NBA Playoffs: Heat complement their star power with depth, take Game 4

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The Chicago Bulls finished with a better regular-season record than the star-studded Miami Heat for two reasons: superior depth and better play in close games. On Tuesday night, the Heat flipped the script on the Bulls, and took a commanding 3-1 series lead thanks to superior depth and late-game execution.

All season long, the Bulls have worn down opponents thanks to their endless array of effective role players and defenders; Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, and C.J. Watson were just as important to the Bulls’ success as anything else was.

The Heat, meanwhile, looked painfully thin for most of the year. Udonis Haslem missed nearly the entire season with foot injuries, thumb injuries and hesitant play kept Mike Miller from being effective all season long, Mario Chalmers was inconsistency incarnate, and the Heat’s three seven-footers have all spent most of the playoffs on the inactive list.

On Tuesday, with Wade having one of the worst games of his career, LeBron being forced to work for every single point or assist, and Bosh being shut down by Joakim Noah and smart Chicago double-teams, the Heat had to rely on their bench to save them. Remarkably, they did.

Mike Miller was an insane +36 in 26 minutes, and had what can only be considered a renaissance game. He finally stopped hesitating on the court, and started doing what he’s always done best — make jump shots. In a classic case of “don’t think, just shoot,” Miller showed no hesitation on his jump shot, draining two catch-and-shoot threes and three mid-range jumpers millseconds after he caught the ball. One of his made jumpers was a step-back off the dribble, which shows just how high Miller’s confidence was — he only took a handful of those shots in the entire regular season, let alone made any.

Mario Chalmers never lacks for confidence, and the mercurial guard came off the bench to score nine quick points and snag four steals, providing a needed boost of energy. Udonis Haslem didn’t score a single point, but his rebounding and defense were invaluable, and the Heat were +25 in his 34 minutes.

Chicago’s bench, meanwhile, failed to provide the spark it usually does. Kyle Korver’s shot remains missing, Taj Gibson went scoreless with one rebound in 10 minutes, and a leg injury limited Omer Asik to only two minutes of play. Without their stellar bench there to spell them effectively, the Chicago starters were forced to play 44+ minutes apiece, and the fatigue eventually became to much for them as the game wore on.

Miami’s bench players were the ones who kept the team alive through most of the game, but it was the team’s superstars that sealed the deal. LeBron James scored or assisted on 10 of Miami’s 22 fourth-quarter points, and his defense on Derrick Rose late was key down the stretch. Chris Bosh drew a key flagrant foul with just under five minutes to play, and made the last field goal of regulation on a jumper with 1:14 remaining and the Heat trailing by a point.

In overtime, the big 3 accounted for all 16 of Miami’s points, and Wade added two blocks and a steal in the extra period. It was a close game, it was an ugly game, it was the kind of game Chicago wanted, but they simply weren’t able to hold off Miami’s Big 3 when the game was on the line.

Now Chicago will have to win three games in a row to survive the Heat and move onto The Finals. The series isn’t over yet — Chicago only has to win one road game to survive, and their losses have all been competitive — but it looks like the Heat’s mixture of star power and their unlikely depth and ability to close out tough games may prove to be too much for Chicago in this series

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.