Heat show Nets what it will take to contend in 20-point win


For a half, the Brooklyn Nets hung with the Miami Heat.

Then in the second half the Heat cranked up the defensive pressure, LeBron James reminded everyone he is the best basketball player currently on planet Earth, and the Heat rolled to a 105-85 win.

Before the game, Nets forward Reggie Evans said the Heat’s championship should have an asterik — “It doesn’t prove nothing. That was a lockout season.”  LeBron’s response? How about the 24 points. “I let my game do the talking,” James said.

Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov — the man who set the bar at a championship within five years for the Nets — was at the game and saw exactly where the championship bar is.

Last time Prokhorov came to a game and saw his team lose this bad he fired the coach. That’s not going to happen this time, but the Nets learned what the Heat can do.

Miami opened the game very active on defense, and that always fuels their offense. They jumped out to a quick 24-13 lead and the Heat kind of hung out in the 8-12 point lead range for most of the first half as they hit more threes and grabbed offensive rebounds, controlling the glass.

But just before the half the Nets made a 20-8 run behind Brook Lopez and tied the game at 49-49 at the break. Lopez, earlier in the day named to his first All-Star game and he played up to that — 21 points and seven rebounds.

In the third quarter, the Heat cranked it up and the Nets had no answer.

Brooklyn had a couple brief two-point leads in the third quarter before the Heat went on a 24-5 run, with the Heat defense pressuring Nets ball handlers and changing the complexion of the game. The Nets shot 5-of-12 with 8 turnovers in the third — and turnovers fuel the Heat’s running game and easy buckets in transition. The Nets couldn’t stop the Heat pick-and-roll, their help rotations on to the roll man were nonexistent, plus the ball handler was LeBron or Dwyane Wade.

The result was Miami hit 14-of-22 shots in the quarter and outscored Brooklyn 36-14. Ballgame.

LeBron finished with 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting, with 9 rebounds and 7 assists, every one of which led the Heat. Wade chipped in 21 for Miami and Chris Bosh had 16.

During their recent run some people talked about the Nets as potential contenders. I’m not sure when the Heat are focused that anyone in the East fares any better against them than the Nets, and we saw how that went.

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.