More aggressive Heat go on 33-5 run to blow out Spurs in Game 2, even series

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MIAMI — For nearly three quarters the San Antonio Spurs seemed to be doing it again — they held LeBron James to 2-of-12 shooting, they were getting back in transition and taking away the easy baskets the Heat thrive on, plus Danny Green was nailing threes like they were lay-ups. It was a close game about execution and those are the kind the Spurs usually win.

Then Miami did to the Spurs what they do to everyone — they find that extra gear and go on a run nobody can match. This time it was a 33-5 run that started late in the third quarter and made this a blowout by the middle of the fourth.

Miami’s defensive pressure forced more turnovers, those became transition opportunities, LeBron went 5-of-5, the Heat got help from guys like Mario Chalmers (19 points on the night to lead Miami) and Ray Allen (13).

The more aggressive Heat blew the game open and cruised to a 103-84 win. That evens the NBA Finals at 1-1 with Game 3 in San Antonio on Tuesday.

“You know what, credit to Miami, honestly” Tim Duncan said. “First start there. They outplayed us. They ended quarters better than us. We turned the ball over more than we should have. Credit to them, first of all.

“We didn’t play well. We didn’t shoot well.”

No, they didn’t. Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker combined to shoot 10-of-33 on the night. Part of that was the Heat’s pressure but Duncan said he got the shots he wanted, the other two got some clean looks too, but they just could not knock them down. The Heat did a great job of taking away the middle, forcing the Spurs to run their offense from the wings.

During the Heat run the Spurs shot 2-of-10 with six turnovers.

“In the second half, they just ran us over,” Ginobili said. “We didn’t move the ball at all. Their pressure really got us on our heels. And offensively, they just ran, they penetrated, they kicked it, they did everything they wanted.”

Green was the one Spur knocking down shots — he was 5-of-5 from three on his way to 17 points. Those five threes in an NBA Finals game tie the Spurs franchise record, one held by big game hunter Robert Horry. But Green didn’t get those looks during the Heat run.

San Antonio once again did a good job building a wall in front of LeBron James. His numbers — 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting, 8 rebounds, 7 assists — were down from last game, and he took a little heat then for not doing enough, not being aggressive enough.

He said after that first game it wasn’t about him, it was about his teammates making plays when the defense is focused on him like that. Miami did that in Game 2 — Chris Bosh has 12 points, Dwyane Wade 10, and there was another big game on the big stage from Mario Chalmers on a big stage.

“We have a lot of those guys,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t teach that quality, the big game guts. They feel the most alive in these situations when you typically feel the most pressure. Drives me crazy sometimes in December and January. But when you get to this time of year you like it.”

This kind of game is what makes Miami so tough in a seven-game series. The Spurs got what they wanted Game 1, they played the Heat close and make enough plays at the end, and you start to think you can grind out four wins in seven games. But it’s not really seven games because at least once and usually twice a series they have a stretch like this — they find that extra gear and blow you out. Then you need to grind out wins in four of five games, and nobody has been able to do this.

So they head to San Antonio tied 1-1. Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 Finals format there have been 12 series tied after the first two and the home team is just 3-of-9 in those Game 3s. Including last year when the Heat beat the Thunder.

San Antonio got a split on the road in the first two games, Ginobili said if you had offered him that before the start of the series he would have taken it. But that’s not going to be enough on Game 3.

“We have three at home, so we’re excited about that. But if we play like we did tonight, that’s not going to matter,” Duncan said.

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.