Dwyane Wade, LeBron James

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade need each other now more than ever

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When LeBron James stole the ball, three Pacers were closer to the Indiana basket than Dwyane Wade.

LeBron – arguably the greatest athlete in NBA history – took off in the open court, using his unique blend of speed and power to create space for a layup.

Wade – 32 years old and battling perpetual knee injuries that would make you think he’s 37 – ran just as hard.

It paid off. LeBron missed his shot, and Wade followed with a putback dunk.

“Usually, D Wade don’t even chase me down. He know if it’s a one-on-one matchup with me, most of the time I’m going to score,” LeBron said smiling. “But I was glad that he did.”

That was part of a decisive 10-0 run that propelled the Heat to an 87-83 win over the Pacers in Game 2 Tuesday. LeBron or Wade scored or assisted Miami’s final 33 points, including scoring the final 20 themselves.

“That’s what we want,” Wade said. “We came here, and that’s what we envisioned – having two guys that is able to be dynamic at the same time.”

Neither LeBron nor Wade are playing their best right now, which is precisely why they must lean on each other. The Heat aren’t playing their best either, making them especially reliant on their biggest stars, and there’s only one way LeBron and Wade can meet that dependence – together.

In the final 16 minutes – a full third of the game – LeBron (14 of 22 points) and Wade (10 of 23 points) absolutely dominated. They had to. Here was the production in that span of Miami’s other three starters:

  • Chris Bosh: three points,  one rebound, one block, one steal
  • Mario Chalmers: did not play
  • Udonis Haslem: did not play

Erik Spoelstra changed his starting lineup from Game 1, inserting Haslem for Shane Battier, but the the switch didn’t really pay dividends. Haslem proved ineffective against Roy Hibbert and didn’t help enough on the glass. Credit the Heat coach for having the guts to bench Haslem and Chalmers, who didn’t provide the spark Norris Cole did.

Meanwhile, Bosh is not producing while battling Indiana’s behemoths. He has just 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting and eight rebounds in the series.

Chris Andersen came off the bench to grab 12 rebounds and produce a stunning +25 plus-minus in a four-point game, but he’s just one of several Miami role players. the Heat can’t rely on a single one of them on a nightly basis.

As the Heat have aged, their talent gap over the rest of the league has shrunk. The Pacers are absolutely good enough to win this series, and there are several Western Conference teams – including both still playing – capable of beating Miami, too.

That leaves a lot on the plates of LeBron and Wade.

The four-year examination of how LeBron and Wade fit together has been overblown. Let’s get that out of the way. LeBron and Wade are both tremendously skilled and versatile players. They fit with everyone.

But LeBron and Wade aren’t a perfect fit together. There’s give and take with two players used to dominating the ball, and a surprisingly low number of Heat plays this far into their current incarnation use both in key spots simultaneously.

That said, they’re better off together than they would be separately with lesser, better-fitting teammates. Their talent outweighs fit concerns.

LeBron once again played passively early and averaged a touch just once every 44 seconds – narrowly topping a season high set yesterday. His defense was also lacking, even though Paul George shot poorly.

Enter Wade.

Wade took the ball and also guarded George late, freeing the burden from LeBron. In Game 3, nobody would be shocked to see LeBron help Wade.

LeBron and Wade pick each other up, and despite some unavoidable fit issues, they’re trying to jell even more.

“Obviously, I always know where No. 6 is on the floor,” Wade said. “And he knows where I am on the floor.”

That includes Wade’s putback slam. Wade admitted “99.9 percent of the time,” he’d hang back as LeBron surged in the open court. But Wade was perceptive to a LeBron flaw.

“I actually noticed he didn’t really get the acceleration that he needed,” Wade said. “He took a step, and he didn’t get up. So, that allowed me to just keep following. Normally, he just explodes, and there aren’t many people that can beat him at the top.”

There aren’t many teams that can beat the Heat when LeBron and Wade are at their top levels, but neither is there right now. As long as they keep boosting each other, though, they can get close – and give Miami a chance to win.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.