Heat get some confidence, Kobe gets some fuel — everybody wins

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Here is what you need to know about what Thursday night meant to the Lakers, and why Kobe Bryant has pushed his teams to two consecutive titles.

Thirty minutes after the Heat defeated the Lakers 94-88 in a game where Kobe’s shot was off after the first quarter (8-21 overall after starting 4-4) and his shot selection down the stretch was terrible, he was back on the court and started shooting. In an empty AmericanAirlines Arena after a tough game Kobe was putting himself through a workout and trying to fix his jumper. He was out there for an extended period just trying to fix what went wrong.

In the end, both the Lakers and the Heat may be better because of what happened Thursday night.

For the Heat, it was a confidence boost they needed and a reminder they can play with the big boys. This game was tied 88-88, but after a week of hearing how they couldn’t do this it was Wade and the Heat that were clutch.

First Wade stripped Kobe of the ball and was able to get it ahead to LeBron James on a run-out for a breakaway dunk. Then after a ridiculously rushed fade-away three from Kobe (with 23 seconds on the shot clock off an inbound play) Wade came down and the Heat executed a beautiful play. They used Zydrunas Ilgausksas and his threat of a 15-foot jumper to draw Bynum away from the basket. Then Wade went away from a LeBron James screen, a move  that totally threw Kobe (guarding Wade). Wade blew past Kobe and was in the lane before help could arrive. Wade laid it in and the Heat were up four.

Let’s be clear — reading too much into one regular season game is a mistake, but the Heat have plenty of things to build off of from this win.

Quality end of game execution is a place to start. They went out and made better decisions and shots in crunch time than the defending NBA champions.

Then there is the play of Chris Bosh, who attacked the rim all night. He did a great job sliding to the rim when his man (Pau Gasol) came over to help. The result was passes to him, offensive rebounds and a good night. Bosh was aggressive and took control of the ball. Early on, when Wade and James struggled it was Bosh that kept the Heat in this game.

For the Lakers, the lessons are ones they know, but bad habits that they fall back on anyway. In the second half they went away from Gasol and working their offense inside-out completely. And Bynum and Gasol got utterly and totally  outworked on the glass by some pretty pedestrian rebounders. Bynum had one rebound in the first half (he improved in the second half and finished with 12). Los Angeles lost focus on its strengths and at the end had Kobe launching desperation threes early in the shot clock.

We learned nothing new about the Lakers, we were simply reminded that they can still fall prey to bad habits. We learned nothing about the Heat — unless you really thought this recent slide meant they were not contenders. They are. They have flaws but they also have great talent at three spots on the floor that can make up for any deficiency. We were reminded that Wade knows how to play in the clutch.

That is something the Heat can build off of tomorrow. Kobe is trying to build off his mistakes right now.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
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The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.