NBA Playoffs: Heat make stunning comeback, reach finals

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For the first 44 and a half minutes of the Miami Heat’s 83-80 victory on Thursday night, the Chicago Bulls got the exact game they wanted.

LeBron James was bottled up after missing some tough jumpers early, with free throws being his only real source of offense. Dwyane Wade’s struggles continued, and he committed nine turnovers while failing to get a shot to fall or a pass to go through traffic. Chris Bosh had a strong game, especially for a third option, but it wasn’t enough.

The Bulls dominated the glass, and they made the game ugly. They beat the Heat to 50-50 balls, they finally got a few outside shots to fall, and they forced turnovers and created unforced errors. They made Miami miserable, and with three and half minutes remaining it looked like the series was heading back to Miami for a Game 6.

Then the LeBron James that took over the 2007 Eastern Conference finals and the Dwyane Wade that took over the 2006 NBA finals decided to show up — at the same time. With 3:53 remaining in the game, Miami took a timeout after Ronnie Brewer made what looked like a dagger 3-pointer to put the Bulls up by 12.

After the timeout, LeBron got fouled and split a pair of free throws. Then Wade made a short jumper, stole a pass, and got a quick layup in transition. After a missed jumper by Taj Gibson, LeBron drilled a three to cut the Bulls’ lead to five, and Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau immediately called a timeout.

After the timeout, Derrick Rose hit a beautiful, spinning floater over LeBron, and the Bulls’ lead looked safe once again. Then Wade made his first three-point basket since May 7 — while getting fouled. Wade made the free throw, Rose missed a floater, and LeBron calmly pulled up in semi-transition to make a game-tying three with a minute to go. After that, LeBron stole a pass and hit a pull-up jump shot to put the Heat up by two. Rose had a chance to tie the game with a pair of free throws, but he missed the second, and Bosh was able to seal the game for the Heat with two clutch free throws in a must-foul situation for the Bulls.

Now the Heat are going to the NBA finals, and they look fairly terrifying. They refused to have their wills broken by the team that accumulated the NBA’s best record by breaking wills. LeBron and Wade look unstoppable in crunch time. The team’s defense has been suffocating, and nobody can doubt how much offensive talent Miami has. The Heat will have to score more than they have in their last two series to win a championship, but the Mavericks’ defense won’t give them nearly as much trouble as the Celtics or Bulls.

The Heat were made. The Heat were criticized. The Heat had an up-and-down regular season. The Heat won the Eastern Conference in a total of 15 games. Now we get to see if the story of the Miami Heat, which has been one of the most intriguing of the NBA season, will end with a championship parade.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.

Kawhi Leonard is smiling, and that confuses Manu Ginobili (PHOTO)

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Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.

In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.

When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.

Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.

Via Twitter:

You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.

Kobe is the Lakers’ all-time leader in steals (and other trivia rookies don’t know)

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“He played 20 years … I mean, yeah I guess.”

That’s what Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball had to say in this video after learning that Kobe Bryant was the all-time leader in steals for his franchise. You have to hand it to him, it is a little surprising. Even more surprising is that Bryant has 220 more than Magic Johnson at No. 2.

In a video posted to YouTube by Complex on Saturday, rookies tried to answer questions similar to the one Ball pondered over, like what team drafted their head coach, who the NBA all-time leading scorer is, and what day the first game of the season starts on.

A lot of the responses were pretty funny, including the guys getting wrong what year Adam Silver became NBA commissioner. Poor David Stern has already been forgotten about!

Meanwhile, Ball looked the sharpest. He’s going to come in handy when the Lakers play pub trivia.