Heat bring physical defense, Dwyane Wade brings buckets, Miami evens series with Sixers

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Welcome to the playoffs, young Sixers.

Miami, with a roster of role players — but ones who are versatile, defend, and play smart — adjusted after getting blown out in the second half of Game 1. Justise Winslow and company took away Ben Simmons’ space. Miami was smart about who to stick with and not let Simmons find. Miami got physical. The Sixers struggled to adapt.

Then Dwyane Wade hopped in the hot tub time machine and brought back his old game, complete with a lot of mid-range jumpers. He had 21 points in the first half, then a couple key plays late — including a steal that led to a run-out dunk — to settle the Heat down during a Sixers run.

The end result was a 113-103 Miami win on the road in Game 2. The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to Miami.

The win will give the Heat confidence heading home, something that could change the feel of this entire series… until the Sixers bring in Joel Embiid, and everything that happened the first couple of games will feel like a different series. (Embiid’s status for Game 3 is unknown, but he has cleared the league’s concussion protocol.)

“Tonight was about us bringing more of a physical mindset as a group,” Wade said after the game. “It wasn’t about an individual, necessary challenge against those guys, it was about us as a group. I thought we did that.”

It didn’t start out looking like that for Miami. After a quick start hitting 4-of-5, some foul trouble for Goran Dragic that forced him to the bench threw the Heat off, they struggled to score going 5-of-18 the rest of the quarter, and meanwhile, the Sixers kept making plays and had a double-digit lead in the first.

That’s when Wade and the Miami defense changed everything.

Wade had played just 19 minutes and wasn’t a factor in Game 1, came out shooting 7-of-7 in the first half and sparked an 8-0 Heat run to open the second quarter, giving them a lead they never relinquished. That run stretched out to 16-2. Wade finished the first half with 21 points and just hit everything.

At the same time, the Sixers weren’t scoring the same way. Philly was 11-of-15 from three in the second half of Game 1, but that was out of character. Things even out. Philly was 2-15 to start Game 2, some of those good looks that just didn’t go down.

Miami also took a different approach to Ben Simmons. In Game 1 they laid back on him and dared him to shoot, but instead he dribbled into that space and made passes or hit little floaters over guys. This time around Winslow and company took away that space, forcing him to drive and become a scorer — not his strength.

With Embiid out, the Sixers rely heavily on Simmons to make passes — the Sixers led the NBA in passes per game according to the NBA’s tracking stats — and find other players moving through off-the-ball screens. However, with pressure on Simmons those passes just did not work the same way as Game 1. Miami also did a much better job of both getting back in transition defense and recognizing the shooting threats and getting out on them.

Miami’s starters moved the ball and forced the young Sixers to make decisions, something Philly was inconsistent at. When Wade was in the offense is much simpler, but when he’s hitting his midrange shots — he was 7-of-9 between the paint and the arc — he’s almost impossible to stop. When the Sixers focused on taking the ball out of his hands guys like Wayne Ellington made plays (he finished with 11).

Goran Dragic finished with 20 for the Heat, and James Johnson had 18 as part of a balanced attack.

Simmons had 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. Dario Saric added 23 points, and Marco Belinelli had 16 off the bench.

Game 3 is Thursday night in Miami.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.