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.

Steve Kerr to Trump: “Isn’t it you who must honor the White House, Mr. President?”

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There was much discussion this week about whether the Golden State Warriors would accept a potential invitation to visit the White House. However, when asked about a visit, Stephen Curry said that he would vote no. That prompted Donald Trump to preemptively rescind an invitation.

Then the weekend came, along with the backlash against Trump.

Trump rescinded the invitation for the Warriors in a speech in which he also called NFL players silently protesting police brutality, “sons of bitches”.

The Warriors organization responded to Trump’s comments, as did some players.

Now, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr has written about his own feelings on the matter on SI.com.

In an impassioned article, Kerr said that it was not possible for the team to visit the White House and have a typical visit. Kerr, whose father was the President of the American University of Beruit, said that he had met with several presidents in the past even if his personal views had differed. However, Kerr said he felt that Trump’s comments were “childish” and that he felt the real estate magnate was unable to absorb criticism — something former Trump supporter Mark Cuban agreed recently echoed.

Via SI:

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet President Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. I didn’t agree with all of them, but it was easy to set politics aside because each possessed an inherent respect for the office, as well as the humility that comes with being a public servant in an incredible position of power, representing 300 million people. And that’s the problem now. In his tweet to Steph, Trump talked about honoring the White House but, really, isn’t it you who must honor the White House, Mr. President? And the way to do that is through compassion and dignity and being above the fray. Not causing the fray.

..

Instead, we get Trump’s comments over the weekend about NFL players, calling them ‘sons of bitches’ for kneeling during the anthem. Those just crushed me. Crushed me. Just think about what those players are protesting. They’re protesting excessive police violence and racial inequality. Those are really good things to fight against. And they’re doing it in a nonviolent way. Which is everything that Martin Luther King preached, right? A lot of American military members will tell you that the right to free speech is exactly what they fight for. And it’s just really, really upsetting that the leader of our country is calling for these players to be ‘fired.’

Remember, the president works for us, not vice versa. We elected him. He doesn’t just work for his constituents and his base. He works for every citizen. Once you take that office, you have to do what’s best for the entire country. Sure, you’re going to have policies that align with your party, but that’s not the point. Respectfully, Mr. Trump, the point is this: You’re the president. You represent all of us. Don’t divide us.

The comments from Kerr are also especially timely given that on Sunday many NFL teams and players either locked arms, knelt, or stayed inside the locker room in a display of solidarity. Unfortunately, given that this mass showing comes following Trump’s comments, many have mistakenly come to understand the meaning of kneeling itself to be some kind of protest against Trump.

However, whether it be Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem or LeBron James and company wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts, the message has always been against police brutality and racial inequity — not against the nation, flag, or military, or Trump as many have incorrectly equated it to mean.

That Kerr has come out and explicitly stated that fact in his reaction — as the coach of the current NBA champions and perhaps the most popular team in the league right now — is an important thing.

CJ McCollum on Carmelo, Kanter trade: “Stay woke, it’s a business”

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The most insane NBA offseason in recent memory got weirder this week when Carmelo Anthony was traded from the New York Knicks to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a first round draft pick.

The trade has made many of us wonder just what the on the court play will look like in Oklahoma City this season with a high usage set of players in Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and now Carmelo.

Meanwhile, Kanter had made comments earlier in the week about expressing his appreciation for the fans in Oklahoma City. Having been traded just a few days later, that apparently didn’t sit right for some people. Or at the very least, it appeared to be a teaching moment.

Via Twitter:

There’s no doubt about this fact, and it is hard to try to refute McCollum here. This is the nature of the league and there is no such thing as complete loyalty — at least in the sense of how most people understand it interpersonally — between employers and their employees in the NBA.

Teams are going to trade players to make sure they can win the most games and maximize their profits. Likewise, players should take the biggest contract they can get if they feel that is in their best interest.

In any case, we are all excited to see what kind of shenanigans happen in Oklahoma City next year.

Paul George on Thunder: “This feels like a championship team”

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They have an MVP, top-five NBA player. They have another All-NBA player who is a strong wing defender. They now have an aging all-star who still can get buckets with the best of them. There is a strong collection of role players who can help form a solid defense.

On paper, there’s a lot to like with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Paul George realizes that, as he said to Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“This feels like a championship team,” George told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m in a good place. I know Russ (Westbrook) is in a good place. Melo is motivated more than ever…You put us three together, who all have something to prove still, (and) we’re going to be a special team. We have a young group, a lot of talent here, an unbelievable coach (in Billy Donovan), (and) as you see, a front office that’s willing to do whatever it takes to improve the team. It just has all the makeups to be a great organization and a chance to put championships together.”

Championships? Plural? That implies the team would stay together, and sorry Thunder fans, but that is far from a sure thing. First, financially there is no realistic way Oklahoma City can afford to sign Russell Westbrook and Paul George max deals (which they both will get) and keep Anthony if he opts into the final year of his contract for just shy of $28 million.

OKC is a small market team that simply would lose a lot of money to keep the band together, and this ownership group traded James Harden out of fear of a massive luxury tax bill. (They will pay a tax bill of about $24 million for this season if the roster stays as is.)

Also, George’s camp made it very clear during the run-up to his trade he plans to test free agency and has a strong lean to the Lakers next season. He may be more likely to stay in OKC now after the trade, but how much more?

However, George is right, this team does look like a roster that could contend for a title most years — and maybe be in the mix this year. We will put aside the Warriors challenge for a moment (they are still the clear favorites if they stay healthy) and get to the big question for the Thunder:

Will their big three learn to sacrifice, learn to mesh, learn to play together as a team as a championship team does fast enough? The 2008 Celtics did, but that team of veterans has been the exception. It took LeBron’s Miami Heat two seasons to learn how to win, and the same when he came back to Cleveland. OKC doesn’t have two seasons, they have to do it fast. It’s possible, but not easy.

George is right, this is an excellent Oklahoma City team. The Thunder are now right in the middle of that second tier in the West with Houston (another team that has to learn to mesh and sacrifice) and the Spurs. That’s a great place to be.

Is it a place George wants to stay? That question will hang over the Thunder all season.

 

Mark Cuban: Trump has “got to be able to take the blowback” from comments

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President Donald Trump used the bully pulpit of his office to, well, bully — he fired shots at the NFL over its concussion protocols and players kneeling during the national anthem. Then he rescinded his invite to the White House to the Warriors after Stephen Curry said he would vote not to go.

Sports stars fired back. LeBron James called Trump a bum, Chris Paul asked if he didn’t have better things to worry about, and the Warriors said as a team they would use their time in Washington this season to “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.” Even supporters of the President, such as Patriots owner Robert Craft, rebuked the president for his comments.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for Meet the Press Trump has to be a big enough man to handle people standing up to him.

“If the president’s going to say something condemning a person, an industry, a sport, then he’s got to be able to take the blowback that’s going to come back,” Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for “Meet the Press.”

“So LeBron [James] and Steph and any athlete, any owner, it’s an open door now, and so they have every right for the same reasons to be able to say whatever’s on their mind,” he said. “Now we’ll be able to see if he can take it.”

Unlike previous presidents of both parties, Trump is not good at letting criticism of him and his administration roll off his back to stay focused on his agenda. It’s more personal with him, and that is something Warriors coach Steve Kerr said is a problem for him, and the nation.

Bottom line, NBA players are not going to back off — their base isn’t going to push back against them for their comments. Most are going to nod their heads in agreement. The NBA fan demographic is not the NFL’s. This storyline is far from over.