Heat look sharp, cruise to blowout Game 1 win over Nets

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The Nets beat the Heat all four times that the two teams met during the regular season, an achievement that could have given them confidence heading into a playoff battle that many expected to need the full seven games to be decided.

If Brooklyn was feeling good about its chances, Miami crushed that sentiment with 107-86 victory in Game 1 that honestly wasn’t that close.

The plan from the get go seemed to be for Nets head coach Jason Kidd not to push his players in what figures to be a long series, especially coming off of a thrilling Game 7 victory over the Raptors just two days before. He had gone 11 players deep into his bench by early in the second quarter — a move that isn’t uncommon for Kidd, but one that seemed to shuffle too many bodies in and out of the lineup while the team was struggling to find any offensive rhythm in the early going.

Miami had gotten out to a lead of as many as 11 points in the second, and primarily did so by taking high-percentage shots close to the basket. Points in the paint were a huge differentiator in this Heat victory, where the Nets were outscored 52-28. Miami took 35 of its 74 shots from the restricted area, and made 24 of them which was good for a mark of 68.4 percent.

The Nets, meanwhile, were just 8-of-20 from in close, but above average three-point shooting (10-of-24) kept the deficit manageable at times.

Despite Miami’s early success, they were up just three at halftime. They made quick work of the Nets in the third, however, and used a 15-2 run to build a 16-point lead that would be impossible to come back from, both given the way the Heat were scoring inside, along with the extremely slow pace of the contest.

As John Schumann of NBA.com noted, the 13-point deficit the Nets faced entering the fourth seemed much worse. The Heat scored 61 points on 41 possessions in the second half, which was an insane clip that would have translated into 149 points per 100 possessions.

LeBron James led the way for Miami with 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting, on a night where the Heat shot 56.8 percent from the field. The lead reached as many as 23 points, which allowed Kidd to sit Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams the entire fourth period, while playing Kevin Garnett just 1:16 over the final 12 minutes.

If rest was what the Nets needed, they certainly got plenty of it in this one once the game got out of hand perhaps earlier than expected. They’ll need to plan to play everyone much heavier minutes in Game 2 to try to steal one before things shift back to Brooklyn, but if the Heat are able to get what they want offensively as they did in this one, it’s going to make for a very quick series.

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.