Too much LeBron, Wade down stretch carries Heat past Pacers, even series

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For three quarters it looked like the Indiana Pacers were Born Ready.

But in crunch time Miami could answer with the best player on the planet — and much improved defense from Game 1.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade scored Miami’s final 15 points including during a 10-0 Heat run that started with just under five minutes left in the game, a stretch that provided the separation Miami needed to get an 87-83, grind-it-out win on the road.

That evens the series at 1-1 heading back to Game 3 in Miami Saturday night.

LeBron had an up-and down game and finished with 22 points, 12 in the fourth quarter. Wade was the key to the Heat offense in the first half then made a series of big shots, including some impressive floaters, as he had 10 in the fourth quarter and 23 for the game to lead the Heat.

But the offense wasn’t end of the court where Miami needed the biggest change after Game 1.

Miami came out with a much improved defensive effort in Game 2, particularly starting in the second quarter when they held Indiana to 6-of-21 shooting. In Game 1 Miami had little ball pressure and let the Pacers start their sets when and where they wanted, which was the first steps in a series of breakdowns. But in Game 2 Miami was pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers.

That defense was particularly evident in the fourth quarter when Miami pressured and Indiana shot just 7-of-19. As always the Heat’s offense feeds off their defense and Miami shot 58.8 percent in the final frame behind their stars.

“We had some defensive breakdowns that led to threes and we had some turnovers,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said in his post-game press conference broadcast on NBA TV.

Up until that point this game it felt like the kind of grinding, defensive, ugly playoff game that is right in the Pacers wheelhouse. It was close the whole way but it felt like Indy’s kind of game.

Lance Stephenson — nicknamed Born Ready — looked like a guy who is going to get paid as a free agent this summer just dominating for stretches, particularly in the third quarter. He was aggressive but not reckless and did a good job setting up teammates. The result was 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting plus 7 assists and 6 rebounds.

Paul George struggled. He was 1-of-11 to start the game and finished with 14 points on 16 shots. David West had 10 points on 16 shots. Part of that was good Miami defense, but some of it was just missed looks they normally hit.

Roy Hibbert had a strong game again for Indiana — 13 rebounds, 8 of them offensive, plus 12 points on 8 shots. He seems to be back on both ends, and with that the Pacers seem back in this series.

While Wade and LeBron deserve the praise, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made two key moves trusting his bench that paid off big and were key to the win.

One was putting Norris Cole on Stephenson, which hampered Stephenson on the pick-and-roll because Cole was quick enough to take away room. Stephenson was key for three quarters — he owned the third — but after the switch to have Cole on him Stephenson shot just 1-of-3 and was quiet down the stretch.

The other key was Spoelstra leaned heavily on Chris Anderson to play Roy Hibbert in big minutes. Anderson played 28 minutes total and almost the entire fourth quarter — he was the one defender who gave Hibbert trouble. Plus Anderson pulled down 13 rebounds. It was key.

Both teams can take a measure of confidence into Game 3.

Indiana is back and hanging with the champs — they lost by just four on a night where their All-Star wing Paul George was just ice cold (and David West wasn’t much better). Most nights they can force a game at this tempo, in this style, they will win. They have to feel they have a real shot here.

Miami got the split on the road and now is heading home. More importantly their defense was back and if it is back they can keep Indiana from scoring much easier than Indy can stop them. Plus, the Heat still have the best player in the series on their side.

After two games this feels like a series that is going to go on for a while.

Kawhi Leonard scores 25 as Spurs dismantle ailing Cavaliers, 103-74

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Cavaliers star LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

His status was not immediately known.

Cleveland has been out of sync recently, losing three of five, and those struggles only got worse against San Antonio. The Spurs led by as many as 33 points to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday.

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of its second rout in the past two weeks.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt and remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. He left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout.

James finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

The Spurs held the Cavaliers scoreless for three minutes after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was issued a technical foul during a timeout with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

Leonard hit a right-handed runner as the second quarter closed to give the Spurs a 64-40 lead.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers. . Cleveland F Kyle Korver missed his third straight game with a sore left foot, and the team plans to sit him for several games to see if rest and treatment helps. Korver will sit out Thursday in Chicago and Friday at home against Philadelphia before being re-evaluated, a team spokesman said. The shooting specialist missed seven games earlier this month with an inflamed tendon in his foot. . G Iman Shumpert missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee. . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O’Neal has 28,596 career points. . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding its opponents to an average of less than 100 points for the 22nd straight season. . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

 

Russell Westbrook dominates final minutes, hits game winner for Thunder (VIDEO)

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This game looked over. The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to take the loss.

Then Russell Westbrook happened.

He scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, then capped it off hitting the game winner for the Thunder (video above). For the game-winner, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender, a smart play when you have a guy this talented.

It was the kind of game that the Westbrook for MVP crowd will point to — he had 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and he absolutely dominated the final minutes of the game (he shot 5-of-9 down the stretch).

This was Westbrook’s 37th triple-double of the season, and the Thunder are 30-7 when he does reaches that mark. Westbrook takes heat in some quarters for “empty stats” or trying to pad his numbers, but the fact is the Thunder are 11-24 when he doesn’t put up the huge numbers and carry the offense. If you’re going to define “MVP” by value to his team, it’s hard not to choose Westbrook this season, this team is toast without him.

Paul Millsap out at least three more games with knee issue, Hawks 0-8 without him

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The Atlanta Hawks have come apart at the worst time. They have lost seven in a row and have fallen from comfortably in the playoffs to tied for the 5-6-7 seed in the East, just 2.5 games out of falling out of the playoffs altogether.

It has all happened with Paul Millsap out, and that is going to continue for about a week more the team announced Monday.

Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap has been diagnosed with left knee synovitis and has undergone a non-surgical procedure at Emory (Orthopaedics & Spine Center in Atlanta). He will be listed as out for the next three games and his status will be updated as appropriate.

Synovitis is when the synovial membrane — which encases joints and helps lubricate them with synovial fluid — becomes inflamed. It’s usually a sign of another issue causing the inflammation.

The Hawks problem is they are 0-8 this season when Millsap is out.

It still feels unlikely Atlanta will fall all the way out of the playoffs (they have a slightly easier schedule than everyone they’re competing against for the slot), but they are more likely than Indiana or Milwaukee to slip. Also, the odds of them finishing with the seven or eight seed seem high, and that likely means a quick one-and-done visit to the postseason.

After that would come some real questions in Atlanta about how much they want to pay Millsap to keep him as a free agent (it’s going to have to be near max money and for five years, or he will look hard at his other options).

Reports: Kings’ owner reaches out to Sam Hinkie; team quickly denies any interest

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Sacramento Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive’s handling of his team makes President Donald Trump look patient and measured. It’s been less than two seasons since Vlade Divac was handed the reins of the Sacramento Kings, and apparently, that means the Kings are overdue for a change.

Ranadive is getting pressure to make a change because the Kings are seen around the league as a poorly run front office (that other teams try to take advantage of), and as part of that process he is reaching out to former Sixers’ GM Sam Hinkie, according to multiple reports. Yes, the controversial man behind “the process.” Zach Lowe and Marc Stein of ESPN have broken the story.

The Sacramento Kings have expressed exploratory interest in former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, according to league sources.

‎Sources told ESPN.com that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive sought and received permission directly from Sixers counterpart Josh Harris to speak with Hinkie.

Sources say Hinkie has long intrigued Ranadive, whose franchise has been thrust into a rebuilding mode not unlike Philadelphia’s status under Hinkie in the wake of trading DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports adds these details.

The Kings quickly came out and denied the story.

After the denials they would trade DeMarcus Cousins and all the misdirection around the hiring of George Karl, it’s tough to take the Kings fully at face value here.

Hinkie is currently under a non-compete clause as part of his buyout agreement with the Sixers. He can take a job starting this summer.

We’ve got questions.

Question No. 1: If it is available, does Hinkie really want this job? Wojnarowski says he may not be interested. If he’s being brought in to rebuild the Kings from the ground up, that is a long process. Any GM, not just Hinkie, is going to need five years (at least) to have the planted seeds start to bear fruit. As mentioned above, Ranadive has been anything but patient. Hinkie may be willing to wait for another situation that seems a better fit.

Question No. 2: Did Ranadive decide “I need to get the guy that ripped me off on that Nik Stauskas trade?”

Question No. 3: Are the Kings serious about sticking with Vlade Divac, or is Hinkie also going to talk to other potential GMs? There would be guys interested, but they’d want a lot of assurances (read: five years guaranteed and a lot of money).

Question No. 4: What other teams have interest in Hinkie? The ESPN report says other teams have reached out, does this include places were we expecting front office changes such as Orlando? Hinkie in a situation where he already had pieces (like Orlando) and was in the next phase of rebuilding could be interesting.

Question No. 5: Did Divac have any idea this was coming? After that Cousins trade he had to know something could be up, but he said fans should give him two years and the team would be in a better spot or he would step down. But did anyone, including Divac, think Ranadive would be that patient?