NBA Playoffs: James, Wade carry Heat, even up series with Pacers

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The Heat were able to get a 101-93 win over the Pacers to even up the series at 2 on Sunday, but it certainly didn’t come easy for them.

The Miami Heat absolutely needed a win in Indiana on Sunday afternoon, and for the first part of the game, it didn’t look like the Pacers were going to give it to them. Indiana came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, and started the game off on a 9-0 run.

Consequently, the Heat were forced to play catch-up for the entirety of the first half, and if Indiana had made some wide-open looks in transition or Shane Battier or Mario Chalmers had missed some early threes, Indiana could easily have broken the game wide open early. LeBron James came to play, but just about no other Heat player showed up in the first half — Dwyane Wade in particular looked like a zombie wearing a #3 jersey, as he made just 1 of his first 8 field goal attempts and got burned on defense numerous times.

Then, with 1:46 remaining in the first half, Wade was forced into a contested, off-the-dribble, end-of-shot clock three by the 6-8 Paul George — and he made it. After that, everything changed. The Pacers went into halftime with an 8-point lead thanks to a beautiful buzzer-beating scoop shot by Leandro Barbosa, but James and Wade were starting to get it going.

The second half was, quite simply, the James and Wade show. James played like a 3-time MVP, attacking the Pacers in the post, picking apart their defense with beautiful passes that led to dunks or layups, and driving right to the rack time after time for finish after finish. Oh, and he grabbed 18 rebounds, with 6 of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass. LeBron finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists, which hasn’t been done in the playoffs in the last 25 years, and had 2 steals and 2 blocks to boot.

I know we’re supposed to put an asterisk on everything LeBron does until he wins a ring, but this was an absolutely unreal all-around performance from LeBron in what was essentially a must-win game for the Heat, and it should be appreciated.

That said, the Heat would be in a 3-1 hole right now if Dwyane Wade hadn’t snapped out of his funk with a vengeance. Wade hit 11 straight shots at one point, both from the inside and the outside, and James and Wade played off of each other beautifully for the entire second half. They weren’t just both playing great — they were elevating each other’s level of play, and that’s when the Heat get almost impossible to beat.

On the Pacers’ side of things, a few guys had nice games, but foul trouble kept Roy Hibbert and David West from playing major minutes, which made a huge difference in the game, as Hibbert’s ability to defend the rim and crash the boards and West’s ability to score down low gives Miami fits. With Hibbert and West on the bench for long stretches, the Pacers were forced to rely on a lot of long jumpers, and it wasn’t all that effective for them.

Even with James and Wade at the absolute top of their games, this wasn’t a blowout win for Miami, and that should be a cause for concern for the team that came into the playoffs as the Vegas favorites to win the championship. The Heat may have lost Game 4 if Udonis Haslem didn’t make four mid-range jumpers in the final six minutes of the game, which was notable since Haslem has struggled mightily from mid-range all season long.

Of course, the bigger concern is this: Can the Heat win this series, let alone a championship, if James and Wade have to do this much just to get Miami a win? If the Heat can make it into the Conference Finals, they will probably get Bosh back, which will help a lot, but this team is still wafer-thin offensively right now, and they need to get back to the principles of “pace and space” that made them so tough offensively early in the year, especially the latter. Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and James Jones need to start hitting their threes, Chalmers, Cole, and Miller need to provide some playmaking, and Haslem, Anthony, and Turiaf have to force defenses to at least guard them.

Still, this was a good win for the Heat, and the road to the Conference Finals now goes through the American Airlines Arena again. The Heat should take a deep breath, and then realize they have to get right back to work if they don’t want to face an elimination game in Game 6.

As expected, Blake Griffin reportedly opted out of contract with Clippers

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Doc Rivers says he wants Blake Griffin back with the Clippers next season.

The bigger question: Does Blake Griffin want to be back with the Clippers next season?

The decision is in Griffin’s hands as he has done what was expected, opting out of his contract for the coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

A number of teams — Boston, Miami, and others — are expected to take a run at Griffin. (In Boston’s case, he’s a backup plan to Gordon Hayward, but there will be conversations.)

What Chris Paul — also expected to opt out and become a free agent this summer — and Griffin choose to do will help set the market. They are two of the biggest free agent names out there where they could switch teams (Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are staying put). If they take their time making a decision, it leaves the Clippers in a bind — they have to wait to hear from these two before starting replacing or rebuilding, but by the time they know other players may have decided — and could bottleneck the free agent process.

The Clippers are going to be one interesting team to watch this summer.

Pistons’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope suspended two games for DUI

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This is the standard penalty for coaches and players hit with a DUI. I don’t think the penalty is stiff enough in general for a serious issue, but this is the precedent that has been set.

Detroit Pistons’ guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been suspended two games by the NBA for “pleading guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, in violation of the law of the State of Michigan,” the NBA announced. He will miss the first two games of next season.

This will not stop Caldwell-Pope from getting PAID this summer.

A quality wing defender who hit 35 percent from three last season, he plays a position of need for a lot of teams and he is a restricted free agent. Other teams with cap space — Brooklyn and Sacramento come to mind — could step in and give him a max or near max offer. Then Stan Van Gundy needs to decide if he is going to match. He may not have much of a choice, if he wants to keep Andre Drummond and build an inside-out team around him, he needs Caldwell-Pope, and the Pistons don’t have the cap space to replace him.

One way or another, Caldwell-Pope is in line for a massive pay raise. This suspension will not slow teams, it just takes a little money out of his pocket.

 

Lonzo Ball tops Rookie of the Year early betting odds

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If you are betting right now on next year’s NBA Rookie of the Year award, you are a die-hard fan of your team and their new addition. Or, you have a problem and need to seek help. Maybe both.

Either way, the people at the gambling site Bovada have posted the early betting odds for the ROY award for next season.

Lonzo Ball (Lakers) 5/2
Ben Simmons (76ers) 3/1
Markelle Fultz (76ers) 5/1
De”Aaron Fox (Kings) 7/1
Josh Jackson (Suns) 9/1
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) 9/1
Jonathan Isaac (Magic) 16/1
Malik Monk (Hornets) 16/1
Dennis Smith (Mavericks) 16/1
John Collins (Hawks) 20/1
Justin Jackson (Trail Blazers) 22/1
Lauri Markkanen (Bulls) 22/1

Yes, Ben Simmons is in the mix.

The two bets I like here, if I were a gambling man, are Jackson in Phoenix and Dennis Smith in Dallas. I doubt Smith wins it, but Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the draft Smith will start for them next year, which means he gets opportunities and can rack up assists feeding Dirk Nowitzki at the elbow for a year.

Jackson is going to be unleashed in an up-tempo Suns offense where he will be the defender they need on the wing, play with high energy, and get buckets in transition. Winning ROY is as much about fit and opportunity as talent, and Jackson has landed in a good spot.

Paul George-Gordon Hayward-Celtics rumor doesn’t add up

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Paul George reportedly wants to play with Gordon Hayward. George is also reportedly willing to join his desired team (universally accepted to be the Lakers) by means that don’t guarantee the highest salary.

Could the Celtics – who are pursuing Hayward in free agency – leverage those conditions into getting George?

Adam Kauffman of 98.5 The Sports Hub:

I don’t what George would do, but it’d be a MAJOR financial disadvantage to go this route.

There a couple ways it could happen – George getting extended-and-trade or George getting traded then signing an extension six months later. The latter would allow George to earn more than the former, but even if he pledged to sign an extension, would the Celtics trade for him knowing he’d have six months to change his mind if he doesn’t like Boston as much as anticipated?

There’s a bigger issue, anyway. Both extension routes would leave George earning far less than simply letting his contract expire then signing a new deal, either with his incumbent team or a new one.

Here’s a representation of how much George could earn by:

  • Letting his contract expire and re-signing (green)
  • Letting his contract expire and signing elsewhere (purple)
  • Getting traded and signing an extension six months later (gray)
  • Signing an extend-and-trade (yellow)

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Expire & re-sign Expire & leave Trade, extend later Extend-and-trade
2018-19 $30.6 million $30.6 million $23,410,750 $23,410,750
2019-20 $33.0 million $32.1 million $25,283,610 $24,581,287
2020-21 $35.5 million $33.7 million $27,156,470 $25,751,825
2021-22 $37.9 million $35.2 million $29,029,330
2022-23 $40.4 million
Total $177.5 million $131.6 million $104,880,158 $73,743,861

Firm numbers are used when it’s just a calculation based on George’s current contract. When necessary to project the 2018-19 salary cap, I rounded.

The Celtics could theoretically renegotiate-and-extend, but that would require cap room that almost certainly wouldn’t exist after signing Hayward.

Simply, it’s next to impossible to see this happening. It’d be too costly to George.