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Heat, Mavericks go opposite directions after last year’s finals

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Last June, the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat were the two teams left standing on top of the NBA mountain. They were the two teams that made, it, that advanced to the NBA finals. Dallas, as we all recall, came out on top.

Last July, these two teams started traveling very different paths that lead to where they are right now.

Miami is rolling, up 3-0 in the first round on a Knicks team that was supposed to push them a little. They brought in depth, they’ve modified the system and the players bought into it, and for stretches now they play just suffocating defense. Still, they feel like a Maserati in fourth gear — they could be even more impressive.

Dallas is getting rolled, down 3-0 in the first round to a Thunder team they took out in five games last playoffs. Dallas’ owner Mark Cuban decided to look long term rather than chase a ring with the same cast, and that combined with some bad luck has them on the verge of an embarrassingly quick elimination.

It’s quite a contrast.

And it’s all about decisions made during the summer, while the NBA was locked out and soon after it returned.

Miami’s flaws were exposed in the finals — not enough depth, plus their three big stars — Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — did not fully mesh. LeBron, in particular, was more passive during the finals and nobody could step into those shoes.

Coach Erick Spoelstra spent the summer coming up with a system that better fit his three stars — pressure defense and transition. If you have the best athletes and the best finishers, put them in positions to do what they do best. The Heat pressure and gamble on defense, they force mistakes because of their athleticism, then they turned those into highlight transition dunks. As the season wore on the Heat strayed from that plan, but they still bring it back in spurts and have done more of that in the playoffs. The Knicks have been overwhelmed when they do.

Miami also added depth — Shane Battier, Norris Cole — and got guys like Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem healthy.

Right now, especially after Derrick Rose’s injury in Chicago, the Heat look like they could steamroll back to the finals.

Dallas will not be facing them.

Mark Cuban made a decision to focus on the long term — he did not bring back Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea. He did not offer contract extensions to others. The result is a good long-term plan — this summer they will have the free agent money to offer a max deal to Deron Williams (or whoever else they choose). If they can move Shawn Marion, they may be able to bring in another big star.

This was not a strip-it-to-the-bone, move, this was trying to rebuild on the fly. It was a calculated risk.

It hasn’t worked out as planned and now they are paying the price. While Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are still there, this team does not have the depth or the depth of talent it did last year. Part of that is because of the Lamar Odom meltdown — they made a good gamble they could get the former Laker to come around with them, but he never did. That is a versatile, quality player who could have helped on a lot of fronts.

But it might not have mattered. The Thunder were going to get better. The Lakers have improved, as have the Grizzlies and Clippers. The West was going to be harder to get out of and Dallas took an intentional step back with its eye on the long term. Two years from now we may praise Cuban’s move as visionary — this is the kind of “make a move early rather than late” decision Jerry Buss has been making with the Lakers for years.

But it came with a price — these Mavericks are not as good as last year’s.

They are on an opposite trajectory from the team they knocked off in the finals last year. What a difference one year can make.

Heat center Willie Reed has bursitis, out for Monday

AP
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MIAMI (AP) Willie Reed will not travel with the Miami Heat for Monday’s game in Dallas because of bursitis in his right ankle.

Reed was injured in the fourth quarter of Miami’s win over Indiana on Saturday. He limped around for several seconds, then went down in obvious pain and eventually was carted off the court.

The Heat originally called Reed’s injury a calf strain, and tests performed Sunday showed the bursitis.

Reed is being listed as day-to-day. He’s averaging 5.3 points on 57 percent shooting this season.

His injury means the Heat will have 11 players available Monday, with four forwards or centers all out. Chris Bosh has not played this season, Justise Winslow (shoulder) is expected to miss the rest of the season and Josh McRoberts (foot) remains sidelined.

Chris Webber eager for new ‘Players Only’ NBA programming

Chris Webber
AP
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MIAMI (AP) Chris Webber’s first night as a television analyst ended with the former Michigan star getting teased about his infamous extra timeout that helped seal the Wolverines’ fate in the 1993 NCAA championship game against North Carolina.

He laughed it off.

It was, as Turner Sports colleague Ernie Johnson called it that night, an initiation. And not only did Webber pass, he has flourished – evolving into one of the game’s respected voices, a player-turned-broadcaster who tries to combine the emotion of what’s happening on the floor with a professionalism that he believes is required of those behind the microphone.

Webber will be one of the headliners when TNT unveils its new “Players Only” platform on Monday night, a five-week run of doubleheaders where all the commentators will be former pro men’s and women’s players.

“It’s a crazy opportunity as a player to be able to kind of take over the studio,” said Webber, a finalist for induction in this year’s Basketball Hall of Fame class. “Some of the guys and I have talked about what a crazy opportunity this is, and we’re going to make the most of it.”

Among the other players involved: Chris Bosh, Isiah Thomas, Baron Davis, Grant Hill, Kevin McHale and Lisa Leslie.

“I do think we can change the game with this opportunity,” Webber said.

In a time when television remarks have started feuds between current and former players – like the longstanding back-and-forth between Charles Barkley and stars like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and in the last few days the dustup involving Shaquille O’Neal, JaVale McGee and Kevin Durant – Webber has prided himself on being fair with criticisms.

There are times when people within the game tease one another, like the night Johnson asked him how many timeouts are allowed in college games. Webber thinks that’s fair – but he avoids the banter that turns personal.

“As long as I don’t speak about guys’ character, then it really doesn’t matter,” Webber said. “There’s nothing that I can say about a player that hasn’t already been said about me. There’s no sensitivity there. Players, when certain commentators say something, he can say: `How can he say that? He’s never been in that position.’ Well, the player can’t look at me and say that.”

Webber retired averaging 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds, numbers that will likely have him headed to the Hall of Fame – possibly this year. He’s among 14 finalists who will get word on their fate in April at the Final Four.

The induction in Springfield, Massachusetts, is in September.

“About time,” said Barkley, a Hall of Famer. “He should already be in there.”

Webber said hearing his name listed as a finalist was surreal.

“I’m just thankful that I was nominated,” Webber said. “I’m taking in the moment, being very thankful and that I’m here. But as far as thinking about more than that, nah, I don’t do that.”

Webber doesn’t play anymore – nearly losing to his 16-year-old nephew in a 1-on-1 game last summer was the last straw – and has enjoyed being around basketball in other capacities since retiring. He represented the Sacramento Kings at an NBA draft lottery, agreed to teach a class at Wake Forest in sports storytelling and is involved in a production company.

He said he sees broadcasting as a privilege, after working alongside the likes of Kevin Harlan, Dick Stockton and Marv Albert, which is why he’s taking “Players Only” especially seriously.

“If you’re around someone and you’re willing to learn, you can get better,” Webber said. “We’re going to take from their examples. You have to honor the game with professionalism, but I also think we give a unique perspective. And I think we have a validation that can’t be taught.”

Russell Westbrook dunks on DeMarcus Cousins, who fouls out (video)

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In one fell swoop, Russell Westbrook scored two points, eliminated the Pelicans’ second-best player and got the Thunder all the momentum.

This dunk on DeMarcus Cousins, who fouled out trying to contest it, helped Oklahoma City pull away for a 118-110 win.

 

Report: Knicks waiving Brandon Jennings

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 01:  Brandon Jennings #3 of the New York Knicks in action against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center on February 1, 2017 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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The Knicks made no deals prior to the trade deadline, causing Carmelo Anthony to question the team’s direction.

It’s as if Phil Jackson now just woke up and realized he could do something.

With the trade deadline passed, New York is waiving Brandon Jennings to sign Chasson Randle.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This is a good move executed in seemingly the most ham-handed way possible.

The Knicks couldn’t have traded Jennings for a second-rounder last week? He’s on a one-year contract worth just $5 million, which should have made it easy to line up salaries. He’s overrated, because his flashy moments and presence in a big market dwarf erratic play overall. Still, for teams ready to win now that needed a backup point guard, Jennings could have added value.

And even if potential Jennings trades wouldn’t have cleared a roster spot, the Knicks could have waived Sasha Vujacic instead. Vujacic is washed up, but he’s a Jackson favorite.

Still, the Knicks are better off now. They open playing time for promising rookie Ron Baker and add the 24-year-old Randle, who shined in limited minutes with the 76ers earlier this season. New York has circled Randle since went undrafted out of Standford in 2015. He played for the Knicks in summer league and the preseason, but they cut him once he got hurt.

For a team headed back to the lottery, better to emphasize youth — though it would have been even better to do so before the trade deadline.

Jennings is also better off, likely to join a better team. I wouldn’t rule out the Nuggets or Jazz claiming him on waivers, but he most likely clears waivers and picks his next destination.