Dwyane Wade, Game 5

NBA Playoffs: Heat close out Sixers in Game 5

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The Miami Heat had a tougher time than expected with a young, well-coached Sixers team for four of the five games in their now concluded first round playoff series. Yes, Miami closed out Philadelphia in Game 5 on Wednesday 97-91, but it was anything but easy.

The Sixers really had it dialed in defensively against Miami for most of the series, limiting easy baskets and forcing the team’s stars into either contested shots in traffic, or long jumpers outside. Game 5 was no different, as the Heat’s top three players combined to shoot just 22 of 54 from the field, with Dwyane Wade being responsible for the majority of that with his 10 for 25 performance.

Philadelphia got big games from Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand (22 points each), and the customary solid bench production from Thaddeus Young, who played the entire fourth quarter and hit all four of his shots in the period. And, they had their chances late, cutting a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to just one, which forced Miami to execute in crunch time to send the Sixers home for the summer.

Philly has gotten a ton of credit for the way they competed in this series, in much the same way that the Pacers impressed with their ability to push the top-seeded Bulls. That’s fine, and the praise is well-deserved. But perhaps what hasn’t been made too much of is the way Miami struggled to score for stretches in this series, including going the final 5:12 of this one without a field goal, before Wade broke away for a celebratory dunk as time expired.

The Heat were able to seal the victory, but it came on shaky terms: Wade picked up a technical foul when his team led by just two with 51 seconds to play, and Miami needed two clutch free throws from Joel Anthony of all people (a 64.4 percent free throw shooter in the regular season who is known only, and I mean only for his defensive abilities) with 16.8 seconds left as part of its close-out effort.

It’s possible that getting the crunch time playoff experience in the first round against a weaker opponent will benefit the Heat in the later rounds, and maybe the Game 4 collapse — where the Sixers closed it on a 10-0 run to erase Miami’s lead and delay elimination — will serve as a similar lesson learned.

We’ll find out beginning Sunday, when the Heat will open their second round series against a veteran Celtics team that has been to the Finals two out of the last three seasons, and knows how to get it done this time of year. Sure, the Sixers pushed the Heat at times. But the Celtics are likely to shove.

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Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.

Karl-Anthony Towns with nasty poster dunk on Dante Cunningham (VIDEO)

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Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.

While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.

Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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.
Russell Westbrook
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.