With streak over, Heat can turn focus to bigger goal

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It’s not a good thing for the Heat that the streak is over. That streak helped keep them focused through the dog days of the season and that will help them in the playoffs. Plus, setting a new record could have been a special part of their legacy when we look back on this team in a decade. You could tell how bad LeBron wanted that with how he played at the end of Wednesday’s loss — he showed a kind of passion we don’t often associate with LeBron.

But the end of the streak isn’t the worst thing, either.

While the streak is and will be part of the Heat’s legacy from this season and this era, it will be hollow without a ring at the end of it. The 1972 Lakers got their ring that season, the 72-win Chicago Bulls got their ring that season — regular season accomplishments become diminished in the public eye without a title to back them up.

Go ask the 2007 New England Patriots about it.

So the timing for the Heat isn’t all bad. First, as Gregg Popovich has said, teams tend to swoon a little after the end of a streak — it’s a natural response. Those ’72 Lakers lost four of six starting with the end of their streak. Better for the Heat to get that out of the way now.

And better to get some players some time off to rest and recover — all those close calls during the streak meant not only was the team’s core playing every game (almost) they were playing big, important minutes through the end of the game. There was no break.

Dwyane Wade clearly could use a little more time off. He looked a step or two slow against the Bulls. Chris Bosh has played in 68 games, Ray Allen and his old bones 69, and even LeBron is at 71. Granted, LeBron wants no part of a night off, but Spoelstra could force one or two on him, just to help rest all the bumps and bruises from the hard fouls LeBron has to suffer through.

Then there’s what to do about having the best overall record in the NBA. Although I don’t think that should be a big priority. In theory the Heat are in a battle for the best overall record — they are two games up on the Spurs for that as of Thursday — but in the finals the NBA switches to the 2-3-2 format of games and with three games in a row for the lower seed the home court advantage is somewhat nullified. It helps if you get to a Game 7, but it matters less in the finals than the earlier rounds, and the Heat have the top seed in the East locked up.

So the Heat need to move on, starting Friday in New Orleans. Get guys a little rest, work on a few bad habits they picked up during the streak, and focus on what really matters. Because for the Heat and their legacy, for LeBron’s legacy, it’s all about rings now.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.