Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic passes as Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Associated Press

No contest: Heat push win streak to nine, roll Hawks 116-93

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MIAMI (AP) — Ask anyone in the Miami Heat locker room how this is happening, and the answers will all be largely the same.

They can’t explain.

That doesn’t bother them, either.

The NBA’s hottest team stayed that way Wednesday night, as Goran Dragic scored 27 points, Dion Waiters added 20 and the Heat had no trouble with the Atlanta Hawks on the way to a 116-93 win. It was the ninth straight win for the Heat, the longest current run in the league and Miami’s best streak since winning 10 in a row from Nov. 12-Dec. 1, 2013.

“We’re just having fun,” Waiters said.

It matched the largest victory margin of the season for Miami (20-30), which plays its next six games against opponents with losing records. A team that was on the cusp of having the NBA’s worst record just a couple weeks ago is now in the thick of a playoff race, and dominated a Hawks team that beat Miami in the first two matchups between the clubs this season.

“A lot of credit to Miami. They’re playing really, really good basketball,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “You can see why they’ve won nine games in a row now. Both ends of the court, their activity, their aggressiveness, just really impressed with their players, their coaching staff, everything they’re doing.”

Hassan Whiteside scored 18 points and grabbed 18 rebounds for the Heat. James Johnson scored 16 points before getting ejected in the fourth quarter for Miami (20-30).

Kent Bazemore scored 14 and Dennis Schroder scored 12 for the Hawks (28-21).

“They’re doing a great job,” Schroder said after complimenting Waiters, Dragic, Johnson and Whiteside. “And we didn’t.”

Atlanta’s Taurean Prince was ejected midway through the fourth quarter for pulling Whiteside down from behind and being assessed a flagrant two. James Johnson retaliated in Whiteside’s defense and was ejected after getting a technical.

That was about the only moment in which the game was competitive after halftime. Miami tied San Antonio for the third-best streak in the NBA this season, with only Golden State (12) and Houston (10) having more consecutive wins.

“It hasn’t been about the result for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We felt like our team was getting better. And throughout all of it, you do have to maintain perspective.”

TIP-INS

Hawks: Atlanta outscored Miami 108-72 in the paint in the first two meetings between the clubs. The Hawks were outscored 54-36 in the paint Wednesday. … Dwight Howard (six points, 11 rebounds) saw his string of five consecutive double-doubles end. … Atlanta had 13 assists, to Miami’s 23.

Heat: Miami led by as many as 26. … Dragic has drawn fouls on four 3-point attempts in his last three games. … Atlanta’s Paul Millsap drew a technical at the end of the first half, so Dragic took and made the subsequent free throw – 15 minutes later. He then made a 3-pointer on the same possession. … Waiters has at least 17 points in each of his last seven games.

HOUSTON, HELLO

With the Hawks going to Houston on Thursday, it should mark Howard’s first time playing there as an opponent since Dec. 4, 2012. Howard spent the last three seasons with the Rockets, averaging 16 points and 11.7 rebounds. He signed a three-year, $70.5 million deal with the Hawks last summer.

WHITESIDE MARKS

Whiteside’s 10th rebound was No. 2,000 of his career. He also had two blocks, leaving him one shy of No. 500 there.

 

Report: Bulls pushing to trade for 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 14: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass against Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 14, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Bulls reportedly reached out to the 76ers about Jahlil Okafor a few weeks ago.

After unfulfilled intrigue and maybe a trade that fell through, Okafor remains in Philadelphia. And Chicago apparently still wants him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

As constituted, the Bulls already have a few interior bigs: Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Cristiano Felicio. But one or more could go in an Okafor trade or another deal.

Okafor would make the Chicago younger, confusing its direction with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade already in place.

Perhaps, the Bulls are pushing for a trade only because they’re offering so little. Okafor’s low-post game offers intrigue. At the right price, he’d be worth adding, no matter the fit and direction presented.

Maybe the 76ers don’t go for a lowball offer, but that’d be worth trying considering their center logjam with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. Otherwise, Chicago ought to tread carefully when pursuing Okafor.

Report: 76ers trading Ersan Ilyasova to Hawks for Tiago Splitter, picks

Atlanta Hawks guard Mike Dunleavy blocks the shot of Philadelphia 76ers forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 110-93. (AP Photo/John Amis)
AP Photo/John Amis
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The 76ers have played like a 64-win team when Joel Embiid and Ersan Ilyasova share the court and a 20-win team otherwise, using data from nbawowy!.

That’s helpful for Philadelphia, which is learning what type of player — a stretch four — works best with its franchise player.

But the Hawks can use more than just a lesson in the idea of Ersan Ilyasova. They can use actual Ersan Ilyasova.

And Atlanta will get him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated:

Atlanta stills sound intent on keeping Paul Millsap, so Ilyasova will likely back him up. Ilyasova should work particularly well with Dwight Howard, whose interior play was a key factor in ushering in this stretch-four era by covering for the lighter power forward next to him.

In the last 21 months, Ilyasova has been traded five times: from the Bucks to the Pistons to the Magic to the Thunder to the 76ers and now to the Hawks. They can probably count on the veteran to settle in quickly as they try to improve their position in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Atlanta is fifth, closer to third than sixth.

Both Ilyasova and Splitter have expiring contracts. The advantage of Splitter, who has missed the Hawks’ last 90 games, is that his full compensation counts toward the floor apparently without Philadelphia actually having to play all of his salary.

Plus, those picks could help the 76ers in a season where they can win something meaningful — like the Hawks have decided this season is for them.

Report: Other NBA executives believe Pacers not seriously shopping Paul George

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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The Pacers are reportedly shopping Paul George, trying to line up a trade if they can’t get him help in another deal.

But it’s hard to find anyone who believes Indiana is genuinely looking to trade George before the upcoming trade deadline.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

If the Pacers are serious about trading George, they better convince other teams quickly. That’s the only way to draw out the best offers.

But it makes sense Indiana is only in the exploratory stage.

The Pacers — and only the Pacers — could offer George a designated-veteran-player contract extension (projected to be worth about $209 million over five years) this offseason if he makes an All-NBA team.

That’s probably a longshot. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are locks for three of the six forward spots. Anthony DavisJimmy ButlerDraymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo should also rank ahead of George. Gordon HaywardPaul MillsapKevin Love are firmly in the mix, too. That’s a lot of ground to make up and other contenders to fend off.

But it’s likely worth it for the Pacers to keep George past the deadline and let him try. The upside is so high.

If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Indiana could always trade him at any point before the next trade deadline. He could also qualify as a designated veteran player by making a 2017-18 All-NBA team and re-signing as a free agent in 2018, but by then, it’d be too late for the Pacers to trade him if they don’t have the major financial advantage.

At some point, Indiana could ask George to pledge to stay for his max, whatever that winds up being. That wouldn’t be binding, but his response could be telling.

For now, if I were the Pacers, I’d hope he makes All-NBA this year and dare him to reject the designated-veteran-player extension. If he qualifies and turns that down, that would absolutely be telling.

But I’d also be exploring the trade market now, hoping for an offer that knocks my socks off but more realistically gaining understanding for when dealing George becomes more logical.

Report: Clippers’ Chris Paul cleared, could play against Warriors on Thursday

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul shoots as Portland Trail Blazers' Al-Farouq Aminu watches during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb last month, and the Clippers announced he’d miss 6-8 weeks.

He could return just over five weeks after injury, when the Clippers face the Warriors on Thursday.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, via Andrew Han of ESPN:

“He looked great. He went through the whole practice [on Tuesday]. You know, so it was good. Really good,” Rivers said before practice on Wednesday. “He could play tomorrow. I mean, I can’t tell you if he will or not, but he’s been cleared medically. But we just want to make sure that he’s comfortable playing.”

The Clippers have slid to fourth in the West, leading the fifth-place Jazz by just half a game. It’s probably too late to catch the third-place Rockets, who are five games up. But maintaining home-court advantage in the first round is important.

Paul should help.

The Clippers remain dangerous when healthy. They’ve outscored teams by 15.1 points per 100 possessions when Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick share the court. With those four, they score and defend at rates that would lead the league if it weren’t for Golden State’s historic offensive rating.