Winderman: Is a Back to the Future 2006 Heat vs. Mavs finals ahead?

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With the Mavericks playing from a position of strength against the Lakers and the Heat in early control against the Celtics, in many ways it’s as if it’s 2006 all over again.

While a Heat-Mavericks NBA Finals this time would have the Heat as the home team (because of what previously seemed like an innocuous 35-point performance by Eddie House on the final night of the regular season in Toronto, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade looked on from the bench), the question on South Beach is whether this would represent something closer to a genuine champion.

For those who forget, the Heat won the 2006 title coming off a relatively benign 52-30 regular season.

It was a championship achieved with the likes of Antoine Walker starting at small forward, Jason Williams at point guard, Michael Doleac as the backup center most of the season and Gary Payton on his last cussin’ legs.

Yet when viewed beyond the Big Three, as has been well chronicled these past six months, this Heat team is full of the type of warts that leave James Jones as the most reliable wing, Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby as the middling point guard rotation, and Joel Anthony as the valued sixth man, despite the reality that he can neither catch the ball or put it through the large orange circle.

The Mavericks we know are better because, thanks to the presence of Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion, they actually play defense this time around, no longer left to the whims of enigmatic Josh Howard.

But 2011 Heat vs. 2006 Heat?

Yes, the presence of LeBron ends most debates. Chris Bosh can do more than Dirk-stopping Udonis Haslem did in 2006, at least as a two-way presence. And in many ways, Wade is a more mature presence these days, less likely to gamble for the homerun play on defense.

But the 2006 Heat did eventually close with Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning in the middle, which certainly trumps (several times over) the current trifecta of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire.

And there was a legitimate perimeter stopper off the bench in James Posey. With James and Wade finding no relief in that aspect this season, left to deal with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on their own.

The reality is that if the Heat win another championship, it again will be with a flawed roster.

A champion, nonetheless. But hardly a complete champion.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Report: Clippers trading Wesley Johnson to Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca

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The Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre Jordan era already ended in L.A.

Now, the Clippers are losing the very last player from their 2016-17 team (just two years ago!) – Wesley Johnson, who’s being shipped to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Johnson ($6,134,520) has a slightly higher salary than Ajinca ($5,285,394) with both players in the final year of their contracts. As long the Clippers have to waive a player, they’d rather drop the cheaper one.

The Clippers actually had to shed two players before the regular-season roster deadline. They’re also releasing Jawun Evans, the No. 39 pick last year. The point guard just didn’t acclimate to the NBA quickly enough to beat out Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace. Though waiving Evans was probably the right move now, I wouldn’t write him off entirely.

Ajinca, on the other hand, has no place in a shrinking NBA. The 7-foot-2 30-year-old can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been productive when on the court.

Johnson fell out of favor with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, but the Pelicans desperate for a small forward. Though Johnson wouldn’t be an exciting addition for most teams, he’s worth the low cost – the $849,126 difference between his and Ajinca’s salaries – to New Orleans, where he might actually be a significant addition.

PBT Podcast: MVP, Rookie of Year, other awards plus NBA playoffs, Finals predictions

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Will James Harden repeat as MVP or will someone else — LeBron James, Anthony Davis — grab the award away from him?

Luca Doncic and Deandre Ayton seem to be the favorites for Rookie of the Year, but could Trae Young or Jaren Jackson Jr. push their way into the conversation?

Who will win Coach of the Year? Is Jamal Murray a guy to watch for Most Improved Player?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports discuss all the major awards plus get into playoff predictions in this latest PBT Podcast. Can Charlotte sneak into the final playoff slot in the East or is Detroit going to take that? Are the Spurs going to miss the playoffs in the West for the first time in 22 years? And are the Warriors a lock to win it all? (Hint: They are not.)

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Report: Suns signing Jamal Crawford

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The Suns are desperate for a point guard.

How desperate?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I wouldn’t assume Phoenix plans to play Crawford at point guard. Perhaps, he’ll be an off guard. But the possibility is scary – whether the fear comes from playing Crawford out of position or the possibility he’d actually be the Suns’ top point guard.

It’s questionable whether the 38-year-old can help in either backcourt spot. He doesn’t attack the rim like he used to, and his defense has become even more porous.

Though he declined a $4,544,400 player option with the Timberwolves, there’s a reason he remained a free agent so long. He’ll likely settle for the minimum with Phoenix, one of the NBA’s bottom teams.

The Suns now have 14 players with guaranteed salaries on standard contracts, three with small or no guarantees (Richaun Holmes, Isaiah Canaan and Shaquille Harrison) plus Crawford. The regular-season standard-contract roster limit is 15. So, it’ll be interesting to see whom Phoenix drops in the next day. The Suns reportedly applied for a disabled-player exception for Darrell Arthur.

The Suns might try to spin this as adding veteran leadership. But they already have Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Tyson Chandler. How many veteran leaders do they need?

They need a starting-caliber point guard. Crawford isn’t it. At best, they realize that and have other plans for him.

Charles Barkley says he hasn’t worn underwear in a decade

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Charles Barkley can’t control everything, like whether the Magic hire him as general manager.

But he can control his underpants, as he explained on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.