Dominant LeBron, resurgent Bosh have Heat one win from NBA Finals with easy Game 4 victory over Pacers

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LeBron James had been a quiet killer of sorts for the Heat through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, putting up extremely efficient statistical lines that were impactful while barely making a sound.

With the chance to put his team one win away from a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals, however, James made plenty of noise. He had three monstrous highlights and was in attack mode from the start, finishing with a game-high 32 points in helping the Heat to a 102-90 victory that wasn’t nearly that close, which put Miami ahead three games to one in the best-of-seven series.

There were multiple factors that enabled Miami to pull away in this one — Chris Bosh returning to form with a strong start, Lance Stephenson getting into early foul trouble which shook his confidence, and Roy Hibbert being completely ineffective on both ends of the floor for almost all of his 22 minutes on the court.

But no one, on either side, was more impactful than James.

First, LeBron finished an and-1 dunk in traffic near the end of the first half that put his team up by double digits. Next, he hit an insanely well-contested three-pointer near the end of the shot clock on his way to a 14-point third quarter outburst that helped put the game out of reach. Finally, he converted a coast-to-coast fast break slam in transition that exemplified his unwillingness to be stopped in this particular contest.

LeBron finished 13-of-21 from the field, and added 10 rebounds and five assists to his 32-point performance.

Bosh broke out of his postseason funk in a huge way, and got Miami off to the strong start. After totaling just 27 points through the first three games of this series, he came out sharp in this one, scoring 10 points in less than eight first quarter minutes, on the way to 25 points for the game on only 12 shots.

Lance Stephenson seemed to believe he got into LeBron’s head a bit in Game 3, but James had a monster Game 4, while Stephenson’s performance went largely unnoticed. Lance battled foul trouble early on, and ended up with just nine points on seven shots in over 32 minutes of action, and the bulk of that production came once the game had already been decided.

Hibbert, meanwhile, went scoreless for the fourth time in this postseason, and did so against a Heat lineup that was forced to go small once Chris Andersen was ruled out due to injury.

The Pacers are built in a way that should be able to extend this Heat team, but only if they defend as they did during the regular season at a rate that was tops in the league, and do so for 48 minutes. Consistency has been the most elusive of characteristics for Indiana over the last couple of months of the regular season, and we’re seeing that trend continue, even as the Pacers have managed to advance this deep into the postseason.

But when LeBron is in attack mode as he was in this one, we’ve yet to see a team be able to stop him at any time over the past few seasons.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.