Heat have best defensive game of season, rout Spurs

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Since the first day of training camp — really, from the first day Miami’s triad of stars aligned — it’s been about the Heat defense. That was the question, the answer would determine how far they could go.

Ten days ago, the Spurs beat the Heat by 30 when Miami’s defense couldn’t stop the Spurs at the arc or in the paint. Miami looked overmatched, like a team destined for second-round trouble in the playoffs.

Monday night, the Heat showed the kind of defense that can make them a threat in May and June. They bodied Tim Duncan off his spots in the post, they hung with the Spurs shooters at the arc, they controlled the paint. Miami dominated this game from the start and won 110-80.

Miami showed a contender-level defender for a night, led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (each had two blocked shots). The Heat defense has been good all season (ranked fifth in points allowed per possession), but they took it to another level for a night against the team that will finish the season with the best record in the NBA. Can they do it consistently is the question.

Miami was the aggressor from the outset and that showed up in who was getting to the free throw line — early in the third quarter Chris Bosh had twice as many free throw attempts as the entire Spurs team. No, Spurs fans, that was not on the refs, the aggressor gets the calls in the NBA and the Heat were the aggressors.

Bosh finished with 30 points, Wade had 29 and LeBron an inefficient 21 (on 19 shots, it was not his best offensive night. The Heat continues to take steps that get them moving, like breaking out the occasional James/Wade pick and roll. The James/Bosh pick-and-pop also is working well.

Bosh was really the force — he has started to demand the ball more and when he did in the second quarter is when the Heat really took charge and made it a runaway. He did it against the Spurs subs, who were the ones seeming overwhelmed this night. One other thing the Heat have stopped experimenting with is the smaller lineups, where LeBron is the four. They have gone back to trying to be big. It’s working.

When the Spurs are getting blown out and it is clear they will not make a comeback, they roll the tents up early, something Timothy Varner of the Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell noticed before and was certainly true tonight. This is a veteran team that will cede the big loss to save energy for future fights and the playoffs.

But they got a good smackdown by the Lakers recently and lost to the Sixers. The Spurs are not playing their best ball, but that could just be the foot coming off the gas a little as they await the playoffs. San Antonio still has a six-game cushion for the best record in the NBA over Boston and Chicago. Nobody in the West is catching them. They can coast a little. If that’s all this is with the Spurs, than it is nothing to worry about.

Monday’s game was not about the Spurs, though. It’s about the Heat, about them getting their footing, finding their way heading toward the playoffs. Finding their defense. Because if they really find that the rest of the NBA should be nervous.

Report: Celtics were working with Jabari Bird on mental-health treatment before alleged domestic-violence incident

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Celtics guard Jabari Birdaccording to his girlfriend – attacked her over four hours at his apartment, choked her until she passed out, kicked her in the stomach, experienced seizure-like symptoms (allowing her to escape) then threatened to commit suicide if she didn’t return.

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

People around Bird have been aware that he recently had been experiencing, according to one source close to him, “panic attacks and things like that. It wasn’t a long-term thing, but everyone knew. The Celtics knew there was something going on and he was being treated.”

Said another, “This wasn’t one of the domestic-violence situations you usually see where someone gets jealous for one thing and loses control. There was something deeper going on here with (Bird). This was a bad situation.”

First, I’m uncomfortable with Bird’s mental-health issues being discussed publicly by people who remain anonymous. Hopefully, this was an authorized leak by Bird. But if that’s the case, why did his spokespeople seek anonymity? If Bird did not want this information revealed, that’s far more troubling.

But the information is public, and it’s worth discussing. When allegations first became known, many called for Boston to release Bird and the judicial system to throw him in prison. And maybe that will ultimately be the just conclusion. But this case could be far more complex than it initially appeared.

Anthony Davis and Pelicans enter yet another season full of speculation about their future together

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA preview stories, with at least one a day appearing on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, today it is New Orleans.

In Anthony Davis‘ lifetime, 22 players have made an All-NBA first team during their first six seasons. Just seven did so without reaching a conference finals in that span. Of those seven, only one began his seventh season with his original team.

Anthony Davis is set to become the second.

Davis, a three-time All-NBA first-teamer, has made the playoffs only twice and won a series only once in six years with the Pelicans. He’s following the footsteps of Kevin Garnett, who spent his first 12 seasons with the Timberwolves while advancing in the playoffs only once with them, in his ninth season.

That’s the same Kevin Garnett whom Anthony used as somewhat of a cautionary tale about remaining loyal to a franchise. And the most recent example of someone who became an All-NBA first-teamer so young without reaching the conference finals: Chris Paul, who engineered a trade from New Orleans after his sixth season there.

Uneasy parallels abound for the Pelicans as they try to keep Davis happy.

Of course, Davis is neither Paul nor Garnett nor anybody but Anthony Davis. Davis has mostly stayed on message: His priority is winning in New Orleans.

I believe that. But what if he determines he can’t win enough with the Pelicans? Will he choose them or a team he believes offers a better chance of on-court success. That, I don’t know.

The Pelicans should gain clarity next summer, when they can offer Davis a super-max extension that projects to be worth about $240 million over five years (about $48 million annually).

If he were to wait to leave in 2020 unrestricted free agency, Davis would have a projected max with another team of about $152 million over four years (about $38 million annually). Even if he got traded before then so he could re-sign with his new team in 2020, his projected max would still be “just” about $205 million over five years (about $41 million annually). He can get the super-max from only New Orleans.

If Davis is predisposed to stay with the Pelicans anyway, why wouldn’t he just take that monster offer next summer?

Again, speculation centers on New Orleans’ underwhelming results since drafting him No. 1 overall in 2012. The Pelicans have tried to fast-track their ascension around Davis, repeatedly trading first-round picks. They haven’t won enough to justify that strategy, and it has resulted in a roster primed for disappointment going forward.

Jrue Holiday is nice. Nikola Mirotic is underrated. Julius Randle could take another step. Otherwise, New Orleans’ supporting cast doesn’t make a convincing case.

Of course, the Pelicans could exceed expectations. They sure did last year, winning 48 games and sweeping the third-seeded Trail Blazers even after DeMarcus Cousins‘ injury.

Davis is locked up for two more years. If he makes another All-NBA team next season, he’ll be eligible to re-sign for the supermax in 2020 no matter how he performs during the 2019-20 season. Next season is not necessarily a breaking point.

But it’ll be another data point in Davis’ ongoing assessment of New Orleans. That assessment will be guided by a new agent (maybe Rich Paul, who represents Lakers superstar LeBron James) – which only adds variability to the equation.

The stakes are high. The small-market Pelicans would likely fall into into irrelevance if they lose Davis, which is precisely why they won’t rush to move him. But if they’re going to lose Davis, they’re better off trading him while his value nears its peak so they can get assets that will help in a new era. Whichever team gets Davis will likely vault up the championship-contention ladder.

Eyes will be on Davis and New Orleans, searching for any sign of discord. That might not be fair considering all Davis has done to fit in with the Pelicans, but it’s also reality. The vultures are swarming.

It has been this way for years now. Davis and the Pelicans are used to it, and neither he nor the team has budged much from their stated plan of sticking together.

But the super-max-extension window is around the corner with only the upcoming season in between. It’ll be a big one for determining whether everything in New Orleans is still on track.

Report: Jimmy Butler-Timberwolves meeting moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles

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Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau are meeting today, not necessarily for Butler to express his desire to leave the Timberwolves – but maybe!

This is a huge meeting with big ramifications for Minnesota and even across the league. Every detail is subject to inspection until we know more.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Butler, like many NBA players, spends his summers near Los Angeles. The meeting being held there could be for numerous potential reasons.

But it feels significant Thibodeau is coming to Butler’s turf rather than the other way around.

Without better options, Heat settle for sentimentality

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Dwyane Wade took discounts from the Heat for years, seemingly expecting a larger windfall down the road.

It won’t come.

But Wade and Miami will enjoy one last dance together.

Wade is re-signing with the Heat on a one-year minimum contract he said would be for his final season, concluding a nostalgic summer in Miami. The Heat also re-signed local legend Udonis Haslem to another one-year minimum deal.

I wouldn’t expect much from either player on the court. If anything, Wade might prove destructive if the the 36-year-old uses his cachet to assume a larger role than he should handle. Haslem has barely played the last couple years, and that probably won’t change.

Still, there’s something to be said for proper sendoffs. Considering the high standards Wade and Haslem helped set for the franchise by winning three championships, this was unlikely to be a banner year in Miami, anyway. There’s value in honoring Wade and Haslem one more time.

Mostly, the Heat acted like a solid, stuck team this summer – because that’s what they are. That probably contributed to them not rewarding Wade for his prior sacrifice.

Yet, Miami eclipsed the luxury-tax line to sign Wayne Ellington, a helpful cog, to a one-year, $6.27 million deal. The tax isn’t assessed until the final day of the regular season, so there’s still plenty of time for the Heat to dodge it. In fact, I predict they will. But by at least temporarily exceeding the tax line, Miami gave itself its best chance of maintaining its level of play.

The Heat sure didn’t upgrade, though. They made no draft picks and didn’t touch their mid-level exception. Their only outside addition to receive a guaranteed salary was Derrick Jones Jr., who signed a minimum contract with a second year unguaranteed. The 21-year-old athlete is a worthwhile flier, but he sure isn’t a difference maker.

Neither are Wade and Haslem anymore – outside of our fond memories of the pair, and that counts for something. Just not enough to change Miami’s trajectory.

Offseason grade: C