Heat notch ninth straight victory with easy beating of the Bulls

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The Heat win plenty of games with flash and brilliance, and often times play an entertaining style of basketball that’s thrilling to watch even as they’re putting a beatdown on their opponent, perhaps even as expected.

Miami’s 86-67 win over Chicago on Thursday was not one of those performances.

The Heat surgically struck the Bulls, and destroyed them defensively with very few signature highlights or vulgar displays of power.

Instead, Miami used its defensive pressure to force countless turnovers that seemed to come primarily on Chicago’s poor choice of passes. And even with a below-average scoring output, that was enough to keep the Bulls from scoring much at all in a very low-possession game.

LeBron James, who finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists (while making 11 of his 14 attempts from the field) seemed as bored by his team’s win as the rest of us were watching it.

“It’s just another win in a long NBA season,” James told Craig Sager on the TNT telecast afterward.

This was the Heat’s ninth straight victory, and their first on the road against a quality team in the Eastern Conference this season. Chicago had beaten the Heat in Miami back in early January, which may have been the reason for the Heat’s increased focus in this one.

Or, it might just have been that after a championship hangover to start the first half of the season, the Heat are finally starting to hit their stride. The defensive intensity that was nonexistent in the first part of the season is now being brought by the team on a nightly basis. Against Chicago, the Heat forced a Bulls team averaging just over 14 turnovers per game into 27 of them on the team’s home floor.

Miami also managed to hold Chicago to just 37.3 percent shooting, while the Heat shot better than 50 percent.

Even when James and Dwyane Wade don’t get out in transition for high-flying slams, or slash through the defense to get to the rim at will as they’re both seemingly capable of whenever they feel the time is right, the Heat can simply clamp down defensively and win a low-scoring battle against one of the league’s better defensive teams, and do so in business-like fashion.

Seeing Miami win like this should put a legitimate scare into the rest of the teams who consider themselves challengers to the Heat’s championship crown. Thursday’s victory was downright Spurs-like in its joyless efficiency, and if the Heat realized the ability that they uncovered along the way, we could be in for an equally boring postseason.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.