What does it take to beat Miami? Three keys… then pray a lot

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As we watch the Heat during this streak of 27 straight wins, we keep thinking, “Sure the Heat are good, but somebody can beat them one night and end this run.” It’s almost happened a couple times and the Heat have three games this week — at Chicago, against New Orleans (who just ended Denver’s streak) and at San Antonio — that could well be the end.

But does anybody think another team can pull that all together for four out of seven games in a playoff series?

This run has the Heat focused and thinking about their legacy, which makes them tougher come the playoffs. But they can be beat on any given night, and after reading what other players are saying about the Heat at NBA.com three areas leap out:

Match or beat Miami’s intensity. Maybe the most impressive thing about Miami’s streak is that they bring it every night. Rockets coach Kevin McHale talked about how his legendary 1980s Celtics teams would win double digits then just get bored one night and lose to a non-playoff team — Miami has had a couple close calls in those situations but were able to fight back (the 27-point comeback against the Cavaliers being the most obvious). They find enough energy to get the win every night, even with Dwyane Wade out the last two games.

This is the easiest of the three — everybody is up to face the Heat now. But energy and playing with a belief that the Heat can be beat is the start.

Don’t turn the ball over. According to Tom Haberstoh at ESPN, during this 27-game winning streak 18 percent of opponent possessions have ended in a turnover. That would be nearly one in five possessions and the highest percentage in the league.

We know what happens when you turn the ball over against the Heat, it’s LeBron alley-oop dunks in transition over poor Goran Dragic. Or Jason Terry. Or… you get the idea. You have to take away the Heat’s easy buckets and that starts by taking care of the ball.

Which is easier said than done — Miami’s entire defense is predicated on athleticism, pressure, taking away your strengths and forcing turnovers or bad shots. Because of their personnel the Heat can switch a lot of pick-and-rolls or other rubs trying to free a guy up — normally teams want to get their point guard switched on to a forward, but when it is LeBron or Shane Battier it isn’t an advantage. The way to defuse that pressure is with ball movement and player movement off the ball — which is why some basketball people think the Spurs are the team with the best shot against Miami.

But to beat the Heat you have to take care of the ball and make them work for their buckets.

Knock down your threes. As you know from watching the NCAA Tournament lately, the three ball can be the great equalizer — for one game you can beat a team knocking down threes. During this win streak Miami is closing out on shooters at the arc, not letting those easy buckets fall — in their last 20 games teams are shooting just 32.7 percent from three against the Heat.

In the same way a team will need to stop the Heat from getting easy buckets, they will need easy buckets of their own. That means lots of threes.

Miami is going to have to help you out. Miami creates so many problems for a defense. LeBron and Dwyane Wade cam pretty much get to the basket and force help rotations whenever they want. So you double them to take the ball out of their hands and you find they swing the ball well and have guys in Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers (among others) who space the floor and knock down threes. Their bigs — Chris Bosh in particular — can roll to the rim or just space the floor 15 feet away and make it hard to help off them. Defenses have to pick their poison against the Heat.

That’s why the “Miami struggles to rebound” argument holds little water — if they are making their shots, who cares? Plus, they have guys in Wade and LeBron who are very good rebounders for their positions.

Teams need help against Miami — they need guys to just miss shots, throw a couple errant passes, just have an off night. Look at the end of Denver’s streak Monday — not to take anything away from a great New Orleans effort, but a Nuggets team that scores more points in the paint than any other squad in the NBA shot just 42 percent on those looks for a night. Denver got their shots and missed them. It happens. Teams need a little of that against Miami.

But do you think that’s going to happen four out of seven nights?

Hawks battle back to knot series with Wizards, 2-2

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Paul Millsap shoved Markieff Morris out of the way, grabbed an offensive rebound in the middle of the paint and pushed through a shot while Marcin Gortat bumped him to the floor.

The Wizards knocked down Atlanta. They didn’t stop the Hawks.

Millsap and Atlanta showed plenty of fight, topping Washington 111-101 in Game 4 Monday to tie their first-round series 2-2 after falling behind 2-0.

Have the Hawks seized meaningful momentum? History says no.

Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home then lost the next two on the road have won 81% of the time. The Wizards’ regular-season superiority still speaks loudly, and up to two more home games – starting with Game  5 Wednesday – also help.

Still, credit Atlanta for making the series competitive after digging such a big hole.

Millsap (19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals) soundly outplayed Markieff Morris (nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, -10) in the latest round of their personal feud. Millsap also got plenty of help with seven Hawks scoring double digits.

Kent Bazemore (16 points, seven assists and three steals) played meaningful defense and hit a couple big shots. Jose Calderon (10 points, five assists, +29 in 20 minutes) provided a huge spark. Dwight Howard (16 points and 15 rebounds) asserted himself for the first time this series. Taurean Prince (11 points on 5-of-7 shooting) picked his spots well. Dennis Schroder (18 points on 6-of-15 shooting) had his ups and downs. Tim Hardaway Jr. (15 points) at least offset some of his defensive shortcomings.

This was a total team win.

Washington, on the other hand, got little outside its starting backcourt. Bradley Beal (32 points) thrived, and John Wall (22 points and 10 assists) was still good in an off-by-his-standards performance. But the Wizards crumbled when either sat – especially with both on the bench in the late third/early fourth quarters. Erasing those few minutes with staggering would’ve helped, though it wouldn’t have been the answer tonight.

This has become a far less certain series than Washington hoped, but the Wizards don’t need a wild fix. They just need their top players to play better. Maybe going home will help.

Raptors break out best game of postseason, rout Bucks 118-93 to take 3-2 series lead

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Norman Powell was draining threes, throwing down dunks that would have won the contest All-Star weekend, and he finished with a career playoff-high 25 points on just 11 shots. Plus defensively he caused Khris Middleton trouble.

The Raptors finished with 28 assists, the most in a playoff game since Dwane Casey took over as coach.

Toronto shot 57.7 percent overall, a franchise playoff best.

The Raptors bench played well pitching in 27 points and growing the lead when they were in, part of an overall strong night from the role players in Toronto.

Combine that all with the expected good nights from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and you get the Raptors best game of the playoffs. It looked like a different team than the one in Milwaukee.

Toronto raced out to an early lead and went on to rout the Bucks 118-93, giving the Raptors a 3-2 series lead.

This was a game where the Bucks tried to force the ball out of the hands of Lowry and DeRozan as much as they could, using their length and athleticism. However, Lowry had 10 assists, and DeRozan would get the ball off pindown screens and feel the double coming, move the ball, and another quick pass or two later the role-playing player Raptors were getting good looks and knocking them down. Or throwing it down like this.

Or this.

Toronto just looked more comfortable against the Bucks pressure, having seen it for so many games in a row, than they have all series.

Powell had 25 points for Toronto, Serge Ibaka had 19 and three blocks, Lowry had 16 points and 10 assists, DeRozan had 18 points and six assists, even DeMarre Carroll had 12 points on six shots.

The question for the young Bucks team is how does it bounce back from this kind of loss in the biggest NBA game most of them have ever played? Can they get their defensive edge back?

“We’re going to miss some shots, and we can’t let our offense dictate our defense,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said postgame. “And also the turnovers, again. Right off the bat we had three…

“Our defense kind of got hit there in the first quarter, we knew that they were going to come after us, we had to expect that. And we just couldn’t respond.”

The Bucks had some runs in the second quarter and got the lead to nine at one point, but the Raptors always seemed to be in control.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had another strong game with 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and rookie Malcolm Brogdon pitched in 19 points on 11 shots, but for the most part the Bucks struggled with their offense in this game. As their coach noted — and as often happens to young teams — they let their offensive woes impact the other end of the court.

At home, the Bucks will likely feel more comfortable, and they will fight for their playoff lives.

The question is, can the Raptors be this sharp again and close them out? Or will the yo-yo nature of this team continue?

 

Kevin Durant will play in Game 4 for Warriors vs. Trail Blazers

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In case you were curious how serious Golden State was about closing out Portland in four…

After missing the last two games with a strained calf, both Warriors wins to put them up 3-0 in the series, the Warriors are bringing back Kevin Durant for Game 4.

Steve Kerr is also out tonight for Golden State, Mike Brown will coach the team.

There was buzz that Durant could have gone in Game 3 if needed, but the Warriors felt confident they would win without him and they don’t want this injury to linger. There’s no more holding him back now.

Durant averaged 25.1 points a game, and thanks to the space created by the other stars on the team had his most efficient season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.1. He also pulled down 8.3 rebounds a game, dished 4.9 assists, and had his best defensive season in a long time as well. If not for an injury after the All-Star break that had him missing games, he would have made a lot of voters’ All-NBA team.

He adds to Golden State’s size advantage against Portland. The Warriors would like to close out the series tonight and get additional rest before facing the Clippers or Jazz in the next round.

Serge Ibaka is dunking and Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t going to stop him. Twice. (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors had their best half of their first-round series against the Bucks, taking an early lead and, despite a little shooting slump midway through the second they were up nine at the half.

That was all topped off by two emphatic Serge Ibaka dunks. Ones Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t going to stop.

Ibaka dunked around him more than over the Greek Freak, but still.