NBA Playoffs: Can Philly do more than keep it close in Miami?

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Prediction: LeBron James is going to break out in Game 2.

LeBron had a quiet 21 points in Game 1, but was just 4-of-14 shooting. He was more passive than normal, early on in the game he was patiently waiting for the double team to come so he could pass out of it. Don’t expect patient, assist-happy LeBron in Game 2 Monday night. Expect “I want to make a mark on this series” LeBron.

The question is will the Sixers be able to contain him? Can Andre Iguodala keep him relatively in check and help keep the game close? And is this give the Sixers a better chance than Chris Bosh going off?

Game 1 was a lot more Bosh than we normally see and that is good for the Heat — they win a lot more when he is the second leading scorer on the team. Philadelphia is undersized and they paid for that with Bosh getting 25 points on 17 shots. Philly also paid on the glass, where Miami grabbed 15 offensive rebounds (a very high 35.7 percent of their missed shots). The Sixers need to find a way to clean up on the glass to stand a real chance in this series. Which is hard when you’re facing good rebounding wing players in LeBron and Dwyane Wade.

The other thing Philly wants to change is the free throw disparity — Miami got to the line 39 times to the Sixers 15 in Game 1.

Sorry to tell you this Doug Collins, that was not about the referees, that was about Miami attacking the rim and penetrating, trying to get inside, while your Sixers slowed it down and settled for jumpers. Philly needs some transition baskets and some fouls by attacking, the problem is they have to keep the tempo controlled because they cannot run with LeBron and Wade. The other problem is how much Lou Williams can help with those things. They miss him being healthy.

How and how much Wade gets used will be another thing to watch as he is coming off debilitating migraines. He will play in Game 2 but may have on glare-reducing goggles. Which by Wednesday will be all the rage in Miami nightclubs.

At the end of the game, if the Sixers can keep it close again, the Heat have made the Wade/Bosh pick-and-roll their go-to play. And it works. It will be interesting to see how the Sixers adjust to this. Not that there are really great options, that is a killer combo for the pick and roll or pop.

The other thing I’m curious to see — is the Miami zone back? The broke that out and Jrue Holliday admitted it worked because the 76ers were stunned and unprepared for it. The Heat will not make a habit of it, but it is a nice change of pace defense for a couple trips down.

Collins deserves a lot of credit for getting the most out of this Sixers roster. But that is different than getting them over the hump of a road win in the playoffs. They are going to need a big game from Williams to make it happen — they need his shot creation and ability to draw fouls — but his hamstring continues to hamstring the team.

Ben Simmons leaves game in first quarter, to have MRI on lower back Sunday

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Philadelphia, routed by Milwaukee on Saturday night and still starting on the road if the playoffs began today, may have another problem coming.

All-Star Ben Simmons skipped Thursday night’s game against Brooklyn with a sore lower back. He gave it a go Saturday in a nationally televised game against Milwaukee, but in the first quarter went back to the locker room not to return.

After the game, the news got more ominous.

Wojnarowski also reported, “There is some level of concern surrounding the possible nature of the injury.” That sounds ominous.

Simmons is averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.9 rebounds a game for the Sixers this season as the starting point guard. He’s also been playing All-Defensive Team level defense. If he misses extended time, it will be rough on Philadelphia.

When there is word on the MRI results, we will have it here at NBC.

Bucks pull away in second half behind 31 from Giannis Antetokounmpo, rout Sixers

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks turned a tight game with the Philadelphia 76ers into a mismatch immediately in the second half, led by the reigning league MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 25 points and the Bucks beat the 76ers 119-98 on Saturday night in a matchup of Eastern Conference rivals.

Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 11 points in the third quarter as the Bucks took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who went to the bench less a minute into the period after picking up his fourth foul, and quickly put the game out of reach.

“We came out the third quarter and played fast,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were able to rebound the ball and just attack them. Joel had four fouls. That worked in our favor. We tried to be aggressive in the third quarter and set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo added eight assists as Milwaukee won for the 16th time in its last 18 games to improve its NBA-best record to 48-8.

The Bucks led 56-50 at the half before Antetokounmpo’s scoring outburst put the Bucks in control. Milwaukee would go on to outscore the 76ers 37-23 in the period.

Embiid, coming off a 39-point performance on Thursday night, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 5 for 18. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton also scored 17 points apiece for the 76ers, who fell to 9-20 on the road.

“I liked what I was seeing in the first half, and the death knock was Joel sitting,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We just didn’t respond well to Milwaukee playing their tails off, and they shot the heck out of the ball.”

Philadelphia lost All-Star point guard Ben Simmons early in the first quarter. Simmons, who missed the 76ers’ previous game with lower back tightness, headed to the locker room after making consecutive driving layups, the second with a little more than 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. He didn’t return after the injured flared up.

“We never got in a rhythm. Losing Ben, then foul trouble, not making shots and some calls that could have gone a different way,” Embiid said. “But it’s on us.”

The 76ers shot just 35%, while the Bucks connected on 53% of their shots.

The Bucks got off to a scorching start, taking a 12-2 lead sparked by seven points from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee led by as many as 11 in the quarter and held a 31-21 lead at the end.

Philadelphia pulled within 37-36 in the second before the Bucks used a 10-2 spurt to push the lead back to double digits.

Watch Dwyane Wade have his number retired by Heat

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Dwyane Wade is the greatest Miami Heat player ever.

He was at the heart of every championship the Heat won, he was active and beloved in the community, he was the face of the franchise.

Now his legacy is forever part of the American Airlines Arena — the Heat have retired his number.

Wade is a three-time champion, and 8-time All-NBA player, a 13-time All-Star, and a Finals MVP who averaged 22 points a game over his 16 year NBA career.

Next stop: Hall of Fame.

Stephen Curry cleared for contact, goes through full scrimmage with Warriors

Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
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Stephen Curry is not sitting out the rest of the season. He wants back on the court — he’s targeting the first week of March — and the Warriors are not holding him out.

That got a step closer on Saturday when Curry went through a full scrimmage with the Warriors. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this after practice, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Yeah he scrimmaged today, first day of scrimmaging,” Kerr told reporters at the Chase Center practice facility. “We only had seven other healthy players, so there were two coaches out there scrimmaging too, it was not pretty, but Steph looked great.”

The March return for Curry seems on track. Klay Thompson will not return to the court this season.

The Warriors are not playoff bound, but there is no reason to sit out Curry and tank, either.

First, that’s not the kind of culture the Warriors have built, coming off three titles in five years. Second, the fan base could use the boost of watching Curry drain deep threes after a disheartening season to this point. Third, and maybe most important, what exactly would they need to tank for, better draft position? This is a down draft to begin with, so anyone the Warriors select likely can’t help them much next season anyway (which is why there’s a lot of speculation the Warriors may try to trade the pick). Also, with the flattened out lottery odds, they don’t gain much anyway. The Warriors have the worst record in the NBA, but the three worst teams all have a 14 percent chance at the top pick, and the fourth worst is at 12.5 percent, fifth is 10.5 percent. Curry’s return for a month isn’t lifting the Warriors to the point teams will not want the pick.

We could all use to be reminded just how special Curry is as a player. Hopefully, we get to see that in a couple of weeks.