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.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.