LeBron James, David West

Heat take over first place in the East with win over Pacers

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The Pacers have been struggling mightily as of late, but their stated season-long goal of finishing the regular season with the best record in the East was still within reach of being accomplished.

Had Indiana won in Miami on Friday, the team would have been on the verge of wrapping that up with only a few games left. But the top spot is now up for grabs after the Heat scored a convincing 98-86 victory, one that put them a game up in the loss column on Indiana for first place in the Conference standings.

Miami was without Dwyane Wade once again, as the team continues to proceed cautiously with him before the postseason begins. It didn’t matter, however, because LeBron James was in attack mode from the very start, scoring 10 of his team’s first 12 points and finishing with a game-high of 36 on 11-of-20 shooting.

Indiana trailed by just three at halftime, but Miami used a 20-2 run to blow things open at the start of the third, as the Pacers went six minutes before making their first field goal of the second half.

When Indiana pushed the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago, Roy Hibbert was a big reason why. He averaged better than 22 points per game in that series, but managed just five points and one rebound on 2-of-7 shooting in 34 minutes of action in this one.

Hibbert’s inside presence on both ends of the floor had historically been a matchup nightmare for the Heat; with him being reduced to a non-factor, the Pacers simply aren’t well enough equipped to deal with the problems this Heat team poses.

Miami has three games left — at Atlanta, at Washington, and home against the Sixers. Indiana, meanwhile, hosts the Thunder on Sunday before ending the season on Wednesday against the Magic.

The Heat seem to be in the driver’s seat with regards to securing home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Pacers, however, appear to have much bigger issues that still need to be sorted out.

Devin Booker to replace Nerlens Noel in Rising Stars at All-Star Weeekend

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
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Sixers big man Nerlens Noel — who has looked much improved this season once Ish Smith was feeding him the rock on offense — sat out the Sixers game Wednesday night due to tendonitis in his right knee. After he missed his rookie season with knee issues, you can understand why the Sixers want him to be cautious.

Noel is going to sit out All-Star Weekend as well — he had been scheduled to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, but he is going to sit that out and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns will take his place, the league has announced (Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic broke that story).

Booker has been one of the few bright spots for the Suns this season, averaging 10.6 points a game and shooting 40.3 percent from three.

He will play for the USA in the World vs. USA format of the Rising Stars Challenge (the former rookie/sophomore game, featuring first and second year players).

With Emmanuel Mudiay replacing Patrick Beverley, NBA reveals Skills Challenge bracket

Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley (2) knocks the ball away from Denver Nuggets' Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the first half of a NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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Out: Defending champion Patrick Beverley.

In: Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay.

The NBA confirmed the Rockets guard would miss the Skills Challenge and that Mudiay would replace him. The league also release the bracket:

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My picks:

Quarterfinals

Semifinals

  • Isaiah Thomas over C.J. McCollum
  • Anthony Davis over Draymond Green

Final

  • Isaiah Thomas over Anthony Davis

NBA suspends Hassan Whiteside for elbowing Boban Marjanovic’s head

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Hassan Whiteside lost his cool and elbowed Boban Marjanovic in the head Tuesday.

The Heat center received a flagrant 2 and an ejection, and now he’s getting the rest of his punishment.

NBA release:

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Whiteside was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:35 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 119-101 win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Feb. 9.

Whiteside will serve his suspension when Miami plays the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 19 at Philips Arena.

The suspension will cost Whiteside $8,921. As a result, the Heat – in line to become the first team in NBA history to pay the repeater luxury-tax rate – trim their impending tax bill by $24,534.

More importantly for Whiteside, this will be a strike against him for teams considering offering him a big contract in free agency this summer.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tears labrum

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
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October:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s shoulder injury?

It’s bad.

Now:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s shoulder injury?

It’s bad.

Hornets:

Kidd-Gilchrist tore his labrum in the preseason, and the injury was expected to sideline him for the year. But he returned a couple weeks ago and helped Charlotte go 5-2.

Now, another setback. This is just awful news for Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets. He had worked so hard to get back.

Hopefully, this injury isn’t as severe and Kidd-Gilchrist can play again this season.