Nets in control from start, hang on at end to finally beat LeBron and gain confidence

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There are no statement games on Día de los Muertos.

I’m not sure there are statement games in early April either, but right now it’s far, far too early to talk about them. Teams change and evolve a lot over the course of a season. A lot. Plus regular season series are not reliable predictors of postseason success anyway.

All that said, if the Nets are going to challenge the Heat in late April or May, they need to believe they can beat the two time defending champions. Deron Williams said they believed they were better than the Heat, yet they had lost 17-straight games to a LeBron James team. Even with all the changes for the Nets they needed something to back up that confidence. They talked about it at shootaround.

That step they took Friday night. Brooklyn used some impressive ball movement and a fluid offense, plus some timely defense to build a healthy double-digit lead over Miami, then they hung on at the end to win 101-100.

Miami looked like they coasted early — this is their third straight game with a slow start — and were not sharp when they tried to turn it on late, with that effort they are now 1-2 on the season. If Eric Spoelstra was looking for something to get the attention of his players, that should do it.

Brooklyn should gain a measure of confidence from this win.

Brooklyn was very active early defensively and their length seemed to throw the Heat off their game offensively, which had the Nets off to a quick 11-3 lead. Kevin Garnett takes on the best post player of the opposition and with that Brook Lopez can be a weakside shot blocker, he picked up a couple blocks that way in this game and altered other shots.

On offense the Nets not only moved the ball but cut well off the ball and that combination led to a very fluid offense. Again, it’s two games into the season but if they can keep this up they will have a very powerful offensive game that people who love good basketball will want to watch.

Brooklyn won the third quarter 31-20 and was comfortably in control, until a late fourth quarter 10-0 run by Miami made the end dramatic. However, Ray Allen missed a free throw (stock up on canned goods, it could be a sign of the apocalypse) while Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce hit theirs, which overcame a LeBron corner three that made it interesting. Chris Bosh hit his free throws too, down 2 with three seconds left he needed to miss the second one and didn’t. Like a Bosh.

Paul Pierce had 19 points on 10 shots, Joe Johnson 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting to lead the Nets. Brooklyn got good minutes off the bench from Shaun Livingston and a hustling Alan Anderson as well.

LeBron put up 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting, Dwyane Wade 21 points on 12 shots and he was 10-of-11 on free throws. But neither looked especially sharp. Like in the Heat’s opening night win over the Bulls they were fine, but in that game the bench had a huge night. Not this time.

If these teams meet in the playoffs, don’t bring up this game as predictive of what will happen. But the Nets can feel a little more confident, and that’s a step.

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

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.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.