LeBron James Dwyane Wade

Miami’s one hot stretch dooms Philadelphia to loss at home


It’s not the 43 minutes of good play, it’s the five minutes when Miami goes on a run that makes it so hard to beat them.

Philadelphia is a seriously good team. At home Friday night they played a close game with last year’s Eastern Conference champions for three quarters. The defense, the ball movement, the balance that makes the Sixers a legitimate Atlantic Division favorite was on display.

But when Miami is at their best — even for a stretch — nobody can hang with them, and when the hurricane is over it’s hard to catch up. Miami went on a 15-0 fourth quarter run to pull away from Philly and win going away 99-79 on Friday night.

It doesn’t diminish how good Philly is — their win over Chicago Wednesday showed how serious a threat they can be.

But when the Heat are executing, they are on another level. And in this game, particularly in the fourth quarter, they did execute. This is not last year’s Heat where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took turns watching each other. There was a great play in the second quarter where Wade was in the post, Shane Battier fed him the ball and cut baseline and got the ball back on a handoff — and Philly sniffed it out and shut it down. Then LeBron James comes cutting down the lane hard from the weakside wing, Battier makes the pass and it’s a huge dunk. With Miami’s athletes, that is almost impossible to defend.

Miami’s 15-0 run in the fourth quarter came with a rarely-used this season lineup on the floor that was their best playoff lineup last year — James, Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. Dwyane Wade had nine fourth quarter points on his way to 26 for the game (Miller had 10 in the fourth, LeBron had 19 for the game).

Expect to see more of that lineup, especially when the games matter more. That is a lineup that on offense can shoot from the outside or slash in the lane, one that on defense can switch everything, is gritty and athletic.

The Sixers couldn’t match it. Not sure any team can when they hit their shots.

Miami has not played like this consistently all season. But this is what makes them so tough — you can do everything right for 40 minutes, then in five minutes it all goes away so fast you don’t realize what hit you. And suddenly the game is all but over.

It doesn’t mean the Heat cannot be beat come the playoffs. This is just a perfect illustration of why that will be so very hard to do.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.