Heat run win streak to 19 games by blowing out the Hawks

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The Heat ran their win streak to 19 games on Tuesday, after cruising to a 98-81 home win over the Hawks that turned out to be just as easy as expected.

Atlanta is reeling, having lost three straight and six of its last seven games. Watching the Hawks play, it’s fairly obvious that there’s no plan in place, and that the team’s players do whatever they want offensively.

Hawks head coach Larry Drew rolled out a different starting lineup once again in this one, desperately grasping at anything he can to try to get his team turned around. It failed almost immediately, as Miami jumped out to a 22-10 lead after just eight minutes had passed.

Atlanta had its one decent stretch of play in the second quarter, sparked honestly by LeBron James getting some rest to start the period. The Hawks cut the lead to one thanks to a lackluster defensive effort from Miami’s second unit, along with seven points off the bench fron Devin Harris in the period, and 4-8 shooting from three-point distance during that span.

Once James checked back in halfway through the second, the Heat put together a 12-2 run to once again gain separation, and they never looked back the rest of the way, pushing the lead to as many as 22 points before the night was through.

James finished just 3-11 from the field with 15 points, while Dwyane Wade led all scorers with 23. Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers each chipped in 14 apiece, but on a night when LeBron isn’t anywhere near the level of dominance he’s proven to be capable of, especially this season, it’s pretty crazy that the Heat can cruise to victory this easily.

That’s what’s been built in Miami, however, especially during this current win streak. There’s a level of confidence, swag, and expectation that’s been created, where the Heat will simply come out and win convincingly, no matter who their opponent happens to be, and no matter which player is the one to step up and do the damage.

This streak will end on the Heat’s terms, and will have nothing to do with the teams they play. Miami’s next five games are on the road, against the Sixers, Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, and Cavaliers. The games in Milwaukee and Boston are the most challenging on paper, given the matchups involved, and the way those teams have played against the Heat earlier this season.

Miami’s streak will come to an end at some point before the postseason begins, and it’ll likely happen on a night when we least expect it. But it won’t be due to an otherworldly performance by an opponent.

A lack of intensity on the part of the defending champs above all else will be the reason for the eventual loss, because as we’ve seen over the past 19 games, when the Heat choose to dial it in and compete the way they’re capable of, they’re virtually impossible to stop.

Joel Embiid upgrades himself from 69% to 81%: ‘Shoutout to Jalen Rose’

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A story in three parts:

1. After posting 46-15-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, frequently injured 76ers center Joe Embiid declared himself to be 69%:

2. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called that joke “unprofessional:”

3. Embiid upgraded his status to 81% with a “shoutout to Jalen Rose:”

In case you didn’t get the joke.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!