Miami Heat v Washington Wizards

NBA Finals: Go ahead and hate Heat, but respect them

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LeBron James’ decision — and by extension LeBron himself — has become the most polarizing figure in the NBA.

That can be good for business. Heat game television ratings are through the roof — because half the people tune in to root against them. Not that ABC cares much, they just want you to tune in for the finals. But the Heat are celebrity basketball players now.

I’m not sure I get why all the LeBron hate. Because he dared go team up with other stars? As if Magic Johnson didn’t have Kareem and Worthy, or Larry Bird didn’t have Parish and McHale, as if Jordan didn’t have Pippen and a bevy of others.

Maybe it’s because LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade inverted the NBA power grid — they had the temerity to decide to team up of their own accord, rather than having some GM or rich owner do it for them? That doesn’t bother me, I like the players having more power, but maybe that’s it.

Maybe it’s that the way LeBron handled The Decision, because for some it was egotistical? It was. It left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. But if you’re going to pick your favorite sports stars based on them not having an ego you’re going to have about two to cheer. Across all sports.

Whatever the reason you hate them doesn’t really matter. Go ahead. Having heroes and villains and playing out the drama of sports through that lens is at the heart of being a fan. Arrange people in those categories however you wish. But you had better also do this:

Respect the Heat.

Because while it took most of a season they have figured it out. They have gone from playing next to each other to playing off each other. They are playing smart, good basketball. They are a team, and potentially a special one playing beautiful basketball.

Did you watch LeBron the distributor in Game 4 against the Bulls? He made smart decisions with the ball virtually ever time down. It felt like Magic at times. Did you watch him on defense shut down Derrick Rose at the end of games? Shutting down the opponents best was like Jordan. When the moment called for it, did you watch him drain three pointers? That felt like Bird.

Beyond LeBron, Bosh has figured out how to step up when the other two are defended well or have focused on other tasks, he has figured out how to mesh with them. Wade remains as good a penetrator as there is in the league, as good a leader as the league has now.

Now you see the Heat going to a LeBron and Wade pick and roll at key moments. You see Bosh working hard off the ball and slashing to the rim. You see them all trusting Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller (and even Mike Bibby). You see LeBron and Wade taking on rebounding when the Heat needed it after Game 1 against the Bulls.

You see a team. All three are versatile. All three can play at both ends of the floor. All three — and by extension the Heat — have evolved into a dangerous team. Not a collection of stars, but a team.

You don’t have to like that. But you have to respect it.

Kyrie Irving, LeBron James lead Cavaliers past Knicks, 119-104

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday’s trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis, the team’s second-leading scorer, left the game with a sprained right ankle in the second quarter and didn’t return.

New York took an early lead in the first game since the All-Star break for both teams, but the Cavaliers closed the first half on a 25-8 run. Cleveland built the lead to 72-51, but Anthony scored eight points in the third quarter and kept New York in the game.

The Knicks trailed 87-79 entering the fourth, but the Cavaliers quickly regained control. James scored on two layups while Korver and Channing Frye each hit two 3-pointers, pushing the lead to 110-91.

James, who had eight assists in the fourth, also turned in two outstanding defensive plays. He swatted Rose’s layup attempt into the courtside seats in the second quarter and pinned Lee’s breakaway drive against the backboard in the fourth.

Rose, another subject of trade rumors as the deadline approached, scored 13 points.

TIP-INS

Knicks: C Joakim Noah (sore left hamstring) traveled with the team to Cleveland, but coach Jeff Hornacek said no timetable has been set for his return to action. . Lee has been battling an illness, but has stayed in the lineup despite not being fully healthy.

Cavaliers: James’ missed layup earlier in the quarter fooled the arena PA announcer, who began calling the four-time MVP’s name as the ball spun out. …. Irving missed a free throw in the second quarter, snapping a streak of 29 made foul shots in a row.

OAKLEY RETURNS

Former Knicks forward Charles Oakley watched his former team in his hometown. Oakley sat next to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in a front row seat adjacent to Cleveland’s bench.

Oakley attended his first Knicks game since being arrested after getting into an altercation with security guards at Madison Square Garden earlier this month.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Host Philadelphia on Saturday night.

Cavaliers: Host Chicago on Saturday night.

Rockets rout Pelicans, 129-99, in DeMarcus Cousins’ New Orleans debut

Houston Rockets guard James Harden watches his 3-point shot during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Houston. Houston won 111-92. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans’ tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut after a trade from the Lakers, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds after he was acquired from Sacramento during the break. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn’t keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players’ first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists.

Houston led by as many as 35 points when Gordon’s free throws made it 100-65 late in the third quarter.

Patrick Beverley had 12 rebounds for Houston. Montrezl Harrell added 10 points for the Rockets, who shot 49.5 percent (45 of 91).

After New Orleans acquired Cousins, nicknamed “Boogie,” in a deal involving five players and two draft choices, Pelicans general manager Dell Demps hoped Cousins and Davis would thrive playing off one another while point guard Jrue Holiday initiated offensive sets. But Holiday had arguably his worst game this season, turning the ball over seven times and finishing with only six points and four assists.

The crowd was charged up for both Cousins’ debut and Davis’ resumption of a sensational season following his record 52-point performance on Sunday.

Both players received rousing receptions during introductions and the crowd roared when Cousins hit a jumper for games’ first points.

Cousins and Davis each scored eight in the first quarter, but it was also apparent that the integration of new personnel had New Orleans a bit out of sync. The Pelicans turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, leading to 17 Rockets points.

The Rockets also hit nine 3s in the opening half, including three each by Gordon and Williams, and led 66-50 at halftime.

By the end of the third quarter, the crowd that had been so rowdy at tip-off was starting to file out with their team down 100-67.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Houston has won seven of the past eight meetings. … The Rockets hit at least 10 3s in a game for the 55th time in 59 games this season. … The Rockets, now 41-18, have matched their win total for all of last season.

Pelicans: Before the game, New Orleans waived F Terrence Jones and signed G/F Hollis Thompson to a 10-day contract. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Jones, who joined New Orleans on a one-year contract this season, was released to help him find a team where he could play more. Thompson played a little more than four minutes and scored three points. … The Pelicans are now 14-16 at home.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Host Minnesota on Saturday night.

Pelicans: Visit Dallas on Saturday night.

Damian Lillard rallies Trail Blazers to 112-103 win over Orlando

Portland Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum (3) and Damian Lillard (0) celebrate a basket by McCollum against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. McCollum had 32 points and Lillard had 29 in the team's 114-113 win. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Damian Lillard scored 33 points, C.J. McCollum added 22 and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Orlando Magic 112-103 on Thursday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

After trailing for much of the game, the Trail Blazers rallied in the fourth quarter behind Lillard’s 17 points. Recently acquired center Jusuf Nurkic also had 12 points and 12 rebounds during the much-needed win for the Portland.

The Trail Blazers spoiled Terrence Ross‘ debut with the Magic after being traded last week for Serge Ibaka. Ross, who is supposed to added athleticism and a scoring punch, managed just 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting with his new team.

Nikola Vucevic scored 25 points and Evan Fournier added 20 as the Magic lost for the sixth time in seven games.

Portland trailed by 11 points early in the fourth but then outscored the Magic 16-4 during a stretch that ended with the Blazers taking a 96-95 lead on a 3-point shot in the corner by Lillard with 5:20 left.

After trailing by as many as 14 points in the third, the Trail Blazers used an 11-0 run to pull within three late in the period with Lillard and McCollum doing most of the damage. But that was as close as the Blazers could come as the Magic pulled back out front with Vucevic hitting some big shots and then D.J. Augustin burying a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give the Orlando an 85-77 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The new-look Magic were inconsistent in the first half with a permanent small lineup and the addition of Ross. But they played well enough to take a 55-46 lead into halftime.

Ross missed his first four field goal attempts before knocking down a 3-pointer that gave the Magic their biggest lead of the half at 37-26 lead with 8:22 remaining in the second quarter. Otherwise Ross struggled from the field, going 1 for 7 for the half.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Forward Al-Farouq Aminu did not play Thursday because of continued problems with his left knee. Aminu missed the Blazers’ last game before the All-Star break against Utah on Feb. 15 because of a left knee sprain. … Nurkic was inserted into the starting lineup. … With his 3-pointer early in the third quarter, Lillard has now made at least one 3-pointer in a career-high 37 consecutive games dating back to Nov. 22. It’s the second-longest streak in franchise history.

Magic: Point guard C.J. Watson, who was recently inserted into the starting lineup, is listed as day-to-day with a sore right Achilles tendon. Watson said he expects to miss about a week to allow the injury to heal. … With Watson out, Frank Vogel went with a starting lineup of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Ross and Vucevic.

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Portland continues its four-game road swing with a stop at Toronto on Sunday.

Magic: Orlando will host Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.

Report: Newly-acquired Pelicans F Omri Casspi breaks thumb, out 4-6 weeks

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 18:  Omri Casspi #18of the Sacramento Kings against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 18, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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This has got to put a damper on the whole DeMarcus Cousins trade thing for New Orleans Pelicans fans. According to multiple reports, Omri Casspi — who was part of the trade that sent Cousins to Louisiana — has broken his thumb. The sharp-shooting forward will be out 4-6 weeks.

It’s disappointing news for the Pelicans, who could certainly use Casspi’s 3-point shooting ability. Casspi is shooting 38 percent from deep this season, and while the Pelicans make enough threes per-game they are near the bottom-third in percentage.

Casspi would have been a real help for Alvin Gentry’s offense, but for now it appears they’ll have to make do without him. Casspi should continue to occupy a roster spot for New Orleans, given his expiring contract and the fact that even if the Pelicans make a run for the playoffs they won’t be in a situation to add to their lineup since they won’t expect to get very far.

The good news out of New Orleans on Thursday night? Despite a loss to the Houston Rockets, Cousins nearly dropped a 5 x 5.

The race for the No. 8 seed is on.