How they can win it all: The Miami Heat

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Forget the narrative. Forget the plot that turned LeBron James into a villain for changing zip codes, forget the half-baked media criticism without warrant, and forget the lazy reactions to Miami’s relative struggles at various points in the season. This Heat team is positively fantastic, and though they don’t come to the playoffs without flaws, they also have a legitimate chance of marching through the Sixers, the Celtics, and the Bulls all the way to the NBA Finals. The Heat aren’t just that talented, they’re that good. So ditch the narrative baggage for now; it’ll be waiting for you to pick it up on the other side, and it’d be a shame for a good story to get in the way of even better basketball. Here are the reasons why the Heat, after a long season under the microscope, can win the whole damn thing:

1. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first: the playoffs are the time for the NBA’s best players to do their thing, and the Heat are packing more star power than every other team in the league. Given Miami’s probable opponents the rest of the way, it’s likely that the Heat will have the two best players on the floor in every game during their postseason run. That doesn’t guarantee them any wins, but it certainly gives them an incredible advantage in attempting to earn them. Miami may lack consistent scoring on its periphery, but perhaps the Heat’s lack of productive balance will matter even less in the postseason; James and Wade are tremendous players who contribute a ton on both ends of the court, and when we throw in Chris Bosh for good measure, they’re as tough an out as there is in the league.

2. Smothering defense

The defensive tone starts with James and Wade, but the Heat on the whole have been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA this season. However, the internet highlight factory has led to a general misunderstanding of the way Miami Ds up; even though James and Wade are adept at jumping passing lanes to ignite a potent fast break, the Heat just don’t create all that many turnovers. Instead, the Heat regulars force their opponents into difficult looks and contest shots heavily without fouling. The Miami defense is quick and flexible, which empowers them to recover and challenge, even when an opponent claims a position of advantage. The Heat are quick to help in order to completely swarm opponents, and have one of the most oppressive half-court defenses in the league as a result.

Additionally, the Heat are among the best defensive rebounding teams in basketball. Chris Bosh, Erick Dampier, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas all do good work on the defensive glass, but the key for Miami is the board work of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Mike Miller, all of whom are stellar rebounders for their positions. All in all, the Heat grind opponents into the ground by challenging every shot, and then clean the glass to ensure that the only shot opponents get is their initial, heavily contested one. Most championship runs are founded on the ability to execute consistently on defense, and Erik Spoelstra has his team prepared to suffocate their playoff opponents.

3. Efficient offense

As good as the Heat are on defense, they’ve been even more effective on the offensive end; Miami scored more points per possession than all but two other teams this season.

The key to Miami’s offense is the allocation of shots to the most efficient players and the most efficient zones on the floor. James, Wade, and Bosh take a lion’s share of the Heat’s shot attempts, and thus score a lion’s share of the points. That only makes sense considering that all three players can create quality shots, shoot around 50 percent from the field in the process, and are capable of drawing a ton of fouls to boost their productivity. Miami posted the third highest free throw rate in the league this season almost entirely because of their three stars, and those frequent trips to the line provide a reliable source of efficient scoring.

Beyond James, Wade, and Bosh, Miami’s role players rely heavily on the most efficient shots in basketball. Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony attempt layups, dunks, and put-backs almost exclusively. Mike Miller, James Jones, and Mike Bibby shoot mostly open three-pointers. The only players really forcing the issue are those capable of balancing their efforts with high efficiency, and the Heat have been incredibly productive as a result. Miami’s offense may not be as fluid as some would like, but the offensive production speaks for itself and will continue to do so throughout the postseason.

J.R. Smith gets shirtless as Browns win first game since 2016 (VIDEO)

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LeBron James may be a Los Angeles Laker now, but JR Smith is still with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Media day is right around the corner, and so NBA players are trickling in to their respective cities from their offseason locations.

Thankfully for us, Smith is already in Cleveland.

On Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns of the NFL won their first regular season game since Dec. 24, 2016. In attendance was none other than Smith, and lo and behold he was once again shirtless.

Just the way we like him.

Via Twitter:

Smith was famously shirtless in 2016 during the Cavaliers’ championship parade (and seemingly for much of that summer) after they beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Someone even printed out a shirt you could wear that turned you into a shirtless JR.

There probably won’t be much celebrating in Cleveland for Smith this season, and therefore not many reasons for him to get shirtless on everyone. The Browns winning a Thursday night game seems like an appropriate arena for this type of thing now.

Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, John Wall team up for Hurricane Florence relief

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Along with Michael Jordan, several other NBA players, teams, and the league have decided to team up in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Relief for the eastern seaboard, specifically the Carolinas, has been the subject of many charitable efforts thus far.

Now we can add Chris Paul, John Wall, and Stephen Curry to the list of players trying to help the beleaguered coastal states.

All three players are natives of North Carolina, with Curry being from Charlotte, Wall being from Raleigh and Paul being from Winston-Salem. The three are the public face of an effort to raise $500,000 to help aid in post-hurricane relief.

Via Twitter:

The damage from Florence has been significant. According to one report from NBC News, home losses in the town of New Bern, NC (pop: 30,101) have reached an estimated $32 million.

Moody’s Analytics released a report that said that a conservative estimate of total damage caused by Florence is in the range of $17 billion.

Video from the North Carolina Department of Transportation published on social media this week confirmed how great the flooding was just in terms of visual scale.

If you’d like to help donate to the effort, you can do so by clicking the link in Curry’s tweet or following the link here.

Richard Jefferson’s father killed in drive-by shooting in Los Angeles

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Richard Jefferson Sr., 65, the father of NBA veteran Richard Jefferson Jr., died on Wednesday when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles.

The report comes to us from TMZ, who says that it is still unclear whether the elder Jefferson was the target of the attack or if it was something more random.

Via TMZ:

Richard Jefferson Sr. was in front of a liquor store in a primarily residential area around 6:52 PM when a vehicle rolled up and someone inside opened fire.

Jefferson Sr. was struck multiple times in the torso. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Sources say Jefferson Sr. was with 2 other men at the time of the shooting. It’s unclear if Jefferson Sr. was the target.

The Los Angeles Police Department is still investigating the shooting, and we of course are hoping they will get to the bottom of this crime.

Thoughts are with Jefferson at this time, who according to ESPN grew closer to his father in recent years. Jefferson’s parents split when he was young and Junior grew up in Arizona with Senior residing in California.

Knicks won’t rush Kristaps Porzingis or future building plans

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis is back with his teammates, though the New York Knicks don’t know when he’ll be back on the court.

Joakim Noah won’t be back, though the terms of his departure still are being negotiated.

So while there are questions, the Knicks also feel they have certainty with the way they are building their team.

They insist their future first-round draft picks will be used to select players for their own team, not to be dangled in trades that could land them an established player.

“We’re committed to following a plan and not just shifting and pivoting because we see something that we think is attractive and might fast track something,” Knicks president Steve Mills said Thursday. “I’ve seen that happen and go wrong too many times and that’s not what we’re going to do.”

It’s happened in New York, where the Knicks traded young players and future assets in 2011 to acquire Carmelo Anthony, rather than sign him the following summer as a free agent with the cap space they had. This time, they say they will wait for the summer of 2019, when Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard could be among the free agents – even if one of them suddenly became available by trade now.

“We don’t want to jump at the shiny things,” coach David Fizdale said. “We want to make solid decisions and be patient with this process.”

They will be patient with Porzingis, their All-Star forward who is still recovering from a torn ACL in February. He is back in New York and working out with his teammates, but faces more testing and rehab before the Knicks know when he can play.

“As he meets certain milestones, we’ll continue his rehab process,” Mills said, “all toward the direction of when he feels 100 percent comfortable and we feel 100 percent comfortable that we’re not taking any risks with him, then he’ll be ready to come back.”

Not so for Noah, despite the two years left on the $72 million deal he signed in 2015. He has been away from the team since clashing with former coach Jeff Hornacek last season. The Knicks remain in discussions with Noah and his representation to determine how he’ll leave the club.

“The hope is that we can come to a resolution that is both advantageous to both Joakim and to the Knicks, and so that’s where it sits right now,” general manager Scott Perry said.

Porzingis is eligible for an extension this fall, but the Knicks seem prepared to wait until next summer. That would allow them to have more salary-cap space in July if they try to sign a player they won’t mortgage any of their future for now.

“We feel comfortable with our organization and where we’re going and what we’re developing here,” Mills said, “and we think that when it’s time for us to go after free agents, we’ll be a place to attract free agents and we shouldn’t use our draft picks like that.”