LeBron James dismisses Nets as Heat’s biggest East threat

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The Heat fell to the Nets, 88-87, last night – giving Brooklyn a four-game sweep over Miami for the season.

Does that worry LeBron James?

After the game, Craig Sager asked him (hat tip: Ben Golliver of Point Forward):

  • Sager: “Are they your biggest challenge in the East?”
  • LeBron: “Get out of here, Craig. Next question.”

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LeBron is totally correct, both to dismiss the Nets and avoid motivating the Pacers .

Despite the Pacers’ late-season slide, they’re still the Heat’s toughest competition in the East. Indiana has won 2-of-3 against Miami with a fourth matchup coming Friday. And the Pacers’ were so much better than the rest of the East for so much of the season, a few weeks of poor play doesn’t erase it.

The Nets’ hot streak doesn’t make them likely to upset the Heat (or anyone else in the East), and though Brooklyn winning the season series is a little more telling, it hardly proves anything conclusively – especially against Miami.

In the previous three seasons, the Heat have faced five Eastern Conference playoff opponents they didn’t beat in the regular=season series. Each time, Miami flipped the script (regular season | postseason):

  • 2012-13: Pacers 2, Heat, 1 | Heat 4, Pacers 3
  • 2012-13: Bulls 2, Heat 2, | Heat 4, Bulls 1
  • 2011-12: Celtics 3, Heat 1 | Heat 4, Celtics 3
  • 2010-11: Bulls 3, Heat 0 | Heat 4, Bulls 1
  • 2010-11: Celtics 3, Heat 1 | Heat 4, Celtics 1

The Nets are probably as threatening to a 53-24 team as a 43-34 team can be. But this hypothetical postseason matchup still features a 10-game difference. Miami needn’t waste time worrying about the Nets, who won thrice by one point and once in double overtime during the season series.

The last thing LeBron and the Heat want to do, though, is motivate the wayward Pacers. Indiana is a tough matchup and geared toward Miami. Lately, the Pacers have been bickering among themselves off the court and slumping on it. But it wouldn’t take much for them to find their way. Chemistry and winning can spiral forward just as quickly as they spiraled backward for Indiana.

So, LeBron implicitly told the truth about the Nets and handled the Pacers publicly the best way possible.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.