Dwayne Wade, LeBron James

Heat don’t need Wade to beat offensively-challenged Nuggets


This would have been an easy game for the Miami Heat to lose. The team was playing on the second night of a back-to-back after getting blown out in Los Angeles by the Clippers on Wednesday, and was playing without Dwyane Wade, who sat this one out due to a foot injury.

All it would have taken was a competent offensive performance from the Nuggets to get this one, who were home and playing on three days’ rest. But that’s not something this Denver team is capable of at this point, and as a result the Heat only needed a solid game from LeBron James, and for some of his teammates to knock down open shots to get the desired result — a 98-93 road victory to improve to 7-3 on the young season.

James finished with 27 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists, and three blocked shots — typical numbers from the game’s best player. The assists came largely on drive-and-kicks or swinging the ball to the weak side, where Shane Battier was more than happy to knock down wide open looks from three-point distance — 6-of-7 to be exact, to finish with 18 points.

Mike Miller started in place of the injured Wade, and knocked down four of his eight three-point looks, and really, that was a huge part of this game — Miami hit 13-of-27 from distance, while Denver only managed to connect on 6-of-20 from long range.

Overall, the Nuggets have serious issues on the offensive end of the floor. The Heat proved vulnerable defensively against the Clippers’ guards in their previous game, as Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe carved up Miami’s defense to take control and put that game out of reach.

Ty Lawson couldn’t come close to doing the same for Denver; while he dished out eight assists, he couldn’t hit a shot, looking somewhat tentative while going 0-for-7 from the field and finishing without scoring a single point. Andre Miller, on the other hand, was masterful off the bench, and destroyed Miami when it was his turn to run the point, finishing with 19 points and seven assists in 26 minutes off the bench.

The Heat led by as many as 19 points midway through the third, before Denver mounted a comeback that had them within one late in the game. Miller was the catalyst for the Nuggets during that run, either scoring, assisting, or being generally involved in his team’s offense in that final period. Lawson is the starter and gets the bulk of the minutes at the one, and sure, sometimes he and Miller are in the lineup at the same time. But Miller steps in and takes games over, while Lawson, to this point, has mainly just taken up space — he’s now 12-of-40 from the field over his last four games.

Danilo Gallinari continues to struggle from the floor, and Kenneth Faried’s 16-point, 20-rebound night looks better on paper than it did on television. Many of those rebounds were tips at the basket, and he’s still extremely raw offensively to the point where his game on the offensive end of the floor cancels out the energy he brings on the boards, especially in a game like this one where his team was down and needed capable scorers in all five positions.

This was a game that the Heat could easily have lost. But it would take an effort from a team of at least average ability offensively to make that happen, and that description doesn’t fit this Nuggets team, which simply isn’t there just yet.

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.