Heat execute in final minutes, Rockets still learning, fall in Miami

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Midway through the third quarter you had to like how the Rockets were playing against the Heat in Miami.

Tied 92-92, the Rockets got what seemed like their 5,347th floater in the lane of the night, this time it was Chandler Parsons over Chris Andersen. The Rockets players did not fear the Heat shot blockers all night. At the other end, Chris Bosh missed a clean look at a three then Birdman missed a clean tip, Dwight Howard pulled in the rebound and threw the outlet to James Harden who pushed it up one-on-three, then pulled up and knocked down a three. It was is 97-92 Rockets.

Everything went south for Houston soon after.

Miami closed the game on a 15-0 run as they executed and attacked, while the Rockets took poor shots and seemed when a couple bad calls didn’t go their way fell apart. The result was a 113-104 Heat victory.

Miami needed this win, having lost five of six coming in and even with the win they are three games back of Indiana for the top spot in the West. Now the Heat get three of four against sub-.500 teams and a chance to try and chase down that record.

Four Houston it was another game with fantastic offense much of the night but not enough defense or execution when it mattered.

Rockets fans will be quick to point to some bad calls — and there were. LeBron should have been called on a pick for holding Jeremy Lin. The technical foul on Patrick Beverly after a hard but clean foul on LeBron was ridiculous. You know what good teams do in that situation? Put it behind them and overcome it.

It’s games like this where we’re reminded that this Rockets team is young and still learning how to win together. Lessons that will get furthered in the playoffs (where they still should make the second round but need to defend more consistently).

For the first time since he shed the mask LeBron was aggressive again and finished with 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting. He wasn’t sharp, however, with five turnovers to go with his five assists, and you can credit Chandler Parsons and the Rockets defense for that.

But with the attention on LeBron it left Dwyane Wade to attack James Harden — 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting — and Ray Allen to shoot over everyone and score 25 points on 7-of-11 from the floor (4-of-6 from three). Chris Bosh added 18 points on 12 shots and played well.

Harden had 30 points to lead the Rockets, Howard added 21 points and 14 rebounds.

But they came apart at the end.

It started with 4:26 left and the Rockets up 102-98 — after a made basket by Beverly Howard tipped the ball to the official, and was assessed a delay of game, the second one so it led to a technical. By the letter of the rule and how the league has called it all year that is a delay of game — technically Miami could have taken the ball out faster because of what Howard did, you don’t have to like the rule (I don’t, it should only be called when trying to slow the other team up from inbounding the ball) but the league has called it that way all season.

After that Houston was a mess on both ends.

First Wade attacked Harden off the dribbled and scored. Miami’s pressure defense then never let the Rockets get off a good shot and the result was a Chandler Parsons prayer that was not answered. Then Allen got wide open underneath for a lay-up — this is the pick where James held Lin, but even if he doesn’t Lin will be late arriving (LeBron is a big screen) and Parsons didn’t recognize it and cut off the passing lane. Jeremy Lin then chose a poor time to just chuck a three. Ray Allen didn’t miss his three at the other end.

And so it goes. The Rockets shoot 0-of-6 down the stretch and the one good look — a Harden lay-up attempt off penetration — rimmed out. Miami just kept making plays.

It was a rough week for the Rockets, losing to the Thunder, Bulls and now Heat on the road. But that’s how you learn lessons, and the teams that persevere through it become better, become contenders down the line.

Report: “No truth” to rumors of Anthony Davis to Boston links

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Think about it this way: If you are Dell Demps, the GM of the New Orleans Pelicans (one of the smallest market teams in the NBA), and you have a top-five player in Anthony Davis who can be a franchise cornerstone to build a contender around, would you even consider trading him? No. Especially since he has two full seasons (then a player option) on his contract after this season. Move Davis and you’re not going to get someone as good to replace him.

However, logic has not slowed the rumors out of Boston because… well, Celtics fans. They are drooling at the thought of Davis in Green, especially after he dropped 45 on them Tuesday night and the Pels upset the Celtics. The Boston media keeps the rumors alive because it’s good for clicks.

It’s not happening. At least not for years. Everyone credible has said this, on and off the record. For confirmation, here’s ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski while on The Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN radio, via Jake Madison of lockedonpelicans.com.

That is how this is going to go down. This summer the Mavericks (and maybe Lakers) will come calling, but the Pelicans will offer DeMarcus Cousins big money to stay with AD. He’ll sign it, then they will try to put the pieces around those two — my kingdom for a shooter — who can help them win games and be a respectable and dangerous playoff team.

In the summer of 2019, if Davis lets New Orleans management know he’s likely to leave as a free agent in 2020, they will have to look at trade requests. That doesn’t feel likely, Davis is not the kind of personality to force his hand like that. (Even if he did, Boston fans, you better be willing to throw together a package that looks like Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and more to get it done — Terry Rozier isn’t going to cut it.)

By all accounts, Davis likes New Orleans, wants it to work there — and by the way in 2020 the Pelicans can offer a super-max contract to Davis that is worth far more money than anyone else can put on the table. If you’re New Orleans, you only trade Davis because you have to, because he’s demanding a move or because he says he’s not re-signing. New Orleans can’t afford to lose him, it makes no sense for them to trade him without coercion.

Davis to Boston is not happening anytime soon, and is frankly not likely to happen ever. But Celtics fans gonna Celtic.

Rajon Rondo rips idea of Isaiah Thomas tribute video: “What has he done?”

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There is not going to be a tribute video for Isaiah Thomas shown the next time the Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Boston Garden at the request of Thomas himself. Never has there been this much controversy around a tribute video: Thomas didn’t want it the first time the Cavaliers came to Boston because he would not be playing, so the Celtics said they would run it the next time Cleveland came to town, which turns out to be the night of Paul Pierce getting his jersey retired, and he didn’t want to share the spotlight. Thomas said this week not to run it.

Now enter Rajon Rondo, the former Celtic who wonders why Thomas gets one at all.

Relax Rondo (who now plays for the Pelicans, a team that upset the Celtics Tuesday night). This isn’t a jersey retirement, it’s a tribute video. It lasts about a minute and thanks a player for his efforts, it’s not a statue in front of the building. You don’t need a ring to get a video.

What should be the bar for getting a video? It’s not that high. Thomas was an All-NBA player in Boston who did take the team farther than many expected, and he was beloved by fans because he brought everything he had every night. Thomas, at 5’9″, played with a chip on his shoulder and found his way among the forest of tall trees in the NBA — something fans could relate to more than a 6’8″ guy with insane physical gifts.

That sounds like it’s tribute video worthy to me. Even in Boston.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford returns Wednesday after 21-game absence

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford returned to practice Tuesday following a 21-game absence due to headaches caused by sleep deprivation. He will coach the Hornets on the bench Wednesday night against the Wizards.

Clifford said Tuesday when he began experiencing intense headaches back in early December it scared him so bad he decided to take a medical leave of absence. Medical tests revealed nothing wrong internally, but Clifford said doctors told him he needed to dramatically change his lifestyle and work habits – and get more sleep.

Clifford, who last coached Charlotte on Dec. 1, says he feels rested and plans to delegate more to his assistant coaches moving forward.

The 56-year-old Clifford returns to the sideline Wednesday when Charlotte hosts Washington, the start of a five-game homestand for the struggling Hornets (17-25).

Charlotte was 9-12 under associate head coach Stephen Silas during Clifford’s absence.

 

Jonathan Isaac in sermon: I invited my Magic teammates to hear me preach, but none came

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Jonathan Isaac hasn’t played in a few weeks due an ankle injury.

But the Magic rookie hasn’t stayed out of the spotlight.

He delivered a sermon Sunday at his church, which put the speech online. In the talk, he mentioned his teammates.

Isaac:

I invited my teammates. Right? I invited my teammates, and that was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do yet. None of them came, but I took the step, and I invited them. When Doc told me, “You should invite your teammates,” I was frozen. I froze. I said, “What? I’m the rookie. I’m the youngest person on the team. I can’t tell them that I’m about to preach. What? They don’t serve the lord. What are they going to think of me? What are they going to say about me? What are they going to say behind my back?” I want to be a part of this team. I want them to love me, truly. I typed the message up, and I deleted it. I typed it, and I deleted it. I typed it, and I deleted it. And finally, I was like, “You know what? This isn’t about me. I’ve got to take myself out of the equation. I’ve got to do what god is telling me to do.”

The Lando:

This is interesting on a couple levels.

I think it’s generally worth knowing what drives players. Religion is clearly an important part of Isaac’s life. That has anchored many athletes, but it can also create a burden, as Dwight Howard discussed.

Religion can also unite teams – or divide them. While coaching the Magic, Doc Rivers – himself very religious – ended team prayers once he noticed Muslim player Tariq Abdul-Wahad appear uncomfortable during the Christian prayers. A former teammate said David Robinson caused a rift in the Spurs’ locker room due to his proselytizing.

There’s also something to be said for teammates backing each other. Attending Isaac’s church for a day can be about supporting him, not adhering to his religion.

Of course, his teammates are under no obligation to attend. They’re co-workers, not necessarily friends. Maybe they just didn’t want to spend there free time with Isaac. Maybe they were busy. Maybe they felt uncomfortable going to church. There’s a whole range of possible reasons for each teammate, the way it affects team dynamics – on and off the court – varying accordingly.

Based on his sermon and follow-up statement, Isaac is going about this the right way. It can be nerve-wracking to ask people to join in something. That can be a meaningful experience in and of itself.

For the Magic, this provides another lens for which to assess their chemistry and camaraderie.