Will slap across face from Knicks finally wake Heat up?

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The Knicks are legit, give them their due. In Miami Thursday night, even without Carmelo Anthony, they were the aggressors. Raymond Felton attacked and he Heat tried to react. It’s early, but New York is positioning itself to be the threat to Miami in the East.

But let’s be honest — Miami has looked awful. Pretty much all season. Specifically their defense, which is now 23rd in the NBA in points surrendered per possession. They are coasting, acting like they can flip the switch, and they are finding the couple times they do that in games the opponent pushes back. Miami looks like a team not used to having the target on its back.

Maybe the Knicks coming down to Miami and essentially slapping them across the face will get their attention (because somehow losing to the lowly Wizards didn’t.). We think the Heat can turn it around because we’ve seen pretty much this exact roster defend in the past, but they are not doing it now.

After the game the Heat were saying the right things. LeBron went out for an extra workout and to get up some shots after the loss (even though he was one assist away from a triple double and wasn’t the problem) then told this to the Palm Beach Post:

“We’ve got work to do,” James said. “We can’t act like, OK, let’s just sweep this under the rug. We’ve got a lot of work to do. New York is a real team, they’ve got some real good players, and we understand that.”

Udonis Haslem — the elder spokesman for the Heat — was more direct speaking with the Palm Beach Post, saying the Heat need to get back to playing angry, like they did when everyone seemed to hate them with a white-hot passion.

“You watch teams on film, and they play a certain way, and then they come in against us, and it’s completely different,” Haslem said. “Teams are going to play at a high level when you’re the defending champions. We’ve got to understand that. We can’t come out and play cool, we can’t just accept the fact that they are making shots. You’ve got to understand that the hardest thing you’re ever going to do is defend this title, and people are going to play their hearts out against us, and we’ve got to play our hearts out. And we haven’t done that for four quarters yet. We have yet to see four quarters of angry, hatred basketball like we used to play when people hated us. And that’s partly my job as a captain. And I carry a chip on my shoulder, and I’ve got to get it back, and it’s going to have to translate to everybody.”

Chris Bosh went a step further, saying the Heat’s style — what Erik Spoelstra calls “space and pace” — may need to be slowed down. From Tom Haberstroh at ESPN’s Heat Index:

“It’s a lot of possessions,” Bosh said. “We should really slow down some and really put pressure on teams. I think sometimes we get into this place where we try to force things by trying to play too fast. Sometimes it is good but it has to be a balance….

“I think we had a lot of success when we were just taking our time,” Bosh said. “We don’t have to put it in our heads to just go. We’re a good team, we can pick you apart, whatever way you want it. If you want to play halfcourt, we can play halfcourt. If you want to play fullcourt, we can play that too. But we haven’t been in situations – I don’t even recall any this year – where we were just like, ‘Boy this is a slugfest out there, this is a heavyweight bout.'”

I’m not sure I agree with Bosh. With defense it’s about effort and energy — last year Miami used their athleticism and length to make you adjust to how they came at you on defense. They pressured you. This year they are reacting. Which means fewer turnovers and fewer easy buckets in transition (Miami is 11th in pace in the league, they are not lighting it up).

At some point this team will wake up. We’ll see if the Knicks were the alarm clock or if Miami just hit the snooze bar again.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.