NBA Playoffs: Heat outclass the Bulls, take series lead

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Game 1 of the Bulls-Heat series was the kind of game the Bulls wanted to play — a physical slugfest that saw Chicago dominate the Heat by destroying them on the boards and keeping LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from being able to do too much damage. Game 2 was the kind of game that could have gone either way — neither team was able to get its offense going at all, but the Heat were able to keep the Bulls from killing them on the glass and took the game over in the final five minutes.

Game 3 was the kind of game the Heat wanted. The Heat got out to an early lead, ran their offense cleanly and shot over 50%, and forced Chicago’s offense to try and match their output. And with Derrick Rose contained yet again (he finished with 20 points on 19 shots and five assists), the Bulls had no hope of keeping up with the Heat.

The Heat’s half-court offense hummed on Sunday night, and that was mainly thanks to the play of Chris Bosh. LeBron James finished with 22 points, but spent most of the game facilitating and defending, and Dwyane Wade had some trouble getting his offense going after a few unsuccessful layup attempts early. Fortunately for the Heat, Bosh had his best game since becoming a member of Miami’s “Big Three,” and likely the best game of his career.

The Heat went to Bosh in pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, and high-post situations all game long, and everything he did seemed to work. When the defense gave him space, he drained a mid-range jumper. When they tried to close out on him, he used his up-fake to clear space and attack the basket off the dribble. When they defended him perfectly, he hit impossible fadeaways. When he rolled to the basket, his teammates found him and he converted. With Bosh as the Heat’s offensive fulcrum, the Bulls were never able to get enough stops to really threaten the Heat, and Miami scored 25 or more points in each of the last three quarters.

On the other end of the court, the Heat’s defense looked as impressive as their offense. Joel Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade all appeared to be in multiple places at once, and came from out of nowhere to come up with steals, blocks, shot contests, and drawn charges time and time again while maintaining a wall between Derrick Rose and the basket. The Bulls had some success when they were able to get out in transition or utilize Joakim Noah’s superb passing skills in half-court situation, but the Heat seemed a step ahead of the Bulls’ offense for the vast majority of the night.

Some of Chicago’s players, notably Keith Bogans, tried to bump the Heat players around and turn the game into the kind of physical battle they want to play against the Heat, but the Heat had none of it — it’s amazing how easy it is to keep your composure in the NBA when most of the shots you take go in the basket.

The Bulls now find themselves in the exact same position as the Heat were a week ago: they don’t have home-court advantage, they’re behind one game, and they’re coming off of a demoralizing and clear defeat. If they can get themselves together the way the Heat did after Game 1 and win Game 4, they get home-court advantage right back and put themselves in a very good position in this series, and this is a Bulls team that almost never went on any kind of a losing streak this season. However, if the Heat can make Game 4 look anything like Game 3 did, the Bulls will find themselves in major trouble.

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Three Things to Know: Trae Young is legit, people. Just ask the Cavaliers.

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Luka who? Trae Young blows up with 35 points, 11 assists. Fun bit of trivia courtesy Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated: Since 2000, name the two rookies who have put up at least 35 points and 10 assists in a game. Answer: Stephen Curry and LeBron James.

Now, add Atlanta’s Trae Young to the list. He dropped 35 points and 11 assists on the Cavaliers to get the Hawks a win (and Lloyd Pierce his first W as an NBA coach).

After a “meh” game against the Knicks to open the season then a solid one against the Grizzlies, Young lit up the Cavaliers (and torched their rookie point guard Colin Sexton). Young has shown an impressive catch-and-shoot touch already, but Sunday night he showed off what a threat he can be using the pick-and-roll. Young used his impressive handles to create space for his shot, or to get into the lane and then create for others. More than just scoring, he’s showing an ability to command the game, which is impressive for a one-and-done rookie.

It’s early, and Young is going to have a lot more ups and downs his rookie season, but this was a promising outing. Young and the Hawks have a soft opening to the season on the schedule and it will give him a chance to gain some confidence early.

Next up is the rookie showdown with Dallas and one Luka Doncic (the guy he will forever be linked to because of the draft night trade, fair or not). They won’t be matched up on one another, and it’s too early to draw genuine comparisons, but it’s worth watching.

2) Russell Westbrook is back, put up a near triple-double, and even that couldn’t get the Thunder a win. Everyone tuned into this game expecting one thing: Iman Shumpert to go off and score 26 points and leading the Kings to a win. Am I right?

Westbrook, in his first game back since having surgery to clean up his knee in the offseason, scored 32 points, and 12 rebounds and eight assists, and shot 13-of-23 overall — a very Westbrook night. While there were a few moments of rust, he looked like vintage Westbrook.

OKC still lost, at home, to the Kings, 131-120.

The Thunder are off to a 0-3 start and there are two key reasons why. One is that they cannot knock down threes — they were 9-of-39 against the Kings (23.1 percent) and on the season are shooting 23.9 percent from deep (worst in the NBA). They are taking more threes than a season ago (36.3 a game, top 10 in attempts in the league) but the shots just aren’t falling. The Thunder were not a prolific three-point shooting team last season, but they hit 35.4 percent and their shooting should improve this season.

The second, and larger, issue is their defense has been average, and at times awful. They struggled to slow the Kings, who put up 34 points in three of the four quarters, and on the season the Thunder are allowing 110.5 points per 100 possessions, which is middle of the pack in the league (for a team expected to be top 10 like last season). They really miss Andre Roberson on that end of the floor, and he’s likely not back until December.

It’s far too early to say either of those stats are trends — the Thunder should have one of the better defenses in the league by the end of the season — but they are off to a slow start, and it’s costing them wins, which in the deep West is not ideal.

On the other side of the ball — the Kings have looked solid this young season. The kids are alright. They played Utah tight in the season opener, fell to the Pelicans and now have beaten the Thunder. De’Aaron Fox is averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 assists per game, Willie Cauley-Stein is playing for that contract averaging 18.7 points and 7 rebounds a game, Buddy Hield is knocking down shots, Marvin Bagley is finding his way, and Shumpert went off against the Thunder. The young core in Sacramento is taking a step forward this season, and it’s something to watch.

3) NBA could have, should have come down harder on Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo. By now we’ve all read the stories and watched the video out of Saturday night’s fight at the Laker game. Now, we’ve seen the suspensions come down: Four games for Ingram, three for Rondo, and two for Chris Paul.

Adam Silver has been lighter on punishment of players for these incidents than his predecessor David Stern, and that continued here. Ingram’s four games — costing him $158,817 in salary — is the longest the league has handed out for fighting since 2012 (Metta World Peace), but if the league wanted to send a message that throwing punches is verboten, they needed to come in with a heavier hand. Especially considering we are not out of the first week of the season.

The biggest surprise to me was Rondo — spitting in another player’s face is unacceptable. The league needed to do more. (And don’t try to sell me the mouthguard/unintentional line, that’s just spin, Rondo meant to do it). The only suspension that felt right was CP3, and I’m with D’Antoni in that I don’t know what else anyone expected him to do.

The Lakers get hit harder by this — while we get to see more Lonzo Ball they don’t have the depth to replace Rondo and Ingram easily, and their games are harder (Spurs, improving Suns, then the hot Nuggets).

Physical fights with actual punches are rare in the NBA, but when they happen I’m not sold this was near enough of a deterrent. We’ll see if this situation was a one-off or if we see more of these incidents.

Mike D’Antoni on Chris Paul suspension: ‘What is he supposed to do?’ (VIDEO)

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The NBA suspended Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul along with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram on Sunday.

It was the opinion of the league office that all three players should be suspended for their role in a fight that took place on Saturday night between the Rockets and the Lakers at Staples Center.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni took exception to Paul’s suspension, saying that he thought it was “not equitable” that Paul had to face suspension.

The NBA determined that Rondo indeed did spit in Paul’s face, or at least in the direction of him, directly preceding Paul’s eye poke on Rondo. That kicked things off into full force, and it devolved from there.

Via Twitter:

All the suspensions were fairly weak. Ingram got just four games for his initial instigation and giant, loping punch toward Paul. Rondo received three games for spitting on Paul and landing punches. Paul received two games for punching Rondo.

It’s unlikely that anybody was going to be happy with the result of the discipline just because of the bad blood involved. However, the league made comment about the suspension afterward, with the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe taking to television later on Sunday.

VanDeWeghe’s explanations don’t satisfy me, and they certainly wouldn’t if I were a Rockets fan. Guys going chest-to-chest and having tensions rise as one thing. Spitting at somebody is another. It’s a level of actionable disrespect that directly influenced and raised tensions during the incident.

Ingram looked childish for shoving James Harden, but his punch came after Rondo got Paul wound up by spitting on him. It’s hard for me to understand how Rondo didn’t get a matching sentence with Ingram at the very least.

For reference, Carmelo Anthony was suspended for 15 games in 2006 after he clocked a player on the New York Knicks during a fight as a member of the Denver Nuggets. Given that precedence, something approaching double digits for both Ingram and Rondo seems like it would have been more appropriate.

Juancho Hernangómez bats game-clinching block to beat Warriors (VIDEO)

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We all knew the Denver Nuggets were going to be exciting this season, but nobody expected them to come through with this kind of statement result this early.

On Sunday as the Nuggets took on the Golden State Warriors, a tight game in Colorado lead to a drive by Stephen Curry in the closing seconds that could have won the defending champions the game.

Instead, Juancho Hernangómez became a Denver legend.

Via Twitter:

It was a serious block by Hernangómez on Damian Jones.

Denver beat the Warriors, 100-98, moving the Nuggets to 3-0 on the year and giving Golden State its first loss of the season.

Kyle Lowry on DeMar DeRozan handshake routine: ‘He’s my best friend’ (VIDEO)

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Kyle Lowry was not happy with the Toronto Raptors when the team traded DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs this offseason for Kawhi Leonard.

Lowry and DeRozan are best friends, and their budding romance has been a sentimental point for fans in Toronto and abroad.

But life goes on, and the Raptors again are one of the teams expected to challenge for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. That hasn’t kept Lowry from doing the same handshake routine he used to do with DeRozan before games this season.

The only difference? DeRozan isn’t there to help dap up Lowry.

Via Twitter:

For his part, Lowry told NBA TV after Toronto’s game on Saturday that he will continue to do the handshake routine because the DeRozan will always be his best friend.

Even thousands of miles apart you can’t keep these guys from showing love for each other.