LeBron says Heat have ‘too many excuses’ after losing for seventh time in last 11 games

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It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Miami Heat, who are in the middle of a late-season malaise that has seen them drop seven of their last 11 games.

Things have been particularly difficult for LeBron James, who in addition to the losing has been dealing with back spasms and an ankle injury that he suffered in the latest defeat to the Pelicans on Saturday.

James was testier than usual when giving his postgame remarks, which may be a good thing for a Miami team that has lacked any sort of competitive fire for the bulk of the regular season.

From Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

“It’s too many excuses; everything is an excuse,” James bristled as he rushed through his postgame session with reporters before fleeing the locker-room scene as other Miami players were still showering. “We do something wrong, it’s an excuse. We don’t get a stop, it’s an excuse. We turn the ball over, it’s an excuse. What we’re doing right now ain’t good enough.” …

He was then asked about the Heat’s constantly changing lineups; Saturday’s was Miami’s 18th different starting group this season as Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden sat out to rest their knees.

“We’ve always had lineup changes,” James said of the Heat, which went through 15 different sets of starters during last season’s 66-win campaign. “Guys who are on the floor need to produce. It’s that simple. It’s very frustrating. We’re all frustrated. We just got to all get on the same page. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’ve got to figure it out.”

The lineups are a real issue, especially when you look at who’s replacing the key rotation players and just how little production they’re actually providing. Udonis Haslem and Toney Douglas started on Saturday, and Ray Allen went 3-of-10 from the field in 31 minutes off the bench on the second night of the back-to-back set.

But the lineups alone aren’t the problem. What we’re seeing right now is a collective level of fatigue from a group which has been to the Finals in each of the last three seasons. There’s a reason no one has been able to make it to the championship round four years straight since the Boston Celtics, who did it from 1984-1987. There’s a physical and mental grind that begins to take its toll after playing so many extra games, and the Heat appear to have reached that threshold.

The way the Pacers have looked lately, home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals may not ultimately prove to be as important as it was last year. If the Heat brain trust agrees, Miami has two great opportunities to get its stars some extended rest before the postseason begins.

After playing Indiana on the 26th, the Big Three could sit and miss four games that would give them eight consecutive days off, and only one of those (against the Raptors on the 31st) is against a team currently in playoff contention.

The other opportunity would be to close out the season, and that might make even more sense. The Heat could rest anyone who needs it to finish out the final three games, which would give everyone a nice week-long period of rejuvenation right before the playoffs.

It’s unclear if Erik Spoelstra would consider such a strategy; remember, Heat president Pat Riley was famous for doing exactly the opposite when coaching the Showtime era Lakers. But Miami is weary — players are missing time due to injury, and the long grind of the season has them losing games they should be winning. Something needs to be done, as Chris Bosh summed up succinctly after his team’s latest disappointing loss.

“We’re going to have to draw the line in the sand somewhere,” he said. “We don’t talk about it. We’re not expressing ourselves in the locker room or on the court. So I figure I’ll be the first one to say it. We suck. And if we don’t play better, we’ll be watching the championship at home.”

PBT Podcast: Celtics win over Warriors, all things Boston with A. Sherrod Blakely

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The Boston Celtics are for real.

In case you had any doubts, they ran their streak to 14 wins in a row by coming from 17 down – twice — to beat the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, and it threw the Warriors off their game, something few teams have been able to do over the past few years.

Kurt Helin welcomes in A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston to talk about what this win means to the Celtics, why their defense is so good, how Kyrie Irving is fitting in, how young stars such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are rising up, and what is the deal with Marcus Smart. Also, there is a lot of Brad Stevens love.

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.

Grizzlies’ Mike Conley out at least two weeks with sore heel, Achilles

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Injuries are already starting to shape the playoff chase in the West — Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month in Utah, and the Clippers have lost six in a row as they battle injuries to three starters.

Now add the Memphis Grizzlies to the mix.

Mike Conley, the point guard who, along with Marc Gasol, is crucial to Memphis’ success, will be out at least two weeks to rest a sore left heel and Achilles, the team announced Friday. He could be out longer, Conley has had issues with this Achilles before, the team will want to be cautious, and by far the best treatment is rest.

Conley averages 17.1 points per game, is a great floor general running the offense, and is a quality defender at the point.

Memphis is 7-7 on the season and tied with Oklahoma City for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Grizzlies have dropped six of their last eight. What’s more, they are entering a gauntlet part of the schedule without Conley: Their next game is against Houston, then Portland, and in the next 10 they have the Nuggets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Spurs (twice). The danger is they fall far enough back from the playoff chase they struggle to catch up again.

Expect to see a lot more Tyreke Evans, who has been strong as a sixth man but now will have much more asked of him. Also, more playmaking duties will fall to Gasol, working out of the elbow, and both Chandler Parsons and Mario Chalmers will get the ball in their hands. The question is what do they do with it.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.

Report: Momentum building toward ending one-and-done rule

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“My sense is it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that during the NBA Finals last year about the one-and-done rule for players trying to enter the NBA — they can’t be drafted by NBA teams for one season after their high school class graduates, so the best players go to college for one season (and most go to classes for less than that). As Silver said, nobody really likes the system, but it was the compromise struck between the owners (who would like to raise the draft age to 20 or higher) and the players’ union (who want the draft age at 18, as soon as guys come out of high school).

However, momentum is building to change the rule, something we have written about before and now is gaining more traction, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With momentum gathering to reshape the one-and-done draft entry rule, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts met with the new Commission on College Basketball in Washington on Thursday, league sources told ESPN….

Nevertheless, there’s a growing belief within the league that Silver’s desire to end the one-and-done — the ability of college basketball players to enter the NBA draft after playing one year in college — could be pushing the sport closer to high school players having the opportunity to directly enter the league again. For that change to happen, though, the union would probably need to cede the one-and-done rule and agree to a mandate that players entering college must stay two years before declaring for the draft.

While the NBA and players’ union will talk to the NCAA about their plans, ultimately the college body has no say in what the NBA draft and eligibility rules are.

The best players of their generations came straight to the NBA out of high school — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and others —  however, what bothered owners were the misses in the draft. There were busts, and owners/GMs want to reduce as much risk as they can in the draft (even though there are busts on guys who they saw plenty of in college, hello Michael Olowokandi).

NBA teams are now better suited to develop players than they were a couple of decades ago — every team has an assistant coach focused on just that. The best teams in the NBA right now — Golden State, Boston, San Antonio — are the best at developing players. That’s not a coincidence, and it has teams copying (or attempting to) what the successful ones do. Combine that with the growth of the G-League and teams growing their understanding how to use it, and they are better positioned to draft a player out of high school and develop him over time than they ever have been.

 

There are still a lot of questions and hurdles. If a player declares for the draft and has an agent, but isn’t drafted (or even isn’t drafted in the first round, so no guaranteed contract) will he have the option to come to college for two (or three) years anyway? Will the NCAA allow that? And Silver has talked before about the changes in the draft needing to reflect changes in how we develop players down to the AAU level, which is its own complex set of problems.

It’s not moving quickly, but these are steps in the right direction. One-and-done doesn’t work well for anyone. The college baseball style rule (go straight to the pros or spend three years in college in that sport’s case) isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the system in place. There seems to be momentum toward change. Finally.