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.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.