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.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.