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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Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.