Miami brings workmanlike effort, that’s enough to win, lead Bucks 3-0

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This was just a better team taking care of business.

You knew the Milwaukee Bucks would come out with a lot of fire in front of the home crowd and they did, leading by as many as 10 in the first half. But for the Heat this was a professional outing, like a game in the dog days of February. They kept their composure, they upped their defensive pressure, they got LeBron James (22 points) and Ray Allen (23) to step up. Miami just walked Milwaukee down.

The result was a 104-91 Miami win that has the Bucks up 3-0 in the first round series. The only question is can the Bucks win a game or does this end in four on Sunday? Smart money bets on Sunday.

This was the best effort and game from the Bucks yet, they are just overmatched.

In front of the home fans Milwaukee came out and played with passion. In the first quarter the Bucks shot 57.1 percent overall and hit 5-of-10 from three (J.J. Redick was 2-of-2 from three, Ersan Ilyasova 3-of-4 for 7 points.) and the result was them up nine at the end of the quarter. T

The Bucks did a good job upping the tempo and getting good looks early in the clock following bad Heat possessions — LeBron was 4-of-6 for 11 points in the quarter, the rest of Heat shot 5-of-17 (29.4 percent).

Finally in this game Bucks coach Jim Boylan went to his strongest lineups, when Redick is on the floor with either Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings — there is much better floor spacing with a slasher and a shooter and the defense has to respect that. It led to balance with six Bucks in double figures.

Not that it really mattered. The Bucks are overmatched.

Miami’s defense picked up and the quality of shots for the Bucks went down as the game wore on. Milwaukee shot 40 percent in the second (1-of-6 from three), then 28.6 percent in the third. Everything was contested, passing lanes seemed shut off.

Meanwhile the Heat shot 63.2 percent in the third, they moved the ball around and got the shots they wanted. It wasn’t just LeBron taking over (he had 9 in the quarter), it was making passes so Udonis Haslem was getting looks and he went 3-of-3 for 8 points in the third.

In the fourth, the Heat continued to pull away as the Bucks continued to rely on difficult shots. The Bucks got a nice 16-points out of Ersan Ilyasova on the night, but in the end it didn’t matter.

The other thing of note from this game was Allen becoming the NBA’s all-time leader in playoff three pointers made (he has 322 now). Well, it might be of note that Dwyane Wade’s knee is clearly bothering him and he shot 1-of-12 on the night. That might worry the Heat more if it didn’t look like they were about to get a lot of rest between series.

If the Heat give a professional effort again on Sunday afternoon like they did Thursday that rest will begin Sunday night. The Bucks will try but they can’t prevent it, they are in over their heads.

Jamal Crawford says Lonzo Ball should not change his shot

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Lonzo Ball‘s shot has become a running gag around the NBA. During pregame warmups this season it looked like LeBron James and Joel Embiid mocked/tried to imitate it. TNT’s Inside the NBA was asking if it was worse than Charles Barkley’s golf swing, and the crew on that show mocks it all the time.

Ball is shooting 30.3 percent overall this season, and 23 percent from three. He’s shooting just 42.1 percent in the restricted area (it’s not just his jumper that is off). He’s shooting 37.5 percent on pull-up jumpers. He’s shooting 22.5 percent on shots when there is nobody within six feet of him (stats via NBA.com).

Is it time to tear down Ball’s awkward release and rework his jumper? Jamal Crawford, a guy who knows something about getting buckets in the NBA, said no, speaking on CBS Sports’ Flagrant 2 Podcast.

“No, I wouldn’t (change his shot). He’s done it his whole life. Even if he struggled, I’m sure he’s struggled, but when he makes 10 in a row you won’t change it then so I’d just keep it consistent.”

Crawford also said he sees a real star in Ball.

“Star. Absolutely a star. I love watching him play. He plays the right way. He doesn’t play for stats. He’ll give the ball up early when he could easily hold it to get an assist. He’s making the right play if it was a hockey assist he’d get 20 a game cause he’s always passing up early. He seems like a great teammate. If you look at all his interviews…he’s always well spoken he’s always about the team.”

Luke Walton has the Lakers players taking and making 100 threes at each practice, and he continues to encourage Ball to shoot his way out of this slump. Magic Johnson has said the Lakers would not change Ball’s jumper during the season.

But if Ball does not find a rhythm and is under 40 percent for the season on jumpers, come next summer the Lakers have some decisions to make. And tearing down and rebuilding Ball’s shot is a long process that will take more than one summer of hard work.

PBT Podcast: Celtics win over Warriors, all things Boston with A. Sherrod Blakely

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The Boston Celtics are for real.

In case you had any doubts, they ran their streak to 14 wins in a row by coming from 17 down – twice — to beat the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, and it threw the Warriors off their game, something few teams have been able to do over the past few years.

Kurt Helin welcomes in A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston to talk about what this win means to the Celtics, why their defense is so good, how Kyrie Irving is fitting in, how young stars such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are rising up, and what is the deal with Marcus Smart. Also, there is a lot of Brad Stevens love.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Grizzlies’ Mike Conley out at least two weeks with sore heel, Achilles

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Injuries are already starting to shape the playoff chase in the West — Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month in Utah, and the Clippers have lost six in a row as they battle injuries to three starters.

Now add the Memphis Grizzlies to the mix.

Mike Conley, the point guard who, along with Marc Gasol, is crucial to Memphis’ success, will be out at least two weeks to rest a sore left heel and Achilles, the team announced Friday. He could be out longer, Conley has had issues with this Achilles before, the team will want to be cautious, and by far the best treatment is rest.

Conley averages 17.1 points per game, is a great floor general running the offense, and is a quality defender at the point.

Memphis is 7-7 on the season and tied with Oklahoma City for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Grizzlies have dropped six of their last eight. What’s more, they are entering a gauntlet part of the schedule without Conley: Their next game is against Houston, then Portland, and in the next 10 they have the Nuggets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Spurs (twice). The danger is they fall far enough back from the playoff chase they struggle to catch up again.

Expect to see a lot more Tyreke Evans, who has been strong as a sixth man but now will have much more asked of him. Also, more playmaking duties will fall to Gasol, working out of the elbow, and both Chandler Parsons and Mario Chalmers will get the ball in their hands. The question is what do they do with it.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.