LeBron James, David West

Pacers look like the East’s best team in blowout Game 1 win over Heat

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From the moment the season began in late October, or perhaps even as far back as their Conference Finals loss in seven games to the Heat last May, the goal for the Pacers was simple: Finish this year with the best record in the league, so that homecourt advantage could be on Indiana’s side this time.

Despite the struggles that plagued the Pacers the last two months of the season and into the first two rounds of the playoffs, now that they’re here in the Eastern Conference Finals, they seem to have remembered what it was all for, and at least for one game, regained their swagger.

Indiana controlled Game 1 from the opening tip, and looked like the East’s best team in cruising to a 107-96 victory that felt like anything but the titanic battle many were expecting.

The Pacers were several steps ahead of the Heat in this one, and whether it was due to Indiana finally reaching the moment the team has waited for all season long, or because Miami has yet to truly be tested in these playoffs, the result was lopsided just the same. The Pacers aren’t a great team offensively, but they used an aggressive George Hill to initiate things, and moved the ball with precision to create a balanced attack that saw six players finish in double figures scoring.

Miami’s rotations were slow from the jump, and the Pacers took advantage by shooting better than 60 percent for most of the first half, while knocking down six of their nine attempts from three-point distance through the first two periods.

There isn’t any one player responsible for the loss on the Heat side, as the team defense that has historically played on a string looked more like it was being attempted by a group of players who were on the court together for the very first time. But with that being said, Miami can’t afford many more games like this out of Chris Bosh, who normally provides a backbone for the Heat, but who was exceptionally dismal in this one.

Bosh missed his first two attempts from three-point distance, then was hesitant to pull the trigger on some open looks early — a level of tentativeness that extended to the defensive end of the floor, and one that is extremely uncharacteristic. Bosh finished 4-of-12 from the field, in a game where the Heat were collectively able to shoot better than 51 percent.

Meanwhile, for the Pacers, Lance Stephenson was focused and under control, David West and Paul George were efficient in combining for a 15-of-24 shooting effort, and Roy Hibbert was active as he had been for much of the series against the Wizards, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds in almost 39 minutes of action.

It’s only one game, of course, but the Pacers accomplished everything they set out to against the defending champs when their season ended in Miami last year. The biggest problem facing Indiana has been a lack of consistency, and that’s sure to be tested against a motivated Heat team in Game 2 that will look to come out with much more intensity to try to gain a split of the first two games in the series.

Miami Heat to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey next season

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Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey already hangs in the rafters at Staples Center for the Lakers.  He’s getting a statue there, too.

Next season, he will have his number retired on the other warm southern coast, this time in Miami.

The Heat have announced they will retire Shaq’s No. 32 jersey next season.

“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform,” team president Pat Riley said in a released statement. “He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship. Retiring his number in the rafters, along with Heat greats Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is something we are very proud of.”

Riley left out that the Heat also retired Michael Jordan’s 23, and Dan Marino’s 12 also hangs in the rafters of the arena. Neither of those make much sense, but whatever.

Shaq played three-and-a-half seasons in Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. Shaq was a three-time All-Star with the Heat and was at the heart of the franchise’s first title, along with Dwyane Wade… and Mark Cuban would tell you the officials. But that’s another discussion. He was also bitter after being traded to Phoenix and slammed Miami management and players on his way out the door.

Time heals all wounds.

Bull for Bull: Pau Gasol to replace Jimmy Butler in All-Star Game

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 6:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Chicago Bulls prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 6, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler is out of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend due to a strained knee. Which suck, because he earned that spot, and while the fans didn’t vote him in the coach’s did.

Butler’s teammate Pau Gasol will replace him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make the call on a replacement, and he stayed in Chicago, but he added a front court player to replace a guard. Keeping a Bulls representative might have been part of the thinking. The coaches’ votes on replacement players has been weighed in the past (Gasol may have been high on that list, coaches love him). Also, the East roster has a lot of wings and was light on bigs (Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh are the only real bigs), so this gives coach Tyronn Lue some flexibility up front.

The East leading Cleveland Cavaliers remain with just one representative, LeBron James (voted in by the fans).

Gasol is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a couple blocks a game, and is the only thing close to a consistent performer the Bulls have. Besides the injured Butler.

Bulls’ All-Star Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with strained knee

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It was concerning when it happened — Jimmy Butler injured his knee and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher.

But then the reports came back saying the X-rays were negative, this was just a strain. Butler was going to miss some time, but the question was how much?

Turns out, 3-4 weeks — including the All-Star Game, the team announced Tuesday. From the official team press release:

Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler was re-examined by Bulls Head Team Physician Brian Cole.  Butler is expected to miss the next three to four weeks with a strained left knee. Butler has begun rehabbing his injury and he will be allowed to engage in all activities as tolerated with the primary goal of maintaining his conditioning over the ensuing weeks.

Butler is the Bulls best player, averaging 22.4 points a game and handling a lot of the shot creation for the team (along with Derrick Rose, who was out Monday injured). The Bulls offense is 1.6 points per 100 possessions better when Butler plays, plus he usually draws the other team’s best wing player as his defensive assignment.

Following an ugly loss to the Hornets Monday night, the Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games. Since Joakim Noah went out for the season with an injured shoulder in particular, their defense has struggled. They still have no offensive identity.  Chicago has fallen to the seven seed in the West, just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. This injury is simply going to add to that slide.

The Bulls thought they were the team that could challenge Cleveland for supremacy in the East at the start of the season. Now they may need a late push just to make the playoffs.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will pick his All-Star Game replacement. In the past, he has picked the player highest in the fan voting not selected as a reserve, in this case that would be Kyrie Irving. But Silver can go any direction he chooses.

Report: George Karl to remain Kings coach following face-to-face meeting with GM

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George Karl isn’t going anywhere as coach of the Sacramento Kings after all.

At least for now.

Marc Stein of ESPN, who had the report that the Kings decided to fire Karl during the All-Star Break — now says the two sides have sat down and hashed things out. For now.

Those first reports went too far down the line, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

First things first, the Kings are a leaky organization right now. Which is never a good sign.

This has become a power struggle in the organization — DeMarcus Cousins has said the Kings’ problems go beyond the players, and he is known not to be a fan of Karl (Rajon Rondo is the coach’s biggest supporter because Karl gives him a green light). Owner Vivek Ranadive remains too impatient, stability is needed.

But there are still big picture questions to be answered.

Ranadive, with Vlade Divac, needs to sit down and set the long-term course for this team, including style of play they want to have, then decide if Karl can be part of that future. Also, if Cousins can be part of that future. If those two can be part of the future together (I’m not sure they can).

There needs to be more meetings with the Kings, and then this summer some significant decisions must be made. But doing it now at the All-Star break isn’t going to change anything. So Karl stays.