Former NBA basketball player Kidd poses for photographers with Brooklyn Nets player Williams at a news conference in Brooklyn

Are the Brooklyn Nets contenders now? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Thanks to a blockbuster trade with Boston, next season the Brooklyn Nets will start Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez. They will bring Jason Terry off the bench. They will start five former All-Stars and bring a former Sixth Man of the Year off the bench.

So can we say now the Brooklyn Nets are NBA title contenders?

Well… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Remember how a year ago we all looked at the Los Angeles Lakers on paper — Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash — and penciled them into the NBA Finals? I’m not saying the Nets are going to self-destruct in dramatic fashion like L.A., I’m saying don’t assume everything will go smoothly.

Brooklyn should be a better team, a more dangerous playoff team, but a lot of things have to go right for them to knock Miami off it’s three-time defending Eastern Conference champions perch. Their margin for error is small.

What are the Nets’ issues?

• Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are getting older. And it shows. Don’t confuse 2013-14 Kevin Garnett with 2008 Kevin Garnett. Last season at age 36 Garnett appeared in 68 games and saw dips in efficiency, shooting percentage, and a little on the defensive end. That trend continued in the playoffs. Make no mistake, KG is still good and an upgrade at the four for Brooklyn, but he is 37 now and we can expect his game to erode further. Look at it this way — Garnett looked to wear down trying to stop Tyson Chander in the playoffs. Can he reverse that now as he is one year older?

Similar questions can be asked of Paul Pierce as he is now 36 — he averaged 18.6 points a game last year but his shooting percentage the last two seasons (43.6 percent last year) tailed off from the Boston title years. Again, he is still good and an upgrade, but he will regress some next season. And how will his legs be after an 82-game schedule?

• Can Deron Williams be the Utah Deron Williams again? His last two seasons in Brooklyn D-Will has been good, but he hasn’t been playing at the level we saw him at in Utah. He is still the best player on this team and the guy with the ball in his hands most of the time, he has to be elite. He has to be the guy we compared to Chris Paul, not the guy of the last few years.

• Do they have enough depth for the regular season? Brooklyn has an impressive starting five, but things drop off after that. Jason Terry is a former Sixth Man of the Year but he was unimpressive in Boston and will be age 36 next season. Reggie Evans stays but he will play a limited role on a good team. MarShon Brooks is now gone and part of that deal with Boston. (he wasn’t at first) so he is out. Andray Blatch is a free agent and the buzz around the league is he could bolt. Coach Jason Kidd has to keep the minutes for KG and Pierce and Terry in check this season and still get wins.

• Jason Kidd has to be the coach they think he can be. Kidd’s basketball IQ isn’t in question, but knowing what to do on the court and being able to transfer that knowledge to young players without his gifts is another. First year coaches in this situation can have a rough learning curve (Mark Jackson wasn’t an instant success in Golden State) and the window in Brooklyn with this roster is small. (The Nets did just hire Lawrence Frank to be Kidd’s lead assistant, which should help.)

Make no mistake, I still like this trade for the Nets. For one, they got rid of the horrible Gerald Wallace contract and unloaded Kris Humphries in the process. They had a terrible set of contracts on this team and they got out from under a lot of them and will have more flexibility after this season when Pierce’s deal expires (and Garnett likely retires next summer or in two summers).

Plus Brooklyn did get better on the court. The Nets can now be in the conversation with the Indiana Pacers (who get Danny Granger back) and the Chicago Bulls (who get Derrick Rose back) as to who has a shot to beat the Miami Heat.

But for Brooklyn to reach that NBA Finals goal a whole bunch of things need to go just right. And I am not sold at all that is how the season will unfold.

Hassan Whiteside gets triple-double as Heat hold off Hornets

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) reacts to his team scoring a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Dallas. The Heat won 93-90. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Associated Press
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside did his part to prevent the Charlotte Hornets from scoring inside.

Mix in a couple of key steals in the final seconds, and the Heat had a nice win on the road.

Whiteside had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocked shots, and Miami beat Charlotte 98-95 on Friday night.

Dwyane Wade scored 22 points and Chris Bosh added 20 points for the Heat, who have won six of seven. Goran Dragic had 12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Whiteside, a native of nearby Gastonia, North Carolina, posted his third triple-double of the season and No. 4 for his career.

“I was at the YMCA around the corner two years ago; now I’m here,” Whiteside said. “When a ball is around my elbow area, I’m going to try and catch it.

“The last three minutes, they were so worried about pump-faking, pump-faking. I told the guys to just stay with the 3-point shooters.”

Marvin Williams scored 27 points for the Hornets, and Nicolas Batum added 21. Kemba Walker had 20 points.

“Whiteside just dominated every aspect of that game,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “Right now, he’s the premiere rim protector in the league. It changed the game when he came in; they were a totally different team when he was out there.”

The Heat were coming off a close 93-90 win at Dallas on Wednesday. The last time Miami played at Time Warner Cable Arena on Dec. 9, Charlotte won 99-81.

“It’s hard not to notice what they’ve done on this home court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It seems that every top team in the East that comes in here walks out of here with a double-digit loss.

“It was something that we wanted to collectively do – get a win to put us at .500 on the road, and in a building that we haven’t played well.”

The Hornets led 93-90 with 1:10 remaining, but Wade made a layup and Bosh added a three-point play to make it 95-93 with 23.5 seconds left.

Charlotte had a chance to tie it, but Justise Winslow‘s steal set up a free throw by Luol Deng for a 96-93 advantage with 13.2 seconds left.

Wade then stole the ball from Walker and passed to Deng for a fast-break dunk with 4.3 seconds remaining and the Heat’s biggest lead of the game.

Before Miami’s flurry at the very end, neither team was able to grab much of an advantage. There were 26 lead changes and 12 ties, including 47-47 at halftime.

“We know we have to get stops,” Wade said. “We know we have enough offensive firepower down the stretch to get great looks. Tonight, Hassan was incredible down the stretch with protecting the basket.”

TIP-INS

Heat: Winslow had eight points and 10 rebounds. … Miami finished with 12 blocked shots. … The Heat outscored the Hornets 64-32 in the paint, and also enjoyed an 18-6 edge in second-chance points thanks to eight offensive rebounds.

Hornets: Shot 44.4 percent from the field (36 of 81), and made 10 of 26 3-pointers. … Also shot 13 of 15 from the free-throw line. … Charlotte’s reserves scored just 12 points, while Miami got 29 points from its backups.

 

HONORING `ZO’

Former Hornets star and 15-year NBA veteran Alonzo Mourning, now the vice president of player programs and development for the Heat, was honored by the home team during halftime of Friday’s game.

While he spent only three seasons in Charlotte (1992-1995), Mourning still holds franchise records for career blocks (684) and blocks per game (3.2), and is second in career scoring (21.3 points) and rebounds (10.1 per game).

 

Paul Millsap, Al Horford pace Hawks past Pacers 102-96

Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford dunks against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday Feb. 5, 2016, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 102-96. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Associated Press
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ATLANTA (AP) — Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wasn’t terribly concerned that his team gave up 19 offensive rebounds.

Not when Atlanta held on for a third straight win.

“Obviously we’d like to be better, but I think just because you give up a rebound doesn’t mean automatically they’re going to score two points,” he said. “Overall, our defense is a lot of times what’s giving us a chance.”

Paul Millsap scored 24 points, Al Horford added 21 points and the Hawks beat the Indiana Pacers 102-96 on Friday night.

Paul George finished with 31 points for Indiana, which has lost 17 of its last 19 regular-season matchups in Atlanta. Lavoy Allen added 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

The Pacers missed their first six shots of the fourth quarter before C.J. Miles‘ runner cut the lead to 78-74 with 8 minutes remaining.

George’s 3 with 4:49 left gave Indiana its last lead at 86-84. He hit another 3 with 1:02 left, falling back and heaving the ball over his right shoulder for a 35-footer that brought the Pacers within two.

But Jeff Teague‘s jumper and Kent Bazemore‘s two free throws pushed the lead to six with 22 seconds left. Teague had 16 points. Bazemore had 15 points and tied for a game-high eight assists.

Neither team led by more than six until the closing seconds. The lead changed hands 12 times.

It was a particularly frustrating night for Indiana, which out-rebounded the Hawks 53-32 and outscored them on second-chance points.

“Our bigs did a great job of rebounding,” George said. “It’s hard to make plays when they’re getting whacked all day at the rebounding, but it’s another game that we should have had – one that we didn’t do so late in the game and put it away.”

Horford had two consecutive dunks to push Atlanta back in front 73-72 in the last minute of the third. Dennis Schroder hit a 3 to make it a four-point lead early in the fourth.

“I think guys were pretty excited about the dunk(s),” Horford said. “I felt like that defensively fueled us going into the fourth.”

Millsap, at 6-foot-8, and the 6-10 Horford caused problems for Indiana’s big men all night on the perimeter with their passing skills and athleticism. They helped the Hawks outscore Indiana by four points in the paint.

“We did some good things but we didn’t handle their pressure well enough offensively,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “They got some very, very difficult coverages with Horford and Millsap out there spacing the floor we didn’t handle well enough either.”

The Hawks stayed in third place in the Eastern Conference with a 30-22 record. Indiana, at 26-24, fell to eighth place.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Indiana has dropped six of its last eight on the road. … George has scored at least 30 points in 15 of his 50 games. … G Monta Ellis, who averaged 20.5 points in the previous four games, scored 11.

Hawks: Atlanta has won nine of its last 11 at home. … The Hawks improved to 25-3 when scoring at least 100 points. … Led by Schroder’s nine points, the bench scored 20 – 60 less than the reserves combined for in Wednesday’s win at Philadelphia, the team’s highest total since 1987-88.

 

Bulls’ Jimmy Butler leaves game with sprained knee (VIDEO)

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This is not good.

With just more than a minute to go in the second quarter in Denver, Jimmy Butler drove the basket, absorbed some contact, and hit the ground hard. Butler — who seems to bounce back up from everything — stayed down. He hobbled out to take his free throws (the only way he could potentially return to the game) but then left it in a wheelchair. He did not return to the game.

The Bulls announced he has a left knee sprain. This is the same knee where he has been battling tendonitis.

Butler will have an MRI to assess the damage. As of now, there is no timetable for his return, but it seems he will miss at least a few games.

The up-and-down Bulls can’t afford to lose him for an extended stretch.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley’s three at buzzer beats Cavaliers (VIDEO)

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After two Kyrie Irving nailed free throws, the Cavaliers were up 103-99 on Boston with :07 left in the game. They had this.

Then J.R. Smith fouled Evan Turner on a driving lay-up with four seconds left, giving the Celtics the chance at an and-1. Turner missed the free throw, but the rebound bounced off LeBron James out-of-bounds, and Boston was going to get one last shot.

Avery Bradley nailed it from the corner. Celtics win.

Cleveland led this game by 22 at one point; they collapsed. This one is going to sting.