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South Florida All-Star Classic hosted by LeBron and Wade reminds us of what we’ll miss

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There have been plenty of recreational, pickup, and charity basketball games this summer that featured various groups of NBA stars showcasing their talents. But arguably none of them were as star-studded or as competitive as the South Florida All-Star Classic at Florida International University on Saturday, hosted by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

Largely absent from this one was the high volume of crazy dunks, sick passes, and overall spectacular plays that we’ve come to expect when a majority of the game’s best players converge on a single court, but it was with good reason: The players seemed genuinely invested in whether or not their team would win or lose. As a result, not only was there actual defense played, but players went hard at each other, and with a more serious demeanor than we’ve seen at any of these types of games since the lockout began.

Carmelo Anthony, for example, seemed determined not to let Kevin Durant get going, and bodied him up with an aggressive and physical defensive display — even away from the ball — that we rarely see from the Knicks All-Star. Amar’e Stoudemire was consistent in providing weak-side defensive help, and had some physical possessions of his own against a noticeably-bulkier Bosh. And of course, Wade spent some time defending James, and did so with enough strength to make sure his Miami Heat teammate was unable to back him down in the post.

Add in the fact that the game was whistled so tightly down the stretch that James had conversations with the officials after seemingly every possession, and you definitely got the vibe that this game meant something. It came down to the wire, and featured a big-time clutch three-pointer from Anthony which tied it up for Team Wade and sent the festivities into overtime. That was when we saw LeBron try to attack Wade down low, but he had to settle for free throws after spinning past him and being fouled by Stoudemire coming over to help.

With Wade’s team having sealed the game by securing a four-point lead with just a couple of seconds to play, James ended it by pulling up for a jumper from half-court, which swished through the hoop as if he had only shot it from 15 feet out, as opposed to 50.

All in all, it was a competitive, fan-friendly event that was as close to real basketball as we’ve seen since the NBA concluded its season in June. The game benefited the Mary’s Court Foundation, established by Isiah Thomas and his wife in 2010 primarily for the purposes of youth academic success, increased school attendance and higher graduation rates.

source:  Nike provided the uniforms for the event, which had S.F.A.S.C. on the front, and BBNS where the names would normally be on the back — short for “BasketBall Never Stops,” the mantra the company has been repeating all summer as a reminder that for the players who truly love the game, there is no offseason.

Nike also used the event to debut the LeBron 9 “Cannon” edition, which James wore on the court, and which hit the Miami House of Hoops in limited quantities later that night. The Miami release was the first LeBron 9 to hit stores in North America, and was released exclusively in Miami as a sign of appreciation and respect for LeBron’s South Florida fans and community.

Afterward, James took the microphone at center court, and, surrounded by the rest of the stars who participated, gave a heart-felt message to the fans in attendance.

“There’s no us without you guys,” James said. “[Without] every last one of you guys, there’s no us as players. Thank you all. Thank you so much. We appreciate every last one of you.”

There was no doubting the sincerity of LeBron’s words. And the respect, effort, passion, and intensity he and the rest of the players brought to the game was a vivid yet all-too-brief reminder of exactly what we’ll be missing if the lockout drags on and regular season basketball is lost.

If you want to see the game, it is on demand at this link.

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, 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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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

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I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.