Heat win over Pacers wasn’t statement game — the streak is the statement

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Regular season matchups are terrible predictors of post-season series. Last year the Celtics had taken three of four regular season games from the Heat but fell in the playoffs. The season before the Lakers had taken two of three late in the season from the Mavericks only to get swept out of the playoffs. And there are many, many more examples from just recent seasons.

So in that sense, the way the Miami Heat easily tossed aside the Indiana Pacers on Sunday — a team I think may be the most difficult matchup out of the East for Miami on paper — still isn’t really a statement. The Pacers had beat the Heat a couple times already this season but that didn’t mean anything Sunday and will not mean anything come May.

This one game wasn’t any more of a statement than the previous 17 Heat games. We can try to read too much into one game when those games rarely are the full picture in and of themselves.

The statement is the 18 wins in a row.

The statement is simply that when the Heat are focused — particularly focused on the defensive end — it really doesn’t matter who they play.

Don’t expect the Heat to sweep through the playoffs, but the statement the 18 games makes is good luck beating them four out of seven.

It’s not one game or one win. But of the eight teams that have won 18 in a row or more in the regular season, five went on to win the title. That’s the statement.

Defensive pressure — to hold the other team in check and create turnovers leading to easy transition baskets — is at the heart of the Heat scheme. With the athleticism of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, with the quickness of Mario Chalmers, the smart play of Shane Battier and the energy of Chris Andersen off the bench, the Heat have the potential to overwhelm an offense. But Miami doesn’t always bring that needed eff0rt, which is why they looked beatable early in the season. With their style of play, if the Heat don’t bring the needed energy consistently their defense is pretty good but not great. On the season, they are giving up 101.2 points per 100 possessions, ninth best in the league.

But in the last 10 games that is down to 99 points allowed per 100 possessions, In the last five down to 94 per 100, fifth best in the league for that stretch. All the while their offense scores at a rate of around 110 points per 100 (they are second best in the NBA on the season).

When the defensive focus is there, the Heat do overwhelm teams.

Miami’s streak could go on a while if they maintain their focus. Tuesday night they get a Hawks team that has some size inside but may struggle on the perimeter against the Heat. After that comes a five-game road trip that includes a Bucks team with a few shooters capable of getting hot (hello Monta Ellis), and a Celtics team that also defends well (and Boston gets Miami on the second night of a back-to-back). Plus, on the road teams like the Raptors have a way of rising up and playing their best.

It’s also really easy to see the streak reaching 29, when they would face the Spurs in San Antonio. The Spurs are at team with the ability to handle pressure on the perimeter and expose aggressive defenses because they move the ball and move off the ball well — it’s hard to recover on them.

And that game still will be meaningless if the Heat and Spurs were to meet in the NBA finals.

The message would already have been sent. It would still simply be about the streak and what it means to the rest of the league.

How Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza complicate Rockets’ pursuit of third star

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After pairing Chris Paul and James Harden, the Rockets are reportedly chasing a third starPaul George, Carmelo Anthony or someone else.

But Houston parted with significant assets to land Paul from the Clippers. And the Rockets will have a tricky time dealing two remaining players, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Unloading Ryan Anderson to sign Paul outright would have helped Houston keep one of their outgoing guards, but the market for the three years and $60 million left on Anderson’s deal was frigid. Not even the Kings wanted him for free. At least two teams would have demanded two Houston first-round picks in exchange for absorbing Anderson, according to several league sources.

The salary filler probably can’t be Trevor Ariza, by the way. Ariza and Paul are close after years together in New Orleans, and playing with Ariza factored at least a little into Paul’s decision, per league sources. The Clippers had tried to trade for him in prior seasons, sources say. Ariza is also still good at a coveted position, and his Bird Rights will be valuable to a capped-out Rockets team next summer.

Anderson would be dangerous as a stretch four in pick-and-pops with Paul and Harden. Even if he’s overpaid, might be better to keep him than surrender more assets to dump him.

Likewise, Ariza is a nice two-way player and can play small-ball four. There’s a use for him on this team.

But beyond them, Houston is left with Eric Gordon and Clint Capela as movable players. Gordon, with a higher salary and less obvious fit with Paul and Harden, would almost certainly be a key cog in a trade for another star. Capela is younger and more valuable, though the Rockets would probably want to keep him as a defensive anchor.

That might not be possible while trading for a third star, though. Houston can’t even guarantee sending out another first-round pick in a trade after sending a protected first-rounder to the Clippers. (The Rockets could agree to convey a first-rounder two years after sending one to L.A., which would is highly likely to convey next year.) Including Capela in a trade might be the only way to assemble a suitable package.

Even then, Houston would be hard-pressed to surpass an offer from the Lakers or Celtics for George. Plus, if Indiana is rebuilding around Myles Turner, Capela is an awkward fit. That trade might require a third team – causing further complications.

Hoping Anthony gets bought out by the Knicks then signs for the mid-level exception is much simpler – though that route returns the lesser third star.

But Daryl Morey just brought Chris Paul to Houston before free agency even began. Now is not the time to underestimate the Rockets general manager.

Report: Knicks won’t consider Isiah Thomas to run front office

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A couple years ago, Knicks owner James Dolan said there was no scenario Isiah Thomas would return to the Knicks.

But Dolan also said a few months ago he’d keep Phil Jackson for the duration of Jackson’s five-year contract.

With Dolan effectively firing Jackson today, could Thomas become the Knicks’ next president?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

The Post also learned Liberty president Isiah Thomas would not be considered for Jackson’s successor.

It’s sad that this needs to be reported. It’s even sadder that, even if this the Knicks’ plans right now, there are no assurances Dolan holds steady.

Dumping Jackson is a reason to celebrate. But as long as Dolan owns the team, it must be a reserved celebration.

At least the Knicks’ next step won’t include Thomas. Probably.

Raptors promote Bobby Webster to general manager

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TORONTO (AP) — With rumors swirling about the Knicks chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have promoted Bobby Webster to general manager.

Webster, 32 years old assistant the youngest GM in the NBA, replaces Jeff Weltman, who left Toronto in May to become president of the Orlando Magic.

A former staffer at the NBA league office in New York, Webster joined the Raptors in 2013 and was named assistant GM in 2016.

He’ll help decide what to offer All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who opted out of the final year of his contract last month after Cleveland swept Toronto in the second round of the playoffs.

Forwards Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson are all unrestricted free agents.

Also Wednesday, Toronto promoted Dan Tolzman to assistant general manager.

The Raptors have posted consecutive 50-win seasons and made four straight playoff appearances.

Jason Williams out 6-8 months after injury in Big3 debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former NBA point guard Jason Williams will miss six to eight months after suffering a knee injury in the opening game of the Big3.

Corey Maggette, also injured in the opening week of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players, had surgery for a leg injury. There is no timetable for his return.

The injuries were announced Wednesday during a conference call with Cube and Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz, who also detailed a couple rules changes starting with this weekend’s game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Games will be played to 50 points, instead of 60, with halftime coming when the first team reaches 25 points. Cube said that would help the four games per day move more quickly.