NBA Playoffs: The Heat collapse

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After a regular season defined by crunch-time blunders and late collapses, the Heat’s postseason had been defined by gritty closing performances that saw the Heat holding onto close leads or pulling off comebacks in the fourth quarter.

All of that changed during Thursday night’s 95-93 loss, which may end up being Miami’s most important game of the season. With just over seven minutes remaining, Dwyane Wade hit a three right in front of the Mavericks bench to give the Heat a 15-point lead, one of the most comfortable leads the team has had all post-season long.

Then the collapse came. Jason Terry got loose and starting hitting shots and getting to the free throw line, Miami’s defense relaxed and allowed the Mavericks to hit jumpers, and Dirk Nowitzki stepped up to hit the go-ahead three with 26 seconds remaining and a game-winning layup after Mario Chalmers answered Nowitzki’s three with one of his own.

Not only did the Heat do everything wrong; they did what everybody said they would do wrong all year long. They got arrogant and took their eyes off the prize. They got lazy on defense. Most unforgivably, their offense devolved into hero-ball, with James and Wade (mostly James) running down the clock for 20 seconds and firing up a deep, contested jumper instead of trying to run the offense correctly and get the Heat the baskets they needed to hold off the Mavericks’ charge. Overall, the Heat missed 10 of their last 11 shots, which opened the door for the Mavericks to pull off the stunning comeback. If James still doesn’t have his first ring when this series is over, he has only himself and his performance in the final seven minutes of this game to blame.

After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the fourth “about as tough of a quarter as you can have,” and that when things started to slide, they “kept on going.” He also called the close to the game “uncharacteristic” for the Heat, which has been true throughout the postseason, but it doesn’t mean they get a do-over on a Finals loss.

James and the Heat worked all post-season long to shake off the image of them as a preening, mentally weak team who couldn’t close out close games and two superstars whose egos would prevent them from playing with each other correctly on offense. After spending the first 16 games and 3.5 quarters of Game 2 shaking that reputation, the Heat earned it right back in seven minutes.

Now, there’s only one way for the team to exonerate itself: win at least one game in Dallas and win the NBA championship. Because if they don’t, this game could haunt them for years to come. After the game, Spoelstra reminded everyone that this is a “long series” and that the Heat will “bounce back.” Spoelstra had better hope his players are up to the task, because if the Heat manage to let a title slip out of their fingers in one of the most dramatic ways possible, it’s going to be a very long summer for one of the most hyped teams in recent memory.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.

Kings’ rookie Marvin Bagley III out 10-14 days with left knee bone bruise

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The No. 2 pick in last June’s draft, Marvin Bagley III is having a solid season. He’s averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a game coming off the bench. He’s got a good 59.2 true shooting percentage and the 6’11” big man gets most of his buckets at the rim or at least in the paint although he can hit threes when he steps out there (taking one a game but hitting 35.7 percent). He’s lost on defense, as most rookies are, but there is some potential there.

The Kings are going to have to get by without him for the next 10 to 14 days due to a bone bruise in his left knee, the team announced Friday night.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Friday night’s Sacramento loss to Golden State, when Bagley was battling for a rebound and landed awkwardly. He got a bucket out of it because he was “cherry-picking” after not being able to run back down the court, but he waved to the coaches and asked out after scoring. Bagley left the game, had to be helped to the locker room and did not return.

With Bagley out expect to see a lot more Justin Jackson. Harry Giles III has been out of the rotation of late but he could potentially get a little run, too.

Kings troll Stephen Curry with moon landing video during player introductions

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Well played Sacramento.

Golden State came to town Friday night and during player introductions the Kings ran a video on their jumbotron of the moon landing to troll Stephen Curry.

Curry this past week said on a podcast that he didn’t think we landed on the moon, later saying it was obviously a joke but he would take NASA up on their offer of a tour of their lunar labs.

Curry can laugh at himself and gave the Kings and “A for effort” with the video.