Miami has it in cruise control, which has Heat fans concerned

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We can come up with clever names for it — the coast of Miami; the Miami malaise.

Whatever name you want to put on it, it’s clear that the high-speed, attacking “pace and space” offense the Heat started off this season has slipped into cruise control at some safe highway speeds. They are averaging less than 90 possessions a game their last 10. A team who has based its identity on breaking teams’ spirits with energy and athleticism doesn’t even seem to try to do that anymore. Even in spurts.

The vaunted Miami Heat are 8-6 since the All-Star break, have lost two games in a row by double digits to playoff teams (the Thunder and Pacers).

They are in a slump. Heat fans are concerned. They should be. A little.

The players did not seem all that concerned. Dwyane Wade called it a “pothole” in the season. The reason there is no panic is this slump is not likely to cost them a lot — they are pretty locked in to the two seed in the East with 18 games to go. But they need to find their groove again before the second season starts.

How? We could talk about the team’s trend toward too much isolation and over-dribbling in the half court offense. We could talk about LeBron James’ elbow bothering him again. Wed could talk about the turnovers. We could talk about Chris Bosh’s mental vacation. And Mario Chalmers, too. Or Mike Miller being out. Or a laundry list of other items.

But every team deals with that and you fight through it and keep winning (see: Bulls, Chicago) or you fall apart. The Heat aren’t doing either, they keep coasting along.

The fixes are not really complex for Miami — if they apply better energy and focus to overwhelm teams with their athleticism at the defensive end they will create the fast break opportunities that fueled them early in the season. That is what made them a Ferrari early in the season. Right now they are coasting along, top down. They don’t want to expend that energy. Right now they are settling too much in the half court, not attacking. Wade and LeBron need to trust the role players a little more, too.

They’ve done it before. It just feels like the Heat players are waiting until a little closer to the playoffs to flip the switch.

The problem is that while the Bulls are out developing good habits to carry over to the playoffs, the Heat are developing bad ones. Things that could return and bite them under real pressure deep in the postseason.

Heat fans, none of this is worth reaching for the panic button. But feel free to be a little concerned.

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”

 

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.

Charles Barkley addresses Draymond Green-Kevin Durant dynamic (video)

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Want to hear an entertaining guy address an entertaining topic? Here you go.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.