Miami Heat's James knocks the ball away from Indiana Pacers' Hill during Game 2 of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff in Miami

LeBron’s struggles just one of many Heat problems

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At some point Wednesday, it will dawn on Miami Heat fans that the series against the Indiana Pacers is 1-1 — it’s not over, it’s a best-of-five now. That’s not what it feels like for Miami fans as they drown their sorrows in a mojito, but it is the truth.

The focus in Miami now is the Heat loss in Game 2 at home to the Pacers — and like quarterbacks and presidents the blame for all things Heat falls on LeBron James. No matter how much of the blame he deserves.

And he deserves some — the best player in the game had no points, missed his only shot plus missed two free throws, and had no impact in the final four minutes of the game. It plays into the public perception, and it certainly says something that Erik Spoelstra’s final play call had LeBron setting a screen for Mario Chalmers. That is where you want the ball in LeBron’s hands — even if the Pacers trap him he can pass to an open man. You want LeBron to demand the ball there. Whether he was exhausted or not is really moot, he has to step up.

But the Heat’s problems in this game — and potentially in this series — are bigger than just LeBron.

Without Chris Bosh on the floor to provide another weapon the Pacers were able to pressure the perimeter without fear of their big men paying a price. Bosh can score in the paint or draw a big man out of it because of his midrange game. Without the threat of Bosh the Pacers played a more fearless brand of defense.

Dwyane Wade deserves some blame, he went 8-22 shooting and missed a key layup late in the game.

But the Heat’s biggest issue is that nobody else stepped up and gave Miami anything on offense. Miami players not named Wade or LeBron shot 26.5 percent on the night (9-34). Shane Battier had 5 points, Udonis Haslem 4, Mike Miller 0. The Heat were 1-9 on spot-up threes (stat via MySynergySports.com). That will do them in.

For Miami, they need to get back to getting easy buckets in transition — Miami was 2-9 shooting in transition. The Pacers did a good job of getting back, but rather than attack the Heat settled for jumpers that they missed a lot. They didn’t push and they didn’t attack. They need more transition opportunities and they need to convert on those.

If the Heat offense is simply LeBron and Wade coming off the pick and trying to create on their own Miami will fall. It’s hard to get into the teeth of the Pacers defense when they have long-armed shot blockers — someone has to space the floor out with shooting and if that’s not Bosh another Heat else has to fill that role.

This was never going to be an easy series, not as easy as the Heat fan base thought. The Pacers are the third best team in the East and are better than whomever the Heat would face in the next round. (Sorry Boston, it’s true.) They have good players, they are balanced at both ends of the floor.

Miami is the favorite because they are more talented, because they have the two best players in this series. But that alone is not enough. They need more transition points, they need more from their role players.

And it’s going to take more from LeBron James.

J.B. Bickerstaff calls Rockets ‘broken team,’ ‘fragmented bunch’

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff rubs his head in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been unafraid to sharply assess his team.

But after last night’s loss to the Trail Blazers – Houston’s third straight defeat and sixth in eight games – Bickerstaff kicked up the rhetoric even further.

Bickerstaff, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

“We’re broken,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s that simple. We’re a broken team, and we all need to use this break to figure out how we’re going to impact change. If we don’t want to impact change, then we need to be made aware of that, too, and we’ll go in a different direction.

“We can’t continue to go out and play this way. It’s easy to see it’s a fragmented bunch. You can’t win that way.”

This is why Dwight Howard is on the trade block. The Rockets are so incohesive, there’s no simple solution in sight. This increasingly looks like a lost season for Houston, which should emphasize future planning – like dealing Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at age 30 this summer.

Yet, the Rockets are just a half game from playoff position. They obviously dreamed much bigger when the season began, but at this point, merely making the postseason should qualify as a success.

It’s Bickerstaff’s job to get them there, no matter how unlikely. He has certainly shown little fear in trying, whether it’s giving these quotes or pulling all five starters simultaneously shortly into a game. He’s trying to put his mark on this team.

The players just aren’t responding, not more than periodically, at least. From James Harden down, nobody plays with the requisite focus and energy.

Nothing in Bickerstaff’s assessment is surprising. It’s just surprising he said it so bluntly publicly.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to what veteran Houston guard Jason Terry said. Eric Ringering of 750 The Game:

https://twitter.com/ringering45/status/697664478993756164

Devin Booker to replace Nerlens Noel in Rising Stars at All-Star Weeekend

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
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Sixers big man Nerlens Noel — who has looked much improved this season once Ish Smith was feeding him the rock on offense — sat out the Sixers game Wednesday night due to tendonitis in his right knee. After he missed his rookie season with knee issues, you can understand why the Sixers want him to be cautious.

Noel is going to sit out All-Star Weekend as well — he had been scheduled to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, but he is going to sit that out and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns will take his place, the league has announced (Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic broke that story).

Booker has been one of the few bright spots for the Suns this season, averaging 10.6 points a game and shooting 40.3 percent from three.

He will play for the USA in the World vs. USA format of the Rising Stars Challenge (the former rookie/sophomore game, featuring first and second year players).

With Emmanuel Mudiay replacing Patrick Beverley, NBA reveals Skills Challenge bracket

Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley (2) knocks the ball away from Denver Nuggets' Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the first half of a NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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Out: Defending champion Patrick Beverley.

In: Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay.

The NBA confirmed the Rockets guard would miss the Skills Challenge and that Mudiay would replace him. The league also release the bracket:

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My picks:

Quarterfinals

Semifinals

  • Isaiah Thomas over C.J. McCollum
  • Anthony Davis over Draymond Green

Final

  • Isaiah Thomas over Anthony Davis

NBA suspends Hassan Whiteside for elbowing Boban Marjanovic’s head

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Hassan Whiteside lost his cool and elbowed Boban Marjanovic in the head Tuesday.

The Heat center received a flagrant 2 and an ejection, and now he’s getting the rest of his punishment.

NBA release:

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Whiteside was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:35 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 119-101 win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Feb. 9.

Whiteside will serve his suspension when Miami plays the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 19 at Philips Arena.

The suspension will cost Whiteside $8,921. As a result, the Heat – in line to become the first team in NBA history to pay the repeater luxury-tax rate – trim their impending tax bill by $24,534.

More importantly for Whiteside, this will be a strike against him for teams considering offering him a big contract in free agency this summer.