Game of the night: Miami looks good, but not Dallas good

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The first time the Miami played Dallas back in November, the Heat players were still figuring it out. They seemed to be taking turns on offense more than working off each other, they were playing slow, it wasn’t outright confusion but they looked uncomfortable.

But after winning a dozen in a row they were past that, right? RIGHT?

Maybe not completely. On some key possessions late in the Monday night rematch with the Mavs LeBron James passed the ball to Dwyane Wade, ran through to the corner and stood there. The pace was slow. It all seemed a little too familiar. The Heat may be better but they still got sucked into a lot of bad habits when faced with the Mavericks defense, and the result was a 98-96 Dallas win in Miami. Miami’s 12-game win streak is snapped.

That’s not to say this game wasn’t fun to watch — 23 points in the last 90 seconds. A game of runs where the Mavs start out up 23-10 then pretty soon are giving up a 17-0 run. A lot of times in the final 6 minutes the Heat got within one, but could never get over the hump.

Miami had chances late — LeBron had the three-point play and Chris Bosh missed three could have tied it (at that point it was all over but the free throws). It didn’t work out.

Besides, that’s not where the Heat lost this one.

In a brilliant breakdown at ESPN, Tom Haberstroh noted that the way to beat Miami is to get them to take the long two. It’s a risk because LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Mike Miller — who was back but was 0-4 in limited minutes — James Jones and others can bury the shot. But if you can entice them into taking it and contest you can slow their offense.

That’s what Dallas did very well. They trapped and protected the paint and gave the Heat the least efficient shot in basketball. Miami — Wade and LeBron in particular — need to attack and not settle for that shot. But settle they did Monday.

Meanwhile the Mavericks kept doing what they do. Jason Terry was scoreless for three quarters then put up 19 in the final frame. Dirk Nowtizki had 26.

This is not a bad loss for the Heat — Dallas is proving to be an elite team in this regular season — but it is a reminder they can still be suckered into bad habits. A healthy Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem might help with a few things, but there are places to attack.

Meanwhile Dallas is attacking everyone. They are trapping. They are entertaining. And people are starting to believe that this year is different than other years, that there will not be a wall they can’t climb after the first round of the playoffs. That’s a long way off, but they looked good again vs. the Heat.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.

Report: Hornets rookie Miles Bridges to compete in dunk contest

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Want to see more dunks like this and this?

Watch the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Miles Bridges, the No. 12 pick in last year’s draft, has quickly proven himself as belonging in the Hornets’ rotation. He’s active, capable of getting to the rim and picks up defensive concepts quickly.

But like most rookies picked in the middle of the first round, he hasn’t yet earned a national profile.

The dunk contest will be his opportunity to change that.

Bulls’ Wendell Carter reportedly out 8-12 weeks following thumb surgery

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Wendell Carter Jr. has had a strong rookie season in Chicago: 10.3 points a game, 7 rebounds, showing real strength and touch inside and getting 67 percent of his shot attempts in the paint. The advanced stats like him: He’s got an above average PER and Value over Replacement Player, something very rare for a rookie. He looks like a key part of the future in Chicago.

And he’s out for the next two-to-three months.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune first reported that Carter might have ligament damage in his left thumb requiring surgery, and that coach Jim Boylen said Carter was seeing a specialist. Shams Charania of The Athletic took it to the next step.

That’s a blow to his development but doesn’t really change the trajectory of a Bulls team that will pick high in next June’s draft.

This does not change the Bulls’ plans heading into the trade deadline — big man Robin Lopez is still available (but likely will end up a buyout candidate) reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Bobby Portis will get more run with Carter out.

The young Bulls have been hit hard by injuries this season.  Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Portis have all missed time, and Denzel Valentine has yet to play a game for Chicago this season.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis: ‘We will never, ever tank’

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Before the season, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis stated his goals: 50 wins and the conference finals.

Washington is 19-26 and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

Time to shift priorities?

NBC Sports Washington:

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards are too talented to tank right now. Led by Bradley Beal, they have a roster of capable veterans. They just traded for Trevor Ariza, making that even more true.

As bad as they’ve been, the Wizards are just 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position. They will likely miss the postseason, but there’s no alternative better than trying to get there. They’re too far down the road toward winning now to simply pivot into a rebuilding.

But what about if the Wizards get eliminated from playoff contention with games left in the season? They won’t tank down the stretch to improve their draft position? What’s the point of that?

And what about future seasons? Washington will have a tough time building a satisfactory winner after signing John Wall to a super-max extension that kicks in next season. That difficult-to-move contract almost mandates the Wizards prioritize the present. A healthy Wall is good enough to ensure Washington can’t bottom out – for now.

Wall be 32 in the final year of that deal. The Wizards could be in ruins by then. Taking the option to tank off the table would be a mistake.

To be fair, I’m not totally sure Leonsis is doing that. Owners almost never admit to tanking. Most deny it.

But this goes a level beyond. This is far more forceful than Leonsis had to be, which makes me believe it’s actually his plan.

That’s fine right now. Eventually, it could make a futile situation far worse.