Miami Heat's James celebrates with the Eastern Conference championship trophy after they defeated the Indiana Pacers during Game 7 of their NBA Eastern Conference final basketball playoff in Miami

Heat rise to the occasion in NBA’s biggest game of the year


You will read plenty of stats that explain why the Heat beat the Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami outrebounded Indiana for the first time this series. The Pacers turned the ball over more than any other game this series. Indiana hadn’t shot so poorly on both 2-pointers and 3-pointers in any game this series.

But my favorite number from this game doesn’t explain why the Heat beat the Pacers. It shows why the Heat beat the Pacers.

Miami, at one point tonight, had made 24-of-25 free throws.

That’s about five more made free throws than the players who attempted them, based on regular-season percentages, would be expected to make. The Heat certainly didn’t need the five extra points during their 99-76 win, but the level of focus necessary to make 24-of-25 free throws is rather astounding.

Despite 40 games with enough attempts to qualify, the Heat didn’t make 24-of-25 free throws at any point of a single game all season. And now they were doing it in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals? Incredible.

The Heat played at a level they hadn’t played all playoffs, and that’s why they won. Their free-throw percentage didn’t dip until they were already up 20 late, and it was OK to let their focus slip.

I don’t mean to disparage the Pacers, and I don’t believe the Heat coasted before tonight. They were playing a seventh game because they were approximately even through six games.

But there’s a level a Game 7 can extract from the players participating that a Game 6 cannot. It’s only human that players summon more from within themselves when moment calls for it. With the exception of only those who possess the rare mental acuity that gives them the ability to fool their own minds, maximum effort in Game 7 is higher than than maximum effort in Game 6.

In these biggest moments, the Heat have players who’ve proven their maximum level is supremely high.

LeBron James scored 48 points, including Cleveland’s final 25, in a double-overtime win over the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. Dwyane Wade averaged 34.7 points in the 2006 NBA Finals. Ray Allen has scored more points in a single playoff game (51) than any active player, and he set an NBA Finals record by making eight straight 3-pointers.

And here were those those three were carrying Miami in Game 7.

LeBron James (32 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals) hit numbers nobody has in a Game 7 in 25 years. Dwyane Wade (21 points) produced his highest-scoring game of since Game 2 of the first round. Ray Allen (10 points, 3-of-5 3-point shooting) shook off a 7-of-24 start to the series from beyond the arc.

The Heat never scored more than seven straight points in Game 7. They didn’t need a longer sustained run, because when Indiana fought back, Miami wasn’t fazed. The Heat have players who just know how to lock into these games.

There have been six Game 7s in the last two years. Miami has played in two and holds the two wins by the largest margins.

The Heat can win under many circumstances. But games like this are right their wheelhouse.

Report: Lakers want to keep Metta World Peace… as assistant coach

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Metta World Peace #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers sits for an interview during Los Angeles Laker media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 26, 2016 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Lakers must drop two players before the regular season. The four primary candidates:

  • Nick Young, the only one of the four with a guaranteed salary. There was talk of waiving him anyway, but he has seemingly played his way onto the team in the preseason.
  • Yi Jianlian, who has the highest salary of the group. His partially guaranteed, incentive-laden contract makes him an intriguing trade chip.
  • Thomas Robinson, the youngest of the bunch. The 25-year-old might be the best center in a few years of anyone on the Lakers’ roster.
  • Metta World Peace, the oldest player on the team. He turns 37 next month and hasn’t been productive in years.

The Lakers face one tough choice. Waiving World Peace should be the easy one – and it seems they know it.

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The odds are against Metta World Peace making the Los Angeles Lakers’ Opening Night roster, but the Lakers have interest in keeping the veteran forward around as an assistant coach if they can’t make room for him as an active player, according to league sources.

If the Lakers want to keep World Peace to mentor young players, assistant coach is the right role for him. It’s not worth wasting a roster spot on someone who’s no longer NBA caliber.

World Peace wants to keep playing, and he could lobby other teams. I’d be surprised if he gets another NBA contract, but I was also surprised the Lakers signed him the last two years.

More likely, World Peace must decide between being a Lakers assistant and playing overseas again.

Heat reportedly not shopping Goran Dragic, tell him trade rumors are untrue

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The Heat and Kings reportedly discussed a trade that would send Goran Dragic to Sacramento for Rudy Gay and Darren Collison.

Could such a deal happen?

Miami is clearly sending out word from its end: No.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Dragic on Erik Spoelstra, via Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel:

“He just said those rumors, they’re not true.”

Reminder: Mario Chalmers said the Heat told him they would keep him shortly before they traded him.

Teams get the most from players when they’re happy, and job security pleases most people. So, teams often assure players they won’t be traded. If a team violates that trust by dealing a player anyway… that’s no longer the team’s problem. The player is fuming elsewhere.

I don’t know whether the Heat will trade Dragic this season. Their assurances and signals mean something, but only so much.

I do know Dragic is on the wrong side of 30 and has a long-term contract that makes little sense on a rebuilding team.

Report: Cavaliers in advanced discussions on trade for point guard

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 5: Kay Felder #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots over C.J. Watson #32 of the Orlando Magic during the second half of a preseason game at Quicken Loans Arena on October 5, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Magic 117-102. 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. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers should be fine at point guard in games that matter.

Kyrie Irving is an excellent starter. When Irving rests, LeBron James – in addition to his minutes at forward – can serve as primary ball-handler with an extra wing on the floor.

But Cleveland wants to limit LeBron’s and Irving’s playing time to preserve them for another long playoff run, which means finding a more traditional backup point guard for the regular season.

The Cavs have Kay Felder, but the transition from the Horizon League to the NBA is a difficult one for anyone, let alone a 5-foot-9 rookie who was drafted No. 54 overall. Mo Williams is somewhere between injured and retired. They might like to add Mario Chalmers, but he’s not healthy enough yet.

Another option: Trade.

Joe Vardon of

The Cavaliers are pursuing a trade to acquire a backup point guard and are hoping to make a deal before the season starts Tuesday, sources told

The Cavs are in advanced discussions with at least one club, according to a source, and could make one or multiple trades to fill the one, glaring need on a team otherwise built to defend its 2016 championship.

Whom are the Cavaliers targeting? Your guess is as good as mine.

Whom could they trade? That’s much easier to predict, but far from certain. Shumpert could be the odd man out, especially since J.R. Smith re-signed. Cleveland will probably drop one of Jordan McRae, Dahntay Jones or John Holland before the regular season, but I doubt any of those three would return much. The Cavs also have multiple trade exceptions and draft picks, though they have already dealt some picks.

This situation was predictable as soon as the Cavaliers let Matthew Dellavedova leave for Milwaukee. Did they not see it coming, or do they have an ace up their sleeve at the last minute?

Watch Pelicans’ Anthony Davis drop 33 in his return to court


Anthony Davis missed a chunk of the preseason after spraining his ankle in a game against the Rockets during the league’s tour of China. He was considered questionable to return for opening night.

He came back faster than that, in time for New Orleans’ final preseason game Thursday night — and he looked good doing it. Very good.

Davis had 33 points, 13 rebounds and four assists’ in the Pelicans’ 114-111 overtime loss to Orlando. He was red hot from the start as he scored 16 points in nine minutes of the first quarter.

This is a good sign for the Pelicans, who are going to need Davis (and rookie Buddy Hield) to carry the scoring for the team to start the season as they are without Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans for an extended period.