Struggling Heat find better offense but forget to play defense, lose again

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Since roughly last July, Heat fans have been asking — for the last week begging — to get LeBron James and Dwyane Wade active in the offense at the same time. They needed that long-promised spark.

Tuesday night — in a game were the Heat clearly were gripping at times and playing their stars big minutes — Miami pulled out a rarely used play that worked very well: the LeBron/Wade pick and roll. Miami used it a number of times and there was some spark to their usually stagnant half-court sets.

The result was a Heat team that shot better than normal (51 percent), had 48 points in the paint, and scored 114.3 points per 100 possessions (4 points above their season average). Wade had 38 points (on 21 shots as he attacked and got to the line 14 times) LeBron had 31 (on 20 shots).

The only problem — the Heat forgot to play defense, too.

The improved motion in the Heat offense paled in comparison to the varied actions of the Portland sets. Sets that the Heat struggled mightily to defend.

The result was a Blazers team that scored 125 points per 100 possessions (22 points above what the Heat normally give up). That led to a 105-96 Portland win.

That’s the Heat’s fifth straight loss, with the Lakers — winners of 8 in a row — up next on Thursday.

Wade and James played well, but Bosh had just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. After the game a clearly frustrated Bosh said he didn’t like where he was getting the ball, that plays were not called for him to get the rock isolated on the low block where he is most comfortable. And with Wade and LeBron on the roster Bosh is also clearly not comfortable demanding the ball in games. He needs to start. Mario Chalmers added 10 points for the Heat.

The Blazers bench — Gerald Wallace, Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez — outscored the Heat bench 41-8. The Heat’s depth remains an issue.

But Miami’s usually stout defense was the biggest problem against Portland. The Blazers had 42 points in the paint and more importantly dominated the Heat on the glass. Portland, with its motion offense, was getting looks it liked where it liked. LaMarcus Aldridge had 26, Gerald Wallace had his best game since the trade from Charlotte with 22, and six Blazers total were in double figures.

Give the Blazers credit, they came out playing more like the team that needed the win. They earned this, the Heat did not completely give it away.

But the Heat are not playing up to potential.

Miami is clearly struggling, and internally freaking out a little. As Wade told NBC’s Ira Winderman earlier, they thought this would be easier. But if that feeling of panic causes them to struggle on defense, this streak of bad play is going to extend out much longer than it needs to.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.