Heat admit defense, shooting must improve in Game 6 to extend season

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SAN ANTONIO — Credit San Antonio — they do not back down. All season long Miami would crank up its defense, make its big runs and the opponent would wilt. The Spurs withstood the Heat’s big run in Game 5 — when the lead was down to 1 late in the third San Antonio responded with a 19-1 run of their own. They withstood other runs all night long. It was impressive.

Still, the Heat looked back at Game 5 and said there were a lot of areas they could be just a little bit better, and if they had the game would have been different.

And they know those things have to change for Game 6.

“The most important game is Game 6,” LeBron James said. “We can’t worry about a Game 7. We have to worry about Game 6 and going back home, being confident about our game, being confident about getting a win, which we are. “

Two key areas have to change.

One is defense, particularly defensive rotations. The Spurs shot 60 percent. They had an offensive rating of 119.4 points per 100 possessions, which is 19 points hither than San Antonio’s regular season average. San Antonio got penetration into the paint and wide open threes.

What did Miami do wrong defensively that they got stuck in some bad one-on-one positions?

“Everything. Come on, they just absolutely outplayed us,” Heat coach Erick Spoelstra said after the game. “At times they were just picking one guy out at a time and going mano y mano. That will change.”

The Heat did a good job of forcing guys like Manu Ginobili into tough shots — but he hit them. But there was little protection of the rim when Tony Parker and Ginobili drove the paint.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that we didn’t give that same defensive effort that we had in Game 4 and they picked us apart,” Chris Bosh said. All night he was supposed to be the rim protector but he couldn’t do that and keep Tim Duncan off the glass.

The other key for the Heat is just they need to make shots.

It sounds simple, but the Heat shot 15-of-29 in the restricted area to name one problem.

“I think that’s where it starts for us, honestly, LeBron James said. “Getting into the paint. I think between the two of us, we probably missed 12-lay-ups tonight. Transition lay-ups that we usually convert. I missed a lob. I missed two lay-ups.”

A couple of those missed lay-ups came at the end of the third quarter when the Heat had cut the Spurs lead to 1, but then the Spurs responded to those misses with a run that put the game away.

It wasn’t just the bunnies they Heat missed — they were 5-of-14 in the paint outside the restricted area and 6-of-20 from the midrange. The Spurs defense was active and challenged looks, but the Heat missed a lot of looks they normally knock down.

Those shots have to fall in Game 6. The defensive rotations must be sharper (maybe play Chris Andersen over Udonis Haslem). It all has to come together or their season ends.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.