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Three things we learned Tuesday: Once again, we’re sleeping on the Spurs

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If you had to pick up the in-laws at the airport, or start your holiday shopping, or just generally were busy Tuesday, I’m sorry. This was as good a night of NBA games as we’ve had this season. Your loss. Here are the big takeaways.

1) In an annual tradition, everyone is sleeping on the San Antonio Spurs.
There are dynamic and exciting teams at the top of the NBA food chain. Golden State is blowing good teams out — they beat the Jazz by 30 Tuesday — and Kevin Durant is blending in seamlessly. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are the clear best of the East and seem destined for the Finals. Toronto’s incredible offense — better than the Warriors or Cavaliers — makes them must watch and a threat. Then there is the offensive blur that is the Houston Rockets, with James Harden leading a sharpshooting offense to 10-straight wins.

Dazzled by all the bright, shiny objects, we once again are looking right past the Spurs.

That would be the 23-5 Spurs, probably the second-best team in the NBA right now (at least by our power rankings), a team that put on an impressive three-point shooting display late Tuesday night — 8-of-10 in the fourth, including Patty Mills wide-open game winner — to snap the Rockets 10-game winning streak.

The Spurs have the sixth-ranked offense in the NBA, the fourth-ranked defense, and just continue to execute better than anyone in the clutch, finding the mismatches and exploiting them nightly. San Antonio is 15-1 on the road. Their defense has improved as the season went on. Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate (yes, statistically the Spurs defend better with him off the floor, but he’s usually out there with both Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, and he can only make up for so much on that end, plus there’s the decoy issue). LaMarcus Aldridge remains nearly impossible to guard averaging 16.6 points per game and shooting 45.5 percent from three. Gasol has adjusted to his role and is scoring 11.8 per game. Manu Ginobili is still making plays off the bench — one of the better benches in the game.

Can the fading athleticism of the Spurs, along with the defense of Parker and Gasol (dragging them into pick-and-rolls) be exploited in the playoffs? Teams are going to try, but how many have the personnel to pull it off? In the West there’s the Warriors, the Clippers when healthy, and… it’s a short list. The Spurs are legit contenders, and we should be talking about them more.

2) DeMarcus Cousins goes off. First during the game, then after. Tuesday was the most DeMarcus Cousins of days.

First, he gets a $50,000 fine from his own team for berating a Sacramento Bee columnist (a fine that was well deserved, there are much smarter ways to handle that). A frustrated Cousins takes the court Tuesday night and takes all of it out on the overmatched big men of the Portland Trail Blazers (sorry Mason Plumlee) dropping 55 points.

But the sequence everyone is talking about is Cousins getting ejected — then quickly unejected. The referee said postgame he thought Cousins threw his mouthpiece. Clearly, he didn’t, but did he spit it out intentionally? Either way, the refs changed their tune.

Cousins was adamant that the mouthpiece only came out accidentally — he was barking at the Blazers bench and it just fell out. Cousins was going off on his “ridiculous” rant that was pure gold — “gold Jerry, gold” — when the mic just cuts out.

It looked like the broadcast cut him off, although the reporter involved said they would never cut away from something that good, this was just an issue with the battery pack for the mic malfunctioning. Either way, it’s a perfect end to Cousins’ day.

3) Tuesday was the night of the close finishes.
Tuesday was the most entertaining night of League Pass this season. For example, Boston went into Memphis and got an overtime win on the road because Isaiah Thomas was doing his best unstoppable Allen Iverson imitation — a career high 44 points.

There was the Cavaliers and Bucks going to overtime, where LeBron James had the shot of the night — from Stephen Curry range — to put the Cavs ahead for good.

Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum had a driving bank shot over Nick Young to give the Hornets a win over the Lakers in the final seconds.

Of course, there was the Kings beating Portland and DeMarcus Cousins putting on a show (see above). And then there was Carmelo Anthony dropping 35 in a Knicks win. It was a good night to be an NBA fan.

Now, Dwyane Wade must decide if this was the end

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade‘s first NBA game was in Philadelphia.

His last NBA game may have been there as well.

Retirement is a very real option for Wade, who has been not-so-quietly saying for weeks that he isn’t sure if he’ll be back next season. The offseason is here now, after the Miami Heat were ousted by the 76ers on Tuesday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series, and the face of the franchise may have taken his jersey off for the final time.

He has not decided.

But some of his closest friends believe this could really be the end.

“I appreciate y’all concern,” Wade said in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. “But we’ll worry about that later.”

Of course, his fans want him to come back. One prominent fan — his wife — cast her vote before he even left the floor after Game 5.

No one, not even Wade, knows how long this process will take. He’s going to talk to his wife. He’s going to talk to his kids. He’s going to talk to the Heat, and he’s going to talk to the people within his inner circle that are trusted most.

Wade isn’t a starter, but it could be argued the three-time NBA champion is still Miami’s best player. Wade carried the Heat to victory in Game 2 and got them on the brink of a win in Game 4. He doesn’t run as fast or jump as high as the version of himself known as Flash did, but he’s still capable of delivering big moments.

If Wade is done, the last visions fans will have of his career will be with him in a Heat uniform, still doing his thing. That matters to him. He isn’t Michael Jordan going out in a Washington jersey, or Patrick Ewing playing his last game with Orlando, or Shaquille O’Neal limping away from his NBA finale in Boston colors.

He wouldn’t be going out on top, but he’d be going out in the right uniform and still playing at a high level.

One way or another, his career always was going to end in Heat colors anyway. He wasn’t going out in a Chicago jersey, nor a Cleveland jersey. He had to wear “Heat” across his chest again, and when the Cavaliers traded him to Miami in February, it immediately became obvious that Wade was changing franchises for the final time.

Resume-wise, he’s more than good. He’s got three NBA championships. He’s got an Olympic gold medal. He’s going to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s going to go down as one of the best two or three shooting guards in the history of the game. The only guys with as many points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots in their regular season and playoff careers as Wade? Jordan is one, LeBron James is the other.

Here’s something else to consider: Wade has never wanted a farewell tour. He watched Kobe Bryant go through it, noted how much of a grind it was for the Lakers star, and doesn’t want to hear the same questions in every road stop next season.

What’s the motivation to return?

That’s the unknown.

Wade is set financially. So this decision won’t primarily be about money. Even after a brutal divorce and custody battle a few years ago, Wade will never worry about cash. He’s well-invested, has deals that will continue working for him well after his playing days end, and will make millions next year whether he’s wearing sneakers or suits.

The Heat have serious cap challenges and won’t have a bank-breaking deal to offer Wade this summer. He won’t play for the minimum. He won’t get anywhere near the maximum. For him to return, it’ll have to be worth his while. He spends a ton of money to keep his body right. And if Wade can make more off the court than on it next year, it might make sense for him to retire.

Plus, put simply, Wade wants more time with his family.

His oldest son, 16-year-old Zaire, is finishing his sophomore year of high school. Zaire can play. He gets attention because of his father’s name, but his game is real. The next couple years will be critical to his development as a ballplayer, and his dad wants to have the time to share as much wisdom as he can.

So clearly, there are good reasons for Wade to retire.

But he can still play. And that might be the reason to come back, one more time.

 

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.