Heat bring the defending champs to Dallas, have no trouble dismantling the Mavericks

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The Miami Heat are the defending champions for a reason. The overall talent on the roster, which includes the league’s best player in LeBron James, is enough to beat most teams in the league with ease, but only when everyone is engaged, and interested in defending to the level that they have proven to be capable of during last June’s run at the title.

On Thursday night in Dallas, Miami brought that championship-caliber effort, and made quick work of a shorthanded Mavericks team while cruising to a 110-95 victory, the Heat’s third straight.

James set the tone for his team from the very start. He had 13 first-quarter points on 6-of-7 shooting while playing all 12 minutes, to go along with four rebounds, three assists, and a blocked shot in the game’s opening period. Miami led by 11 after one, and never looked back, seeing their lead balloon to as many as 36 points in the third before Dallas closed the gap a bit in extended garbage time.

The Mavericks were without Elton Brand and Brandan Wright in this one due to injury, but it wouldn’t have made a difference had they been able to go. Miami was dialed in, perhaps motivated by the 2011 championship banner that hangs at the American Airlines Center that came at the expense of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the NBA Finals just two seasons ago.

O.J. Mayo has been taking the load of carrying the Mavericks’ offense on his shoulders thus far with Dirk Nowitzki still sidelined, and has put up All-Star level numbers to this point in the season while doing so. But he couldn’t get anything going in this one, and finished with just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, while missing all five of his attempts from three-point distance.

Dallas was forced to go small with its lineups given its available players, and had very limited success. The team finished the night shooting just 38.5 percent from the field, while making just three of its 22 three-point attempts.

The defense was more of a problem than the offense for Dallas, however, with the Heat getting what they wanted when and how they wanted it on virtually every meaningful possession.

We’ll never know for sure if seeing the Mavericks and that banner was the reason for Miami’s breakout performance, or if it was simply the circumstances surrounding the lineups Dallas was forced to go with given its list of available players. But the Heat brought the intensity with which it was able to win last year’s title, and when they do that, there are only a very limited number of teams that even have a chance.

Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis still not talking off court

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The Bulls are 5-0 since Nikola Mirotic returned from an injury suffered when Bobby Portis punched him in the face during a preseason practice. Mirotic and Portis are both excelling individually, and Chicago has outscored opponents by a whopping 34.3 points per 100 possessions when those two share the court.

Jack Maloney of CBSSports.com:

When asked if the two former combatants have spoken yet, Mirotic said, “We did on the floor. We’ve always spoken because we need to have good communication.” As for whether they’ve talked off the floor, however, Mirotic was succinct in his response: “No.”

I guess Mirotic hasn’t completely moved on, though he said he did. But that’s fine. How could someone get past a teammate punching him in the face?

Importantly, this is becoming just a regular NBA problem. The extent of that practice punch was practically unprecedented. But plenty of players have loathed teammates while making it work on the court. That happens more than people realize.

Mirotic and Portis can make this their status quo – at least the on-court cooperation. I’m not convinced Chicago will keep winning like this.

Watch Kobe Bryant’s ‘Dear Basketball’ short film (video)

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Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in a letter called “Dear Basketball,” which was made into a short film.

Now, on the day the Lakers retire his Nos. 8 and 24, you can watch it. It’s quite beautiful:

Double number retirement fitting for Kobe Bryant

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Kobe Bryant’s career truly occurred in two acts.

He was Shaquille O’Neal’s super sidekick for three championships. Then, Kobe led the Lakers to another two titles himself after Shaq departed.

He was an athletic, high-flying slam-dunk-contest champion. Then, he became known for his cerebral play and footwork.

He faced trial for rape in Colorado (the case was ultimately dismissed, and he settled civilly), blame for Shaq getting traded and criticism for being too selfish when the Lakers struggled in the aftermath of Shaq’s departure. Then, Kobe – still beloved by his fans – again became a socially acceptable marketing force.

His 2007 trade request serves as the more accurate intermission point, but his 2006 jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24 works well enough. He had a Hall of Fame career in No. 8 then a borderline Hall of Fame career in No. 24. Think Tracy Mcgrady’s career followed by Bernard King’s – but it was just Kobe followed by Kobe and with far more postseason success.

Here are the win-share leaders with a single franchise during Kobe’s career:

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So much about Kobe is excessive – his accolades, his shot selection, his reputation as clutch. He had an all-time great career, but the myth outpaces reality.

Yet, Kobe becoming the first player with two numbers retired by the same team – which the Lakers will do at halftime tonight – feels incredibly appropriate. In his 20-year career with the Lakers, Kobe had time to succeed then succeed again in an extravagant way only he could manage.

He was dedicated and disciplined, flashy and fastidious, No. 8 and No. 24

Warriors will watch Kobe Bryant’s numbers get retired, Lakers might not

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The Lakers will retire Kobe Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 at halftime of their game against Warriors tonight.

The road team won’t miss it. The home team might.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, via Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“I want our guys to see it,” Kerr said Saturday. “It’ll be a pretty cool moment.

“Just to experience of one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there? I’m not going to keep them in the locker room watching tape from the first half. The players would look at me like I was nuts.”

Lakers coach Luke Walton, via Harrison Faigen of Lakers Nation:

“I hadn’t thought much about [watching the ceremony],” Walton said Sunday. “We’re still deciding how we’ll approach halftime.

“Our first priority is still the job that we have. I’m sure there’s going to be some halftime adjustments we need to make against the Warriors. We’re toying with a couple different ideas to let guys at least see part of it.”

Kerr seems like a pretty cool guy, someone who understands what truly matters. This will be a historic moment, and that can take priority over watching video for one night in a long season.

But he also has the luxury of coaching an all-time great team. Even with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston injured, the Warriors are favored.

Walton has a young team that needs every break it can get. But he too should embrace the significance of the ceremony. His franchise is.

After reportedly initially being scheduled for pregame, the ceremony will occur at halftime. The NBA implemented a hard 15-minute limit on halftimes this season. Any team not ready will be assessed a delay-of-game penalty. So, lengthy speeches tonight could hinder the current team on the court. And that’s well worth the cost of doing business.

In the same regard, current Lakers watching Kobe’s ceremony would gain pride in being a Laker. There’s real value in that, probably more than in going over adjustments for a December game during a season very likely to end outside the playoffs regardless.