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Heat beat Bucks 109-97 to earn season-best 3rd straight win

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MIAMI (AP) When Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic barely beat the shot clock with a 28-footer to seal Saturday’s win, he retreated upcourt waving his arms, eager to coax more noise from the modest crowd.

Riding a three-game winning streak for the first time since last March, the Heat and their fans finally have something to cheer about.

Dion Waiters tied a career high with 33 points and Dragic added 25 to help the last-place Heat to a 109-97 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, who are headed the opposite direction.

Bucks coach Jason Kidd shook up his lineup, but they lost their fifth game in a row and second in as many nights. Following a defeat Friday at Orlando, the Bucks held a long players-only meeting that became heated at times.

“We have a lot of games to be played,” Kidd said after the latest loss. “There’s no reason to panic.”

Waiters went 12 for 19, including 5 for 8 from 3-point range. Backcourt mate Dragic went 8 for 13 and had six assists.

“Those guys were making so many shots I almost shot a 3,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “They take our team to another whole level when they play like that.”

Whiteside added 16 points and 15 rebounds while missing one shot. The Heat made 53 percent, just shy of their season high.

“Guys are playing better,” Whiteside said. “I don’t know what really got into guys, but I like it. We’re hitting shots we were missing earlier in the season.”

Miami improved to 14-30 thanks to its modest winning streak.

“It feels better than 0-3,” coach Eric Spoelstra said.

Kidd said the Heat’s record affected the Bucks’ performance.

“One of the things that we struggle with is looking at the team’s record and not coming out with that same intent if we’re playing Cleveland, if we’re playing Golden State,” he said. “That’s something we have to get better at.”

Following Friday’s players-only meeting by the Bucks, forward Jabari Parker said he wasn’t well received when he expressed his point of view. Parker was held out of the starting lineup Saturday for the first time this season for violating a team rule. Kidd declined to discuss the violation.

Parker had 16 points and seven rebounds in 32 minutes off the bench.

“It’s just a challenge, and I just try to be as positive as possible,” he said.

“I thought he did a great job,” Kidd said.

All-Star starter Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Milwaukee.

The Bucks led early, but Rodney McGruder and Dragic sank 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to put the Heat ahead 68-56 midway through the third quarter.

Waiters barely beat the 24-second clock with a 3-pointer that made it 103-91 with 2 1/2 minutes left. Dragic’s buzzer-beater with 1 1/2 minutes to go put Miami ahead 106-94 lead.

TIP-INS

Bucks: While Parker sat out the first quarter, Bucks rookie Thon Maker made his first career start, and guard Matthew Dellavedova started for the first time in 13 games. Maker had six points in 18 minutes, and Dellavedova had 15 points and seven assists.

Heat: Okaro White, who made his NBA debut Thursday after signing a 10-day deal, played 19 minutes but still hasn’t scored.

“His box score doesn’t really show the impact he had defensively,” Spoelstra said. “He finds ways to fit in.”

GOING INSIDE

Waiters hurt the Bucks repeatedly with drives from the perimeter.

“I just try to play every game like it’s my last,” he said. “Tonight the coaches told me to be aggressive, be me, and do what I do best – get to the rim. I was able to do that.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Guard Tyler Johnson sat out with a sprained left shoulder he injured in the Heat’s game Thursday. His status is day to day.

UP NEXT

Bucks: Milwaukee plays at home Monday against Houston, which won 111-92 when the teams met Wednesday.

Heat: Miami plays at home Monday against Golden State, which has won five in a row in the series.

Jeff Hornacek on Joakim Noah: “We’ve moved on. He’s ready to move on”

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Not that anyone actually thought Joakim Noah would be back with the Knicks this season — not after Noah and coach Jeff Hornacek got into an argument that ended with Noah shoving his coach.

But if anyone thought with Kristaps Porzingis out for the season with a torn ACL the Knicks might turn to Porzingis for a little boost, think again. Via Al Iannazzone at Newsday as the Knicks got back to post All-Star practice.

“There’s really nothing more to say about it, update it. We’ve moved on. He’s ready to move on and maybe have an opportunity somewhere else. That’s really our focus to go play Orlando. We have 23 games left. We’re trying to get our young guys to step it up. That’s kind of old story and all done with as far as I’m concerned.”

The Knicks would love to trade Noah, but he has the most untradable contract in the NBA — two years, $37.8 million left after this season. It would take the Knicks attaching a couple of first-round picks and taking back some dead salary to make it happen. The Knicks may eventually buy him out, but the more likely option is they keep him through the summer (in case he is needed as salary in a trade), and possibly into next season (depending upon how big a discount he would give the team to be bought out and move on).

Trail Blazers hope for another post-All-Star break revival

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Trail Blazers have enjoyed post-All-Star break revivals the past two seasons.

Those late-season rallies will no doubt be an ongoing theme in the congested Western Conference playoff race once Portland resumes play on Friday in Utah.

“I mean, I think that’s in the back of our minds. We know that we’re usually a better team in the second half of the season,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said. “We can’t just go into it saying, `All right, we’re always good at this part of the season.’ I think mentally we have to understand how close of a race it is and that we’ve got to be sharp all the way through.”

Portland is 32-26 at the break, tied for sixth in the West, which is better off than it was last season at the same point.

But the Blazers are one of five teams in the West with 26 losses. The Warriors and Houston Rockets sit comfortably atop the standings with the next eight teams jostling for position.

The Blazers headed into the All-Star Game with a 123-117 victory over Golden State, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Warriors. Lillard had 44 points, his third straight game with 39 or more and the best scoring stretch of his career. His 133 points over the last three games is the best such run in franchise history.

Afterward, Lillard sounded like he was taking it upon himself to improve the Blazers’ playoff position.

“Each season, it’s always a few teams that fall by the wayside and we’ve just got to make sure we’re not one of them,” he said. “As a leader, I’ve got to be the guy to lead that charge.”

In 2015-16, Portland was 27-27 at the All-Star break after winning eight of nine games going into it. The Blazers finished the regular season 44-38 and in fifth place in the West. They got past the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Warriors in the conference semifinals.

Last season, Portland lost three straight games to go into the break at 23-33. Shortly thereafter, an overtime loss at Detroit put them 11 games under .500.

But in March, Portland caught fire and went 13-3, best in the NBA. Lillard was named the conference’s Player of the Month, averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals in 16 games. Terry Stotts was named Coach of the Month.

Center Jusuf Nurkic, who came to Portland in a trade a handful of days before the All-Star break, went on to average 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with the Blazers. Portland was 14-5 with the 7-footer in the starting lineup.

Portland made the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but fell in the opening round to the Warriors.

This season, Portland is in the thick of the race. Lillard leads the team with 26.1 points per game, sixth in the league, while also averaging 6.6 assists. Backcourt teammate CJ McCollum is averaging 21.7 points, and Nurkic is at 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Stotts was asked just before the break whether he was happy with the team’s position.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of teams out there fighting for playoff spots,” the coach said. “It’s not about where we are. It’s about where we’re headed.”

 

Karl Malone pranks Anthony Davis in new Redbull video

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Karl Malone still has a few moves left.

Not so much on the court, but the Hall of Famer and one of the greatest power forwards ever was disguised as “Sam the Maintenance Man” where he would disrupt a video shoot by New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis (who thought he was making a basketball video for redbull.com). Malone was decked out in a traditional janitor onesie, a wig of dreadlocks, glasses and extra padding around his gut, and he had fun in his role.

At the end of the clip, you see Malone asking the cameras to cut so he could talk shop with AD on the left block, where Malone was near unstoppable. Check it out.

 

Statement defending self by former Mavs employee makes things sound worse

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In the argument that owner Mark Cuban must have known about the “Animal House” style sexual predatory environment on the business side of the Dallas Mavericks, a statement from a former Mavericks’ employee defending himself is now the best evidence. And it’s pretty damning.

One of the people mentioned directly in the bombshell Sports Illustrated story is former Mavs.com writer Earl K. Sneed. He was involved in a domestic dispute where he beat his then-girlfriend his first season with the Mavericks, then a few months later was arrested — at the Mavericks facility — for assault. He pled guilty to that and went through court-mandated anger management classes. He reportedly had another dispute in 2014 hitting a female co-worker which led to more counseling (this ordered by the team), and as a result of the court issues, he legally was not able to follow the team when it went into Canada to play the Raptors.

Sneed issued this statement to the Dallas Morning News defending himself.

“While both instances described in the report are damning and language used is not accurate, the two relationships described in the report are not something I am proud to have been a part of. I underwent much counseling after both situations, under the direction of [Mavs vice president of human resources] Buddy Pittman, and I feel like I grew from that counseling. I also signed a contract stating that I would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees after the inaccurately described incident with my female co-worker, who was a live-in girlfriend. I abided by the details of that contract for four years, and received counseling during that period to avoid future instances. I thank Buddy Pittman for helping me to grow during that time, and I thank Mark Cuban for his willingness to help facilitate that growth.”

So let me get this right: Sneed was hauled out of the Mavericks facility in handcuffs, then signed a new contract to stay on employed by the team (for four more years) where he could not do his job if the team went to Canada, and could not “have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees” — and Cuban didn’t know about any of this? That strains belief. Sneed’s statement sparked outrage on social media, as it should.

That Sneed stayed employed by the team speaks to the issues in the Mavericks human resources department and the team culture. Both Sneed and the head of HR have been fired in the wake of these stories.

The report says there are no incidents with Cuban, nor any members of the Mavericks basketball team, behaving inappropriately toward women.

Dallas and Cuban have hired an independent investigator to look into the claims and the workplace environment with the Mavericks. When that is done, expect NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to come down hard on the franchise, both to send a message to other franchises (there are rumors the Mavs are not the only one facing issues) and because this all is a big blow to the image of a league that paints itself as progressive.