NBA Playoffs: Heat’s lack of discipline ends their season

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The Miami Heat were the most talented team in the NBA this past season. They were two fourth-quarter collapses away from sweeping the NBA Finals. None of that matters after they lost Game 6 by a final score of 105-95, and the series by a final score of 4-2.

Miami’s losses in Game 2 and Game 4 can be directly traced back to atrocious late-game execution on both ends of the floor and inexcusable performances from LeBron James. Miami had chances to win Game 5, but that game was ultimately decided by a red-hot Dallas shooting performance that the Heat had little hope of matching.

So what happened in Game 6? The Heat, a team capable of doing anything, failed to do the most basic of basketball tasks throughout the night, and their lack of fundamental execution ultimately ended their season.

Miami looked nervous all game long, and while their offense didn’t go stagnant because of too much one-on-one play, it did often evolve into a game of “hot potato,” with the Heat forcing passes left and right and committing a series of turnovers that ultimately destroyed them. Miami gave the ball up 17 times on Sunday, and those turnovers led to an incredible 27 points for the Mavericks. Miami was supposed to be the best fast-break team in the league, but Dallas punished the Heat in transition all series long thanks to their superior discipline.

Miami’s lack of discipline didn’t only show up when they tossed the ball away. With the pressure on them, the Heat failed to do one of the most fundamental and simple tasks in basketball: make free throws. Miami had Dallas in foul trouble for nearly the duration of the game, but missed a stunning 13 free throws, which turned a 15-free throw disparity into only eight extra points for the Heat.

On both offense and defense, the Heat repeatedly simply gave up possessions that they should have treated like the most important things on the planet. Wade, who had carried the Heat through the first five games of the series, was on tilt in Game six, forcing up inexcusable deep jumpers and trying to attack the basket wildly when the lanes weren’t there for him. LeBron James tried, but he had some inexcusable turnovers of his own, most of which were the result of over-passing or trying to force a drive instead of taking an open jumper.

The Heat also let their tempers flare up when they should have been focused on the task at hand. Directly after an impressive 14-0 run that dug Miami out of a 12-point deficit in the first half, Udonis Haslem allowed DeShawn Stevenson to engage him in an altercation, and Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony both made things work by coming into the conflict. Dallas had already called a time-out, but the extra delay and Dallas technical free throw that resulted from the fracas sapped all the momentum that the Heat had going for them. A Wade technical on a charging call that didn’t go his way later in the game made things even clearer: Miami was clearly rattled after losing three of its past four games and having fourth-quarter leads in all of them.

The Heat also failed to box out at key times, and while the Mavericks only ended up with one more offensive board than the Heat did, several of those offensive boards came in the fourth quarter, when the Heat desperately needed to get the ball and try and get their offense going.

In the end, what did the Heat in wasn’t a poorly-constructed roster or proper offensive and defensive strategy. It was their mentality. With the Heat’s talent, they should have coldly and methodically carved through the NBA all season long and put Dallas away when they had the chance to win an NBA championship. Instead, they allowed themselves to have a roller coaster of a regular season marked by poor late-game execution and losses to elite teams, gritted through the first three rounds of the playoffs thanks to stifling defense and heroic late-game play, and blew the NBA Finals.

The Heat have the right roster pieces to win the championship next season, assuming it occurs. Spolestra is more than capable as a coach. Their stars have shown that they are capable of playing together on both ends of the floor. But if they want to reach their ultimate goal, they are going to have to tighten things up next season. They can’t forget to play defense on the nights their offense is rolling. They can’t let teams back into games by committing silly fouls. They can’t try to get caught up in macho posturing in an NBA Finals elimination game. They can’t throw the ball away when it matters most. They can’t miss free throws.

In 2011, the Heat showed that they have enough talent to win a champions. In 2012, the Heat will have to show that they have the maturity and discipline to be champions.

PBT Extra: What coaches are on hot seat? Alvin Gentry at front of list.

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This season, for the first time in 46 years, no NBA coach will be fired during the season (nobody is getting canned at this point).

However, once the off-season starts, there will be a few changes.

Alvin Gentry in New Orleans and Fred Hoiberg in Chicago are the names most mentioned, but there will be an unexpected firing somewhere around the league. Some GMs are on the hot seat also (Rob Hennigan in Orlando leads that parade).

I get into all of it in this latest PBT Extra.

Raptors’ Serge Ibaka, Bulls’ Robin Lopez each suspended one game for thrown punches

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It was obvious this was coming. Get in a shoving match “fight” in the NBA and you get a fine. However, actually throw punches and…

Toronto’s Serge Ibaka and Chicago’s Robin Lopez each have been suspended for one game by the NBA “for throwing punches at one another during an altercation,” the league announced. What that works out to is a $120,715 hit for Lopez and a $111,364 ding for Ibaka.

Also, Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire earned a $15,000 fine shoving the Bulls Nikola Mirotic and “acting as other than a peacemaker as part of the same altercation.”

This all came out of what seemed a rather innocuous play. Ibaka and Lopez were battling for rebounding positioning, it went on for a second after the ball went through the hoop, Ibaka caught Lopez with a little chicken wing elbow in the back, Lopez spun, and, boy, that escalated quickly. Lopez’s punch missed, while Ibaka’s caught Lopez in the hair more than the body.

Both men got technicals and were ejected.

Report: Sixers Joel Embiid “very likely” to undergo off-season surgery on knee

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When the Philadelphia 76ers formally announced they were shutting down Joel Embiid for the season, the team’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said:

“The assessment of Monday’s follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid’s left knee appears to reveal that the area affected by the bone bruise has improved significantly, while the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

That meniscus may require off-season surgery, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

As described, this would be a minor surgery that likely has a 4-6 week recovery period. That said, you know the Sixers will bring him along slowly after this. Also, that’s just time Embiid is not on a practice court or in a pick-up game with Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and the rest of the team’s young core. That’s the time the foundations of chemistry on a team are built.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.

Hopefully getting his knee cleaned up now means Embiid will be able to play in more games next season.

Report: Kevin Durant’s recovery going well, could return before end of season

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Back on Feb. 28, the Warriors’ leading scorer Kevin Durant suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise, an injury that happened when Zaza Pachulia fell into his knee. They planned to evaluate him at the end of the month, but this injury is often a 6-8 week issue, which would have him back around the start of the playoffs or in the first round.

The Warriors are optimistic it will be earlier than that, probably by the end of the season, reports Marc Stein and Chris Haynes of ESPN.

The Golden State Warriors aren’t scheduled to formally update the status of Kevin Durant’s left knee until next week, but there is cautious optimism within the organization that Durant — should he maintain his current recovery arc — will indeed be able to return to the court before the end of the regular season, according to league sources.

While noting that Durant is roughly at the halfway stage of his recovery journey, sources told ESPN.com that the Warriors are encouraged by the progress Durant has made in the 22 days since he suffered a sprained MCL and tibial bone bruise in his left knee on Feb. 28.

Durant was getting in some on-court work before the Warriors took on the Mavericks Tuesday.

The Warriors lost Durant at the start of their toughest schedule stretch of the season, and they stumbled some through that. However, after getting home (and playing some lesser teams in that stretch) the Warriors have gotten right, Stephen Curry is shooting well again, Matt Barnes and Patrick McCaw are playing well enough, and the Warriors have won five in a row. They are in the driver’s seat to be the No. 1 seed in the West (the biggest challenge to that is a road back-to-back in Houston and San Antonio next week, get a split there and the Warriors become tough to catch).

Between the end of the season and an easy first round — neither Denver nor Portland play enough good defense to slow the Warriors — the Warriors will have time to blend Durant back into the fold. If the Warriors can find their stride again with him, they are the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.