Miami holds on, beats Chicago. Can we just start their playoff series now?

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In two ways Sunday’s Heat victory over the Bulls summed up this young season.

First, the Bulls and the Heat are the two best teams in the East. Clear and away. Philadelphia, Atlanta and even Indiana are good, but these two teams are on another level and are destined for an Eastern Conference finals rematch. Which promises to be very entertaining.

Second, it was sloppy when it mattered. Even the referees were blowing plays at the end. Just like so much of this season.

Beyond that, this game was a measuring stick of where the teams are right now, and as we expected they are close. Miami gets the win 97-93, they got a big 35 points on 23 shots from LeBron James and their bench was good. Chicago got 34 points from Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton caused the Heat trouble and scrapped back from double-digit deficits twice. All without Luol Deng.

Don’t try to project this game to the end of the season, because both will be different squads by then. The only thing you can project is that series is going to be very entertaining, very fun.

The other talking point out of this game is how ugly the ending was.

On two consecutive possessions late the Heat tried to isolate LeBron James, but he went Kobe Bryant style dribbling on the perimeter to create space then shooting a long jumper that was contested. One of those came with less than a minute to go and the Bulls, down 4 at the time, ran off the miss and Rose was able to draw the blocking foul and hit the shot to make it an and-one. Suddenly it was a one point game with 49 seconds left.

So the Heat run the clock down but it ends with another LeBron James contested miss, and once again Rose is off and running. Rose pushed it a lot at the end of the game to counter having LeBron on him when the Heat set their defense — he had to give up the ball a lot in standard sets the last few minutes, but in transition he was picked up by others who were backpedaling.

This time the pushing of the ball led to a Udonis Haslem foul and Rose going to the free throw line.

And he missed both. Down one the Bulls had to foul, and LeBron had the ball so they fouled him.

And he missed both.

Then the referees inadvertently blew the whistle on a live ball, so they had to stop play and have a mid-court jump ball. Which LeBron won and the Bulls fouled Mario Chalmers, who proceeded to only make one of two giving the Bulls one last chance.

Rose drove into the lane, the refs (wisely) let contact with Haslem go, and Rose went up with a last-second 10-foot floater to tie, and missed it. Game over (save for a couple Chris Bosh free throws).

Some people are going to jump on LeBron and/or Rose for their end of game play, but to me it just looked like the rest of the season.

LeBron James tweaked his shoulder in the first quarter and iced it during the game, but he returned and didn’t show any signs that this will linger. He was back to himself, and back in the post backing down Ronnie Brewer late in the game.

This game is a playoff preview and it lived up to the hype. And it lived up to the highlights. Rose slashed and showed off his body control, which is as good as the league has ever seen. The Heat were off and running early and that led to some fantastic highlights.

It means nothing about these teams in the playoffs, other than to whet our appetite.

Can we just start the Eastern Conference finals tomorrow?

Jazz boost international bona fides with new minor-league coach

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Martin Schiller has been named coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate.

Schiller previously served as an assistant coach of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany and replaces Dean Cooper. He was an assistant coach for the Artland Dragons from 2010-15.

Schiller has also been an assistant coach on the German National Team since 2015, where he worked with Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen.

Schiller hails from Vienna, Austria, and Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor lauded him for his international experience and player development background.

The Jazz organization is known to have close relationships with the international basketball community. The Jazz currently have eight international players.

Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 with Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 in Boston because the Celtics already have retired the numbers he wore in college and with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving wore No. 11 at two New Jersey high schools before switching to No. 1 at Duke. He wore No. 2 with the Cavaliers for the first six years of his NBA career.

The Celtics retired No. 1 for founder and original owner Walter Brown. They retired No. 2 for former coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

In all, the Celtics have retired 21 numbers, with Paul Pierce’s No. 34 next in line for the TD Garden rafters.

 

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.