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: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves start with Paul George

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.