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony from getting nine total.

The Celtics can dismiss this. They’ve earned the right after turning on the afterburners and blazing past the East last year in the playoffs after a terrible end to their regular season that went on for months. But there’s no way to stop the concerns being spoken in Boston about this team after the trade. They don’t seem like the Celtics of old, in attitude or execution. No one’s counting them out. But even in a single loss in the season series they’ve already won, this game brings with it even more erasers being taken out for the Celtics’ penciled spot in the Finals.

Some notes:

  • Jeff Green was put on LeBron James for a stretch in the 3rd and 4th quarters, as he was brought on in part to match up with LeBron. That did not work out well. And when I say that, I mean it in the same way that I say “going swimming did not work out well for that girl in the beginning of “Jaws.”
  • Glen Davis is in a bad, bad place right now. And instead of getting back to what he does best, attacking the glass, getting easy and sometimes overly difficult ridiculous shots underneath, drawing fouls, he’s operating space, relying on his jumper, trying to replicate Kevin Garnett’s pick and pop range abilities. Davis was 3-11 Sunday. Glen Davis took more shots than Ray Allen.
  • Speaking of Allen, Wade did a phenomenal job closing out on him on three-pointers. Instead of giving up as he had in the first three meetings, he committed to running Allen off. The result was Allen going 4-9 for just 13 points. Containment.
  • Joel Anthony had the game of his life Sunday with 7 points and 10 boards, including a nice dunk off a LeBron drive, spin and dish off. He played aggressively on defense, disrupted passing lanes, and played with energy. If the Heat are going to get role players to step up in the playoffs, Anthony playing well would be a huge boon.
  • Mike Miller sprained his thumb in the first half, and did not return.
  • Juwan Howard hit a shot. That’s how bad things got.

Former Cavaliers president candidate Chauncey Billups: Kyrie Irving’s trade request unsurprising, ‘alarming’

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Chauncey Billups declined an offer to run the Cavaliers’ front office. A few weeks later, word emerged Kyrie Irving requested a trade. LeBron James can become an unrestricted free agent and leave next summer.

If Billups dodged a bullet, it wasn’t by luck.

Billups on Altitude Sports Radio:

No, it didn’t really surprise me. Obviously, I knew as they were doing their due diligence on me, I was doing the same thing on them. So, obviously I knew so much about the situation that the rest of the world doesn’t know.

But that’s unfortunate, man, because he’s a special talent. And, in my opinion, so much of what he’s been able to accomplish on and off the floor has been – he’s been a beneficiary of having LeBron James, man.

That would be alarming to me if I was a team looking to get him, because if it’s all about winning, man you’ve got a chance to win every single year, man. Every single year, you’ve got a chance to win.

And not only that, you’re getting the ball still. You’re getting everything you want. You get all the shots you want. You’re playing for a great coach who’s letting you go to work. The game is on the line, they’re coming to you. You’re playing on TV every week.

To me, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. But everybody has their own desires.

I mean, he’s won a championship already. Maybe he’s saying, “I won a championship. I did this. I did that.” Maybe he wants to be Russell Westbrook, man, and go try to win the MVP and get all the shots.

That’s the only sense I can make of it. And, to me, that doesn’t make sense, because all I cared about was winning. That’s not anything. That’s the only sense I can make out of it.

I didn’t talk to LeBron until after. And I deliberately did that, because I go into a situation, and I’m going into it because of how I feel. And the whole LeBron leaving the next year – I’ll be honest with you: That didn’t bother me that much, and here’s why.

When you have an opportunity to really put something together and put your imprint on it, rebuilding is a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing if they’re going to have the patience with you. That really didn’t bother me. What bothered me a little more than if LeBron left or not was that I just didn’t think they had great assets if you have to do a rebuild.

So, it was more that than Bron. So, I didn’t speak to Bron until afterwards, even though Bron and I have always had an amazing relationship.

This adds new insight to a few existing storylines:

  • When did the Cavaliers know Irving wanted to leave, and what did they do about it? If Billups knew weeks ago, acting Cavaliers general manager and eventual long-term general manager Koby Altman should have known, too.
  • Maybe LeBron didn’t leak Irving’s trade request. That’s not to say Billups – who works for ESPN, whose Brian Windhorst broke the story – did. But numerous people clearly knew about Irving’s discontent and could’ve provided Windhorst with information.
  • Perhaps, the Cavaliers’ inability to lure Billups was about more than salary.

Moving ahead, I’m curious how many front-office leaders share Billups’ view that Irving wanting a trade is “alarming” about Irving’s priorities. I think teams positioned to land him will be more enthralled with nabbing a young star than anything else, but the trade request could give them pause.

It would have been very interesting to see Billups handle this challenge if he were in charge. Would he have tried to get Irving back on the same page, as former general manager David Griffin repeatedly did? Or would Billups have seen Irving’s mindset as troublesome and wanted him gone?

Billups’ point about rebuilding, both in Cleveland and generally, is a worthy one. The Cavaliers’ lack long-term assets, because they pushed in to contend for a title with LeBron. They won one, making the payoff well worth the cost. But the bill is already coming due, and coming years could be rough. If ownership realizes that and approves a rebuild, that could lead to tremendous job security and freedom to craft a roster for the front-office leader. But most owners, including Dan Gilbert, aren’t that patient.

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk: ‘We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row’

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The Hawks let their best player (Paul Millsap) leave without offering him a contract. They traded their second-best player (Dwight Howard) in a salary dump that reduced the payroll only slightly. They also watched other key contributors (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha) depart in free agency.

At least Atlanta could rebuild around Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins and what appeared increasingly likely to be a high first-round pick.

Except the Hawks signed veterans Dewayne Dedmon (1+1) and Ersan Ilyasova (one-year) to contract that help the team this year without providing long-term value.

What is Atlanta doing?

New Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, via Shaun Powell of NBA.com:

“We want to continue the success we’ve had, but realize we might have to take a step back,” Schlenk said. “We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row. We realize that young players in this league take their lumps but we don’t want to send the message that we’re (fine) with losing.”

Competitive people involved in running NBA teams and casual fans don’t want to tank. But it seems the Hawks are missing an opportunity.

Their young core is fine, but hardly inspiring. An additional high first-round pick could bring everything together, but Dedmon and Ilyasova just make it less likely Atlanta bottoms out – without significantly increasing the odds of gratifying short-term success. Even in this Eastern Conference, it’s unlikely the Hawks sneak into the playoffs. Picking in the middle of the lottery could doom Atlanta onto the treadmill of mediocrity.

To be fair, the Hawks aren’t reliant on only their own first-round pick. They’re also owed protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves and Cavaliers. But only the Houston pick can ever land in the top 10, and it’s just top-three protected for 2018. Most likely, the Rockets win a lot next season and convey a pick in the mid-to-high 20s in the upcoming draft.

Atlanta’s own pick is, by far, the team’s most valuable mechanism for adding premier young talent. But the Hawks have downgraded the value of that pick in the name of not wanting to sink too low in the short term. That’s not a tradeoff I would have made.

Otto Porter says he’s not bothered by John Wall’s Paul George comments

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John Wall said he wanted the Wizards to acquire Paul George, explaining:

“Look at our team. We are one piece away,” Wall said. “We have the point guard, we have the shooting guard, we have the center, we have the power forward. Our 3-man, [Porter], did great for us. You can’t take nothing away from what he did. But, [George] is a guy that can guard LeBron and go back at LeBron. It’s a piece that you’re going to need to win. If you don’t have a guy who can do that, you don’t have a chance. …

You got to add another star. You got to add another piece. You got to have three guys. And that’s what it’s looking like.”

That’s kind of a slight to Otto Porter, no?

Wall said his words created no problems, but that’s not really for him to say. How did Porter feel about it?

Porter, via Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“We’re talking about Paul George here. If we could get him on our squad? We could definitely contend for a championship,” Porter said after the press conference to announce his new four-year contract worth $106.5 million on Wednesday.

“It’s just motivation. I will continue to get back into the gym. I didn’t take anything personal. I’m just going to continue to go out there and work and play my game,” Porter said.

George is better than Porter. That’s just a fact. So, I have no problem with anyone saying so or proceeding based on that truth.

But I’m also not Porter.

I would completely understand Porter chafing at Wall recruiting George to replace Porter. I’d definitely understand Porter chafing at Wall talking publicly about recruiting George to replace Porter.

Porter so easily moving past this just speaks to his way of quietly contributing. It also doesn’t hurt that the Wizards will pay him about $107 million over the next four years. That buys some willingness to fall in line.

LeBron James denies wanting to fight Kyrie Irving, eagerness for Cavaliers to trade guard

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According to one report, LeBron James wants to fight Kyrie Irving. According to another, LeBron is eager for the Cavaliers to trade Irving.

According to LeBron…

So, maybe there’s a chance LeBron and Irving can reconcile. It’s not too late until a deal is completed.

But it seems Cleveland is moving toward trading Irving, so the clock is ticking.

LeBron might not be inclined to persuade Irving to drop his trade request, anyway. It really seems LeBron wants to stay out of this – or at least give the impression he’s staying out of this. LeBron denying bitterness toward Irving is one thing. LeBron connecting with a teammate who has cited problems with him as a reason for leaving is another.