Lance Stephenson, LeBron James

Heat overcome slow start, run away with Game 3 win over Pacers

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The Indiana Pacers may have struggled late in the regular season, but they were built with the specific intent of beating this Miami Heat team. And they’ve been largely up to that challenge, including in Game 3, where the combination of the league’s top defense and a size advantage on the offensive end bullied Miami in the early going, with the Pacers looking every bit like legitimate contenders in building a 15-point lead that held late into the second quarter.

But the Heat adjusted, and didn’t just mount a comeback — they exploited every advantage possible. Behind efficient performances from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, along with a devastating fourth quarter from Ray Allen, Miami cruised to a 99-87 victory that gave the team a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

In the first half, it was David West, Roy Hibbert and Luis Scola punishing the Heat inside. The trio combined for 27 of Indiana’s 42 points, 24 of which were scored in the paint as the Pacers shot better than 53 percent over the game’s first 24 minutes. Miami, meanwhile, couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, scoring just five points in the first nine and a half minutes, while turning the ball over seven times during that span.

In the second half, however, the Heat stabilized. They implemented a full-court press that forced the issue for an offensively-challenged Pacers team, and were able to get rolling offensively thanks to Wade’s 10 points in the third, and Allen’s 13 points in the fourth.

That was largely the difference. Indiana can defend for only so long, before the matchups begin to fail and the Heat find ways to work them to their advantage. David West was assigned to Allen for much of the final period, and you just can’t have one of the game’s most historically deadly shooters being left open on rotations if you expect to compete with the defending champs. Allen was 4-of-4 from three-point distance in the fourth, and those shots were all back-breakers that helped push the Heat’s advantage to an insurmountable margin.

Wade continued his extremely efficient series in finishing with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, and Chris Bosh continued to be largely ineffective while finishing with just nine points and four rebounds, on just 4-of-12 shooting in only 23 minutes of action.

The Pacers were constructed properly, and undoubtedly have the talent and the personnel to compete with this Heat team. But they’ll need to execute at maximum levels on both ends of the floor for more than half the game in order to have a chance in this series. And right now, after two consecutive comeback wins, Miami seems to be gaining all kinds of confidence in realizing it has simply too much for Indiana to deal with for extended stretches.

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.