Miami Heat player LeBron James hoists the championship trophy as team mate Dwyane Wade looks on stage at a rally in Miami, Florida

NBA Season Preview: Miami Heat

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Last season: It was not flawless, but it was superb. It was not easy, but it was rewarding. And it was not what they thought it would be, but it was spectacular.

The Miami Heat accomplished all of their goals in the 2012 season, that being the only goal they had: win the title. They vanquished Boston after going down 3-2, they overcame injuries to Dwane Wade and Chris Bosh, and maybe most notably, LeBron James silenced every critic of his game with arguably the best seven games of his career.

So yeah, it was a pretty good year.

Miami still had to make adjustments along the way. They discovered that instead of a steady diet of the Big 3, LeBron James needed the ball to start every possession. They found that smallball was their best attack, because it emphasized their speed. And they found that their defense was at its best when it was forcing turnovers. They had moments where they looked overwhelmed, a shell of what they were supposed to be, particularly Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

But they rose, again and again, on the back of James who went to the post and played point-forward-center, controlling the offense, scoring for himself and creating. There was nothing anyone could do when he got into that mode.

The Heat are a long way from the “not six, not seven…” standard they set for themselves. But it was validation of all the criticism they suffered, and a certification of their team concept. Now they just have to go out and do it again.

And again. And again…

Key Departures: No one. The core of the team is intact. James-Wade-Bosh-Battier-Chalmers-Haslem-Anthony-Cole-Miller-Jones are all back. Ronny Turiaf departed but by the end, the Heat had largely abandoned the concept of a center anyway.

Key Additions: Oh, you know, only arguably the best three-point shooter in history, Ray Allen. That guy.

They also added Rashard Lewis as another veteran perimeter threat.

Three keys to the Heat season:
1) Can age sustain the velocity? Erik Spoelstra went to Pat Riley last year and advocated for an approach to use speed and athleticism to push the Heat to a new level. It worked out brilliantly, despite Riley’s hesitance towards going away from traditional big men.

This year, the Heat have pledged to be faster than ever, and Chris Bosh says he’s accepted his role at center. Dwyane Wade is recovering from surgery, Ray Allen’s admitted that his ankle isn’t 100 percent, and much of the roster is getting up there in years. Is a fast way to play going to be conducive to keeping them healthy? Even with a move away from physicality and grinding and more into a wide-open style, there’s still the essential problem of contact and impact at high velocity.

It remains to be seen if the Heat’s best approach can be sustained by a roster that doesn’t feature many spring chickens.

2) LeBron keeping his edge. He’s reached the top of Olympus, took King Arthur’s sword and took control of the Matrix. Will James have the same edge he did at the last year, playing desperately?

Bear in mind that there’s often a slide-back after you win a title because you recognize that you’re playing for June now. The regular season become less important due to the comfort that you know how to accomplish your goal. Will James want to pursue that bruising inside game for even half the season? And if he abandons the post for his perimeter game to save is body, will he be able to slide right back into it?

Most important is if James stays hungry. He’s accomplished it all. He’s on top of the NBA globe right now, only his road to a repeat is that much harder with the Lakers and an ever-developing Thunder. Will be be able to keep his mind focused on getting better and staying on top or will he coast on his laurels. We’ve seen that the Heat go as LeBron does.

So how will LeBron go?

3) Can the shooters stay hot? Shane Battier has never been a great three-point shooter, and yet he absolutely killed both Boston and Oklahoma City in the playoffs, enough for fans to grumble a bit about flukes. Mike Miller has been falling apart for years, physically, and yet nailed enough threes to destroy OKC.

Their four primary shooters, Battier, Miller, Allen, and Rashard Lewis are all well over 30. Allen and Miller have injury issues. Lewis hasn’t been effective since 2009. And Battier’s never been reliable from deep. Do they have enough balance? Mario Chalmers is likely to keep improving, but when those shots don’t fall and the defense packs the paint to deter James and Wade’s driving, the offense stalls.

For the Heat to be in the elite offensive category, they need those guys to keep shooting well. And that’s a tall order when you look at their age, despite their career accomplishments.

What Heat fans should fear: Injury, injury, injury.

Dwyane Wade still isn’t 100 percent and may never be… again, ever. Chris Bosh is recovering. Mike Miller feels good enough to play, because he didn’t get back surgery that he needed. Ray Allen says his ankle is an ongoing problem. The list goes on and on. The Heat are always one major injury from falling way behind, and just because they managed to survive last year on the back of LeBron doesn’t mean it’ll be enough this year with a tougher slate than ever.

Every team worries about injuries, but the Heat worry about them a little bit more.

How it likely works out: The Heat have not gotten the top overall seed in the Triad era. This may be their best chance with the Bulls without Derrick Rose. They don’t need it, though, and will be more likely to coast for long stretches and rest players. But for all the questions of their longevity and sustainability, this is still the established team in the league, the defending champions with the best player in the league.

There is no reason to think the Heat will not win the Eastern Conference for the third year in a row. What happens after that is an entirely more complicated question, and one we’ll need to address throughout the year as it evolves.

Prediction: 60-22: The Heat finally crack the 60-mark in the Triad era, but don’t do anything outlandish. A great team, but one still with flaws whose stars miss too many games to win it all. Their offense still stagnates and their bench never gives them enough of a boost to overcome a bad night from the starters. But a small step forward for the best team in the East behind a kinder schedule and the addition of Allen.

Gordon Hayward scores 30 points as Jazz beat Wizards 102-92

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WASHINGTON (AP) Gordon Hayward scored 30 points, Rudy Gobert added 15 points and 20 rebounds, and the Utah Jazz beat the Washington Wizards 102-92 on Sunday for their third straight victory.

Northwest Division-leading Utah led by as many as 24 points before Washington got within six with just over 2 minutes left. Hayward hit a pair of jumpers to seal the win.

George Hill added 21 points for Utah.

Washington, the Southeast Division leader, has lost two in a row for the first time since early January. John Wall led the Wizards with 23 points and 11 assists. Bradley Beal, who was scoreless in the first half, added 22 points.

Utah converted 23 of 32 free throws, while Washington made 10 of 13. The Jazz outrebounded the Wizards 52-27.

Utah led 49-39 at halftime and opened a 62-43 lead with 6:48 left in the third quarter on Derrick Favors‘ dunk off a feed from Gobert, necessitating Wizards coach Scott Brooks’ second timeout of the quarter.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Hill soon increased the lead to 24.

Bojan Bogdanovic‘s 33-footer capped a 14-3 Wizards run to end the quarter and Utah’s lead was 73-60 to start the fourth.

Washington trailed by 16 when Wall hit a 3 and Beal followed with five quick points to make it 93-85 with 3:11 remaining. Bogdanovic’s two free throws cut the deficit to six at the 2:01 mark, but Hayward sandwiched a 3-pointer and a long 2 around a Washington turnover to stall the rally.

The Jazz shot 50 percent from the field and hit 13 of 18 free throws in the first half to build a 10-point lead.

The margin could have been bigger but Utah turned the ball over 14 times, leading to 15 Washington points. The Wizards shot 36.7 percent (18 of 49) and made their only free throw attempt.

After scoring 40 points in his previous game, Beal went to the bench with 5:08 left in the first half with three fouls and no points.

TIP-INS:

Jazz: Gobert was fined $25,000 for making physical contact with an official in the third quarter of Utah’s 109-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. . Rodney Hood, who had three points Friday night in his return after missing seven games with a bone contusion in his knee, had nine points in the first quarter. . It was Utah’s first win in Washington since Nov. 17, 2012.

Wizards: The 39 points were the team’s lowest first-half total of the season. . Washington had reached 100 points in 23 straight games. . It was Wall’s 37th double-double of the season. . Bogdanovic, in his second game with Washington, scored 15 points. . Washington last lost two in a row on Jan. 2-3 in back-to-back road games at Houston and Dallas.

UP NEXT

Jazz: Travel to Oklahoma City on Tuesday for the finale of a three-game road trip.

Wizards: Host the Warriors on Tuesday night.

Kawhi Leonard scores 25, leads Spurs to 119-98 rout of Lakers

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MAY 2: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts after a defensive stop against the Oklahoma City Thunder during game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 2, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles’ first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise’s basketball operations.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.

Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.

Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers’ dismal season still hasn’t changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.

Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season.

One more defeat will clinch the Lakers’ longest stretch of losing seasons since 1961, the former Minneapolis Lakers’ first year on the West Coast.

Jordan Clarkson scored 19 points and D'Angelo Russell had 18 for the Lakers, who have lost their first two games since Buss dismissed general manager Mitch Kupchak and her brother, Jim.

Johnson made no pregame speech to the Staples Center fans who have watched the worst four years in franchise history. Jeanie Buss watched the game from her usual spot in the second row, while Kupchak’s normal seats were empty.

SPURRED ON

The Spurs have won eight straight over the Lakers, surpassing their 2004-06 run for their longest winning streak in the series between these longtime Western Conference rivals. San Antonio also has beaten the Lakers seven straight times at Staples Center.

Leonard, who grew up 60 miles east of Staples Center in Moreno Valley, scored 19 points in the first half while the Spurs streaked to a 21-point lead.

AFTER LOU

In the Lakers’ first home game since trading leading scorer Lou Williams to Houston for a draft pick, Clarkson excelled off the bench in Williams’ usual spot as the second unit’s offensive fuel. Brewer scored five points in his first home game, while Ennis played eight minutes and hit a late 3-pointer in his Lakers debut.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Gasol played 20 minutes in his second game back from a 15-game absence with a broken left hand. Gasol, who won two NBA titles in Los Angeles, got a warm ovation from Lakers fans. … USC product Dewayne Dedmon had 11 points and nine rebounds. The Spurs’ unlikely starting big man is another product of LA’s far-flung suburbs, growing up in Lancaster.

Lakers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received a standing ovation at halftime when the Lakers honored him for his social activism. … The game was just the Lakers’ second home game in February and their third home game in five weeks. After playing eight of their previous 10 on the road, they began a four-game homestand.

UP NEXT

Spurs: Host Pacers on Wednesday.

Lakers: Host Hornets on Tuesday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 28, Bucks beat Suns 100-96

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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MILWAUKEE (AP) Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points, Tony Snell made a clinching 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Phoenix Suns, 100-96 on Sunday.

Michael Beasley added 17 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 15 as the Bucks swept the two-game season series with the Suns. Greg Monroe finished with 14 points and Snell had 13.

TJ Warren led the Suns with 23 points. Alan Williams scored a career-high 17 points and tied his season high with 15 rebounds, while Devin Booker added 15 points and Eric Bledsoe had 11.

Clinging to a one-point lead, the Bucks came out of timeout with Monroe inbounding the ball to Antetokounmpo. He dribbled the clock down before passing to Brogdon, who whipped the ball to Snell in the corner. Snell hit a 3 with a defender flying at him.

Watch Pistons C Andre Drummond blow a fancy breakaway dunk (VIDEO)

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Andre Drummond had a breakaway on Sunday against the Boston Celtics. Fans in Detroit should have been in for a treat from their franchise center — a former NBA Dunk Contest participant — but instead they got something worth of Shaqtin’ A Fool.

Unfortunately for Drummond, the result of the one man fastbreak was a blown dunk, a ball that went sky high, and a sheepish look from the Pistons center.

Bummer.