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NBA Playoffs: Miami gets home-court back with erratic performance

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For a little while, it looked like the Miami Heat’s 88-86 win over the Dallas Mavericks to give them a 2-1 lead in the series was going to be a repeat of Dallas’ dramatic Game 2 comeback victory. The Heat came out in attack mode and put the Mavericks on their heels early, attacking the basket with impunity and getting out to early double-digit leads.

Still, Dallas refused to fold, and once again took Miami to the wire thanks to some superlative play from Dirk Nowitzki and some breakdowns by Miami. Miami only made one shot inside of five feet in the last 10 minutes of the game, and didn’t attempt a single free throw.

Meanwhile, Dallas clawed back into the game with some tough, rotating defense, some solid work on the boards, and a steady diet of free throws, as well as some great plays from Nowitzki. Nowitzki scored Dallas’ final 12 points, with many of them coming from the free-throw line after Miami committed needless loose-ball fouls on rebounds under Dallas’ basket when Miami just needed to make the clock into their friend and make Dallas work for every one of their points.

The Heat had a double-digit lead at multiple points during Game 3, and led by seven with six and a half minutes to go. With a minute and a half left, the game was tied. This time, however, the Heat held their ground. After Jason Terry missed an open corner three that could have potentially given the Mavericks a 2-1 series lead, Miami unleashed a Wade-James pick-and-roll that ended with James setting up Chris Bosh with a wide-open midrange jumper behind a Udonis Haslem back-pick. Bosh knocked it down, giving the Heat a two-point lead with 37 seconds left.

After a Nowitzki turnover, a missed “hero three” by James, and a Nowitzki miss on a jumper that was perfectly defended by Udonis Haslem, the game was over and the Heat had a 2-1 lead, taking home-court advantage right back from Dallas.

It wasn’t a perfect performance for the Heat, nor was it a commanding one. They let their offense get stagnant. They gave up leads instead of putting the Mavericks away early. They gave Nowitzki too many easy looks at easy jump-shots, and put the Mavericks on the line far too many times with needless fouls.

Still, it the performance the Heat needed to win, and the kind of performance we should be expecting from this team at this point. Despite the Heat being “Hollywood as Hell” off the court, they sure do love winning ugly on the court, and they did enough to win ugly on Sunday.

It wasn’t about Wade dominating, although he did have a masterpiece of a performance. The game came down to Mario Chalmers’ four threes, including a half-court buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter that may have been a backcourt violation.

It was about Udonis Haslem stepping up to set a perfect screen on Dirk on the Heat’s final basket and play perfect defense on him on the game’s final possession. It was about Chris Bosh, who had played 11 consecutive quarters of sub-par basketball and had one working eye, making the biggest shot of his career. It was about LeBron James focusing on passing and playing defense late in the game instead of trying to go for the highlight reel and get it done offensively.

It wasn’t pretty, but by doing the little things right in the waning moments of Game 3, the Heat put themselves two games away from their ultimate goal: holding that championship trophy when the series is over.

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James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

Master P says Pelicans should hire him as assistant coach: ‘I’m serious’

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Did you know Master P had two NBA contracts?

Percy Miller was with the Hornets before the 1999 season and the Raptors before the 1999-00 season. But he was cut in the preseason both times.

These were mostly publicity stunts. Still, the rapper could actually play a bit. NBA quality? He long insisted yes, though his music career provided a convenient and lucrative excuse for sidetracking his basketball ambitions.

Yet, now, the New Orleans native says he wants back in the NBA with the Pelicans — in a different role.

Master P, via TMZ:

I think they need me to be an assistant coach.

I’m serious about coaching.

I don’t think he’s actually serious.

But if he is, would it be a good idea? Probably not. The Pelicans have real issues integrating Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and they need devoted coaches, not passing entertainers, to solve this.

Would it be fun? Heck yeah.

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