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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Rumor: Dell Demps out, Joe Dumars in with Pelicans?

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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is on shaky ground.

What about New Orleans general manager Dell Demps?

A long-swirling rumor is getting renewed.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

Demps has done a lousy job building a supporting cast around Davis. Part of the reason trading for the risky DeMarcus Cousins made so much sense: The Pelicans were so underwhelming, they wouldn’t be much worse off if Cousins destroyed their culture and/or bolted in 2018 free agency.

But it’s not too late to salvage Davis’ tenure in New Orleans. He’s locked up for three more seasons, and Cousins is an extremely talented No. 2.

Is Dumars the right man to bring it all together?

He masterfully built the Pistons into the 2004 NBA champions. He also played an integral role in the team’s downfall.

Another factor: There appears to be a mutual respect between Cousins and Dumars, who coveted the big man since he was coming out of Kentucky. That could help the Pelicans re-sign Cousins in 2018.

Dumars’ success should get him general-manager job interviews, but his more-recent failings demand tough questions. I’m unconvinced the Pelicans are scrutinizing Dumars enough, and they’d probably benefit from a more-thorough search.

But Dumars might be a fine hire. Dumping Demps would at least be step in the right direction.

Maryland star Melo Trimble declares for NBA draft

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Maryland guard Melo Trimble declared for last year’s NBA draft but withdrew.

This time, he’s not turning back.

Don Markus of The Baltimore Sun:

Trimble, less than three weeks removed from finishing his junior season with the team’s first-round loss to Xavier in the NCAA tournament, announced Wednesday he will make himself available for the NBA draft.

Unlike a year ago, when Trimble went through the pre-draft process without signing with an agent and then decided to return to school hours before the deadline, the 6-foot-3 point guard will forego his senior season.

“The deciding factor was that I felt there was nothing more I could do,” Trimble told the Baltimore Sun from the Stamp Student Union during a lunch break. “I felt like I did everything I could for the program. We went to the [NCAA] tournament three years in a row, and I had the same amount of points three years in a row. I felt that if I wanted to hopefully get to the next level, I had to leave at this time.

Trimble’s scouting report hasn’t changed much in the last year. He’s a scoring guard whose size (6-foot-3) will require him to play point guard in the next level, but he hasn’t shown the necessary distributing skills.

The biggest difference: He’s now 22, not 21.

Trimble had a superb college career, but at this point, his range is second round to undrafted.

DeMarcus Cousins answers first several Kings-related questions same way (video)

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DeMarcus Cousins had a bitter exit from the Kings, but that won’t be the last they see of him.

Cousins’ Pelicans will host Sacramento tomorrow night.

Not that Cousins rushed to talk about the matchup.

Justin Verrier of ESPN:

Cousins is pretty funny when joking with the media, and his smile is contagious. Just listen to all the laughs Cousins generates as he goes through his shtick.

Bonus points to Cousins for eventually breaking down and providing real answers. Some of his relationships in Sacramento were clearly meaningful to him, and he wanted to acknowledge those — even if he’d prefer just to get past this awkward game and all the talk it invites.

Report: Sweet-shooting 7-footer Lauri Markkanen leaving Arizona for NBA draft

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Lauri Markkanen is 7-foot and made 42% of his 3-pointers this season.

That combination alone will have NBA teams drooling, and the Arizona freshman will capitalize.

Evan Daniels of Scout:

Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen is declaring for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent, multiple sources told Scout.

Markkanen seems pretty certain to get picked in the lottery, likely in the top 10.

Calling him a good shooter for his height undersells him. It’s not just he shoots so efficiently from deep, it’s that he can generate 3-pointers in so many ways — pick-and-pops, spot-ups, off off-ball screens and even running pick-and-rolls himself. Having the height to shoot over defenders is his most noticeable asset, but don’t undersell his mobility.

Markkanen also finishes well at the rim and offensively rebounds at extremely impressive clip for someone who spends so much time on the perimeter. Those interior skills instill belief he will eventually become a suitable defender.

There are a couple red flags. He’s old for a freshman, turning 20 before the draft. He leaves plenty to be desired defensively, especially due to his lack of strength.

But his size and shooting are tantalizing. That’s plenty for now.