Mario Chalmers, LeBron James

LeBron, Heat follow familiar pattern to 27th straight victory

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There are some more interesting tests ahead on the schedule this week — Chicago, a New Orleans team that just ended the Nuggets win streak, then San Antonio. Games where the Heat can’t just coast along and flip a switch.

But they did follow that pattern again Monday — and it worked again. The Heat cruised to their 27th straight win following the pattern of recent games:

The other team comes out fired up, Miami doesn’t match their intensity and the opponent take an early lead. Then Miami follows LeBron James on a big run, pulls away in the second half and wins handily.

Monday night that pattern led to a 108-94 win for the Heat that extended their winning streak to 27 games. As has been drummed into your head by now that is the second longest in NBA history and six games short of the NBA record of 33 from the 1972 Lakers.

The Heat players really don’t want to talk about it, but it’s an amazing feat. And it’s a streak kept alive Monday not so much because the Heat were focused on the game — LeBron was decidedly unfocused for much of the night — but because the Heat (even with Dwyane Wade sitting out his second straight game to rest his knee) had much more talent on the court than a banged-up Magic team.

Jameer Nelson was the key to Orlando getting out to an early lead (which never reached double digits but was steady). Nelson knocked down shots (he finished with 27 points on 20 shots) and was making the quick, smart pass when the Heat started trapping him. Orlando took care of the ball, Miami turned it over and the Magic had the lead.

That lead was at 42-37 midway through the second quarter when the Heat flipped the switch for the first time that night — Miami closed the half on n an 18-4 run. The Magic shot 2-of-19 to close out the half and Miami led by nine, in part because they were 8-of-15 from three in the first 24 minutes.

The third quarter started out pretty much like the first half of the game (and really the first half of the Heat season — they coasted again. And Nelson was making plays again — he capped a 15-4 Magic run to tie the game 68-68 with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter.

Then LeBron woke up — he started with a monster dunk that ignited a 10-0 Heat run to close out the third quarter. That run grew to 20-2 into the fourth. The Magic were turning the ball over against the pressure defense, and when you do that against the Heat you get Ray Allen threes in transition and LeBron alley-oop finishes.

It became a rout; before you could blink it was 88-70 Miami. Orlando put on some little runs in the fourth (they play hard for Jacque Vaughn), but the Heat pushed them back, expanded their lead and won handily.

LeBron James feigned frustration (or, maybe not so feigned) when taken out of the game one rebound short of a triple-double — 24 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds. Allen and Chris Bosh each chipped in a dozen, Mario Chalmers had 17.

Miami’s streak is going to get put to a tougher test the rest of the week, but the flip side is they may be more focused from the opening tip. To keep their streak alive from here on out, they are going to have to change the pattern.

Miami Heat to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey next season

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Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey already hangs in the rafters at Staples Center for the Lakers.  He’s getting a statue there, too.

Next season, he will have his number retired on the other warm southern coast, this time in Miami.

The Heat have announced they will retire Shaq’s No. 32 jersey next season.

“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform,” team president Pat Riley said in a released statement. “He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship. Retiring his number in the rafters, along with Heat greats Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is something we are very proud of.”

Riley left out that the Heat also retired Michael Jordan’s 23, and Dan Marino’s 12 also hangs in the rafters of the arena. Neither of those make much sense, but whatever.

Shaq played three-and-a-half seasons in Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. Shaq was a three-time All-Star with the Heat and was at the heart of the franchise’s first title, along with Dwyane Wade… and Mark Cuban would tell you the officials. But that’s another discussion. He was also bitter after being traded to Phoenix and slammed Miami management and players on his way out the door.

Time heals all wounds.

Bull for Bull: Pau Gasol to replace Jimmy Butler in All-Star Game

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 6:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Chicago Bulls prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 6, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler is out of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend due to a strained knee. Which suck, because he earned that spot, and while the fans didn’t vote him in the coach’s did.

Butler’s teammate Pau Gasol will replace him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make the call on a replacement, and he stayed in Chicago, but he added a front court player to replace a guard. Keeping a Bulls representative might have been part of the thinking. The coaches’ votes on replacement players has been weighed in the past (Gasol may have been high on that list, coaches love him). Also, the East roster has a lot of wings and was light on bigs (Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh are the only real bigs), so this gives coach Tyronn Lue some flexibility up front.

The East leading Cleveland Cavaliers remain with just one representative, LeBron James (voted in by the fans).

Gasol is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a couple blocks a game, and is the only thing close to a consistent performer the Bulls have. Besides the injured Butler.

Bulls’ All-Star Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with strained knee

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It was concerning when it happened — Jimmy Butler injured his knee and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher.

But then the reports came back saying the X-rays were negative, this was just a strain. Butler was going to miss some time, but the question was how much?

Turns out, 3-4 weeks — including the All-Star Game, the team announced Tuesday. From the official team press release:

Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler was re-examined by Bulls Head Team Physician Brian Cole.  Butler is expected to miss the next three to four weeks with a strained left knee. Butler has begun rehabbing his injury and he will be allowed to engage in all activities as tolerated with the primary goal of maintaining his conditioning over the ensuing weeks.

Butler is the Bulls best player, averaging 22.4 points a game and handling a lot of the shot creation for the team (along with Derrick Rose, who was out Monday injured). The Bulls offense is 1.6 points per 100 possessions better when Butler plays, plus he usually draws the other team’s best wing player as his defensive assignment.

Following an ugly loss to the Hornets Monday night, the Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games. Since Joakim Noah went out for the season with an injured shoulder in particular, their defense has struggled. They still have no offensive identity.  Chicago has fallen to the seven seed in the West, just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. This injury is simply going to add to that slide.

The Bulls thought they were the team that could challenge Cleveland for supremacy in the East at the start of the season. Now they may need a late push just to make the playoffs.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will pick his All-Star Game replacement. In the past, he has picked the player highest in the fan voting not selected as a reserve, in this case that would be Kyrie Irving. But Silver can go any direction he chooses.

Report: George Karl to remain Kings coach following face-to-face meeting with GM

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George Karl isn’t going anywhere as coach of the Sacramento Kings after all.

At least for now.

Marc Stein of ESPN, who had the report that the Kings decided to fire Karl during the All-Star Break — now says the two sides have sat down and hashed things out. For now.

Those first reports went too far down the line, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

First things first, the Kings are a leaky organization right now. Which is never a good sign.

This has become a power struggle in the organization — DeMarcus Cousins has said the Kings’ problems go beyond the players, and he is known not to be a fan of Karl (Rajon Rondo is the coach’s biggest supporter because Karl gives him a green light). Owner Vivek Ranadive remains too impatient, stability is needed.

But there are still big picture questions to be answered.

Ranadive, with Vlade Divac, needs to sit down and set the long-term course for this team, including style of play they want to have, then decide if Karl can be part of that future. Also, if Cousins can be part of that future. If those two can be part of the future together (I’m not sure they can).

There needs to be more meetings with the Kings, and then this summer some significant decisions must be made. But doing it now at the All-Star break isn’t going to change anything. So Karl stays.