The Heat go cold at the wrong time, lose big to the Bucks

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Dwyane Wade returned, but Miami’s road woes traveled right along with him to Milwaukee.

After losing to Detroit and the Will Bynum show last night, Miami collapsed in the fourth quarter tonight, falling to the Bucks, 104-85.

Believe it or not, Miami appeared to be in firm control with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. LeBron James had just hit an impossible fading baseline bank shot from a tough angle, and then had followed it with another tough pull-up bank shot. Miami’s lead was at nine, the Bucks had fallen in love with the long two, and it just felt like one of those classic Heat victories where they turn it on late and blow out their opponent.

Instead, the exact opposite happened. The Bucks went on an improbable 33-5 run in 10 minutes of game time, getting huge offensive contributions from an unlikely source an Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (19 points) and undervalued shooter in Mike Dunleavy (18 points). After defending against the 3 pretty well all game, the Heat let up four 3-pointers during the big run, and each shot seemed to deflate the Heat balloon a little further.

On the other side of the ball, LeBron James and company couldn’t seem to avoid the shotblocking of Larry Sanders and Mbah a Moute. More often than not, Miami’s possessions resulted in turnovers or turned away layups at the rim, and that was the spark the previously dormant Bucks offense needed to get rolling.

It’s not often you see a team of Miami’s caliber completely collapse in the fourth quarter, but Milwaukee’s defense rendered every player not named Wade or James completely irrelevant on the night. Chris Bosh was flustered by the length and shot-altering abilities of Milwaukee’s long frontline, and took 14 shots only to score 12 points. Mario Chalmers was a complete non-factor offensively, and his attempt to take Jennings’ head off on a fast break was probably the best defense he displayed all night. Jennings poured in 25 points on his usual diet of tough pull-up jumpers and slicing drives to the rack.

Somehow, Miami’s bench was even more ineffective than Bosh and Chalmers, mustering up only 15 combined points, two assists, and no steals — numbers Bucks’ bench ace Mike Dunleavy bested all on his own.

Miami is obviously not your average team, but they’ve been exactly that on the road. Now just 6-6 away from the AmericanAirlines Arena, you have to wonder where the Heat would be sitting if they had, say, the early season schedule the Denver Nuggets had.

It’s probably not time to sound the alarm just yet, though. Beating a tough Milwaukee team on the road on the second night of a back-to-back isn’t the easiest of tasks, but losing in this fashion does show a little bit more vulnerability than we were accustomed to seeing last season. Fact is, Miami is a middle-of-the-road defensive team right now (14th in efficiency) that struggles with deep squads who can shoot from the perimeter. And guess what? The two teams directly below them in the Eastern Conference standings fit that bill pretty darn well.

Miami is obviously the heavy favorite going forward even with some of their defensive issues, but the journey back to the NBA Finals might not be the cakewalk most thought it would be after all.

Sixers will talk contract extension for Joel Embiid this summer, want to lock him up

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Could Joel Embiid be Philadelphia’s Stephen Curry?

No, I don’t mean taking 30-foot bombs that demoralize opponents (although, no doubt Embiid is game for trying it). I mean in having a contract extension off his rookie deal for less than the max, a value contract that allows the Sixers the cap room to secure a title contender around him.

After three seasons in the NBA, Joel Embiid is eligible for a contract extension this summer (one that would be negotiated now but not kick in until the 2018-19 season). Teams lock up their stars at this point, and Embiid is that — he was dominant in the 31 games he played. But it’s 31 games in three seasons, how much do the Sixers want to pay here?

Sixers owner Joshua Harris said extending Embiid is a priority for the team this summer, speaking at a press conference, via the Courier Times.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

A max contract for Embiid would be five years at about $130 million, an average annual salary of $26 million. Because of his injury history, would he be willing to sign five years at $100 million, maybe with an opt-out after four? That extra cap space may not sound like a lot, it’s not a Curry-level savings, but it would help the Sixers’ team building.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal by Oct. 31 (the deadline), Embiid will play out this season then be a restricted free agent next season. If he stays healthy, he will get a max deal from another team that the Sixers would just match (the Sixers and Embiid could also reach a deal).

The Sixers are not about to let Embiid go, they have their young core they believe they can contend with in a few years. Plus he is a fan favorite. The only question left is cost.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.